Photo: Reuters

U.S. peace deal causes rise in tensions

Palestinian Islamists have launched a rocket and “explosive balloons” from the Gaza Strip toward Israel’s southern communities last night, amid rising tensions over the American peace initiative. Rocket-alert sirens were sounded across the Eshkol Regional Council, forcing its residents to rush into bomb-shelters within the Home Front Command’s instructed 15 seconds. Thankfully, the incoming projectile exploded in an uninhabited area, causing no injuries or damage.

In a retaliatory response, IDF fighter jets and aircraft struck a number of Hamas terror targets in the southern Gaza Strip. The IDF Spokesperson’s unit noted in its statement that “Among the targets struck were a weapons manufacturing site and underground infrastructure.”

The military further reiterated its position, in which “The Hamas terror organization is responsible for events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it,” while underscoring that the Islamist group “will bear the consequences for its actions against Israeli civilians.”

Separately the IDF announced that it will reinforce its Judea and Samaria and Gaza Divisions with additional combat troops and deploy additional infantry troops in the area of the Jordan Valley. The announcement came following an “ongoing situation assessment,” in light of the Palestinian reaction to the U.S. formulated peace plan, and in light of the latest developments on the ground.

The Palestinian leadership is deeply disappointed by the Arab world’s “moderate” reaction to the Trump Administration’s so-called “deal of the century”. While numerous solidarity protests were recorded in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and even in the Belgian capital, Brussels; Arab states have called on the Palestinian leadership to “study the peace plan and to begin dialogue to renew negotiations under American auspices.” While the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan protested the American initiative and warned against “dangerous repercussions of unilateral steps by Israel;” it limited its criticism of the Trump Administration’s plan most likely due to its own economic distress and reliance on American aid.

According to several Palestinian officials who spoke with TV7, their current line of defense aims to reject the American initiative in international forums with all means available. Among the officials, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat voiced his own frustration, claiming that the Americans completely adopted the Israeli narrative. In his words “I think what President Trump presented yesterday was not an American plan. I think the American peace team copy and pasted the plan of Mr. Netanyahu and the settlers’ councils plans…I don’t think that the American team put a single word in this. It’s about annexation, it’s about apartheid, it’s about departing the Oslo accord and the agreement signed and international law, it’s departing the idea of making peace between Palestinians and Israelis…This is not a plan of peace. This is a scandal and the fraud of the century.”

While numerous clashes were reported in points of friction across the West Bank, a Palestinian security official confirmed to TV7 that they received “instructions to prevent any use of live weapons against Israeli soldiers and civilians and to prevent demonstrators from clashing with soldiers, with the goal of guaranteeing the safety of the Palestinian demonstrators.” The main rationale behind such a directive being  the Palestinian security and intelligence services fear that “a violent escalation in the West Bank could be exploited by Hamas, which would seize the opportunity to use a temporary loss of control and unrest on the Palestinian street to stage a military coup.”

Similarly, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem voiced cohesive anger over the U.S.-initiative, stressing that they will fight to preserve the city’s Palestinian, Arab and Islamic character regardless of any international plan. Mahmoud Faroun, who is an Arab-Palestinian Resident of Jerusalem said, “The capital of Palestine is Jerusalem it will be announced when the Islamic State will be established as the united Arab Jerusalem.” Another resident of the area who refused to be identified said “Trump or whoever are not welcomed, Jerusalem tells its own story every stone tells about its history, it was never Israeli or American. Jerusalem is Palestinian, Arab and Islamic.”

Opposingly, Israeli residents of both Jerusalem and the West Bank voiced hope that the American President’s initiative would serve as a foundation for negotiations, ultimately resulting in a viable solution to the decades old conflict. According to Erez Goldman “they (the Palestinians) keep losing again and again and again just because they forgot the word ‘Yes’. So maybe this is the, our new future now, a new era will start today.” Stuart Chesner, who is a resident of an Israeli West Bank Settlement voiced the opinion that “President Trump’s plan for the century is a step in the right direction. I hope, I would hope that the Palestinians would be open to use it as a point of negotiations. I’m disappointed that the Palestinians rejected it outright but I’m hopeful that we can use it as a point of negotiation to bring peace to this area.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this morning. During the talks he updated the Russian leader on regional matters including the American peace initiative. The Israeli premier addressed his counterpart saying “Mr. President, you are, in effect, the first leader that I am speaking to about my visit to Washington regarding President Trump’s plan of the century. I think that a new and perhaps unique opportunity has been created here, and, I would like to discuss with you and hear from you, of course, your understandings and to see how we can integrate all forces on behalf of security and peace.” Netanyahu also seized the opportunity to praise the Russian leader for the strong bilateral relations between the two countries, saying “I must say that relations between Russia and Israel are steadfast, strong and the best they have ever been. I would like to thank you Mr. President for your personal leadership also in regard to several other matters as well.”