mahmoud abbas

Abbas blamed as 3 Gazan babies die after denied Israel entry permits

Three infants died in Gaza hospitals over the last 24 hours, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said on Tuesday, and warned more were in imminent danger of the same fate if they weren’t given referrals for treatment outside of the Strip.

The ministry blamed the Palestinian Authority for the deaths, saying Ramallah has refused to grant permits for the babies to be treated in Israel.

To leave Gaza and travel to Israel for medical treatment, or to receive treatment in the West Bank or abroad, Gazans must first get confirmation from the PA that it will pay for the treatments.

The PA pays for nearly all medical treatment of Gazans when they leave the Strip.

The PA is currently carrying out a series of tough measures aimed at forcing Hamas to cede control of the coastal enclave, including reducing the amount of electricity, government salaries and medical aid it provides the Strip.

Gaza Deputy Health Minister Yusuf Abu Rish named the deceased infants as Musab Bilal Ar’aeer, Baraa Ghaben and Ibrahim Tbeil, all of whom were under the age of 1.

All three suffered cardiovascular issues, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Pictures of Ghaben appeared in Palestinian social media.

300 مريض من  خرجوا للعلاج عبر “ايرز” في شهر مايو من اصل 3500. لا أعلم ما أقول لك

حاصرت شعبك وقتلت المرضى ومنعت علاجهم

استشهاد الطفل المريض براء محمد غبن وهو شهيد الحصار الثالث خلال ساعات بعد منعهم من العلاج بالخارج pic.twitter.com/Ho1sWzYCt4

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“There are a number of infants facing the same fate in the coming hours in Shifa Hospital, as well as in al-Nasr Children’s Hospital and al-Rantissi Children’s Hospital,” Abu Rish said.

He added that in total, 11 Gazans have died in the last few months due to the withholding of medical aid from the PA to the Gaza Strip, including five children.

However, the primary spokesperson for the ministry Dr. Ashraf al-Qudra has told other news outlets that nine deaths have occurred due to the PA measures.

The PA is accused by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI) of cutting medical aid to Gaza by around 90 percent.

“The behavior of Mahmoud Abbas in stopping the medical transfers for Gaza’s sick, which has led to the martyrdom of a number of children, constitutes crimes against humanity,” said senior Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zurhi in a statement over Twitter.

“We call for a greater humanitarian movement to save Gaza and stop the Abbas-Netanyahu scheme to strangle Gaza,” he added, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The PA has denied changing its policy in regards to Gaza medical care.

However, the Gaza Heath Ministry and international medical rights groups in Gaza say the PA has significantly decreased aid sent to the Strip as well as medical referrals.

Over 1,600 Gazan patients are waiting for referrals from the PA as of June 25, according to PHRI.

PHRI spokesperson Dana Moss said in 2016, the average number of requests approved by the PA per month was 2041. In May and June of 2017, she said, the PA was granting just 10 referrals a day, with the average number of requests being 120.

Gazan patients, she said, “are held hostage to political infighting.”

Gazan Jumana Daoud carries her 7-month-old daughter Maryam at Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem on February 20, 2017, as they meet for the first time since the baby's premature birth. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

Moss, however, also said Israel was partly responsible for the crisis in Gaza because of the crippling effect its 10-year long blockade has had on the Strip’s medical infrastructure.

Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip, which Jerusalem says is needed to keep out weaponry and materials that could be used for terror activity or in fighting against Israel. The border authority allows in humanitarian goods and also gives some Gazans permits to enter Israel for medical care.

According to Moss, due to the blockade, Gaza medical doctors are not able to travel abroad to learn necessary surgeries. She also said Israel prevents essential equipment, such a radiation machines for cancer patients, from entering the Strip, which creates a context in which many Gazans must travel abroad to receive treatment.

“Israel is the country with effective control over the Gaza Strip. It is responsible for the patients and their right to healthcare,” she said.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry Branch that deals with Palestinian Civilian Affairs, said in a statement to The Times of Israel that Israel works in the background “to promote civil policies in order to assist the residents of Gaza.”

This is despite the fact, COGAT said, that Hamas “continuously attempts to take advantage of the civil steps promoted by Israel,” including abusing the permits given to Gazans “to transfer terror funds, weapons, instructions and intelligence to perform terror attacks in Israel.”

In April, the Shin Bet security service said it caught two sisters, one of whom is a cancer sufferer, attempting to sneak explosives from the Strip into Israel, disguising it in medicine.

