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Ignored shift that could still ignite troubles
Feb 15,2017 - Last updated at Feb 15,2017
It is hardly surprising that Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for nearly a decade, should elect Yahya Sinwar, a hardliner from its military wing, as its next de facto prime minister to replace moderate Ismail Haniyeh.
He is set to be named leader of the Hamas organisation at home and abroad.
Sinwar’s elevation may signify a victory for Hamas’ military wing over its political wing, while Haniyeh’s assumption of overall leadership may mean the Gaza-bound team has taken over from Khaled Mishaal who is based in the diaspora.
Sinwar previously served as the link between the Hamas military and the politburo, so he has experience in both politics and battle.
He directed operations during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza and was in charge of securing the release of Hamas men from Israeli prisons.
He is said to be a purist who seeks the liberation of all Palestine from Israeli rule.
Hardened by life in Gaza’s crucible, Khan Younis, Sinwar is an uncompromising militant who can be expected to adopt tough lines not only against Israel but also against political dissidents in Gaza, particularly at a time Gazans have complained about Hamas’ mismanagement and corruption.
In June 2007, the movement was welcomed by most sections of Gazan society when it seized power from Fateh.
Hamas imposed security by ending faction fights and kidnapping, introduced reasonably efficient governance and repeatedly attempted to reconcile with Ramallah, which has rejected its overtures.
Unfortunately, Gaza was increasingly isolated, Hamas was corrupted by power, and Israel in 2008-09 and 2014 mounted devastating wars on the strip, killing more than 3,700 Palestinians and destroying houses, public buildings, factories and farmland.
Israel’s control by land, sea and air has been tightened.
The Hamas appointments are not surprising; they come at a time Palestinians have lost all hope of a political settlement due to Israel’s massive colonisation drive in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, adoption of legislation to legalise within Israel rogue colonies built on private Palestinian land, and the failure of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority to forge a strategy to combat colonisation and halt marginalisation of the Palestinian people.
The advent of the Trump administration in the US has left Palestinians confused and fearful.
The new US administration’s fealty to Israel has been widely proclaimed by Donald Trump himself and his closest aides.
Among his advisers is his son-in-law Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew nurtured in a Zionist family, who has been appointed regional strategist with a brief to opt for peace.
During the election campaign, Trump promised to shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Since taking office, however, he said that moving the embassy is “not an easy decision”. But he softened US language on illegal Israeli colonies, saying that they are not “a good thing for peace,” rather than an “obstacle to peace”, the former somewhat tougher formulation.
This week, an unidentified administration official said a deal between Palestinians and Israelis may not involve the “two-state solution” supported by previous presidents and the international community.
The parties would decide. As the stronger party, Israel is, of course, in a position to dictate a deal.
Trump’s first anti-Palestinian action was performed by UN Ambassador Nikki Haley who blocked the appointment of former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad as UN envoy to Libya.
She claimed the US could not “support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nations” since Palestine is not a full member of the world body.
The PLO castigated the US for a move seen as a “cast of blatant discrimination on the basis of national identity”.
The signal sent by Haley’s rejection of Fayyad is not positive.
In a bid to persuade the Trump administration to withdraw its opposition to Fayyad, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has, reportedly, offered Israeli lawmaker Tsipi Livni (a former member of the ruling Likud now in opposition) the job of undersecretary general, an appointment pending UN Security Council approval.
There would be no equivalence between the two posts: Livni would, at least in theory, outrank Fayyad in the UN hierarchy.
If such a deal goes through, the trade-off would be a first. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis have, so far, been employed in the UN bureaucracy.
While Hamas has shifted to a more hardline leadership and Trump seems to have reconsidered policies, Israel is forging ahead with colonisation.
The announcement of the construction of 6,000 new Jewish settler units in the occupied Palestinian territories followed the inauguration of Trump who has not reacted to that specific provocation.
This move was succeeded by the approval by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, of a bill to retroactively “legalise” scores of illegal Israeli outposts built on private Palestinian land.
The measures were dubbed by Israeli moderates and left-wingers as a “land grab”, while right wingers celebrated and called for the extension of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank.
The law, however, could be struck down by the Israeli high court.
Nevertheless, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin appeared to back the call for annexation, saying that Israel should impose its sovereignty on this area and grant Palestinians residing there full citizenship.
“Applying sovereignty to an area gives citizenship to all those living there,” he stated.
Israeli unilaterally and illegally annexed East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights in 1981, both conquered in 1967.
Therefore, extending Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank and giving citizenship to its inhabitants would be feasible, as Jewish Israelis would remain the majority.
This would not be the case if Israel annexed Gaza and its 2 million Palestinians.
It was predicted, several years ago, that in 2016, Palestinians would outnumber Jewish Israelis in the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, and the prediction was realised: today, there are more than 6.4 million Palestinians in this area, compared to 6.1 million Israelis.
What Israelis used to call the “demographic time bomb” has not exploded but fizzled out and has been ignored by Palestinians, Israelis and the international community.
It is not “fake news”, but hard news hard to swallow for Israel and its allies.
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