American President Obama watches as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in New York
(Photo: Kevin Lamarque for Reuters, September 22, 2009).
This week the increase in rocket, mortar shell and light arms attacks from the Gaza Strip continued, carried out by “rogue” terrorist networks. The increase has been moderate because so far Hamas has not changed its policy of restraint. This week the Israeli Air Force struck two terrorist squads, killing three Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives as they arrived at a rocket launching site. There were a number of public disturbances in Jerusalem which began on the Temple Mount, during which Israeli policemen and Palestinians sustained minor injuries. The disturbances spread to Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
A tripartite meeting was held in New York, attended by American President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The meeting (which took place in the shadow of the Iranian threat, the focus of most of international diplomacy) was described as businesslike but not warm. Declarations made by senior Israelis and Palestinians indicated that fundamental differences between the sides remained (e.g., the issue of the settlements, among others) which made it difficult to relaunch the negotiations effectively. The talks between Israel, the United States and the Palestinians are expected to continue in Washington at the beginning of October.
Rocket and mortar shell fire
This past week the increase in rocket and mortar shell attacks from the Gaza Strip continued. Three rocket hits were identified in open areas near communities in the western Negev (The Palestinians fired other rockets which landed inside the Gaza Strip.) One mortar shell was fired. There were no casualties and no damage was done. Shots were fired at IDF patrols and Israeli civilians working near the security fence.
Since the beginning of August 2009 there has been a certain increase in the amount of rocket and mortar shell attacks on western Negev communities and in the number of shooting attacks targeting IDF forces and Israeli civilians near the security fence. So far the increase has been moderate because Hamas does not, at present, participate in rocket fire into the western Negev and continues its policy of restraint.
The main attacks were the following:
September 22: Shots were fired at IDF forces operating near the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip. There were no casualties and no damage was done (IDF Spokesman, September 22, 2009). Operatives of the military-terrorist wing of the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the rocket fire (PFLP website, September 22, 2009).
September 23: Civilians were shot at while working near the Sufa crossing. There were no casualties (IDF Spokesman, September 23, 2009).
September 24: A rocket hit was identified near a community in the western Negev. There were no casualties and no damage was done. In response, the IDF fired mortar shells at the squad which had launched the rocket. The Jund Ansar Allah network, affiliated with the global jihad, claimed responsibility for the attack (Ma’an News Agency, September 24, 2009).
September 25: A rocket hit was identified in an open area in the western Negev and a mortar shell was also fired at the western Negev. There were no casualties and no damage was done. The Ayman Judeh squad of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the military-terrorist wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attacks (Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades website, September 26, 2009).
September 25: Civilians working south of the Kissufim crossing were shot at. There were no casualties.
September 26: An IDF force shot at a group of Palestinians approaching the fence in the northern Gaza Strip. The event took place during the funeral of three Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives killed in an Israeli Air Force attack (see below).
September 27: A rocket hit was identified near a community in the western Negev. There were no casualties and no damage was done. The IDF fired mortar shells in return at the source of the rocket fire.
September 27: Shots were fired at the security fence near the Kissufim crossing. There were no casualties.
Rocket and mortar shell fire into Israeli territory
since the end of Operation Cast Lead 1
Israeli Air Force strike
During the past week the Israeli Air Force struck squads of rocket launchers both as preemptive strikes and in response to rocket attacks on western Negev communities (some of the attacks may have been in response to the strikes):
- On September 25 the Israeli Air Force struck a squad of Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives in the northern Gaza Strip preparing to fire rockets into Israeli territory (IDF Spokesman, September 25, 2009). It was the first time a preemptive strike was carried out since Operation Cast Lead (so far the Israeli Air Force has only struck in response to rocket attacks). The strike came after the operatives got out of their vehicle and began unloading equipment. Three operatives were killed. One of them was Kemal Dahdouh, the son of Khaled Dahdouh, who was the Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander in the Gaza Strip. Another was Mahmoud Al-Banna, brother of one of the heads of the organization, who carried out a suicide bombing attack in Israel. The squad recently fired a number of rockets into the western Negev, including one at the southern city of Sderot on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Hamas issued a statement denouncing the Israeli strike, calling it the direct result of the meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister (Hamas’ Palestine-Info website, September 25, 2009).
