Was Mahmoud Abbas in a hurry to form his new “national consensus” Palestinian government ahead of Sisi’s inauguration today?

Here is a screenshot photo of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking into the post-inaugural reception of Egypt’s newly-installed President AbdelFattah Sisi, in Cairo today — the screenshot was Tweeted here:

Hany Rasmy ‏@hany2m — Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, arrives at Ittihadiya palace – pic.twitter.com/Firhbp1a63

President Mahmoud Abbas followed by security + by Saeb Erekat attend Sisi inaugural reception in Cairo

President Mahmoud Abbas followed by security + by Saeb Erekat attend Sisi inaugural reception in Cairo

Samer Al-Atrush @SameralAtrush · Abbas arrives at Ittihadiya with Erekat in tow [n.b. - Erekat is wearing blue shirt, walking behind security men who are behind Abbas...]

Alex Ortiz ‏@azortiz — #Egypt’s presidential palace is crowded with well-wishing Gulf monarchs. Tahrir seems to have a couple hundred #Sisi supporters celebrating.

 

Sisi’s inauguration comes just a week after Abbas’ ceremony to swear in the new Palestinian government — and it seems that having the new government [later dubbed a government of "national conciliation"] in place by the time of Sisi’s inauguration was a significant consideration in pushing it through.  That it’s also in Hamas’ higher interest — to repair damaged relations with Egypt’s govenment and to reopen Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai — explains why Hamas went along with Abbas’ big push, despite differences and reservations on several points of the arrangements.

Big things are expected to come out of discussions between Abbas and Sisi [and probably some of the Gulf VIPs] during these inauguration festivities in Cairo.– even though Abbas is expected at the Vatican this evening for a joint prayer for peace in the Middle East with Israel’s State President Shimon Peres, at the suggestion and invitation of Pope Francis.

In preparation for these discussions, it is being reported by Al-Quds newspaper in Jerusalem that President Abbas yesterday [Saturday] received Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy and the Secretary-General of the Arab League Nabil elAraby, and held discussion about the region but focussed particularly on the new Palestinian government.

These may have been two separate meetings, because Egypt’s The Daily News is reporting on Abbas’ meeting with Fahmy here

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A “top Egyptian official” says President Abbas is requested to reopen presidential HQ in Gaza

A “top Egyptian official” has reportedly told the private Palestinian Ma’an News Agency that Egypt will request President Mahmoud Abbas to re-open Palestinian presidential headquarters in Gaza.  This is reported here

The same report says that Egypt’s President-elect AbdelFattah Sisi [who will be inaugurated in Cairo on Sunday, tomorrow] + Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will also consider opening the Rafah crossing between Egypt’s Sinai and Gaza — as long as the ‘legal’ Palestinian authorities will be ‘directing’ it…

Disorder at Gaza banks as Hamas employees protest no pay as Ramallah staff getting salaries

Gaza banks have been closed after disorder broke out at banks and ATM cash machines when the idled staff of the Palestinian Government received salary deposits in their accounts, while those hired by Hamas in Gaza since the “military” and “political” coups in June 2007 received nothing…

This is a huge internal problem, which is not being addressed with the required speed or seriousness.

Meanwhile, external pressure is building for Mahmoud Abbas action to take control of the Hamas security forces in Gaza — another explosive issue, with no indication of planning or preparation yet, either…

Still no official Palestinian list of the new government – but it’s being called a “national consensus government”

So far, two days after a new government was sworn in, neither the Palestinian Government Spokesperson Ehab Bseiso nor the Government Media Center that he heads in the Prime Minister’s office, have distributed a list of the ministers, or of their portfolios…

There is a page here [in Arabic] on the website of the Prime Minister’s office which has the photos of most of the cabinet ministers – but some photos are repeated two or more times, if the minister was given two or more portfolios, and it’s a bit clumsy]…
UPDATE: And there is a worthy effort done by a clever intern at the Foundation of Middle East Peace in Washington DC, here — but in the light of statements being made, and lists NOT being published, it has become clear that neither Hamdallah nor al-Ayssa are Minister of Prisoners — The fact seems to be, nobody is…

How is it that there is no official list?  This is the minimum a new government should be able to do.

Everybody expects that this is just an interim situation, but there still should be a list — unless, of course, the idea is to hide something, or to be ambiguous and unclear…

Inevitably, the conclusion is drawn that this has to be, for some reason, deliberate.

Meanwhile, we have received the text of the statement made to the media by Palestinian PM Rami Hamdallah yesterday morning, after he chaired the first meeting of the new 17th Palestinian Government — which he said “is a is a national consensus government”.

