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Latest News in Israel – 24th June

Netanyahu slams Abbas ‘blood libel’ as he flies to Rome in new diplomatic push

In a harsh exchange, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with a blood libel on Thursday, in advance of his trip to Rome on Sunday to look for new ways to kick-start the diplomatic process.

Despite Netanyahu’s upcoming push, prospects for peace looked dim after Abbas refused to meet with President Reuven Rivlin as they both visited Brussels this week.

“Someone who refuses to meet the president and prime minister for direct negotiations, and who spreads a blood libel in the European parliament, is lying when he says his hand is outstretched in peace,” a statement issued immediately by the Prime Minister’s Office PMO said.

In his speech to the parliament on Thursday, Abbas accused certain rabbis of calling to poison Palestinian water wells. He also said that ending the “Israeli occupation” would stop global terrorism, which is fueled by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In response, the PMO said that Abbas had exposed his “true face. Israel is waiting for the day when Abu Mazen [Abbas] will stop spreading lies and incitement. Until then, Israel will continue to defend itself against Palestinian incitement that causes terrorism.”

The PMO’s statement ended two-days of European pageantry in Brussels, which almost looked like it had been set up as a staging ground for an historic breakthrough in the peace process, frozen since April 20014 Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Sunday evening with US Secretary of State John Kerry and again the next day before flying back to Israel. He is also scheduled to meet with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and possibly with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

On Tuesday, the day after he returns, Netanyahu will meet in Jerusalem with visiting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Netanyahu’s meeting with Kerry will come before the much anticipated release of a report by the Quartet – made up of the US, EU, UN and Russia – that is expected to spell out the reasons for the current diplomatic logjam and give recommendations on how to move forward.

Netanyahu wants to keep those recommendations from becoming the cornerstone of a new UN Security Council Resolution to replace UNSC 242, which has underpinned all diplomatic efforts since 1967. He also wants to push a regional umbrella for possible Israeli-Palestinian talks, instead of the international conference the French are pushing as part of their diplomatic initiative.

Both Abbas and Rivlin were in Brussels for meetings with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Council President Donald Tusk.

They came in response to invitations from European Parliament head Martin Schulz. He scheduled Rivlin to address the parliament on Wednesday and Abbas on Thursday, with an eye to arranging a meeting between the two men, according to a diplomatic source.

By Thursday afternoon, Rivlin announced that Abbas was evidently not interested in talking with him, even though he would have welcomed such an opportunity.

“On a personal level I find it strange that President Mahmoud Abbas, my friend Abu Mazen, refused again and again to meet with Israeli leaders,” Rivlin said.

Instead, Abbas “turns again and again to the support of the international community,” Rivlin said. “We can talk. We can talk directly and find a way to build confidence.

“We will not be able to build trust between us if we do not begin to speak directly and to look at what we can do and what can be done and not at what cannot be done,” Rivlin said.

“Direct talks is the only possible way to build trust and to resolve the conditions for a peace perspective between Palestinians and Israelis,” Rivlin said. “There are no shortcuts, no detours in the Middle East.”

He spoke during a joint press conference with Mogherini, who refused to directly comment on Abbas’s decision not to talk with Rivlin.

But she did affirm the significance of face-to-face negotiations.

“No one can replace the willingness of the parties to engage in direct negotiations,” Mogherini said.

The Palestinians, however, have preferred an internalized process and only want to talk with Israel, once the parameters of a final-status agreement have been set.

In his speech before the parliament earlier in the day, Abbas set out his parameters for a peace-deal with Israel.

The borders of the two-state solution should be at the pre-1967 lines with a just negotiated solution for Palestinian refugees, Abbas said.

He is not opposed to limited “land swaps” of equal value, Abbas added.

The Palestinians, he said, support a new French initiative which calls for an international peace conference later in the year that would then set the parameters for renewed negotiations with Israel.

Any such talks must have a timeline, Abbas said. There also needs to be monitoring mechanism to insure compliance with any agreements that come out of that conference, he said.

The Palestinian president called on the EU to help his people recognize their right to self-determination by achieving statehood.

“Provisional solutions are a complete waste of time. We do not accept a Palestinian state with provisional borders,” Abbas said. “We want peace for everyone in our region.”

