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Will postponement of Palestinian elections affect the EU-Palestinian Authority relationship ?

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According to Kobi Michael, senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, the Europeans and the Biden administration do not understand all the complexities which are related to the Palestinian arena.” - writes Yossi LEMPKOWICZ

The decision to postpone the planned Palestinian elections, including the legislative elections originally scheduled for 22 May, is deeply disappointing,’’ stated EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell on Friday.

His statement followed the decision of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to  postpone indefinitely the election for the 138-member Palestinian Legislative Council, the first in 15 years, a decision that, political analysts say, may affect the EU-PA relationship.  The EU is the PA main financial donor.

‘’The EU has consistently expressed its support for credible, inclusive and transparent elections for all Palestinians,’’ added Borrell.

‘’We firmly believe that strong, inclusive, accountable and functioning democratic Palestinian institutions based on respect for the rule of law and human rights are vital for the Palestinian people, for democratic legitimacy and, ultimately, for the two-state solution,’’ he said.

‘’We strongly encourage all Palestinian actors to resume efforts to build on the successful talks between the factions over recent months. A new date for elections should be set without delay,’’ he added.

‘’We reiterate our call on Israel to facilitate the holding of such elections across all of the Palestinian territory, including in East Jerusalem,’’ Borrell said.

‘’The EU continues to stand ready to work with all those involved to facilitate EU observation of any electoral process.’’

Abbas declared that the decision to postpone the elections, schedule for May 22,’’came after the failure of all international efforts to persuade Israel to allow the inclusion of Jerusalem in the elections.’’ ‘’The elections will not be held without East Jerusalem,’’ he said.

There is widespread belief among the Palestinians and the international community that the issue of voting for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem was only a pretext used by Mahmoud Abbas to avoid elections which would endanger his legitimacy already eroded by internal divisions within Fatah and the probable win of Hamas, the Islamist movement ruling in the Gaza Strip.

‘’The issue of East Jerusalem provided the justification for the PA’s decision to postpone the elections,’’ said Ghait Al-Omarin, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former foreign policy advisor to Mahmoud Abbas.

‘’Abbas has never been clear on the reasons and urgency of these elections,’’ he explained during a briefing for journalists organised by Europe Israel Press Association (EIPA). ‘’The situation is such that Fatah would end at the third or furth position in these elections.’’ Beside legislative elections, a presidential election was also originally scheduled in July.

While Abbas charged that his postponement decision was linked to the fact that elections could not be held in East Jerusalem, Israel’s foreign ministry’s political director Alon Bar met lasy week with 13 ambassadors from European Union countries and urged them not to heed claims of Israeli interference in the election made by officials close to Abbas.

“During the meeting, Alon Bar emphasized to the ambassadors that the elections in the Palestinian Authority are an internal Palestinian issue, and that Israel has no intention of intervening in them nor preventing them,” said a statement issued by the Israeli foreign ministry.

A request by the Palestinians, sent to Israel, had asked that 6,300 East Jerusalem residents be permitted to vote in the election at local post offices. Israel has not responded to the demand but in former elections in 1996, 2001 and 2006, Israel allowed the participation of East Jerusalem residents.

During the meeting with the European diplomats, Alon Bar reminded of the EU mission’s remarks to the U.N. Security Council last week particularly the importance of meeting the ‘’Quartet Principles’’, and the problematic nature of the terrorist organization Hamas’ participation in the Palestinian Authority elections.

The Quartet – made up of the US, UN, EU and Russia – has set criteria in the past for Palestinian election candidates, stating that they must abandon violence, recognize Israel and recognize agreements signed between the PLO and Israel. Hamas still vows the destruction of the State of Israel. The Biden administration reaffirmed its commitment to those conditions last week.

According to Kobi Michael, senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, the Europeans and the Biden administration do not understand all the complexities which are related to the Palestinian arena.”

‘’They are still captured in some naïve paradigm rooted in the norms of the Western world about democracy, human rights….,’’ he added. ‘’They still believe that they can engineer the Palestinian political system…’’. ‘’In order to reach democracy, human rights,….first of all you have to reach stability, security and any sort of political agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,’’ said Kobi Michael.

