Mahmoud Abbas responds to strong criticism of his remarks by publishing a statement of apology

There was an uproar of criticism of Mahmoud Abbas’ opening speech to the Palestine National Council’s 23rd Session on 30 April, when he veered into an unscripted “history lesson”, some of it incomprehensible, about, among other things, the pressures on Jews in Europe that, he said, were designed to encourage their immigration to Palestine, where “Hitler wanted to have a supportive population”.

Abbas’ remarks were also criticized as “anti-Semitic”.

The New York Times Editorial Board  wrote on May 2 that: “Feeding reprehensible anti-Semitic myths and conspiracy theories in a speech on Monday, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, shed all credibility as a trustworthy partner if the Palestinians and Israelis ever again have the nerve to try negotiations”.

Speaking to the Palestinian legislative body, Mr. Abbas, 82, said the mass murder of European Jews in the Holocaust was the result of the victims’ financial activities, not their religious identity and anti-Semitism.  “So the Jewish question that was widespread throughout Europe was not against their religion, but against their social function, which relates to usury (unscrupulous money lending) and banking and such,” he said, according to the BBC…

(Abbas) was valued by the West as Mr. Arafat’s successor, and for years he has deployed Palestinian forces to help Israelis maintain security in the West Bank.  But pressures, some of his own making and many others caused by Israel, which has ultimate control over the West Bank, are building. Mr. Abbas, who oversees a governing system plagued by corruption and dysfunction, has lost support among the Palestinian people.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/02/opinion/abbas-palestine-israel.html

After the close of the PNC Session, Abbas issued a statement of apology published by the Palestinian news agency WAFA:

President Mahmoud Abbas stated on Friday that “if people were offended by my statement in front of the PNC, especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them. I would like to assure everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic faiths.”

He continued, “I would also like to reiterate our long held condemnation of the Holocaust, as the most heinous crime in history, and express our sympathy with its victims.”

“Likewise, we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, and confirm our commitment to the two-state solution, and to live side by side in peace and security.”

(http://english.wafa.ps/page.aspx?id=5eEbb9a97537550946a5eEbb9 ).

Abbas been talking like this at Palestinian meetings for years, and nobody (except Israelis) paid very much attention until Donald Trump, more openly aligned with Israel than any other President, took office in January 2017.

In this PNC Session, Abbas again used the same curse that got him into trouble after the PLO Central Council meeting in January, again saying “yikhrab beitak” — but this time not to Trump, but to the US Congress for passing a resolution calling the PLO a “terrorist organization”.

“Abbas is not going to change”, Amira Hass wrote in Haaretz.  He “does not listen to criticism and does not consult others – or, he chooses advisers who will not tell him anything he does not want to hear. He also chooses to be updated only on what suits him”.  https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/palestinians/.premium-despite-scent-of-anti-semitism-abbas-still-supports-two-states-1.6050209

Mahmoud Abbas was stunned and enraged by Trump’s Jerusalem Declarations on 6 December 2017

Mahmoud Abbas was stunned and enraged when U.S. President Donald Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem (no coordinates specified) as Israel’s capital last December.

It’s a “reality on the ground”, Trump said – no mention of conquest, annexation, a continuing military occupation, and abandoned negotiations.

Trump also declared, in the same December 6th  speech he delivered, in front of VP Pence and multiple decorated Christmas trees, that he’d move the US Embassy to Jerusalem – in direct contravention of the UN Security Council’s resolution 478 (August 1980).

A consequential part of Trump’s decision is the opening of an interim US Embassy, in the Arnona area of south Jerusalem on May 14, timed to coincide with Israel’s 70th Independence Day anniversary by the Common Era calendar. That’s also the day before Palestinians mark the Nakba, or catastrophe, of their dispossession in 1947-1949, when some 75% of all Palestinians were forced out of their homes, lands, and villages; most have been barred from returning.

The immediate response to Trump’s Jerusalem declaration were calls for “Day of Rage” demonstrations, to “confront the occupation”, sometimes several times each week, in both the West Bank (where protests are prohibited by military regulations) and in Gaza.  These calls were initially backed by all Palestinian factions: Fatah’s deputy leader Mahmoud Al-Aloul was one of the few in the leadership who participated in the first one in Ramallah. The protesters in the West Bank are mostly young, and they go with their friends. The Gaza marchers faced worse conditions.

Three months later, a coalition in Gaza organized a “Great Return March” to take place at Gaza’s perimeterfrom Palestinian “Land Day” on March 30, to Palestinian “Nakba (Catastrophe) Day” on May 15.  Though it wasn’t a Hamas initiative, it was impossible to miss the level of organization and the amount of resources that Hamas has contributed.

Approximately 2/3 of the population of Gaza are refugees from 1948. Return has been the priority demand of Hamas since its founding in 1987.  A number of the marchers would like to march straight across Israel’s security fence.

