Archive for October 13th, 2017

Rival Palestinians Strike Gaza Unity Deal After Cairo Talks

By Saud Abu Ramadan and Fadwa Hodali

October 12, 2017

Rival Palestinian groups agreed on Thursday to end their decade-old rift, signing an Egyptian-brokered deal that will allow a unity government to resume control of the Gaza Strip and deploy forces to the border with Egypt within weeks.

Hamas, an embattled Islamist movement which had controlled Gaza since 2007, last week handed over most government functions to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, in a first step toward ending divisions that have complicated the Palestinian bid for statehood.

Under the accord struck in Cairo, the consensus government will formally take full administrative control of Gaza by Dec. 1, according to a statement issued after the talks. The two sides have been invited to return to the Egyptian capital for more negotiations on Nov. 21. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered all state agencies to “restore the unity of the Palestinian people and institutions.”

In a joint news conference, chief Fatah negotiator Azzam al-Ahmad said the deal crucially would see the Palestinian Authority’s presidential guards deploy along the border between Gaza and Egypt by Nov. 1. If that leads to greater security, Egypt might be willing to permanently reopen the Rafah border crossing, one of the isolated coastal enclave’s few outlets to the world.

After initially shunning Hamas, the Egyptian government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi sought its help in controlling the movement of militants and weapons through cross-border tunnels between Gaza and Egypt’s northern Sinai, where an Islamic State affiliate is fighting the Egyptian government — a conflict that has battered the Red Sea tourist industry.

Armed Wing

“The consensus government has to take full control in the Gaza Strip and carry out all its duties and functions in all aspects of life, running the crossing points either with Israel or with Egypt,” Fatah’s Al-Ahmad said.

There was no indication from either side, however, that any understanding had been reached on the fate of Hamas’ armed wing, a sticking point which could yet scupper reconciliation efforts. Hamas leaders have said they would not disarm as long as Israel occupies Palestinian land. Abbas has said he wants weapons to be under unified control.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week warned against any “bogus” unity bid that would threaten his country if Hamas is allowed to keep its guns. On Thursday, he said any Palestinian government must meet the conditions of the international Quartet behind peace efforts, including recognizing Israel and respecting past agreements. Israel will watch as the situation develops and will react accordingly, he said.

The willingness of Hamas to work with Fatah, which governs the Authority’s West Bank territories, comes amid desperation in Gaza, whose economy has been strangled for years by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, the destruction of its underground smuggling tunnels and wars with Israel. The destitution deepened earlier this year when Abbas engineered a power shortage to put further pressure on Hamas, which is shunned as a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.

Israeli Assertions

Gaza, which sits on the Mediterranean coast and is fenced in by heavily-patrolled barriers on three sides bordering Israel and Egypt, has been a frequent battleground over the past decade, during which Hamas has fought three wars with Israel. Abbas has tried numerous times without success to repair the rift, in part to counter Israeli assertions that peace negotiations are pointless because he can’t ensure that any treaty will also hold in Gaza.

Previous efforts to reconcile have failed due to disagreements over the fate of the weapons held by Hamas, as well as control of borders and other key institutions. This time, Hamas has gone further in offering concessions to heal the rift. As well as offering help to secure the border with Egypt, it has distanced itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, which former military chief El-Sisi removed from power in mid-2013.

Internationally isolated and with the economy in shreds, Hamas said last month it was ready to dismantle the administrative committee it set up earlier this year to run Gaza. Abbas viewed the panel as a shadow government and evidence of bad faith in the talks.

“We, in Hamas, are determined, serious and faithful this time,” Hamas negotiator Saleh Al-Arouri said at the news conference in Cairo. “This time is different to the previous times.”

— With assistance by Ahmed Feteha, Tarek El-Tablawy, Lin Noueihed, and Michael Arnold

Source: Bloomberg.

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-12/palestinians-strike-gaza-unity-deal-after-marathon-cairo-talks.

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Fatah, Hamas reach agreement in Palestinian reconciliation talks

2017-10-12

GAZA CITY – Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah reached an agreement Thursday on ending a decade-long split following talks mediated by Egypt in Cairo, with president Mahmud Abbas calling it a “final” accord.

Details of the agreement have not yet been released and a press conference was being planned for Thursday afternoon in the Egyptian capital, where talks have been taking place since Tuesday.

Abbas welcomed the deal and said he considered it a “final agreement to end the division” — though many details remain to be resolved and previous reconciliation attempts have repeatedly failed.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya’s office said in a statement, without giving further details, that “an agreement was reached today between Hamas and Fatah under Egyptian sponsorship.”

An official from Abbas’s Fatah movement said the Palestinian president was now planning to travel to the Gaza Strip within a month as part of the unity bid in what would be his first visit in a decade.

Sanctions taken by Abbas against Hamas-controlled Gaza will also soon be lifted, the Fatah official said.

The deal includes 3,000 members of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority’s police force redeploying to Gaza, a member of the negotiating team said on condition of anonymity.

The figure is however a fraction of the more than 20,000 police officers employed separately by Hamas.

