Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Palestinian state and US national security interests in the Middle East.


“Friendship” of Fatah towards the U.S.A.

One frequent subject of praise in the Fatah-controlled media was former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Following Hussein’s execution PA papers referred to him as “the general Shahid [Martyr] leader, Saddam Hussein,” and the Fatah group that currently rules the PA dedicated a terrorist cell to his memory. Schools, streets, and sporting events were named after him, including the main road in the village of Yaabid, which was paid for by USAID.


What would be the impact of the proposed Palestinian state on US national security interests in the Middle East?


The following 4 minute video presents facts, which are relevant to such an assessment:


Friday, August 21, 2009

The Talibanization of Gaza. - Part I

A Liability for the Muslim Brotherhood

1st part of 2

by Jonathan Schanzer


Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that splintered off from the Muslim Brotherhood in early 1988, launched a surprise military offensive on June 7, 2007, to wrest control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Fatah faction that made up a majority of the PA's leadership. Within six days of fighting, Hamas fighters wearing black ski masks controlled the thoroughfares, media, and even key PA buildings. For the first time since the Sudanese coup of 1989 that brought Omar al-Bashir to power, a Muslim Brotherhood group ruled a significant geographic territory.

Ismael Haniyeh, the ascendant ruler of Gaza, officially denied accusations by the PLO and some Palestinian media outlets that Hamas intended to establish an Islamic emirate.[1] However, it soon became clear that Hamas maintained control of Gaza's predominantly Sunni population through a combination of violence, authoritarian rule, and Islamism. In fact, in the two years since the 2007 coup, the Gaza Strip has steadily exhibited the characteristics of "Talibanization" -- a process mirroring the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s whereby the Islamist organization imposed strict rules on women; discouraged activities commonly associated with Western or Christian culture; oppressed non-Muslim minorities; imposed sharia law; and deployed religious police to enforce these laws. This has only served to underscore the dangers associated with the rise to power of Islamist groups in the Muslim world.

Hamas's tyrannical rule in Gaza has since presented something of a liability for its parent organization the Muslim Brotherhood, which has sought in recent times to whitewash its image internationally and to portray itself as a reform movement committed to peaceful and democratic change. While the Egyptian Brotherhood's deputy chairman, Mohamed Habib, downplayed the linkages between the two groups in June 2008, stating that "there are no organizational links whatsoever between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas,"[2] Abdul-Hameed al-Ghazali, a political consultant to the Brotherhood (and political science professor at Cairo University), stated two months earlier that there are "continuous communications between Egypt's MBs and Hamas for advice and exchange of opinions."[3] Moreover, the Hamas charter (which has not been changed since it was first issued in 1988) states unequivocally that Hamas is "one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine."[4]


The June Fighting

Prior to launching the violent coup that enabled the Islamist group to capture the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Hamas had no experience in governance. Indeed, since its inception in late 1987 or early 1988, the group was a non-state actor best known for its violent opposition to the 1990s peace process between the PLO and Israel. While its Islamist ideology has had varying influence on the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas has enjoyed only nominal control in pockets of Palestinian areas where allied clans and tribes welcomed their influence.

The group's abrupt transition from opposition group to de facto rulers of Gaza in June 2007 demonstrated a reckless disregard for the population it would govern. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Hamas' actions during the coup were characterized by "extra-judicial and willful killing," including incidents where Hamas fighters pushed PA loyalists and Fatah faction members from tall rooftops. Hamas abducted and executed political foes, killed some that were already injured,[5] or shot them in the legs point-blank to ensure permanent disabilities.[6]

While Hamas attempted to explain the violence in the context of its paramilitary war with the rival Fatah faction, PCHR reported attacks against private domiciles, hospitals, and ambulances. So, while internecine rivalry accounted for some violence, it became clear to observers that Hamas was guilty of gross violations of human rights. All told, the June civil war claimed the lives of at least 161 Palestinians, including 11 women and 7 children. More than 700 Palestinians were wounded.[7]

After the war ended, Hamas announced on television the "end of secularism and heresy in the Gaza Strip."[8] Hamas then began openly to mistreat the minority Christian community, mostly Greek Orthodox, which had co-existed with Gaza's predominantly Sunni population for centuries. On June 14, masked gunmen attacked the Rosary Sisters School and the Latin Church in Gaza City with rocket-propelled grenades. They destroyed the cross, Bibles, computers, and other property.[9] Later that month, Hamas kidnapped Professor Sana al-Sayegh, a teacher at Palestine University in Gaza City, and reportedly forced her to convert to Islam.[10]

In October 2007, the proprietor of the Holy Bible Association, Rami Ayyad, was found dead in the Gaza City suburbs. Ayyad had been receiving death threats from Islamists. [11] His offices were also hit with a grenade during the 2005 protests over the Prophet Mohammed cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.[12]

By one count, there were more than 50 attacks against Christian targets in the aftermath of the Hamas coup, including barbershops, music stores, and a U.N. school.[13] Christians increasingly feared they would be forced to submit to Islamic law or leave the Gaza Strip.[14]

In February 2008, gunmen blew up the YMCA library in the Gaza Strip. They kidnapped guards, looted the offices, stole a vehicle, and destroyed some 8,000 books.[15] That attack came days after a Hamas "modesty patrol" attacked a Christian youth's car after he drove home a female classmate.[16] In May, unidentified gunmen again bombed the Rosary Sister's school.[17] In both May and June, Islamists broke into the El-Manara School in Gaza, detained and beat two guards, and stole a bus.[18] In July, three masked men broke into the home of Constantine Dabbagh, Executive Secretary of the Near East Council of Churches. The men beat him and his wife before stealing money and jewelry.[19] The practice of Christianity, according to one reporter, was now largely "happening privately or in homes."[20]


