Senior US Delegation Looks into Bolstering Mideast Peace Talks

US, Kushner, Mideast

Ramallah, London – US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, arrived in Israel on Wednesday evening as part of a Middle East tour aimed at exploring ways to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He is scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday, following talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kushner, heading a senior US delegation that included Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt, kicked off his Middle East tour in Jordan on Sunday and visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt and Israel.

Kushner met with the Deputy Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, on Tuesday in Jeddah, in the presence of the US delegation and Saudi officials.

The two sides affirmed their commitment to strengthening their close ties and cooperation and agreed to support efforts to achieve a true and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and to consolidate security, stability and prosperity in the Middle East.

They also stressed their common priority to cut all forms of support for terrorists and extremists.

The US delegation then headed to Doha, where talks with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani focused on the importance of combatting terrorism and extremism and strengthening cooperation between Doha and Washington.

In Jordan, the meeting with King Abdullah II was dedicated to “efforts to revive the peace process and relaunch serious and effective negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis based on the two-state solution as the only way to end the conflict,” according to a statement issued by the Royal Jordanian Court.

The US is seeking to forge a regional peace agreement, which is a point of deep disagreement between Palestinians and Americans, Palestinian sources with knowledge of the matter told Asharq al-Awsat.

According to those sources, US officials are trying to engage the Palestinians into comprehensive understandings, rather than dealing separately with the Palestinian Cause.

“They have not presented a clear vision for peace, and they do not have a well-defined plan of action yet,” the sources added.

Identity of Sinai Attackers Stirs Controversy

A picture taken from the Rafah border of the southern Gaza Strip with Egypt shows smoke billowing in Egypt's North Sinai on July 8, 2017.

Ramallah, Gaza – Unconfirmed news about the participation of former Hamas members in the ISIS’ attack in the Sinai Peninsula that killed at least 23 Egyptian soldiers stirred up debates in Palestine and Egypt.

Social media accounts of ISIS supporters reported that three persons from Rafah, south of Gaza strip, were former members of al-Qassam brigades and participated in the attack. The members were recognized after Egyptian army posted their pictures and later announced that their families had identified them.

Both Egyptian and Palestinian media outlets reported the news without any official sources commenting on the matter. Yet, sources said later on that what has been posted was not accurate. The sources also said that the families mentioned didn’t announce anything.

If the reports that Palestinians participated in the attack were true, Hamas will be in hot waters especially after it had pledged to monitor the borders. In addition, Egyptian army’s reports that extremist members from Gaza were part of attacks against Egypt will be confirmed.

Sources close to the matter in Gaza stated that despite intensified measures taken by Hamas, some extremist members are able to leave Gaza and join ISIS in Sinai.

Hamas increased its monitoring of the border and deployed more troops. It also began establishing a buffer zone with Egypt.

Head of Hamas’ political bureau Ismail Haniyyeh said that the movement increased its measures on the border to ensure the borders are not infiltrated. During his visit to Egyptian community in Gaza, Haniyyeh expressed his condolences and ensured that further measures will be taken to control the border.

Hamas denounced the attack earlier in the day in Egypt’s Sinai as a “terrorist” assault.

Hamas’ spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group considers the attack in Sinai “a criminal, a terrorist, and a coward attack that doesn’t target Egypt only, but the security and stability of the entire Arab nation.”

Observers believe that Hamas’ relationship with Egypt had improved recently, as the movement vowed to prevent any aggression against Egypt launched from Gaza. Yet, the Sinai attack will increase pressure on Hamas that is aware that such operation will damage its image and measures taken concerning the siege on Gaza Strip.

The movement offered its condolences to the Egyptian leadership and people.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned in his name on behalf of the State of Palestine and its people the terrorist attack targeting a security center on Friday in North Sinai.

Abbas confirmed Palestine’s standing alongside Egypt and its leadership, headed by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, in their war against terrorism.

“The Palestinian president, while condemning these vicious attacks carried out by hired terrorists against the Egyptian army and security forces in Sinai, affirms that he is confident that these crimes will not undermine Egypt’s determination in its war against terrorism and fight by all available means,” said the presidency statement.

