Nabil ElAraby [Arab League Secretary-General] visits Ramallah Muqata'a — but seems not to have brought suitcases full of cash

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil ElAraby has arrived in Ramallah [from Amman] to meet with Mahmoud Abbas at 12:20 today.

It was reported earlier in the week that [apparently according to Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki] there would be a delegation of 8 to 10 Arab Foreign Ministers travelling with ElAraby.  But most of the others did not come.

Al-Malki had also said that the Arab League delegation would arrive by air, apparently to avoid encountering Israeli passport controls at the Jordanian border…  And that’s what happened with ElAraby today — he was accompanied only by Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamil, and the two arrived by Jordanian military helicopter.

Egyptian diplomats are notoriously discrete.  It seems, however, that ElAraby did not show up carrying suitcases full of dollar bills.

Reuters reported here that ElAraby said during his press conference in Ramallah that “Arab countries agreed at their Baghdad summit (in March) for an Arab safety net of $100 million dollars each month, but unfortunately none of this has been achieved yet”.

    UPDATE: Ma’an News Agency reported Sunday 30 December here that “Arab League members had agreed a $100 million monthly payment to the Palestinian Authority, but the League chief Nabil al-Arabi said on a visit to the West Bank on Saturday that none had been delivered … Deputy Secretary General of the PFLP Abdul Raheem Mallouh said that there are American pressures on the Arab states to financially blockade the PA. Secretary General of the Popular Struggle Front Ahmed Majdalani said the failure to transfer funds was ‘clearly a political decision… (and) collective punishment against the Palestinian people because of the agenda of seeking an independent Palestinian state’. Meanwhile Fatah spokesman Ahmad Assaf said it was up to Arab states to explain the impasse”.

Some Palestinians in the West Bank believe that only the Emir of Qatar can and will save them — he announced grants of some $450 million for Gaza’s rehabilitation after all, and the West Bank is bigger… But, his possible visit has been postponed for at least a month.

Nabil El-Araby has his own separate status, however, based on years of representing Egypt at the UN in New York and Geneva and elsewhere — and above all based on respect for El-Araby’s breathtakingly strong and direct separate opinion, when he sat as a Judge on the International Court of Justice, in the ICJ’s 2004 ICJ Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The Associated Press reported that ElAraby said in his remarks to the press in the Muqata’a that “We will return to the U.N. Security Council … Palestine will be cooperating with Arab and EU countries to change the equation (in the peace process) that prevailed over the past 20 years, which was a waste of time”.

Haaretz reported that while in Ramallah, the two senior Egyptian diplomats “will also discuss a decision by an Arab League ministerial committee to hold talks with the UN Security Council, the United States, Russia, China and the European Union on a mechanism to relaunch Palestinian-Israeli peace talks”. This is posted here.

Not many people in the West Bank expected much from the Arab League, of course — despite the fact that Mahmoud Abbas formally defers all major decisions until approval by Arab League leaders.

But, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reportedly said that it was a letter from Nabil ElAraby, confirming an Arab League decision to provide a $100-million-dollar “safety-net” fund [to counteract Israeli financial reprisals after the recent UN upgrade] that enabled the Palestinian Authority to borrow from Palestinian banks [despite the PA’s maxed-out credit limit] in order to transfer partial salary payments to its employees on 24 December.

Meanwhile, PA government employees were bitterly disappointed earlier this week when the banks which paid their partial salaries [as 1st installment of November salary] after taking full reimbursement of loan payments due from PA government employees.  The Palestinian banks, in effect, advanced the salaries in order to get the loan payments due.   Following the banks’ actions, many PA government employees were left with little or no money in their accounts — for the second time since the beginning of November [when October salaries were belatedly paid].

Two months without money has put PA employees in an extremely difficult position — and they find it individually humiliating.  This inhibits them from speaking much about it publicly, or even with each other.

The loans are a policy pushed after the June 2007 split between Gaza and the West Bank, and strongly advocated by Tony Blair [on the basis of the Portland Trust’s policy recommendation] and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

These loans created a deceptive illusion of indebted prosperity that bewildered many Palestinians in the West Bank as journalists enthused over an illusory “Ramallah bubble”.

Agence France Presse [AFP] reported that “Every month, Israel transfers about 460 million shekels ($120 million) in customs duties on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports, and which constitute a large percentage of the Palestinian budget.  The transfers are governed by the 1994 Paris Protocols [part of the Oslo Accords] with the Palestinians”.  This is posted here.

