The Great March of Return: where are the terrorists – The NCF Gaza reports

Palestinians are protesting against restrictions on what goes in and out of Gaza. They are also supporting ‘right to return’ calls from Palestinian refugees. The moving of the USA’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has exaserbated the situation. On Monday 14th May 40,000 Gazans joined the border protest. At least 110 Palestinians, including children, have been killed thus far and thousands injured. Israel claims that protestors are terrorists attempting to break through the barrier. However several hundred metres separate protestors from IDF personnel. Most of the protestors were not violent and avoided getting too close to the ‘border’. Protestors included families with children. Gazans struggle to deal with increasing difficulties. Residents only have around four hours of electricity a day, there is limited access to clean water, limited health services and unemployment in the region is at around 64%. 

The response from the NCF in Gaza

The devastating reality of the situation has been reinforced by the Next Century Foundation’s office in the International Press Centre in Gaza. We were able to speak to them following the events of Monday 14th which they described as a “bloody, bloody day” and the worst so far. Award winning Gazan journalist Adel Zanoun told us that 3,288 people had been injured with a range of severity levels, including journalists. When asked about our journalist friends in Gaza, he said that they are all under threat regardless of whether they are national or international. The targeting of the press indicates that Israel’s claims that they are merely protecting themselves and responding to threats are not credible. Journalists are clearly marked with the word ‘PRESS’ across their chests. If Israel were combatting ‘terrorists’ then why have so many journalists, an estimated 175, been injured with several dead?

Regarding the use of force by Israel, Zanoun said that people were being injured by live fire against the Palestinian demonstrators that had steadily increased over the weeks; he said it was live ammunition that was injuring these people and not rubber bullets. Critical of Israel, he repeatedly tells me of how “bloody” it has been and the intense pressure that the Palestinians in Gaza are under. He makes reference to Hamas, stating that they have definitely played a role in the organisation of the demonstrations and that they may, following on from the intensity of Israel’s response, establish a counter response of their own. He also said that neither Ramadan nor the violence will deter demonstrations from continuing. However, he does not believe that the protests mask terrorism and emphasises that these were Palestinian people objecting to mistreatment.

Citing a widespread “collapse” of infrastructure, he emphasised the severity of the humanitarian situation, Public sector workers have been impacted with their salaries being cut; he says this has led to hospitals opening intermittently and no authorities in place to protect or serve the people in Gaza. There is no knowledge as to when full salaries will be reinstated. Zanoun repeatedly said that the Palestinian people are truly under such pressure that is only likely to worsen. With hospitals closing and virtually no ability to move in and out of the region, and no option for people to return if they do leave, the injured were not adequately cared for*. He says that there had been a breakdown of reconciliation between Hamas and Palestinian authorities in Ramallah thus contributing to the absence of humanitarian or political progress.

The Palestinian people in Gaza are suffering, as they have been for many years. The firing of live ammunition against thousands of mostly innocent and unarmed protestors has furthered the suffering. When I asked Zanoun what he thinks about the future and the next steps, he said “there is no hope for Gaza now”. There is uncertainty, he says, that means that “no one knows what will happen” in one hour, one day or one month. What he does know is that the pressure continues to mount against the people and that political and humanitarian solutions are needed immediately to address the declining situation in Gaza. He said that people and politicians need to be working towards helping those in Gaza.

*N.B. Since speaking to Zanoun, Egypt has opened the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza strip throughout the month of Ramadan. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi tweeted that this would help “alleviate the burden of the brothers in the Gaza strip”

The background to the response

Since the end of March, 110 Palestinians, including children, have been killed in Gaza by Israel’s forces and thousands have been injured as they protest by the ‘border’. The response from the international community was weak to begin with, little attention was paid in the earlier days of these protests. However, since the 14th, Gaza is very much top of the international agenda with varied responses to the atrocities committed.

Israel’s representatives have denied acting wrongfully. They believe that Hamas was the driver of these protests and that the intention was to target Israel, target the borders and do so under the guise of a demonstration. Therefore, they have said their intention was to simply protect their borders and target ‘terrorists’ who were supposedly conducting a terrorist operation. It is undeniable that Hamas have been involved in the organising of these protests, something Zanoun said freely. However, to justify opening live fire on civilians because they are ‘terrorists’ is unacceptable. Not all of those who have died were terrorists, the members of the press who have been wounded, for example, were not terrorists.

