The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Fatah

Israeli-Palestinian talks – A very troubling “compromise”

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The sheer amount of media reports about these talks has been deafening, and the amount of comment has been an absolute deluge, to the point where I have been reluctant to write about it (until now), due to the difficulty of contributing something new to the discussion. However, a new piece of information has come to light that I could prove very important to the future of talks and solutions.

These past few days has seen a flurry of reporting, and to-ing and fro-ing, about an article filed by David Makovsky for the Washington Institute of Near-East Affairs:

According to senior U.S. officials, the administration’s efforts culminated in a draft letter negotiated with Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak and chief Israeli peace negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, and ultimately sent from President Obama’s desk to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

At its core, the draft letter offers a string of assurances to Israel in return for a two-month moratorium extension. More specifically, U.S. officials indicate that the document makes commitments on issues ranging from current peace and security matters to future weapons deliveries in the event that peace-related security arrangements are reached.

As agencies picked up the article, the White House issued a denial that there was any letter sent. As noted in that Haaretz report, Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat have repeatedly stated that they will leave talks unless an Israeli moratorium on settlement construction is extended, and the White House has been desperate to see such an extension so that talks can continue.

Outlets are now reporting that a deal is in fact on the table, whether or not a physical letter was sent. Politico’s Laura Rozen has a translation of a report in Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv up at her blog. The report is dated several days ago. The money graf, emphasis Rozen’s:

Sources close to the negotiations said that the American package includes a compromise for both parties on the issue of a construction freeze in exchange for a written American commitment to support the parties on other issues that are important to them in later stages of the negotiations. The sources said that in exchange for a compromise on the issue of extending the moratorium, Israel apparently demanded a written American commitment to support its demands on a number of issues, such as recognition of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation-state and security strategies that pertain to defending the eastern border of the Palestinian state. The Palestinians demanded, apparently, American commitments on the issues of borders and Jerusalem, in exchange for their concession regarding the discontinuance of the complete construction moratorium.

The WaPo report says:

Among other inducements, the administration has proposed that there be a lengthy “transitional period” for security on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state, a plan that would presumably include Israeli troops. The United States would also promise military hardware and pledge to veto U.N. resolutions relating to Arab-Israeli peace for a year.

As part of the package, Israel would agree to extend a partial freeze on settlement growth for 60 days.

While both are reporting that Netanyahu has not yet agreed to the offer, to me it seems quite troubling.

The Palestinians have repeatedly said that Israeli troops on Palestinian land would be unacceptable in any peace agreement. Various alternative ideas have been floated, including demilitarisation for a Palestinian state (effectively reducing it to a paper tiger and affecting its legitimacy as a state altogether) and/or international peacekeeping troops, both along the border and in sensitive parts of Jerusalem.

Military hardware is, of course, nothing new, and neither is the veto-ing of UN resolutions. Already the US has been blocking anything critical of Israel in the UN on the tenuous basis that it might “harm peace talks”. A written agreement, however, to block these things for an entire year is a serious smack in the face to international institutions that further entrenches the concept of American exceptionalism as a norm (which also extends to allies like Israel).

What’s most troubling, however, is the promise to officially recognise Israel as “the Jewish people’s nation-state”. The call for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state has come loudest from Israel’s controversial hardline Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, a West Bank settler and crazy UN speech maker.

Officially recognising Israel as a “Jewish state” is troubling for a number of reasons. Firstly, it affects the key Palestinian request of the right of return, and while, in my opinion, it’s the most unreasonable Palestinian request and the most likely to face the axe, it’s still a key part of their negotiating position.

Furthermore, such recognition by the US would only serve to undermine further the tenuous claims that Israel is a “Western-style democracy” and has “similar values” to the US, a call frequently made in defense of the “special relationship”. If separation of church & state is a key element of America’s identity, how can an expressly ethno-religious basis for Israel’s identity be considered “similar”?

Most worryingly, such recognition will dramatically affect the standing of over a million Arab, non-Jewish, citizens of Israel. There are already numerous Israeli laws that discriminate against Israeli citizens of Arab descent, placing them outside the state by virtue of its internationally recognised identity would serve to only further entrench this discrimination.

And making all these concessions on behalf of the Palestinians just for a 60 day extension on illegal construction of settlements in occupied land, that probably won’t be adhered to anyway, so that manifestly uneven peace talks can continue seems completely ludicrous. Make no mistake, these concessions should not be treated lightly, but it seems that, in its self-serving drive to score brownie points for “peace in the Middle East”, the Obama Administration is doing just that.