Human Rights Violations

More than 1,000 persons, mostly members of Fatah or the PA, were illegally arrested or detained in the first months of Hamas rule. They were detained in 23 different locations, according to Amnesty International.[21] Maan News Agency reported that the leader of Hamas' Executive Force, Jamal Jarrah, admitted to torture, but that Hamas was trying "to minimize violations and avoid them through the training of our members."[22] In September 2007, five Fatah members, after being abducted by Hamas, were hospitalized and diagnosed as having been tortured.[23] Concurrently, PCHR documented Hamas torture, citing cases where Fatah members were "handcuffed and blindfolded," "sustained fractures to the feet" from beatings with sticks, and had pieces of cloth stuffed in their mouths to stifle their screams.[24]

In May, Hamas illegally detained the governor of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, along with three Fatah activists.[25] In July, Hamas arrested the director of Gaza's electric company, and held him without formal charges for six months.[26] Hamas abducted political rivals, only to return them without their mustaches or the hair on their heads.[27]

Hamas claimed it was dismantling networks of Israeli "collaborators," allegedly hired by Israel to gather intelligence or to carry out anti-Hamas activities.[28] This was also Hamas's justification to round up hundreds of Fatah activists during Israel's Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January 2009. Fatah members were allegedly kidnapped and held in schools and hospitals, which became makeshift interrogation centers. Three detainees reportedly had their eyes put out by their interrogators for allegedly providing Israel with targeting information against Hamas.[29]

Human Rights Watch documented numerous Hamas abuses against Gaza civilians during Operation Cast Lead, including the execution of 32 political rivals, shooting of 49 persons in the legs, and breaking the limbs of a 73 others.[30] Fatah confirmed much of this by releasing a list of 181 persons "killed, shot or maimed by the de facto government."[31]

As of late July 2009, the Hamas interior ministry issued a warning that it will hunt down all "collaborators and traitors in an effort to achieve 'total security.'"[32]


Sharia & Military Courts

For Palestinians whose rights were violated, there was little redress. As the PA judicial system in Gaza collapsed,[33] sharia courts became the primary arbiters of disputes. The courts, presided over by Hamas-appointed judges, wielded Islamic jurisprudence to make judgments. However, as Amnesty International noted, the judges lacked "adequate independence, impartiality, training, oversight, and public accountability."[34]

Hamas also created "Palestine Islamic Scholars Association" branches across Gaza. These entities, which also lacked sufficient legal training, employed up to eight religious scholars per branch.[35] In many cases, their judgments were Hamas' political edicts. For example, the association ruled that a health workers' strike, in protest of Hamas rule, violated Islamic law.[36]

In December 2008, the Hamas parliament reportedly voted in favor of establishing criminal sentences according to sharia law.[37] Hamas denied these reports, but unquestionably engaged in ongoing discussions on the implementation of sharia.[38]

Hamas also meted out justice through the Gaza High Military Court. Following Operation Cast Lead, it sentenced several Palestinians to death for collaborating with Israel. Observers noted a "lack of adequate evidence."[39] Months later, the court continued to issue death sentences. In March 2009, for example, the court sentenced three Palestinians to death for allegedly murdering a Gaza merchant.[40]

In another sign of the potential implementation of sharia law, Gaza's top judge in July 2009 ordered all female lawyers to wear headscarves when they appear in court. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights called the move a "dangerous violation of personal freedoms and women's rights."[41]


Islamic "Enforcement"

The Islamization of justice in Gaza has been compounded by the emerging strength of the "Authority for the Propagation of Morality and Prohibition of Vice," aimed to "fight those who are being corrupted by Satan, and do not observe sharia law."[42] The vice squads were not new; they had operated in Hamas-controlled neighborhoods in Gaza and the West Bank for years. Under Hamas rule, however, they began to operate in wider territory and with impunity.

In June 2007, vice squads bombed a pool hall, as well as a tiny shop selling popular Arabic music.[43] In October, the squads made headlines when members beat a singer after a performance in Khan Younis.[44] Other targets included internet cafes and pharmacies. As attacks increased, so did the number of men who grew beards and women who wore veils. Many reportedly chose these expressions of Islamic piety out of fear rather than conviction.[45]

Hamas forces policed the streets for couples walking together, and took it upon themselves to verify their marital status. Mixed bathing at Gaza beaches was frowned upon. Hamas forces also reportedly seized alcohol throughout the Gaza Strip.[46]


No Free Press

Hamas understood that its actions would be heavily criticized, and worked hard to cover its tracks. A month after the coup, Hamas briefly prevented the distribution of Fatah-aligned newspapers, including al-Ayyam and al-Hayat al-Jadida.[47] Hamas also jailed some of the papers' circulation officials, and pulled the plug on pro-Fatah television and radio stations.[48]

International media also suffered. Hamas gunmen attacked two cameramen from the Abu Dhabi satellite television channel and stormed the Gaza bureau of the al-Arabiya satellite channel in August.[49] Hamas gunmen also detained a German television crew after it shot footage portraying Hamas in a negative light.[50]