According to COGAT, in 2016, 30,768 crossings were coordinated from the Gaza Strip into Israel for medical attention. In 2017, so far, 13,530 crossings have been coordinated from the Gaza Strip into Israel for medical attention, and thus far in June that number is 732.

However, the World Health Organization said during March and April, more than 42% of the permits to enter Israel were either delayed or denied.

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Turning Gaza’s lights back on, Abbas’s rival Dahlan makes dramatic return to center stage

Gaza’s electricity crisis may be drawing to an end, and as the lights come back on, Palestinians are looking at an unlikely hero who managed to broker a deal between Egypt and Hamas: Mohammad Dahlan.

Egypt on Tuesday was expected to begin sending dozens of fuel trucks to the Hamas-run Strip to bring the Gaza power station back online and supply electricity to residents.

Dahlan — a former Fatah leader once considered persona non grata by Hamas and ousted in the coup that put the Islamist terror group in power in the Strip 10 years ago — is understood to have been a key player in the electricity deal, and appears to have made his peace with the Islamists en route.

Dahlan, who maintains excellent links with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and apparently managed the talks under Egypt’s auspices, is thus being depicted as the person who saved Gaza by having Cairo ship in hundreds of tons of industrial diesel — compensating for the cuts in supply that Israel introduced this week at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s request.

By bringing fuel into Gaza, Dahlan will not only give residents additional precious electricity, but also seems to have defused a potentially disastrous situation and knocked Abbas, a rival of both him and Hamas, down a few pegs.

A power plant in Gaza City is pictured from behind a fence on April 16, 2017. The Gaza Strip's only functioning power plant was out of action after running out of fuel, the head of the territory's electricity provider told AFP. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Even if the extra fuel proves to be only a temporary solution, the winds of war with Israel in the coming weeks seem to be dying down. Giventhis week’s declaration by senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya that Hamas has no intention of going to war with Israel, it seems the terror group has no interest at the moment in ratcheting up tensions.

In fact, the new realignment of forces in Gaza, with Egypt deeply involved and Dahlan at center stage, could have profound implications for the future of the coastal enclave.

A true rival

It was Abbas who decided to cut off the fuel to Gaza, as well as to cut payments to Gaza civil servants. As a result, Abbas is currently seen as having damaged both Palestinian unity and the well-being of the residents of Gaza.

By brokering Egypt’s agreement to send fuel, Dahlan, by contrast, is now viewed as someone who can solve Gaza’s problems — and perhaps even save the Palestinians from their wider troubles.

That means Dahlan has now become a real political threat to Abbas, who had worked assiduously to isolate him from Fatah and the West Bank.

Thanks to Cairo, and by extension Dahlan, a crisis impacting Hamas will be alleviated, boosting its status and strengthening Dahlan — who becomes a de facto foreign minister for Gaza — while Abbas’s standing will be further eroded.

According to Palestinian sources, the understandings between Dahlan/Egypt and Hamas include an agreement that the terror group will remain responsible for the internal and external security of the Gaza Strip — able to rule undisturbed.

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian terror groupt Hamas, patrol during a rally to mark Land Day near the Israeli border with east Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 30, 2017. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)

Initially, the understandings relate only to humanitarian steps: the opening of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza for longer periods, the supply of diesel to Gaza (apparently with funding from Dahlan’s ally the United Arab Emirates), and the entry and exit of Palestinians from Gaza to destinations abroad.

But in a second stage, if the agreement progresses as expected, Gaza could become a sort of separate political entity from the West Bank.

Hamas will reportedly commit itself under the deal with Cairo to acting with more diligence against global jihadist elements — including the Islamic State group — inside Gaza and at the border between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula. It will also allow the return of Dahlan’s confidants to Gaza — the ones who managed to escape from the Strip a decade ago during the Hamas coup.

In response to the fast-changing circumstances, the Palestinian Authority has already gone on the attack. Senior Fatah officials have slammed Egypt for its blatant attempt to become involved in internal Palestinian matters.

The PA well understands that if the reconciliation process between Dahlan and Hamas is put into practice, an old dream shared by Hamas and some on the Israeli right wing will be realized: the emergence of a de facto Palestinian state in Gaza, while Israel maintains its presence in the West Bank.

Egypt’s revenge

It’s no mystery why Hamas and Dahlan want to quash Abbas. What’s less clear is why Egypt is willing to play along, slapping down the Palestinian leader by undoing his attempt to put pressure on Hamas — and via one of his archenemies, at that.

Dahlan’s camp has been meeting with Hamas leaders in Egypt in recent days under the auspices of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate led by director Khaled Fawzy, and it may be Fawzy who was the key to the deal, and to Abbas’s undoing.