Should the 2002 Arab peace initiative be used as a basis for a peace process, it should not be amended, Abbas said.

“We are against provocation, against extremism,” the Palestinian president told the EU parliamentarians, adding that his people stands with them in their battle against terrorism.

“We are against terrorism in whatever form it may take and whoever carries it out,” Abbas said to strong applause.

“In order to overcome terrorism, we also need to end Israeli occupation by creating a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital,” Abbas said. He spoke in Arabic and his words were translated into English by the EU.

The absence of a two-state solution, he said, would give “pretext to those who commit terrorism in the name of religion.”

However, he said, “once this occupation ends, those pretexts will disappears and extremism will be over as will terrorism. There will be no more terrorism in the Middle East nor elsewhere in the world,” Abbas said.

His speech did not touch on Palestinian terrorism against Israelis, including the shooting attack in which two Palestinian terrorists killed four Israelis as they sat in a Tel Aviv cafe in the Sarona Market earlier this month.

He did, however, accuse Israel of massacring Palestinians and other atrocities against his people, including turning the Palestinian territories into an “open air prison.”

He also alleged that rabbis had encouraged Israelis to poison the Palestinian water supply.

“Certain rabbis in Israel have said very clearly to their government that our water should be poisoned in order to have Palestinians killed. That is provocation and we are against this sort of call for violence,” Abbas said.

Even Israelis themselves acknowledge their country’s injustice, Abbas said. Some Israeli politicians, such as Opposition leader Issac Herzog, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and former prime minister Ehud Barak, have criticized their own governments, Abbas said. Journalists have also spoken up on behalf of the Palestinians, Abbas said.

“All these people, Israelis, are now saying that the Israeli government’s behavior is fascist and racist, and I’m quoting them there,” Abbas said.

Despite such inflammatory rhetoric, he also used the European Parliament to speak to the Israeli public about peace.

“Our hands are extended with a desire for peace,” Abbas said. “We have the political will to achieve peace and we ask you [Israelis], do you have the same political will to achieve peace and to acknowledge the historic injustice your state has exacted on our country?” Abbas asked.

“Our history has been frankly one of a continued existence in this territory since the dawn of civilization until now,” he said.

“Peace is in everyone’s interest and I hope that you, Israelis, neighbors, believe in that, too. “Let us build a peace, which does not involve hegemony or colonization or aggression,” Abbas said.

There should be “peace and coexistence on the basis of justice, law, respect and dignity for all parties involved on an equal footing,” Abbas said.

“That peace will be a genuine guarantee of security, stability and a promising future for our generations to come,” he added.     (Jerusalem Post)

‘Abbas’s refusal to meet me in Brussels is strange,’ Rivlin says

It’s odd that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to meet with Israelis leaders, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said upon learning he had been snubbed by the Palestinian leader in Brussels.

“On a personal level I find it strange that President Mahmoud Abbas, my friend Abu Mazen, refused again and again to meet with Israeli leaders,” Rivlin said.

Instead Abbas “turns again and again to the support of the international community,” Rivlin said.

“We can talk. We can talk directly and find a way to build confidence,” Rivlin said.

He spoke during a joint press conference with the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Both Rivlin and Abbas are simultaneously visiting the European Union’s main governmental headquarters to talk with Mogherini and to address the European Parliament about the possibilities for jump-starting the peace process which has been frozen for the last two years.

But while they walked down the halls of the same buildings to discuss resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there was no interaction between the two men.

German politician Martin Schulz, who heads the European Parliament, attempted to arrange a meeting or even a small exchange between Abbas and Rivlin.

The Israeli President said he was eager for such an exchange, but Abbas rejected Schulz’ initiative.

“I was happy to welcome the initiative by the representative of the EU to set a meeting between me and President Abbas who is also visiting Brussels this very day.

“I was very sorry to learn that he rejected such a meeting.

We will not be able to build trust between us if we do not begin to speak directly and to look at what we can do and what can be done and not at what can not be done,” Rivlin said.

“There is a lot to be done,” he said.

“We must stay focused on the bilateral negotiations between the Palestinians and us. Direct talks is the only possible way to build trust and to resolve the conditions for a peace perspective between Palestinians and Israelis,” Rivlin said.