The “peaceful masses moving forward” strategy was already tried in the West Bank, though on a smaller scale, and without backing from the leadership in Ramallah, in 2011. The call was simply to enter Jerusalem. There were not many marchers, and they didn’t get past Qalandiya Checkpoint. The real drama happened elsewhere: in the heady days of the Arab Spring, on Nakba Day (May 15) and then on Naksa Day (June 5) in 2011.

In May 2011, Nablus millionaire Munib Al-Masri’s grandson, also named Munib, and then 22, was badly wounded by Israeli fire in Lebanon near the border, and has been permanently paralyzed as a result.

In June 2011, Palestinians from Yarmouk Camp near Damascus, Syria were bussed to the Golan and marched across marked mine-fields..  Refugees and their supporters in Lebanon were also bussed down to the Israeli border, and also tried but were unable to cross. Reports say 10 to 14 Palestinians were killed, mostly in the Golan.

However, Israelis adamantly refuse the idea of any return of Palestinian refugees, and say it would pose an existential threat. Just ahead of the Gaza Return March that began on March 30 (Land Day) in 2018, the Israeli military went on war footing, saying they fear an invasion of tens of thousands of protestors from Gaza. IDF Chief of Staff warned in advance – and deployed – 100 snipers at the Gaza perimeter, who have since taken a high toll, especially in the first four weeks of the Great Return March.

Five Israeli and one Gazan human rights groups have petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to stop the IDF from using snipers and live ammunition to stop the civilian demonstrators in Gaza – the first time this has happened. However, Israel’s Supreme Court prefers to help the Israeli government become better without public confrontation or rebuke.  And there has been an apparent change in the IDF’s rules of engagement.  On May 4, for the first time in six weeks, no killings were reported, and there were fewer than 200 reported injures, rather than thousands.

Almost 50 Palestinians have been killed at the Gaza perimeter since March 30 and over 8,500 people injured, straining Gaza’s health care resources to the limit.  (9 May: Spokesman for the Ministry of Health: 47 Martyrs, including 5 children, and 8536 wounded by IOF gunfire since the start of the return marches on the borders of the Gaza Strip. https://twitter.com/qudsn/status/994268438293041154 ) Some of those injured will be permanently disabled.

Overall, since Trump’s December 6 announcements about Jerusalem, about 100 Palestinians have been killed by the IDF in both the West Bank and Gaza.

Pres Abbas declared a day of mourning on the day after the March 30 Land Day demonstration at the Gaza periphery — but nothing since, other than a statement in his opening speech to the PNC on April 30 saying that children should be kept away from the perimeter.

Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann has warned that “we have never witnessed a geopolitical move as potentially shocking and infuriating to the Palestinian sector as moving the embassy. Such a move will tell the Palestinians: ‘Abandon hope. Political processes – negotiations, diplomacy, and the like – will not only not help you, they will harm you.’ Likewise, it will send them a resounding message: ‘It’s official – East Jerusalem and its holy sites are lost to the Palestinians, to the Arabs, and to Islam’.”

Seidemann notes, however, that “geopolitical issues are not generally what trigger violence in Jerusalem; rather, what triggers violence is threats, real or perceived, to the sanctity of sacred places, and most notably to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif”, link <a href=”http://t-j.org.il/LatestDevelopments/tabid/1370/articleID/878/currentpage/1/Default.aspx“>here</a>

Meanwhile, the Israeli Temple Mount organizations have reportedly put out massive messaging calling – through their media and social networking sites, to their supporters and to the settlers – to go up to the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound as the Palestinian people are marking the Nakba.. http://www.wafa.ps/ar_page.aspx?id=BrsHQba819586867902aBrsHQb

Other Palestinian media say that calls have gone out for have at least 2,000 Jews to go up to the site on Sunday, May 13 – which, this year, is “Jerusalem Day”.

Trump, however, believes that he’s taken the issue off the table, claiming to have solved this most contentious of issues all by himself – though it’s been internationally agreed since the Madrid Conference in 1991 that Jerusalem is a final status issue that must resolved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Abbas waited for six weeks before convening the PLO’s (Palestine Liberation Organization) Central Council in mid-January, where he exploded in anger at Trump: In a televised speech, Abbas responded furiously to Trump’s assertion that the Palestinians had refused negotiations (“What negotiations?”, Abbas asked, in frustration “When did we refuse to negotiate?”). Abbas then cursed (“yikhrab beitak”, may your house fall into ruin). It made headlines all over the world.

Abbas strategy, based on his calculation of the imbalance of power and the few tools at his disposal, has been to wait. Palestinians are the weaker party, so they must wait. Abbas has himself suggests that this is a manifestation of the traditional Palestinian virtue of sumoud (steadfastness). “We are here and we’re staying here”, Abbas had said on a number of occasions.