Fawzy, according to people who have met him, deeply despises Abbas. He is said to regard Abbas as an obstacle to a regional political process that Egypt seeks to promote, even at the expense of the PA, and wants to see him replaced.

Abbas has refused more than once to toe the line with Fawzy in Cairo, insiders say, enraging the Egyptian intelligence chief and sparking a quest for vengeance. If so, he may now getting his comeuppance.

President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 23, 2017. (AFP/THOMAS COEX)

In total, four meetings were held in recent days by Yahya Sinwar, Ruhi Mushtaha and others senior Hamas officials from Gaza, with Dahlan’s people, including Samir Mashharawi, culminating in a meeting between Dahlan and new Hamas Gaza chief Sinwar that lasted for two hours.

Yahya Sinwar (C), the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, arrives for the opening of a new mosque in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 24, 2017. (AFP/Said Khatib)

The two have known each other since childhood. They grew up together in the Khan Younis refugee camp, studied together in the Islamic University, and competed for student union head. During a political rally in the early 1980s, they both gave campaign speeches while running for the position.

There is an enormous divide between Dahlan — the hedonist with near-unlimited resources, who was responsible for security coordination with Israel in Gaza when he was the commander of the Palestinian security apparatus there during the 1990s — and Sinwar, the extremist who spent 22 years in an Israeli prison and continues to lead the hawkish wing in the Hamas party. For now, though, they are working together, to the potential profound detriment of Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinians say Netanyahu, not Abbas, to blame for Gaza crisis

The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday blamed Israel for an energy crisis in Gaza, after Israel acceded to a request by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to slash the amount of power it transfers to the beleaguered Strip and defended the move by saying the matter was an internal Palestinian rift.

Youssef Mahmoud, a spokesperson for the PA, said in a statement Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unfairly attempting to exculpate Israel in the crisis in the Gaza Strip.

“The simplification of his portrayal [of the crisis] as an internal dispute over the payment of the electric bill does not absolve the Netanyahu government from taking responsibility,” he said.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu said the crisis was not Israel’s to get involved with, defending Israel’s decision to allow Abbas to slash the electricity it transfers to Gaza by some 40 percent.

“The issue of electricity in Gaza is a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Hamas is demanding that the PA pay for the electricity, and the Palestinian Authority is refusing to pay. It is an internal Palestinian dispute,” Netanyahu said. Most see Abbas’s request to slash electricity as a tactic to increase pressure on rival Hamas.

Israeli officials are reportedly attempting to enlist international donors to make up the shortfall, fearing a humanitarian crisis in the Strip could inflame tensions and lead to an outbreak of violence.

Mahmoud said the rift between Abbas’s Fatah faction and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, which was caused by Israel, was not the cause of the crisis.

“The reason behind [the crisis]…is the existence of the Israeli occupation and the siege [of Gaza] that has stricken the Gaza Strip for 10 years. Furthermore, the disastrous [Hamas] coup would not have happened were it not for the existence of the occupation, the siege, and the dismemberment of Palestinian lands,” he said.

Israel’s current blockade on Gaza, meant to prevent weapons from getting into the hands of Hamas, was put in place after the Islamist terror group violently took control of the Strip 10 years ago when it pushed out the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. Israel withdrew entirely from the Gaza Strip in 2005, handing over control to the PA.

“The coup and the [Palestinian] division constitute a pure [Israeli] benefit,” Mahmoud said.

“Netanyahu’s government insists on continuing the occupation, refuses to bring peace, and hastens to obstruct any opportunity to revive the [peace] process. It is the political situation that is driving the internal Palestinian situation to further deterioration,” the spokesman added.

On Sunday the Israeli security cabinet decided it would cut the amount of power it supplies to Gaza, at the request of Abbas who is seeking to ramp up pressure on Hamas, the ruling party in the Strip and his Fatah party’s bitter rival.

Gazans currently receive electricity delivered from the territory’s own power station and others in Israel and Egypt. In April, the PA told Israel that it would only pay NIS 25 million ($11.1 million) of the NIS 40 million ($5.6- 7 million) monthly bill. Israel currently supplies 125 megawatt hours to Gaza, around 30 percent of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day.

The Israeli cabinet decision would see a reduction of about 45 minutes to the amount of time every day during which Gaza receives electricity, Hebrew media reported.

Hamas responded to the decision by saying it would have “disastrous and dangerous” results that could lead to an outbreak of violence.

Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel was not seeking a confrontation with Hamas.

Abbas said ready to drop settlement freeze precondition for talks

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is prepared to drop his demand for a West Bank settlement freeze as a precondition for restarting peace talks with Israel in order to give Washington “a chance” at reaching a deal, a senior aide told Bloomberg news in a report published Thursday.

Mohammad Mustafa, Abbas’s senior economic adviser and former deputy prime minister, said Palestinian leaders were also willing to back away from efforts to have Israeli officials prosecuted on war crimes charges and ease off pressure to secure international condemnation of the Jewish state at the United Nations.

Halting Israeli settlement building in the West Bank has been a longstanding demand of Abbas, ever since former US president Barack Obama urged the move as a trust-building measure ahead of planned talks in 2010. The Israeli government froze settlements for 10 months outside Jerusalem that year, but talks were not renewed.

Mustafa said the change in policy was meant to give US President Donald Trump an opportunity to secure a peace deal, a goal the American leader has said he is determined to achieve as part of improving ties between Israel and the Sunni Arab world.

“We have not made the settlements an upfront issue this time,” said Mustafa, who is considered a close confidant of Abbas. “We think it’s better for all of us right now to focus on giving this new administration a chance to deliver.”

Mustafa, who spoke to Bloomberg earlier this week, explained that Abbas was being pushed to the negotiating table by unemployment and financial pressure caused by unfulfilled promises of international funding.

Illustrative photo of a construction site in Tekoa, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, on September 7, 2014 (Flash90)

During Trump’s first foreign trip last month, which included stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank, the US president gave a speech at the Israel Museum calling on both sides to put aside the “pain and disagreements of the past” and work toward peace.

Trump met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas while in the region.

In March, Netanyahu told security cabinet members that Israel would curb construction in West Bank settlements as a goodwill gesture to Trump and keep it limited to inside the boundaries of existing settlements or adjacent to them. According to the decision, if legal, security or topographical limitations do not allow adherence to those guidelines, new homes will be built outside the current settlement boundaries but as close as possible to them. While billed as restrictions, the directives allow for considerable new construction.

Since taking office, Trump has repeatedly emphasized his intent to succeed where other presidents have failed by striking a final Israeli-Palestinian accord.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority fell apart in April 2014 after just over a year of negotiations amid mutual recriminations, despite an intensive effort by then-US secretary of state John Kerry to push the sides toward an agreement. Peace efforts have remained stagnant since then, though Trump is attempting to push the sides toward returning to the table.

US President Donald Trump delivers a speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Mohammad Shtayyeh, a member of the Abbas’s Fatah party Central Committee, said that Trump’s recent decision to put on hold his election campaign promise of relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem gained him support among Palestinians.

“There is a new dynamic,” said Shtayyeh. “The embassy issue is behind us.”

Trump earlier this month signed a waiver delaying by six months any measures to move the embassy, a measure that would be seen as formal US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Shtayyeh noted that Palestinians like Trump’s personal involvement in the situation with the Israelis as compared to previous US president Barack Obama, who tasked his secretary of state with the issue.

“With this administration, the White House is engaged and that’s a huge difference,” Shtayyeh said. “That doesn’t mean I’m optimistic. Don’t misunderstand.”

This file photo taken on December 28, 2016, shows the US Embassy building in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Mustafa also belittled Israeli confidence-building measures that were announced ahead of Trump’s visit and said they were a disappointment to Palestinians. Israel said at the time that it would keep the Allenby Bridge that fords the Jordan River between the West Bank and Jordan open for longer hours to ease movements of Palestinian workers who use it on a daily basis, as well as plans to build a West Bank industrial zone.

“We don’t want to be tricked with small, not-so-meaningful steps,” Mustafa said.

Abbas admits Trump yelled at him over incitement – report

Following insistent Palestinian denials that US President Donald Trump shouted at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about Palestinian incitement against Israel during their meeting last week, Abbas has conceded — in Arabic — that the story is true, according to a report by the London-based Qatari news site al-Araby al-Jadid.

Channel 2 News reported earlier this week that during their talks in Bethlehem last week, Trump yelled at Abbas and accused him of direct involvement in incitement against Israel.

“You tricked me in DC! You talked there about your commitment to peace, but the Israelis showed me your involvement in incitement,” Trump was said to have shouted at a shocked Abbas.

The TV report said the outburst was followed by several minutes of stunned silence from the Palestinians, and that the meeting was very tense before the two sides managed to get back on track.

Palestinian sources denied the report, saying the meeting was comfortable and substantive.

