Violence in Israel Shakes Trump’s Boast of ‘New Middle East’

WASHINGTON — It was, President Donald J. Trump proclaimed in September, “the dawn of a new Middle East.”

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Trump was announcing new diplomatic accords between Israel and two of its Gulf Arab neighbors, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

“After decades of division and conflict,” Mr. Trump said, flanked by leaders from the region in a scene later replayed in his campaign ads, the Abraham Accords were laying “the foundation for a comprehensive peace across the entire region.”

Eight months later, such a peace remains a distant hope, particularly for the Middle East’s most famously intractable conflict, the one between Israel and the Palestinians. In fiery scenes all too reminiscent of the old Middle East, that conflict has entered its bloodiest phase in seven years and is renewing criticism of Mr. Trump’s approach while raising questions about the future of the accords as President Biden confronts what role the United States should play now in the region.

a January 2020 Trump peace plan proposing to create a Palestinian state, on terms heavily slanted toward Israeli demands, the accords intentionally “separated” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Israel’s relations with the Arab world, Mr. Greenblatt said.

They “took away the veto right for the Palestinians for the region to move forward,” he added.

Others noted that, before agreeing to the accords, the U.A.E. extracted from Mr. Netanyahu a pledge to hold off on a potential annexation of swaths of the West Bank, a move that had the potential to set off a major Palestinian uprising. (Trump officials also opposed such an annexation and Mr. Netanyahu might not have followed through regardless.)

Dennis Ross, a former Middle East peace negotiator who served under three presidents, called the accords an important step for the region, but said the violence in Israel’s cities and Gaza illustrated how “the Palestinian issue can still cast a cloud” over Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors.

“The notion that this was ‘peace in our time’ obviously ignored the one existential conflict in the region. It wasn’t between Israel and the Arab states,” Mr. Ross said.

a statement last week, the U.A.E.’s foreign affairs ministry issued a “strong condemnation” of Israel’s proposed evictions in East Jerusalem and a police attack on Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, where Israeli officials said Palestinians had stockpiled rocks to throw at Israeli police.

Last month, the U.A.E. also denounced “acts of violence committed by right-wing extremist groups in the occupied East Jerusalem” and warned that the region could be “slipping into new levels of instability in a way that threatens peace.”

Bahrain and other Gulf states have condemned Israel in similar tones. A statement on Friday from the U.A.E.’s minister of foreign affairs, Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, called on “all parties,” not only Israel, to exercise restraint and pursue a cease-fire.

One former Trump official argued that public pressure on Israel by countries like the U.A.E. and Bahrain carry more weight after the accords, coming as they do from newly official diplomatic partners. None of the governments who are party to the accords are playing a major role in efforts to secure a cease-fire, however — a responsibility assumed in the past by Egypt and Qatar.

changed longstanding U.S. policy by declaring that the United States did not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law. (The Biden administration intends to reverse that position once a review by government lawyers is complete.)

Mr. Trump also moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, officially recognizing the city as Israel’s capital, in a move that infuriated Palestinians who have long expected East Jerusalem to be the capital of any future state they establish.

“Trump opened the door for Israel to accelerate home demolitions, accelerate settlement activity,” Ms. Hassan said. “And when that happens and you see Israel acting upon it, that’s when you see the Palestinian resistance.”

Former Trump officials note that expert predictions of a Palestinian eruption during Mr. Trump’s term, particularly after the embassy relocation, never came to pass, and suggest that Mr. Biden’s friendlier approach to the Palestinians — including the restoration of humanitarian aid canceled by Mr. Trump — has emboldened them to challenge Israel.

Even some Trump administration officials said any suggestions that the accords amounted to peace in the Middle East were exaggerated.

“During my time at the White House, I always urged people not to use that term,” Mr. Greenblatt said.

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What to Know About Gaza’s Rocket Arsenal

CAIRO — They smuggle the parts or make their own, aided with know-how from Iran. They repurpose plumbing pipes scavenged from abandoned Israeli settlements and components culled from dud Israeli bombs. They assemble the rockets underground or in dense neighborhoods that the Israelis are reluctant to strike.

Despite Israel’s vaunted surveillance capability and overwhelming military firepower next door, Palestinian militants in Gaza have managed to amass a large arsenal of rockets with enhanced range in the 16 years since Israel vacated the coastal enclave it had occupied after the 1967 war.

Hamas, the militant group that has run Gaza since 2007 and does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, has parlayed the arsenal into an increasingly lethal threat, as seen in the most recent upsurge of hostilities with the Israeli military. By Thursday, Israeli officials said, the militants had fired about 1,800 rockets.

The arsenal pales in comparison to the vast destructive powers of Israel’s air force. But to Israelis, the rockets are the tools of what their country and many others including the United States regard as a terrorist organization, embedded among the nearly two million Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza.

Michael Armstrong, an associate professor of operations research at Brock University in Canada, found a significant increase in the rate of fire. Using numbers from the Israel Defense Forces, Mr. Armstrong, who studies these weapons, cited 470 rockets fired from Gaza during the first 24 hours of the most recent escalation compared to a peak of 192 rockets per day in 2014 and 312 in 2012.

Hamas, he says, also launched more long-range attacks with 130 rockets fired at Tel Aviv late Tuesday, representing close to 17 percent of all fired until that point. In 2014 that rate was at eight percent and in 2012 at less than one percent.

“We still don’t know if Hamas has more long-range rockets, or if they are choosing to use their best stuff first,” Mr. Armstrong said.