In the immediate aftermath, the United States aligned themselves with Israel and did not, unlike their French and British counterparts, condemn the actions of the IDF. They believe their actions were justified. Nikki Haley spoke at the United Nations the following day where Israel was praised for showing “restraint” and blamed Hamas for the death of Palestinians and the violence, stating that it was what they wanted. The USA believed that ultimately, Israel acted in the best interests of its national security. Their stance is perhaps unsurprising given the choice to move the embassy on Nakba Day, a strong display of alliance with Israel and their lack of support for a future peace process.

Britain and France have expressed their disapproval of the actions of Israel and the wish to go forward in peace. Prime Minister Theresa May said that this level of violence is ‘destructive to peace efforts’ and that both sides should be acting with ‘restraint’. Britain’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, stood up and passionately condemned the ‘massacre’ committed by Israel against protestors.  French President Emmanuel Macron was openly disapproving of the violence exercised by Israel’s forces and expressed empathy and compassion for the Palestinian people in Gaza.

As aforementioned, Egypt’s opening of the border crossing with the Gaza strip is emblematic of the attention and compassion that is now being shown to the Palestinians in Gaza by the international community. The United Nations has expressed its concern for the events that have happened since March in Gaza. Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the current High Commissioner for Human Rights, has emphatically highlighted the plight of those in Gaza and their suffering. He also raises the point that there have been no casualties on Israel’s side thus demonstrating the asymmetry in any violent exchanges. Israel, according to al-Hussein, has acted without constraint and excessively. On Friday 18th May the UN Human Rights Council held a special session resolving to call an urgent independent enquiry into Monday’s events. The UK was amongst the 14 countries who abstained, citing the need for Israel to carry out their own independent investigation; the USA and Israel rejected the resolution. The latter once again cited the events in Gaza as a response to Hamas’ terrorist activities.

In Gaza itself, demonstrations continue unabated. The numbers are less and people are more cautious yet there is still drive there. It was quieter though as people across the region, including Israel, said their prayers for the people of Gaza and the ones who have been lost.

The international community has taken notice of Gaza and the suffering and unfairness that its people are subjected to. Israel may affirm the idea that their use of force was a way of responding to a perceived terrorist threat, but these arguments have little credibility. Of course there were agitators and violent protestors present, but children, impartial observers and thousands who posed no threat to the IDF have been injured, some killed. The treatment of Palestinians and their human rights has long been a cause for concern. With several nation states now openly criticising recent events and condemning the use of force against civilians, it leads to hope that there may be, as Adel Zanoun wished, humanitarian and political change for the people of Gaza.

Greece moves to recognise an independent Palestinian state

Palestine_flag_fluttering_in_the_sky_of_the_city_of_Ramallah

On Tuesday 22nd December, the Greek parliament unanimously voted to recognise Palestine as an independent state. The vote came amid a visit from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to Athens. The resolution recognises a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The historic resolution was adopted in the presence of Palestinian leader Abbas. In his speech before the Greek parliament he stated that “Greek parliament’s initiative further contributes to the foundation of the Palestinian state.”

Greece now joins dozens of other countries and is one of nine EU member states that accords recognition to Palestine. The momentum to recognise Palestine as a state is increasing. Sweden was the last EU country to recognise Palestine’s independence. After Sweden’s official move, Sweden’s foreign minister Margot Wallstrom said, “We hope that this will show the way for others.” Seven other European countries have recognised Palestine: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Slovakia, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Romania. An overwhelming majority of countries in Africa, Asia and South America have also recognised the state of Palestine. A total of 136 countries have now made the move.

Since its election last January, Tsipras’ government had made a promise to recognise Palestine as a state. Following the decision, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced that “Palestinian Authority” would be replaced by “Palestine” in all Greek government documentation. Nonetheless the resolution is considered symbolic as it is non-binding. Greek officials have also maintained that the vote “will not disturb good relations with Israel.”

It is great to see more European countries moving towards recognising a Palestinian state. Greece’s move shows more states are willing to work towards peace and a viable solution to the Palestinian issue.

A New Intifada?: What Palestinians are Really “Shaking Off”.

As the wave of violence increases within the West Bank many academics are labelling the rise of Palestinian violence the Third Intifada. Unlike the uprisings of 1987 and 2000, which fully involved the PLO, it seems that Mahmoud Abbas’s PLO is not partaking this time. With two-thirds of Palestinians stating they would want to replace President Abbas, it seems that the main thing the new Intifada is “shaking off” is Abbas’s control in Palestine.

