Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
(Photo: Ariel Hermoni for the Israeli Defense Ministry, July 27, 2009).
The shopping festival in Nablus, a manifestation of the city's improved economic situation after the removal of the IDF roadblocks.
The calm in the western Negev continues. Hamas refrains from firing rockets into Israel and its senior figures emphasize for Western ears its policy of restraint. Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha told a New York Times correspondent that �the fighters needed a break and the people needed a break.� According to the New York Times report, the decision to suspend rocket fire was �partly the result of popular pressure,� and occurred because people were questioning the value of the rockets, which they regarded as relatively ineffective.
This past week the American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and American special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell both visited Israel . Mitchell met with the top figures of the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. He said that that �to help achieve comprehensive peace, President Obama has asked all involved to support our effort...� He praised the steps taken by Israel to improve freedom of movement for the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria . However, he demanded that Israel take �meaningful measures,� which include �dealing with difficult issues like settlements and outposts.�
There has been an increasing number of reports that the measures taken by the IDF in Judea and Samaria to ease daily life of the Palestinians, including the dismantling of roadblocks at key locations, has already improved the Palestinians' economic situation. It is particularly conspicuous in Nablus , where a shopping festival is taking place (attended by Israeli Arabs as well). The festival features shopping and cultural and artistic events.
The Gaza Strip
Rocket and mortar shell fire
The relative quiet in the western Negev continues. During the past week there were no rocket hits in Israeli territory and no mortar shells were fired.
However, the terrorist organizations continue attacking IDF patrols and civilians near the border fence. On July 23 light arms were fired from the Gaza Strip at a group of Israeli civilians working near the Sufa crossing. There were no casualties. After the incident an Israeli force patrolling in the area was fired at. The Kamal al-Neirab faction of the Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for the attack (Popular Resistance Committees website, July 23, 2009).
Rocket and mortar shell fire into Israeli territory
since the end of Operation Cast Lead1
Judea and Samaria
Fatah terrorist operative detained
Nasser Abu Kishk, a Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorist operative wanted by the security forces, was detained in the Askar refugee camp in Nablus on July 24. In recent years he was involved many terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria . One of them was the shooting attack at the settlement of Yizhar in March 2001, which seriously wounded Gilad Zer, the security officer for the Samaria Regional Council (he was killed in another shooting attack a month and a half later). The detained operative also carried out many shooting attacks against IDF forces operating in Nablus , and also killed a Palestinian resident of Nablus suspected of collaborating with Israel . Abu Kishk recently dealt extensively in arms and was in contact with other terrorist operatives who planned attacks against the IDF (IDF Spokesman's website, July 24, 2009).
Molotov cocktails and stones thrown in Judea and Samaria
Molotov cocktails and rocks continue being used for attacks in Judea and Samaria :
July 22 : Two Molotov cocktails were thrown at an Israeli vehicle east of Qalqilya. There were no casualties and no damage was done.
July 26 : An IDF force detained a Palestinian preparing to throw a Molotov cocktail north of Nablus .
July 26 : A Molotov cocktail was thrown at an Israeli bus southwest of Bethlehem . There were no casualties and no damage was done.
Economic situation improves following IDF easing of restrictions
With the improvement in security, during the past months the IDF eased restrictions throughout Judea and Samaria , significantly facilitating the Palestinians' freedom of movement . During June a number of central roadblocks were dismantled in Ramallah (June 3), Qalqilya (June 5), Nablus (June 16) and Jericho (June 17).
The southern entrance to Jericho after the roadblock was dismantled.
The dismantling of the roadblocks led to an improvement in the economic situation in Judea and Samaria , reviving commerce in the cities. It also encouraged Arab Israelis to return to the Judean and Samarian markets (which they avoided until now because of the long delays at the roadblocks). In addition, new businesses have been opened in the central cities, including a movie theatre in Nablus and a new mall in Jenin .
The new shopping mall in Jenin (Pictures from the mall's website.)
The revival of commerce is especially evident in Nablus , which was the terrorism capital during the Palestinian terrorist campaign against Israel (the second intifada). On July 15 Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad launched the Nablus Shopping Festival, which will last for a month. Its objective is to encourage the city's economy now that the roadblocks surrounding it have been dismantled. The festival includes shopping, cultural and artistic events. One of its attractions was breaking the Guinness Book of Records ' record for the largest tray of kanafeh (a sweet Middle Eastern cheese delicacy) in the world ( 74 meters , or 243 feet long, 1.5 meters , or 5 feet wide, and weighing 765 tons). On one day 100,000 people participated in the festival events, among them 13,000 Israeli Arabs. At the Salam Fayyad government's weekly meeting, it was remarked that Nablus had become � a place of hope, security and stability .�
The shopping festival in Nablus
The positive results of the Israel 's easing of restrictions were mentioned by a Canadian columnist Patrick Martin on The Globe and Mail 's website (July 24). He described the surge in building in Ramallah and its modern coffee houses and clothing stores. He noted that in Jenin , considered the most violent city in Judea and Samaria , the Palestinians now enjoy a five-story shopping mall. Many shoppers are Israeli Arabs who have received permission to enter the Palestinian Authority.
