Posts Tagged ‘Fatah’
Really, you know Mahmoud Abbas’ smiles are just for photo-ops. Cos he can’t have much to be happy about. As Alex wrote this week - “with every day his irrelevance seems to be growing.” And it seems to have grown just a little bit more today as the much-debated unity deal between Fatah and Hamas has been rejected, yet again.
I’m going to add on to Alex’s statement: with every day, Abbas’ incompetence also seems to grow by leaps and bounds. After all the delaying and hemm-hawing over the Goldstone Report, one would think Abbas would try and do something to one-up Hamas, who do seem to have notched up a minor PR win in the midst of the drama.
Even if Hamas does agree to sign on to the deal (a move that seems somewhat unlikely right now), Abbas is in major trouble. Wonder how much patience the Egyptians have left now…
Well the NY Summit has been and gone and, lo and behold, nothing sensational or earth-shattering has hit the press this morning. What a surprise. Abdelbari Atwan called it “a capitulation” and “a defeat” for Obama in his editorial for al Quds al Arabi.
The Majlis has a full transcript of Obama’s comments after his individual meetings with Bibi & Abu Mazen and before the tri-partite summit itself, but there’s nothing earth-shattering in it. I’d say that all in all Obama sounds kinda frustrated:
America’s frustration showed when Obama told reporters the two sides had to stop stalling. “Permanent status negotiations must begin and begin soon. It is past time to talk about starting negotiations. It is time to move forward,” he said.
Jonathan Freedland’s comments for the Guardian’s comment is free confirm what I’ve suspected of late, Bibi and, to a lesser extent, Abu Mazen, are warm and comfy in their local politics:
How had it come about that, in the words of the Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea, the Americans had “discovered that they want an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement more than the Israelis and the Palestinians want it”? The narrow answer is the usual one, that the local politics on both sides of the conflict has made inaction a safer bet than action. Netanyahu sits atop a coalition that is perfectly stable – just so long as he doesn’t do anything. Were he so much as to hint at taking any of the steps necessary for a peace deal, coalition partners would start breaking off like aeroplane wings in an ice storm. As for Abbas, he has finally acquired some political strength, removing potential rivals from within his own Fatah faction while all trace of Hamas has been eradicated from the West Bank. As one Fatah insider puts it: “Abbas is now at the peak of his powers.” All that could damage him are the accusations of treachery that would instantly follow any compromise with Israel.
Freedland is forthright in his criticism of Obama’s recent failures in the arena of Middle Eastern politics, a criticism echoed by many on both sides of the arena. It is true, Obama has failed so far to gain any real concessions from either side, to get the peace process moving with truly wilful engagement form both sides. Arabs are asking for deeds not words, Israelis are lauding their Prime Minister for his strength, but Freedland advises us to not give up hope:
Above all, those panicking that Obama has not yet bagged a clutch of foreign policy triumphs in the Middle East and elsewhere may be forgetting both the mess that he inherited and his leadership style. He plays the long, slow game, advancing gradually. So, yes, there was no overnight fix in New York, but that was never on the cards. Besides, Obama believes he has time on his side. Unlike most US presidents keen to play Middle East peacemaker, he has not tackled this in his last year, but in his first.
In addition to the summit, Bibi also embarked on a few interviews as part of the PR campaign to woo the US public. His wooing was largely successful, old Bibi is a pretty canny media operator. Some exerts from his interview with Wolf Blitzer, and some pertinent thoughts, to be found at The Majlis:
When Blitzer brought up the Goldstone report, a U.N. investigation into the clash between Israel and Palestinian forces in Gaza in 2006 that Israel has renounced, Netanyahu said the report essentially gives a free hand to terrorists who wish to attack democracies.
Hamas fighters “get a free bill out of this bias,” Netanyahu said. “American pilots, NATO pilots … are gonna be on the dock … that’s not something that any country fighting terrorism can accept, and I don’t think you can accept it too.”
Blitzer didn’t challenge Netanyahu on that point, which is unfortunate, since on its face Netanyahu’s premise makes me, as an American, pause. After all, the U.S. has killed many civilians in the course of its war in Afghanistan, shouldn’t we now be afraid that the United Nations will come after us? But upon closer inspection, there are holes in Netanyahu’s fear-mongering. The reason Israel is under investigation is the method by which it attacked Hamas in Gaza. Critics of the Goldstone report aren’t questioning its conclusions – such as Israeli use of white phosphorous, killings of police officers and bombings of sewage treatment facilities. Instead, they question the premise and bias of the Goldstone Report itself.
