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What Gaza Wants

Israel/Palestine Haidar Eid on November 9, 2018 6 Comments

Palestinian protesters react to tear gas during clashes with Israeli forces during the Great March of Return in the southern Gaza Strip on May 15, 2018. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)



Four years after the Israeli Occupation Forces perpetrated a massacre upon the population of Gaza, the third in 5 years, Apartheid Israel insists on committing more crimes by targeting civilians protesting peacefully every Friday demanding their internationally-sanctioned right of return to the towns and villages from which they were ethnically cleansed back in 1948. The latest round of Israeli war crimes has resulted in a new massacre ; since March 30th, when the first of a series of marches took place at the eastern fence of the Gaza Strip, more than 220 innocent civilians, including 34 children and 5 women, have been murdered brutally as they demonstrated non-violently. More than 2000 have been injured, some very critically. (Statistics taken from Gaza Ministry if Health)

As we, Palestinians of Gaza, embark on our long walk to freedom, we have come to the conclusion that we can no longer rely on governments; instead, we request that the citizens of the world oppose these ongoing deadly crimes. The failure of the United Nations and its numerous organizations to condemn such crimes proves their complicity. We have also come to the conclusion that only civil society is able to mobilize to demand the implementation of international law and put an end to Israel’s unprecedented impunity. Our inspiration is the anti-apartheid movement. The intervention of civil society was effective in the late 1980s against the apartheid regime of White South Africa. Nelson Mandela, before his eminent death, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, amongst other anti-apartheid activists, did not not only describe Israel’s oppressive and violent control of Palestinians as Apartheid, they also joined this call for the world’s civil society to intervene again.

In fact, we expect people of conscience and civil society organizations to put pressure on their governments until Israel is forced to abide by international law and international humanitarian law. It did work last century; without the intervention of the international community which was effective against apartheid in South Africa, Israel will continue its war crimes and crimes against humanity.

We need to be more specific about our demands. We want civil society organizations worldwide to intensify the anti-Israel sanctions campaign to compel Israel to end to its aggression.

It has become crystal clear that the international conspiracy of silence towards the incremental genocide taking place against the 2 million civilians in Gaza indicates complicity in these war crimes.

It is high-time that the international community demand that the rogue State of Israel, a state that has violated every single international law one can think of, end its medieval siege of Gaza and compensate for the destruction of life and infrastructure that it has visited upon the Palestinian people. But this should also come within a package of demands to be made by all Palestine solidarity groups and all international civil society organizations that still believe in the rule of law and basic human rights:

An end to the siege that has been imposed on the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip since 2006 for voting against the fictional two-state solution and the Oslo Accords;
The protection of civilian lives and property, as stipulated in International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law such as The Fourth Geneva Convention;
That Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip be provided with material support to cope with the immense hardship that they are experiencing at the hands of Israeli Occupation Forces;
Immediate reparations and compensation for all destruction carried out by the IOF in the Gaza Strip;
Holding Israeli generals and leaders accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the civilians of Gaza;
And

An end to occupation, Apartheid, and other war crimes committed by Israel.
Why is that too much to ask? Were the anti-apartheid and Civil Rights movements too demanding for calling for an end to all forms of racism, institutional and otherwise ? And was the international community wrong to heed their calls?

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We need to talk to Hamas

If we cared about peace we would be talking to Hamas

The west has a unique opportunity to help end the Gaza stalemate. But it suits us to turn a blind eye

In his house in the Gaza Strip last month, a senior Hamas minister was explaining to me that the movement needed to modernise its policies when the lights suddenly cut out, as they so often do under Israel’s siege of the territory. Ghazi Hamad’s disembodied voice rumbled on in the pitch black.

Shortly after that, Hamas, which governs Gaza, published what is effectively the first revision of its charter since it was founded 30 years ago. Most significantly, Hamas has for the first time put on paper its commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The movement, it said, was ready to discuss “a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along 1967 lines”.

The policy reforms should have opened the prospect of an end to the west’s boycott of Hamas, in place since 2007, and hope too of an end to Israel’s economic blockade. Two million Gazans, mostly refugees, are today locked behind walls and fences and deprived of bare essentials – not least electricity, which is now cut to four hours a day or less. The International Red Cross warned this week that the electricity crisis was pushing Gaza to the point of “systemic collapse”.