Martin's report focused on Nablus , where, he said, the greatest changes were taking place. Nablus residents can now move freely and leave the city, which has led to an economic revival. One female Nablus resident said that they were so happy the roadblocks were dismantled that they have forgotten �all about the bigger conflict� with Israel . Martin noted that in Nablus dozens of stores had recently been opened, including many women's clothing stores, and that there is a new movie theatre, the first in 25 years. There is even a family country club with a pool, spa, courts for various sports and restaurants. Four hundred and fifty families have already joined, paying $1000 for a one-year membership.
The Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead
Hamas�s policy of restraint and the criticism voiced against it
Senior Hamas figures keep telling the West that Hamas is committed to its policy of restraint. Mahmoud al-Zahar, one of those figures, said that Hamas would not fire rockets as long as Israel did not attack (BBC Radio in Arabic, June 25). Ayman Taha, another senior figure, told The New York Times that �Armed resistance is still important and legitimate, but we have a new emphasis on cultural resistance � The current situation required a stoppage of rockets. After the war, the fighters needed a break and the people needed a break � [ITIC emphasis] (Ethan Bronner, The New York Times , July 24). According to the article, Hamas decided to suspend the launching of Qassam rockets because of �popular pressure� and because people were questioning the value of the rockets, which they regarded as relatively ineffective.
Hamas's policy of restraint has come under severe criticism from radical Islamic organizations (such as the Islamic Liberation Party) and local groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad. Hamas has been accused of abandoning the principle of jihad (one of the pillars of Islam) in order to strengthen its control over the Gaza Strip. Criticism has been voiced in the media associated with the various Islamic jihadist networks. For example, the website of the Army of the Nation, a network affiliated with Al-Qaeda which in the past was involved in firing rockets into Israeli territory, 2 proclaimed: �Islamic community of believers! The internal security forces break into our homes and frighten our women and children. If the Hamas government is the government of resistance and jihad as it claims, it must defend the jihad fighters and provide them with the money and arms it collects in the name of Islam, Muslims, jihad and jihad warriors� (The Army of the Nation's mujahideen forum, June 25, 2009).
The terrorist organizations continue actively rebuilding the military networks damaged during Operation Cast Lead
Hamas exploits the calm to rebuild its military-terrorist wing implementing lessons learned during Operation Cast Lead. A surfer on a Fatah forum reported that recently that Hamas's the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades instituted a broad training program , including theoretical studies which took place in a number of mosques. Training in the field was provided at Hamas posts and training camps. According to the surfer, a number of operatives were killed during the training (Fatah forum, July 25, 2009). Note : The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades website did in fact report that there was an explosion at a Hamas post, and that a military operative was killed in what was referred to as �a preparation and mission operation� (Al-Qassam website, PalToday website, July 20, 2009). Hamas is also working to increase the range of its rockets ( The New York Times , July 24, 2009).
On July 22 a young boy was critically wounded by a stray bullet fired during training by an operative belonging to the military-terrorist wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, northwest of Khan Yunis (Hamas's Palestine-Info website, July 22, 2009). On July 24 the Palestinian Islamic Jihad held a mass rally in Khan Yunis to commemorate its fallen operatives. The rally included a military display of armed members of the Jerusalem Battalions, the organization's military-terrorist wing (Jerusalem Battalions website, July 24, 2009).
Palestinian Islamic Jihad�s rally and the Jerusalem Battalions� military display
(PalToday website. July 24, 2009).
Convention of the Islamic Liberation Party (hizb al-tahrir) in Gaza , July 22
Palestinian Liberation Party activist and the map of the world with colors which in our assessment indicate countries which are currently or were once Islamic. The map has no legend. The inscription above the map is a Qur'an verse (Sura Al-Nur, Verse 55): �Allah promises those among you who believe and lead a righteous life, that he will make them sovereigns on earth, as he did for those before them, and will establish for them the religion...� (PalToday website, July 22, 2009).
Convention of Palestinian Liberation Party activists.
The Gaza Strip crossings between Israel and Egypt
This past week humanitarian assistance was delivered into the Gaza Strip in an uninterrupted flow at the rate of 100 trucks a day through the Israeli crossings. On July 27 a delegation of eight American Congressmen entered the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing. They met with the UNRWA director in the Gaza Strip and visited areas hit during Operation Cast Lead, and it was reported that the delegation did not meet with elements within Hamas (Ma'an News Agency, July 27, 2009).
