Are potential successors to Mahmoud Abbas making their bid?

First published by the Arab Weekly on 28/5/2017


Who will replace Abbas? Protesters carry pictures of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 3. (AP)

Mahmoud Abbas holds all four of the top political positions in the Palestinian leadership. He is the president of the state of Palestine, president of the Pales­tinian National Authority (PNA), head of the Fatah movement and chairman of the Palestine Libera­tion Organisation’s executive committee.

Once he is unable to discharge these duties either through death or illness, the Palestinian people have been wondering who would take any of or all four roles. After all, Abbas is 82 years old.

The starting position, since they were all held by Yasser Arafat, is that they would be taken by one person and it is reasonable to assume it would be a man. Until the seventh Fatah congress at the end of 2016, Abbas had refused to name a deputy, choosing to rely on the Palestinian Constitution in the event of a successor needing to be found.

Article 37 of the 2003 amended Basic Law states that the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) would take over and elections would be called within 60 days.
There was much speculation about whether Abbas would appoint a deputy and if the position would go to Marwan Barghouti, a long-term political prisoner in Israeli jails who some see as the Palestinian Nelson Mandela.

Abbas chose a deputy but it was not Barghouti. Instead, he picked Mahmoud al-Aloul, former Nablus governor and labour minister in the PNA. While this is a strong indication Abbas would see Aloul as his successor as leader of Fatah, he did not appoint him to be deputy president of the PNA. This, intentionally or otherwise, leaves the door open to other hopefuls who aspire to fill one, if not all, other three key positions in the Palestinian leadership.

The popular Barghouti has been leading a hunger strike, now in its second month, by more than 1,000 political prisoners trying to secure basic rights in Israeli prisons. Israel accused him of instigating the hunger strike to position himself as the strongest candidate to replace Abbas.

The same accusation of leader­ship aspirations through confront­ing Israel has been levelled at another senior Fatah figure. Israel has accused Jibril Rajoub, presi­dent of the Palestinian Football Association, of repeatedly pursu­ing the sanctioning or expulsion of Israel from FIFA, both for its alleged mistreatment of Palestin­ian football players and for allowing teams in settlements to play in its leagues, against FIFA regulations. Rajoub is a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, president of the Palestinian Olympics Committee and former head of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank.

Abbas made sure that another political rival and critic was excluded from Fatah’s seventh congress — Mohammed Dahlan, former head of the Preventive Security Force who was ousted when Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. He now lives in the United Arab Emirates.

Just prior to the congress, the Palestinian Constitutional Court gave Abbas “full authority to cancel the immunity of any parliament member, when the legislative council is not con­vened,” a statement published by official Palestinian news agency, WAFA, said. That would have applied to Dahlan had he decided to enter the West Bank to attend the Congress.

Other possible candidates to succeed Abbas include Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of the revered Arafat and a former foreign minister and Palestinian repre­sentative to the United Nations; Majid Faraj, the current intelli­gence chief; and Salam Fayyad, a former prime minister and finance minister.

With Israel’s emphasis on the security role of the PNA going forward, it is perhaps safe to assume that it would want to see a security-minded candidate emerge as a potential leader to succeed Abbas rather than necessarily the one who is most qualified politi­cally or has the widest possible appeal to Palestinians.

It is also unlikely that anyone from the new generation of possible leaders will break through this time. Expect someone from the old guard to win when Abbas is no longer president.

The Palestinians too should take back control of their destiny

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 12/12/2016

Israeli soldiers in riot gear in East Jerusalem [file photo]

From the Middle East Monitor

2016 will be remembered for a new phrase that came to characterise popular uprisings against “the establishment” in the West. From the UK to the USA, “taking back control” struck a chord with the voters when it was adopted by Donald Trump in America and the leaders of BREXIT in the UK. The now infamous image in the golden lift at Trump Tower of President-elect Trump and UKIP’s Nigel Farage was made possible because voters wanted to take back control and thought they would secure it.

The Palestinians too want to take back control of their destiny but how can they achieve this?