Day 3 of IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds [a/k/a Defense Pillar] against Gaza

Today is Day 3 of the IDF’s Operation “Pillar of Clouds”, also known as Operation Defense Pillar against Gaza.

Last night, two Fajr rockets fired from Gaza reached the Tel Aviv area. [Qassam Brigades were calling them Qassam M-75s.]  Earlier in the day, three Israelis were killed by shrapnel after a direct rocket hit on the top floor of an apartment building in Kiryat Malachi.

Overnight, the IDF carried out at least 150 strikes on the Gaza Strip, including on on the Civil Affairs office in the Ministry of Interior in Gaza.

UNRWA photographer Shareef Sarhan took this picture showing the damage to the Civil Affairs office. here.  Other pictures are viewable on the Activestills Flikr page photostream, here.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights [PCHR] sums it up: The “most significant targets was the building of the Civil Department of the Ministry of Interior in Tal al-Hawa neighborhood in the south of the City. The building was totally destroyed and a number of nearby buildings and houses were heavily damaged. Israeli fighter jets bombarded also the building of the Collection and Inspection Center of Gaza Municipality near Abu Mazen Square. The building was completely destroyed and a number of nearby houses and buildings were heavily damaged. Israeli fighter jets further bombarded a plot belonging to an ecclesiastic center near the Roots Restaurant in the southwest of Gaza City. Additionally, Israeli gunboats bombarded an electricity transmitter near the house of Prime Minister Ismail Haniya in the Beach camp. A number of houses and a civilian car were heavily damaged”.

PCHR has called for an urgent meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to examine the situation. As to the UN Security Council, well, it met on Wednesday night after a request from Egypt, but took no decision. The only outcome was a decision that UN Secretary-General BAN Ki Moon would travel to the region on Tuesday — but he does not intend to go to Gaza. UNSG BAN Ki-Moon will apparently have talks in Israel on Wednesday. Mahmoud Abbas announced to the PLO Executive Committee this evening that UNSG BAN would be coming to Ramallah on Thursday.

The Arab League will meet on Saturday afternoon in Cairo, after a delegation led by the Tunisian Foreign Minister, possibly accompanied by the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi and maybe some other officials from other Arab countries, hopes to enter Gaza via Egypt on Saturday morning…

On Friday morning, a delegation of Egyptian officials led by Prime Minister Qandil and accompanied by Egyptian Special Forces entered Gaza on Friday morning to assess the situation, and were received by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh.  As they entered Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, a small child who had just died from an Israeli strike was brought in, and the two men cradled the body.

The photo was posted on Twitter by Hazem Balousha [@iHaZeMi].  Pool photo by Mahmud Hams.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel would serve a 3-hour cease-fire for the visit of the Egyptian delegation on condition that no projectiles were fired from Gaza onto Israel — but there was very little let-up.  Several journalists in Gaza reported outgoing projectiles. Journalists also reported incoming [though IDF spokespeople said there were no attacks during the Egyptian PM’s visit.

A little later, there was an execution of a collaborator in Gaza, which the NYTimes reported on, here.

By the end of the day [Friday] the Palestinian death toll in Gaza rose to 30, with some 250 injured — and climbing. There were no Israeli deaths from Gaza firing reported on Friday.

Continue reading “Day 3 of IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds [a/k/a Defense Pillar] against Gaza”

Should the UN protect Palestinians [It won't]

It was reported this morning here that the Palestinian Authority [PA] Foreign Ministry urges the UN to protect Palestinians — from “Israeli settlement building and aggression”.

He may have a point, especially in light of two excellent pieces of reporting today by Chaim Levinson in Haaretz, the most disturbing of which, published here reveals Israeli “plans to start compiling land registry records of assets controlled by settlers [in the West Bank]…[to] bypass regular tabu land-listing processes”, which, Levinson writes, “appears designed to prevent Palestinians from appealing the validity of the ownership listings”.

Among other things, this seems to suggest a slide towards extension of Israeli civil law in the West Bank — or at least the outline of a new Israeli move to annex parts of the West Bank, which has been hinted by officials and others with increasing frequency in recent months. Some will say, though, that “creeping annexation” is nothing new.

Levinson’s other piece, as complex as the subject matter itself, is published here, and reports that “Residents of the condemned West Bank outpost of Migron have appealed the High Court to stay the demolition of the settlement’s illegal structures on Tuesday, claiming that they had recently purchased the land on which the homes were built. However, a preliminary inspection of the purported sale reveals that the Palestinian whom the settlers claim sold them the land passed away in 2011, one year before the alleged transaction”. This has happened before, but there appear to be several new twists in this case.