Aqsa Witnesses Fiercest Tension since Months

Palestinians climb over a section of the controversial Israeli barrier as they try to make their way to attend the second Friday prayers of Ramadan in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque, near Ramallah

Ramallah, Tel Aviv- Al-Aqsa Mosque and its surrounding have turned into a conflict zone on Sunday with outbreak of clashes between worshipers and Israeli occupation forces – these clashes included siege, conflicts, arrests and attempts to raid Al-Qibli Chapel, causing a huge destruction in the building in the fiercest tension witnessed by the mosque since months.

Clashes started when worshipers confronted settlers who insisted on breaking into the mosque in the early morning hours, so the Israeli Police sent a huge special force inside the mosque to arrest worshipers who took the chapel as a shelter.

Director of Aqsa Mosque Sheikh Omar Kiswani said that some 250 Israeli soldiers had allowed Jewish worshipers to enter the mosque to provoke fasting worshipers, in a violation of all international agreements and pledges.

Israeli forces violently beat some young people and also fired rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas, causing three injuries and cases of suffocation, Kiswani added.

Israeli Police stated that it had detained two worshipers suspected of attacking its members, adding that they would be sent to court to consider extending their arrest duration.

The city residents and sellers said that usually during the last days of Ramadan markets boom but the occupation procedures have paralyzed the city getting prepared to Eid-Al-Fitr.

The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab citizens of Israel denounced the assault on Aqsa Mosque in a statement issued on Sunday.

Munir al-Jaghoub, head of Fatah’s Information Department in the Office of Mobilization and Organization, said that the suffering of residents of Jerusalem show the racist facade of Israel and refute its claims of respecting rights of religious people to access sacred Islamic and Christian sites.

Hamas Announces New Program: State Based on 1967 Border

Hamas

Ramallah, Doha – Hamas officially announced on Monday its new political program by accepting the idea of a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967 border, but rejected to recognize Israel, affirming that its conflict, which is political, not religious, lies with the Zionist project.

The new program was announced by head of the movement’s political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, at a press conference held on Monday night in Doha, with the participation of the entire Hamas leadership from Gaza via videoconference.

“Hamas advocates the liberation of all of Palestine but is ready to support the state on 1967 borders without recognizing Israel or ceding any rights,” Meshaal said.

He said “Hamas is vital and renewable in its political performance. The program is a natural manifestation to our advancement and renewal.”

Hamas agreed four years ago on the need to write this political program, which went through long stages and was changed several times, he added.

“The Movement wanted this document to be a guide and a reference to anyone who wants to know about Hamas and its policies,” Mashaal added.

The Hamas press conference was delayed for two hours on Monday. The Movement said the administration of the hotel from where Meshaal was supposed to announce the new platform decided to apologize at the last minute from hosting the event, prompting Hamas to find an alternative location.

But, Hamas politburo member Izzat al-Rishq spoke about a “war of halls” launched on the “chased platform.”

On Monday, Israel considered the new program as “an attempt to fool the world.”
By announcing it, Meshaal would have completed his role because he is leaving the Hamas leadership in the upcoming days, with Ismail Haniyeh expected to be announced as the new leader.

Barghouti Refuses Treatment Despite Deteriorating Health

Marwan Barghouti

Ramallah, Tel Aviv – Fears have risen for jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti after reports stating his health is “dangerously deteriorating” especially that the hunger strike he began along with other detainees completed its first week. Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and Fatah Central Committee.

Fatah held Israel responsible for Barghouti’s life, while Kaddoura Fares, president of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, said they have little information about Barghouti but they know he is suffering from low blood sugar and pressure and that he is refusing to take any medical treatment. He warned that during the coming days the health of several more detainees could get worse especially the elderly and sick.

Media Committee of Freedom and Dignity collective hunger strike confirmed that the health condition of Barghouti has severally deteriorated. Prisoners from all Palestinian political factions are participating in the mass open-ended hunger strike led by Barghouti.