In a year which saw their dreams of liberation, freedom and independence dashed once again, they feel their reliance on others to deliver these aims has simply failed. In reality though, it is their leadership which has failed because it has chosen to rely on others to deliver Palestinian rights, but also because it relies on others to ensure its very existence through funding. The Palestinian Authority has also suffocated attempts by the people to rise up against the occupation either collectively or through individual endeavours. As President Abbas has declared repeatedly, the “security cooperation” with Israel is “sacred”, though he does not admit that it only works one way, protecting Israel and never the Palestinians.

Fatah’s seventh congress

Fatah, the ruling party recently held its congress in Ramallah, the seventh since its establishment in 1959. It included a marathon three-hour speech by its past, present and future (elected by acclimation) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in which he reiterated his strategy for delivering Palestinian rights. In summary its internal strategy included reconciliation with Hamas, holding parliamentary and presidential elections, holding the Palestinian National Council. Its external strategy included continued negotiations with Israel, a “smart intifada”, pursuit of Israel through the ICC and continued “internationalisation” of the conflict through membership of organisations.

Internal matters

The reconciliation with Hamas is essential as a united Palestinian people and leadership can put to bed Israel’s claim that there is no Palestinian partner to negotiate with or that the “moderate” Abbas cannot deliver on any agreements because Hamas runs Gaza. Reconciliation would also allow the Palestinian elections, long overdue, to finally take place. Abbas was firm in his insistence that “there can be no Palestinian state without the Gaza Strip.”

Abbas was not very forthcoming on what he meant by the “smart intifada” or “intifada of brains” though he did ask “the leadership” to be out there resisting peacefully with the people.

External matters

Peace talks have been dormant even since US Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative failed back in 2014 and the subsequent Israeli war on Gaza. Attempts at bringing the two sides together have failed to this day and despite Abbas’ brief meeting with Netanyahu at Shimon Peres’s funeral, the two men have not met. It has not been for lack of trying. Abbas confirmed that although he had accepted an invitation from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to meet Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the latter declined the same invitation.

Attempts by France to bring the two men together and to hold a peace conference have also met with Palestinian acceptance and Israeli rejection. Israel’s spin on the reason for the rejection is that the meeting would follow a French-led peace conference, which it considers an effort to impose a settlement on it. Netanyahu spoke to Hollande and said that “if there is no international conference in Paris, the prime minister will come to meet Abu Mazen [Abbas] for direct talks without preconditions.” Israel further claimed that it will “not take part in an international conference that will not contribute to achieving peace”.

In reality, Israel is watching with satisfaction the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration in the US and expecting to be shielded further from any attempts to make a Palestinian state a reality. Why then should it engage wit Putin, Hollande or any other “broker” when Trump will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and his team do not see the two-state solution as explicitly part of his administration’s strategy?

Options for the Palestinians

The Palestinian leadership has largely relied on unwavering support for the Palestinian cause from the Arab and Muslim world. It regularly consults both about steps it plans to take to ensure they are on board. They in turn have been steadfast in their support for the Palestinians and condemnation of Israel, particularly in international bodies. The Arab League also adopted the Arab Peace Initiative back in 2002, offering Israel normalisation of relations in return for ending the occupation of Palestinian and other Arab land. US Secretary of State John Kerry pushed the Arab states further to including “land swaps” in the initiative back in 2013. Israel has still not accepted the initiative to this day.

Arab states have also worked closely with the Palestinians in the United Nations, putting down resolutions both to the General Assembly and the Security Council. Their efforts in the Security Council have been scuppered by the US veto or US pressure on members that haVE led to potential resolutions falling by default. This included a resolution for the admission of Palestine as a full member. This pushed the Palestinians to the General Assembly to secure an upgrade in Palestine’s status to “Non-Member Observer state” in 2012, perhaps their most notable success in recent years. This was not only because it again demonstrated the overwhelming support for Palestinian rights, but because it allowed Palestine to join a multitude of international organisations and accords. This included the International Criminal Court (ICC) and UNESCO.