In his UN General Assembly speech two weeks ago, President Mahmoud Abbas stated that Palestinians would “no longer continue to be bound” by the Oslo accords due to Israel’s consistent violations. However, many Palestinian’s do not believe this will lead to any change in on-the-ground realities.

The attacks over the last week have taken place in areas outside of the PLO’s control: Tel Aviv and East Jerusalem. This new generation of protestors are not, and shall not be controlled by their leadership, nor will they allow the PLO to have a role in the uprisings.

Mahmoud Abbas’s uncompromising opposition to violence has left many of the new generation of Palestinians feeling disenchanted with the PLO. Over the past ten years Palestine should have benefited from numerous Western interventions, such as a regenerated West Bank economy, with help from the UK and the US. They should have also established a united Palestinian Government, and secured the release of numerous political prisoners. Instead, this generation of Palestinians have seen the gradual occupation of East Jerusalem, a security force which collaborates with the Israeli security department and the continual violation and occupation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

This new Intifada is a defiance against a government which has increased the loss and despair of the Palestinian population.

As lone wolf attacks by Palestinians continue within Jerusalem and the West Bank, each individual becomes their own leader. They “shake off” Abbas’s waning presence, and fight for their freedom. Something most believe Abbas has not succeeded in delivering.

Raising the (White) Flag?

A week ago the Palestinian state flag was raised for the first time in the rose garden of the UN, fostering hope and symbolising the refusal to abandon a Palestinian homeland. The flag honours those lost in the fight for statehood, those in jails, those killed at checkpoints and those occupied in Gaza.

However, the raising of the flag will not lead to the restarting of the peace process. Mahmoud Abbas’s statement that Palestine would no longer be bound to the Oslo Accords has confirmed the death of the 1990’s Peace Process. Just as Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that Israel would “fiercely reject attempts to impose international dictates” on peace, weeks before severed Israel’s ties to peace. Such statements alongside rising tensions in the West Bank means that the peace process is now a distant memory. The flag has not rectified these issues. If anything it has created further ruptures within the already fragile relationship.

The past week has seen several people killed from clashes in the West Bank, with many more injured. These deaths have emerged from the frustrations which have developed due to a lack of a foreseeable solution. Although the flag has highlighted issues with the Peace Process, it has also galvanised the tense situation in the West Bank. The raising of the Palestinian flag has not addressed any relevant issues but rather papered over their cracks.

Whilst the UN may have willingly raised Palestine’s flag and accorded the state non-member observer state recognition, it has not come close to a solution for the conflict. As the Palestinian flag flew over the UN, Israeli Settlements deemed illegal by the UN continued to be built near the Palestinian city of Ramallah. The UN did not condemn such acts. Without UN support Palestine shall not gain statehood, nor secure the control of its towns and cities. These continual violations of marked borders have not been resolved through the raising of a flag. Nor has the flag settled the violence which erupts from these land disputes.

The fact that the Palestinian flag now flies over the UN of course represents hope. However, it also overshadows the real issues at the heart of this problem. We must take the flag at face value. As for now, there is no Palestinian state, no Peace Process, nor a solution, there is merely a flag. A flag which represents hope to many but does little to improve the lives of those within the conflict, who remain in despair.

The Shooting Down of Peace

The recent shooting of a young Palestinian student at an Israeli checkpoint has once again prompted Israel and Palestine to resort to blaming one another. Incidents like this have become indicative of the problems involved in sustaining a Peace Process, as both states attempt to garner support from the International Community for their point of view. A year on from the Gaza War, and following the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu, an end to the ever-increasing cycle of violence between both states seems unlikely. The recent shooting is a stark reminder of the one major hurdle to the Peace Process: a lack of trust.

On Sunday, an even more troubling outcome was that Israel’s security cabinet approved a crackdown on Palestinian protests. The legislation will allow Israel’s security forces to use their weapons more easily against Palestinian stone-throwers and increase punishment for young offenders. Justification for this legislation comes from the assertion that the young Palestinian student was trying to attack Israeli soldiers. Meanwhile the Palestinian state denounced the young student’s death as an inevitable outcome of a premeditated attack. It is arguably premature to enact legislation that amounts to a clamp down as a consequence of this attack when the real course events remains clouded. As both sides battle to prove the other’s hand in the killing, the collapse of trust the Peace Process becomes ever more evident.