Palestinian Prisoners Club reported that the prison’s warden asked Barghouti to take treatment, but he refused. He then asked Barghouti’s fellow prisoner Nasser Abu Hamid to convince Barghouti to get medical treatment.

Hamid declined, according to the report, saying if Barghouti did die, “he will die a martyr.”

Barghouti is one of the most influential detainees and is considered a candidate for the time post-Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. He is leading over 1,500 prisoners in a hunger strike, which was launched on Monday, April 17, to demand better prison conditions and treatment. He is the only one designated to negotiate with the prisoner’s management and declaring the end of the strike.

The prisoners are demanding to be moved to prisons in the occupied territories as per the Fourth Geneva Convention, which would make it easier for their families to visit them, as well as lifting restrictions on family visits and better treatment at military checkpoints.

Israel is refusing to negotiate with the prisoners amid calls to leave the prisoners to die.

Fatah said that Israel is held accountable for any deterioration in the health of Barghouti or his fellow prisoners.

Fatah spokesperson Osama al-Qawasmi said Barghouti is leading this alongside his fellow detainees to send a message to the whole world that Palestinians are determined to get their freedom and that Israel’s solitary and suppressive policies will not bring their wills down.

Qawasmi said that Fatah and the Palestinian people support the prisoners and their rights. He called upon the international community to interfere instantly to save the lives of the detainees.

For the eighth day, Israel won’t allow lawyers of the prisoners to visit them. Palestinian authority is contacting international communities and organizations to pressure Israel into giving the prisoners their rights.

Former Israeli politician and author Uri Avnery described Marwan al-Barghouti as the “Palestinian Mandela” in one of his articles. He wrote about the several times he visited Barghuouti in his “modest Ramallah home.” He also described the conversations they had discussing Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“Our ideas were the same: to create the State of Palestine next to the State of Israel, and to establish peace between the two states, based on the 1967 lines (with minor adjustments), with open borders and cooperation,” wrote Avnery.

Avnery said that Barghouti is a born leader, and despite his small physical stature, he stands out in any gathering.

He added: “This week, Barghouti, together with about a thousand other Palestinian prisoners in Israel, started an unlimited hunger strike. I have just signed a petition for his release.”

The author said that both Barghouti and Mandela were men of peace, but justified the use of violence against their oppressors. However, he added, while the Apartheid regime was satisfied with one life term, Barghouti was sentenced to a “ridiculous five life terms and another 40 years, for acts of violence executed by his Tanzim organization.”

“Gush Shalom published a statement this week suggesting that by the same logic, Menachem Begin should have been sentenced by the British to 91 life terms for the bombing of the King David hotel, in which 91 people, many of them Jews, lost their lives,” concluded Avnery.

Hamas Apologizes to Abbas for Insults

Ramallah, Gaza- A few days following a fierce attack on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Hamas Movement apologized for the unacceptable insults launched by some of its members during marches staged in the Gaza Strip.

“I extremely apologize for such an individual behavior, Mr. President,” Hamas Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said, describing the conduct of some of the movement’s supporters as “crossing the line of eloquence, principles and ethics.”

Barhoum’s regret came only a few hours after another Hamas member apologized for the insults made against Abbas.

Ahmad Youssef, adviser to the deputy chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, said that what happened requires an apology.

“I apologize on behalf of myself, and on behalf of what I represent in this movement, for the unethical mistake, which is unjustified,” he said.

Supporters of the Hamas Movement in Gaza had shot at pictures of Abbas and had used them in an inappropriate manner that insulted the president.

The offenses took place as Hamas leaders were meeting with Fatah officials to reach an agreement on ending the inter-Palestinian division in Gaza, after Abbas threatened to take unprecedented measures if the movement does not hand over the territory’s management to the consensus government.

Informed Palestinian sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday that a rapprochement meeting was held between officials from the two sides in the Gaza Strip late on Tuesday. But the talks did not lead to any results.

Instead, the two parties exchanged a list of demands for the purpose of having a successful dialogue in the future to end the crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The sources said that the meeting lasted for more than two hours but failed to produce any clear results. But, participants agreed to meet again with a hope to reach new agreements before a delegation from the Fatah central committee – carrying an initiative to end the division – arrives in Gaza.