But the international community is once again leaving Gaza in the dark about when its torment will end. Both the US and Britain have made clear they believe that nothing significant has altered in Hamas’s position. A Foreign Office spokesman said: “They must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements.”

True, what Hamas means by its new “General Principles and Policies Document” is still murky, particularly as it still holds out the possibility of a Palestinian state in all of historic Palestine. And it has published the changes now as a strategic move to secure its own survival.

After 10 years of a crippling economic siege Hamas is struggling to govern. It desperately needs money – not least to pay for fuel – and it needs Egypt to open its crossing into the Sinai. In return, both Egypt and Arab paymasters demand that Hamas show moderation.

This squeeze on Hamas, however, gives the west a unique opportunity to end the stalemate over the boycott, especially as the movement is at present adhering to a ceasefire, and has gone a long way towards meeting international demands.

After 10 years of a crippling economic siege Hamas is struggling to govern. It desperately needs money – not least to pay for fuel – and it needs Egypt to open its crossing into the Sinai. In return, both Egypt and Arab paymasters demand that Hamas show moderation.

This squeeze on Hamas, however, gives the west a unique opportunity to end the stalemate over the boycott, especially as the movement is at present adhering to a ceasefire, and has gone a long way towards meeting international demands.

Obviously, the only rational response if we really cared about peace would be to start talking to Hamas and push it to moderate further. If we continue to reject its overtures it will have no incentive to offer more, and the rejectionists in Gaza will win.

It is significant that the Hamas paper was published soon after the election of a former military chief and hardliner, Yahya Sinwar, as the movement’s leader in Gaza. A prisoner in Israel for 22 years, and a fluent Hebrew speaker, who negotiated with Israel over the Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011, Sinwar could bring a new voice to the table. He would also have the clout internally to bring some of Hamas’s own critics on board. Hamas is being increasingly challenged by Salafi jihadists whose popularity is small but growing in Gaza, and who accuse Hamas of too much moderation.

The uncomfortable fact is that the west is only too happy to leave the people of Gaza inside their prison; it suits us to do so. We don’t care about blighted lives, or about whether the electricity is on six hours or four hours or if there is none at all. Our governments just want to leave Gaza blocked off from view so we don’t have to face up to the painfully difficult problems it poses – many of our own making, not least the boycott of Hamas.

It was after all the US, 10 years ago, that insisted on Palestinian elections, hoping the moderates of the PLO would win. Instead Hamas came to power on a wave of anger after the failure of flawed peace efforts. The west then took the view that in Palestine democracy counted for nothing, and as punishment the boycott began.

By accepting that Hamas has met at least some of the west’s conditions, we would be forced to consider talking to its representatives, clashing with Benjamin Netanyahu, who has no wish to change the status quo. Keeping Gaza boxed in while he extends his illegal settlements across the West Bank and Jerusalem, suits the Israeli prime minister just fine.

On the Gaza streets there is no expectation of any change, only predictions of a new war. After interviewing the Hamas minister I visited a Rafah girls’ school, speaking to a class of 17-year-old English students. Of the class, six had lost family members in the 2014 war. Their teacher had lost her husband and her father.

Yet here they were, bright-eyed, clutching English textbooks, and speaking of their ambitions to be doctors, social workers or journalists. The courage and resilience of the Gazan people is also hidden from view by the boycott and what they call the “apartheid wall”.

Before I left the school the girls put questions to me, including, “What does Britain know about us?” and “Why doesn’t Britain help us?” One offered her own answer: “I believe they think we live under a stone.”

Read the darn thing

see also Verdict: balanced report, unbalanced reaction


Rear Admiral John Kirby, taking questions, 2014. Photo from US Defense Department

US says UN Security Council should disregard ‘biased’ Gaza report

State Department says report, which accused Israel of possible war crimes, is intrinsically unfair

By i24 news
June 24, 2015

The United Nations Human Rights Council report on last summer’s war in Gaza should not be brought to the Security Council for a vote or used by the UN for other work, the United States said Tuesday.

Dismissing the report as having a “clear bias” against Israel, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Washington viewed the report, which accused both Israel and the Islamist group of possible war crimes, as intrinsically unfair.

