Alienation drives young Palestinians beyond politics

A protester holds a Palestinian flag as he poses for a photograph at the scene of clashes with Israeli troops near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, January 19, 2018.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Miriam Berger

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Confrontations between young Palestinians and Israeli soldiers have taken on a life of their own since Palestinian leaders called for protests against Donald Trump’s decision to treat Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

While Hamas, Fatah and other groups call for a weekly show of strength on Fridays, dozens of stone-throwers turn out along the border between Gaza and Israel every day, even when, as last Friday, a protest is called off due to bad weather.

Some wear the colors of the various factions vying to lead the drive for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, but others have no affiliation, a sign of alienation that makes the political situation more volatile.

“I am not against any of the factions, but we are grown-ups and are intelligent and we see that the ongoing division is weakening us all,” said a 28-year-old protester, referring to a renewed standoff between the Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah.

The two groups have long been rivals and have failed to achieve any lasting unity agreement in years of off-and-on negotiations. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah forces in 2007.

Conscious of the growing influence of the youth due to their ballooning numbers, both Hamas and Fatah have recently tried to court them, holding large, separate meetings in Gaza to convince them to back reconciliation.

But, as the daily scene on the border shows, young Palestinians are increasingly beyond reach, put off by a four-year stalemate in peace talks with Israel and little progress toward healing internal rifts.

Their growing frustration surfaces in social media criticism of their leaders that is met by with an increasingly authoritarian response.

The stone-throwers say the more alienated they feel, the greater the likelihood they will take to the streets to protest.

“We are hungry and at home we have no electricity and our fathers have no jobs. This can’t bring about anything except an explosion,” said a 23-year-old unemployed history graduate who gave his name as Ahmed.

Asked about the target of such an explosion, he said: “Against the Israeli occupation, because it bears prime responsibility for everything, even for the division between Hamas and Fatah.”

 

ELECTIONS?

Palestinian politicians have agreed to hold long-delayed elections in both territories this year as part of moves to end the schism that led to Hamas seizing control of Gaza in 2007 from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority based in the larger West Bank.

Whether they will materialize is unclear.

Palestinian security officials have over the past few years questioned many people, sometimes for weeks, about social media posts criticizing Fatah and Hamas, according to Palestinian human rights groups and New York-based Human Rights Watch.

In Gaza, most complaints center on electricity shortages that date back 11 years, with both groups seen at fault.

Slow unity efforts are another hot-button issue: some blame Hamas for balking at handing full control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority while others criticize Fatah for retaining salary cuts in Gaza.

Fatah is also faulted for the fact that its engagement in peace talks with Israel has brought little progress toward a Palestinian state and for keeping aging leaders in place.

People aged 15 to 29 make up a third of the population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and partially blockaded Gaza strip and a disproportionate number of the many unemployed.

“There is no party that represents me or that I can say ‘this party speaks for me,'” said Oula Jabara, a university student in the occupied West Bank aged 20, who was a child when Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005.

Almost three quarters of university students and 69 percent of all 18 to 22-year-olds want Abbas to resign, compared with 59 percent of Palestinians aged 50 and above, a December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed.

Hasan Faraj, the Secretary General of Fatah’s Youth Movement, declined to provide membership numbers, calling it an internal matter. He said the movement remained relevant with “tens of thousands” of official members, and more affiliated.

The lack of transparency underscores a common complaint by young people that party leaders do not think they count.

Of six people interviewed at protests against Trump’s Jerusalem move, none was prepared to say who they wanted to replace Abbas.

“Whoever it is will just be like the last,” said Taha, a 33-year-old cook who declined to give his last name and wore a mask to avoid identification by Israeli authorities.

“I don’t have faith in any of the parties.”

In the absence of political dialogue either within Palestinian factions or between them and Israel, many young Palestinians suffer in silence and some take to the streets.

Palestinian uprisings erupted in 1987 and in 2000, the latter after the failure of U.S.-sponsored peace talks. A build-up of grievances could spark a new one, but it would likely take broad public support among Palestinians and involvement by factions to keep it going.

“Non-affiliated youth may fuel an uprising, a short but aggressive one, but they can’t sustain it,” said Palestinian political analyst Akram Attallah.

Sixteen Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in protests since Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement and hundreds of Palestinians have been injured, eight on the Gaza border on Friday alone, according to the territory’s health ministry.