Unprecedented Verbal Attack between Palestinian Authority, Hamas

Palestine

Ramallah, Gaza – An unprecedented verbal attack has broken out between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on the eve of a planned meeting between the two sides in Gaza in order to put an end to the Palestinian division.

Hamas Movement said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is leading a fourth aggression on Gaza on behalf of Israeli occupation authorities with his latest decisions on Gaza salary cuts.

Hamas Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement, on Saturday, that Abbas is responsible for Gaza siege and isolation as well as the power and water crises other than the lack of health services.

Barhoum also held Abbas responsible for denying workers of their basic rights and suspending allocations of martyrs, the wounded and other needy categories.

This language is different from that spoken by Hamas in the past few days as they welcomed the delegation from the central committee of Fatah movement that is supposed to arrive to Gaza any time before the end of April to hold talks with Hamas movement and other factions.

Notably, Fatah delegation carries with it a specific initiative from Abbas, which calls for dissolving Hamas’s committee it has established earlier to manage Gaza and then carrying out public elections, otherwise the alternative would be to enact more difficult measures against Gaza.

Hamas escalated its speech against President Abbas following the latter’s threats to take unprecedented measures in case Hamas refused the options that will be suggested by the central delegation.

The Palestinian authority government started last month to cut salaries of Gaza employees by 30 to 50%, which sparked a wave of anger among the Fatah leadership in Gaza and their staff before the president threatened to take unspecified further steps.

Abbas warned that he will take “unprecedented steps” to end the political division between his West Bank-based autonomy government and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Abbas told Palestinian diplomats in Bahrain during conference of the ambassadors of Palestine to Arab and Muslim countries: “These days, we are in a dangerous and tough situation that requires decisive steps, and we are to take these decisive steps.”

“Therefore, we are going to take unprecedented steps in the coming days to end the division.”

Gaza’s Energy Authority went on strike on Friday in protest of the unjust measures taken against Palestinians in the besieged strip.

During the protests, several participants carried candles in a message to Abbas and his government that Gaza would never yield to their extortions and threats.

For his part, Mushir al-Masri, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told demonstrators: “We are not blind to the enemy’s use of tricks including tightening the siege using its cheap tools: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Tightening the siege will blow up in the occupation’s face.”

US Releases $221 Million Fund to Palestine

USAID

Ramallah – US has announced the release of the $221 million for Palestinians, which President Donald Trump had previously frozen and put under review after former US President Obama had ordered at the “last minute” of his presidency.

US State Department had confirmed that the money will be used for services in the West Bank and will not go directly to the authorities’ treasury.

A Palestinian official told Asharq Al-Awsat that most of this money had been allocated to foreign organizations working within the Palestinian territories.

Speaking during a press briefing on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that to his understanding the money had been released, but also said that the issue was still under review.

“220.3 million that was released was for West Bank programs such as water, infrastructure, education, renewable energy, civil society, municipal governance, and the rule of law, as well as Gaza recovery. And a smaller amount was to go directly to Israeli creditors of the Palestinian Authority as well as East Jerusalem hospitals. None of the funding was to go directly to the Palestinian Authority,” explained Toner.

The official stated that these funds were never assigned to the authority and were not a donation from former President Obama.

“We don’t know why Trump decided to freeze them, and then released them,” said the official.

He added that the majority of these funds will be given to international organizations in Palestine. “Most of the money will be given to United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for projects within the Palestinian authorities,” according to the official.

The funds included $180 million from USAID, $25 million to support Palestinian hospitals and $45 million to pay for fuel purchased from Israel.

He then explained that the funds were supposed to be given before the end of 2016, but they were delayed until Obama ordered the transfer, few hours before leaving the White House.

On January 20, and just few hours before Trump’s inauguration, Obama informed the congress that he will send the money. The money was frozen after the Congress’ recommendation as a punishment for the authorities’ attempts to join UN organizations and for instigation.