But, it does seem absurd for the PA to be asking the UN to protect Palestinians as its security forces beat protesters brutally on Saturday and Sunday — reportedly in violation of an instruction given by the PLO Executive Committee itself. On Satuday, plainclothes men [whose existence wass later denied, despite ample photographic evidence] attacked demonstrators who were then arrested by uniformed police in broad daylight in downtown Ramallah [and then beaten some more]. See our previous post.

And, at the same time, hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank have been arrested and jailed in recent months, either by the IDF or by the PA.

The Jerusalem Post’s well-connected defense correspondent Yaakov Katz wrote a piece, just posted here which reported that “An ongoing Palestinian Authority crackdown on crime and corruption in the West Bank, including the arrest of senior security officers, is being viewed in Israel as a milestone for the PA as it imposes its rule and authority throughout the territory”.

Katz’s piece in the JPost goes on to say that “A senior IDF officer from the Central Command said the operation was yielding impressive results and was viewed as a possible ‘turning point’ for the PA as it tries to impose its authority throughout the West Bank”. Either the same or another unidentified IDF officer even reportedly told Katz that “If effective, the operation could be used by the PA as a key argument in its bid for independence and statehood by demonstrating its ability to enforce law and order and clamp down on corruption within government and security ranks”.

Then, this JPost report adds, “The Presidential Guard, a force loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, is leading the operations … While the IDF is not actively involved in the operation, it is closely following developments and has granted the PA approval to deploy additional forces in Jenin and Nablus to carry out the arrests. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has also played an assisting role in locating several Palestinian fugitives who fled from the Jenin area and returning them to PA hands”.

Now, this very same PA Security spokeman Adnan Al-Damiri — who said that no plainclothes police [despite ample photographic evidence] were involved in the repression of Saturday’s protest, and that violent individuals attacked the police and caused chaos — who was described in the JPost as “security forces spokesman Gen. Adnan Damiri” told the Israeli English-language daily that the PA arrests “would continue in order to dismantle criminal gangs in the West Bank. He said that security forces had confiscated over 100 weapons”…

According to the latest reports, the “Youth” protesters in Ramallah intend to resume their protests for a third day, later today.

Another journalist beaten in Ramallah

Does this man, who was accosted on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a nearly-empty street in central Ramallah — near his office — look armed and dangerous?

No?  Then why was he stopped by plainclothes men in broad daylight in downtown Ramallah on the fringes of a protest on Saturday, beaten, and arrested by uniformed police — then beaten again while in custody?

He was covering the demonstration and, yes, he probably was somehow involved in preparations for a protest on Saturday, held nearby, against the policies of the Palestinian leadership — yes, the same Palestinian leadership which has said that peaceful protests are allowed under the Palestinian Authority [PA].

He is also a known and recognized journalist, familiar to those in downtown Ramallah, including the Palestinian security forces.

This compilation of photos, which was posted on Twitter yesterday [Sunday] by Maath Musleh [@MaathMusleh] here. The Tweet said: PHOTO: from yesterday’s [Saturday 30 June] beating and arrest of Journalist Mohammed Jaradat #Ramallah pic.twitter.com/qCsHSEA0

Compilation of photos of beating of Palestinian journalist Mohamed Jaradat on Saturday 30 June 2012

These photos were taken on Saturday.

“Youth” protests in Ramallah continued a second night, on Sunday night, with more beatings and injuries and arrests. The privately-owned Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency reported here that “Journalists were also attacked for the second day in a row, the correspondent reported … Reuters photographer Saed al-Hawari was attacked and photographer Ahmad Musleh was arrested. A camera belonging to journalist Ahmad Ouda was confiscated”.

There is an account by Electronic Intifada blogger Jalal Abukhater — who says he was “forced to delete photos he took of Palestinian Authority (PA) police violently attacking a protestor in Ramallah on Sunday” — posted here:

    Abukhater [a 17-year-old student who just graduated from high school and a Jerusalem resident, whose father is a Palestinian journalist working with an international media organization] recounts on Electronic Intifada that: “After the police started pushing and beating protestors with sticks and batons, I managed to slip behind their line to be met with another line of police only a few meters behind. There, I was alone with my camera, I saw a guy lying on the ground being beaten by the police behind their line, I tried to take a picture but my camera was then confiscated. I was forced to delete all the pictures on my camera by the police, then my camera’s SD card was destroyed to pieces. The guy who was being beaten by the police managed to stand up – he was visibly bleeding – he was then slapped and dragged to the nearby police vehicle”.

