Israel rejects proposed cease-fire

Israeli leaders rejected on Wednesday a proposal to immediately pause attacks on the Gaza Strip for 48 hours, declaring that there were no guarantees Hamas fighters would in return stop firing rockets into Israel. Discussions were continuing in hopes of developing a more durable cease-fire. But after looking at the existing proposal, “we saw that it did not contain the necessary elements to make the truce permanent,” said Yigal Palmor, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman. “It lacks a plan to enforce the ceasefire, to make sure Hamas won’t shoot rockets into Israel anymore, and stop the smuggling of weapons.”

“It does not contain any guarantees,” he added. “There is nothing in the proposal that if we declare a unilateral ceasefire it will mean anything to Hamas and that it will ensure a durable ceasefire afterwards.” [continued…]

Behind closed doors, U.S. seeks Israel exit strategy

While publicly declaring strong support for Israel, the Bush administration is increasingly nervous about the 4-day-old campaign in the Gaza Strip and is urging its ally to settle on a timetable and exit strategy, say foreign diplomats and Middle East experts close to the discussions.

U.S. officials are concerned that the campaign could drag on without destroying Hamas, and might even bolster support for the militant group — just as the 2006 Israeli campaign in Lebanon strengthened Hezbollah, they say.

“You’re not hearing that same confidence you did in 2006 that the Israeli military can impose a new strategic reality and should go full force,” said one Arab diplomat in Washington. “There’s a real contrast between their words then and now.”

U.S. officials were talking intensively Tuesday to Arab and European powers about the possibility of a two- or three-day cease-fire, diplomats said. U.S. diplomacy is complicated by differences between the White House and the State Department, these sources said. [continued…]

Obama’s silence on Gaza confirms low Arab expectations

President-elect Barack Obama, with his silence on Israel’s attacks in Gaza, has confirmed Arab expectations that foreign policy changes will come small and slow when he moves into the White House next month.

On the fourth day of Israeli air strikes which have killed more than 380 people in Gaza, the U.S. President-elect has yet to take a position, though he spoke out after militants’ attacks in Mumbai and has made detailed statements on the U.S. economy.

“He wants to be cautious and I think he will remain cautious because the Arab-Israeli conflict is not one of his priorities,” said Hassan Nafaa, an Egyptian political scientist and secretary-general of the Arab Thought Forum in Amman.

“Obama’s position is very precarious. The Jewish lobby warned against his election, so he has chosen to remain silent (on Gaza),” added Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut.

“If Obama continues to remain silent … his silence will be seen and will have the operational effect of providing an endorsement for Israel’s war on Gaza,” said Paul Woodward of Conflicts Forum, an organisation aimed at changing Western policy towards Islamist movements such as Hamas. [continued…]

The IAF, bullies of the clear blue skies

Our finest young men are attacking Gaza now. Good boys from good homes are doing bad things. Most of them are eloquent, impressive, self-confident, often even highly principled in their own eyes, and on Black Saturday dozens of them set out to bomb some of the targets in our “target bank” for the Gaza Strip.

They set out to bomb the graduation ceremony for young police officers who had found that rare Gaza commodity, a job, massacring them by the dozen. They bombed a mosque, killing five sisters of the Balousha family, the youngest of whom was 4. They bombed a police station, hitting a doctor nearby; she lies in a vegetative state in Shifa Hospital, which is bursting with wounded and dead. They bombed a university that we in Israel call the Palestinian Rafael, the equivalent of Israel’s weapons developer, and destroyed student dormitories. They dropped hundreds of bombs out of blue skies free of all resistance.