In an effort to gain control, Hamas announced a ban on stories that could "cause harm to national unity."[51] When Hamas did not like a particular reporter or outlet, they did not issue government credentials, required for all journalists in Gaza. The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate protested this tactic, as well as the ban on phrases such as "Hamas militias" and "ousted government."[52] The Union of Palestinian Journalists reported that Hamas regularly threatened and blackmailed reporters.[53] The Foreign Press Association corroborated these reports, claiming Hamas engaged in "harassment of Palestinian journalists."[54] Rights groups documented more than nine assaults on journalists and 21 illegal arrests.[55] According to Reporters Without Borders, Hamas "failed to investigate" these incidents.[56]

In May 2008, press reports indicated that Hamas would block websites deemed "unfit according to Islamic rules."[57] Two months later, Hamas officially banned three Palestinian newspapers run out of the West Bank al-Quds, al-Ayyam and al-Hayat. Hamas also stormed the offices of a Palestinian news agency, WAFA, and arrested a German cameraman.[58] The cameraman was reportedly tortured while he was detained.[59]

After Operation Cast Lead, Reporters Without Borders noted that Hamas was, "responsible for serious press freedom violations. Contrary to what its leaders say, journalists are not free to criticize the Islamist movement, to communicate the stance of other factions, or simply to set forth divergent opinions. Most journalists… share this point if view, but none of them can express themselves publicly, so great is the risk of reprisals."[60] Thus, the extent of Hamas' misrule in Gaza remains undocumented.


Jonathan Schanzer

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


The Talibanization of Gaza. - Part II

A Liability for the Muslim Brotherhood

2nd  part of 2

by Jonathan Schanzer


Ikhwani State ?

According to a Human Rights Watch report in April 2009, Hamas violations had "not stopped since major hostilities ceased on January 18." The report documented "14 more killings between January 18 and March 31, 2009."[61] In mid-April, Maan News Agency reported that Hamas gunmen had shot three Fatah members in the legs.[62] In June, Hamas police opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in Gaza City, wounding three civilians.[63] In July, Hamas police opened fire on a wedding party in Beit Lahia after participants raised a portrait of a Fatah activist who was killed in the June 2007 fighting.[64]

The Hamas regime does not justify these actions with Islamist rhetoric. Rather, it deflects criticism by pointing out a multitude of similar Fatah violations (illegal arrests and torture) in the West Bank against Hamas loyalists. The Islamist group has admitted on occasion that the ongoing civil war is regrettable, but is quick to allege Fatah collaboration with the reviled Israelis and Americans.[65]

The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, has largely remained silent regarding Hamas' continued violation of human rights in Gaza and its reflection on the wider Muslim Brotherhood movement. According to a high-ranking member of one of the Egyptian opposition parties, the Brotherhood has instead elected to pay lip service on the need for Palestinian unity, stress the importance of Egyptian government efforts to bring Hamas and Fatah together, and focus on Israeli policies that have had a deleterious impact on Gaza's civilian population.[66] Indeed, while the Brotherhood remained silent during two years of misrule in Gaza, the organization's leader, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, called upon his supporters to launch a jihad for the Palestinians in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.[67] Similarly, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has been identified by the FBI as front organization for the Muslim Brotherhood in America,[68] launched a 2008 campaign to "send 20,000 letters to Congress advocating an end to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip," but has remained silent on the issue of Hamas' misrule in the beleaguered territory.[69] Thus, if any Muslim Brotherhood leaders or associated organizations have confronted Hamas over the group's governance in Gaza, they appear to have done so beneath the radar.

While the Brotherhood's silence prevails, there have been fleeting attempts to apologize for Hamas' misconduct. In one article that appeared on its website, for example, Hamas is described as an "exceptional case" because it "doesn't govern an actual state." Moreover, the website claims that it "should not be treated as representative of political Islam, since it remains a violent group that hasn't yet renounced terrorism."[70] Hamas has reinforced the dangers associated with Muslim Brotherhood governance, namely the admixture of Islamism, political violence, and authoritarian rule. Whether this impacts deleteriously its Western outreach or long-standing popularity on the Arab street is yet to be seen.


Jonathan Schanzer

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.



