Before Peace Talks, the Palestinian Authority Needs to Undergo Political Reform

President Trump is scheduled to meet today with the Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas. Before discussing a renewal of the peace process, Grant Rumley argues, the U.S. must jettison the Obama administration’s policy of ignoring the Gaza Strip and focusing solely on the West Bank. Instead, he writes, the White House should pressure the PA to hold elections in both Gaza and the West Bank so that there will be a Palestinian leader with the authority to negotiate:

A renewed push for a new Palestinian political process will undoubtedly evoke memories of the George W. Bush administration, which insisted on holding elections in 2006 — with the support of Abbas—and inadvertently paved the way for a Hamas electoral victory that the U.S. then refused to recognize. But the Bush administration’s errors were tactical, not strategic. Not enough was done at the ground level to prevent Hamas’s triumph. . . .

[In the 2006] elections Hamas merely won a plurality, not a majority, of votes by gaining 44 percent to [Abbas’s Fatah party’s] 41 percent. Fatah entered the elections with deep divisions over who would be the party’s official candidates, and as such saw many of its disenfranchised members run as independents. . . . Crucial to the success of another round of elections is preventing similar disunity within Fatah.

[It will also be necessary] to place conditions on [candidates’] participation in the elections, . . . such as the renunciation of violence and adherence to the PLO’s prior agreements with Israel. Hamas officials will be posed with a dilemma: renounce violence and participate in the first free and fair elections in over a decade, or refuse and risk looking obstinate and out of touch with the Palestinian people. If the former, the U.S. should feel confident of a unified Fatah’s chances of defeating Hamas. If the latter, then the Palestinian street will see clearly which of the two major parties turned down the chances at democratic representation.

This plan is not without risks. Hamas could participate and win, Fatah could fracture at the last minute, or elections could take place only in the West Bank. And admittedly, the West Bank leadership’s incitement, endemic corruption, and payments to families of terrorists make it far from an ideal peace partner right now. Still, that should not prevent U.S. policy from thinking creatively about Gaza. A Palestinian leader needs both the willingness to sign an agreement and the ability to deliver on its implementation. That is impossible so long as a leader in the West Bank does not, at the very least, have a legitimate claim to Gaza.

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Read more at Politico

More about: Donald Trump, Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Peace Process, Politics & Current Affairs

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war