Abbas has waited for Prime Ministers to resign, for Presidential elections, for new administrations to read-in on issues, for circumstances to change, for public opinion to move. He waited for President Donald Trump to call (the call came in March 2017), waited for an invitation to the White House (he went on May 3), waited for Trump to come to Bethlehem (that was on May 23), to meet Trump at the UN (September 20) when Trump said to Abbas in front of the cameras: “I certainly will devote everything within my heart and within my soul to get that deal made”.

For months Abbas waited patiently (just as Hussam Zomlot, Abbas’ Strategic Advisor and now PLO representative in Washington, was impatient) to see the “Deal of the Century”, being drafted by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner + long-time legal advisor Jason Greenblatt.  Zomlot said he was “literally nagging” them, since May, “saying we’re ready, we’re ready, don’t waste another day, not another week, we’ve wasted enough time — what are you waiting for?”

Zomlot said in a presentation at the Middle East Institute (MEI) in January that he’d lost count of the many meetings he’d had with Trump’s team, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt (but Abbas said in September it was “more than 20 times” https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-president-abbas-palestinian-authority-bilateral-meeting/ ). But they were blindsided when Trump announced his Jerusalem decisions.  Zomlot said he felt “backstabbed”, and angrily added that “President Trump reneged not only on the long-held US and international policy but also reneged on his own promises”.

Zomlot said he’d been pressing for a Trump indication of support for previous U.S. policy. The two-state solution – which Zomlot says was not a Palestinian demand but is instead “a Palestinian concession” – was unanimously endorsed (US voted ‘yes’) in UN Security Council resolution 1515 of 2003 (https://www.un.org/press/en/2003/sc7924.doc.htm), honoring President G.W. Bush’s earlier “vision” of creation of a Palestinian State. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/04/AR2005100401410.html

But, Zomlot recounted, Trump avoided doing so.  Zomlot, citing Trump: “I did not endorse the two-state solution because I do not want to impose, I do not want to dictate, I do not want to influence, I do not want to tell the two sides what to do”.  Then, Zomlot said at MEI, as if addressing Trump: “You come all of a sudden and you decide to take the heart of the two state solution out, the core of all issues, the mother of all issues – Jerusalem”.

Months later, Abbas convened the Palestine National Council (PNC) –“the supreme authority of the Palestinian people in all their places of residence” (https://www.palestinepnc.org/en/) – to deal with the challenge in Jerusalem, and also, significantly to “protect Palestinian legitimacy”, under challenge on many fronts.

This PNC 23rd Session was held in the tightly-guarded and secured presidential compound in Ramallah, the Muqata’a, from April 30 to May 4 – convened as a matter of urgency, after several postponements in recent years. The last full PNC session was in Gaza in 1996.

There was a strong but ultimately unsuccessful campaign of opposition to this PNC session, a sign of growing frustration with the worsening of all conditions in the West Bank and a dramatic desperation in Gaza.

Ohio-born American-Palestinian businessman Sam Bahour, who isn’t a member of the PNC, but who is a civil-society advocate for Palestinian development and Palestinian rights, said he was disappointed: “First, its location and the insistence by Chairman Abbas that we are free political subjects while under Israeli military occupation. He knows better and so does every Palestinian. Secondly, the membership continued to be defined and revised in a nontransparent and unrepresentative fashion. Thirdly, the session’s substance was weak at best, regurgitating the same worn out long diatribes. Lastly, the composition and median age of the elected PLO Executive Committee leaves much to be desired for a people whose national liberation movement is being seriously challenged”.

The PNC (established in Gaza in 1948) sets policy for the PLO (established at a meeting of the PNC in Jerusalem in 1964). The PNC also elects (by a show of hands, in open meetings; it’s always been that way) the PLO’s two ruling organs/bodies – the 18-member Executive Committee, and the 100-member Central Council.

The PLO was recognized by the UN General Assembly in 1974 as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”, and admitted as an observer organization in the UN General Assembly.  It was the PLO which established, under the Oslo Accords and with Israel’s assent, the Palestinian Authority, in 1994, ostensibly as an interim authority.

Past PNC Sessions have adopted some key decisions.  Under iconic leader Yasser Arafat: there was a deciion to establish a state on any inch of liberated Palestine, with its permanent capital in Jerusalem/Al-Quds (in its 12th Session, held in Cairo in 1974). In Algiers in 1988, the 19th PNC Session approved the Declaration of the Independent State of Palestine with Jerusalem/Al-Quds as its capital.

 

Uri Davis, a PNC delegate who was born to Jewish parents in Jerusalem in 1943 under the British Mandate for Palestine, is a long-time member of Fatah and married to Miyasa Abu Ali, another long-time member of Fatah. Davis firmly believes that Ramallah was the best place to hold the PNC Session, because “There are a number of UN resolutions that demand Israeli withdrawal from this land…Imagine the PLO was still stuck in Tunisia and Trump would make his awful statements about Jerusalem, would the PLO voice have any significant weight?”