Strike on Gaza rocket launching squad
(IDF Spokesman, September 25, 2009).
- On September 28 the Israeli Air Force struck a rocket launcher in the northern Gaza Strip which was ready for firing, destroying it (IDF Spokesman, September 28, 2009). Palestinian sources reported that one person sustained minor injuries, apparently a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist operative (Hamas’ Palestine-Info website, September 28, 2009).
Judea and Samaria
Riots in East Jerusalem
There were a number of public disturbances in East Jerusalem over the weekend. They began when a group of tourists entered the Temple Mount with a permit and accompanied by policemen. A group of about 150 Muslims who had gone to pray gathered around them and shouted offensive remarks. Some of them began throwing stones. The police fired shock grenades in an attempt to control the disturbance. Fourteen policemen and 17 Palestinians sustained minor injuries. Eleven suspects were detained. Following the riot the Temple Mount was closed (Ynet, September 25, 2009).
The events at the Al-Aqsa mosque photographed by passersby and
broadcast live by Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV (September 25, 2009).
The events were followed by a wave of condemnations by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The terrorist organizations made threats, appealed to Muslims and Palestinians to protect Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque and in one instance called for a third intifada. Protest demonstrations were held throughout Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
During the days after the public disturbances, they spread to other parts of East Jerusalem, which included stones thrown at police in the Old City; three Border Policemen sustained minor injuries. On the eve of Yom Kippur there were violent incidents in the village of Issawiya, north of Jerusalem. Dozens of young Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails and stones at the Israeli police and Border Police, and burned tires. Five policemen were injured. On September 28 two Molotov cocktails were thrown at Jewish houses in Silwan (East Jerusalem). There were no casualties and no damage was done (Ynet, September 28, 2009).
Demonstrations in the Gaza Strip protest the events in Jerusalem.
Left: Women protesting (Al-Aqsa TV, September 28, 2009).
Right: Protest attended by senior Hamas figures (Al-Jazeera TV, September 27, 2009).
The main responses of the Palestinian Authority were the following:
- The Salam Fayyad government congratulated the Palestinians who went to the Temple Mount to “foil the attempt of extremist settlers to break in [to the compound].” According to the statement, their objective was to influence the final arrangement negotiations and to strengthen Israel’s control over East Jerusalem (Wafa News Agency, September 28, 2009).
- Saeb Erekat, chief PLO negotiator, denounced what he claimed was “Israeli escalation” and Israel’s attempt to present a fait accompli. He said that peace would be meaningless unless East Jerusalem were the capital of the Palestinian state (Voice of Palestine Radio, September 27, 2009).
- Hatem Abd al-Qader, a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council and responsible for the Jerusalem portfolio, called on the residents of Jerusalem and Israeli Arabs to increase their presence in the Al-Aqsa mosque. He said that the residents of Jerusalem would not sit idly by while an attempt was made to attack the mosque, even at the price of casualties (Wafa News Agency, September 26, 2009).
Hamas’ responses were the following:
- Ismail Haniya, head of the de facto Hamas administration, said that the Israel activity was a serious escalation (Hamas’ Palestine-Info website, September 27, 2009). He appealed to the secretary general of the Islamic Conference and demanded a special meeting to prepare a program for the protection of Jerusalem.
- The Palestinian Legislative Council said in a statement that it deplored the events at the Al-Aqsa mosque and warned Israel that there would be consequences. It called on Palestinians throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians abroad to demonstrate against Israel. According to the statement, Al-Aqsa would be liberated only by the “resistance” [i.e., terrorism] (Qudsnet website, September 27, 2009).
- Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’ military-terrorist wing, said that what he called “the continuing aggression against Al-Aqsa ” was “a very serious sign” and that there would be repercussions. He said that the “resistance” [i.e., the terrorist organizations] in general and the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades in particular would not sit by idly while the mosque was attacked (Al-Bayan Center website, Gulf States, September 27, 2009).