This ‘shoot first, think later’ strategy has become Israel’s default course of action in relation to Palestinians, and given the increasingly tightened legislation towards Palestinian activism, tensions are unlikely to subside soon. As the International Community continues to support the Palestinian state, Israel’s rhetoric will harden. Such micro-level incidents have proved a useful propaganda tool when it comes to Israel’s public shaming of so-called Palestinian terrorists. And, with tensions in Jerusalem heightening, alongside, this new legislation, the road to dialogue looks almost non-existent. Such tensions arise from a mutual lack of trust inherent in the relationship between the two states, and the two communities. These societal ruptures create a never ending cycle of blame that gets in the way of the important  work that needs doing if we are actually moving towards peace.

US and EU take strong stand against Israeli demolition plan

A Palestinian man, Jihad Nuwaja, stands next to a tent in Susiya village, south of the West Bank city of Hebron, July 20, 2015. (photo by REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma)

A Senior Board Member of the Next Century Foundation writes as follows:

If Israelis wants to know why so many good people in the United States and Europe are distressed at the direction that their politics and society appear to be going, they only need to consider the plight of the small Palestinian village of Susiya on the West Bank to provide a clue.

Jewish settlers in the South Hebron hills where this small collection of houses are situated are pressing the Israeli government to obliterate this little village. Only the small left-wing Meretz party and the minute Palestinian representation in the Knesset have raised objections.

For its part, the Israeli government is preparing to bulldoze 37 structures in this village under the flimsy pretext that they were constructed without the requisite permits. The fact that few, if any, permits are granted by the Israelis to Palestinians (versus the hundreds, if not thousands granted to the settlers) is an issue which will be considered by the Israeli Supreme Court on 3 August 2015.

By then, it may be too late. Netanyahu’s government has its bulldozers ready to quash the village no later than 31 July.

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“US and EU take strong stand against Israeli demolition plan” AL-MONITOR By Akiva Eldar 21 July 2015

The timing of the announcement by US State Department spokesman John Kirby regarding the Barack Obama administration’s position on the small Palestinian village of Susiya was no less important than its content.

Kirby made the statement July 16, as the administration was going out of its way to douse the flames in US-Israeli relations following the signing of the nuclear agreement with Iran.

While world opinion speculated about the effect of the Iran agreement on US-Israeli relations, Kirby arrived for his briefing armed with a stern declaration about the potentially far-reaching implications of the planned demolitions in Susiya in the Judean Mountains south of Hebron.

Kirby made clear that the consequences of Israel’s harassment of Susiya residents would extend beyond the demolitions’ impact on the villagers and their families. He noted that the planned expulsions and land appropriations in Susiya were particularly glaring given the settlement activity in that same region.

Several hours beforehand, Dorothy Shea, acting US consul general in Jerusalem, had used similar language. She, too, urged Israeli authorities to abstain from demolishing the homes in the village.

These sharp public pronouncements thus turned the Susiya affair into the first test of Israeli foreign relations in the post-Iran nuclear crisis era.

According to information acquired by human rights organizations in Israel and the territories, the Israeli civil administration did not wait until the end of the month of Ramadan to hand out demolition orders for 37 structures. It intends to carry out the orders before Aug. 3, the date set for the Supreme Court to hear an appeal
submitted by the Palestinians and these organizations.

European capitals are also eyeing with concern the bulldozers parked outside the tiny village, whose residents have the dubious distinction of living in a region of the West Bank known as Area C. The Oslo Accord divided the West Bank into three zones — A, B and C — with area C under complete Israeli control.

On June 29, the European Union’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, said the EU’s humanitarian affairs agency had reported that every month, Israel destroys five to seven projects that the union funds in Area C.

“We’re talking about European taxpayer money,” the envoy said at a conference on Susiya held by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. The ambassador stressed that European aid does not free Israel of its responsibility under international humanitarian law to ensure a reasonable quality of life for the Palestinian population under its control.

He noted that Area C constitutes some 60% of the West Bank and, therefore, is a key to the establishment of a future Palestinian state.

According to EU data, said Faaborg-Andersen, recent years have brought an increase in the number of demolitions in the region (in addition to extensive demolitions in Bedouin villages in Israel).