Gilad Shalit, and Obama uses Israel as attack dog to scare Chinese

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photo credit: politicaltheatrics.net

Been a while since I last blogged, exams got the better of me and being in Sydney chilling has been counterproductive to blogging, but I’m back!

Despite discussions stalling somewhat and it now being said that a deal is more likely to take place after Eid al-Adha (Eid Mubarak to Muslims, by the way!) there have been reports of progress on the negotiations over the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. Ismail Haniyeh even cancelled his Hajj! According to Haaretz, Israel is none too thrilled about certain prisoners that Hamas wants released:

Hamas is demanding, among other the prisoners, the release of Ibrahim Hamad, head of the group’s military wing in the Ramallah area, Abdallah Barghouti, a bomb engineer, and Abbas a-Sayad, the Hamas head in Tul Karm who planned the 2002 massacre during Passover in Netanya’s Park Hotel. These three prisoners are considered responsible for the murder of hundreds of Israelis.

Other names mentioned in the Arab media are Hassan Salame, who was involved in planning the suicide bus bombings in the mid ’90s, and Jamal Abu al-Hijla, head of Hamas in Jenin, who was convicted of taking part in planning and funding several suicide attacks during the second intifada.

Israel’s trepidation at having these prisoners freed is understandable, and the fact is, that political pressure from within Israel to have Shalit freed has been strong but not overwhelming so you can expect Israeli’s to hold out a while longer to get a better deal, politically especially (apparently having key suicide bombing planners freed can be harmful to one’s political standing). Most people are watching the fate of one Marwan Barghouti, considered a key possible successor to the increasingly beleaguered and probably-resigning Abu Mazen. You can expect Barghouti to be freed, Obama has been putting pressure on Netanyahu to make concessions that would bolster Fatah in the lead-up to PA elections and Abbas’ increasingly likely resignation.

The other major news is that during Obama’s visit to China, he put some pressure on the Chinese to do something about the whole Iran nuclear thing, which they have normally stayed clear out of (their policy of political non-involvement in the affairs of trading partners). The scare tactic used was the threat of Israel bombing Iran unilaterally (thus implying tacit US support) and the damage that would do to Iran as an energy source for China. The other scare tactic was the implication that other states could go nuclear, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, implying that Japan was another possibility (something China would not view kindly). [Thanks WashPo] [Check out a condensed report from Political Theatrics here.)

Antony Loewenstein is getting into a bit of a tizzy about it, suggesting that these talks imply Obama will certainly acquiesce to Israel bombing Iran, I disagree. While the jury is still out on how far Israel will go to defend against the ‘existential threat’ and how far the US will go in trying to stop them, I don’t think these statements to the Chinese should all be taken seriously. They are scare tactics and meant as such, Obama needs the Chinese to either support (or at least not veto) resolutions against Iran in the UN and given their mostly self-interested political philosophies, he needs to frighten them into submission. I mean a nuclear Egypt? Never happen. But bringing up a nuclear Japan is pretty damn scary, as is linking bombing Iran with energy security.

So here we have Obama clearly using Israel as an attack dog, or rather hinting at the possibility of it breaking its chains. Remember the Suez War in 56 when the British and French used Israel as an attack dog? Yeah, that didn’t end well for them.

Abbas’ problems just don’t seem to end

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He still hasn't found what he's looking for <br> (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

He still hasn't found what he's looking for (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

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…

Written by Saba Imtiaz

October 16, 2009 at 4:42 am

Posted in Israel, Palestine

Tagged with , , , ,

Hamas-Fatah reconciliation looks distant, Abbas looks beleaguered

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Poor Mahmoud Abbas, with every day his irrelevance seems to be growing. Fatah have now admitted that a mistake has been made and that discussion of the Goldstone Report should not have been postponed. Could this be because everyone in Palestine is now baying for your blood, Abu Mazen? What I don’t understand is how Fatah could have not predicted this? Did they think bowing to US pressure and facing t he music at home would be less damaging? If so, what a mistake indeed. This is a government that sorely lacks legitimacy at home, and everyone knows that all politics is local.

So according to Haaretz, Abbas has instructed his envoy to resubmit a proposal for the document to be discussed at the UN Human Rights Council. The question is, will this happen? And does it matter to the PA if it does happen? By the looks of things this is being done purely for show anyway so even if they are rebuffed they can say that they tried… but too little too late it doth seem. Israeli Arab parties are calling for Abu Mazen to step down. Hamas have asked for the planned meeting between the two parties to be postponed until after Eid al-Adha, not surprising, as Hamas is now in some tizzy over what to do about this. Technically, no ballot can go ahead without reconciliation, and the impoverished and blockaded fief of Gaza is probably getting to be rather small. There’s also the whole ideology thing.