“[W]e challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this,” Kirby said during a press conference. “We reject the basis under which this particular commission of inquiry was established because of the very clear bias against Israel in it.”

The UNHCR is slated to examine the findings of the report on June 29 and may vote in favor of sending it to the Security Council for further action. Kirby had already iterated on Monday that the US would not take part in that endeavor.

The US does not “support any further UN work on this report,” Kirby said regarding whether it should be forwarded to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

“We’ve made very clear what our issues were at the time about the use of force and we made very clear to the Israeli government our concerns about what was happening in that conflict,” he added. “We have an ongoing dialogue with the government of Israel on all these sorts of matters; that dialogue continued and continues.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected the report’s finding and slammed the UN Human Rights Council for spending “more time condemning Israel than Iran, Syria and North Korea put together.”

“Israel does not commit war crimes, but rather defends itself from a terrorist organization that calls for Israel’s destruction,” the PM said.

American jurist Mary McGowan Davis, who headed the independent United Nations probe into the events of last summer’s war in Gaza, has said that the investigation’s report would have looked different if Israel would have cooperated with it.

In an interview with Israeli daily Haaretz, McGowan Davis said that if Israel would have co-operated with the investigation, “we could have met with Israeli victims and seen where rockets landed, talked with commanders, watched videos and visited Gaza. We talked to a lot of witnesses but of course an investigation needs to be as close to the scene as possible and it would have looked different.”

Israel refused to co-operate with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) probe, harbouring grave misgivings about the commission’s impartiality.


Think U.N. Gaza ‘War Crimes’ Report Is Biased? Read It First.

By J.J. Goldberg, Jewish Forward
June 23, 2015

When the shouting dies down and folks take the time to read the actual content of the United Nations report on last summer’s Gaza war — all 183 pages plus side documents — you might see some very red faces in the world of pro-Israel activism.

Well, maybe you won’t. The leaders and friends of Israel’s current governing coalition aren’t in the habit of admitting mistakes, especially where Palestinians are involved. But this one will be hard to dodge.

Israeli officialdom and its boosters greeted the report’s June 22 release with a chorus of outrage. They claim it “accuses Israel of deliberately killing civilians,” denies Israel’s right to defend itself, “barely mentioned” Hamas and even “has blood on its hands for allowing the murder of Jews.” None of that is in the report.

What it does contain is a host of questions about the Israeli military actions that led to the deaths of around 2,200 Palestinians, a large proportion of them civilians. It questions whether Israel’s military goals of stopping rocket and mortar fire and tunnel infiltration, goals it admits were legitimate, necessitated all of the actions that caused the massive civilian suffering.

It reads harshly at times, but the events it describes actually happened. Given the numbers killed and left homeless, it’s appropriate to recall. The finger-pointing is actually rather mild, relative to the magnitude of the suffering. And make no mistake: the finger points in both directions.

The report notes that “the threats to the security of Israel remained all too real.” It describes at length the rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, as well as Hamas’s terrifying tunnels into Israeli territory. It describes Israel’s casualties, including children killed, wounded and emotionally scarred. And it charges that the firing of rockets without guidance systems in the direction of civilian residential areas by “Palestinian armed groups” was a blatant violation of international law.

But it cites dozens of cases where Israel’s response might not have been “proportional” to the threat. International laws of war dictate that a military action should be proportional, not to the harm suffered, but to the achievement of a “legitimate military goal.” The investigators studied 15 specific residential buildings out of the thousands that Israel shelled. It found evidence of a military target in nine of them. In the other six it couldn’t find evidence of a military target, raising the suspicion that the building was a purely civilian facility, suggesting that the attack violated international law. Since Israel didn’t cooperate with the investigators, and didn’t allow them entry to Israel or Gaza, the report urges Israel to answer the question of what it was aiming at in each case.

The report praises Israel’s efforts to warn residents by leaflet and telephone to flee before buildings were attacked, even at the cost of losing the element of surprise. However, it claims Israel’s practice of “roof-knocking,” dropping light munitions to warn residents before bombing, was ineffective.

It also raises an explosive question of whether Israel’s top leaders should be culpable for failing to change tactics in midsummer once the high civilian toll of its bombings became clear.