The Electonic Intifada article also provides a link to other photos of Saturday’s protest on the Facebook page, showing the action and the results, including some impressive welts and other injuries here.

UPDATE: The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, MADA, said the assault on reporter Mohamed Jaradat “who was simply doing his job is an abuse of human rights and is a serious backward step in freedom of opinion and expression”, according to a report published by Ma’an News Agency, published here today. MADA reported: “After visiting Jaradat in a Ramallah hospital, where he is still receiving treatment, MADA said the reporter noted that he was beaten at the demonstration within sight of police, by four people in civilian clothing who belong to a police unit. Jaradat said he was then taken to a police station after his camera was confiscated, where one of his attackers said: “‘He is a journalist. Take care of him'”. ‘After that they brutally attacked me, despite me showing my press identification. They took me to the upper floor and continued to beat me with a stick, causing bleeding in my nose’, Jaradat told MADA. ‘Then they arrested me, with six other people. While they beat me, I asked to see the Director of Police who is a relative of mine and he came after an hour of detention and beatings. He apologized to me and I was released’.”

Whereas a year ago these “Youth” protesters were calling to an end to the division between Fateh and Hamas [including an end to media incitement and a complete release of Palestinian political prisoners being held by each side], as well as worldwide elections to a new PLO Palestine National Council, they are now demanding an end to the Palestinian Authority and the departure of Mahmoud Abbas. One Tweet on Saturday noted that Mahmoud Abbas said he would resign the moment there were two protesters in the street against him. [Mahmoud Abbas had a track record of resigning when the going got tough, particularly under the rule of the late Yasser Arafat, see our post on the upper left hand side of the page. More recently, as he has consolidated his hold on all the reins of Palestinian power, Mahmoud Abbas has much less frequently threatened to resign — but he has, once or twice, still done so, whenever donors were not coming up with the money needed to maintain the fragile ecosystem of “rule” symbolized by PA Ministries in Ramallah + security forces now permitted to operate in major West Bank cities].

Nearly a full day after the violence shown in the photo collage above, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said that the Palestinian Authority police had violated instructions not to interfere with the Saturday protest, which was called to protest the invitation to Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz to visit Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Muqata’a in Ramallah, which was supposed to take place on Sunday, but which was cancelled on Saturday [see our previous post].

UPDATE: The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate said in a statement issued on Sunday that “Palestinian journalist Muhammad Jaradat was beaten by non-uniformed individuals at the protest, who referred to themselves as members of the security forces … Jaradat was injured in his left eye and had bruising on his chest, back and other parts of his body … After the beating, he was taken to the Ramallah police station where he was kicked in front of police officers who did not intervene to protect him … the assault on Jaradat breaks the government’s stated commitment to freedom of expression. They called on police to urgently investigate and punish those involved in the attack”. This is reported here.

UPDATE: And, according to another report by Ma’an News Agency, “PA Minister of Interior Said Abu Ali said Monday he will form a committee to investigate clashes between police and protesters in Ramallah in the last two days … [and that] the Palestinian Authority will take all necessary legal and internal procedures in line with its commitment to freedom of expression and right to assembly. He called on all Palestinians to obey the law in order to avoid repetition of the events in Ramallah. Security forces spokesman Adnan Dmeiri had defended his forces on Sunday, saying fighting only broke out when protesters tried to reach the presidential headquarters, which police are required to stop as protesting there is forbidden. He said police were investigating who was behind the protest, saying the ‘agendas of those unknown movements are to create chaos and harm security and attack Palestinian police’. But the forceful reaction to the protests drew criticism from some Palestinian officials who said the police were under standing orders not to intervene”. So, the situation is again unclear and chaotic.

Continue reading “Another journalist beaten in Ramallah”

Whose fault is it?

A colleague called me today as he was leaving Erez “terminal”, just coming out of Gaza after two days there.

The situation of the people who don’t have any electricity, or any fuel, is terrible, he said.

He asked, “Whose fault do you think it is”?

[He said he is leaning toward blaming Hamas…]

But, there is enough blame to go around…

Where to start?

The European Union was paying for the special industrial diesel fuel used to run the Gaza Power Plant once it was repaired in November 2006 [precision Israeli Air Force bombing took out each of the four generators/turbines, one by one, in late June 2006, in response to the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, and the EU paid for repairs that were done through Egypt].