The ICC is still considering whether it can bring cases against Israelis involved in the 2014 war on Gaza and illegal settlements. The wheels of justice move slowly and to date the ICC has not declared whether and when it will bring cases against suspected Israeli war criminals. However, in a recent report, the court significantly confirmed that Israel was still in occupation of Gaza and that Jerusalem was illegally annexed. Israel suspects this indicates a leaning by the ICC towards the Palestinian view.

The ICC is one plank of the Palestinian “internationalisation of the conflict” strategy. Another important body is the UN Human Rights Council, which – due to a lack of US veto – often calls out Israeli actions in contravention of international law. The UNHRC produced an important report on the 2014 Gaza war which accused both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes.

A further significant plank of internationalisation is seeking protection for Palestinian cultural and religious sites through UNESCO’s membership. This again showed some success when UNESCO adopted a motion condemning Israel’s activities around Muslim sits in Jerusalem and while this eventually watered down under pressure from Israel’s supporting states; it still showed what the Palestinians can achieve through careful diplomacy and through their own efforts.

On the ground a recent refusal by PA security forces to allow Israeli army vehicles to enter Jenin is very much in line with the Oslo accords which included Jenin in “Area A” which handed security in the city to the PA. Again, an example of how Palestinians can take matters into their own hands using existing accords and international law.

As President Trump moves closer to the White House and having declared his support for Israel including a commitment to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the PA is still banking on a last minute move by the Obama administration. It is sending a delegation to Washington to seek support for or at least an abstention, for a possible UNSC resolution condemning settlements. Despite suspicions that in its last few days the Obama administration may support such a move, I am not hopeful.

This should signal to the Palestinian leadership that relying on the US or other countries that support Israel when it really matters is unlikely to yield results.  They must continue to explore and pursue avenues over which they can exercise some control. It seems that pursuing Israeli violations through international bodies is a sound strategy and the more avenues it can pursue for this the better. Internationalising the conflict is part of the Palestinians “taking back control” of their destiny.

Waleed Shaath is the two millionth reason for ending the siege on Gaza

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 31/10/2016

Waleed Shaath, held by his mother, is the two millionth person born in Gaza on 12th October 2016 [Abed Rahim Khatib/Apaimages]

Waleed Shaath, held by his mother, is the two millionth person born in Gaza on 12th October 2016 [Abed Rahim Khatib/Apaimages]

The news that the population of Gaza has reached the 2 million mark was reported widely in the media but has stirred hardly any real action by the international community to ensure that Waleed Shaath — the milestone Palestinian baby — could look forward to a normal life. Waleed was born on 12 October in Rafah; the town in southern Gaza is probably best known internationally for its crossing to neighbouring Egypt. The immediate question that comes to mind is when will Waleed actually be able to travel out of Gaza through this crossing and what sort of a future can he look forward to?

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) publishes a weekly “Protection of civilians” report documenting incidents in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The report for the period when Waleed was born (4-17 October), makes for reading typical of other reporting periods: two Palestinian deaths, two Israeli deaths and a further 115 Palestinian injuries due to violence by Israeli forces, including 22 children across the OPTs. Israeli forces conducted 178 search and arrest operations and arrested 295 Palestinians in the West Bank; on two occasions, they carried out land-levelling and excavation operations in the vicinity of the perimeter fence with Gaza.

OCHA reports that at least ten incidents involving Israelis opening fire at Palestinian civilians in the Access Restricted Areas (ARA) at land and sea in the Gaza Strip were recorded; while no injuries were reported, two fishermen including a 17-year-old, “were forced to take off their clothes and swim to Israeli naval boats, where they were detained and their boat and fishing nets seized.” A number of rockets were fired towards Israel, causing no injuries, and the Israelis launched air strikes and shelling, which caused no injuries.