What will evoke the most discomfort and even outrage for many is the report’s lengthy series of grim eyewitness accounts of civilian deaths (“I found the decapitated bodies of my uncle and daughter…”) and destroyed homes. A handful of killings are documented that the report flatly says violated international law, notably a civilian shot twice after falling down wounded, caught on video.

But the report’s most direct, unequivocal allegation of illegality — stripped of “may,” “could” or “should” — involves “executions” of suspected collaborators by “Palestinian armed groups” (its collective term for the military wings of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and several smaller groups). The report describes in detail the arrest, torture and summary execution, often in public, of several dozen suspects, “with the apparent knowledge of the local authorities in Gaza,” the report’s term for the Hamas government. These flatly violated “both international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” along with “Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” and “article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions,” the laws of war.
The report quotes the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority — or, as it terms it, the Ministry of Interior of the State of Palestine — as condemning the executions as “illegal.” In what’s either wry humor or clueless diplo-speak, it says the State of Palestine intends to investigate Palestinian violations and impose justice as soon as it regains control of Gaza.

The report also notes allegations by witnesses that Israeli troops used Palestinians as human shields, forcing them to enter buildings before the soldiers in case of booby traps. One specific case is cited. On the other hand, it notes that Palestinian armed groups made an apparent practice of using human shields by sending civilians to the roof of targeted buildings “to ‘protect’ the house” — one specific case is cited, but others are suspected — “in violation of the customary law prohibition to use human shields.”

Israel condemned the report as biased from the moment it was first commissioned by the U.N.’s human rights council last July, during the heat of the war. The council has a long history of obsessively focusing on Israel and ignoring far more glaring human rights violators. It’s been responsible in the past for such miscarriages of justice as the 2009 Goldstone Report, which baselessly accused Israel of intentionally targeting civilians in the three-week Gaza incursion known as Operation Cast Lead. Israel refused to cooperate with that inquiry, whose chair, South African judge Richard Goldstone, eventually repudiated many of his own commission’s findings.

The council’s initial choice to head the latest inquiry was Canadian academic William Schabas, a longstanding, vehement critic of Israeli behavior. But Schabas quit the inquiry last February following revelations that he’d done paid consulting work for the Palestine Liberation Organization, a conflict of interest. His replacement was a retired New York state judge and onetime Brooklyn federal prosecutor with a reputation for fairness, Mary McGowan Davis.

The report produced by McGowan Davis and her fellow commissioner, veteran U.N. human rights expert Doudou Diene of Senegal, seems to have caught some Israelis off-guard. Where the Goldstone Report was dismissed out of hand, the Foreign Ministry says it will “study” the new one, despite the bias of the council that commissioned it. Some officials are quietly telling reporters it may have been a mistake to continue snubbing the investigation after Schabas resigned, rather than cooperating so McGowan Davis could hear Israel’s side. Indeed, some warn the report’s relative balance will make it harder to ignore the harsher allegations as they move through international bodies and tribunals.

Israel released its own report on the war a week before the U.N. document came out, on June 14, in an apparent attempt to preempt and blunt the expected the U.N. attack. Simultaneously, a pro-Israel organization in Europe released a report by a so-called High-Level International Military Group, comprising 11 retired generals and diplomats from around the world, headed by a former German chief of staff and head of NATO command. They visited Israel for several days in May and concluded that Israel “not only met a reasonable international standard of the laws of armed combat, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard.”

Neither of those reports, however, addressed the specific incidents and patterns that McGowan Davis questioned.

It remains to be seen whether and how Israel will address her questions regarding the military necessity of its actions.

The Palestinians have initiated action against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and McGowan Davis urges Israel to co-operate. But the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over a country that properly investigates and punishes its own crimes. The ball is in Israel’s court. For the rest of us, step one would be to read the darn thing.

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Freedom for Palestine: #GazaNames Project

[youtube http://youtu.be/pxDYiBls99w?]

Rumors Swirling About Israel’s Shocking ‘Endgame’ Plan for Palestinians in Gaza

Nazareth. Jonathan Cook

What is Israel’s endgame in Gaza? It is a question that has been puzzling analysts and observers for some time. But indications of the future Israel and Washington may have in mind for Gaza are emerging.