“There are no short cuts, no detours in the Middle East,” he added.

Mogherini did not address Abbas’s refusal to meet Rivlin, when she spoke with reporters right after Rivlin.

“I will not comment on what Rivlin mentioned about the presence at the same time here in Brussels of himself and President Abbas, but the EU is constantly working, daily with both parties with a sense of friendship.

“We are convinced that yes, we can be friends of Israel and friends of Palestine. This allows us to be bridge builders.

“No one can replace the willingness of the parties to engage in direct negotiations,” Mogherini said.

Israel has persistently called on the Palestinians to hold direct talks and has explained to the international community that the pursuit of any other process only hardens the Palestinian refusal to resume negotiations.

The last peace process that involved direct talks fell apart in April 2014.

The Palestinians have preferred an internalized process and only want to talk with Israel, once the parameters of a final-status agreement have been set.

This includes an understanding that the two-state solution will be at the pre-1967 lines and a timetable for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank.           (Jerusalem Post)

Israel blasts Europe’s ‘colonialist’ peace initiative

Europe’s approach to Israel appears to be a resurrection of its past colonialism, a senior Israeli official said Tuesday. It was part of an unusually blistering attack on the EU and its Middle East policies, in which the official accused European leaders of cynically employing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to deflect criticism and to distract the public from their inability to solve the continent’s real pressing problems.

“When I look at the sequence of the EU implementing labeling [for settlement products] and now the endorsement of an international conference, I feel that those are the ghosts of a colonial European past coming back to life,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said

The EU’s 28 foreign ministers on Tuesday endorsed France’s plan to hold an international peace conference in Paris to advance the stalled peace process. Israel has repeatedly rejected the French initiative, arguing that it hardens Palestinian negotiating positions and thus distances peace.

Nahshon said the union was unqualified to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as long as it struggled to properly address its own woes.

“They have no credibility whatsoever if they deal with this conflict without dealing with the major issues that are far more important to Europe and the world, starting with the Syrian civil war, and challenges that Europe itself is facing, such as Brexit, immigration and Islamic terror,” he said.

Jerusalem wonders “whether Israel is not being employed, whether we are not being used in a cynical and deliberate way as a kind of fig leaf, a universal panacea, for a continent that is obviously unwilling or unable to deal with its real issues,” the diplomat thundered.

“Unfortunately, the conclusion is that this is probably the case,” he said. “Whenever you are in trouble, whenever you are a European leader unpopular at home, and whenever you face insurmountable challenges, then there’s nothing like organizing a conference on Israel to create a false agenda that will attract attention elsewhere.”

Nahshon charged that while the EU was embroiled in its most urgent problems – such as mass waves of immigration from Africa and the Middle East and the possible British decision to leave the union – it “seems to invest a lot of energy” in a peace summit in Paris that is doomed to fail.

If the EU was genuinely concerned about the stalled peace process, it would focus all its efforts on getting the Palestinians to agree to enter direct bilateral talks with Israel, the diplomat said. That is the only way to achieve progress, as evidenced by Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, he added.

During their monthly meeting in Brussels Monday, the EU foreign ministers pledged to make “a concrete and substantial contribution to a global set of incentives” for Israelis and Palestinians, urging EU institutions to “present proposals, including on economic incentives, without delay.” They reaffirmed their 2013 offer of an “unprecedented package of political, economic and security support to be offered to and developed with both parties in the context of a final status agreement.”

Nahshon flatly rejected the European offer of incentives.

“It is inconceivable and unacceptable that upgrading our relations with Europe should be conditioned on our participation in a misguided diplomatic effort,” he said. “This is tantamount to illegitimate pressure. Israel is an important member of the international community, a world leader in science and technology, which the EU benefits from. There is no reason why we should be subjected to such pressure.”

EU officials insist that their offer of assistance to incentivize the peace process is unrelated to efforts to advance EU-Israel bilateral relations on other issues, but Nahshon refused to accept that argument.

“If the EU really wants to promote the peace process it should invest all its energies to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiation table. Israel-EU relations should not be linked to misguided EU initiatives,” he concluded.