In four days they killed 375 people. They did not, and could not, distinguish between a Hamas official and his children, between a traffic cop and a Qassam launch operator, between a weapons cache and a health clinic, between the first and second floors of a densely populated apartment building with dozens of children inside. According to reports, about half of the people killed were innocent civilians. We’re not complaining about the pilots’ accuracy, it cannot be otherwise when the weapon is a plane and the objective is a tiny, crowded strip of land. Our excellent pilots are effectively bullies now. As in training flights, they bomb undisturbed, facing neither an air force nor defense system. [continued…]

Understanding Gaza

It’s fear of another Holocaust that has driven Israel to bomb the crap out of the Palestinians in Gaza — at least, that’s if you believe what you read on the New York Times op ed page. (Never a good idea, of course, because as I’ve previously noted, when it comes to Israel and related fear-mongering, there simply is no hysteria deemed unworthy of the Times op ed page.)

Morris, a manic fellow at the best of times prone to intellectual mood swings — having laid bare the ethnic cleansing that created modern Israel, Morris then didn’t as much recant as complain that the problem was that Ben Gurion hadn’t finished the job. And since the 2000 debacle at Camp David, of course, he’s been a de facto editorial writer for Ehud Barak, the failed former Prime Minister nicknamed “Mr. Zig-Zag” while in office because of his inconsistency — and who, of course, is the author of the current operation in Gaza.

Barak, never shy about spewing utter rubbish when his audience is American and prone to be taken in by demagoguery, last weekend offered the priceless suggestion to Fox News that “expecting Israel to have a cease-fire with Hamas is like expecting you to have a cease-fire with al-Qaeda.” Presumably it would not occur to Fox’s anchors to ask why, then, had Barak maintained just such a cease-fire for the past six months? And why had he been seeking its renewal? [continued…]

Gaza crisis: a crossroads for Obama

The catastrophe unfolding in Gaza has the dark force of a recurring Middle Eastern nightmare: Scattered guerrilla-like attacks from the weak lead to massive retaliation by the strong. Excessive lethal force provokes enraged recriminations. Fresh bloodshed fuels the hard-liners on both sides.

We have seen this cycle many times before: throughout Lebanon (2006), across the occupied territories during the first intifada (1987-93), in east and west Beirut (1982), and even during the founding of modern Israel and the subsequent dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948.

When the smoke finally drifts from Gaza, and the human rights investigations begin – into the death of schoolchildren in midday rocket attacks or the demolition of a women’s dormitory – sober voices will ask why Israel has still not learned a fundamental lesson: By trying to crush your enemy, you only make him stronger. [continued…]

How not to make peace in the Middle East

Throughout the years, polls consistently showed respectable Israeli and Palestinian majorities in favor of a negotiated two-state settlement. The world held its breath awaiting a breakthrough, promising wholehearted support for a resolution. Even traditionally passive and cautious Saudi Arabia put forward the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, persuaded Arab and Islamic nations to sign onto it, and formally presented it to Israel via the Arab League. Yet throughout, regardless of set-up, content, or style, the outcome has been depressingly the same. The plans were greeted with violence, bewilderment, and, more recently, a yawn. Why would more of the same, even if more intense, more vigorous, and more sustained, produce a different outcome?

Equally striking, three of the most significant Arab–Israeli breakthroughs occurred with the US nowhere in sight: Anwar Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem, the Oslo negotiations, and Israel’s treaty with Jordan. Nor is this merely a historical reflection. When Israeli–Syrian negotiations restarted this year, they were under Turkish, not American, sponsorship and the US sought to prevent, not facilitate them. America was and will be needed to capitalize on opportunities or crown a deal. But it is worth contemplating why it has been so unfailingly inept at launching successful initiatives—the Camp David summit of 2000 and the Annapolis process of 2007 and 2008 being only the latest, saddest examples.

Obama ought to take note of another intriguing feature: arguably the most momentous shift in the Israeli–Palestinian landscape since the 1993 Oslo accords has occurred as a result not of US policy and bilateral negotiations but of a unilateral decision. Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 has left much to be desired. But had then Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas sought to negotiate its details with American help, Israeli tanks and settlements almost certainly would still be there, as they are in much of the West Bank, despite endless negotiations. US-sponsored bilateral negotiations have become a formula for sustaining an otherwise untenable status quo. [continued…]

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