In his first speech in a while, Abbas also advocated a return to polling stations as a solution to the Hamas-Fatah conflict, this makes plenty of sense, I don’t think the two are even close to reconciling their differences, however such a move would probably not be very favourable for Abbas who is currently deeply unpopular. Is this just random belligerence?

Written by alexlobov

October 12, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Goldstone Report continues to stir, Third Intifada? Fall of Abbas?

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You will have to forgive me for flogging this Goldstone horse, but to me it seems a horse worthy of flogging.  It seems the first attempts by our Libyan saviour to hold a meeting to discuss the report have failed, though it’s possible the report will be discussed at the next meeting of the UNSC dedicated to The Middle East, which has been bumped up to October 14th. Apparently the report is “not on the agenda” at the meeting but “we have to assume” that our saviour will bring it up. Ah geez. So welcoming, y’all are.

Israel continues to stonewall the report, as it considers recalling it’s ambassador to Sweden in response to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt’s remarks in support of it. Tensions have been inflamed further by Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Oren’s recent piece for The New Republic, an empassioned appeal against Holocaust denying and the Goldstone report, linking the two in a bizarre and twisted emotionally charged cry that lacks much reason. Here’s a choice excerpt:

The Goldstone Report goes further than Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust deniers by stripping the Jews not only of the ability and the need but of the right to defend themselves. If a country can be pummeled by thousands of rockets and still not be justified in protecting its inhabitants, then at issue is not the methods by which that country survives but whether it can survive at all. But more insidiously, the report does not only hamstring Israel; it portrays the Jews as the deliberate murderers of innocents–as Nazis. And a Nazi state not only lacks the need and right to defend itself; it must rather be destroyed.

Opposition to this well-known craziness has come thick and fast of course. Sullivan’s response is a bit of a garbled rant but he does make the obvious point:

Seriously? No; the issue is whether Israel committed war crimes in its self-defense in Gaza and whether that self-defense was disproportionate to the threat it faced.

Yes, that is indeed the issue, Mr. Oren. Everyone serious, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad notwithstanding, has said many times, the Holocaust was a terrible thing and yes the Israeli state needs to defend itself, but if Mr. Oren thinks he can play the emotion card over the Holocaust to give Israel total impunity over its ‘defensive’ actions, then he isn’t very in tune with today’s political climate. Pretty much just as every Israeli response to this report in the past, it fails to actually address the issues raised by the report and descends into a beleaguered rant. Predictably, in Oren’s latest defense of his controversial piece, he has once again brought up the suggestion that the report could set a precedent and that the US could be put in the dock for civilian deaths in Afghanistan, seirously? Does no one have respect for international law and order around here? Is this a return to the Bush doctrine of unilateralism? Should any military power occupying and conducting a war on foreign soil be allowed to act with impunity of that war is “good” and “just”. Idiocy.

Photograph: Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP

Photograph: Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP

Meanwhile, commentators from all over the place have been declaring the report and the fallout from it a watershed moment in the Middle East and predicting various things from the fall of Abbas, electronic intifada rings his death knell via al Quds al Arabi…

This time, torrents of protest and outrage flowed from almost every direction. It was as if all the suppressed anger and grief about PA collaboration with Israel during the massacres in Gaza last winter suddenly burst through a dam. “The crime at Geneva cannot pass without all those responsible being held accountable,” the widely-read London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi stated in its lead editorial on 8 October. The newspaper called for the removal of Abbas and his associates who betrayed the victims of Israel’s massacres and “saved Israel from the most serious moral, political and legal crisis it has faced since its establishment.”

to the third intifada… heralded by a rather amusingly old-school journo-orientalist article in the Telegraph (“winding alleyways of the old city”, “dozens of muslim men gathered to vent their frustration”, etc.)

and possibly a new Ice Age? Well maybe not the latter.

Ari Shavit for Haaretz contributes some ridiculous and frightening thoughts to the mix, suggesting that Israel “must exercize (sic) force once every few years” to “prevent the region’s deterioration into complete chaos.” Ohhhh I get it now… so Israel has to bomb the living daylights out of Arabs in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank in order to keep the peace! War for peace! Yes it all makes sense now! Who cares that thousands of civilians are dead, it’s for the peace process, man!

These limited demonstrations of power do not achieve a decisive military victory or a breakthrough in the peace process.