The other interview I came across is with ABC’s Charlie Gibson (full transcript). In this interview, Bibi describes the recent summit in New York as “frank”, “productive” and “very good”. Gibson is a little tougher on Netanyahu than Blitzer on the issue of settlements, Bibi stonewalled him on it numerous times essentially stating that he rejects the Palestinian position of putting settlement growth ending as a pre-condition to peace talks: “The issue of the settlements has to be resolved. It should be resolved at the end of negotiations, not before the negotiations.” When pressed further, Bibi uses the old ‘natural growth’ defence and also mentions that a settlement freeze was not discussed during the NY Summit, contrary to previous reports. Gibson also asked Bibi about Iran but, isappointingly did not bring up the Goldstone Report.
On topic of the Goldstone Report, Israel has now urged the EU to reject it:
Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal on Tuesday convened 26 European Union ambassadors in Jerusalem for a diplomatic briefing.
The Foreign Ministry director-general also called on EU countries to clearly express their reservations over the report in any possible way. The report, he said, is not legal but rather “a one-dimensional, political propaganda poster biased against Israel.”
Here is the obligatory hand-shake photo, I enjoy how paternalistic Obama looks in this one.
In the wake of the Goldstone Report (which The Majlis is blogging also as they read, check their coverage out) , we have a tri-partite summit in New York between President Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas. All of this, of course, assuming that Netanyahu actually cares and that Abbas still has some sort of authority to throw around… you know, just assuming of course.
There has been a slightly conspicuous silence coming from the Israeli right on this, usually they would be all over it. The silence was explained in Haaretz today, an explanation that is, well, fairly on point:
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), one of the ideological rebels, explained the silence Monday: “We all know that this summit has no significance. There is no possibility of achieving anything, so there is no real argument about where we are going. There is a united front in the Likud for now.”
Aluf Benn for Haaretz discusses the different working styles and varied expectations between the US, Israeli and Palestinian approaches to the peace process and politics in general:
He (Obama) is not dependent on a coalition in which the majority of members oppose diplomatic steps, as is Netanyahu, or in legalistic tricks keeping him in power after his term has ended, as is Abbas.
That leaves Obama time to work determinedly, yet gradually.
This is also Mitchell’s style: another meeting, another discussion, another preparation, all aimed primarily at building trust and bringing both sides closer to the bigger decisions to be made later.
I agree with Benn, US politics moves much slower than Israeli politics, has more time and opportunity for careful consideration and planning and relies a great deal more on lengthy dialogue – in many ways this can be a good thing. On the other hand, the idea that the Palestinians have another 4 years to wait for Obama to get his act together is dismissive. While realistically, it may take that long, and even longer, to actually achieve something (if possible at all), during this time Palestinians continue to live in squalid, repressive and humiliating conditions that prevent their development and progress as a people. This may not mean that everyone has to hurry, but it is not a situation that should be dismissed lightly. The Palestinians will wait, because they have to, but that doesn’t mean that they should be made to unnecessarily.
But I digress… the summit.
Yes, so I agree with the Israeli right for once, I don’t think this summit is going to achieve anything but a photo-op. Let’s see, the Israelis refused to halt settlement in the West Bank, the Palestinians refuse to negotiate or engage in “peace talks” unless said settlements are halted, Obama has his hands full with domestic politics anyway so he might well be a touch distracted… seems like a recipe for a nonsensical waste of time to me.
Apparently the Obama Administration realises this and some ideas have been thrown around for how to avoid this. According to Haaretz:
One idea to “upgrade” the summit was that Obama would announce at the end of the meeting that Israel has agreed to suspend construction in the settlements temporarily. This would be seen as an achievement and would jump-start the talks, a Jerusalem source said.
Another idea was to have Obama announce the United States was interested in resuming the talks in mid-October, after further talks with the two parties.
Obama could also announce that the sides are close to resuming the peace talks and call for an international peace conference in the next few months, at which the negotiations would be launched, the source said.
Ahh you have to love politicians and their never-ending ability to spin bullshit, pretending that it constitutes something real. An “announcement” that peace talks will resume later seems hardly an achievement to me, and seems hardly a reason to invite Abbas & Netanyahu to New York in the first place. The announcement of an international peace conference, likewise. If you want a conference, run a conference, you do not need a summit to announce a conference. Which leaves the temporary settlement freeze, the only tangible result from the summit, and we can all agree that it’s far from a sizeable one. Besides that, I’d say that it’s unlikely that Netanyahu will agree to even a temporary settlement freeze considering how strong his coalition is looking right now and how secure the Israeli Right is with this summit. I don’t think he would want to stab them in the back, even if it’s only a small stab. UPDATE: Twas silly of me to have missed this but there’s in fact been a settlement freeze on the table for weeks. Bibi offered 9 months, Mitchell was gunning for 12 (excluding East Jerusalem & necessary public works either way), no agreement was reached and Mitchell went home. [Thanks @Elizrael & @glcarlstrom] The settlement freeze possibly to be announced at this summit is referring to this contested one. Whether this constitutes a sizeable outcome is up to you. I still wonder why the Israeli Right seems so comfy with a 9 month settlement freeze, please inform me in the comments if you should know.