As President Abbas said,  “it is our homeland”.

Davis added, with approval and pride: “President Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, is the only Arab leader to my knowledge in the Middle East who actually said ‘No’ to Trump”.

“Hamas refused membership in the PLO and in the Palestine National Council on a number of bases, or better say pretenses, one of which is its rejection of the Oslo Accords”, according to Davis. “I first learnt of it when it was published, and I had serious reservations…for the simple reason that it distinguished between an interim state of negotiations (or interim status) and the permanent status”.

“The PLO is the representative of the Palestinian people, there’s no question about it”, Davis said. “Any body, corporate body, that seeks to modify or reject or nullify or reiterate the Oslo Accords has to do it from within the structure of the representative body.  Don’t just condemn the Oslo Accords from the outside.  If you’re serious about it, do it through the by-law + regulations of the PNC”.

Hamas – which had been negotiating its possible entry into the PLO since 2005, if not earlier (it wanted a larger representation in the PNC than Fatah was willing to give) – may have missed a good chance, if it ever actually wanted to join the PLO.  All 132 members of the PLC received identical invitations to participate in the PNC session, a PNC official told this reporter, including the 74 elected Hamas MPs (though some of them are in Israeli jails).  But none showed up, including any of the few who live in the West Bank.

(One Hamas official who accepted Abbas’ invitation to attend the 7th Fatah General Conference, also held in the Ramallah Muqata’a, in late 2016, was treated as a guest-of-honor.)

GAZA

Unexpectedly, there was sustained criticism during the PNC Session of sanctions Abbas imposed against Gaza a year ago – which include non-payment of salaries to employees in Gaza.

Abbas ordered electricity cuts last April, in order to coerce Hamas to return the control of government institutions in Gaza following the June 2007 “split”.  The Abbas sanctions follow ten years of worsening electricity crises, exacerbated by devastated infrastructure only partially repaired after three major Israeli military operations, and with tens of thousands of people in Gaza living in still-unrepaired homes or apartments.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is a medical doctor, a politician, and a member of the PNC. “In the conference”, Dr Barghouti said, “everybody, including myself, emphasized the necessity to remove and cancel all punitive acts against Gaza, including cutting the salaries, or reducing the salaries, of PA (Palestinian Authority) employees”.

Dr Barghouti got his start in politics by running against Mahmoud Abbas in the special January 2005 elections to replace the late Yasser Arafat as President of the Palestinian Authority; Barghouti got 19% of the vote. Barghouti then stood in the January 2006 PLC election and won a seat. But, Dr. Barghouti said, this PNC Session was the first for his political party, Mubadara (Palestinian National Initiative) – which he says is the youngest Palestinian movement.  Barghouti said the agreement to allow Mubadara join the PLO was made in March 2015, “ten years after we applied – it took ten years”. How did it happen?  “Oh, I made a speech”, Dr. Barghouti said. “I said, to the (PLO) Central Council ‘We’re celebrating the tenth anniversary of our application, so you have to say either yes, or no’.  I told them, ‘if you are worried about us because we differ with you politically, how will you be able to absorb Hamas and (Islamic) Jihad in the future?’  And, I said, ‘if you think we’re too young, what would you say to the real young people who are waiting without being represented in most leadership structures?’…We also talked to the different groups, to Mr. Abbas and others – and eventually, we finally got in, after ten years”.

Hamas kicked Fatah-led Palestinian Preventive Security forces out of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after a few weeks of shockingly cruel clashes, amid reports of U.S.-backed Fatah plots against Hamas. Even before, Israel had sealed shut its land crossings to Gaza; after 2007, the IDF were allowed to implement a plan of progressively tightened sanctions that intended to reduce imports to Gaza by 15% each month, to the bare minimum needed to sustain life (at one point, only 13 categories of commodities were allowed in); Egypt allowed supplies to pass through Hamas tunnels for years, but after overthrowing elected Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s President Sisi still keeps the Rafah crossing largely closed.  Three IDF full-scale military operations have been carried out on Gaza between December 2008 and August 2014. and the codification of an Israeli maritime blockade to stop the arrival of “Freedom Flotillas”.

A reconciliation was announced in June 2014, during which Hamas ministers resigned their posts to allow ministers newly-sworn-in by Abbas to take control. Abbas made it clear at the time that he required complete surrender, and soon complained that a Hamas “shadow government” (some 26 or 27 deputy ministers, he said) was still in place.

There’s another fundamental difficulty: Abbas has insisted that Hamas must put not only its security forces but also its entire military arsenal under Ramallah’s control.