The electricity supply in Gaza, which is inadequate at the best of times, deteriorated further during the reporting period with blackouts increasing from 12-16 to 18-20 hours per day on several occasions. OCHA puts this down to “a lack of fuel triggered by recurrent closures during the Jewish holidays, and to the continuing disputes between the Ramallah and Gaza authorities over a tax exemption for the fuel purchased for the plant. This forced the Gaza Power Plant to shut down one of its two operating turbines, affecting the delivery of basic services and undermining vulnerable livelihoods and living conditions.”

Baby Waleed may have been lucky if his parents wanted to travel out of Gaza as the Rafah Crossing was open — exceptionally — for two days (15 and 16 October) in both directions. OCHA reports that 1,368 Palestinians reportedly exited Gaza to Egypt and 1,296 entered. This, remember, is out of a population of 2 million people.

The Palestinians in Gaza are mainly from other parts of historic Palestine; they were forced into exile to make way for the establishment of Israel. Sadly, these refugees have become accustomed to existence under what a friend who returned from Gaza recently called a “medieval siege”, not through choice but reality. Gaza, we are told, will become uninhabitable by 2020. Waleed will be three years old then, and existing in an uninhabitable homeland.

It is natural for anyone who cares about this sort of desperate situation facing fellow human beings to ask who is to blame. If you ask the Palestinians, they will tell you without hesitation that it is the occupying power, Israel, as well as its backers, chiefly the United States, who know the situation but choose not to intervene. Israel and its allies blame the de facto ruling power, Hamas, for the rockets that are fired from Gaza occasionally, and for its unwillingness to adhere to three principles set out by the Middle East Quartet (the UN, EU, Russia and the US – a group established in 2002), which are:

  • a Palestinian state must recognise the state of Israel without prejudging what various grievances or claims are appropriate;
  • abide by previous diplomatic agreements; and
  • renounce violence as a means to achieve goals.

It is important to note that Israel has not adopted or accepted the mirror image of these principles; it does not formally recognise the de facto Palestinian state; it does not abide by its agreements signed with the Palestinians, notably Oslo; and it certainly does not renounce violence as a means to achieve its goals.

The lack of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas does not help the situation and despite renewed efforts, which seem to occur on an almost monthly basis, the prospects for reaching an agreement or implementing existing agreements appear bleak. The Quartet’s most recent reportmade specific recommendations for improving the situation which have thus far fallen on deaf ears.

The Gaza siege is a blight on our humanity. The explicit acceptance by Israel, Egypt and the international community of the collective punishment — illegal in international law — of 2 million people to achieve political goals has brought neither permanent security for Israel nor a change of the ruling party in the enclave.

Each reader can put the Gaza blockade into context without much of a leap of the imagination. What would your situation be like if your city, town, village or region if it was under the same kind of siege for a week, a month, a year or — as in Gaza’s case, ten years? My adopted home town is Birmingham; Britain’s second city has a population of 1.1 million and is at the heart of the road and rail networks passing through the Midlands. I could not possibly imagine being prohibited from travelling in or out of the city as and when I want or need to, while also depending on humanitarian aid, enduring daily attacks by those imposing the siege and losing hope day after day that things will get better.

We owe it to Waleed and those born since his arrival to end this unbelievable suffering. With very day that passes yet another generation will grow up hating their occupier not because of incitement by their leaders but due to the reality of their existence and their perception about who bears responsibility for it.

Report about the Palestine Solidarity Campaign Lobby of Parliament

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9/9/2014

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Lobby of Parliament for Gaza took place on the 9th of September. The main speaker at the briefing was Dr Mustafa Barghouti, who gave a first hand, moving account of the situation in Gaza following Israel’s terrorist attack which left over 2,000 Palestinians dead, mostly civilians. His talk can be accessed here.

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Dr Mustafa Barghouti reported on what he saw in Gaza
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Israel dropped Explosives barrels in Gaza, so much for surgical strikes!

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Hundreds then went to meet their MPs and there was a rousing rally in the evening.

I reminded the attendants that Britain had a moral duty to right the wrong of the Balfour Declaration. The speakers also called for lifting of the siege and an end to arms trade with Israel.

Grahame Mortis MP Chair of the Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East announced that Back Benchers had succeeded in securing a voting debate on 13 October, to recognise a Palestinian State.