A 13-year-old boy on the border said he had been hit twice by rubber bullets. His mother had warned him a third hit could be fatal and his father had beaten him to try to keep him away.

“I always find an excuse to slip out,” he said. “So what, I will be a martyr.”

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Philippa Fletcher)

Thousands of Palestinians take part in anti-Trump protests

A demonstrator holds a sign and a Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West Bank city of Nablus, December 29, 2017.

GAZA (Reuters) – Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza and the occupied West Bank for the fourth Friday in a row in protests against U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Palestinian health officials said at least 20 protesters were wounded by live fire, mostly along the Gaza border. An Israeli military spokeswoman said soldiers had shot at “main instigators” who posed a direct threat to the troops and who were trying to damage the border security fence.

The spokeswoman said about 4,000 Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza, some throwing rocks and fire bombs and setting tires alight, confronted Israeli soldiers who responded mainly by firing tear gas.

A Palestinian demonstrator hurls stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West Bank city of Nablus, December 29, 2017.

A Palestinian demonstrator hurls stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West Bank city of Nablus, December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

In Gaza, demonstrators chanted “Death to America, death to Israel, and death to Trump” and militants fired rockets into Israel, drawing strikes by Israeli tanks and aircraft.

The military said it targeted posts that belonged to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave, after intercepting two of the three rockets fired into Israel. Police said the third struck a building, causing damage. No casualties were reported in those incidents.

Trump outraged Palestinians and sparked anger in the Middle East and among world powers with his Jerusalem declaration on Dec. 6, which reversed decades of U.S. policy on one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.

A masked Palestinian demonstrator uses a slingshot to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West Bank city

A masked Palestinian demonstrator uses a slingshot to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West Bank city of Nablus, December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Most countries regard the status of Jerusalem as a matter to be settled in an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, although that process is now stalled.

A U.N. General Assembly resolution passed on Dec. 21 rejected Trump’s Jerusalem declaration. A total of 128 countries voted for the U.N. resolution. Nine opposed it and 35 abstained. Twenty-one countries did not cast a vote.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Arab leaders reaffirm support for Palestinian state amid unease over U.S. stance

(front R-L) Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Sudan's President Omar Al Bashir, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz pose for a group photograph during the 28th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Hamed

By Ali Sawafta and Suleiman Al-Khalidi

DEAD SEA, Jordan/AMMAN (Reuters) – Arab leaders reaffirmed on Wednesday their commitment to a two-state solution to the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict amid increased unease over the stance of the United States under the new administration of President Donald Trump.

Trump rattled Arab and European leaders in February by indicating he was open to a one-state solution, upending a position taken by successive administrations and the international community.

Trump later told Reuters in an interview he liked the concept of a two-state solution but stopped short of reasserting a U.S. commitment to eventual Palestinian statehood, saying he would be “satisfied with whatever makes both parties happy”.

Arab leaders attending a one-day summit beside the Dead Sea did not publicly refer to Trump or his ambiguous statements, but were keen to stress their own continued backing for an independent Palestinian state and also strongly criticized the continued building of Jewish settlements on occupied territory.

The summit’s host, King Abdullah of Jordan, said the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel remained the basis of any comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal.

“Israel is continuing to expand settlements and wreck chances of peace … There is no peace or stability in the region without a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian cause through a two-state solution,” the king said.

ISRAEL CRITICIZED

The venue of the conference is only a few km (miles) from the occupied West Bank and Israeli settlements are visible to the naked eye.

This week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was committed to work with Trump to advance peace efforts with the Palestinians, but he also stopped short of reiterating a commitment to a two-state solution.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas criticized Israeli policy in his speech to Wednesday’s summit.

“The Israeli government has since 2009 worked on wrecking the two-state solution by accelerating the tempo of settlements and the confiscation of land,” Abbas told the leaders.

Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt met Abbas ahead of Wednesday’s summit, the second such meeting in two weeks. Trump has also invited Abbas to the White House.

“(Greenblatt) had a lot of queries and we are answering them to complete the picture in their minds and speaking as Arabs in one language,” Abbas said, adding that he had told the envoy that Palestinians remained as firm as ever in their demand for an independent state.