Now, there’s also a tenacious Palestinian financial dispute about who, exactly, should pay the government employees in Gaza their arrears, and going forward.  Unresolved, despite June 2014 declarations that a committee had been formed to start work right away to deal with the evident problem of merging two administrations, little to nothing was done.  So, there’s the matter now of deciding who the government employees are who should be paid: those hired by Hamas in Gaza since the 2007 split, to keep the work of government functioning?  Or, those loyal to Ramallah – some tens of thousands ordered by Ramallah to stay home and not work for Hamas after the 2007 split, but who received their salaries for the following decade?  No vetting has taken place to determine who among them are most qualified and should be retained, who should be removed, and who should be retired. And after unrest followed a few heavy-handed decisions ordering mass retirements, the directives were rescinded, or suspended, it’s not clear. The issue of financial transfers under sanctions placed on Hamas has been only temporarily resolved.

Meanwhile, Donors have lost patience and cut their subsidies to Palestinian institutions in Ramallah, causing looming financial problems.

Mamoun Abu Shahla, Palestinian Minister of Labor since the formation of the June 2014 Government of National Consensus, is from Gaza, but spends part of his time in Gaza and part in Ramallah.  He’s now on the PLO Central Council.  He spoke about Hamas maintaining a “hidden government” Asked about the sanctions on Gaza, at a conference the day before the opening of the PNC Session, he replied: “If you want to rule Gaza, take all the responsibilities, or give it to me: this is the decision of Mr. Abbas, and the government here in total. I am not going to be the cash machine.  If you want me to rule Gaza, give me all the power, and I shall be responsible for everything. If not, go, continue, keep everything in your hands, do whatever you like, pay all the dues for Gaza. But you cannot imagine that every day and night you are shouting against me, and asking me at the end to pay for the life of your government.  So that’s it. It is a political story”.

At the end, Abbas made a surprise announcement in his closing speech to the PNC Session, saying that the salaries for Gaza employees and beneficiaries will be paid “tomorrow”.  There had been an unspecified “technical problem”, Abbas said.  But, he was not terribly sympathetic to his compatriots in Gaza:  “We are not an oil-rich state”, he said, and salaries have also been cut in the West Bank on multiple occasions –“Remember 2006?”  Abbas was referring to the sanctions placed on everybody in the occupied Palestinian territory by Israel and the entire donor community after Hamas won the majority of seats in the 2006 PLC elections.

Dr. Barghouti was wary about the Abbas announcement of payment: “The political decisions that were made (in the PNC) were what we wanted, (but) the test is in the implementation…We have to wait and see the results…We have to see if it’s happened or not, because when the general communique came out, that resolution was not in the communique”, although he said many people in the Council “emphasized very much this issue and the need to remove it…Because we think it’s punitive, it’s illegal, and it contradicts the law, it shouldn’t happen. It’s inhuman…I hope this issue will be resolved”.

The Palestinian Finance Ministry reportedly announced on Sunday that 50% of the normal salaries had been deposited to accounts in Gaza, and added that if there were any further instructions, they’d be announced + fulfilled.  https://twitter.com/48nnews/status/993059717680369664

This situation is still not clear.  (Some reports say that ATM machines in Gaza distributed 80% of one month’s salary on May 3, the same day salaries were paid in the West Bank, when two months’ salaries were due in Gaza).  .

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Wildfires [+ wild rumors] 60,000+ people evacuated in Haifa area

On the third day of wildfires in Israel and the West Bank, international help began arriving, but conditions suddenly worsened significantly in the morning, particularly in the Haifa area. Israeli authorities ordered the evacuation of at least 60,000 people.

UPDATE: By nightfall, The Jerusalem Post reported here that “80,000 residents have now been told to evacuate”.

Almost exactly six years ago, a similar fire grew out-of-control, some 42 people died in the flames, and Israel’s lack of preparedness to fight fires was exposed. Israel was prepared to fight wars, but not fires. See our earlier reports on that fire in this blog, here and here and here.

In December 2010, Israel had no firefighting airplanes – none.  Since then, Israel has apparently acquired 12 firefighting airplanes, but still needed more in the Haifa area today. Netanyahu, according to the Jerusalem Post story mentioned above, “said that Israel’s squadron of some 12 firefighting aircraft was not enough, and that he turned to other countries for assistance. By midnight, he said, a total of 10 planes will have arrived from Russia, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Turkey. The [US] Supertanker, however, is the only plane with the capabilities to operate at night, and will arrive in approximately 28 hours”.