Another party to the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agreement would see Palestinian Authority forces take control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

He added that all Palestinian factions would begin wider negotiations on the formation of a unity government in the coming two weeks.

One of the key issues has been punitive measures taken by Abbas against Gaza in recent months, including reducing electricity payments that left the territory’s residents with only a few hours of power a day.

“All the measures taken recently will end very shortly,” Zakaria al-Agha, a senior Fatah leader in the Gaza Strip, said.

The two sides had been meeting in the Egyptian capital this week with the aim of ending the crippling decade-old split between the rival factions.

Hamas seized Gaza from Fatah in a near civil war in 2007 and the two factions have been at loggerheads ever since. Multiple previous reconciliation efforts have failed.

Egypt has been keen to improve security in the Sinai Peninsula which borders Gaza and where jihadist rebels have fought a long-running insurgency.

An Egyptian source close to the talks said intelligence chief Khaled Fawzi had followed the talks closely.

– Fate of armed wing –

Last month, Hamas agreed to cede civil power in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority but the fate of its vast military wing remains a significant issue for the two sides.

Islamist movement Hamas is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

It has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and the blockaded Gaza Strip has seen deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

Faced with increasing isolation and a severe electricity shortage, Hamas has reached out to Egypt for help, hoping to have the Rafah border opened.

The crossing has remained largely closed in recent years.

Egypt has also agreed to provide fuel to the Gaza Strip for electricity generation.

In return, Cairo pressed Hamas to move forward on reconciliation with Fatah.

Previous attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed, and many analysts are treating the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if actual change will occur on the ground.

Last week, Palestinian Authority prime minister Rami Hamdallah visited Gaza for the first time since 2015 and his ministers took formal control of government departments in the territory.

But the move was seen as mainly symbolic, with Hamas still effectively in charge in the Palestinian enclave of two million people bordered by Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea.

One of the key sticking points will be the fate of Hamas’s 25,000-strong military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Reconciliation could also pose a dilemma for international efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal since Hamas has not recognized Israel, unlike the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85354.

US, Israel to exit UNESCO over its alleged anti-Israel bias

October 13, 2017

PARIS (AP) — The United States announced Thursday it is pulling out of the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for “fundamental reform” in the agency.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel plans to follow suit. While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal from UNESCO for months, the timing of the State Department’s statement was unexpected. The Paris-based agency’s executive board is in the midst of choosing a new chief — with Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari leading the heated election heading into Friday’s final vote.

Outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova expressed “profound regret” at the U.S. decision and tried to defend UNESCO’s reputation. The organization is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions, but also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.

Bokova called the U.S.’s planned departure a loss for “the United Nations family” and for multilateralism. The U.S. and UNESCO matter to each other more than ever now with “the rise of violent extremism and terrorism,” she said.

The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011, but the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes. The U.S. now owes about $550 million in back payments.

In a statement, the State Department said the decision will take effect Dec. 31, 2018, and that the U.S. will seek a “permanent observer” status instead. It cited U.S. belief in “the need for fundamental reform in the organization.”

Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel also plans to withdraw from the agency, saying it had become a “theater of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it.” Israel has been irked by resolutions that diminish its historical connection to the Holy Land and have instead named ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites.

Praising Trump’s decision as “brave and moral,” Netanyahu said he has ordered Israeli diplomats to prepare for Israel’s withdrawal from the organization in concert with the Americans. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, also praised Washington’s move as heralding “a new day at the U.N., where there is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel.”

“The United States stands by Israel and is a true leader for change at the U.N,” Danon said. “The alliance between our two countries is stronger than ever.” U.S. officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision and it was not discussed with other countries. The officials were not authorized to be publicly named discussing the issue.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called UNESCO’s July designation of Hebron’s Old City and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as Palestinian territory the latest of many “foolish actions” that had made the agency “a chronic embarrassment.”

Haley also criticized UNESCO for “keeping Syrian dictator Bashar Assad on a UNESCO human rights committee even after his murderous crackdown on peaceful protesters” The United States has pulled out of UNESCO before. The Reagan administration did in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. The U.S. rejoined in 2003.

The State Department informed Bokova it intends to stay engaged at UNESCO as a non-member “observer state” on “non-politicized” issues, including the protection of World Heritage sites, advocating for press freedoms and promoting scientific collaboration and education.

“We will be carefully watching how the organization and the new director-general steers the agency,” Charge d’Affaires Chris Hegadorn, the ranking U.S. representative to UNESCO, told The Associated Press. “Ideally, it steers it in way that U.S. interests and UNESCO’s mandate will converge.”

UNESCO’s 58-member executive board plans to select Bokova’s successor from among three finalists remaining from the field of seven candidates under consideration at the beginning of the week. Along with al-Kawari, Qatar’s former culture minister, the finalists are Audrey Azoulay, a former culture minister in France, and former Egyptian government minister Moushira Khattab. The board’s pick then goes to the full UNESCO general assembly next month for final approval.

Lee reported from Washington. Edith M. Lederer in New York, Aron Heller in Jerusalem and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.