The way it worked is important to understanding the situation: Gaza would tell the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah how much fuel it needed. Ramallah would order the fuel from an Israeli fuel company [Dor Alon] with whom Ramallah had concluded a contract. Fuel transfer facilities were constructed at Nahal Oz — Dor Alon paid for the installation on the Israeli side of the facility, and the PA paid for the installation on the Gaza side. Israeli tankers came one by one to offload their fuel cargoes into underground pipes which transferred the fuel into Gaza where it was loaded into Palestinian tanker trucks for delivery around the Gaza Strip.

VAT taxes paid on these fuel purchases by the PA were returned by Israel to the PA in Ramallah.

These arrangements continued after the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian preventive security services in mid-June 2007.

(1) Because Hamas was in power there, Israel’s military was authorized to implement tightening sanctions against Gaza, starting in late October 2007. These military sanctions were designed to cut the fuel deliveries to Gaza by about 15% each month. Gaza’s Power Plant experienced shut-downs from January, due to Israeli-military-mandated cuts in fuel delivered to Gaza.

(2) About four years later [at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011], there was a switch of responsibilities that was never fully explained, in which the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority took over from the EU the payment for the fuel, in exchange for the EU paying for salaries and pensions… There soon arose disputes over payments. Ramallah said that Gaza was not remitting enough in payments for electric bills, so they cut down on the fuel they ordered and paid for. More shut-downs in Gaza’s Power Plant ensued. VAT

(3) Gaza decided to stop going along with this arrangement, and its dependency on Ramallah’s good will, and turned instead to taking fuel for the Gaza Power Plant smuggled in via the tunnels under the border with Rafah. At around the same time, a clever tweak — invented by Gaza Power Plant Engineer Dirar Abu Sisi [later kidapped in Ukraine, where he was trying to emigrate with his Ukranian wife and their children, and brought to Israel, where he is still in jail] — allowed the Gaza Power Plant to use normal diesel fuel to operate. There were considerable cost savings. Taxes for the import of fuel went to Hamas.

(4) Israel gradually closes all cargo transport into Gaza via all crossings except Kerem Shalom — where Israeli customs officials operate. This move was opposed by the PA. Israel delayed the move, but eventually did it.

(5) Egypt, under pressure, decides to reduce the fuel transfers through the tunnels.

(6) Hamas hopes to persuade Egypt to deliver fuel through Rafah crossing — preferably via tankers crossing into Gaza — though there is no provision for cargo transfer via Rafah in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. Israel prefers fuel to come from Egypt via Kerem Shalom. There are negotiations and talks and more talks. Gaza’s Power Plant shuts down three times in recent weeks due to fuel shortage — including after an exceptional one-time transfer last Friday of 450,000 liters of fuel bought from Israel and paid by the PA. This quantity of fuel lasted for just over a day, and the Gaza Power Plant shut down again on Sunday.

During these talks and negotiations, it was reported here that “The [Gaza] cabinet also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, saying it has instructed the European Union to stop funding the power station in Gaza for political reasons. The Gaza government said it had turned to Egypt to relieve the current fuel crisis and thanked Cairo for its efforts, adding that it was also in contact with Qatar, Algeria and Turkey to ease shortages”.

An equivalent or greater amount of energy was put into mutual recriminations. Haaretz reported on 20 March here that Iran paid Hamas to block a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas [which might have eased the fuel crisis]:

    Hamas spokesman Ahmed Assaf said: “We have information that Iran paid tens of millions of dollars to Zahar and Haniyeh in their visits to Iran”. [He was referring to Hamas leaders Mahmoud Zahar who visited Tehran last week and Ismail Haniyeh who was there in February. Assaf was responding to a comment by Zahar that Palestinian political reconciliation “is in the freezer now”, despite a unity deal signed last month.
    “Reconciliation is in the freezer because Zahar was the one who put it there and he got the price from Iran,” Assaf told Reuters. “Zahar, Haniyeh and Hamas’s Gaza leadership were paid by Iran to freeze reconciliation.”
    Hamas rejected the charges. “The Fatah government did not implement any of their obligations (under the unity deal) and they prefer American money to nationalist agreements,” spokesman Taher al-Nono said.

    “Iran has an interest in the division continuing. Iran realizes the importance of the Palestinian cause from the religious, political and geographic status and, therefore, it wants to control it,” Assaf said.
    If unity was restored and the Palestine Liberation Organization or any legitimate leadership ruled Gaza, Iran would lose its influence, he said.