On July 22 and 23 the Rafah crossing was opened, and 115 Palestinians entered the Gaza Strip from Egypt (German News Agency, July 23, 2009).
The smuggling tunnels continue to claim victims. On July 26 one Palestinian was killed, two were wounded and five were missing after a fuel pipeline exploded in one of the tunnels in the Rafah area (Ma'an News Agency, July 26, 2009). On July 27 three additional bodies were removed from the tunnel (Ma'an News Agency, July 27, 2009).
The continued Islamization of the Gaza Strip
The justice ministry of the Hamas de-facto administration recently held a workshop to discuss ways of implementing the public code of ethics (in the spirit of Islam) which was ratified by the de-facto administration on June 9 (Interior ministry website, July 22). The Hamas de-facto administration continues issuing regulations, instructions and laws to enforce the Islamic moral code and Islamic laws in the Gaza Strip. For example:
The supreme judicial council issued an edict instructing lawyers to wear traditional Islamic dress ( which for women lawyers included a head covering ) when they appeared in court (Ma'an News Agency, July 26). The announcement was harshly criticized by various judicial bodies and human rights organizations (Agence France Presse, July 26, 2009).
During a political convention of the Hamas de-facto administration's popular committee for refugee affairs , criticism was directed at the UNRWA decision to turn its schools into coeducational institutions starting this school year. The committee demanded that the decision be reversed because it was contrary to Islamic values, and called on UNRWA's director to meet with it to resolve the problem. Elements within Hamas even threatened to take harsher steps against UNRWA if the decision were not reversed (Sawt Al-Aqsa website, July 23, 2009). In the past, Yunis al-Astal, a senior Hamas figure in the Gaza Strip, accused UNRWA of holding coeducational summer camps which caused the deterioration of the morals of Gazan youth (Alarabia.net, July 26, 2009).
Bomb explodes at a wedding of the Dahlan family in Khan Yunis
On the night of July 21 a bomb was thrown at the wedding party of Muhammad Dahlan's nephew in Khan Yunis, killing four and wounded 50. On July 22 two Palestinians were arrested in Khan Yunis after Hamas claimed they had been involved in the attack (PalPress website, July 22, 2009). Fatah accused Hamas, while Hamas said the attack had been caused by the rivalry within Fatah or carried out by extremist Islamic networks operating in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the Iranian threat
between senior Israeli and American figures
This past week George Mitchell, American special envoy to the Middle East, and Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, visited Israel . They held a series of meeting with top Israeli figures and discussed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the Iranian threat.
On July 26 Mitchell met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and on July 27 with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Mitchell praised the steps taken by Israel in the Judea and Samaria to improve the Palestinians' freedom of movement. He told President Peres that American President Obama was making an effort to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region. He said that for the Palestinians , it meant expanding and improving their security forces, taking action against incitement and refraining from any words or deeds that might make it more difficult to move quickly toward successful negotiations. The Israelis , he said, had to make possible improved access and movement and economic growth for the Palestinians, and deal with difficult issues like settlements and outposts. For the Arab states , he said, that meant meaningful steps toward normalization of relations with Israel (From communications issued by the office of the president's spokesperson and an announcement from the defense minister's press advisor).
On July 27 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his team and American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates held a working meeting where they discussed bilateral and regional issues related to politics, security and strategy. Part of the meeting was devoted to Iran . Secretary Gates said that the United States and Israel saw eye to eye regarding Iran's nuclear threat and that the current American policy toward Iran would have a time limit Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated the great seriousness with which Israel viewed Iran's nuclear ambitions and the need to do whatever it took to prevent Iran from achieving military nuclear capabilities (Israeli Prime Minister's website, July 28). After meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on July 27, Secretary Gates held a press conference where he said that Israel and the United States were fully in accord regarding the negative implications of Iran 's having nuclear weapons, and again noted that the current American policy toward Iran had a time limit (Al-Arabiya TV, July 27, 2009).
The meeting between George Mitchell and senior figures in the Palestinian Authority
On July 27 George Mitchell met in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. He held a joint press conference with Saeb Erekat, chief PLO negotiator, where he said that President Obama was interested in having both sides return to substantial negotiations as quickly as possible. He said that both sides had to take a number of steps, some of them difficult and controversial. He also said that American foreign policy favored investing efforts in achieving a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon , which would include the normalization of relations between Israel and its neighborhoods.
