Category Archives: West Bank

Islamic State Deepens Grip in Future Palestine

by Khaled Abu Toameh

Hamas and other Palestinian groups are continuing to deny the obvious, namely that the Islamic State terror group has managed to set up bases of power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians do not feel comfortable talking about the fact that Islamic State is working hard to recruit Palestinians to its ranks.

The presence of Islamic State in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is an embarrassing development for both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

For Hamas, the fact that Islamic State has long been operating in the Gaza Strip is something that it does not want the world to know about.

Hamas cannot afford a situation where another Islamist terror group poses a challenge to its exclusive control over the Gaza Strip. Since it seized control over the Gaza Strip in 2007, Hamas has successfully suppressed the emergence of rival forces, first and foremost the secular Fatah faction headed by Mahmoud Abbas.

But if until recently it was Fatah that posed a challenge and threat to Hamas’s rule, now it is the Islamic State and its supporters in the Gaza Strip are openly defying the Islamist movement’s regime.

When the first reports about Islamic State’s presence in the Gaza Strip emerged last year, Hamas and other Palestinians were quick to dismiss them as “false.”

Salah Bardaweel, a senior Hamas official, said in February 2014 that the Islamic State “does not exist” in the Gaza Strip.

This week, however, it became evident that Hamas was lying when it denied the presence of Islamic State in the Gaza Strip.

Some 200 supporters of the Islamic State, who held up Islamic State flags, took to the streets of Gaza City to protest the latest cartoons published by the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

The protesters tried to storm the offices of the French Cultural Center in Gaza City. They also chanted slogans that called for slaughtering French nationals, and burned the French flag.

Palestinians waving Islamic State flags attempt to storm the French Cultural Center in Gaza City. Some in the crowd carried posters glorifying the terrorists who carried out this month’s attacks in Paris. (Image source: ehna tv YouTube screenshot)

The protest apparently caught Hamas by surprise. Hamas security forces that were rushed to the scene dispersed the protesters and arrested seven Islamic State supporters.

Attempts by Hamas to impose a news blackout on the Islamic State protest failed, as photos and videos of the demonstration found their way to social media. Needless to say, Hamas-affiliated media outlets ignored the protest. They were hoping that the world would also not see the Islamic State demonstrators on the streets of Gaza City.

Hamas’s biggest fear is that scenes of Islamic State supporters marching in the heart of Gaza City will scare international donors and dissuade them from providing badly needed funds for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. Hamas is also afraid that Western officials working with the United Nations and relief agencies will stop visiting the Gaza Strip after watching the footage of Islamic State supporters.

In recent weeks, it has also become evident that Islamic State has some kind of a presence in the West Bank — a fact that poses a serious threat to Abbas’s Palestinian Authority [PA].

Just last week, Israel announced arrests of members of an Islamic State terror cell in the West Bank city of Hebron. The three Palestinian members of the cell confessed during interrogation that had planned to launch a series of terror attacks against Israel. The three suspects were identified as Waddah Shehadeh, 22, Fayyad al-Zaru, 21 and Qusai Maswaddeh, 23.

Until recently, Hamas was considered the number one threat to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Now, however, it has become evident that Islamic State is also trying to set up bases of power in the West Bank. According to Israeli security sources, dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members in the West Bank have defected to Islamic State in recent months. Their main goal, the sources, said, is to topple the PA and launch terror attacks on Israel.

Abbas is lucky that the Israeli security forces are still operating in the West Bank, including inside cities and towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Were it not for the IDF and various branches of the Israeli security establishment, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Islamic State would have toppled the Palestinian Authority and beheaded Abbas and his officials a long time ago.

Still, Abbas does not feel comfortable acknowledging the fact that a growing number of Palestinians in the West Bank are joining Islamic State. Abbas fears is that if he admits that Islamic State is already operating in the West Bank, this could dissuade many Western countries from supporting his effort to persuade the world to support the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Like Hamas, Abbas also fears that Westerners would stop visiting Ramallah and other West Bank Palestinian cities once they learn about Islamic State’s presence in these areas.

Although Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are continuing to bury their heads in the sand and deny what is there, they cannot avoid responsibility for the emergence of Islamic State in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The glorification of terrorists and jihadists by the PA and the ongoing anti-Israel incitement by both the PA and Hamas, are driving many Palestinians into the open arms of the Islamic State.