(7) Emergency talks and negotiations ensue on Monday. On Tuesday, there is an announcement in Cairo of a deal with Egypt, made by the Gaza head of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Energy Authority. But, this deal involves the transfer of Egyptian gas through Rafah to Gaza [not fuel]. This deal is reported by Ma’an News Agency, here.

Here are comments I Tweeted [@marianhouk] yesterday on this announced deal:

27 Mar @Marianhouk
Gaza Power Plant, constructed to run either on indust. diesel or gas, will now be converted to use gas [provided initially by Egypt].

27 Mar @Marianhouk
The World Bank recommended in 2007 that the Gaza Power Plant switching to using gas as fuel, ultimately cheaper then indust. diesel

27 Mar @Marianhouk
Gas will come from Egypt [initially] by terms of agreement signed today in Cairo by Gaza rep of PA Energy Authority – http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=471644

27 Mar @Marianhouk
How fast can this happen? “technicians in Gaza will prepare to install a 30-km pipeline from Rafah to the power plant in Gaza City” via Maan

27 Mar @Marianhouk
Gas cld come to Gaza Power Plant from Palestinian Gaza Marine undersea gas fields in Med, if reconciliation [or if offshore island built]

27 Mar @Marianhouk
“Egy technicians have been instructed 2 conduct geograph surveys 2 find best route for pipelines 2 transport gas from Sheikh Zweid 2 Rafah”

27 Mar @Marianhouk
Gaza rep of PA Energy Authority in Ramallah in Cairo: “the new agreement will increase the plant’s capacity from 40 to 180 Megawatts”. When?

27 Mar @Marianhouk
However, vulnerability of Sinai pipelines will be an issue in new decision signed today to supply Egyptian gas to fuel Gaza Power Plant…

The latest World Bank report on Palestinian economy — told in Tweets

The most interesting report to last week’s Ad Hoc Liaison Committee [AHLC] meeting of major Donors to the Palestinian Authority was that of the World Bank, published in advance on 15 March.

Here is a summary of some of the World Bank points, told in Tweets [by @marianhouk]

********************************************************************************

* The PA has now a “total domestic debt to NIS 4.15 billion [$1.1 billion}”, meaning it has “almost reached the limit” for the domestic banks

* World Bank: in 2011 the PA borrowed from the local banking sector + delayed payments to its private sector, but “unlikely” this can continue

* Palestinian Authority 2012 budget isn’t yet published, but World Bank predicts a gap between needs + funding of over half a billion dollars

* The World Bank worries a “continuation of the current trend of reduction in donor aid would likely aggravate the Palestinian fiscal crisis”

* World Bank [circular reasoning]: West Bank growth slowed due to “falling donor support” + “the uncertainty caused by the PA’s fiscal crisis”

* World Bank: “The Israeli Min of Finance withheld large amt from 4th Q clearance revenues to cover some electricity + net lending arrears

* Israel told World Bank that some PA municipalities have recently not been paying their bills to the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) b/c…

* because the Palestinian Authority has been having trouble making all required transfers to local governments.. [to pay what they owe to IEC]

* Got it? Israel’s Min of Finance complains IEC is getting paid late by villages in the West Bank b/c PA has shortfall in donor funding…

* [or b/c Israel delays transfer to the PA of the VAT+ customs duties Israel collected at its ports + points of entry on behalf of PA]

* “Tax clearance revenues collected by Israel at ports + transferred monthly to the PA constitute the largest source of PA revenues” [70%]

* “However, the PA believes that there is widespread undervaluation + that Israeli Customs rarely questions declarations of WB&G bound goods”

* “Moreover, even if the Israeli authorities penalize Palestinian importers for under-invoicing declarations”, these fines are not given to PA

* …”because the Israeli authorities do not view them as part of the revenue arrangement” – World Bank report to donors for meeting next week

* So, the PA wants Israel’s Finance Ministry to turn over info on tax invoices issued by Israelis to Palestinian traders, including from Gaza

* Palestinian Central Statistics Bureau estimates that Israel imports to PA + Gaza in 2011 were US $2.85 billion [but only Israel knows the real figures]

* The PA is suspicions about this: In 2006, when PA tax officials worked in Gaza, VAT receipts from Gaza were abt 17%… but only 6% in 2010.