 [1] Maan News Agency, "Hamas Has No Intention of Establishing an Islamic State in Gaza, Says Haniyeh," August 20, 2007, See also PLO Executive Committee Chairman Yasser Abed Rabbo's accusation at Maan News Agency, "PLO leader: Hamas Wants Islamic Emirate in Palestine," November 22, 2008,
[2] IkhwanWeb, "Habib Clarifies MB Stance Towards Hamas, The Palestinian Cause," June 12, 2008,§ionID=76
[3] IkhwanWeb, "MB Denies Helping Hamas Break Into Egypt's Borders," April 17, 2008,§ionID=76
[4] Hamas Charter,
[5] Palestinian Center for Human Rights, "Black Pages in the Absence of Justice: Report on Bloody Fighting in the Gaza Strip from 7 to 14 June 2007" (October 2007),
[6] Amnesty International, "Occupied Palestinian Territories Torn Apart by Factional Strife," October 24, 2007, pp. 29–33,
[7] Palestine Center for Human Rights, "Black Pages in the Absence of Justice."
[8] Khaled Abu Toameh, "Haniyeh Calls for Palestinian Unity," Jerusalem Post, June 15, 2007,
[9] Judith Sudilovsky, "Rosary Nuns' Compound Ransacked, Looted during Fighting, Catholic Gaza Priest Says," CNS News, June 19, 2007,
[10] Catholic News Agency, "Gaza Christians Under Islamic Threat," August 17, 2007,
[11] Maan News Agency, "Corpse of Christian Resident of Gaza Discovered," October 7, 2007,
[12] Conal Urquhart, "Persona Non Grata in Gaza," The Guardian, October 22, 2007,,,2196828,00.html.
[13] Shelley Neese, "Who Will Speak for Gaza's Christians?" Jerusalem Connection (Sept–Oct 2007), p. 9.
[14] Khaled Abu Toameh, "Muslim Gunmen Target Christians in Gaza," Jerusalem Post, December 8, 2007, See also Ryan Jones, "Gaza Christians Living under Growing Islamic Threat,", August 16, 2007,
[15] Maan News Agency, "Unknown Assailants Blow Up Christian Youth Organization Library in Gaza," February 15, 2008,
[16] Judith Sudilovsky, "Christians Say Conditions in Gaza Worsen for Them, Moderate Muslims, Catholic News Service, February 19, 2008,
[17] Maan News Agency, "Undercover Gunmen Blow up Entrance to Rosary Sister's School in Tal al-Hawa," May 16, 2008,
[18] Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, "Unknown Assailants Attack on El-Manara School in Gaza City for the 2nd Time," June 1, 2008,
[19] Khaled Abu Toameh, "Church official, wife beaten and robbed in Gaza," Jerusalem Post, July 23, 2009.
[20] "Palestinian Christians face even more trouble in Gaza," January 6, 2009,
[21] Amnesty International, "Occupied Palestinian Territories Torn Apart by Factional Strife," pp. 16 and 36.
[22] Maan News Agency, "Executive Force Leader Admits to Violence and Torture in Gaza," August 19, 2007,
[23] Maan News Agency, "Five Fatah Men are Hospitalized in Gaza after Being Kidnapped and Tortured," September 5, 2007,
[24] Palestinian Center for Human Rights, "PCHR Calls for Investigation into Methods of Torture Practiced by Palestinian Police in the Gaza Strip," November 19, 2007,
[25] Palestinian Center for Human Rights, "PCHR Concerned by Detention of Khan Yunis Governor and Fatah Activists by Gaza Internal Security Apparatus," May 20, 2008,
[26] Saudi Gazette, "Hamas Frees Senior Fatah Sympathizer," December 26, 2007,
[27] Taghreed El-Khodary and Isabel Kershner, "Gaza Is Tense as It Tallies Casualties," New York Times, January 2, 2008,
[28] Maan News Agency, "De Facto Interior Ministry in Gaza Uncovers 'Most Dangerous Network of Collaborators,'" October 24, 2007,
[29] Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas Torturing Fatah Members in Gaza," Jerusalem Post, January 19, 2009.
[30] Human Rights Watch, "Under Cover of War: Hamas Political Violence in Gaza," April 19, 2009,
[31] "Fatah Publishes Names of 181 Claimed Killed, Shot or Maimed by de facto Government Forces in Gaza," Maan News Agency, February 2, 2009,
[32] Maan News Agency, "Gaza Interior Minister Vows to Hunt Down Collaborators," July 26, 2009,
[33] Taghreed al-Khodary, "Hamas Police Force Recruits Women in Gaza," New York Times, January 18, 2008,
[34] Amnesty International, "Occupied Palestinian Territories Torn Apart by Factional Strife," pp. 14–15.
[35] Taghreed El-Khodary, "Gaza: Life under Hamas Rule," Arab Reform Bulletin 5, No. 9 (November 2007),
[36] Reuven Ehrlich, "Hamas Imposes an Islamic Social Code in Gaza," Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, August 31, 2007,
[37] "Hamas Pushes for Sharia Punishments," Jerusalem Post, December 24, 2008,
[38] Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook, "Hamas Denies Sharia Penal Code," Palestinian Media Watch, December 26, 2008,
[39] Rami Almeghan, "A Gaza Military Court Sentences A Collaborator to Death," International Middle East Media Center, February 22, 2009,
[40] Palestinian Center for Human Rights, "Military Court in Gaza Sentences 3 Palestinians to Death," March 11, 2009.
[41] Diaa Hadid and Ibrahim Barzak, "Gaza Judge Tells Female Lawyers to Wear Headscarf," Associated Press, July 26, 2009.
[42] AKI, "Middle East: New Jihadi Cells Multiply in the Gaza Strip," October 8, 2007,
[43] Haaretz, "Suspected Vice Squad of Muslim Militants Targeting Gaza Internet Cafes, Music Shops," June 3, 2007,
[44] Al-Arabiya (Arabic), "They Say They Are Fighting "The Non-Believers That Worship Satan," October 5, 2007,
[45] Sarah El Deeb, "More Beards, Less Political Talk in Gaza," Associated Press, June 29, 2007,
[46] Reuven Ehrlich, "Hamas Imposes an Islamic Social Code in Gaza."
[47] Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas Sets Up New Security Force," Jerusalem Post, July 31, 2007,
[48] Khaled Abu Toameh, "Palestinian Journalists Say Hamas's Decision to Issue Its Own Press Cards Is 'A Dangerous Step,'" Jerusalem Post, October 17, 2007,
[49] Al-Jazeera, "Hamas Bans Unregistered Protests," August 13, 2007,
[50] Sarah El Deeb, "Hamas Widens Gaza Crackdown with New Press Restrictions," Associated Press, November 14, 2007,
[51] El Deeb, "Hamas Widens Gaza Crackdown."
[52] Khaled Abu Toameh, "Palestinian Journalists Say Hamas's Decision."
[53] Maan News Agency, "Union of Palestinian Journalists Claims Hamas Militias Targeting Their Members," November 6, 2007,
[54] Board of the Foreign Press Association, "Statements 2007," November 14, 2007,
[55] "Palestine Updates: Freedom of the Press," Arab Reform Bulletin, November 2007,,zme#press
[56] Reporters Without Borders, "Palestinian Authority—Annual Report 2007,"
[57] Deutche Presse-Agentur, "Hamas Ministry to Censor Internet Sites in Gaza," May 19, 2008,
[58] Deutsche Presse Agentur, "Hamas Bans Distribution of Palestinian Dailies in Gaza Strip," July 28, 2008,
[59] Agence France Presse, "German Broadcaster Says Hamas Tortured Cameraman, August 1, 2008,
[60] Reporters Without Borders, "Operation Cast Lead: News Control as a Military Objective," January 2009,
[61] Human Rights Watch, "Under Cover of War: Hamas Political Violence in Gaza,", p.1.
[62] Maan News Agency, "Az-Za'arir: Hamas Men Shot Three Fatah Members in the Legs in Jabaliya," April 17, 2009,
[63] Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, "Policemen Fire on Peaceful Demonstration Injuring Three Civilians," June 15, 2009,
[64]Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, "PCHR Condemns Police Assault on Wedding Party of al-Madhoun Clan in Beit Lahia," July 15, 2009,
[65] Khalid Amayreh, "When will the Ramallah regime wake up?" Palestine Information Center (an official Hamas website), January 5, 2008
[66] Author's phone interview, July 26, 2009.