Though it is not legally binding, the White House abode by the Congress’ decision. Hours before Trump’s arrival, former US secretary of state John Kerry informed the Congress of the transfer.

Trump’s administration then announced it had frozen the grant in order to make adjustments to ensure it complies with the new administration’s priorities.

The relations between Trump’s administration and the Palestinian authority are not exactly strong, despite the few meetings made. Major conflict rose when Palestine stated it won’t accept any solution other than the two-state solution, while Trump declared it is not the only solution available.

Palestinians are afraid Trump will transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, warning that this will be an admission that Quds is Israel’s capital, thus ending any US role in the peace process.

Yet, Palestinians are seeking better relations with the US. Chief of Palestinian Intelligence Majid Faraj met with US security officials.

Then, US Director of CIA Mike Pompeo met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. But, till now, no contact has been established at the level of the White House or the State Department.

Palestinian Official: We Received Reassurances on U.S. Embassy Transfer from Tel Aviv

U.S.

Ramallah – Tel Aviv – A senior Palestinian official told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the Palestinian leadership has received reassurances that a plan to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been suspended.

The sources added that based on official information, the plan to move the U.S. embassy was no longer under consideration.

While the sources declined to disclose the party that conveyed the reassurance message to the Palestinian leadership, they stressed that authorities in Ramallah were now relieved from the pressure that was caused by such threat.

Last month, Trump vowed to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in response to a U.N. resolution against the Israeli settlements in Palestine.

His statement stirred a wave of angry reactions from Arab and European states.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that any attempt to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be considered more than a provocation, and hinted to reverse the recognition of Israel as a prelude to other escalatory step.

Abbas appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin and asked him to directly intervene in order to stop Trump from moving the embassy to Jerusalem.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee and senior assistant to Abbas, Dr. Ahmed Majdalani, said that preliminary indicators have shown that Trump went back on his decision.

He added that several factors have led Trump to go back on his promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Majdalani noted in this regard that the U.S. was a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, and any violation it commits to international resolutions would encourage other members, such as China and Russia, to breach other resolutions by the UNSC.

In the same context, Israel’s Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi said that European Union officials have informed him that European Union embassies would remain in Tel Aviv even if Trump goes ahead with his plan to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Local Israeli media quoted Hanegbi as saying that European officials, with whom he met in Brussels earlier this week, have shown a firm stance against any unilateral move, especially with regards to Israeli settlements and the issue of Jerusalem.

Abbas Agrees to Meet Netanyahu with Preconditions

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Ramallah, Tel Aviv: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to sit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow, Russia’s Interfax news agency cited the Palestinian embassy in Moscow as saying on Monday.

Member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s executive committee Saleh Raafat told the official Voice of Palestine radio: “Netanyahu is requeste to implement the Israeli commitment included in the Palestinian and Israeli agreements, to immediately stop all kind of resettlements, and to releases the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners, which may pave the way to a Palestinian-Israeli Summit.”

Raafat said the Russian initiative did not yet set any fixed date for the meeting.

Contrary to reports published earlier, Abbas did not meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who had arrived to Israel when Abu Mazen was on his way to Poland.

Abbas arrived to Warsaw on Monday in a three-day official visit to meet with his Polish counterpart President Andrzej Duda, and a number of officials.

In Israel, Netanyahu’s office said earlier on Monday the prime minister was considering an offer by Russian President Vladimir Putin to host the talks between him and Abbas.

Netanyahu had met with Bogdanov on Monday.

Netanyahu’s office added that the Israeli prime minister “is always ready to meet (Abbas) without preconditions and is therefore considering the Russian president’s proposal very seriously to set the timing for a possible meeting, especially that the proposition comes from President Vladimir Putin.”

Israeli diplomatic sources said yesterday that Netanyahu had spoken with Putin on the phone few days ago and both sides had tackled the issue of the possible summit in details. However, the sources said it was still early to speak about a meeting before the Palestinian side reveals its position.

The sources added: “Palestinians do not seem enthusiastic about anything at the present moment and they are still attached to old conditions although they know Israel would not accept them.”