So there you go kids, you can look forward to another non-event in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, mmmm, surprises surprises.
UPDATE: Neither Hamas nor Fatah are particularly happy with Abbas’ decision to meet with Netanyahu while settlements are ongoing, Hamas describing it as “stabbing Palestinians in the back”. The response from the PA has been that this is not signalling the restarting of peace talks but rather a “courtesy meeting”. [Haaretz]
UPDATE 2 (22/09 3pm GMT): According to a Washington Times exclusive confirming the above, Israel has agreed to a 6-9 month settlement freeze excluding East Jerusalem and 2,500 homes already slated to be built. This is still shy of Mitchell’s requested 12 month freeze. However here’s the meat:
In yet another expected move, the United States government has criticized the Goldstone report. According to a spokesperson for the Obama administration:
“Although the report addresses all sides of the conflict, its overwhelming focus is on the actions of Israel,” spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.
“While the report makes overly sweeping conclusions of fact and law with respect to Israel, its conclusions regarding Hamas’ deplorable conduct and its failure to comply with international humanitarian law during the conflict are more general and tentative,” he added.
While one wouldn’t have expected, as I wrote earlier, for the report to have any consequences or any repercussions for the State of Israel, the administration’s response is truly ridiculous.
The ‘overly sweeping conclusions’ are drawn from evidence – the interviews, the investigation, the testimony (including that of IDF soldiers). The Israeli government did not even cooperate for the report! And while sure, Hamas firing rockets into Israel is deplorable, just look at the count of people who were killed. From the report:
Based on extensive field research, non-governmental organizations place the overall number of persons killed between 1,387 and 1,417. The Gaza authorities report 1,444 fatal casualties. The Government of Israel provides a figure of 1,166.
According to the Government of Israel, during the military operations there were 4 Israeli fatal casualties in southern Israel, of whom 3 were civilians and one soldier, killed by rockets and mortars attacks by Palestinian armed groups. In addition, 9 Israeli soldiers were killed during the fighting inside the Gaza strip, 4 of whom as a result of friendly fire.
So 1,444 v/s 13? Atleast based on this reaction, the Obama administration – like George W. Bush’s government – doesn’t seem to care a bit for what the United Nations (which does have a lot of problems) says or thinks or recommends. This statement will really not help the US if they’re looking to broker a peace deal in the region, nor will it build any trust in the Obama administration.
The Karachi Electric Supply Company has played havoc with my plan to read the Goldstone report in one night. In any case, I’m halfway through and while Alex has already posted some of the major analysis and findings, here go some of the key things I’ve read so far:
As Alex has posted, the report is quite strongly worded. Even if you discount the fact that the UN has lost its influence on global politics and preventing war, the report is a damning one for the State of Israel. It not only finds the country guilty of violating almost every rule in the book – including treaties it has ratified – but also provides an insight into the tactics the IDF employed during the Gaza invasion. Chickens, flour mills, water treatment plants, hospitals, mosques, a UN building, houses and most importantly: innocent human beings. All slaughtered, lobbed missiles and phosphorus shells at, fired at and discriminated against, and for what, you may ask. Those of us who followed the invasion of Gaza through hourly reports know most of the incidents mentioned and investigated in the Goldstone report, but as is the case with any heinous crime, one wonders how exactly this happened in the first place, and how the Israel government went scot-free for the destruction and devastation of an innocent community.
(Apologies for the length of the extracts, but the Mission’s language – as cold and detached as it often is – describes it with a far stronger impact than any analysis)
“The chicken farms of Mr. Sameh Sawafeary in the Zeitoun neighbourhood south of Gaza City reportedly supplied over 10 per cent of the Gaza egg market. Armoured bulldozers of theIsraeli forces systematically flattened the chicken coops, killing all 31,000 chickens inside, and destroyed the plant and material necessary for the business. The Mission concludes that this was a deliberate act of wanton destruction not justified by any military necessity.”