- The Palestinian Islamic Jihad said in a statement that the serious events in Jerusalem were “the preamble” to a bigger Israeli show of aggression. Khaled Batash, senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad figure, said that Israel’s “aggression” against the mosque was proof of “serious escalation” and the beginning of a new stage of “Israeli aggression” (Hamas’ Pal-today website, September 27, 2009).
The Israeli security forces continued their counterterrorism activities, detaining suspected terrorists. During the past week there were a number of incidents, primarily Molotov cocktails thrown at Israeli vehicles. The most important were the following (IDF Spokesman):
September 23: Light arms were fired at an Israeli Border Police post east of the village of Azzariya in East Jerusalem. In response the IDF soldiers stationed at the post shot at a number of suspected terrorists. There were no casualties and no damage was done. A network calling itself the Imad Moughnieh squads of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades-Al-Aqsa Martyrs claimed responsibility for the attack (Qudsnet website, September 24, 2009).
September 24: A Palestinian arrived at an IDF post at the entrance to the village of Adorayim south of Mt. Hebron and threw a detonator at it. The soldiers detained him and found a knife in his possession.
September 24: Palestinians threw stones at Israeli vehicles west of Bethlehem and southeast of Qalqiliya. There were no casualties but the vehicles were damaged.
The tripartite meeting in New York
On September 22 American President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. HIgh-ranking individuals from all sides also joined the meeting, among them Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister, American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Advisor General James Gates and American Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell. The meeting lasted 45 minutes and according to “an American source” the atmosphere was businesslike but not warm (Haaretz, September 23, 2009). According to statements made later by Israelis and Palestinians, the basic differences between the sides which make it difficult to relaunch effective negotiations for the final agreement have not been resolved.
The meeting, and others dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, were held in the shadow of the Iranian threat, which has top priority in the United States, Israel and the international community. Both the American president and the Israeli prime minister stressed it in their speeches before the General Assembly. The following are the main points made by Israel, the United States and the Palestinians.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and American President Obama
(Wafa News Agency, September 22, 2009).
In an interview with ABC News on September 22, Benjamin Netanyahu described the meeting as “very good.” He called for the peace process to be relaunched, but without preconditions. He again made it clear that the issue of the settlements could not be a precondition for negotiations. He stressed the matter would be resolved toward the end of the negotiations, not before. He added that if Israel and the Palestinians agreed on mutual recognition and on solving the security problems, then solutions would be found for the other problems, including that of the settlements.
On September 24 Netanyahu devoted most of his speech to the General Assembly to the issue of Iran, responding to Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust. As to the Palestinians, he called on them to say yes to a Jewish national state exactly as Israel was being asked to recognize a Palestinian national state. He also said that the Palestinian state would have to be effectively demilitarized because Israel sought peace and did to want another Gaza Strip or Iranian-supported terrorism on its borders.
The United States
Speaking before the General Assembly on September 23, one of the issues discussed by President Obama was the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He called on the sides to relaunch the negotiations for the final arrangement without preconditions. He said the negotiations had to include the issues of security, borders, the refugees and Jerusalem. He called on the Palestinians to put an end to anti-Israeli incitement, adding that the UN’s member states did not help the Palestinians when “use vitriolic attacks” Israel. He said that as far as the settlements were concerned, the United States “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.”
He said that “The time has come — the time has come to re-launch negotiations without preconditions that address the permanent status issues: security for Israelis and Palestinians, borders, refugees, and Jerusalem. And the goal is clear: Two states living side by side in peace and security — a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.”2
Practically speaking, before his meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, Obama said that he had instructed Secretary of State Clinton and Envoy Mitchell to maintain their intensive contacts with the Israeli and Palestinian representatives. He also asked Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas to send teams to Washington next week to continue the talks, and instructed Clinton to report to him in the middle of October regarding the status of the negotiations (White House website, September 22, 2009). The objective of the contacts, according to a “senior American source,” was to reduce the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians to make it possible to relaunch the negotiations for the final arrangement within a few weeks (Haaretz, September 23, 2009).