This is something that the UN Security Council members will have to consider the next time they are asked to vote in favor of the establishment of a Palestinian state. Otherwise, they will be voting for the creation of an Islamic, and not a Palestinian, state.

Why a Palestinian State Will Become a Source of Instability

by Khaled Abu Toameh

The Palestinians know very well that if and when they have a state of their own, they will never be able to rely on their Arab brethren.

The Arab countries have a long record of turning their backs on the Palestinians, not only with regard to financial aid promises, but even when it comes to basic needs such as medical treatment.

But what will happen after the creation of a Palestinian state? Palestinians say they do not have high expectations that the Arab countries will help them build their state.

Today, it is much easier for Palestinians to receive medical treatment in Israel, Turkey and Germany than in most of the Arab countries.

The tragic case of Razan al-Halkawi, an 11-year-old girl from the Gaza Strip, serves as another reminder of the Arab “betrayal” of the Palestinians.

Al-Halkawi, who has been ill for the past few months, died this week after Egyptian authorities refused to allow her to enter their country for medical treatment.

She and hundreds of Palestinian patients have been unable to leave the Gaza Strip due to the continued closure of the Rafah border crossing. The Egyptian authorities closed the terminal about a month ago after a terror attack in Sinai that claimed the lives of 30 soldiers.

One day after the girl from the Gaza Strip passed away, the Egyptians finally reopened the border crossing for only two days to allow stranded Palestinians on the Egyptian side to return home. Thousands of Palestinians have been waiting for the past four months for the Egyptians to reopen the terminal so that they could enter the Gaza Strip.

Speaking to reporters upon their return to the Gaza Strip, some of the Palestinians voiced outrage over their mistreatment at the hands of the Egyptians.

“The rockets that were falling on us were easier for us than the treatment of the Egyptians,” one woman said.

Another woman, Hind Shaheen, said she left the Gaza Strip several months ago to receive medical treatment for cancer. She had been forced to wait for the past 40 days at the Egyptians side of the border before returning home. During this time, she was deprived of the medical treatment she needs for her cancer.

Shaheen said that the stranded Palestinians were left by the Egyptians without food, money or water.

“The situation there is very serious,” she added, referring to the Egyptian aide of the border. “People were more afraid there than they were during the last war in the Gaza Strip. The Egyptians want the Palestinians to die.”

Others said they were subjected to strict restrictions, including night curfews. “The Egyptians treated each one of us as if we were terrorists,” said an elderly man who was among the lucky ones allowed to cross the border back into the Gaza Strip.

But for the little girl from the Gaza Strip who passed way this week, the partial reopening of the Rafah border crossing came too late.

Her relatives say that tensions between Hamas and Fatah also denied her the chance to receive medical treatment in an Israeli hospital. They claim that the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah turned down a request from Hamas to intervene with Israeli authorities to issue a permit for al-Halkawi to be admitted to an Israeli hospital.

Many other cancer patients from the Gaza Strip are likely to meet the same fate as the little girl due to Egypt’s continued closure of the Rafah border crossing and ongoing tensions between Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas. They are also victims of long-term emotional detachment and apathy of the Arabs toward their Palestinian brethren.

While the Egyptians continue to seal off their border with the Gaza Strip, Israel has become the only hope for the 1.7 million Palestinians living there.

In the period between November 18 and 23, some 2,966 crossed the Erez border crossing with Israel in both directions, according to the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories.

The Erez border crossing between Israel and Gaza. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

In addition, some 1,490 trucks carrying thousands of tons of goods entered the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom terminal along the border with Israel during the same period. The goods consisted of food, construction materials, input for agriculture and medicine products.

How many Arab trucks loaded with goods entered the Gaza Strip over the past month? None.

This is precisely what Egypt and the rest of the Arab countries want: to turn the Gaza Strip into an Israeli, and not Arab, problem.

There is good reason to believe that the Arabs are not going to change their attitude toward the Palestinians once a Palestinian state is established. The future Palestinian state will have to continue relying on Israeli and Western aid in order to survive.

And if Israel and the West do not come to their assistance, the Palestinians will find themselves begging at the doorsteps of Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic State. Then, the future Palestinian state will be anything but a source of stability in the Middle East.