Michael Herzog, an Israel-based international fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a retired brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces, said Israeli military and intelligence officials are now far more concerned about the abilities of the militants to produce rockets they once had to import.

“The focus of I.D.F. targeting now is on the production facilities so that when this round of fighting ends, there will not only be less rockets but also less production capabilities for making them,” Mr. Herzog said.

The Gaza militants have openly attributed their success to help supplied by Iran, which Israel regards as its most potent foreign adversary. Iranian officials, too, are not shy about their relationship with Hamas.

Speaking to a large gathering in May 2019, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, could not have been more explicit in acknowledging Iran’s critical role in assisting Hamas.

“If it wasn’t for Iran’s support,” he said, “we would not have had these capabilities.”

Along with providing smuggled weapons and equipment, Iran has been focused on training to help Hamas upgrade local production, extend the range of rockets and improve their accuracy, according to both Palestinian and Israeli officials and experts.

“It is a huge improvement going from firing one or two rockets at a time to launching 130 rockets in five minutes,” said Rami Abu Zubaydah, a Gaza-based military expert, referring to the frequency of fire seen in the past few days.

“Most weapons are now manufactured in Gaza, using technical expertise from Iran,” he said.

While still having to rely on smuggling parts and raw materials, Hamas leaders say the group has engineered creative workarounds to overcome tighter border controls and surveillance.

A 50-minute documentary broadcast by the Qatari-owned television channel Al Jazeera in September showed rare scenes of Hamas militants recovering dozens of Israeli missiles that had not detonated in previous strikes on Gaza.

They brought the remnants into what looked like a hidden manufacturing facility, carefully extracted the explosives packed inside and recycled some of the parts. The same documentary also showed militants digging up old water pipes from where Israeli settlements used to sit and repurposing the empty cylinders in the production of new rockets.

Referring to the repurposed plumbing pipes, while speaking in another gathering in 2019, Mr. Sinwar said, “There is enough there to manufacture rockets for the coming 10 years.”

Nada Rashwan, John Ismay and Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.

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Israeli Court Delays Expulsion of Palestinian Families in East Jerusalem

JERUSALEM — The Israeli Supreme Court delayed on Sunday a decision on whether to expel six Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem after the attorney general requested more time, in part because of the tensions the case has stirred.

The court was to decide on Monday whether to uphold an expulsion order for the families in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, in a hearing that many feared would set off a wave of unrest. Instead, the case was delayed by up to 30 days to allow the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, to review it.

For many Palestinians, the families’ plight has become emblematic of a wider effort to remove Palestinians from parts of East Jerusalem and of the past displacements of Arabs in the occupied territories and within Israel.

Since the start of the month, the prospect of the evictions has prompted daily protests, arrests and confrontations between Palestinians and the Israeli police and Jewish extremists.

form of apartheid and the United Nations rights agency says is a potential war crime.

“This isn’t just about the situation for my family,” said Mr. Skafi. “It’s about the situation for all Palestinians in East Jerusalem.”

Some city officials deny that the replacement of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers amounts to a strategy of displacement. Sheikh Jarrah “is not a political but a legal dispute” over land ownership, said Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, a deputy mayor of Jerusalem.

But others in the city leadership say it is part of a concerted effort to reinforce Jewish control of East Jerusalem and prevent it from being ceded in putative future peace negotiations to a Palestinian state.

Another deputy mayor, Aryeh King, said on Friday that it was “of course” part of a wider strategy of placing “layers of Jews” throughout the eastern half of the city. The goal, Mr. King said, is “to secure the future of Jerusalem as a Jewish capital for the Jewish people.”

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and annexed it.

Settlers in the neighborhood consider the Palestinians squatters on land that was historically owned by Jews. They said the court decision on Sunday was a sign of government weakness.

“I am so sorry that the Israeli government is afraid of the violence of a few young Arab people,” said Yonatan Yosef, a settler leader who lives in Sheikh Jarrah. But he promised that settlers would continue with their efforts to force Palestinians out of the neighborhood.

“The Israeli people will go back to their land, and those who don’t want that should go home,” Mr. Yosef said.

Peace Now, a campaign group that documents the expulsions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, estimated that 200 Palestinian properties in strategic locations near the Old City of Jerusalem, housing several thousand residents, were at risk of eviction.

Up to 20,000 Palestinian homes across the city are under threat of demolition, according to Peace Now. Restrictions on building permits in East Jerusalem have forced Palestinian residents to either leave the city or to build illegal housing vulnerable to demolition orders.

The dispute in Sheikh Jarrah originated in 1876 when the land was under Ottoman rule. That year, Palestinian landowners sold a plot in Sheikh Jarrah to two Jewish trusts, an Israeli court has ruled. The land houses the tomb of a revered Jewish priest from antiquity, Shimon HaTzadik.

Jordan captured the plot in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 and built dozens of homes there to house some of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who had fled from what became Israel.

After Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, it eventually returned ownership of the Sheikh Jarrah homes to the Jewish trusts. The trusts later sold it to right-wing settlers, who have tried to evict the residents ever since. Some families have already been forced out, while the others are in various stages of the court process.

The case has foregrounded the imbalance in who gets to reclaim land in Jerusalem. In East Jerusalem, Jews are allowed to reclaim property that was under Jewish ownership before 1948. But Palestinian families have no legal mechanism to reclaim land they owned in West Jerusalem or anywhere else in Israel.

Israelis defend the policy on the grounds that changing it would undermine the Jewish character of the world’s only Jewish state.

Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel, and Iyad Abuhweila from Gaza City.

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