Desperately overcrowded, short on basic resources like fresh water, blockaded for eight years by Israel, with its infrastructure intermittently destroyed by Israeli bombing campaigns, Gaza looks like a giant pressure cooker waiting to explode.

It is difficult to imagine that sooner or later Israel will not face a massive upheaval on its doorstep. So how does Israel propose to avert a scenario in which it must either savagely repress a mass uprising by Palestinians in Gaza or sit by and watch them tear down their prison walls?

Reports in the Arab and Israeli media – in part corroborated by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas – suggest that Egypt may be at the heart of plans to solve the problem on Israel’s behalf.

This month the Israeli media reported claims, apparently leaked by Israeli officials, that Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, had offered the Palestinian leadership the chance to annex to Gaza an area of 1,600 sq km in Sinai. The donated territory would expand Gaza fivefold.

The scheme is said to have received the blessing of the United States.

‘Greater Gaza’ plan

According to the reports, the territory in Sinai would become a demilitarised Palestinian state – dubbed “Greater Gaza” – to which returning Palestinian refugees would be assigned. The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas would have autonomous rule over the cities in the West Bank, comprising about a fifth of that territory. In return, Abbas would have to give up the right to a state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The plan, which would most likely result in significant numbers of Palestinians moving outside the borders of historic Palestine, was quickly dismissed as “fabricated and baseless” by Egyptian and Palestinian officials.

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a spokesman for Abbas, accused Israel of using the proposal to “destroy the Palestinian cause”, referring to Abbas’ efforts at the United Nations to win recognition of Palestinian statehood on parts of historic Palestine.

But Abdel Rahim’s denial raised more questions than it answered. While rejecting suggestions that Sisi had made such an offer, he made a surprising claim: a similar plan, to resettle Palestinian refugees in Sinai, had been advanced briefly by Sisi’s predecessor, Mohamed Morsi.

Morsi, who served as president for a year from summer 2012 until his ousting by Sisi in a military coup, headed a Muslim Brotherhood administration that tried to strengthen ties to the Hamas leadership in Gaza.

He said the plan was based on a proposal made by Giora Eiland, Israel’s national security adviser from 2004 to 2006. Abdel Rahim appeared to be referring to a plan unveiled by Eiland in 2004 that Israel hoped would be implemented after the withdrawal of settlers and soldiers from Gaza – the so-called disengagement – a year later.

Under Eiland’s terms, Egypt would agree to expand Gaza into the Sinai in return for Israel giving Egypt land in the Negev.

Zionist strategies

The idea of creating a Palestinian state outside historic Palestine – in either Jordan or Sinai – has a long pedigree in Zionist thinking. “Jordan is Palestine” has been a rallying cry on the Israeli right for decades. There have been parallel suggestions for Sinai.

In recent times, the Sinai option has found favour with the Israeli right, especially following the outbreak of the second intifada 14 years ago. Support appears to have intensified after the disengagement in 2005 and Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian national elections a year later.

Notably, the scheme became the centrepiece of the 2004 Herzliya conference, an annual meeting of Israel’s political, academic and security elites to exchange and develop policy ideas. It was then enthusiastically adopted by Uzi Arad, the conference’s founder and a long-time adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister.

He proposed a three-way exchange, in which the Palestinians would get part of Sinai for their state, while in return Israel would receive most of the West Bank, and Egypt would be given a land passage across the Negev to connect it to Jordan.

A variation of the “Sinai is Palestine” option was dusted off again by the right during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 50-day attack on Gaza this summer.

Moshe Feiglin, the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, called for Gaza’s inhabitants to be expelled from their homes under cover of the operation and moved into Sinai, in what he termed a “solution for Gaza”.

Did Morsi offer Sinai?

Given that the rationale of the Sinai option is to remove Palestinians from what the Israeli right considers Greater Israel, and such a plan is vehemently opposed by all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, why would Morsi have backed it?

Further, why would he have proposed giving up a chunk of Egyptian territory to satisfy Israeli ambitions, thereby undermining his domestic credibility, at a time when he was fighting for political survival on many other fronts?

One possibility is that Abbas’ office simply made up the story to discredit Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and by extension Abbas’ political rivals in Hamas, and thereby win favour with Sisi.