Mahmoud Abbas and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
(Wafa News Agency, September 24, 2009).
The Palestinian Authority
After the meeting Mahmoud Abbas said that the Israelis had to “meet all their commitments, especially to put an end to all forms of building in the settlements, including natural growth.” He added that the renewal of negotiations depended on Israel’s recognition of its need to withdraw to the 1967 borders and end the “occupation” (Wafa News Agency, September 22, 2009).
“Palestinian sources” reported that separate American-Palestinian and American-Israeli talks would take place in Washington in October 2009. The Palestinian delegation will be headed by Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s chief negotiator, and Netanyahu’s advisor will head the Israeli delegation (Al-Ayyam, September 26, 2009). Saeb Erekat told Radio Filastin that the Palestinians would begin meeting with the Americans on October 1. He expressed hope that “the American administration will force the Israeli government to agree to stop building in the settlements, including natural growth and in Jerusalem, and to renew the negotiations for the final arrangement from the point at which they stopped. Those are the main topics” (Radio Filastin, October 26, 2009).
Other remarks from senior Palestinian Authority figures were the following:
- Saeb Erekat said that stopping the building in the settlements was not a precondition but rather a commitment Israel had to meet. He said that “there will be no compromise solution as far as the settlements are concerned. The negotiations will resume from where they left off when the building stops, including natural growth and in Jerusalem” (Palestinian TV, September 22, 2009).
- Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for the president’s office, said that the conditions for renewing negotiations had not changed. He said that Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to the tripartite meeting out of politeness but that it was not a sign that he intended to renew negotiations with Israel as long as the Israel government had not announced Israel would freeze the building in the settlements (PalPress website, September 23, 2009).
- Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said that the renewal of the negotiations was conditional on Israel’s announcing it was freezing the building in the settlements (Ma’an News Agency, September 23, 2009).
“Senior Palestinians” said that at the bilateral talks between the Palestinian and American teams at the UN on September 22, they had noticed that the American position had eroded concerning the activity in the settlements. They said that President Obama was using the word “restraint” in reference to the settlements, while in the past he had spoken of “stopping” their activity, which they regarded as his backing down. A “senior member of the Palestinian delegation” said that “the American position towards ending the activity in the settlements has eroded, an issue Mahmoud Abbas regards as a basic condition of renewing the negotiations. However, we have no desire to confront the American administration at the present time” (Italian news agency AKI, September 23, 2009).
Obama to Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas: “One of you has to get out and push”
(Al-Ayyam, September 24, 2009).
Ismail Haniya, head of the de facto Hamas administration, sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, on the eve of the General Assembly session. He said that he regarded the international community as responsible for the “siege” of the Gaza Strip, which he terms “a crime against humanity.” He also said that the United States and Israel were responsible for the lack of progress in the peace process and that his government would encourage any step that led to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with the 1967 borders and Jerusalem as its capital (Hamas’ Palestine-Info website, September 22, 2009).
On the other hand, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ agreeing to meet with the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel were severely criticized by Hamas. Izzat al-Shark, a member of the Hamas political bureau, called the meeting “a knife in the back for the Palestinian people,” and claimed that it would only encourage the continuation of the settlements (Hamas’ Palestine-Info website, September 22, 2009).
The Internal Palestinian Arena
The internal Palestinian dialogue
Senior Hamas figures arrived in Egypt on September 27 to discuss the Egyptian proposition for renewing the internal Palestinian dialogue. Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus headed the “external leadership” delegation. The “internal delegation” included Mahmoud al-Zahar, Khalil al-Hayeh and Nizar Awadallah. After their meeting with Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian general intelligence, Khaled Mashaal held a press conference at which he said that Egypt had promised Hamas the elections would be held after an internal Palestinian reconciliation had been achieved, and the exact date would be decided as part of the final reconciliation program. He added that Hamas had a clear commitment from Egypt that it would formulate an mechanism for the release of so-called “political detainees” in the West Bank.
1 The statistics do not include the mortar shells fired at IDF soldiers patrolling the border fence which fell inside the Gaza Strip.
2 From the New York Times website,