The Palestinians and Arabs want Arab East Jerusalem – which Israel captured in a 1967 war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally – as the capital of a future state encompassing the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

King Abdullah, whose dynasty has custodianship over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, said any unilateral Israeli move to change the status quo in the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa mosque would have “catastrophic” consequences for the future of the region, inflaming Muslim sentiment.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres also endorsed a two-state solution, telling summit participants this was the “only path to ensure that Palestinians and Israelis can realize their national aspirations and live in peace, security and dignity”.

(Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Arab leaders seek common ground at summit on Palestinian state

Jordan's King Abdullah II stands next to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) during a reception ceremony at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Ali Sawafta

Dead Sea, JORDAN (Reuters) – Divided Arab leaders arriving in Jordan for a summit on Wednesday are seeking common ground to reaffirm their commitment to a Palestinian state, a longstanding goal that U.S. President Donald Trump last month put into doubt.

The Dead Sea meeting is expected to have a bigger turnout than recent Arab summits, Jordanian officials say, and security forces cast a high profile in the capital Amman with armored vehicles standing at traffic junctions as leaders flew in.

While they are highly unlikely to bridge rifts over the regional role of Iran or intractable wars in Syria and Yemen, Arab leaders remain united in supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We are concerned that there should be an Arab consensus on the Palestinian file so that this reflects clearly in the discussions of Arab states and their leaders with the new American administration,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told Reuters.

Before taking office in January, Trump promised to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – something adamantly opposed by Arabs as tantamount, in their view, to recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

The Palestinians want Arab East Jerusalem – which Israel captured in a 1967 war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally – as the capital of a future state encompassing the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been frozen since 2014.

Trump also, during a White House news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month, he indicated he was open to a one-state solution to the conflict.

That would be deeply problematic for both sides, as it would mean either two systems for two peoples – something Palestinians would see as apartheid and endless occupation – or equal rights for all, which would compromise Israel’s Jewish character.

The Arab monarchs and presidents attending Wednesday’s summit will meet at the Dead Sea, only a few km (miles) from the West Bank and with Israeli settlements visible to the naked eye.

The United States is sending a representative to the summit, Maliki said. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah are both scheduled to meet Trump soon.

A draft resolution on Jerusalem and seen by Reuters will require all Arab states to respond to any move by any country to move its embassy there, without specifying the United States.

“The Palestinian issue is the central issue. It is the root cause of conflict in the region and its resolution is the key to peace and stability. We hope we will be able to again relaunch efforts that would get serious negotiations restarted again,” said Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.

SPLITS OVER IRAN, WARS IN YEMEN, SYRIA

The biggest disagreement among Arab countries is over the regional role of Iran, an ally of Syria and Iraq and the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement that dominates Lebanon, but regarded by Saudi Arabia and some other Sunni Muslim states as a bitter adversary.

Shi’ite Iran and Saudi Arabia support opposing sides in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, which have caused humanitarian catastrophes, and in political and factional disputes simmering for years in Bahrain and Lebanon.

The Middle East’s political feuds have stoked sectarian tensions between Islam’s main Sunni and Shi’ite branches in recent years, contributing to increased militant violence.

“We meet in a difficult Arab era dominated by crisis and conflicts that deprive our region of the security and stability they need to attain our people’s rights,” Safadi said in a meeting with fellow foreign ministers before the summit.

A Jordanian official told Reuters that the final statement from the summit was expected to include a condemnation of Iran for what it called meddling in internal Arab affairs, and to call on it to refrain from using force or threats. Iran denies any such interference.

A summit meeting of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation included a similar line in its final statement last year.

Friction also smolders between Saudi Arabia, the richest Arab state, and Egypt, the most populous one – close allies for decades before the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings – over approaches to Syria’s war and the demarcation of their marine border.

The kingdom’s oil giant Saudi Aramco resumed petroleum shipments to Egypt earlier this month, suggesting relations may be improving, and Egypt’s Sisi is hoping for a bilateral meeting with King Salman in Amman this week.

“There could actually be a product of the Arab summit – a unified attitude towards Washington’s policy in Palestine. They might disagree on all other issues, but I think this is the unifying one,” said Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi security expert with close ties to the Saudi Interior Ministry.

(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Cairo, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Stephen Kalin and Noah Browning in Dubai; Writing by Angus McDowall; editing by Mark Heinrich)