    Haaretz: “It was almost six years ago to the day that Israel suffered its worst natural disaster ever. The fire that erupted in the Carmel Forest in northern Israel on December 2, 2010, lasting four days and claiming 44 lives, remains a national trauma.  About 17,000 Israelis were evacuated from their homes during that disaster, and thousands of acres of forest were destroyed. It took U.S. intervention, in the form of a Boeing 747 Supertanker flown across the Atlantic, to extinguish the last flames…The weather conditions then were remarkably similar to those today, as Shahar Ayalon, Israel’s former fire and rescue commissioner, notes. For that reason, he says, he was not surprised by the outbreak of the latest fires. ‘You have a combination of drought conditions and dry winds from the east, and this is the result,. he told Haaretz. ‘It’s to be expected’. Clearly, Israel had been caught unprepared in 2010. It did not have the manpower or the equipment required to battle a fire of that magnitude. Nor did its command and controls systems operate as they should have… Ayalon was appointed head of Israel’s firefighting authorities in 2011, not long after the Carmel disaster, and remained in his post until six months ago. During this time, he says, ‘everything that was promised was fulfilled’.  In recent years, according to Ayalon, 800 new firefighters were recruited – almost doubling the size of the force. A squadron of firefighting planes was established, and 20 new fire stations were opened around the country”. 
    read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium – report posted here.

However, Reuters reported that “Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party which supports settlements in the West Bank where Palestinians seek statehood, said on Twitter that arsonists were disloyal to Israel, hinting that those who set the fires could not be Jewish. ‘Only those to whom the country does not belong are capable of burning it,’ he said in a tweet in Hebrew”. This was published here.

The Reuters report also noted that “On social media, some Arabs and Palestinians celebrated the fires and the hashtag #Israelisburning was trending on Twitter”.

This did not happen in 2010 — a lot has changed since then…

The weather has been a big factor in these fires, both in 2010 and in 2016.

As Reuters stated, “The fires have been burning in multiple locations for the past three days but intensified on Thursday, fueled by unseasonably dry weather and strong easterly winds…Local weather forecasters have said the tinder-dry conditions – it has not rained in parts of Israel for months – and strong winds are set to continue for several days and they see little prospect of normal seasonal precipitation arriving”…

UPDATE: By midnight, YNet reported here: Eight Palestinian firefighter vehicles, escorted by the Commander of the Jenin Civil Administration, made their way to Haifa to help extinguish the fires raging in the city. In 2010 the PA did provide succor in the Mount Carmel Forest fires”.

Rustom Ghazali, Syria's former Military Intelligence Chief in Lebanon, has died in Damascus

The Daily Star (Lebanon) published an interesting compilation, here, on the reports of the cause of Rustom Ghazali’s death, announced this morning.

The Daily Star noted that “reports conflicted over his cause of death, and when and where he died. The news comes nearly two months after he was reported to have been badly beaten by Syrian security forces”.

In 2002, Ghazali became head of Syrian Military Intelligence, replacing General Ghazi Kanaan [who is said to have committed suicide, an explanation at odds with the circumstances, including the number of shots to his head].

As The Daily Star put it, “Ghazaleh succeeded Ghazi Kanaan as head of military intelligence in Lebanon in 2002 during Syria’s tutelage over Lebanon, which lasted until Damascus pulled its troops from the country in 2005. It is widely speculated that he was one of the men who orchestrated the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Damascus denies any involvement in the 2005 killing”.

In 2012, The Daily Star wrote today, “Ghazaleh was appointed the chief of Syria’s infamous political security branch”.

According to an AFP report cited by The Daily Star, a “family source” said that Ghazaleh “had been fired after getting into a fight with another Syrian official in early March”.

Comments from Twitter —

Continue reading Rustom Ghazali, Syria's former Military Intelligence Chief in Lebanon, has died in Damascus

More celebrity UN Goodwill Ambassador news – Angelina Jolie addresses UNSC on Syria

It is completely incongruous for UN Goodwill Ambassadors to address the UN Security Council on matters of substance relating to some of the worst and most intractable conflicts in the world.

This ridiculous scheme was thought up by some of the former heads of the UN Department for Public Information, because they argued this is the only way to get media+ world attention — and enthusiastically embraced approved by some former UN Secretaries General [as well as by the current UNSG] and UN heads of agencies…who prioritize fund-raising over political [and therefore controversial] work.

Angelina Jolie arrives to address the UNSC on Syria war
Angelina Jolie arrives to address the UNSC on its failure to end Syria war

In a continuation of this recent incongruous tradition, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie has just been given the floor to address the UNSC on Syria, and used the word “We” when speaking of the UN failures there…

AFP reported that “Actress Angelina Jolie on Friday criticized the UN Security Council’s failure to end the war in Syria, as she appealed for urgent help for the growing ranks of Syrian refugees…’The purpose of the UN is to prevent and end conflict, to bring countries together, to find diplomatic solutions and to save lives’, said Jolie, dressed in a white blazer. ‘We failed to do this in Syria’…The crisis is made worse by division and indecision within the international community preventing the Security Council from fulfilling its responsibilities…If we cannot end the conflict, we have an inescapable moral duty to help refugees and provide legal avenues to safety”, Jolie said. The actress spoke of a “sea of excluded humanity”, and added: “The crisis in Syria illustrates that our inability to find diplomatic solutions causes mass displacement, traps millions of people in exile, statelessness and displacement”…
This APF report was published by Lebanon’s The Daily Star, here.