* Meanwhile, PA gets a bit less from Israeli-collected VAT on imports of fuel because Gaza decided to buy fuel less expensively from Egypt…

* The PA is also annoyed that Israel raised Allenby Bridge travel fees from $26 to $40, but still only gives $14 to PA [= 60 million NIS lost]

* Israel withheld VAT transfers to the Palestinian Authority in May + November, while US withheld funding from August [due to UN bid], so…

* So, the World Bank warns, failing to support the PA now may “jeopardize the PA’s progress” in building the institutions of a future

*******************************************************************************

Donor Opium: making an argument that needs hearing

Here is an interesting film critical of the role that donor funding has played in making and keeping Palestinians aid-dependent in the occupied West Bank, Donor Opium:

It was produced by Palestinians in the West Bank with funding from the German Rosa Luxemburg Foundation [named after a committed 19th Marxist who starved CORR: see above, here was clubbed and shot to death ].

And, it contains insightful analysis by Palestinian critics of the current situation that does not usually make its way into the mainstream media:
Linda Tabar – Bir Zeit University Center for Development Studies
Iyad ar-Riyahi – Bisan Center for Research and Development
Khaled Nakhleh – Development Expert
Khaled Sabawi – Palestinian entrepreneur
Sani Abdel-Shafei – Business consultant in Gaza

Among the interesting facts: some $9 billion dollars in donor aid has flowed, if not flooded, into the occupied Palestinian territory [West Bank + Gaza] since the start of the Oslo process in late 1993, yet 30% of Palestinians are still classified as poor, and half of them are classified as very poor.

Since the arrival of Salam Fayyad as PA Finance Minister [and also Prime Minister since 2007],
Palestinians in Ramallah alone have signed up for credit that puts them $3 billion in debt

Some 30% of the Palestinian GDP comes from foreign/donor aid.

And, some 20% of the Palestinian budget is spent on security…

UPDATE: More on the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation work in Palestine, from the organization’s website, here:

    “For almost 20 years, the international community has been declaring to work towards “the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state alongside Israel”. Billions of dollars have been spent, thousands of projects implemented and civil society initiatives supported. Yet, there is no state, but an artificially fragmented society in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, in A-, B-, and C-Zones, and beyond. There is a lot of talk about ‘development’, but actual research points to the fact that the Palestinians have been de-developed with the help of international aid

Continue reading “Donor Opium: making an argument that needs hearing”

Punishment: PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad says he can't pay December salaries

A report in YNet tonight tells us that Palestinian Authority [PA] Salaam Fayyad said today that he is unable to pay December salaries in the coming week because of Israel’s withholding of the VAT + Customs taxes it collects for the PA under the 1994 Paris Protocol [part of the Oslo Accords].

YNet doesn’t say exactly where Fayyad made these remarks, but it reported that Fayyad said that “suspension of the tax transfers ‘has both an immediate impact on the lives of all employees and their dependents, some 1 million people … (and) has a devastating indirect impact throughout the whole economy’.”

The same YNet report says that an Israeli official [unnamed] “said Sunday that Israel suspended the transfers temporarily to express its concern over the conduct of Abbas and his government, mainly his quest for recognition of Palestine”.

[n.b. – This refers mainly to the “UN bid” for full membership in the United Nations; Israel has already withheld one month of tax transfers in November because of the 31 October vote in UNESCO to admit the State of Palestine as a full member of the Paris-based agency…]

The YNet article adds that “The Israeli official said Israeli might make decision to withhold the money permanent if Abbas sets up a unity government with Hamas, the Islamic terrorist group that controls Gaza. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with reporters”.
This YNet article can be read in full here.

What is Israel doing, exactly, off Gaza's coast?

Via a Tweet [by the IDF’s own Peter Lerner, @ptrlrnr] on Twitter, our attention was drawn to an Opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times here in which the author, Amos N. Guiora, identified as a professor of law at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, professor, wrote: “Since Hamas gained control in Gaza, Israel has carefully controlled the borders, and it established the sea blockade three miles off Gaza’s shoreline“.

Well, this is a broad brushstroke.

But, before unpacking the various components of the phrase, the last part of the phrase attacks immediate attention: “Since Hamas gained control in Gaza, Israel has … established the sea blockade three miles off Gaza’s shoreline“.

This is puzzling, and warrants close examination.

On 3 January 2009, we published a post on the formal announcement of the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space, here.

After many inquiries, I was informed — some 15 months later — that it was published, supposedly on 6 January 2009, which is three days after it was announced on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Transport [controlled, of course, by the Israeli government].   This does raise some questions — especially as this notice was not published on the main global reference site, which is that of the UK Hydrology Office.

This formal Israeli Notice to Mariners (No. 1 of 2009), entitled “Blockade of Gaza Strip“, is published here.