He explained that this stems from the minute number of building permits Israel grants the residents of Palestinian villages throughout Area C.

“If people knew where they could build,” Faaborg-Andersen said, “it would prevent construction without permits and demolition orders.” He added that Yoav “Poli” Mordechai,
coordinator of government activities in the territories, shares the view that the appropriate way to overcome the problem is to prepare an Israeli-Palestinian master plan that would enable the Palestinians to build in a legal and orderly manner.

“Unfortunately,” Faaborg-Andersen remarked, “the master plan process has been taken hostage by other events that have been going on between Israel and the Palestinians,” such as complaints against Israel lodged by the Palestinian leadership with international organizations.

Like the American speakers, Faaborg-Andersen did not forget to mention that even as Palestinian homes are being destroyed, the settlements are taking over more and more land for construction and security needs.

One can assume that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not keen to see footage of bulldozers destroying the homes of indigent Palestinians on television screens worldwide, bumping reports on the condition of human rights in Iran.

Even if the prime minister could be persuaded that he should seek a way out of this affair, he could expect a fair number of obstacles along the way.

On the one hand, the international community is pressing him to stop the bulldozers. On the other, Netanyahu is being held hostage by the settlers and their representatives in the leadership of the Likud and HaBayit HaYehudi parties. They will not leave him alone until he wipes out the village stuck in the craw of the settlers of the south Hebron Hills.

Yisrael Beitenu, the right-wing opposition party led by former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, would have a field day were Netanyahu to surrender to the left.

This equation is missing an important element — the Israeli left-wing opposition. The Zionist Camp has once again left the Meretz Party to face the right alone. The silence of the main opposition party on the Susiya affair can be added to the absence of its members from the vote on force feeding hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners held on security-related offenses, its vote in favor of the nationality bill that tears apart Palestinian families, its support for thwarting peace activists’ Marianne flotilla to Gaza and its competition with Netanyahu to slam the Iran agreement.

This time as well, Meretz was the sole Zionist party to rush to the defense of the downtrodden. This time, too, a handful of Israeli peace activists — led by members of the organizations Ta’ayush (Living Together, in Arabic), B’Tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights — are standing by the weakest group among the occupied Palestinian population.

A chosen few among them, like Professor David Shulman, serve as voices delivering the shepherds’ and farmers’
messages to air-conditioned administrative offices in Washington and at European Union headquarters in Brussels.

In his book “Dark Hope: Journal of a Ta’ayush Activist,” Shulman, a member of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and recipient of the prestigious Emet Prize, writes about how he and his friends collected poison pellets that the settlers had scattered to kill the Palestinian residents’ goats and sheep, planted olive trees to replace the ones uprooted by settlers, helped a farmer cross the few yards to his well and provided blankets for uprooted Palestinian cave dwellers.

“Two relentless national movements are engaged in a conflict, street to street, house to house,” Shulman wrote. “One side is infinitely stronger than the other, but not more magnanimous. It abuses its power over and over — the tremendous machine of a state and army and judiciary — in order to disown, threaten, expropriate, control, destroy.”

The well-oiled mechanism of the major powers proved in reaching an agreement with Iran in Vienna on July 14 that it can use its power to achieve compromise, to bridge, to rehabilitate and to build.

Now this mechanism is free to focus on dismantling the ticking time bomb on the heights of the Hebron Hills. ###

Will Dahlan be the new Palestinian leader?

Mohammed Dahlan at the World Economic Forum  on the Middle East and North Africa in 2010
Mohammed Dahlan at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in 2010

Israel’s newly elected coalition government views the Palestinians as weak and divided, claiming there is no one that represents both Gaza and the West Bank to negotiate with. This plays to Netanyahu’s advantage as a stalled peace makes the emergence of a fully-fledged Palestinian state unlikely, soothing the right-wing members of his coalition and allowing a seemingly favorable status quo. Although the Obama administration hoped to work with a Labor-led administration to change the status of the peace talks, Netanyahu continues to have the popular mandate to lead negotiations on Israel’s behalf.

With what is arguably the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, Netanyahu is justifiably regarded as more than likely to have an exceedingly hardline approach to any potential negotiations. However he has, for the first time ever, been making positive noises about the Arab Plan for a comprehensive peace process between Israel and the Arab World. Israel seems, quietly and cautiously, to be backing a change in Palestinian leadership so that a peace process can again be contemplated.