Not just chickens and human beings: cutting off industrial development as well
The attacks on industrial facilities, food production and water infrastructure investigated by the Mission are part of a broader pattern of destruction, which includes the destruction of the only cement packaging plant in Gaza (the Atta Abu Jubbah plant), the Abu Eida factories for ready-mix concrete, further chicken farms and the Al Wadia Group’s foods and drinks factories. The facts ascertained by the Mission indicate that there was a deliberate and systematic policy on the part of the Israeli armed forces to target industrial sites and water installations.”
If you can’t break their spirits and their lives, breaking any signs of hope for the area to even develop fits the bill.
..and kill Hamas off, while IDF’s at it
The deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, reportedly told a meeting with heads of local authorities in southern Israel that “….After this operation there will not be one Hamas building left standing in Gaza, and
we plan to change the rules of the game..”
The use of Palestinian civilians as human shields
The Mission investigated four incidents in which Israeli forces coerced Palestinian civilian men at gun point to take part in house searches during the military operations. The Palestinian men were blindfolded and handcuffed as they were forced to enter houses ahead of the Israeli soldiers. In one of the incidents, Israeli forces repeatedly forced a man to enter a house in which Palestinian combatants were hiding. Published testimonies of Israeli soldiers who took part in the military operations confirm the continued use of this practice, in spite of clear orders from Israel’s High Court to the armed forces to put an end to it and repeated public assurances from the armed forces that the practice had been discontinued. The Mission concludes that this practice amounts to the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields and is therefore prohibited by international humanitarian law. It puts the right to life of the civilians at risk in an arbitrary and unlawful manner and constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment. The use of human shields also is a war crime. The Palestinian men used as human shields were questioned under threat of death or injury to extract information about Hamas, Palestinian combatants and tunnels. This constitutes a further violation of international humanitarian law.
In the Al Atatra area in north-western Gaza Israeli troops had dug out sand pits in which Palestinian men, women and children were detained. Israeli tanks and artillery positions were located inside the sand pits and around them and fired from next to the detainees.
This has been described early on in the report, and I felt this was one of the most horrendous incidents, until I read ahead to the Mission’s investigations into specific families targeted and killed. It reminded me of the CIA torture report, and the example of the mock-killing that was carried out outside one of the cells to intimidate a detainee into talking.
Hamas v/s Fatah:
The Mission gathered first-hand information on five cases of Fatah affiliates detained, killed or subject to physical abuse by members of security forces or armed groups in Gaza. In most cases those abducted from their homes or otherwise detained were reportedly not accused of offences related to specific incidents, but rather targeted because of their political affiliation.
The Mission finds that such actions constitute serious violations of human rights and are not consistent with either the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Palestinian Basic Law.
Hamas hasn’t been entirely absolved of blame in the Goldstone report – but Israel’s crimes are so many, varied and clearcut that they overshadow any actions taken by Hamas.
Meanwhile, the Goldstone report also describes the incidents of the treatment by Palestinian Authority members to Hamas during the Gaza war.
The Mission has received allegations of violations relevant to its mandate committed by the Palestinian Authority in the period under inquiry. These include violations related to the treatment of (suspected) Hamas affiliates by the security services, including unlawful arrest and detention. Several Palestinian human rights organizations have reported that practices used by the Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank amount to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. There have been a number of cases of death in detention where it is suspected that torture and other ill treatment may have contributed to, or caused, the death of the detainee.
The West Bank wasn’t free either
With reference to sniper fire on Palestinians in the West Bank:
Several witnesses told the Mission that during the operation in Gaza, the sense in the West Bank was one of a “free for all”, where anything was permitted.
Burnt alive: the use of white phosphorus shells
The Goldstone report investigates innocent killings of scores of family members. Houses shelled, allegations of being Hamas members, denying family members the right to assist each other and to medical facilities. One incident is cited below:
In the afternoon, after hearing that a shell had hit the adjacent house of Sabah Abu Halima’s brother-in-law, most of the family moved from the bedroom into a hallway in the middle of the upper floor, where they thought they would be better protected. At around 4.30 p.m., a white phosphorous shell came through the ceiling into the room where they were sheltering.
According to family members who survived, there was intense fire and white smoke in the room, the walls of which were glowing red. Five members of the family died immediately or within a short period: Muhammad Sa’ad Abu Halima (aged 45) and four of his children, sons Abd al-Rahim Sa’ad (aged 14), Zaid (aged 12) and Hamza (aged 8), and daughter Shahid (aged 18 months). Muhammad Sa’ad and Abd al-Rahim Sa’ad were decapitated, the others burnt to death. Five members of the family escaped and suffered various degrees of burns: Sabah Abu Halima, her sons Youssef (aged 16) and Ali (aged 4), daughter-in-law Ghada (aged 21), and Ghada’s daughter Farah (aged 2).