US President Donald Trump (L) is welcomed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (Thomas COEX / AFP)

According to Palestinian sources quoted by the Qatari site, however, Abbas told an executive committee meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization in recent days that his encounter with Trump was “uncomfortable.”

Abbas confirmed that the US leader expressed anger with him, accused him of inciting against Israel, and showed him videos that included one in which Abbas was recorded as saying, “We incite and the Israelis incite.”

Abbas said he then told Trump that the videos only showed selections which had been edited and taken out of context.

He said he told the US leader, “You have the CIA, ask them to analyze the film clips and you’ll discover that that they were taken out of context or fabricated with the aim of inciting against the Palestinians.”

Trump’s anger was the result of Israeli government incitement against Palestinians, Abbas claimed he told the US president, according to the sources.

On May 3 in Washington, at the first meeting between the two, Trump urged Abbas to stop incitement, crack down on terrorism, and “resolve” his government’s policy of paying stipends to terrorists and their families

Abbas, for his part, told Trump in their joint White House press conference that “we are raising our youth, our children, our grandchildren on a culture of peace.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a video message to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, calling on him to crack down on incitement, which was published on July 15, 2016 (YouTube screen capture)

In the wake of that claim, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Abbas for the remark, saying it was “unfortunately not true.” The PA, Netanyahu charged, “names their schools after mass murderers of Israelis and pays terrorists.”

Israel has accused the Palestinians, including Abbas’s Fatah party, of fanning hatred on social media and calling for violence against Israelis.

Palestinian officials have generally countered the claim by arguing that draconian Israeli measures and decades of occupation, not incitement, instill hatred and inspire terrorism.

A report released in April from the Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) group found that PA textbooks in first to fourth grades were demonizing Israel and glorifying “martyrdom.” The document cited an “alarming deterioration” in content since the previous study.

The issue of incitement has taken on increasing significance of late, as members of the US Congress have threatened to decrease US aid to Palestinians if PA-sponsored incitement is not curbed.

On Wednesday, it was reported that the Danish foreign minister had ordered a review of his government’s donations to Palestinian Authority non-governmental organizations, apparently following a request Netanyahu made to him during a meeting in Jerusalem last month to stop Denmark’s funding for Palestinian NGOs involved in anti-Israel incitement or promoting boycotts of the Jewish state.

Palestinian pre-schoolers perform with toy guns at a West Bank kindergarten, June 2015. (MEMRI screenshot)

On Sunday, the United Nations announced it had withdrawn support for a Palestinian Authority women’s center named for a notorious terrorist, saying the move was “offensive” and glorified terrorism.

The West Bank center was named after Dalal Mughrabi, who took part in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre. Mughrabi and several other Fatah terrorists landed on a beach near Tel Aviv, hijacked a bus on Israel’s Coastal Road and killed 38 civilians, 13 of them children, and wounded over 70.

“The glorification of terrorism, or the perpetrators of heinous terrorist acts, is unacceptable under any circumstances,” the UN statement said. “The UN has repeatedly called for an end to incitement to violence and hatred as they present one of the obstacles to peace.”

The UN move came days after Norway’s foreign minister condemned the PA for naming the center after Mughrabi, demanding the country’s name be removed from the building and that the funds it donated for its construction be returned.

Palestinians inaugurate a square to commemorate Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian terrorist who killed dozens of Israeli civilians in a 1978 bus hijacking in Israel, seen in portrait, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

In the al-Jadeed al-Araby report, the sources cited by the paper described the PLO executive committee meeting as tense and said Abbas exploded in anger in response to several members’ questions.

At the same meeting, Abbas reportedly slammed what he called a “conspiracy” by political rivals from within his Fatah party and from other organizations to exploit the recent hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in order to undercut his authority.

Ending strike after 40 days, Barghouti is now Abbas’s undisputed heir

After 40 days and 40 nights of fasting, the Palestinian prisoner hunger strike came to an end just before dawn on Saturday — not coincidentally, just before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The announcement was accompanied by impassioned proclamations in the Palestinian media of “a great victory” for the prisoners and by strike leader Marwan Barghouti.

While they now dispute the terms on which the strike was ended, all sides involved — Barghouti, the Israel Prisons Service and even the Palestinian Authority — can claim significant achievements. But the key victor is Barghouti, who has again firmly established himself as a favorite of the Palestinian public and, in their eyes, a natural successor to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Barghouti, a Fatah political leader and terror chief who is serving five life sentences for murders committed during the second Palestinian intifada, was the focal point of this strike. He initiated it, he was the one filmed eating a candy bar by the prison authorities, and he has emerged from it as a Palestinian national symbol.