Meanwhile, although the Government of Palestine cites Israel’s continued illegal settlement building on the West Bank as the reason they themselves have also stalled the peace talks, they have yet to figure out a new strategy for securing Palestinian statehood.

In some respects, Netanyahu’s comments are accurate. Mahmoud Abbas has been leading negotiations for the Palestinians for over twenty years. An eighty-year-old veteran of peace talks, he faces more factionalism and infighting than ever before. The ill-fated unity government between Hamas and Fatah before the 2014 Gaza war quickly dissipated after both sides accused each of other of collusion with Israel. Hostility and disunity continues to plague relations between the West Bank and Gaza.

Similarly, faction building within Ramallah itself delegitimizes Abbas’s leadership and plays to Netanyahu’s complaints about the Palestinians. So whilst Netanyahu’s administration is secure with a fresh mandate, any hope of revitalizing the peace process must come from a new Palestinian approach, starting with a new leadership.

The Palestinian presidential elections have been long overdue with no clear timetable for a new leadership cycle. However, the search for a successor to Abbas is well underway. A contender that may play an important role in bringing about peace talks is Mohammed Dahlan, a 53-year old former Fatah official.

A native of Gaza, he started off his career as Chief of Preventative Security in the territory. As a hardliner, he detained and used brute force against supporters of the newly founded militant Hamas organization in the 1990s. Much of his personal support from the West grew out of his ruthless approach and the establishment of a 20,000 strong security force in Gaza. His political aspirations grew when he was appointed by Abbas to head the Palestinian National Security Council, overseeing all the security forces in the Palestinian territories. Hamas objected to this appointment and eventually in July 2007 took over the Gaza strip entirely, forcing Dahlan to resign.

On his return to the West Bank, he attempted to become the deputy Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority and some Fatah officials believed that he was positioning himself to succeed Abbas. His eagerness for the top job led to his dismissal and exile from the party in 2011. Kicked out officially due to corruption allegations and defamation, he currently enjoys a comfortable life in the UAE, whilst maintaining links with several old Fatah members in Palestine and Egypt.

The potential for Hamas electoral success in the West Bank is what has primarily led Abbas to withhold a green light for any new Presidential elections. Another factor is the rise in Dahlan’s popularity within Gaza. This is in part because of his perceived links to the ‘Khalifa Foundation’, an Emirati charity working in Gaza, which recently sponsored a massive wedding party for 400 couples and provides funding for new housing and compensation for combatant’s families. Interestingly, Hamas officials have allowed Dahlan-associated events to continue unhindered and indeed Gazi Hamad, a Hamas spokesman, and Ahmed Yousef, the head of a Hamas think-tank, have recently taken part in iftar meals hosted by the Emirati charity. Furthermore, Dahlan has close connections to Hamas in Egypt and is active in that country with several foundations. Moreover, Dahlan has facilitated frequent openings of the Rafah crossing to Gaza. He is also credited with assisting the passageway of 40,000 tons of Egyptian cement into Gaza last week and a further 17,000 in recent days, suggesting his willingness to rebuild and gain favor within the war-torn strip.

Although Dahlan has firm connections within Gaza, the dynamic differs in the West Bank. A source close to the NCF Gaza office has said that Abbas is now fighting Salam Fayyad, the former Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, a figure allied with Dahlan in the West Bank. An indication of this simmering rivalry was the recent freezing of bank accounts linked to Fayyad’s foundation by the Attorney General. There are also suggestions that Dahlan is in close communication with the imprisoned Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian figure that exerts great influence in the Fatah movement from within prison.

Likewise, Dahlan has proven his international credibility. He has close ties to Israel and favorable opinion in numerous Western foreign ministries. Moreover, he has experience as a mediator between Hamas and various countries such as with Turkey and even Israel. Indeed, just last week he facilitated indirect talks between Hamas and Israel. His skillfulness in mediating on behalf of Palestinian interests can prove useful if he were to lead negotiations.

All in all, Fayad’s disloyalty to Abbas and the continuing Fatah-Hamas split indicate that the presidential elections cannot be infinitely postponed. These tensions and his experience may create the perfect opportunity for Dahlan to return to Palestinian politics and, as many Gazans believe, end the eight years of the Israeli-Egyptian siege.