Hamdallah noted that this new government “is based on the foundation of an independent and national technocracy”.

And, he said, “This government sustains the President’s vision and will implement the PLO political agenda”.

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There is still no official Palestinian list of the new Palestinian government

The new Palestinian Government Cabinet meet in Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s office in Tuesday morning in Ramallah.

But, even by the end of the day, there was still not official Palestinian list of the members of the new Palestinian Government…Asked for a list on Tuesday afternoon, Dr Ehab Bseisso, the Palestinian Government Spokesman, told me a list of ministers in the new government “is being prepared” and “will be distributed to journalists”…See our post yesterday for best available information on this.

The four members of the new government who live in Gaza participated in Tuesday morning’s Cabinet meeting by videoconference — as we learned only from Twitter.

@rudoren · Per @galberger , 4 new Gaza-based ministers (barred by Israel from WB) partake via video in Palestinian Cabinet mtg https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BpMgO77CAAEIskq.jpg …

The four Ministers from Gaza in the new Palestinian government

The four Ministers from Gaza in the new Palestinian government participate in cabinet meeting by videoconference

They are:
Hayfa al-Agha – Minister of Women’s Affairs
Salem as-Safa [al-Saqqa?] – Minister of Justice
Mufeed Hassayneh – Minister of Public Works + Housing
Ma’moun Abu Shahla – Minister of Labor

Ehab Bseisso also told me the four (4) ministers coming from Gaza — including the “important” Ministers of Justice + of Labor — got all the way to Erez Terminal before they were turned back and not allowed to proceed through to Ramallah for yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony. That is, the four ministers went through the Hamas checkpoint, through the Palestinian Authority checkpoint, and they walked one kilometer on foot under observation by soldiers in a military tower, before they could enter the Erez Terminal — and they then were told they could not proceed…

All this information [which he alternatively dismissed as "details"] was in the news, Dr. Bseisso said [though none of it was]. He insisted that the only question that should be asked is why Israel would not allow them through.

Why was there a videoconference today, for the cabinet meeting [but not yesterday, for the swearing-in]? After more verbal sparring, Dr. Bseisso said that they believed assurances they had received up until the last minute that everything would be fine [despite prominently-published news reports on Sunday saying that Israel would not allow the ministers from Gaza to come to Ramallah]. So, they had made no preparations for a videoconference.

However, as it was now clear that the ministers could not travel, a videoconference was arranged for today, Dr. Bseisso explained…

In remarks to journalists today in Ramallah, PM Hamdallah reportedly said that “All members of the government will go to Gaza despite the measures taken by Israel to prevent Gaza-based ministers from going to Ramallah” …apparently, even if this means travelling to Gaza via Egypt rather than via Israel. This was reported by the Times of Israel, here.

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Mahmoud Abbas puts together [+ pushes through] a new Palestinian Government

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a new Palestinian Government today in the Ramallah Muqata’a.

So far, it’s being called the “new government”… [UPDATE [see above]:  the following day, PM Hamdallah willl refer to it as “a national consensus government”…]

This group portrait [minus those stuck in Gaza, and  it turns out there are four] was taken after the new ministers present were sworn in, one-by-one, and was posted on Twitter here by @TPM [Talking Points Memo], and illustrates their post, here — [AP Photo / Majdi Mohammed] :

Group portrait of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with the new Palestinian Government

Group portrait of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with the new Palestinian Government

Putting together information from several sources, plus my own monitoring of the event televised live at 1:00 pm, this is the best I could do to come up with a list of the ministers in the new governmen:

1. Rami Hamdallah – Prime Minister + Interior Minister
2. Ziyad Abu Amr – Deputy PM + Minister of Culture  - originally from Gaza, not living there
3. Muhammad Mustafa – Deputy PM + Minister of National Economy

4. Shukri Bishara – Finance Minister + Planning Minister
5. Riyad al-Maliki – Foreign Minister
6. Adnan Husseini – Minister of Jerusalem Affairs

Three from Gaza [CORR: there are four {4} living in Gaza who were denied permission by Israel to leave and travel to Ramallah, and there was no videoconference of the swearing-in ceremony, either - the fourth is #13, see below, who is also the 3rd lady minister in this new government]…
7. Mustafa Salim as-Saqqa – [Gaza = absent] – Minister of Justice
8. Mufeed Hassayneh – [Gaza = absent] – Minister of Public Works + Housing
9. Ma’moun Abu Shahla – [Gaza = absent] – Labor Minister