Barghouti began the strike with 1,150 of his Fatah comrades (about one-third of the total Fatah prisoners and one-sixth of all the security inmates) pushing a long list of demands from Israel: 20 channels of television, unrestricted books and magazines, air conditioning, a greater selection of items available for purchase in the canteen, more family visits, the restarting of open university studies, public telephone use, annual medical checks for prisoners, and an end to punitive solitary confinement.

The strike is ending with just one of those demands met, the restoration of a second monthly family visit — a move that is not even connected to Israel as it was stopped a year ago by the International Committee of the Red Cross, who said family members were not showing up and it did not have the budget for the program. Indeed, it is only possible to restore the visits now because the PA has offered to fund them.

In doing so, the PA handed Barghouti and the other prisoners a justification for ending the strike that, after 40 days, was starting to enter a highly dangerous phase, with 30 inmates said hospitalized.

But for Barghouti, the strike was never about actual prison conditions.

Palestinians take part in a protest in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, on May 4, 2017. (Flash90)

He launched the strike in part due to his deteriorating political standing in Fatah. After recent internal elections for the Fatah Central Committee where he finished first, his colleagues outside prison forgot about him and made sure he did not get a senior post, like deputy chairman. Barghouti understood that Abbas and the other central committee members were trying to isolate him from the Palestinian public and Fatah supporters. To counter this, he came up with the idea of leading a hunger strike to protest the conditions of the Palestinian security prisoners, an issue of almost complete consensus among the Palestinians.

Fatah prisoners in Israel had not led a prison hunger strike in 13 years, so this effort won support and made headlines in the Palestinian media from the outset, also garnering the reluctant support of other Fatah leaders. The other major power among the prisoners, the terror group Hamas — which did not take part in the strike — was forced again and again to offer public support for the “just struggle” of the prisoners.

Members of terror groups in the Gaza Strip stand in front of a portrait of Marwan Barghouti as they attend a press conference in Gaza City in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails on May 18, 2017. ( AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

Barghouti did not achieve all his goals, and suffered several failures along the way. First, the vast majority of the 6,500 prisoners, from Fatah and Hamas, did not join the strike. Power struggles between the groups and internal conflicts within Fatah prevented this from being an even bigger story. Sources close to Barghouti said that his rivals used prison leaders to convince the strikers to give up. By the end, 834 prisoners remained on strike.

Second, Barghouti had limited success in mobilizing the Palestinian public. While thousands took part in various protests, and there were sporadic solidarity strikes and a rise in clashes with Israeli and Palestinian forces, massive protests did not sweep the West Bank. This was partly because Abbas’s PA security forces made a considerable effort to prevent greater confrontations with Israeli forces; as a consequence, at the end of the 40 days, the West Bank is significantly more tense than before.

Palestinians take part in a rally in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in the west bank city of Ramallah, May 3, 2017. (Flash90)

But Palestinian media has been ceaselessly singing Barghouti’s praises. His picture is once again on display in every village, town and refugee camp. His name is now familiar even to those who were born after he went to jail for his role in leading the Second Palestinian Intifada and his five murder convictions.

For many of them, and however unpalatable to many in Israel, he is the Palestinian Nelson Mandela and, more practically, their next leader after Abbas.

And what about the Israel Prisons Service? It can argue, and justifiably so, that it did not give into any of the prisoners’ demands. It had noticeable success in preventing the strike from spiraling out of control and becoming a mass movement. Striking prisoners were moved around and put in solitary confinement; medical centers were set up in the prisons to deal with the health issues that came up.

However, it also made one or two significant blunders, the main one being planting a “Tortit” chocolate wafer in Barghouti’s cell and filming him eating it.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/216366719

Barghouti was in solitary confinement, almost forgotten by the world, when Israel released the video, bringing him back to the forefront of attention. Aiming to discredit Barghouti, the prisons service made him look like a victim, which garnered more sympathy for him, especially in the West Bank where his reputation only grew stronger.

A second mistake was refusing to negotiate with Barghouti. Fearing that this would strengthen his standing, officials missed the bigger picture and ended up drawing out the hunger strike unnecessarily.

It should be noted that the prisons service still denies negotiating at all with Barghouti, even in the last few days, and stresses that the only concession the Palestinians achieved — the extra monthly family visit — was not from Israel but the Red Cross.