According to Ghait Al-Omari, who follows closely the Washington political scene, the Biden administration was not interested at all in having the Palestinian elections. ‘’ For them it was a bit of a sight of relief to see the postponement,’’ he said.

The approach of the new administration, he explained, is not to have a ‘’big’’ diplomacy’’  but rather short steps to re-engage the Palestinian Authority,  such as  relaunching the financial assistance, re-opening the PLO office in Washington….

So elections threatened to derail the American approach. Moreover, a victory of Hamas would have been problematic for the U.S. as by law they couldn’t   engage with a government led by the Islamist group which is on the terror list both in the EU and the U.S.

EU

EU, US and Quartet express concern over the rise in tensions and violence in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza border

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Arab rioters clashed with Israeli police on Saturday outside Jerusalem’s Old City in violence that threatened to deepen the holy city’s worst religious unrest in several years. Riots also erupted in Hebron and along the Gaza security fence, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Early Sunday, the Israeli army said Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at the country’s south that fell in an open area. In response, aircraft struck a Hamas military post. There were no reports of casualties in either attack.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and opposes Israel’s existence, has called for a new intifada, or uprising.

Late Saturday, several dozen protesters gathered along Gaza’s volatile frontier with Israel, burning tires and throwing small explosives at israeli soldiers. Israeli forces fired tear gas at the crowd.

According to the Palestine Red Crescent, more than 60 people were wounded in the clashes in Jerusalem on Saturday.

Israel Police chief Koby Shabtai said he had deployed more police in Jerusalem following Friday night’s clashes, which left 18 police officers wounded. After weeks of nightly violence, Israelis and east Jerusalem Arabs were bracing for more conflict in the coming days.

“The right to demonstrate will be respected but public disturbances will be met with force and zero tolerance. I call on everyone to act responsibly and with restraint,” Shabtai said.

A large crowd of protesters chanted “God is great” outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, and some pelted police with rocks and water bottles. Police patrols fired stun grenades as they moved through the area, and a police truck periodically fired a water cannon.

In a statement, the European Union called on authorities ‘’to act urgently to de-escalate the current tensions in Jerusalem. Acts of incitement around the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif must be avoided and the status quo has to be respected.’’

‘’Political, religious and community leaders on all sides should show restraint and responsibility and make every effort to calm down this volatile situation,’’ the statement added.

‘’The situation with regard to the evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and other areas of East Jerusalem is also of serious concern. Such actions are illegal under international humanitarian law and only serve to fuel tensions on the ground,’’ the EU said. .

The United States also said it is ‘’extremely concerned’’ about ongoing confrontations in Jerusalem, including on the Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount and in Sheikh Jarrah.

State Departement spokesperson Ned Price issued a statement saying: ‘’There is no excuse for violence, but such bloodshed is especially disturbing now, coming as it does on the last days of Ramadan. This includes Friday’s attack on Israeli soldiers and reciprocal ‘price tag’ attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, which we condemn in no uncertain terms.’’

He added, ‘’we call on Israeli and Palestinian officials to act decisively to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence. It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount – in word and in practice. Leaders across the spectrum must denounce all violent acts. Security services must ensure the safety of all of Jerusalem’s residents and hold all perpetrators to account.’’

‘’We are also deeply concerned about the potential eviction of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods of Jerusalem, many of whom have lived in their homes for generations. As we have consistently said, it is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace. This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism,’’ he added.

The spokesperson said the State Department was in touch with senior Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work to deescalate the situation. ‘’We also urge the authorities to approach the residents of Sheikh Jarrah with compassion and respect, and consider the totality of these complex historical cases and how they impact real lives today.’’

In a joint press statement, the Middle East Quartet envoys from the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations, said they are ‘’closely monitoring the situation in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.’’

‘’The envoys express deep concern over the daily clashes and violence in East Jerusalem, in particular last night’s confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces at Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount. We are alarmed by the provocative statements made by some political groups, as well as the launching of rockets and the resumption of incendiary balloons from Gaza towards Israel, and attacks on Palestinian farmland in the West Bank.’’