Objections from Hamas in Gaza centered primarily around Abbas’ planned elimination of a Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs [due to objections from major donors, especially the USA]. The objections were resolved at the last minute by preemption + obfuscation:

10. Shawqi al-Aiyssa – Minister of Agriculture + Minister of Social Affairs

It was later explained – incorrectly, and this was just part of the confusion –  that al-Aiyssa was given a third portfolio, Prisoners… but at the moment he was sworn in, no such thing was announced.
UPDATE 1: It became clear hours later that in fact he was NOT sworn in as Minister of Prisoner Affairs, as I confirmed when I re-watched the video when it was shown during the 9 pm news and when I spoke to Palestinian Government Spokesman Dr. Ehab Bseisso [on Tuesday afternoon June 2], who told me that PM Rami Hamdallah had appointed Shawqi al-Aiysa, AFTER the swearing-in ceremony — just to “oversee” Prisoners’ Affairs…
UPDATE 2: PM Hamdallah said to the media the next morning [again, see above]: “Concerning the issue of transforming the Ministry of Detainees to a commission under the PLO, the government regards this as the part of the President’s mandate and the PLO’s responsibility. For the time being, Mr. Shawqi Al-Ayasseh will assume the role of caretaker of the Ministry of Detainees”.

Three women ministers - previously, there was never more than one at a time
11. Rula Maaya’ – [a woman, who served in the same post in the immediately preceeding government] – Tourism + Antiquities Minister
12. Khawla al-Shakhsheer – [a woman] – Education and Higher Education Minister
13. Hayfa al-Agha – [a woman - and UPDATE: yes, she is from Gaza, and that's why she was absent from the Muqata'a ceremony] – Women’s Affairs Minister

14. Jawad Awwad – Health Minister
15. Allam Moussa – Communications Minister + Transport Minister
16. Yusef Day’is – Minister of Awqaf [Islamic trusts foundation] + Religious Affairs
17. Nayef Abu Khalaf – Minister of Local Governance

Palestine TV aired what seemed to be a pre-recorded speech by Mahmoud Abbas, a few minutes after the swearing-in ceremony in the Muqata’a.

A little later, Palestine TV aired statements by Abbas + Hamdallah at initial meeting in Muqata’a of new Palestinian government [and announced that an Ismail Haniyeh statement was expected...] Abbas spoke to the new cabinet about elections [presidential, Palestine Legislative Council + also, for the 1st time ever, for the PLO's Palestine National Council]; he also stressed the 1967 borders, which he stressed include East Jerusalem.

The new Palestinian government is supposed to prepare the way for long-delayed elections in which Hamas’ electoral strength will be tested + measured.

Earlier today, Haaretz’ Barak Ravid reported that, “barring a last minute dispute”, a new Palestinian government will be sworn in today + Israel’s Security Cabinet will meet afterward…

Ravid reported herethat “Abbas pressed for the swearing-in on assumption that any further delay wld lead to additional disputes” [w/Hamas, or others, on posts]

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Now in a new phase: the US is blaming BOTH sides for the lack of progress in the talks

Here is a video of US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking from Algiers when he should have been back in Jerusalem or Ramallah [were he was a day earlier, on 1 April]… Instead, Kerry took off from a NATO meeting in Brussels, and headed to Algiers. But he kept on talking about the Israeli-Palestinian talks…

He even mentioned “self-determination”… and he can only have been referring to Palestinian self-determination, because Israel realized its right of self-determination on 15 May 1948:

“Self-determination”, Kerry said, “Peace” — “it’s easy to say the words but it is not easy to achieve the goals”…

US policy has morphed in past 24+hrs from 1) @AmbassadorPower [Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN] blaming Palestinians], to 2) not playing the “blame game”, and then to 3) apportioning blame to both sides.

Kerry said in Algiers: “The parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions and compromises. The leaders have to lead”…

UNRWA digitalizes to save its historic archive of photos

“This is a population who exist, who have a history and is deserving of a future in which they and their children can live in dignity and enjoy full rights” – UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness to Ma’an News Agency at the opening of an exhibit in Jerusalem’s Old City on the digitalizing of its historic archive of photos. The Ma’an report is posted here.

The UNRWA digital archives can be accessed online here. The images record events in 1848 and 1967, as well as in between, and since.

Agence France Presse [AFP] reported here that “Because of its historical and cultural significance, the [UNRWA] archive has been inscribed UNESCO’S ‘Memory of the World’ list since 2009″.