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Text if motion for voting debate on 23 October 2014.

The Lobby was covered by the media. Aljazeera report in Arabic can be viewed here.

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Packed Committee room for Rally for Gaza.

Update 28/9/2014

Here is a link to Dr Barghouti’s eyewitness account from Gaza

Israelis are in a ‘moral coma’, Urgent help needed for all our sakes

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Berieved parents following attack on children at Shati camp

This is not an attack to stop rocket fire from Gaza. That may have been the pretext but what we see is a war on the Palestinian civilian population to force it to surrender. Israel has targeted civilians, especially children, homes, hospitals, universities, sewage treatment works, the only electricity generation plant, schools, TV stations,the beach and playgrounds. What it is saying to the Palestinian People is die, see loved ones die and live on the streets, be dependent on aid as quasi prisoners or surrender.

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Gaza’s only power station in flames

Despite the attack now lasting longer than Operation Cast Lead, I have not heard a single Palestinian in Gaza either blame the resistance, ask for an end to the fighting or ask to leave to some other place. They are of course beleaguered but are also resilient.

The message is consistent and clear,they will not accept a ceasefire that keeps the siege in place and they support the resistance ‘to the last child’. This is not because they love death over life, as Islamophobes would have you think or as Israel claims, but because they have had enough of the occupation, siege, humiliation, living on aid and handouts, and with no prospect of the siege being lifted without major sacrifices.

Readers maybe a little sceptical about what I say. They could argue that they have to say this because if they did not, Hamas would kill them. They simply do not understand Palestinian society. What unites Palestinians is their fight for liberation from Israeli occupation. They may support Hamas or not but they will stand behind the ‘resistance’. Israelis need to understand this or continue to believe their deluded leaders that it is all to do with Hamas and that Palestinians loathe them.

Palestinians In the West Bank were cheering the achievements of the resistance even those that disagreed with them politically. Anyone who knows the makeup of Palestinian society and saw the recent demonstrations will understand that they came from across the political and religious spectrum.

Israel knows this but has presented its attack on Gaza as an attack on Hamas (Khamas), thinking Palestinians would be less concerned. It is interesting that despite the very active engagement of Islamic Jihad, Israeli spokespersons hardly ever mention them.

As the terror campaign, and that is what it is, continues and escalates and as casualties among Israeli forces mount, Israel is acting as a depraved animal. It is simply lashing out, using a most devastating arsenal of mainly American weapons. But Israel has failed to achieve either its military target of stopping the rockets or its political objective of toppling Hamas and bringing the PAs control back over Gaza. This despite this war lasting longer than the 2008/9 ‘Operation Cast Lead’.

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Child dies terrorised in Gaza

Israel thinks that it can move Palestinians like cattle from one place to another, demolish their homes, attack their infrastructure, kill them, maim them and win. It relies on so called ‘International Community Support’. It has been nauseating to see Prime Ministers, Presidents and Foreign Ministers alike regurgitating Israeli Foreign Ministry propaganda. “Israel has a right of self defence”, “which other state would allow rockets to be fired at it”, “It is about terror tunnels”, “the only offer on the table us the Egyptian initiative” and now “Gaza must be disarmed”.

The objectives of this war appear to be ‘developing’. Today the tunnels, tomorrow, who knows. What is really worrying for the future is the edits city of the attack and the solid support, indeed joyous celebrations at the obliteration of children, it is enjoying at home. An analyst described it well, I thought when he said in Arabic, Israelis are living in a ‘moral coma’. They have lost their moral campus and allowed hatred to completely take over. Not even the images of tiny torts blown up into bits now troubles them.

Former Prime Minister, Sharon was in a coma for right years. For the sake of not only Palestinians and Israelis, But for all our sakes, I hope they wake up from their ‘moral coma’ without delay.