The statement added, ‘’The envoys noted with serious concern possible evictions of Palestinian families from homes they have lived in for generations in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and voice opposition to unilateral actions, which will only escalate the already tense environment.’’

The envoys called upon the Israeli authorities ‘’to exercise restraint and to avoid measures that would further escalate the situation during this period of Muslim Holy Days.’’

‘’We call on all sides to uphold and respect the status quo at the holy sites. All leaders have a responsibility to act against extremists and to speak out against all acts of violence and incitement. In this context, the Quartet Envoys reiterated their commitment to a negotiated two state solution,’’ the statement concluded.

The current wave of protests broke out at the beginning of Ramadan three weeks ago when Israel restricted gatherings at a popular meeting spot outside Jerusalem’s Old City. Israel removed the restrictions, briefly calming the situation, but protests have reignited in recent days over threatened evictions in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. The Israeli foreign ministry has accused the Palestinians of seizing on the threatened evictions, which it described as a “real-estate dispute between private parties,” in order to incite violence.

Other recent developments also contributed to the tense atmosphere, including the postponement of Palestinian elections, deadly violence in which yeshiva student Yehuda Guetta, 19, was murdered in a shooting attack at Tapuah junction last week, and three armed terrorists opened fire at a Border Police base in northern Samaria.

Fearing the situation could escalate further, the Israeli army’s chief of staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi ordered a comprehensive reinforcement of the units already operating in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

Speaking on the riots and clashes in his city, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon insisted that “there is no connection between Sheikh Jarrah and the Temple Mount, in Sheikh Jarrah this is a property dispute. This is an unprecedented incitement by the Palestinian Authority that is trying to lead to violence and unnecessary acts.”

“The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are trying to ignite Jerusalem, this is the problem and it needs to be addressed. It happens every year. There is no doubt that we all need to act to calm down and have zero violence, and we have zero tolerance for violence. The ministers are doing everything to calm the situation down.”

Israeli diplomats have contacted officials in Jordan and Egypt in an effort to get them to pressure the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas to cease inciting violence.

In a call to Palestine TV on Friday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas praised the “courageous stand” of the protesters and said Israel bore full responsibility for the violence. Abbas last week postponed planned parliamentary elections, citing Israeli restrictions in east Jerusalem as an excuse for the delay.

At a special cabinet meeting on Sunday, at Jerusalem City Hall to mark Jerusalem Day, the reunification of the city since 54 years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin addressed the ‘’violent disturbances in Jerusalem under the influence of agitators.’’

‘’We will not allow any extremist element to undermine the quiet in Jerusalem. We will uphold law and order – vigorously and responsibly. We will continue to guard freedom of worship for all faiths but we will not allow violent disturbances,’’ he said.

‘’Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for thousands of years. Our roots in Jerusalem go back to Biblical times. Our continuous link with Jerusalem has been maintained in all generations.’’

‘’When one looks back over thousands of years of Jewish rule and the foreign rule, and today again under the state of the Jews, only under the sovereignty of Israel has full and consistent freedom of worship been ensured for all faiths, and thus we will continue,’’ Netanyahu said.

‘’We emphatically reject the pressures not to build in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, these pressures have been increasing of late. I say to our best friends as well: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Just as every people builds its capital and in its capital, so too do we reserve the right to build Jerusalem and in Jerusalem.’’

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Israel

Israeli security services uncover finance network linking European NGOs to Palestinian terror group

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Israel’s Shin Bet said that it has uncovered a financing network for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) where the terror group stole millions of euro from European aid organizations and governments to fund terrorist activities, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

“PFLP institutions deceived aid organizations in Europe through a number of methods—reporting on fictitious projects, transferring false documents, forging and inflating invoices, diverting tenders, forging documents and bank signatures, reporting inflated salaries and more,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.

The money, operating under the guide of humanitarian assistance under a “Health Committee,” was used to pay families of slain terrorists, recruit new operatives and spread its messaging throughout the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem, according to the Shin Bet.

Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, said his group has been tracking the close links between several European-funded NGOs and the PFLP.