Since then, however, there has been something new.

We first drew attention to this in a review of the situation we published on 14 July 2010, entitled “Investigation: Gaza’s maritime space”, which is posted here.

This new element is apparently unchanged.

The UK Hydrology Office is the main reference for global maritime claims, and the most recent “National Claims to Maritime Jurisdiction” posted on its website still indicates, as we’ve reported previously, as it has for at least the past year-and-a-half, that Israel claims a 12-Nautical Mile territorial sea — with a footnote: and this Footnote 17 (Israel) states that Israel’s claims are “reduced to 3M off Gaza”.

It appears that Israel is now claiming (and has been since at least the end of 2010), as part of its own territorial sea, some 3 nautical miles off Gaza’s coast. This is the area to which Palestinian fishing has largely been restricted.

The Israeli Navy would, it seems obvious, not put seas that it claims as its own under embargo.

So, if the article Tweeted by the IDF’s Peter Lerner is correct (and if we understand it correctly), then the Israeli-proclaimed maritime embargo starts at 3 miles off the coast and extends to the 20 miles designated in maps attached to the Oslo Accords and signed by the parties and witnessed by the U.S. and Russia.

This would be consistent with information about where other ships have been intercepted by the Israeli navy in the past year or so.

We have previously asked the Israeli authorities about their limits of their naval embargo, and related questions, without response.

Continue reading “What is Israel doing, exactly, off Gaza's coast?”

The Rafah Crossing + the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access

Egypt formally reopened the Rafah crossing today.

Journalists on the scene report that the numbers of Palestinians crossing were fewer than anticipated — apparently partly because of suspicions based on long experience that things might not work out as expected, and partly because of a shortage of money among many in Gaza.

It was one of the top stories on the international agenda today.

The Egyptian decision to reopen the Rafah Crossing appears to be unilateral – though carried out after considerable behind-the-scenes consultations.

By all indications negotiations are still continuing.

Israeli and Palestinian analysts suggest that the Egyptian move appears to be a reward to Hamas in exchange for the essential concessions and compromise that allowed agreement on reconciliation between it and Fatah, the two largest Palestinian movements who have been feuding as each controls a different part of the occupied Palestinian territory.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said in Washington last week with surprising equanimity that the American government was confident that Egypt could handle the security situation at Rafah…

The earlier regime at the Rafah crossing was established in the wake of Israel’s unilateral 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza.

The 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access which technically prevailed at the Rafah border crossing between Rafah and Egypt until today was negotiated over several months with considerable difficulty, and was only be brought to conclusion after the personal intervention of then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an all-night marathon session, on her birthday, 15 November.   It was intended to govern Israel’s immediate relationship to Gaza – which Israel argued was no longer occupied.

Within ten days, the EU managed to put together and deploy the EUBAM border-monitoring mission, and a liaison Office was set up, where EU observers worked together with Israeli and Palestinian Authority personnel.

In addition, Israeli security officials monitored the situation at Rafah in real time by live transmission of video surveillance, and by on-line computer transmissions of all the ID card numbers of the people who were crossing in either direction, Berger said.

One aspect of the Agreement that was constantly violated was the provision that “the passages will operate continuously”.

But, as it happened, the Agreement on Movement and Access was barely implemented, and for a very limited time only.

If Israel told the EUBAM observers to stay home, for example, for security reasons, the Rafah crossing would have to be closed.

The EU Representative to the Palestinian Authority, Christian Berger, explained in an interview in his office in East Jerusalem yesterday that it was originally supposed to cover both people and goods: “the original Agreement of 2005 foresaw that exports could take place right away, and if I remember one truck or two trucks were actually exported in December 2005 to Cairo. If I’m not mistaken, it was children’s toys. And then, nothing much happened. Imports were a different story: imports from the beginning had to come via Kerem Shalom [the Agreement did forsee capacity-building for handling imports direct at Rafah, after a period of one year] … However, during the period of one year, it was foreseen that with the help of the European Union but also with the help of the Israeli customs officials, Palestinian officials would be trained so they could [eventually] handle the imports themselves directly from Egypt. And at the end of that one-year period, an assessment would have been done, to find out whether the capacity was there for handling the imports. There was also a reference in the agreement for cars to be checked – traffic of private cars. Both things never happened – not at all, no. So, imports didn’t happen, and the training didn’t happen, and also the training and the capacity-building for cars didn’t happen”.

Continue reading “The Rafah Crossing + the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access”