[67] Al-Quds al-Arabi (London), January 2, 2009, as cited in
[68] See "U.S. vs. Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development," CR NO. 3:04-CR-240-G. Filed September 4, 2007.
[69] Council on American-Islamic Relations,"Action Alert #534: Help Send 20,000 Letters to Congress on Gaza Crisis," February 14, 2008,
[70] Shadi Hamid, "When Islamists Wield Power," IkhwanWeb, January 13, 2009,


Why There Won't Be Peace: A Short Analysis of Palestinian Leadership, Factions, and Strategies.

by Barry Rubin

Palestinian politics and ideology is the key to understanding why there is no peace and no Palestinian state. The extremism of Hamas is an important indicator of these problems and a roadblock to such progress. But it is the situation in Fatah that remains the dominant factor. This article explains the current political line-up and different strategies being advocated in the Fatah-Palestinian Authority framework.

Nobody Advocates A Realistic Peace Program

This part is easy to understand. Nobody in the movement openly advocates accepting things like territorial swaps, security guarantees, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, resettlement of Palestinians only in Palestine, definitively ending the conflict in exchange for an independent state, or other point’s key to gaining Israel’s agreement on a peace treaty.

But here’s one of several stories I could tell you.

A few years ago, a very important Fatah and Palestinian Authority (PA) leader is speaking to a small group of special visitors. (Hint: He was just elected to the Fatah Central Committee). "We have a very unrealistic negotiating position," he says. "This Right of Return demand is a terrible mistake. The Israelis will never accept it and it will ensure there’s no agreement."

Suddenly, it was as if he woke up, realized where he was, shook his head, and added, “Forget I said that.”

Oh and nobody ever talks in Arabic about any empathy or understanding for Israel’s situation or makes any attempt to move their people toward toleration and getting beyond hatred. In America and Europe many think the Palestinian leadership is close to make peace. That's what it wants them to think, but in reality it isn't even in the same building.

The Ruling Establishment: The "All Mahmoud Abbas’s Men" Faction

Be careful here. I’m not saying these people obey Abbas or even look up to him as unquestioned ruler, as they actually did to Yasir Arafat. But they’ve hitched their wagon to his. In fact, this is basically Arafat’s old crew.

These include both older and younger guys: Saib Erikat, Azzam al-Ahmad, Hassan al-Sheikh, Tawfiq al-Tirawi, Othman Abu Gharbyeh, Muhammad al-Madani, Nabil Shaath, Muhammad Dahlan, and Jibril Rajoub.

What is their strategy? They don’t have anything very clever:

Try to avoid armed conflict with Israel and stay in the process, but without really bargaining with Israel. Just keep repeating their demands. Hope that the West forces Israel to make all the concessions. All you have to say is, "Thank you very much," pick up the keys, and drive away. (Well, actually they won't even say thanks.)

They are doing pretty well with the status quo and can enjoy being powerful and getting even richer. They have no intention of introducing democracy or putting a real emphasis on improving their people’s lives though if there’s money to be made they are delighted to see the West Bank become more prosperous. But they live off foreign donors.

Israel can work with them to keep things reasonably stable and non-violent. Progress toward peace? Forget it.

The Ruling Establishment's Hardline Lobby, Forget About the Peace Process, Onward to Victory!

This group hasn't had a new idea in 40 years. In practice it supports Abbas but is always lobbying for a more extreme policy and tougher rhetoric. Unlike the Abbas group, it isn't interested in saying nice things to fool the Westerners and make them happy. (It doesn't matter, though, because they don't pay attention any way.)

The person they really don’t like is Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. They’re humiliated at having a moderate technocrat who’s there just because the donors like him. They rejected the peace process and have no interest in any agreement.