“We” = meaning, the UN Security Council + Angelina Jolie?

It takes Angelina Jolie to remind the 15 members of the UN Security Council what is the purpose of the UN?

Continue reading More celebrity UN Goodwill Ambassador news – Angelina Jolie addresses UNSC on Syria

The US Counter-Terrorism policy, explained on orders from the White House

Watch this press briefing at the White House on 23 April — following President Obama’s announcement that it had just been realized that two hostages [one American, one Italian] had been inadvertently killed in a US strike “in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region” in January…

In the briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that “Our CounterTerrorism people follow *Near-Certainty* standards” to carry out an operation, and then evaluate it later using a *high-confidence* battle-damage assessment [[drawin on multiple sources of intel] …

He explained that *Near-Certainty* standards mean “that it was an Al Qaeda compound frequented by an al-Qaeda leader + that civilans wouldn’t be hurt”…

[The *Near-Certainty” standards are described in this link, a White House Fact Sheet Tweeted by @MicahZenko = “US Policy Standards and Procedures for the Use of Force in Counterterrorism Operations Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities”

All these *Near-Certainty* standards were observed, and yet two hostages [that the US did not even know were on the site] were killed, so there will now be some kind of reassessment to see how such ops could be improved, Earnest indicated.

But these ops will not be stopped, Earnest said: “These CT [CounterTerrorism] ops, which are critical to the nationale security of the US and to the safety of American people, will continue”…

Comments from Twitter

Continue reading The US Counter-Terrorism policy, explained on orders from the White House

UN office in Ramallah closed by protests about Palestinian prisoners

The UN office in Ramallah has been closed this morning by protesters angry about the UN’s inaction on the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, particularly those held for “security” reasons under Administrative Detention procedures. Some 125 Administrative Detainees are now on the 41st day of a hunger strike to protest Administrative Detention and the conditions under which they’re being held.

A photo — Tweeted by Ahmad this morning, and posted here.

Ahmad @ANimer – .@UN office in #Ramallah is closed
#PalHunger #UNClosed pic.twitter.com/0iGCIk9vV4

UN office in Ramallah closed in Ramallah by protesters angry about lack of support to prisoners
UN office in Ramallah closed in Ramallah by protesters angry about lack of support to prisoners

The image was also Tweeted here by Diana Alzeer @ManaraRam
Outside the #UN building sprayed by activists today! UN = UNFAIR/ UNHELPFUL. UN offices are shut down today! #??_???? pic.twitter.com/ViNXZl7NbR

There was headway being made against Administrative Detention in 2012, but momentum was lost due to lack of support from some Palestinian activists who disputed its relative importance [affecting only approximately 200 people, by contrast with the 5,100 or so being held under other military court rules.

Haaretz newspaper has published an editorial here calling for a “review” of how Israel uses Administrative Detention. It’s subhead says: “Israel must…stop using it wholesale to perpetuate the occupation”.

Continue reading UN office in Ramallah closed by protests about Palestinian prisoners

[UPDATE: text now published by Obama's NSC] Neither White House nor State Department have published deal on Iran's nuclear program.

From the IAEA meetings in Vienna this morning, this Tweet noting that the U.S. Government had still not published the text of the deal agreed in Geneva very early on Sunday:
Mark Hibbs @MarkHibbsCEIP — Heard here in Vienna just now that USG still has not published the text of the #Iran deal.

But British journalist Julian Borger of The Guardian replied, by Twitter:
@julianborger — @MarkHibbsCEIP NSC [the U.S. President’s National Security Councii] emailed it [the Joint Plan of Action] a few days ago, but I can’t find it either on the State Dept or White House websites. Just the ‘fact’ sheet.

UPDATE: Now, The full text of the Joint Plan of Action can be found on the National Security Council website here — the posting seemed to have been on November 27.

The full text of the deal was published first by the Fars News Agency here, and then picked up with a caveat by Reuters here. It wasn’t until many hours later that it was also posted on the European Union’s website here.

A full day after the deal, the U.S. State Department Tweeted a link to the EU website for the Joint Plan of Action
Joshua H. Pollack @Joshua_Pollack 25 Nov — This appears to be the best text online MT @StateDept: Read the P5+1 and #Iran Joint Plan of Action [here].

Mark Hibbs [Berlin-based Senior Associate, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace] replied, on Twitter:
@MarkHibbsCEIP — @julianborger Maybe they reasoned that if EU-3 felt it owned the Iran negotiation, it could own the document-!

The White House published only a “Fact Sheet”, here, which appears to be a list of U.S. talking points on the first phase of this deal.

From Washington, Joshua Pollack [consultant to the US government, contributor to the Arms Control Wonk blog and to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists] Tweeted earlier:
@Joshua_Pollack — Iran’s MFA dislikes the White House fact sheet on the Joint Plan of Action: see here … Well, the fact sheet is not diplomatic.