Their entire purpose is to stabilize the violent relationship between Israelis and Arabs. Thus they create a temporary, strong-arm balance that subdues the conflict and ensures calm for a few years.

For better or worse, Operation Cast Lead created such a balance. It weakened Hamas and deterred it, at a terrible human cost. It strengthened the moderate Palestinians and enabled them to grow, at an intolerable moral cost.

By “moderate Palestinians”, I assume Shavit is referring to Israel’s favourite house Arab, Abu Mazen, then I don’t think he’s been “strengthened” at all. His legitimacy is at an all time low. In fact, if Shavit thinks that somehow bombing the crap out of Palestinians with the acquiscence of their supposed leadership is supposed to strengthen said leadership then… well… he’s an idiot, really. He goes further to describe the “violent relationship between Israelis and Arabs” as “a strong arm balance”. What balance? Crude rockets against the Middle East’s best military and a crippling blockade is supposed to be a balance? Starving people in abject poverty and denying them power and medicine, a balance? But wait theres more:

The Goldstone report would never have been written without the joint work, joint bias and joint Israel-hatred of all the Goldstoners. Thus the report reflects both the Goldstoners’ holy fury and their complete belief that the Palestinians can do no wrong.

That belief is now endangering not only Israel but calm and stability. In their fanaticism and extremism, Goldstone and the Goldstoners have brought us closer to bloodshed.

The most amusing and scary part of this is that, to Shavit, “bloodshed” is an intifada or a Six-Day War, it’s one which involves significant Israeli casualties. Shavit does not recognise 1400 Palestinians dead during Operation Cast Lead as “bloodshed” because he doesn’t see Palestinians as humans capable of shedding blood that’s worth something. The claim that by analysing Israel’s actions during a war is bad because it will somehow lead to more war is so ridiculous that I wonder why Haaretz printed it. Seriously guys? This is what you could come up with?

Will wrap up this post by suggesting y’all look further at that electronic intifada piece because it has some very interesting thoughts on the bind that Hamas is now in, in terms of figuring out its response to the Goldstone Report and Abu Mazen’s capitulation.

Abbas helps bury the Goldstone Report, then regrets it.

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Muammar Qaddafi - Renewed Champion of the Palestinian cause on the Security Council? Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters
Muammar Qaddafi – Renewed Champion of the Palestinian cause on the Security Council? Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters

In the wake of the Goldstone Report, things were meant to be done! Action was meant to be taken! Perpetrators were meant to be put in the dock and have had various parts of them chopped off! Or something of that order… but surprisingly (I know I know, I’m just as surprised as the rest of you) that hasn’t quite happened. And it’s the usual suspects behind the not happening. We reported earlier that both Israel & the US condemned the report. But surely not the Palestinians right? RIGHT? Wrong.

It seems that Abu Mazen et al., have decided to be the good Israeli/US ‘running dogs’ that they are and help stonewall the report further:

Last week, Abbas withdrew Palestinian support for a vote in the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to have the report sent to the UN General Assembly for possible action. Such a vote would have been a first of many steps toward possible war crimes tribunals.

With the Palestinians out of the picture, the council set the report aside for six months. [Haaretz]

Now you may rightfully ask, has the old fool lost all his marbles? Why would he do something so crazy? I mean, isn’t this a chance for the international community to have a legitimate opportunity to see and assess the horrors that were committed in Gaza? Isn’t this a chance for the Palestinians to have some justice over the, you know, war crimes? Aren’t war crimes bad? If you are asking these questions, my friend, you are not very well versed in Middle Eastern politics. According to Abbas, the reason is as follows:

Abbas’ aides have defended the step, saying the Palestinians needed more time to win international support for the U.N. report. They said deferring action did not mean burying the report. [Haaretz]

The Palestinians, not being happy about this, have been raising hell on the streets:

With every day, there were more protests, marches and statements of condemnations, not only from his Hamas rivals, but also from human rights groups and intellectuals.

In Gaza, public outrage at Abbas reached a new level on Wednesday, when hundreds of posters criticizing the Palestinian president appeared in public areas around Gaza City.

The text on one poster under an Abbas photo read: To the dumps of history, you traitor, Mahmoud Abbas. Another had a big, black X over Abbas’ face. [Haaretz]

Having realised that this self-righteous anger could possibly damage his political prospects, Abu Mazen and his Fatah cohort have taken a few steps back, including admitting they’ve made “a mistake”, trying to lobby the Security Council through this man, naming and shaming countries who block the report (the horror!) and asking other Arab countries to push it through.