[UNRWA was founded by the UN General Assembly at the very end of 1949, and only began operations in 1950; the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, registered and helped Palestinian refuges before that date...]

UNRWA photographer George Nehmeh, from Lebanon [where UNRWA was headquartered for many years] worked for the Agency, as it is known among Palestinians, from 1960 to 1996:

Ma’an reported that “The archive consists of over half a million negatives, prints, slides, films and videocassettes, covering all aspects of the lives and history of Palestinian refugees since 1948…The first group of photographs were shown on Thursday in an exhibition entitled ‘The Long Journey’ at the Al-Ma’mel Center in East Jerusalem’s Old City”

The BBC published a slideshow, posted here of the photos now on display in East Jerusalem.

The New York Times’ Isabel Kershner wrote, here, that “The exhibit that opened Thursday, called ‘The Long Journey’, will soon go on tour to large cities in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and possibly Syria, and will also be shown at cultural and political centers in Europe and North America … Palestinians refer to the events of 1948 as al-Nakba, Arabic for ‘the catastrophe’. About 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes during the Arab-Israeli war over the foundation of Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were later displaced by the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, some becoming refugees twice over. Tens of thousands have recently been displaced again, reliving the trauma, because of the civil war raging in Syria”… [n.b. -- There were other occasions of multiple displacement, as well, from Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, and more...]

The NYTimes, too, published a slideshow, here, to accompany Kershner’s article.

Kershner also wrote, in her piece, that “the refugee issue remains one of the most delicate and complex elements of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at the core of the two sides’ clashing historical narratives. So it was perhaps inevitable that some Israelis would view the new memorialization of the refugee experience through a prism of politics and contention. ‘When was the last time that any United Nations agency raised so much money and invested so much effort in organizing and circulating around the world the documentation of a specific plight like that of the Palestinian refugees? Never’, said Yigal Palmor, the spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry … Mr. Palmor said that while the agency mostly did good work on the ground, it was ‘dedicated to preserving the refugees’ status rather than encouraging their resettlement or integration in their current or alternative locations, contributing to the perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee problem’.” As Kershner reported, UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunnes responded that “What is perpetuating the refugee problem is the failure of the political parties to resolve it”…

Meanwhile, Greg Carlstrom [now an independent journalist, formerly with Al-Jazeera English in Doha] Tweeted from Cairo:
Gregg Carlstrom ‏@glcarlstrom 29 Nov — The @nytimes manages to write about a photo exhibit on Palestinian refugees without interviewing a single Palestinian here

Netanyahu, at age 28, on a Palestinian State [basically: no way ... at most, if they behave well, the Palestinians can get eventual citizenship of some kind, Israeli or Jordanian or some other, he says...]

While looking for something totally unrelated on Youtube, this completely other video was suggested:  it shows a young Benyamin Netanyahu, before he even took the name “Netanyahu”.

He’s identified here as “Ben” or “Benjamin Nitay”, a 28-year-old graduate of MIT, an Israeli [and, according to the screen titles, an "economic consultant"] who has “written widely on this question before the house tonight”.

In the video, Ben Nitay / Benyamin Netanyahu is not debating his political views, he’s being given a platform to say what he wants, to argue his polemic.

Looking a lot like John Travolta in the movie “Saturday Night Live”,  but with much wilder eyes, Nitay / Netanyahu says:

“No, I don’t think Palestinians do have a right to a state… For 20 years [from 1948 to 1967] we didn’t hear a word about self-determination… I’m sure…if the process continues they will be offered citizenship of some kind, be it Israeli or Jordanian”

The moderator is Marilyn Berger of the Public Broadcast System in the U.S. — who co-anchored the best and almost only non-stop coverage, such as it was in the days before satellite communications and computers, of both the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars — and the endless debates in the UN Security Council in New York, afterwards.

“Attorney One”, as we shall call him, is the gentle-mannered late Morris Abrams whose warm and kind demeanor didn’t obscure fierce pro-Israel views.  He was later to become the U.S, Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, where he served for years, before his retirement — when he founded the Geneva-based UN Watch [which watches out for Israel].

Morris Abrams gets the first Question: “Mr. Nitay, is self-determination at the core of this conflict?”

This allows the young Netanyahu to explain: “No, I don’t think it is.  The real core of the conflict is the unfortunate Arab refusal to accept the State of Israel”…

Little has changed in more than three decades.