But few Palestinians or Egyptians appear to have found the claim credible, and Sisi has shown no interest in pursuing this line of attack against Morsi. Why would Abbas fabricate a story that might rebound on him by linking him to underhanded moves by Egypt, Israel and the US?

There are two further pieces of the jigsaw suggesting that there may be more to the Sinai story than meets the eye.

The first are comments made by Abbas shortly before the Israeli media began reporting the alleged offer by Sisi, as rumours started circulating in the Arab media.

Abbas signalled at a meeting with Fatah loyalists on August 31 that a proposal to create a Palestinian state in Sinai was still of interest to Egyptian officials.

He reportedly said: “A senior leader in Egypt said: ‘a refuge must be found for the Palestinians and we have all this open land.’ This was said to me personally. But it’s illogical for the problem to be solved at Egypt’s expense. We won’t have it.”

The Times of Israel website said it had subsequently confirmed the comments with Abbas.

The Palestinian leader made similar remarks on Egyptian TV a week earlier, when he told an interviewer an Israeli plan for the Sinai had been “unfortunately accepted by some here [in Egypt]. Don’t ask me more about that. We abolished it, because it can’t be.”

What about Mubarak?

The second clue was provided in a barely noticed report in English published last month on the website of the Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, headquartered in London but with strong ties to the Saudi royal family.

It claimed that in the later years of his presidency, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak came under concerted and repeated pressure from the US to cede territory in Sinai to the Palestinians to help them establish a state.

The article, based on information reportedly provided by an unnamed former Mubarak official, stated that pressure started to be exerted on Egypt from 2007.

The source quoted Mubarak as saying at the time: “We are fighting both the US and Israel. There is pressure on us to open the Rafah crossing for the Palestinians and grant them freedom of residence, particularly in Sinai. In a year or two, the issue of Palestinian refugee camps in Sinai will be internationalized.”

In Mubarak’s view, according to the report, Israel hoped that, once Palestinians were on Egyptian soil, the combined area of Sinai and Gaza would be treated as the Palestinian state. This would be the only territory to which Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return.

Anticipating later statements by Abbas’ office, the Egyptian source said a similar proposal was put to Morsi when he came to power in 2012. A delegation of Muslim Brotherhood leaders travelled to Washington, where White House officials proposed that “Egypt cede a third of the Sinai to Gaza in a two-stage process spanning four to five years”.

US officials, the report stated, promised to “establish and fully support a Palestinian state” in the Sinai, including the establishment of seaports and an airport. The Brotherhood was urged to prepare Egyptian public opinion for the deal.

Pieces of the jigsaw

So what sense can we make of these various pieces of the jigsaw?

Each in itself can be discounted. The Asharq al-Awsat report is based on an anonymous source and there may be Saudi interests at work in promoting the story. Likewise, the Israelis could be waging a disinformation campaign.

But taken together, and given that Abbas appears reluctantly to have conceded key elements of the story, it becomes much harder to ignore the likelihood that the reports are grounded in some kind of reality.

There seems little doubt – from these reports and from the wider aspirations of the Israeli right – that a Sinai plan has been crafted by Israel’s security establishment and is being aggressively advanced, not least through the current leaks to the Israeli media. It also looks strongly like variations of this plan have been pushed more vigorously since 2007, when Hamas took exclusive control of Gaza.

Israel’s current rationale for the Sinai option is that it undermines Abbas’ intensifying campaign at the United Nations to seek recognition of Palestinian statehood, which Israel and the US adamantly oppose.

It also seems plausible, given the strength of its ties to Israel, that the US is backing the plan and adding its considerable weight to persuade the Egyptian and Palestinian leaderships.

Harder to read, however, is whether Egypt might have responded positively to such a campaign.

An Egyptian analyst explained the expected reaction from Sisi and his generals: “Egypt is relentlessly trying to keep Gaza at bay. Tunnels are being destroyed and a buffer zone is planned. Bringing more potentially hostile elements closer to Egypt would be a dangerous and reckless move.”

This is true enough. So what leverage do Israel and the US have over Egypt that might persuade it to override its national security concerns?