These are all powerful guys, Fatah barons, like Muhammad Ghaneim, Salim al-Zanoun, Abbas Zaki, Sultan Abu al-Aynain, and Nasser Kidra. They’re also the kind of people who say to you: Where was Hamas when we were doing all the fighting?

In contrast to the Abbas group—and again I don’t want to imply they are anti-Abbas—they put less emphasis on keeping up a moderate image and more on ensuring that no concessions are ever made. They have their eyes on the prize—total victory over Israel and a Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean—and are going to make sure that the Abbas crowd doesn’t forget that’s what the struggle is about.

By making Ghaneim his successor, Abbas is cementing together these two factions. The only problem is he is dealing a death blow to any hope of peace and possibly setting the stage for a future violent confrontation. But that’s how Palestinian politics works.

The “Young Guard” Opposition: Defeat Israel, Make Peace, Defeat Israel Again

These are people who are younger, who never left the West Bank, weren’t in Arafat’s inner circle, but fought the First Intifada (1987-1990) and led the second one (2000-2005?). They never had much of a base in the Gaza Strip.

It is easy for outsiders to think of them as brave young rebels against the stodgy establishment. But they are not any more moderate than the Abbas crowd. In fact they might be better compared in many respects to the establishment’s hardline faction or you could put them somewhere in between.

I discuss this group in more detail here

Briefly, their program is:

Step one: Fight Israel on the West Bank, as was done in the Second Intifadah, until it accepts Palestinian terms.

Step two: Make a peace deal from a position of strength which does not foreclose continuing the battle once a Palestinian state has been established.

Step three: Establish a state and begin the next round to eliminate Israel altogether.


The main point is that none of these groups are going to make a comprehensive, full, final peace with Israel.

The Abbas group will continue the status quo and even work with Israel when necessary to do that. It will negotiate but never give anything, patiently awaiting success no matter what the cost in material terms. It has a cynical corrupt side to it, which is by no means completely negative since that’s better than having fanatical extremists like Hamas to deal with.

Of course, an incident could set off a new Palestinian-Israel war and, if so, the Abbas crowd will lead it. But that isn’t their goal at present.

The extremists in the establishment will act as watchdogs (are canine analogies still acceptable in such matters?) to ensure a hardline is maintained, that the next generation is educated to fight the struggle, and that there won’t be confidence-building measures toward Israel.

The young guard advocates a new rebellion. It might also be more open to cooperation with Hamas—which the establishment hates—as a needed ally in the battle. Increasingly, its rival will be the establishment’s younger generation.

The Fatah Congress was a victory for both factions in the establishment. It was an exercise in giving the appearance of change without there actually being any change.

And this is the framework which is supposedly going to bring a comprehensive peace in the next few years? Get real.


Barry Rubin
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Human Rights Watch: Human Rights Charlatans.

by Stephen Suleyman Schwartz

Human Rights Watch (HRW), since its foundation in 1978, has become one of the worst violators of principle in the bizarre system of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Created to denounce abuses of human rights in the Communist-ruled countries, it soon made a 180-degree turn, devoting its main attention to the Western Hemisphere and alleged misdeeds by the U.S. and its local allies. Its offshoot, Americas Watch, was synonymous, beginning in the 1980s, with ferocious criticism of any attempt to block the spread of Cuban-style Communism in Central America.

The end of Soviet Communism left HRW, had it truly believed in its stated goals, with a wide and varied field of targets for investigation around the world. In particular, radical Islamist regimes like Wahhabi-dominated Saudi Arabia and the clerical dictatorship in Iran, with their associated proxies, should have come under sharp examination by HRW.

But, as when it concentrated fire on U.S. policy in Latin America, HRW soon seemed obsessed with a single country: Israel. HRW epitomizes the dual standard that holds the Jewish state to the highest possible criterion for human rights protection, while neglecting the gross and continuous denial of human rights in Israel's neighbors. Moderate Muslims recognize that while Israeli reality is far from perfect, Israel has created a democratic culture that is absent from the rest of the Middle East. This includes equal political rights, extending to Israeli Arabs, both Muslim and Christian, who are elected to the parliament (Knesset), who have access to their own religious courts if they desire them, and who otherwise benefit as citizens of the country.

HRW criticizes Israel relentlessly, accusing the state of breaking international law, including committing "war crimes," but seldom offers constructive solutions for the problems it examines. Recently, the organization was embarrassed by the revelation that its representative, Sarah Leah Whitson, had travelled to Saudi Arabia - the worst offender against human rights, liberties, and dignity of any Muslim country - to raise money for the organization.

Ms. Whitson's pitch for support from the Saudis was bold. HRW, she said, needed to balance its activities against "pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations." (Pro-Israel activities in the UN? Perhaps HRW should change its name to Hallucination Watch.) When HRW came under criticism for its Saudi strategy, the organization's director, Kenneth Roth, replied, "We report on Israel. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception."

But Israel and its supporters are not alone in finding the HRW posture on Saudi Arabia abysmal. Millions of Muslims around the world object to the absence of minimal human rights in Saudi Arabia, and many consider the ongoing propagandistic assault on Israel, in Muslim and Western media, as a means to divert attention from repression in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. Sarah Whitson's HRW fundraising junket would have better been dedicated to inquiries about the many well-known and uniquely perverse forms of Saudi misrule. These include the maintenance of a paramilitary "religious militia," the mutawiyin (often miscalled a "religious police") to terrorize the population into submission to Wahhabi norms of morality. The mutawiyin chiefly carry out this mission by lashing women in public with leather-covered sticks, arresting and beating couples suspected of not being married, and raiding homes where it is believed alcoholic drinks are kept. Prior to the coming of Wahhabism, such "morals patrols," imitated by the Iranians under Khomeini, were an aberration in Islam.