The Latest Push for a Palestinian State

Recent developments in Sweden, the United Kingdom and Ireland exemplify yet another effort to create a Palestinian “state” out of thin air.  Sweden’s new socialist government has recognized “Palestine,” as did non-binding resolution adopted by Britain’s parliament and Ireland’s Senate.

Similar moves elsewhere in Europe are expected shortly.  And there are plans to have “Palestine” accede to various treaties, most notably the one creating the International Criminal Court, thus theoretically rendering Israel liable for “crimes” within the Court’s jurisdiction.

Of course, neither recognizing a fictitious state nor expressing legislative opinions actually creates facts on the ground.  In what passes for “Palestine,” the terrorist group Hamas, aided and financed by Iran’s ayatollahs, continues to rule in Gaza, and on the West Bank, the corrupt, aging and ineffective Palestinian Authority lumbers on.

There is no Palestinian “state” and no prospect for one without dramatic real-world changes that are unlikely in the foreseeable future.

So what is this latest “recognition” campaign about?  Although today’s effort follows a well-trodden historical path, prior attempts never altered the Middle East’s hard realities one iota.

Nonetheless, Palestinian leaders believe, precisely because statehood looks increasingly beyond their reach, that their best hope lies in the blue-smoke-and-mirrors world of the United Nations, where they can create a parallel universe, and then somehow export it back to reality.

Among earlier attempts at prestidigitation was the 1988-90 campaign to make “Palestine” a UN member by imagining a legitimate government where none previously existed, thereby rendering it somehow equivalent to the actual state of Israel.  This prior ploy, only conceivable at the United Nations, began with insisting that the name card in front of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) place as an observer organization be changed to read “Palestine.”  Well, of course.  “Palestine” sounds much more like a real state than “PLO.”

From that momentous decision, the PLO launched an aggressive effort to join specialized agencies of the UN system, the theory being that since almost all UN bodies limit membership to “states,” having the PLO join would further prove that it too had become a “state.”  Failing in 1989, the Palestinians gave up until 2011, succeeding then in being admitted to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

What happened at UNESCO in 2011 compared to 1989-90 dramatically underscores the difference the United States can make when it decides to do so.  In 1989, when the PLO first tried to join the World Health Organization (WHO), and then UNESCO (from which the United States had withdrawn under President Reagan, and which many hoped to coax Washington to rejoin), George H. W. Bush’s administration responded decisively.

Secretary of State James Baker said publicly that he would recommend to Bush that Washington cut off all funding, assessed or voluntary, to any U.N. body that upgraded the PLO’s status toward statehood.  Baker’s threat alone stopped the PLO in WHO and UNESCO.  Moreover, Baker’s statement, later enacted into U.S. law, deterred Palestinian efforts to game the UN system for their own political purposes, right up until 2011 when they sensed that the Obama Administration could be intimidated.

This is the real lesson for American decision-makers contemplating today’s latest flight of fantasy about achieving Palestinian statehood.  Under the U.S. statutes embodying James Baker’s threat, all American funding to UNESCO ceased immediately in 2011 after “Palestine” was admitted, eliminating 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget, the U.S. share of assessed contributions.  Ironically, instead of having the UN world affect the real world, the reverse had happened.  Real-world facts  –  losing tens of millions of dollars in U.S. contributions  –  caused UNESCO devastating consequences.  American defunding also sent a clear signal throughout the UN system, and brought heavy pressure to bear on the Palestinians to cease their UN membership drive forthwith.

What was the difference between the PLO’s failures in 1988-90 and its more-recent successes, and does it provide an augury of what lies ahead for the current diplomatic-recognition campaign?

The answer is simple:  American resolve matters enormously.

Twenty-five years ago, President Bush and Secretary Baker conveyed their determination to squelch fanciful maneuverings in the international system, rather than addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict through direct negotiations between the parties themselves.  United States resolve prevailed.

Under President Obama, by contrast, we saw American weakness, with long lamentations about the devastating effects that would befall UNESCO if U.S. funding were cut off, and promises by Obama diplomats to seek repeals of the legislation axing our contributions.  Sensing weakness, the Palestinians and their supporters struck, something they had feared to do for over twenty years.

Accordingly, today’s Palestinian gambit will turn not on what happens in Stockholm, London or UN headquarters in Turtle Bay.  It will turn on how officials in Washington decide to react.

History is clear:  American strength can stop this effort, and American weakness will facilitate it.

Over to you, President Obama.

This article was originally published by FOX News.

John Bolton