Turning the screw

Aside from the large sums of military aid Washington gives to Egypt each year, there is the increasingly pressing matter for Cairo of dire fuel shortages, which risk inflaming a new round of street protests.

Israel has recently discovered large offshore deposits of natural gas, which is it is ready to export to its neighbours. It is already quietly agreeing deals with the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, and is reported to be in advanced discussions with Egypt.

Is this part of the pressure being exerted on Egyptian leaders to concede territory in Sinai? And has it been enough to make them overlook their security concerns?

Finally, there is the Palestinian leadership’s role. Abbas has said firmly he will not countenance such a deal. How might Israel think it can change his mind?

One controversial possibility, which throws a very different light on the events of this summer, is that Israel may hope it can “soften up” Palestinian opinion, especially in Gaza, by making life even less bearable than it already is for the population there.

It is noticeable that Israel’s large-scale operations attacking Gaza – in the winter of 2008-09, 2012 and again this year – started shortly after Israel and the US, according to Asharq al-Awsat, began turning the screws on Mubarak to concede part of Sinai.

The massive and repeated destruction of Gaza has the added advantage for Israel that it would allow Cairo to cast its offer of a small slice of the Sinai to the Palestinians as a desperately needed humanitarian gesture.

The success of Israel’s approach requires isolating Gaza, through a blockade, and inflicting massive damage on it to encourage Palestinians to rethink their opposition to a state outside historic Palestine. That precisely fits Israeli policy since 2007.

The Sinai option may be difficult to confirm at this stage but we should keep it firmly in mind as we try to make sense of unfolding events in the region over the coming months and years.

A version of this article first appeared in Middle East Eye

 

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair.”

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How Netanyahu provoked this war with Gaza

His antagonism to all Palestinians – to Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority no less than to Hamas – started and steadily fueled the chain reaction that led to the current misery.

On Monday of last week, June 30, Reuters ran a story that began:

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hamas on Monday of involvement, for the first time since a Gaza war in [November] 2012, in rocket attacks on Israel and threatened to step up military action to stop the strikes.

So even by Israel’s own reckoning, Hamas had not fired any rockets in the year-and-a-half since “Operation Pillar of Defense” ended in a ceasefire. (Hamas denied firing even those mentioned by Netanyahu last week; it wasn’t until Monday of this week that it acknowledged launching any rockets at Israel since the 2012 ceasefire.)

So how did we get from there to here, here being Operation Protective Edge, which officially began Tuesday with 20 Gazans dead, both militants and civilians, scores of others badly  wounded and much destruction, alongside about 150 rockets flying all over Israel (but no serious injuries or property damage by Wednesday afternoon)?

We got here because Benjamin Netanyahu brought us here. He’s being credited in Israel for showing great restraint in the days leading up to the big op, answering Gaza’s rockets with nothing more than warning shots and offering “quiet for quiet.” But in fact it was his antagonism toward all Palestinians – toward Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority no less than toward Hamas – that started and steadily provoked the chain reaction that led to the current misery.

Israeli tanks on the border with Gaza. (photo: Activestills)

And nobody knows this, or should know it, better than the Obama administration, which is now standing up for Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

It was Netanyahu and his government that killed the peace talks with Abbas that were shepherded by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry; the Americans won’t exactly spell this out on-the-record, but they will off-the record. So a week before those negotiations’ April 29 deadline, Abbas, seeing he wasn’t getting anywhere playing ball with Israel and the United States, decided to shore things up at home, to end the split between the West Bank and Gaza, and he signed the Fatah-Hamas unity deal – with himself as president and Fatah clearly the senior partner. The world – even Washington – welcomed the deal, if warily so, saying unity between the West Bank and Gaza was a good thing for the peace process, and holding out the hope that the deal would compel Hamas to moderate its political stance.

Netanyahu, however, saw red. Warning that the unity government would “strengthen terror,” he broke off talks with Abbas and tried to convince the West to refuse to recognize the emerging new Palestinian government – but he failed. He didn’t stop trying, though. At a time when Hamas was seen to be weak, broke, throttled by the new-old Egyptian regime, unpopular with Gazans, and acting as Israel’s cop in the Strip by not only holding its own fire but curbing that of Islamic Jihad and others, Netanyahu became obsessed with Hamas – and obsessed with tying it around Abbas’ neck. Netanyahu’s purpose, clearly enough, was to shift the blame for the failure of the U.S.-sponsored peace talks from himself and his government to Abbas and the Palestinians.