The fate of the mutawiyin, who are deeply hated by the Saudi public, is a major issue in analyzing the country's future. As noted in a column published by the Hudson Institute last month ("Saudi Arabia Moves Backward," at, the mutawiyin have increased their aggressive behavior in response to attempts by reformers associated with Saudi King Abdullah to hold them accountable for their excesses. But resistance to their brutalities remains strong. Even the chief Muslim cleric in the kingdom, grand mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al-Asheikh, according to the Arab News of August 9, 2009, called on the mutawiyin to act gently, to "be patient and… put up with any harm they have to face while urging people to do good." Such an appeal, while falling short of the basic, democratic demand for abolition of the mutawiyin, illustrates the extent to which Saudi subjects have become discontented with their situation.

Other appropriate topics for an HRW investigation of Saudi Arabia include refusal of the right of public non-Muslim worship; discrimination against non-Wahhabi Muslims; notorious mistreatment of women (the kingdom being the only country in the world where women are forbidden to drive); infliction of arbitrary and excessive punishments, including beheadings; forced marriages and forced divorces; encouragement of female genital mutilation; extremist indoctrination in schools; cultural vandalism, and many more items on a long and - for Saudi reformers and their supporters - a depressing list.

But HRW, busy with its campaign against Israel, prefers to go to Saudi Arabia for money rather than for monitoring. When it does criticize the Saudis, it typically concentrates on issues it can spin for minimum damage to its standing with the Saudi rulers. For example, HRW is concerned, as all people should be, that a quarter of the Saudi population consists of immigrant service workers with no rights of any kind. But Saudi public opinion high and low wants to see fewer poor Asians and Africans in the country, so the issue does not elicit the level of controversy seen in the discussion of other state policies. HRW should focus on the problems that stir greater protest and debate: isn't this what human rights monitoring is supposed to mean?

HRW has also distinguished itself by its outspoken condemnation of anti-terrorism measures around the world. Thus, the organization has just scored the Saudi kingdom for one of its few praiseworthy actions - a rehabilitation project in which some 4,000 alleged Al-Qaida supporters are currently being taught to renounce extremism. HRW praises the Saudi anti-terrorism effort for "its intentions, innovations, and apparently low rate of acts of violence pursued by those released." But it attacks the program for its absence of Western-style legal guidelines for arrest and length of detention. Apparently HRW cannot see that such norms are absent in all aspects of Saudi life, but that before Saudi Arabia can be reformed, Wahhabi radicalism must be defeated.

The HRW fund-raising tour of the Saudi kingdom had another aspect that went unnoticed among the organization's Western critics:
Just when Ms. Whitson's anti-Israel trip to the kingdom was disclosed, Arab media reported an official Saudi campaign to silence Walid Abu al-Kheir, a leading human rights lawyer in Saudi Arabia. Al-Kheir had successfully sued the Saudi ministry of the interior. The ministry is headed by the ultra-Islamist Prince Nayef bin Abd Al-Aziz (the first prominent Saudi to accuse Zionists of perpetrating 9/11). Al-Kheir challenged the false imprisonment of a Saudi reformist, Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Shamiri. But the eyes of HRW were turned elsewhere.

HRW has betrayed the idealistic goals with which it was originally formed. It exploits human suffering for its own ideological ends. It protects extremists. More than any other among the many corrupt NGOs at work around the world, HRW merits the title of charlatans.


Stephen Suleyman Schwartz is Executive Director, Center for Islamic Pluralism Hudson New York
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Short Guide to Israel-Palestinian Negotiating Positions.


by Barry Rubin

This is a quick, brief guide to the negotiating positions of Israel's government and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Israeli Negotiating Position

Two-State Solution: Israel accepts a two-state solution--including an independent Palestinian state—only under conditions it believes would lead to real and lasting peace.

It is a myth that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only recently accepted this goal or did so only under U.S. pressure. In fact, he agreed to this as an outcome of negotiations in 1996.

Israel has put forward five conditions:

--Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Without this step, the aftermath of any "peace" agreement would be additional decades of Arab effort to destroy Israel in all but—temporarily—name.

--Absolute clarity that a peace agreement ends the conflict and all claims on Israel. Otherwise, the Palestinian leadership and much of the Arab world would regard any "peace" agreement as license for a new stage of battle using Palestine as a base for renewed attacks and demands.

--Strong security arrangements and serious international guarantees for them. Have no doubt; these will be tested by cross-border attacks from Palestine.

--An unmilitarized Palestinian state (a better description than "demilitarized"), with the large security forces already existing: enough for internal security and defense but not aggression.

--Palestinian refugees must be resettled in Palestine. The Palestinian demand for a "Right of Return" is just a rationale for wiping Israel off the map through internal subversion and civil war.

The PA basically rejects all of these conditions. While the first one—"Jewish state"—is debatable, the rest are obviously reasonable.