Although Dahlan has been tightening his grip within Gaza and the West Bank, his ascension to power is still not guaranteed. The chances of him taking leadership depend on many factors outside of his control, such as the death of Abbas and if Jordan or Israel decides to resolve the Gaza problem, which would significantly enhance his chances. In the current climate this seems a distant possibility.

Despite formerly being seen as the first enemy of Gaza, Dahlan is making a remarkable political comeback and, if elected, may kick-start the peace process once again.

Israel Election 2015

ISRAEL’s ELECTIONS are over and a process of coalition building is underway. The NCF’s Chief Media Officer, Ms Deborah Pout, analysed the elections and their aftermath. We circulate her conclusions:

The recent Israeli elections saw Benjamin Netanyahu pull a clear and impressive fourth victory from the jaws of defeat. The polls had been narrowing between Netanyahu’s Likud party and the opposition Zionist Union party led by Yitzhak Herzog but many wrote off Netanyahu too early.  Netanyahu has been an adversary never to be underestimated and a master of political wizardry throughout his career. Netanyahu’s victory was in part driven by personality and a populist message. Netanyahu also skilfully managed to take votes from smaller parties such as the right wing Yisrael Beiteinu party and Habayit Hayehudi, the religious party. This election brought into sharp focus how the israeli media and the pollsters got the elections so wrong and failed to identify the underlying political trends amongst the electorate which led to Netanyahu’s victory.

Yitzhak Herzog was the John Kerry of Israel’s politics, an urbane, thoughtful intellectual who never quite had the popular touch. The Zionist Union was a joint ticket between Herzog’s Labour Party (Hebrew: Avoda) and Hatnuah led by Tzipi Livni. The alliance put Labour back on the Israeli political map with the Zionist Union ending up with 24 seats (Labour itself only had 15 seats in the last Knesset – it’s 13 years since Labour were last able to play a lead role in Israel’s politics). The electorate did not like Herzog’s acceptance of Livni’s condition that the Premiership would “rotate”. All the more so because of the perception amongst some sections of the electorate rightly or wrongly that Livni had changed her political allegiances on one too many occasion (jumping from party to party four times in the space of four elections). Livni, a constant supporter of the peace process, had started her political career in Likud.

The election of Netanyahu (he won 30 seats as opposed to the Zionist Union’s 24) masks a range of dissonant underlying trends. This election shows that Israel is in practice now centre/right in its politics rather than hard right. One new and important factor on the scene was The Joint List which united Israel’s Arab political parties on one ticket and thus became the third largest party in Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, with 13 seats. The new centrist party Kulanu (All of Us) founded by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon which champions socioeconomic issues gained an impressive 10 seats in the Knesset. Kahlon, a popular politician and rising star of Israeli politics, could be a kingmaker in the formation of Netanyahu’s new government. The natural alliance for Netanyahu’s Likud would be a right wing coalition. But he may consider another option, that of a “national unity” government together with Herzog and Livni. Such a coalition might be an appealing option to Netanyahu as it would make his government more attractive on the international stage. Such an option is currently being examined in “back channels” though it will be very hard to bring all of Labour (Avoda’s) MPs to this wedding.

Interestingly Israel’s public opinion on a two state solution and the peace process continues to be nuanced. The Israeli Democracy Institute which follows Israel’s public attitudes towards the peace process published a poll just before the elections showing the contradictory attitudes of Israelis. Two thirds of respondents expressed support for continuing to hold peace negotiations but 65% of respondents said they did not believe such negotiations would lead to peace in the coming years. Netanyahu is still in the process of building his coalition which may of course be a coalition of right wing parties. If so prospects for a meaningful resumption of peace negotiations with the Palestinians seem slim while Netanyahu is at the helm.

Netanyahu’s fourth victory was greeted with disappointment and disquiet in many quarters of the international community  who saw his re-election as signaling the end of any hopes for a renewed peace process with the Palestinians while he leads Israel. During the last days of his increasingly desperate campaign, Netanyahu declared his opposition to a Palestinian State (a change from his Bar Ilan speech and a position he quickly recanted after his victory.) Netanyahu correctly calculated that there were votes to be won by outflanking the right on this issue. Netanyahu’s current position on a Palestinian state seems to be that with the perceived weak leadership of President Abbas it would be a target for regional predators including Hamas from Gaza, “Islamic State” (ISIS) from the East and Hizbollah which is Iran’s proxy to the North. Iran’s nuclear programme is also seen as a severe threat, making it very unlikely that a two state solution can be achieved.    Netanyahu’s bloody and costly military campaign in Gaza in the summer of 2014 also came in for criticism domestically and condemnation internationally. It should be noted that Netanyahu’s popularity initially increased during the military operation in Gaza. Netanyahu used this to his political advantage by cultivating his image as the only credible leader currently in Israeli politics. His poll ratings fell after the summer and Netanyahu’s leadership came under increasing political attack.