Saeb Erekat said at a press conference that the American envoy told Mahmoud Abbas that America and Israel had no agreement regarding the settlements, and that the American position that both sides meet the commitments of the Road Map had not changed. According to Erekat, Mahmoud Abbas told Mitchell that there was no interim solutions for the settlements and demanded that Israel meet its commitments as stated in the first article of the Road Map. Mahmoud Abbas told Mitchell that the Palestinians would continue meeting all their commitments according to the Road Map (Wafa News Agency, Al-Jazeera TV International, July 27, 2009).
On the eve of the meetings, Palestinian Authority spokesmen stressed how important the issue of the Israeli settlements was for the Palestinian side. The Salam Fayyad government called on the international community, the Quartet and the American envoys to take practical steps to stop Israel from building in the settlements (Wafa News Agency, July 27). On July 22 at a press conference held after he met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Sultanov, Mahmoud Abbas demanded that the Israeli security fence be dismantled (Palestinian Television, July 22). [Note: The fence prevented many terrorist attacks and penetrations into Israeli territory.] According to a report in the Israeli evening paper Ma'ariv , Saeb Erekat asked the American administration to have Israel dismantle the fence because, he claimed, it caused suffering for the Palestinians and it was no longer necessary because of the quiet on the West Bank now that the terrorist attacks had stopped (Ben Caspit, Ma'ariv , July 22, 2009).
Hamas continues its campaign of smiles for the West
Hamas continues trying to make itself seem pragmatic to the West without changing its fundamental positions. In talking to Western media (e.g., The New York Times , BBC Radio) it reiterates that it refrains from firing missiles into Israel territory.
As to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the dialogue between Hamas and the West, this week the most prominent statements were the following:
Ismail Haniya , head of the Hamas de-facto administration, preaching the Friday sermon at a mosque in Khan Yunis, said that Hamas was willing to adopt the principle of �liberation through stages.� That is, Hamas would not pose obstacles to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state with the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as its capital. However, he said that did not mean ceding the rest of the [Palestinian] land or recognizing the State of Israel, but rather it was a strategic option meant to end the so-called �occupation.� He also said that the �resistance� [i.e., terrorism] was a strategic alternative the Palestinians would continue to cling to (Al-Aqsa TV, July 24, 2009).
Ahmed Yussef , deputy foreign minister of the Hamas de-facto administration, said that Hamas did not object to negotiations about the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. He said that international elements wanted Hamas to participate in a convention regarding the Palestinian cause. He said Hamas continued knocking on the Americans' door and kept sending messages to the Americans through various channels ( Al-Shurouq , July 23, 2009).
Ismail Radwan , senior Hamas figure in the Gaza Strip, said that the international community now regarded Hamas as a factor whose value could not be underestimated, and that no step taken in the Middle East would succeed without Hamas participation. He refused to differentiate between �moderate� and �extremist� within Hamas, saying that Hamas had one position to which the entire movement was committed (QudsPress website, July 26, 2009).
Fawzi Barhoum , a Hamas spokesman, said that positive progress had been made in the international attitude toward Hamas, proof of which was the British decision not to sell weapons to Israel and its call for a dialogue with Hamas (Radio Sawt Al-Aqsa, July 26, 2009).
Taher al-Nunu , Hamas de-facto administration spokesmen, said that Hamas welcomed the opportunity for a dialogue with the international community (BBC, July 26). Musa Abu Marzuq , deputy head of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus , said that any serious dialogue [with Hamas] had to be held without preconditions (BBC, July 26, 2009).
The Internal Palestinian Arena
The sixth general Fatah convention
Preparations for the sixth general Fatah convention, expected to be held in Bethlehem on August 4, continue. Some of the representatives have already arrived from abroad. The unrest among the younger generation continues on the grounds that they are poorly represented. So far it is still unclear whether the convention will take place, because Hamas refuses to allow Fatah activists to leave the Gaza Strip .
Four hundred Fatah activists are expected from the Gaza Strip, among them senior figures such as Zakaria al-Agha and Ibrahim Abu al-Naja. Through Egyptian mediation, Fatah has asked Hamas to allow its activists to participate in the convention, but Hamas has conditioned its agreement on the release of its own activists detained by the Palestinian Authority (Interview with Mahmoud al-Zahar, Agence France Presse, July 24). Senior Fatah figures, among them Nabil Shaath, said the convention might therefore be postponed. So far no solution has been found.
The logo of the sixth Fatah convention as it appeared on the Fatah forum site. It says that the Sixth General Convention of the Fatah movement is a historic opportunity to decide fateful internal issues.
Picture appearing on the Hamas forum site attacking Fatah. The inscription reads �Fatah has no religion.�
1 The statistics do not include the mortar shells fired at IDF soldiers patrolling the border fence which fell inside the Gaza Strip.
2 For further information see our November 19, 2008 bulletin � During the recent rocket attack from the Gaza Strip, the Army of the Nation, an organization affiliated with Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for rocket fire targeting the western Negev and Ashqelon .