“For twenty years, the ‘Arabs’ had both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and if self-determination were, as they say it is, the core of the conflict, they could have easily established a Palestinian State, but they didn’t…For twenty years, we didn’t hear a word about self-determination. In fact what we did hear, those of us living in the Middle East, was about ‘driving the Jews into the sea’… Now, after 1967, under the leadership of the PLO, the hardline strategy shifted to adopting a moderate dressed-up slogan which talked in terms about first a secular, democratic state and then replaced it with ‘Palestinian self-determination’. But, what this really means, is contrary to what Mr. Arouri said about 1977 being a a changed year in the PLO’s objectives, let me quote you what the PLO Information Office said in a Dutch paper in 1977, on May 5, 1977, the statement was very simple: ‘Our objective remains the destruction of the Zionist state’. So, let’s keep in mind, the objective here is not to build a state, but to destroy one”…

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Netanyahu throws the table over

Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, back from the US + the UN where he insisted on even-more-than-full implementation of Security Council demands on Iran, went this evening to Bar Ilan University [where he sort of endorsed something that he hoped at the time could be construed as a two-state solution to the conflict with Palestinians] and threw it all over.

In an unusually-strongly-written piece, Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid reported here that:

“Almost four and half years after he stood at the podium at Bar-Ilan University and delivered a moderate speech in which he recognized for the first time the two-state solution, Netanyahu returned to the same spot to give a hawkish address in which he did everything except announce that he is reneging on his agreement in principle to Palestinian statehood. ‘Unless the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state and give up on the right of return there will not be peace’, he said in his address.

The prime minister went on to say that even if they do agree to these conditions, it will not be sufficient. ‘After generations of incitement we have no confidence that such recognition will percolate down to the Palestinian people’, he said. ‘That is why we need extremely strong security arrangements and to go forward, but not blindly’.

Netanyahu went on to emphasize that the ‘occupation and settlements’ are not the core of the conflict. Netanyahu used the word ‘occupation’ with a mixture of disdain and abhorrence. ‘The conflict, if I have to choose a date when it began in earnest, began in the year 1921, on the day Palestinian Arabs attacked the immigrants’ house in Jaffa. This attack, of course, had nothing to do with the territories or settlements. It was against the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel. Then came the Partition Plan in 1947, with the suggestion of an Arab state alongside a Jewish state’, he continued. ‘The Jews agreed, the Arabs refused. Because the issue was not then the question of a Palestinian state – the issue was and remains the Jewish state. Then 19 years later came the stranglehold around us aimed at uprooting us. And why? After all, then there was no occupation’.”

Netanyahu’s speech came only hours after, as Barak Ravid also reported, in an earlier article posted here, “Housing Minister Uri Ariel on Sunday demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provide the cabinet with weekly reports on the negotiations with the Palestinians, fearing that Netanyahu might spring an ‘all or nothing’ solution too far to the left…’It can’t be that the cabinet isn’t kept up to date on such negotiations [Ariel said]. In the end you’ll bring for a cabinet vote a finished product in the style of all or nothing. This can’t continue. I demand information’. Netanyahu did not respond. After not receiving an answer, Ariel said he intends to repeat his demand every week”.

And Netanyahu’s speech preceeded by a day a previously-postponed reciprocal visit to Ramallah, as the Times of Israel reported here, of a group of Israeli MPs [or MKs, Knesset members] dissatisfied with Netanyahu’s approach to negotiations. The Israeli Knesset members have formed a caucus, and had in July hosted, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, a small group of Palestinians designated by President Mahmoud Abbas to make contacts with Israelis.

The Times of Israel reported that “caucus chair MK Hilik Bar (Labor) told The Times of Israel on Sunday [before the Netanyahu speech] that: ‘We have a government that has promised to pursue the two-state solution and a majority in the Knesset for two states, despite the rhetoric on the right. We want to show Abu Mazen that we’ll do everything in our power to advance peace, and the Palestinian Authority has to do the same’.”  Referring to an attack on a 9-year-old Israeli girl in the “Jewish community” of Psagot, adjoining Ramallah-AlBireh, Bar added:  ‘We’re not achieving anything when we stop the negotiations because of these horrific, evil attacks. There have been attacks on Jews for decades. Only a final peace agreement that ends the conflict will end the attacks’.”

Netanyahu’s new tone also followed a two-day conference held at the Eretz Israeli Museum in Tel Aviv organized by the Israeli organization Zochrot, aimed at reducing fear of discussion of the Palestinian Right of Return. Gideon Levy, who addressed the conference, also reported on it, in an article Haaretz published here.

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