Abdullah II: The 5-State Solution

The virtues of this five-state solution — Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia — are numerous: Egypt and Jordan, the Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel, would act as transition guarantors that any Israeli withdrawal would not leave a security vacuum in the West Bank, Gaza or Arab Jerusalem that could threaten Israel. Israel would have time for a phased withdrawal of its settlements, and Palestinians would have the chance to do nation-building in an orderly manner. This would be an Arab solution that would put a stop to Iran’s attempts to Persianize the Palestinian issue. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Ever since 2002, Tom Friedman has seen himself as a messenger of peace, but with nothing to deliver this time other than the Friedman Peace Plan, I doubt whether his council will carry much weight. Indeed, his five-state solution, practical as it might sound, looks too much like a stepping stone towards Daniel Pipes’ no-state solution. Bring in Egypt and Jordan and if after five years a Palestinian state has not taken shape then Gaza absorbs into Egypt and the West Bank into Jordan. It’s not going to happen.

How to talk to Hamas without talking to Hamas

As George Mitchell, the United States’ new envoy for Middle East peace, arrived in Cairo, it was unclear whether a new chapter was opening in US diplomacy or whether the emphasis was on continuity with the efforts of the previous administration in Washington. A report in Ynet struck notes in familiar themes. The US would be attempting to bolster the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Mr Mitchell did not intend to meet with representatives from Hamas.

“The US perceives itself as being in a race with Hamas and, by extension, Iran, in the rehabilitation of Gaza. Mitchell’s entourage – state department employees responsible for humanitarian aid and rehabilitation efforts, rather than politicians specialising in negotiations – suggests that delivering assistance to Gaza will be the focus of his current visit.”

Likewise, in her first news conference, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed the position of the Bush administration when she said: “We support Israel’s right to self-defense. The [Palestinian] rocket barrages which are getting closer and closer to populated areas [in Israel] cannot go unanswered.” [continued…]

IDF: Hamas didn’t carry out attack – but is responsible

The attack on an IDF force patrolling the Gaza border earlier on Tuesday was carried out by a cell belonging to the Worldwide Jihad. An IDF tracker serving with the Gaza Division’s southern brigade was killed and three additional soldiers were seriously wounded. The name of the tracker, a Bedouin from Rahat, is being withheld at the request of his family. [continued…]

At a border crossing, drivers and truckloads of aid for Gaza go nowhere

France sent technical equipment to help Gazans draw water from the ground. The Swiss sent blankets and plastic tarps. Mercy Corps, a relief agency, sent 12 truckloads of food. And on Tuesday all of it, including dozens of other trucks carrying sugar, rice, flour, juice and baby formula, sat in the hot sun here going nowhere.

This normally quiet commercial crossing between Egypt and Israel has been turned into a parking lot of stalled, humanitarian aid, and in the city of El Arish there are even greater quantities of food, clothing and essential supplies, sitting, waiting and baking in the sun. Some supplies are loaded onto dozens of trucks parked on city streets, but much more is stored in the open areas of a local sports stadium, also waiting, also going nowhere. Only medical supplies seem to be getting through to Gaza. [continued…]

Israel stymies French push to lift European boycott of Hamas

Using intense diplomatic pressure over the past two days, Israeli officials blocked a French attempt to weaken Jerusalem’s stance with Hamas at the pre-written closing statement of the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels last night.

France wanted the statement to say that the European Union would be prepared to hold talks with a future Palestinian unity government that agreed to honor the principles of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In addition, the French delegation to Brussels proposed striking from the statement an article calling for reopening the crossing points between Israel and the Gaza Strip in accordance with the 2005 agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Instead France offered an ambiguous formulation that would make it possible to open the crossings without conditioning such a measure on the presence of representatives of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In the past two days Israeli officials conducted a frenetic diplomatic battle to torpedo the unwanted changes, applying significant pressure on senior EU representatives. The Czech Republic, the current holder of the EU presidency, together with Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, worked together to push the French initiative off the agenda. [continued…]

Rightists in Israel predict dismal fate for Obama envoy’s efforts

Israeli rightists on Wednesday predicted a dismal fate for George Mitchell’s peacemaking efforts, shortly before the new United States Middle East envoy was set to arrive in Israel.

“I fear that this mission has absolutely no chance [of success],” Army Radio quoted Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman as saying. [continued…]

Anti-Arab sentiment swells among youth in aftermath of Gaza war

When the leader of Israel’s religious-Zionist Meimad Party recently addressed a meeting of 800 high-school students in a Tel Aviv suburb, his words on the virtue of Israeli democracy for all its citizens were drowned out by student chants of “Death to the Arabs.”

Not since the days of the now-illegal Kach party, and Baruch Goldstein killing 29 Muslims at prayer in Hebron in 1994, has Rabbi Michael Melchior heard such anti-Arab sentiment.