Meanwhile Tuesday, a top European Union official said the bloc stands ready to provide Israel and the Palestinians with massive political, economic and security support as part of any peace agreement between them.

European Council President Donald Tusk said that the EU will “back up a peace deal with an unprecedented package of cooperation and support to both Israel and the future state of Palestine.”

Tusk said after talks in Brussels with President Reuven Rivlin that “a lasting peace in the region remains a top priority” for the EU.                          (the Times of Israel)

Rivlin: ‘The State of Israel is by no means a compensation for the Holocaust’

Israel must remain first and foremost a national homeland, and a safe haven for the Jewish people, President Reuven Rivlin said on Wednesday in his inaugural address to the European Parliament.

The president also told the assembly that current conditions are not ripe to making peace, and the posited French initiative will move peace even further away.

“The State of Israel is by no means a compensation for the Holocaust,” Rivlin told the assembled parliamentarians.

“But the Holocaust has posited as a basic tenet the necessity and vitality of the return of the Jewish people to history, as a nation taking its fate in its own hands.”

Rivlin voiced his belief that the massive criticism aimed at Israel in Europe stems from a misunderstanding and an impatience toward this existential need of the Jewish nation and the State of Israel.

The president said Israelis are feeling a growing sense of impatience toward Europe.

“There are those who feel anger and frustration toward certain European actions, vis-à-vis what they perceive as sometimes unfair criticism, sometimes even contaminated by elements of condescension, and some would even say double standard,” he said.

Acknowledging that Europe and Israel cannot agree on everything, Rivlin asked the Europeans, as friends and true allies, to allow Israel to be patient.

“Please respect the Israeli considerations, even when different from your own.

Respect Israeli sovereignty, and the democratic process of its decision-making. Respect Israel’s staunch commitment, indeed its very duty, to protect its citizens. For us it is the most sacred commandment of all,” he declared.

Striking a note of optimism, Rivlin related that a French friend had said to him that if the French and the Germans have made peace and put an end to their hostilities once and for all, there was no reason for Israel and the Arabs not to succeed.

Reiterating Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution, Rivlin said that since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, “the elected Israeli leadership has been – and is – in support of the solution of ‘two states for two peoples.’” However, he made it clear that the current situation is not ripe for such a move.

“We must look at reality straight in the eye and tell the truth,” he said. “Currently, the practical conditions, the political and regional circumstances, which would enable us to reach a permanent agreement between us – the Israelis and the Palestinians – are failing to materialize.”

In order to achieve a comprehensive permanent agreement, an effective leadership is required, he said, noting that the Palestinian leadership today is divided in – at least – two: The Palestinian Authority ruling over Judea and Samaria, and Hamas, which rules Gaza and is ideologically committed – in both its political and military leadership – to the annihilation of Israel.

Before a stable and viable agreement can be achieved, Rivlin continued, a reasonable regional and economic infrastructure is required. But the region in which Israelis and Palestinians are living is plagued by murderous jihadi fundamentalism, religious fanaticism and incitement, embodied in Islamic State and Hezbollah, said Rivlin.

“We live in a reality of a chaos-stricken Middle East in which uncertainty is the only certainty,” he said.

Citing the dire economic straits, poverty, and lack of infrastructure in Gaza and Judea and Samaria, Rivlin said these circumstances will continue destabilization and nurture violence. Israel is making vast efforts to counter these conditions and is doing more than any other player in the region, Rivlin asserted, adding that this is being done even at the price of complex security risk-taking.

“But Israeli intervention alone will not suffice,” he said.

Rivlin said the most fundamental obstacle to peace is “total lack of trust between the parties on all levels.” Better results cannot be achieved while resorting to attitudes and tools that have repeatedly failed, Rivlin insisted.

The French initiative, adopted by the EU’s institutions only a few days earlier, suffers from those very fundamental faults, he said, dismissing the attempt to return to negotiations for negotiations’ sake.

“Not only does this not bring us near the long-awaited solution, but, rather, it drags us further away from it.

This striving for a permanent agreement ‘now’ is the chronicle of a predictable failure, which will only push the two peoples deeper into despair.”