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Palestine Solidarity Meetings in Birmingham and Wolverhampton

26/6/2014 Birmingham
7:30-9:00

Public meeting: Solidarity with Palestine

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The Vice President of the NUT, Philipa Harvey visited Palestine as part of the NUT delegation last year. She will be reporting on her visit to a meeting organised by the West Midlands Palestine Solidarity Campaign and sponsored by the Birmingham Trades Council. It will be an opportunity to hear her assessment of the difficulties Trade Unionists in Palestine face living under occupation. As a teacher she would have been particularly interested in the difficulties children face growing up under occupation. We will also hear from those campaigning on behalf of the Hares Boys who are facing attempted murder charges. The Boys are going to be tried in the Military courts. Please join us at this meeting and invite your friends and family to join us. We might consider a delegation of regional Trade Unions and other activists to Palestine in the near future.

27/6/2014 Wolverhampton
7:00-8:45

After Kerry: what next for peace and justice in Palestine?

SPEAKERS: Kamel Hawwash (West Midlands Palestine Community Association and Vice Chair of Palestine Solidarity Campaign) Rob Marris (Prospective Labour Party Candidate for Wolverhampton South West)

The meeting will reflect on the end of the Kerry-led peace talks in the light of the US Secretary of State concluding remarks ‘Israel could become an Apartheid state’. Kamel Hawwash is a leading Palestinian in the West Midlands will report on what is happening inside the occupied territories and examining how the solidarity movement should respond.

Rob Marris campaigned relentlessly for Palestine when he was last an MP and will be exploring Labour Party policy in the middle east if the Palestine Solidarity Movement can influence a future Labour Government.

7.30pm (refreshments and craft stall from 7:00pm)
>

Is Netanyahu’s divide and rule strategy unravelling?

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Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert enjoyed periods of rule during which the Palestinians, or to be more accurate Fatah and Hamas, have been divided. The divisions which started in 2007 have remained largely intact since then and through pretty turbulent times in the Middle East. Repeated attempts at reconciliation under the auspices of a number of Arab countries failed. That is until President Abbas realised that the ‘peace talks’ were faltering and Israel was acting to ensure they failed.

Events moved quickly then and suddenly the two factions came to what seemed an uncomfortable truce. This was the. Quickly followed with the announcement of a Palestinian Unity Government, which had no partisan ministers. Netanyahu had to quickly invent the phrase ‘backed by Hamas’ as he could not say including Hamas. Either way Netanyahu quickly demonstrated that who ever sat in front of him from the Palestinian side either to administer the territories or to negotiate was not acceptable. In fact anything resembling a just peace would be unacceptable.

Netanyahu’s attempts to pressure the International Community to boycott the new Government failed because his actions during the talks had even pushed the Americans to the limit. They deiced to work with the new Government and to judge it by its actions. That continued until three Israelis went missing in the West Bank, hitch hiking back to their homes.

Israel responded as expected, with intimidation and collective punishment of the Palestinians in Hebron but then more widely in the West Bank and even in Gaza. The claim was that the Israelis were taken by Hamas in the West Bank. This, five days later is still unproven. Even Abbas is warning of consequences to the reconciliation deal if it is proven that Hamas was behind the incident.

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Abbas has appealed for the release of the settlers and warned of the dire consequences to the Palestinain Authority of failure to do so speedily. Netanyahu responded with his usual arrogance, belittling this effort despite the acknowledgement of good cooperation between the two security forces. He has called on Abbas to end the unity Government as a demonstration of his seriousness. But Netanyahu can hardly place the blame for the incident on the Unity Government. It has only been place for days, has ministers with no political affiliation and Abbas said it was following his policies. So why call for its end? What would this achieve?

The division between Hamas and Fatah has for years resulted in a low cost occupation and a lack of seriousness, to put it mildly, by Israel to negotiate for peace. The recent incident in Hebron and Israel’s reaction can easily trigger a third intifada. That will further unite the Palestinians.

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Netanyahu is on a run of failed policies including that of rallying support for an attack on Iran. His attempt to drive a wedge between Hamas and Fatah seems to be a continuation of his recent failure. It looks like the divide and rule policy is also unravelling.