However, someone in the prisons service decided to transfer all the strike leaders, including Barghouti, to Ashkelon prison in order to allow them to meet and facilitate the end of the strike. Bringing Barghouti there was de facto recognition of how big a deal this strike had become, and of the need to end it as soon as possible.

So maybe Israel can say “we did not negotiate with Barghouti,” but Israel brought him to Ashkelon and, once he was there, let him handle the talks on ending the strike. And it must be asked whether this could not have been done sooner to calm tensions inside and outside the prisons.

Finally, what of the Palestinian Authority, which agreed to pay for the costs of the family visits and in doing so tried to show the Palestinian public how much it cares for the prisoners? Hamas did not support the strike and has failed to gain any advantage for the prisoners, so on that account the PA can be satisfied.

In fact, the PA made a genuine, concerted effort to bring a speedy end to the strike. This was not only out of concern for the welfare of the prisoners, however, but also because the PA and Fatah understood that with each passing day, tensions in the West Bank continued to rise almost as fast as the standing of Marwan Barghouti.

Abbas tells Trump he’s ‘ready to begin negotiating immediately’ with Israel

WASHINGTON — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is prepared to begin immediate peace negotiations with Israel, the White House said Tuesday, hours after US President Donald Trump concluded his historic visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Trump met Tuesday morning with the 82-year-old Abbas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

“The two leaders discussed ways to advance negotiations and considered how Arab states might support those negotiations,” a White House readout said. “President Abbas noted that he was ready to begin negotiating immediately.”

In an unofficial translation of Abbas’s remarks to Trump during their meeting, it was not immeiately evident he expressed such readiness.

The White House said Trump and Abbas also agreed to “continue their discussions on the issue of payments to Palestinian prisoners and the need to improve the Palestinian economy.”

Earlier Tuesday, Trump delivered an implicit criticism — during a press appearance with Abbas — of the PA’s practice of paying salaries to jailed Palestinian terrorists and the families of Palestinian prisoners killed while committing terror attacks.

“Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded,” Trump said. “We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single unified voice,” he said.

The president faced much pressure over the issue before his trip, with Republican members of Congress insisting he demand this practice end.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a forceful plea in his speech at the Israel Museum earlier — where Trump also delivered his own remarks — and invoked Monday’s terror attack in Manchester to underline his point.

US president Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after giving final remarks at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem before Trump departure, on May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Standing next to you, President Abbas condemned the horrific attack in Manchester,” Netanyahu said, referring to their press statements. “I hope this heralds a real change, because if the attacker had been Palestinian and the victims had been Israeli children, the suicide bomber’s family would have received a stipend from the Palestinian Authority.”

“That’s Palestinian law,” Netanyahu added. “That law must be changed.”

Trump arrived at the presidential palace in Bethlehem after traveling there by car from Jerusalem.

During their joint press conference, Trump emphasized his desire to succeed where his predecessors had failed and strike an accord between the parties.

“I am truly hopeful that America can help Israel and the Palestinians forge peace and bring new hope to the region and its people,” he said.

The readout of their bilateral meeting said that the president “again stressed his belief that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is possible.”

Both leaders, it also said, “reaffirmed their commitment to reach for a genuine and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

Trump’s first leg of his first foreign trip was in Riyadh where he met with Arab and Muslim leaders to discuss countering violent extremism and renewing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

ABBAS: MOSCOW ESSENTIAL TO RESOLVING CONFLICT

 

Peace between Israel and the Palestinians cannot be achieved without the participation of Russia, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in the resort city Sochi on Thursday.

“It is impossible to solve the Palestinian issue without Russia’s meaningful participation in the peace process,” Abbas said, according to Tass, an official Russian news agency. “That is what we have been emphasizing at all international meetings.”

 

Abbas, who visited the White House last week, arrived in Russia on Wednesday to meet with Putin and other officials.

The PA leader also reiterated that he is willing to participate in a trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Putin in Moscow. “We are ready to accept this invitation at any time,” Abbas said.

Both Abbas and Netanyahu agreed “in principle” to a trilateral meeting in Moscow last year, but a date was never set.

Putin said Russia and the Palestinians have strong ties.

“In the recent history, our relations have remained warm and trust-based,” he stated, according to Tass. “For years, we have been trying to solve one of the key issues of the modern world, that is the Middle East issue, so we always have things to discuss.”

Earlier on Thursday, the two leaders inaugurated a Russian-financed economic and cultural center in Bethlehem via video conference.

The six-story center contains a theater, meeting hall, karate and Judo gyms, a cafeteria, and offices for lease, according to Wafa, the official PA news site.