Family members tried to call an ambulance, but the Israeli armed forces had declared the area a closed military zone and ambulances were not permitted to enter. Two cousins put Sabah Abu Halima in the back of a tractor trailer and drove her to Kamal Idwan hospital in Beit Lahia. The driver reported that he reached the hospital despite coming under fire from Israeli soldiers posted inside the Omar Bin Khattab school for girls on the road to al-Atatra. One cousin remained with Sabah Abu Halima, while the other returned to help the rest of the family.
The remaining survivors and the injured were placed on a second tractor trailer to take them to Kamal Idwan hospital. The remains of Shahid Abu Halima were also taken. The tractor was driven by a cousin, Muhammad Hekmat Abu Halima (aged 16). Another cousin, Matar Abu Halima (aged 17), his brother Ali (aged 11) and his mother, Nabila, accompanied them.
When they reached the crossroads next to the Omar Bin Khattab school in al-Atatra, Israeli soldiers positioned on the roof of a nearby house, some ten metres away, ordered them to stop. Muhammad Hekmat, Matar, Ali, Nabila and Matar got down and stood beside the tractor. One or more soldiers opened fire, hitting Muhammad Hekmat Abu Halima in the chest and Matar Abu Halima in the abdomen. Both died as a result of their injuries. Ali, Omar and Nabila Abu Halima fled. Omar was shot in the arm, but they eventually reached Kamal Idwan hospital.
The remaining family members were ordered to abandon the tractors and walk. They were not permitted to take the bodies of the two dead boys, or the remains of Shahid Abu Halima, which were recovered four days later, on 8 January. Ghada Abu Halima, who had burns on 45 per cent of her body, had great difficulty walking. After some 500 metres, a vehicle picked up several members of the family, including Ghada and Farah, and took them to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.
Dr. Nafiz Abu Shaban, Chief of Plastic Surgery at al-Shifa hospital, confirmed that Sabah, Ghada and Farah Abu Halima were admitted there with serious burns and were transferred to Egypt for treatment. The doctor believed that the burns were caused by contact with white phosphorous.
“Better hit an innocent than hesitate to target the enemy”
The Goldstone report is replete with these incidents, and the Mission corroborates the reports with testimony given by Israeli soldiers.
The Mission found in the above (investigated) incidents that the Israeli armed forces repeatedly opened fire on civilians who were not taking part in the hostilities and who posed no threat to them. These incidents indicate that the instructions given to the Israeli armed forces moving into Gaza provided for a low threshold for the use of lethal fire against the civilian population
The first policy could be summarized, in the words of one of the soldiers: “if we see something suspect and shoot, better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy.”
Another soldier attributed the following instructions to his battalion commander: “If you are not sure – shoot. If there is doubt then there is no doubt.”
The first soldier summarized the briefing from the battalion commander as follows “the enemy was hiding behind civilian population. […] if we suspect someone, we should not give him the benefit of the doubt. Eventually, this could be an enemy, even if it’s some old woman approaching the house. It could be an old woman carrying an explosive charge.”
A third soldier explained “you don’t only shoot when threatened. The assumption is that you constantly feel threatened, so anything there threatens you, and you shoot. No one actually said ‘shoot regardless’ or ‘shoot anything that moves.’ But we were not ordered to open fire only if there was a real threat.”
Free Gilad, or Gaza gets it
The Mission is concerned by declarations made by various Israeli officials, who have indicated the intention of maintaining the blockade of the Gaza Strip until the release of Gilad Shalit. The Mission is of the opinion that this would constitute collective punishment of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.
This has been one of the most debated facts of the Gaza invasion as well as the stalemate in negotiations. I agree that Shalit’s imprisonment is wrong. But punishing the population because of one prisoner? It makes no rational sense, unless one can somehow prove that the entire Gazan population was involved in his capture, which is also as irrational a thought.
Five hundred and seventy five pages of evidence, tests, reports, fact finding missions on the ground, interviews, phone logs, testimony: every page of the Goldstone report leaves one reeling. Had this report been issued about any army, anywhere in the world, it would have called for multiple invasions of that country and boycotts.
And while that will never happen to Israel, one hopes that the governments of countries that are involved in Israel-Palestine peace negotiations read this report in its entirety, before they look at the impact of rockets being fired into Israeli territory v/s death and destruction on this scale. This ‘broader pattern of destruction’ is not something the world should tolerate, yet it remains to be shocking (even to someone as cynical as I am) how it not only continues to tolerate it, but also sympathizes with Israel.
Previous posts by Alex on the Goldstone report