“For 20 years, European officials have been providing millions of euros to the Palestinian network of terror-linked groups under the facades of human rights and civil society. Employing heavy secrecy, the Europeans continued to turn a blind eye to the clear terror links, claiming ‘there was no ‘evidence’ or ‘we only fund projects, not NGOs,’ ” said Steinberg.

According to NGO Monitor, between 2014 and 2021, the governments of Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland Germany, France, Norway, Switzerland and the European Union provided more than €200 million (more than $240 million) to the PFLP NGO network, including to the Health Work Committees.

The PFLP is designated as a terror group by the United States, European Union, Canada, Israel and others.

As a result of the investigation, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said it has summoned the ambassadors of several European countries to present the findings, including evidence that European governmental funds went to the PFLP terrorist organization.

The Israeli officials “demanded that funding transfers be frozen immediately to those institutions which, acting under the guise of humanitarian organizations, recruit funds for the terrorist organization. The MFA emphasized the need for close supervision, which will prevent the continuation of funding for this organization.”

They also insisted: “European countries establish a dialogue, intended to improve control measures and supervision of the funds transferred to Palestinian non-governmental organizations, in order to ensure that these funds do not end up in the hands of terrorists.”

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Israel

Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of ‘apartheid’ crimes against Palestinians

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A Palestinian flag hangs on a tree during a protest against Jewish settlements in An-Naqura village near Nablus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 29, 2021. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta /File Photo

An international rights watchdog accused Israel on Tuesday (27 April) of pursuing policies of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians - and against its own Arab minority - that amount to crimes against humanity, writes Rami Ayyub.

New York-based Human Rights Watch published a 213-page report which, it said, was not aimed at comparing Israel with apartheid-era South Africa but rather at assessing "whether specific acts and policies" constitute apartheid as defined under international law.

Israel's foreign ministry rejected the claims as "both preposterous and false" and accused HRW of harbouring an "anti-Israeli agenda," saying the group had sought "for years to promote boycotts against Israel".

Just weeks ago the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it would investigate war crimes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, with the Israeli military and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas named as possible perpetrators.

In its report, HRW pointed to Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement and seizure of Palestinian-owned land for Jewish settlement in territory occupied in the 1967 Middle East war as examples of policies it said were crimes of apartheid and persecution.

"Across Israel and the (Palestinian territories), Israeli authorities have pursued an intent to maintain domination over Palestinians by exercising control over land and demographics for the benefit of Jewish Israelis," the report says.

"On this basis, the report concludes that Israeli officials have committed the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution," as defined under the 1973 Apartheid Convention and the 1998 Rome Statute.

Israeli officials fiercely object to apartheid accusations.

"The purpose of this spurious report is in no way related to human rights, but to an ongoing attempt by HRW to undermine the State of Israel's right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people," Strategic Affairs Minister Michael Biton said.

Israel's foreign ministry said HRW's Israel programme was being "led by a known (BDS) supporter, with no connection to facts or reality on the ground," referring to the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The report's author, HRW Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir, was expelled from Israel in 2019 over accusations he backs BDS.

Shakir denies that his HRW work and pro-Palestinian statements he made before being appointed to the HRW post in 2016 constitute active support for BDS.

Shakir told Reuters that HRW would send its report to the ICC prosecutor's office, "as we normally do when we reach conclusions about the commissions of crimes that fall within the Court's jurisdiction."

He said HRW also sent the ICC its 2018 report about possible crimes against humanity by President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority and the Islamist militant Hamas.

The International Criminal Court's prosecutor said in March that she would formally investigate war crimes in the Palestinian territories, after ICC judges ruled that the court had jurisdiction there.

The Palestinian Authority welcomed the ruling but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced it as anti-Semitism and said Israel does not recognise the court's authority.

HRW called on the ICC prosecutor to "investigate and prosecute individuals credibly implicated" in apartheid and persecution.

HRW also said Israel's 2018 "nation state" law - declaring that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country - "provides a legal basis to pursue policies that favour Jewish Israelis to the detriment" of the country's 21% Arab minority, who regularly complain of discrimination.

Palestinians seek the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, areas captured in the 1967 conflict, for a future state.

Under interim peace deals with Israel, Palestinians have limited self-rule in the West Bank; Hamas runs Gaza.

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