Hamas officials signal willingness to negotiate

Senior officials in the Islamic group Hamas are indicating a willingness to negotiate a deal for a long-term truce with Israel as long as the borders of Gaza are opened to the rest of the world.

“We want to be part of the international community,” Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad told The Associated Press at the Gaza-Egypt border, where he was coordinating Arab aid shipments. “I think Hamas has no interest now to increase the number of crises in Gaza or to challenge the world.”

Hamas is trying hard to flex its muscles in the aftermath of Israel’s punishing onslaught in the Gaza Strip, doling out cash, vowing revenge and declaring victory over Zionist aggression. But AP interviews with Hamad and two other Hamas leaders in the war-ravaged territory they rule suggest some of that might be more bluster than reality — and the group may be ready for some serious deal making.

That raises the question of whether Hamas, which receives much of its funding and weapons from Tehran, can be coaxed out of Iran’s orbit. That question looks less preposterous than it did before President Barack Obama began extending olive branches to the Muslim world and Israel’s Gaza offensive reshuffled Mideast politics. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Does the fact that Israel is the recipient of the largest share of US foreign aid and has an American-made war machine mean that Israel is a US proxy? I don’t think so — even if some observers who view everything through the prism of US imperialism would argue otherwise. Likewise, ties between Iran and Hamas do not make Hamas an Iranian proxy.

Think about it. If Hamas was really batting for Iran do you not think that we might have just witnessed a stronger performance against the IDF? Hamas just managed to pull off a miraculous survival. I think that even a well-wisher like Hassan Nasrallah would hesitate from celebrating a “divine victory” in Gaza.

The primary purpose of casting Hamas as a proxy of Iran is to undermine its legitimacy as a resistance movement. The fact that it is now sending out signals that it is willing to demonstrate its pragmatism is because it sees itself as an authentic representation of the political will of many Palestinians. It’s number one concern, like that of any political organization, is to sustain the support of the base upon which it depends. That base is in Gaza (and the West Bank) – not Tehran.

Hamas ‘would recognise’ pre-1967 Israel

Hamas would recognise Israel if it withdraws to its pre-1967 borders, a French Jewish writer said this week after meeting the exiled leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement, Khaled Meshaal.

“He told me that Hamas was prepared to recognise Israel on the lines of June 4, 1967. He told me so several times,” Marek Halter told AFP on Monday.

The date refers to Palestinian demands for an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, captured in the 1967 war.

Halter’s meeting with Meshaal took place in Damascus last month, on the eve of Israel’s 22-day offensive, which left more than 1,330 Palestinians dead, according to Gaza medics, and vast swathes of the territory in ruins. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — This is not the first time that Hamas has expressed this position. Israelis and others may well ask why this recognition of Israel only comes via interlocutors such as Halter of Jimmy Carter. Why can’t Hamas as an organization lay out its position in black and white? My assumption is that it is unwilling to place itself in the position of appearing to have capitulated and moreover that it recognizes that before it hands over this diplomatic prize it needs a tangible reward. The lesson provided by the experience of the Palestinian Authority is that Israel will happily accept gifts without giving anything in return.

The purpose of Meshaal’s statement and similar ones that have preceeded it is to say: We are ready? Are you?

As much as Israel asserts that it wants its own right to exist recognized, the more pertenant question is: when will Israel recognize Hamas’s right to exist?

IAF bombs Gaza weapons manufacturing site after rocket strikes Negev

An IDF spokesman said the air strike came in response to a remote-control bomb attack at the Gaza Strip security fence Tuesday, which killed an Israel Defense Forces tracker and wounded three other soldiers, one seriously.

The IDF spokesperson said Wednesday that the blame for the IAF strike lays solely at the feet of Hamas in that “as the sole authority in the Gaza Strip, Hamas bears full responsibility of all terror originating from within its area of control. The IDF will respond to any terror attacks in accordance with decisions made by the Israeli government.”

The border blast was the Palestinians’ first deadly attack since the cease-fire ended Operation Cast Lead, and came the day before the arrival of George Mitchell, the U.S. envoy to the Middle East.

Earlier on Tuesday, IAF aircraft fired a missile at a militant on a motorbike in the Khan Yunis area of Gaza. The Shin Bet security service, which helped coordinate the missile strike, said the militant, Hussein Abu-Shamaya, was involved in the bomb attack. The bomb was planted by a Hamas breakaway group identified with the Al-Qaida-affiliated Global Jihad, the Shin Bet said. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Israel spends three weeks raining down destruction in an effort to decimate Hamas and then, once it’s done says, we regard you as the sole authority in Gaza and thus responsible for everything going on there. Oh, but we won’t let you distribute humanitarian aid.

Israel and its friends need to call in the philosophers. What is the nature of this mysterious entity? It’s existence can’t be recognized but it can’t be destroyed; it is the sole government in Gaza but it mustn’t be allowed to govern.

But seriously, if a sincere effort was applied to answering one very basic question, a lot of progress could be made.

What is Hamas?

To insist on simply calling it a terrorist organization is neither accurate nor useful.

Israel’s destruction of U.S.-style school shocks Gazans

When President George W. Bush visited the West Bank a year ago, Palestinian militants in Gaza vented their anger by ransacking the American International School here, smashing windows, stealing computers and torching a small fleet of buses.