But that sentiment is swelling, and the controversial former cabinet minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party are riding the wave. They have emerged as the biggest political winners from the recent war on Gaza. Their unequivocal anti-Arab policies have never been more popular. [continued…]

Israeli army used flechettes against Gaza civilians

Apart from white phosphorus, the Israeli army used a variety of other weapons in densely populated civilian areas of Gaza in the three-week conflict that began on 27 December.

Flechettes are 4cm long metal darts that are sharply pointed at the front, with four fins at the rear. Between 5,000 and 8,000 are packed into 120mm shells which are generally fired from tanks. The shells explode in the air and scatter the flechettes in a conical pattern over an area about 300m wide and 100m long.

An anti-personnel weapon designed to penetrate dense vegetation, flechettes should never be used in built-up civilian areas. The Israeli army has used them in Gaza periodically for several years. In most cases their use has resulted in civilians being killed or injured. [continued…]

Gazan children denied treatment abroad

For four days running, an ambulance has driven 15-year-old Amira Ghirim from Shifa Hospital in Gaza to the Rafah border in the hope that she will be allowed to cross into Egypt and then on to France, where she has been promised emergency surgery.

Amira’s left arm and thigh were crushed and her internal organs damaged by falling rubble when a shell hit her home in the Tel al Hawa neighbourhood of Gaza City in the final days of Israel’s offensive. The attack killed her father, brother and sister, leaving her an orphan.

But, despite her urgent need for surgery, Amira has been turned away at the border each time, said her aunt, Mona Ghirim. “Each morning we arrived at the crossing and the Egyptian soldiers cursed us and told us to go away.” [continued…]

Report: West Bank settlements expanded faster in 2008

An Israeli peace group says Jewish settlements and outposts in the West Bank expanded more quickly in 2008 than the previous year.

Peace Now says 1,257 new structures were built in settlements during 2008, compared to 800 in 2007, an increase of 57 percent. [continued…]

Mitchell’s prospects for lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord ‘slim to none’

Aaron David Miller, who for more than ten years was a top U.S. Middle East negotiator, says naming George J. Mitchell as the new special envoy for Arab-Israeli issues shows the Obama administration at this early stage is substituting ” process for substance.” He says the administration has “no intention of making major changes in America’s approach to the Arab-Israeli issue, because right now, the prospects of any sort of conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palenstinians are slim to none.” [continued…]

Envoys to nowhere

I hope with all my heart that most of what I am going to write in this article will prove mistaken. President Obama’s appointment of George Mitchell as special envoy for the Middle East peace process, and of Richard Holbrooke as special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan (and de facto American broker for the Kashmir issue), are both in themselves very positive moves. The Bush administration’s neglect of these two conflicts was among its more disgraceful foreign-policy omissions. The appointment of such senior, respected and impressive figures to these roles are a welcome sign of how seriously the new president and his team take these issues.

The Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan has played a key role in inflaming Islamist extremism in Pakistan and in persuading the Pakistani military to back anti-Indian militancy and terrorism. The Israel-Palestine conflict—as emphasized in a recent article by Prince Turki al Faisal, the former–Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington—has been central to encouraging hatred of the United States and support for extremism across the entire Muslim world. I can certainly testify to this myself in the case of Pakistan, where I was traveling during the latest Israeli campaign in Gaza.

The problem is that in both cases the objective circumstances are highly unfavorable to peace—and in the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict, these circumstances include the positions taken by the great bulk of the U.S. establishment, Democrat as well as Republican. This renders Mr. Mitchell’s task vastly more complicated than the one he faced in Northern Ireland. [continued…]

Aides say Obama’s Afghan aims elevate war

President Obama intends to adopt a tougher line toward Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, as part of a new American approach to Afghanistan that will put more emphasis on waging war than on development, senior administration officials said Tuesday.

Mr. Karzai is now seen as a potential impediment to American goals in Afghanistan, the officials said, because corruption has become rampant in his government, contributing to a flourishing drug trade and the resurgence of the Taliban.

Among those pressing for Mr. Karzai to do more, the officials said, are Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Richard C. Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. [continued…]

Obama offers open channels to Pakistan, Iran, North Korea

The broad outlines of President Barack Obama’s national-security policy are coming into clearer focus, as the new administration signals it will try a carrot-and-stick approach toward nations such as Pakistan, Iran and North Korea.

Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered conciliatory language to some of Washington’s adversaries. They said they will seek greater diplomatic engagement with Iran, and Mrs. Clinton, in her first meeting with reporters since taking office, indicated she would favor more direct talks with North Korea, a move long resisted by the Bush adminstration.

Mr. Obama, in his first formal interview as president, told the Arabic-language news channel al-Arabiya that he will seek to open talks with Iran. “It is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress,” Mr. Obama said in the interview that was broadcast Tuesday. “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.” Mrs. Clinton echoed that language. [continued…]

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