But it wasn’t working. Then on June 12 something fell into Netanyahu’s lap which he certainly would have prevented if he’d been able to, but which he also did not hesitate exploiting to the hilt politically: the kidnapping in the West Bank of Gilad Sha’ar and Naftali Fraenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19.

Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the kidnapping. He said he had proof. To this day, neither he nor any other Israeli official has come forward with a shred of proof. Meanwhile, it is now widely assumed that the Hamas leadership did not give the order for the kidnapping, that it was instead carried out at the behest of a renegade, Hamas-linked, Hebron clan with a long history of blowing up Hamas’ ceasefires with Israel by killing Israelis. Besides, it made no sense for Hamas leaders to order up such a spectacular crime – not after signing an agreement with Abbas, and not when they were so badly on the ropes. Khaled Meshal, while refusing to confirm or deny giving the order, and saying he had no idea of the three boys’ whereabouts, lauded the kidnapping as a means of freeing Palestinian prisoners. This showed a certain moral idiocy on Meshal’s part, and on the part of his audience – the many, many Palestinians who likewise cheered the kidnapping – but it did not show that the Hamas leadership had ordered the deed. And we are still waiting to see that proof.

Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron take part in the search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, June 18, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

 Netanyahu used the kidnappings to go after Hamas in the West Bank. The target, as one Israeli security official said, was “anything green.” The army raided, destroyed, confiscated and arrested anybody and anything having to do with Hamas, killed some Palestinian protesters and rearrested some 60 Hamasniks who had been freed in the Gilad Shalit deal, throwing them back in prison.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, Israel had already escalated matters on June 11, the day before the kidnappings, by killing not only a wanted man riding on a bicycle, but a10-year-old child riding with him. Between that, the kidnappings a day later and the crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank that immediately followed, Gaza and Israel started going at it pretty fierce – with all the casualties and destruction, once again, on Gaza’s side only.

Read: ‘They left us no choice’ – On military escalation and its Israeli rationale

And that was basically it. Netanyahu had given orders to smash up the West Bank and Gaza over the kidnapping of three Israeli boys that, as monstrous as it was, apparently had nothing to do with the Hamas leadership. Thus, he opened an account with Israel’s enemies, who would wish for an opportunity to close it.

On June 30, the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli boys were found in the West Bank. “Hamas is responsible, Hamas will pay,” Netanayhu intoned. That payment was delayed by the burning alive of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 15, which set off riots in East Jerusalem and Israel’s “Arab Triangle,” and which put Israel on the defensive. It probably encouraged the armed groups in Gaza to step up their rocketing of Israel, while Netanyahu kept Israel’s in check. Then on Sunday, as many as nine Hamas men were killed in a Gazan tunnel that Israel bombed, saying it was going to be used for a terror attack. The next day nearly 100 rockets were fired at Israel. This time Hamas took responsibility for launching some of the rockets – a week after Netanyahu, for the first time since November 2012, accused it of breaking the ceasefire.

And the day after that, “Operation Protective Edge” officially began. By Wednesday afternoon, there were 35 dead and many maimed in Gaza, Israelis were ducking rockets, and no one can say when or how it will end, or what further horrors lie in store.

Netanyahu could have avoided the whole thing. He could have chosen not to shoot up the West Bank and Gaza and arrest dozens of previously freed Hamasniks (along with hundreds of other Palestinians) over what was very likely a rogue kidnapping. Before that, he could have chosen not to stonewall Abbas for nine months of peace negotiations, and then there wouldn’t have even been a unity government with Hamas that freaked him out so badly – a reaction that was, of course, Netanyahu’s choice as well.

But Israel’s prime minister is and always has been at war with the Palestinians – diplomatically, militarily and every other way; against Abbas, Hamas and all the rest – and this is what has guided his actions, and this is what provoked Hamas into going to war against Israel.

Related:
Live blog: Escalation in Gaza – July 2014
Dispatch from Gaza: You can never be emotionally ready
Why Netanyahu will lose this Gaza war, too

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