Rivlin characterized this despair as “the hottest bed for extremism,” saying that it undermines the endeavors of moderates. He warned that the worldview of young people growing up in the region is shaped by the violent present. “This despair is the gravest danger looming over us, Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

If the international community really wishes and truly aspires to be a constructive player, it must divert its efforts away from the renewal of negotiations for negotiations’ sake, and toward building trust between the parties, and to creating the necessary terms for the success of negotiations in the future, said Rivlin.

While appreciating the efforts of the international community in general and the European Union in particular in the quest for a peaceful future for the parties, Rivlin insisted the responsibility for building trust between Israel and her neighbors rests, first and foremost, on the shoulders of the two parties.

“But if Europe is interested in serving as a constructive factor in striving for a future agreement, it will be incumbent upon you, its leaders, to focus efforts at this time in a patient and methodic building of trust, not through divestments but through investment; not by boycotts but by cooperation,” Rivlin declared.

He listed as the first task the harnessing of moderate powers in the region, emphasizing that cooperation with Jordan and Egypt is a supreme common interest of Israel and the international community in trying to prevent the bolstering of military might from beyond Israel’s borders, and in order to eradicate extremism and preserve the stability of the region.                          (Jerusalem Post)

Report: Hamas Leadership Panicked Over Defection to Israel of Top Operatives

A number of recent defections has Hamas in a panic, London-based pan-Arab news outlet Al Asharq al Awsat reported on Wednesday.

According to the report — first highlighted in English by pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon  and quoted by the Palestine Press Agency — because there is no apparent link among the defectors – all of whom have absconded from Gaza to Israel and are sharing key information with Israeli security forces – it is proving difficult for the terrorist organization’s leadership to decipher a pattern and put a stop to the phenomenon.

As was reported in The Algemeiner last week, a senior member of Hamas – Bassam Mahmoud Baraka, from Khan Yunis – told his family he was going on an errand, and then turned up at the Gaza-Israel border, with his laptop in tow, and surrendered himself to the IDF. The Red Cross subsequently informed his family that he was in Israel.

Baraka, it was reported, is privy to significant details about how Hamas builds its terror tunnels, whose purpose is to conduct cross-border raids to kidnap and kill Israelis. So, too, are the three or four other high-ranking members of the terrorist organization who escaped to the Jewish state.

As a result, according to Al Asharq al Awsat, the Hamas leadership has instituted new rules to keep critical personnel away from the Israeli border.

Details of tunnel construction have also been revealed by Hamas operatives captured by Israel over the course of the year. In May, for example, a 17-year-old member of Hamas’ “military wing” who crossed the border into Israel, was apprehended and interrogated by the IDF, the Shin Bet and Israel Police. He revealed a wealth of information about the tunnels – including the fact that some of them contain showers, toilets, kitchens – and even rest and recreation facilities — to enable the diggers and terrorists planning massive attacks against Israel to remain underground for extensive periods of time.

In April, it was reported that Hamas was using more than 1,000 operatives to dig the tunnels – using smuggled building material and excavation machinery – and paying each a salary of $300-$400 per month. Meanwhile, as was reported by Israel Radio at the time, Hamas’s elite terror unit, Nukhbah, was conducting simulations of attacks on Israelis through the tunnels, many of which collapsed during the winter, possibly as a result of heavy rain. Several Hamas operatives have been killed in the tunnel collapses, for which Israel has denied responsibility.                           (the Algemeiner)

Israel to install its own cyber defenses on F-35 jets

Israel will install its own cyber defenses on the F-35 jets it will receive this year, the air force’s Chief of Staff, Brig.-Gen. Tal Kelman, said on Tuesday.

Kelman praised the jet across the board, saying it would significantly upgrade Israel’s ability to defend itself, but added that he had been greatly disturbed by the issue of cyber defense for the stealth aircraft.

After negotiations with the US and the plane’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, an agreement was reached enabling the Israel Air Force (IAF) to create Israeli cyber defense solutions.

Kelman said the IAF is also striving to achieve an independent ability to maintain the aircraft within the country’s borders, due to daily fighter jet operational flights, and the need to ensure rapid deployment in the event of a sudden armed conflict.

“We are integrating Israeli defense companies to carry out some of the maintenance,” he said. The US will still be responsible for basic maintenance functions, which it will carry out of an installation at the IAF’s Nevatim airbase in southern Israel.