Issues to be decided in negotiations

In addition to these points, other issues under negotiation are less specifically delineated. The main issues are:

--Jerusalem: Israel's general position has been that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and cannot be divided. However, previous governments have offered most or almost all of east Jerusalem to a Palestinian state. Unless the Palestinians make a very positive offer it is unlikely that the current government turn over all or most of east Jerusalem, yet is should be noted that the previous governments referred to were headed by Ehud Barak who is the coalition partner.

--Future of Settlements: It is likely that Israel would agree to dismantle all settlements in areas that became part of a Palestinian state (see borders, below)

--Borders: There is no one specific plan but the basic framework discussed is that the Palestinian state would get 92 to 96 percent of the West Bank with the offer of additional land to be traded to bring the total given up to the area of the West Bank captured by Israel in 1967. This is vital or strategic reasons (for example, a small portion of the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road crosses the line) as well as the concept of settlement blocs.

Settlement blocs refers to the Israeli idea that by annexing a small portion of the West Bank, say 3-5 percent, near the border and relatively uninhabited by Palestinians, Israel can bring a very large proportion of settlers into the country. This would not only have a strategic value, strengthening the border, but also muster a great deal of popular support for the painful concessions needed to make peace. Most of the construction on settlements is in these areas. By stopping the construction, the United States seems to be arguing for a precise return to the pre-1967 borders, thus damaging support for other concessions in Israel, though U.S. policymakers seem completely ignorant of these issues.

--Compensation: The Palestinian side would probably hear receive tens of billions of dollars in compensation for property confiscated after 1948. There is no discussion of any compensation for Jews displaced in Arab countries or pre-1948 landowners whose property would become part of a Palestinian state.

Palestinian Authority Negotiating Position

This is rather simple: Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, allows any Palestinian refugees who wish to go to live in Israel (Right of Return), and that's about it. There is no offer whatsoever on such things as end of conflict, security guarantees, or limits on the sovereignty of a Palestinian state (can form military alliances, invite in foreign troops, have whatever military it wishes, etc.)

Moreover, the alternative PA negotiating position is not more flexibility or compromise but the threat to go to armed struggle and to advocate openly a one-strate solution (which may be its goal any way), that is the subsuming of Israel into a Palestinian Arab Muslim state, the basic proposal made by the PLO in the 1960s.
How does the PA hope to get a state when it is unwilling to compromise? Simple, it expected the U.S. government and Europe to press Israel into giving it everything it wants.

The Day after Effect, Nothing Can Go Wrong Syndrome

Western and Arab policymakers often speak as if there will be a peace agreement and that's the end of history. No more war, no more conflict, nothing can go wrong. Israeli policymakers must be more careful and certain that mechanisms are built into any agreement that will ensure it continues.

Why should a state without serious conditionality be given a Palestinian regime which has failed to govern competently, continued anti-Israel incitement, is profoundly corrupt, has already lost half its patrimony to a more extremist rival, is subject to influence by radical states, etc.

After all, it is easy to come up with realistic—even highly likely—scenarios for what could happen:

--Cross-border attacks from Palestine against Israel carried out either by Hamas and other Islamist oppositionists or by factions or even mainstream Fatah cadre. The Palestine government would declare itself unable to stop the attacks, deny they came from its territory, or blame Israel. To argue that a weaker Palestine would not allow such things given its self-interest neglects large portions of Middle East history when such things have happened.

--Overthrow of the new regime by a more radical group or faction. The government of Palestine would then have all the benefits of statehood and previous Israeli concessions without any intention to live up to prior commitments.

--A government of Palestine, even one which has signed a peace agreement, could embark on a Stage 2 strategy, which is after all what much of its ideology and key documents advocate, to complete Israel's destruction.

--A Palestine government could be subverted by radical regimes (at present, Syria and Iran) or it could obtain advanced weapons from Arab states or Iran, or even invite in foreign troops.

In the face of these and other scenarios, Israel always has a war option. But how much could it depend on the United States and Europe to enforce a peace agreement or support its defensive efforts? Precedent isn't encouraging. Moreover, as a sovereign state, Palestine would have very advantageous options, for example going to the UN where a Muslim-Arab bloc backed by others would declare Israel the aggressor no matter what had happened.

The bottom line is this: Israel would be worse, not better, off agreeing to such arrangements than it is now.

Are Things So Terrible Now?

Those insisting on peace at any price—for Israel that is—often employ two conflicting arguments. On the one hand they claim that Israel is so strong that it can give concessions without receiving equivalent ones, or so weak that it must do so. Yet the country simply does not desperately need a deeply flawed "solution" to be grabbed either out of misplaced "generosity" or "fear."

This is true because Israel is the stronger party, it has (or can obtain) control over the land in question, and it can resist external pressure both because it is likely to be fairly low and the stakes for Israel's survival are so high.

Another mistaken conception is that the status quo is intolerable and that any change would be for the better. Yet more risks, concessions, and the establishment of an unstable and hostile Palestinian state--the most likely outcome at present--would make things worse.

Equally wrong is the notion that time is against Israel, a strong and vibrant society surrounded by weak, disorganized neighbors. Israel's strategic situation has dramatically improved over the decades. It is a strong, confident society visibly meeting the challenge of the modern economic and technical environment.

But what about the Palestinians? They are certainly suffering. Are their leaders desperate to get a state as quickly as possible and thus willing to be flexible? On the contrary, the history of the PLO, Fatah, and the PA under both Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas show they are in no such hurry at all. They would rather wait decades than give up the option of total victory in future. They also hope that external pressure will win the day for them. Thus, the worse things are, the better is their situation.



Barry Rubin
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.