He described what’s wrong, for the Iranians, in the White House Fact Sheet
@Joshua_Pollack — Irritants in the WH fact sheet: triumphal tone, emphasis on Iranian concessions, continuing sanctions, & temporary nature of relief, (1/2)
@Joshua_Pollack — Irritants in the WH fact sheet, ctd: …naming Parchin, Additional Protocol, Modified Code 3.1. Same substance, different spin. (2/2)
@Joshua_Pollack — Both Iran’s govt and the USG need to sell the JPOA at home. But these efforts could “bleed over” to the other side. Spin with care!

Then, Mark Hibbs pointed to the remarks made by Iran’s Foreign Minister to the Majlis as being equally provocative:
@MarkHibbsCEIP — @Joshua_Pollack On other side @JZarif spin on Arak to placate hardliners in #Iran will cause @teaparty heartburn here

Earlier, Iraniah journalist Hassan Soleimani reported:
H.Soleimani @MashreghNews_ir — FM #zarif in parlimnt.: revert to 20% enrichment takes only one hour.

Meanwhile, on 26 November, as Robert Mackey reported here on his New York Times blog, TheLede, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry posted a Youtube explanating the U.S. view of the deal in “simple English”:

And, also thanks to Mackey’s TheLede, here is Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif explaining the deal on Iranian TV [IRIB], with English subtitles:

Iranian Foreign Ministry exasperated: White House didn't publish deal, only its own talking points

Iran FM @JZarif told the Majlis, or Parliament today: “While we were negotiating (in Geneva), the White House released a text as a fact sheet of the negotiations … While they could release the original text..they released that fact sheet because they wanted to make their desired changes in it”. This is reported here.

It was confusing, on Sunday, after the agreement was announced following hours of exhausting negotiations. Why was it so hard to find an authoritative version of the text of the Joint Plan of Action agreed in Geneva?

The full text of the deal was published first by the Fars News Agency here, and then picked up hours later, with a caveat, by Reuters here. Then, many more hours later, it was posted on the European Union’s website here.

Meanwhile, the White House published only a “Fact Sheet”, here, which appears to be a list of U.S. talking points on the first phase of this deal.

Continue reading Iranian Foreign Ministry exasperated: White House didn't publish deal, only its own talking points

100 Days in Office: Hassan Rouhani reports on his Presidency

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has reported to his nation tonight on his first 100 days in office.

Part of his report is this music video of many voices — “Let space and opportunity be given to all Iranians devoted to this land”…

In it, Rouhani says [as part of his inauguration speech?]: “For to our goal, the path is long, and I’m a new voyager”… UPDATE: Thomas Erdbrink has just written in the New York Times, here, that this line, too, is from the Persian poet Hafez, just is as another line immediately preceeding it, and indentified in the video. Erdbrink also notes that in the video, Rouhani is shown “alongside musical instruments — which are banned on state television — and women singing…The video was released only on Iranian social media and YouTube, where it got around 400,000 views in 24 hours, said its director, Hossein Dehbashi”.

It is wonderful…

Erdbrink reports that the video :shows Mr. Rouhani addressing the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, at his inauguration in August, with Iranians in a split screen speaking and singing the president’s words…The video has yet to be shown on state-run television, which is controlled by Mr. Rouhani’s hard-line opponents, but can be seen on Mr. Rouhani’s personal website, Rouhani.ir”.

RFERL journalist in Washington Golnaz Esfandiari explained here that:

“The beautifully made black-and-white clip, which includes segments of the Iranian president’s August 3 inauguration speech mixed with music, singing, and sign language, has been released to mark the first 100 days of his presidency… Rohani’s video was posted on his website and shared on Twitter by the unverified account of the Iranian president, which is said to be maintained by his media team…The clip, which features a well-known singer and actor, Amir Hossein Modaress, was produced by Iranian documentary-maker Hossein Dehbashi, who also worked on Rohani’s election campaign videos. Dehbashi has been quoted by Iranian media as saying that the video was created ‘spontaneously'”

In the clip, unprecedented for an Iranian president, people of all ages play musical instruments and sing to Rohani’s words in Persian, but also in the languages of Iran’s minorities, including Kurdish and Arabic. The clip also includes sound bites from prominent figures in Iran’s modern history including Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and the founder of the Islamic Republic Ruhollah Khomeini.

The main takeaway of the clip seems to be unity:
“Let space and opportunity be given to all Iranians who are devoted to this land. Let those who are competent serve the nation. Let their hearts be cleansed from hatred. Let reconciliation replace anger and friendship replace enmity”.

Rohani said his government wants happiness to return to the Iranian people’s lives and calls on God to guide him”…

Continue reading 100 Days in Office: Hassan Rouhani reports on his Presidency