Fifty percent of pilot training will be carried out on the F-35 simulator, Kelman said, representing an approximate five-fold increase in the percentage of simulator training that occurs in older, fourth-generation jets like the F-16.

Two F-35 squadrons will be based at Nevatim, and if a third is acquired by Israel would likely be deployed in another base, Kelman said. The IAF is seeking to expand the number of jets it will receive from 33 to 50, with a view of eventually having 75 aircraft at its disposal.

After the first two F-35 jets arrive in 2016, Israel will receive six to seven per year, until the first batch of 33 jets is delivered. One of those planes will be experimental, enabling Israel to later fit the squadrons with Israeli-made munitions and other on board systems.

An initial squadron has already been set up, and its pilots have been described by Kelman as an air force “dream team.” “They are the best we have,” he said.

After the squadrons become operational, its pilots will have completed air force training school, and will have flown on older F-16s and F-15s, before taking control of the F-35s.  (Jerusalem Post)

Extremist haredi booklet says IDF enlistment process ‘like selection at gates of Auschwitz’

A new propaganda booklet produced by haredi extremists against haredi conscription in the IDF compares the army enlistment process to Nazi selections at Auschwitz, and that the IDF wants haredi yeshiva students as “a pound of flesh.”

The descriptions and claims in the booklet – which has come to light in recent days – are the most extreme yet in a long list of pernicious materials produced by a small group of haredi radicals inciting against IDF service.

The brochure is designed as a handbook for haredi yeshiva students who have been called to report to IDF enlistment offices, and how they should conduct themselves.

All Jewish men, including haredi yeshiva students, receive orders to appear at IDF enlistment offices for preliminary processing. The large majority of haredi yeshiva students do report for this process, and subsequently receive a deferral of their military service.

“First and foremost, remember that you are amongst people who want what is bad for you,” states the booklet, first published by Ynet on Tuesday.

“That which is spiritually bad and that which is physically bad,” adding that the IDF “doesn’t want you as a person, it wants you as a pound of flesh. At the recruitment office, [people there] aren’t flies, that would be a compliment for them (don’t say this out loud, but that is how you should see them, pitiful things). They are nothings, zero! One big nothing.”

The text says that the yeshiva students should not be excited seeing people with guns, or thinking about tanks and military aircraft.

“ So we repeat, they are nothing, not even stinking maggot flies,” the booklet declares, alongside pictures of flies and piles of rubbish.

“There are not many hours in your life that can determine your fate for many years, ״ it continues. “In the coming hour they will examine every smile, and every sentence of yours, in order to give you a fatal test, similar to the ‘exams’ at the gates of the death camps of Auschwitz, where they examined the condition of every youth, and even the smallest of changes can determine his fate of death, God forbid.”

Radical elements in the haredi community have, in the past few years, waged a vitriolic campaign of incitement and harassment against haredi IDF officers involved in recruiting haredi conscripts, as well as against enlisted haredi soldiers.

It was initiated as efforts to legislate mandatory enlistment for haredi yeshiva students were under way in the last government, after the High Court of Justice struck down the previous arrangement as discriminatory.

The campaign has taken the form of posters, pamphlets and booklets, with cartoons and other images that incite readers against haredi officials involved in promoting IDF service.

These publications routinely depict such people as pigs, and malign those elements attempting to corrupt haredi youth.

“There is no doubt that this is a marginal and radical group which does not include the majority of haredi society,” said Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri, who headed the government committee that initiated the legislation in the previous government.

“We must uproot this incitement and this use of racist terms in an uncompromising manner.”   (Jerusalem Post)

(Believe it or not)

Abbas presents Saudi king with framed Zionist newspaper

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas gave a commemorative gift to Saudi King Salman on Sunday.

A framed copy of a 1930s-era Palestine Post.

Which was a Zionist paper and the precursor to today’s Jerusalem Post.


The date of the newspaper: August 13, 1935.