Norman Finkelstein seems to think there’s an altogether different reason, namely the Israelis having some audio evidence of the PA same some things that are decidedly not pro-the-Palestinian-cause, like… you know… being excited about the murder of more Palestinian children:

…a series of tapes in which Palestinian Authority officials could be heard urging Israel to continue the operation in Gaza. Israel threatened to reveal the material to media outlets as well as to the UN and this, in turn, resulted in the Palestinian retreat. It was further claimed that the Palestinians were shown footage showing a meeting between Abu Mazen, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and then foreign minister Tzippi Livni. In the course of the meeting, according to the report, Abu Mazen attempted to convince Barak to continue the operation. Barak appeared hesitant whereas Abu Mazen was enthusiastic. In addition, a telephone conversation recording between Abed Al-Rahim, secretary general of the Palestinian Authority and director of Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s bureau was presented. The Palestinian senior official can be heard saying that now is the time to bring ground forces into the Jabalya and Shati refugee camps. “The fall of these two camps will bring about the fall of the Hamas regime in Gaza, and will cause them to wave a white flag,” says Abed Al-Rahim. According to the report, Dov Weissglas told Abed Al-Rahim that such a move could result in the deaths of thousands of civilians. “They all voted for Hamas,” says Abed Al-Rahim, “they chose their fate, not us.”

Good point Abed! Gaza’s children are not Palestinian children, they are Hamas children, the spawn of Satan himself. They are either Hamas voters already, Hamas sympathisers or have Hamas tattooed on their backsides from birth. At best they’re collateral damage. Welcome to the ‘politics’ of the Middle East, ladies & gentelmen.

The New York Summit & Bibi’s Brief Media Tour

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President Obama Speaks. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Obama Speaks. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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.

Papa Obama looks on as yet another Palestinian-Israeli hand-shake is photographed. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

Papa Obama looks on as yet another Palestinian-Israeli hand-shake is photographed. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

UPDATED: New York Summit with Netanyahu, Obama & Abbas likely to be a Waste of Time

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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:

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition that he not be named because the negotiations are continuing, said Mr. Mitchell has received private assurances from some Gulf Arab and North African states to grant over-flight rights to Israeli jets, open interest sections in Israel and end a travel ban against Israelis if Israel freezes settlement construction. Saudi Arabia, guardian of Islam’s holiest sites, has not agreed to these steps absent a peace agreement.

As usual it’s the Gulf states & the North Africans that are friendliest to Israel. Apart from Saudi Arabia, this is also assuming that Qatar isn’t included (since they already have normalised relations with Israel), still ‘interest sections’ in the UAE, Bahrain & Kuwait could be very handy. In North Africa, I presume Tunisia & Morocco are involved. This is relatively big news in my opinion.

“Thus far, the Arabs have stiffed Obama and the Israelis in their own exquisite way are stiffing him,” said Aaron David Miller, a former senior Middle East adviser to six U.S. secretaries of state. “He is not getting a comprehensive settlement freeze. In fact, over the next 18 months, it may look like a construction boom; 2,500 to 3,000 new units is a lot of construction and to boot the Israelis will never agree to anything on Jerusalem.”

The Washington Times does point out, however, that this will be the first time a US President has gotten the Israelis to agree to any formal settlement freeze. That may sound impressive but the reality is that much more is expected.

On Obama’s success so far:

Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser to Mr. Bush, said Mr. Obama’s diplomacy has backfired.

“The Obama administration’s approach has done precisely the opposite of what they intended, because I believe they intended to weaken Prime Minister Netanyahu and strengthen President Abbas,” he said. “But in fact polls make it clear that Netanyahu is stronger now than he was on the day he took office. And the administration has put President Abbas in a very unhappy corner.”

Predictably, the US criticizes the Goldstone Report

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Smoke rises after an Israel air strike in Gaza on December 31, 2008. (REUTERS/Nikola Solic)

Smoke rises after an Israel air strike in Gaza on December 31, 2008. (REUTERS/Nikola Solic)

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.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

September 20, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Dissecting the Goldstone Report: Phosphorus shells and a license to kill

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A Palestinian man places a green Islamic flag used by the militant group Hamas on the rubble of a destroyed mosque after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on December 31, 2008 (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

A Palestinian man places a green Islamic flag used by the militant group Hamas on the rubble of a destroyed mosque after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on December 31, 2008 (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

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)

Chicken Farms:

“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.

Human pits

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

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.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

September 19, 2009 at 6:47 am

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