A leaked EU document claimed that the deadlock in Israeli/Palestinian negotiations and continuing settlement expansion had left Jerusalem on the brink of ‘polarisation and violence’. Some Fatah politicians have expressed fears that frustrations on the Palestinian street may boil over into a Third Intifada. Palestinian protests did turn violent last summer over Israel’s actions in Gaza and the building of more settlements. These issues didn’t seem to play a prominent role in the recent Israeli elections even though there were some attacks on Israelis in Jerusalem and the West Bank. There have been murmurings that Netanyahu may revive and continue Ariel Sharon’s policy of a one sided separation from the Palestinians in the West Bank. But it is unlikely that Netanyahu will be able to implement such unilateral moves either politically or militarily. The main obstacle to a peace process will be the possible formation of a right wing coalition. Therefore if he did return to the negotiating table over a peace process and achieved a deal he wouldn’t have the majority in parliament to implement it.

On the international stage Netanyahu’s policies and diplomacy have led to US/Israeli relations being at an all time low. Many within the Israeli political and security establishment fear that Netanyahu’s leadership is jeopardising Israel’s national interest. They believe his reckless diplomacy vis à vis the United States is threatening Israel’s most important strategic relationship. The election campaign saw Netanyahu’s leadership come in for an unprecedented chorus of public criticism from numerous former senior security officials who called for his ousting as Prime Minister. Netanyahu has indicated he will use his new term in office to try and mend relations with the Obama administration but it may be too little too late. The levels of mistrust and rancour between Netanyahu and Obama are well documented. Many within Israel’s political and security establishment are concerned that Netanyahu’s diplomatic collision course with Obama has weakened Israel’s ability to be heard in Washington over the country’s legitimate concerns regarding the US/Iranian nuclear deal. Israel will also be coming under further scrutiny with attempts to isolate the country diplomatically now that the Palestinians have joined the International Criminal Court and may seek to indict  Israelis for war crimes.

The Israeli media and Netanyahu’s political opponents thought that the election would be a referendum on Netanyahu’s fitness for the job of Prime Minister. They were sure that the Israeli public was fed up with his rhetoric and lack of ability to deal with the crucial issues. The results prove they were right in their analysis but wrong in their conclusions. When Israelis headed to the polls and had to decide between Herzog and Netanyahu they didn’t really see any alternative.  There is a huge difference between the way the Israeli Prime Minister is seen by his political opponents and the international community, as opposed to how he is seen by ordinary Israeli citizens. In short, the election results mean that Netanyahu’s attention will be primarily focused on domestic socioeconomic issues including the housing crisis and the increased cost of living as well as other internal issues.

For many Netanyahu’s re-election signals more of the same but in the world of Middle Eastern politics if there is one certainty it is uncertainty.

For reference, the following are the final election results as recorded in Wikipedia:
Elections for the 20th Knesset
17 March 2015

Party Leader  % Seats +/−
Likud Benjamin Netanyahu 23.40% 30 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Green_Arrow_Up.svg +12
Zionist Union Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni 18.67% 24 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Green_Arrow_Up.svg +3
Joint List Ayman Odeh 10.54% 13 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Green_Arrow_Up.svg +2
Yesh Atid Yair Lapid 8.81% 11 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Red_Arrow_Down.svg -8
Kulanu Moshe Kahlon 7.49% 10 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Green_Arrow_Up.svg +10
The Jewish Home Naftali Bennett 6.74% 8 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Red_Arrow_Down.svg -4
Shas Aryeh Deri 5.73% 7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Red_Arrow_Down.svg -4
Yisrael Beiteinu Avigdor Lieberman 5.11% 6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Red_Arrow_Down.svg -7
United Torah Judaism Yaakov Litzman 5.03% 6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Red_Arrow_Down.svg -1
Meretz Zehava Gal-On 3.93% 5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Red_Arrow_Down.svg -1
(Total number of seats) 120
Note – The above list contains only the parties which passed the threshold.