It details a visit by the Emir Saud to Palestine, which is why Abbas chose that date. But it also has stories that Abbas might not want the king to read, like “Lucerne Beehive of Activity as Zionist Delegates Arrive” and “Health Spas Ban All Jews” in Germany which was written by the very Jewish “Palestine Telegraphic Agency,” or “Vienna Police Seek 2 Arabs” – not calling them “Palestinians” for some odd reason.                     (Elder of Ziyon)


President Mahmoud Abbas: The Palestinian “Untouchable”

by Khaled Abu Toameh             The Gatestone Institute


For many years, Palestinians hoped that one day they would enjoy public freedoms under the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA), like the freedoms their neighbors in Israel have. But more than two decades after the establishment of the PA, democracy and freedom of speech are still far from being introduced to Palestinian society.

A PA court sentenced Anas Saad Awwad to a year in prison for posting on Facebook a photoshopped picture of Abbas wearing a Real Madrid shirt.

“Come and invest in the Palestinian areas, but if you don’t bribe their corrupt officials, the Palestinian Authority will arrest you. This is a desperate political arrest by an undemocratic Palestinian Authority president who has no credibility amongst his people. ” — Khaled al-Sabawi, son of Palestinian-Canadian investor Mohamed al-Sabawi, who was jailed for recommending the removal of Mahmoud Abbas from power.

It is not easy for an Arab journalist to criticize his or her leaders. If there is one thing Arab dictators cannot tolerate, it is criticism, especially when it comes from an Arab journalist, columnist or political opponent.

For many years, Palestinians were hoping that one day they would enjoy freedom of expression under the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA). But more than two decades after the establishment of the PA, Palestinians have learned that democracy and freedom of speech are still far from being introduced to their society.

Since then, Palestinians have also learned that their leaders are “untouchable” and above criticism. Both Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, have even taught Palestinians that “insulting” their president is a crime and an act of treason.

During the past two decades, several Palestinians who dared to criticize Abbas or Arafat have been punished in different ways.

The latest victim of this campaign against critics is Jihad al-Khazen, a prominent Lebanese journalist and columnist who recently wrote on article about the need for the “failed and corrupt” Palestinian Authority leadership to retire.

Al-Khazen, a veteran journalist with the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, is now under attack by the PA. The goal: deterrence of free speech.

In the Looking Glass land of the Palestinian Authority, criticism of Abbas is classed as “insult to the president” and has landed critics behind bars — or worse.

In 2013, a Palestinian journalist working for the al-Quds TV channel in Bethlehem, Mamdouh Hamamreh, was sentenced to one year in prison for posting a picture on Facebook that was deemed insulting to President Abbas. Abbas was depicted in the image as a fictional character who collaborated with French colonial forces in Syria. Abbas later pardoned the journalist.

That same year, a Palestinian Authority court sentenced Anas Saad Awwad, from the West Bank village of Awarta, to a year in prison for posting on Facebook a photoshopped picture of Abbas wearing a Real Madrid shirt.

Also in 2013, PA security forces detained a Palestinian-Canadian investor, Mohamed al-Sabawi, 68, on charges of insulting Abbas. Al-Sabawi was president of the Board of Directors of Ahlia Insurance Group, which employs hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank. He was detained for two weeks after he publicly called for the removal of Abbas from power.

The businessman’s son, Khaled, who is from Ontario, Canada, said that the detention of his father showed that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s plan to bring $4 billion in private investment to the Palestinian territories was “nonsense.” He added:

“Come and invest in the Palestinian areas, but if you don’t bribe their corrupt officials, the Palestinian Authority will arrest you. This is a desperate political arrest by an undemocratic Palestinian Authority president who has no credibility amongst his people. I think my father hurt President Abbas’s feelings.”

In the past few years, Palestinian officials who have also dared to criticize Abbas, or were accused of insulting him, paid a heavy price. The list of officials who were punished for raising their voices against their president includes Mohamed Dahlan, Yasser Abed Rabbo and Salam Fayyad.

Mohamed Dahlan, an elected Fatah member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a former PA security commander in the Gaza Strip, was expelled from Fatah in 2011 at the request of Abbas. Dahlan was also forced to flee the West Bank after Abbas sent his security forces to raid the Dahlan’s Ramallah residence and arrest some of his supporters. Dahlan has since found refuge in the United Arab Emirates.