Putin is the second foreign leader Abbas met with this week. The PA president also met with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Tuesday in Ramallah.

“We affirmed to [Trump] that we are ready to cooperate with him and meet the Israeli prime minister under his auspices in order to make peace,” Abbas told a joint press conference with the German president, without mentioning preconditions such as a settlement freeze.

Nabil Sha’ath, Abbas’s foreign policy adviser, declined to say on Tuesday whether a settlement freeze is necessary before the renewal of peace talks.

“We will have to discuss that issue in future meetings with the Trump administration,” he said.

Abbas is slated to arrive in India on Sunday to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi.

‘ABBAS HAS DECIDED TO SIGN PEACE DEAL WITH ISRAEL’

 

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has crossed the Rubicon and voiced “unprecedented” readiness to reach a peace deal with Israel, sources close to the efforts to renew talks between Israel and the Palestinians have told The Jerusalem Post.

Abbas, according to the sources, made this clear to President Donald Trump during their meeting at the White House last week. The president plans to use his trip to Israel later this month to receive assurances from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he, too, is committed to a peace agreement.

 

Since his meeting with Trump last week, Abbas has changed his rhetoric, issuing a number of statements meant to reflect flexibility on previous demands. He has, for example, said that he would renew the talks under Trump’s auspices without preconditions. In the past, he had said he would not negotiate with Netanyahu without a freeze to settlement construction.

He has also sent his advisers to the press to declare that the Palestinians are prepared to negotiate land swaps with Israel, a recognition that some West Bank settlements will remain part of Israel in the framework of a future deal.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, has largely remained quiet. The strategy within the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem seems to be to wait and hope not to be blamed for preventing the success of the peace talks Trump is planning to restart following his visit on May 22.

As reported earlier this week in Maariv and the Post, the person responsible for this change in Abbas is Ronald Lauder, the American billionaire and head of the World Jewish Congress, who is one of the closest people to Trump. Lauder has publicly said that he has known Trump for over 50 years and that he is a “great and true friend” of Israel.

Before Abbas met with Trump last week, he stopped by Lauder’s house for dinner and got briefed on ways to win over the president. To some, it seems that Lauder has bypassed Sheldon Adelson as the most influential Jew in Trump’s circle.

Lauder has been pushing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal for years and was in Cairo two months ago for a meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ahead of the Egyptian leader’s visit to the White House. Lauder, sources say, seems to have been tapped by the president as something of a semi-official envoy to the region with an emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Politicians who spoke to Lauder at Sunday’s Jerusalem Post Conference in New York later told the Post that he told them about his meeting with Abbas. At the same time, Netanyahu told confidants that he was furious over the American Jewish leader’s involvement.

“You don’t understand how much influence he has over Trump,” the prime minister told a confidant in a private conversation this week.

“Out of the people around Trump, he is my biggest challenge to overcome.”

Abbas says he’s ready to meet Netanyahu as part of Trump peace push

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that he was ready to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as part of US President Donald Trump’s peace efforts, weeks before the US leader is expected to visit the region.

Trump is expected in Israel on May 22 as part of his first foreign trip and the Palestinian president said “we are looking forward to his visit soon to Bethlehem” in the West Bank, with speculation it will occur on May 23.

“We told him that we were ready to collaborate with him and meet the Israeli prime minister under his auspices to build peace,” Abbas told reporters while meeting German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Abbas also said he was fully committed to a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines that would allow Israel and Palestine to exist side by side in peace, security and friendship.

Steinmeier said much time has already been spent on efforts to set up a state of Palestine alongside Israel.

“In our view there is no other solution,” than the two-state solution, he said. “It’s high time to work on the requirements for it.”

Abbas met Trump in Washington last week for their first face-to-face talks.

On Monday, senior Palestinian adviser Nabil Shaath praised Trump for Abbas’s warm reception at the White House and said any possible meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders would be discussed when the US president visits.

“What was discussed in Washington was getting ready to start the negotiations,” he told The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump (right) reaches to shake hands with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, May 3, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump announced last week that his first foreign trip as president will include stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican — the spiritual centers of Islam, Judaism and Catholicism.

At the time of the announcement, a senior Trump aide did not rule out the possibility of a presidential stop in the West Bank, but said that it was likely to be contingent on security and Abbas taking concrete steps toward peace.

Trump has been seeking ways to restart moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

As he hosted Abbas in Washington, Trump confidently predicted that a peace agreement was within grasp, brushing aside the complexities of a decades-old conflict that has bedeviled successive US leaders.