Until recently, Yasser Abed Rabbo served as Secretary-General of the PLO and was considered one of Abbas’s closest aides. Last year, however, Abbas removed him from his job after he reportedly criticized the president in closed meetings.

Salam Fayyad, the former Palestinian Authority prime minister, was also punished for allegedly criticizing Abbas. Last year, the PA froze Fayyad’s bank account and accused him of money laundering. The decision came after Fayyad received a large sum from the United Arab Emirates for a non-governmental organization that he, Fayyad, heads. Under pressure from the international community and some Arab countries, Abbas was later forced to rescind the decision.

Now Jihad al-Khazen has joined the list of critics who are being targeted by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Al-Khazen’s crime is that he wrote an article lambasting Abbas and the veteran leadership of the PA.

The controversial article was published earlier this month in the Al-Hayat daily.

The article quotes an unnamed senior Gulf official saying that the time has come for Abbas and the entire Palestinian Authority leadership to retire. “We don’t trust them,” the Gulf official is quoted as saying, referring to the PA leadership. Although the Gulf official is not mentioned by name, Abbas and his aides in Ramallah say they believe the man is Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi (the emirate that hosts and funds Abbas’s arch-enemy, Mohammed Dahlan).

Commenting on Abbas’s decision to freeze the bank account of Fayyad, the senior Gulf official is quoted in the article as having said:

“Do you really believe that the United Arab Emirates would choose to launder money though the Palestinian territories? The Palestinian prosecutor-general later admitted that Abu Mazen [Abbas] had ordered him to fabricate the charge. The United Arab Emirates is now demanding a public apology from Abbas. We have suspended all aid to the Palestinian Authority.”

Al-Khazen said that the Gulf official also spoke with him about Abbas and his wife and children. “But I have decided not to publish these things,” he added. Al-Khazen said he spent nearly two hours talking to the Gulf official whom he quotes in the article.

The response from the Palestinian Authority was swift. In Ramallah, calling for the retirement of the president and the PA leadership in an influential Arab newspaper is a deadly serious matter. The 77-year-old al-Khazen can consider himself fortunate that he does not live in the fair city of Ramallah with the PA leadership.

The first attack on al-Khazen was framed in the traditional Palestinian theory of a Zionist conspiracy. Published by the official Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa, which is controlled by Abbas loyalists, the article referred to the al-Khazen’s charges as “vulgarities,” and attempted to establish a link between Israeli “incitement” against the PA and the article in Al-Hayat.

Next we read of the beleaguered defensive posture. Abbas’s agency notes that the article aired at a time when the Palestinian Authority is “facing the Zionist project on all fronts.” Finally, we get to the heart of the matter: dictatorial censorship. As in, where is it?

“Does a respected and responsible newspaper have the right to allow such filthy words to appear on its pages?” the Wafa agency asks. “And does Jihad al-Khazen or anyone else have the right to say whatever they want without any control? And do they have the right to insult people or Arab leaders without being held accountable?”

Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction has also been recruited to defend its leader’s reputation. Again, the faction resorted to the famous tactic of linking any legitimate criticism of Abbas to Israel. In a statement, Fatah accused the columnist of “serving the state of occupation [Israel] and those who are working towards undermining President Abbas, Fatah, the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people.” The statement added: “This is a service for the [Israeli] government of Binyamin Netanyahu, which is interested in stepping up its organized campaign against President Abbas.”

In the eyes — and words — of Abbas and his cronies, anyone who opens his mouth in criticism of the Palestinian president — from a Gulf leader to a respected Arab columnist — is a mouthpiece for the Zionist project.

Deterrence is the name of this game. And prison is probably the best place some would-be whistleblowers can hope for. This is not what Palestinians were hoping for when the Oslo Accords were signed with Israel, paving the way for the creation of the Palestinian Authority. Many Palestinians were hoping back then that, under the PA, they would enjoy public freedoms like the ones their neighbors in Israel have. Sadly, most Palestinians are no longer living under the illusion that their current leaders would ever bring them democracy and freedom of speech.

The case of al-Khazen, who is facing a campaign of intimidation and insults, serves as a reminder to Palestinians that their leaders are infallible and untouchable, and that the liberty they had hoped for is still far, far away.