It was just the latest episode in a decade-long string of bombings, kidnappings and lootings at the elite private school, which isn’t connected to the U.S. government but has an American-style curriculum and coed, English-only classrooms, which have made it a favorite target of Islamic extremists.

On Jan. 3, the school finally was destroyed, but not by Islamist extremists. An Israeli airstrike flattened the two-story building and sprayed shards of steel and stone over the manicured lawns and soccer field. The night watchman was killed. Books, computers, science equipment and art supplies were crushed beneath the wreckage.

Within moments, Gaza’s perhaps most pro-Western institution — a symbol of possibility in a sealed-off, war-torn land — was gone.

The Israeli army told McClatchy that its forces hit the school because Hamas militants had launched rockets from the grounds. School officials and neighborhood residents rejected that explanation, however, saying that the hilltop campus offered few places to hide and that the militants themselves often had attacked the campus. [continued…]

The wrong side of history

Between Israel and the United States a gap has opened this week, a narrow gap, almost invisible – but it may widen into an abyss.

The first signs are small. In his inaugural speech, Obama proclaimed that “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and nonbelievers.” Since when? Since when do the Muslims precede the Jews? What has happened to the “Judeo-Christian Heritage”? (A completely false term to start with, since Judaism is much closer to Islam than to Christianity. For example: neither Judaism nor Islam supports the separation of religion and state.)

The very next morning, Obama phoned a number of Middle East leaders. He decided to make a quite unique gesture: placing the first call to Mahmoud Abbas, and only the next to Olmert. The Israeli media could not stomach that. Haaretz, for example, consciously falsified the record by writing – not once but twice in the same issue – that Obama had called “Olmert, Abbas, Mubarak and King Abdallah” (in that order).

Instead of the group of American Jews who had been in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during both the Clinton and Bush administrations, Obama, on his very first day in office, appointed an Arab-American, George Mitchell, whose mother had come to America from Lebanon at age 18, and who himself, orphaned from his Irish father, was brought up in a Maronite Christian Lebanese family.

These are not good tidings for the Israeli leaders. For the last 42 years, they have pursued a policy of expansion, occupation and settlements in close cooperation with Washington. They have relied on unlimited American support, from the massive supply of money and arms to the use of the veto in the Security Council. This support was essential to their policy. This support may now be reaching its limits [continued…]

Listen up, George

President Obama may have been fudging it when he told Al-Arabiya that Mitchell, “is going to be speaking to all the major parties involved”. (In fact, Obama did not mention Hamas during the interview; strangely, was not asked about them; and had already made it clear that Mitchell would not be meeting with them). As Ian Black also commented, he should have been more forthright, certainly.

The deeper problem, though, lies in the overall approach – one that seems, at the outset at least, couched and clothed in the guise of change, but holding fast to some of the same destructive assumptions, calculations and fears that have failed the US, the Arabs and the Israelis in the past. If a sincere engagement with Hamas and Hezbollah is politically impossible – a confounding position given the US’s direct negotiations with Sunni jihadists in Iraq who have killed US troops, elements of the Taliban that have supported al-Qaida, and Iran itself – then Mitchell should at least start by unshackling one debilitating aspect of US policy and spend some time listening to those average people who support the groups we say we will not deal with. [continued…]

An open letter to George Mitchell

You are coming from a land of new hope to the countries of despair. The collapse of the Oslo process and the playacting of the Bush administration’s Annapolis initiative have erased belief among Israelis, Palestinians, and our neighbors that negotiations can achieve anything. The al-Aqsa Intifada and Ehud Olmert’s inconclusive wars in Lebanon and Gaza proved that we will not moderate each other’s positions by blowing each other up.

The mood, on both sides, is extraordinarily grim. If leaders don’t tell you that honestly, you should change into a cardigan, put a tourist’s day pack over your shoulder, and slip into a Tel Aviv or Ramallah café, where anyone sipping coffee will tell you the truth. Your task, Mr. Mitchell, includes changing the public mood and — even if you must avoid ever saying so publicly — encouraging a change in leadership.

You and your boss have little time to create a new dynamic. Five years ago, when Ehud Olmert announced his support for partial withdrawal from the West Bank, he warned that the two-state solution had a limited shelf life. “We are approaching a point where more and more Palestinians will say … ‘there is no place for two states between the Jordan and the sea. All we want is the right to vote,'” said Olmert, then vice prime minister. In other words, Palestinians would seek a single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, and that would be the end of Israel. [continued…]

Release soldier and we’ll end Gaza blockade, says Israel

Israel will not allow the full re-opening of Gaza’s crossings until it has secured the release of Gilad Shalit, the army corporal seized more than two-and-a-half years ago by Hamas and other militants, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told President Obama’s new Middle East envoy yesterday.

Mr Olmert’s message came in talks with US envoy George Mitchell, who afterwards said that consolidating the 10-day-old ceasefire was of “critical importance”. The tough task facing Mr Mitchell was underlined by Israel’s bombing of Rafah tunnels overnight, their latest response to the killing of an Israeli soldier on Tuesday.

In a short statement after his lunch with Mr Olmert, Mr Mitchell said that entrenching the ceasefire would include a “cessation of hostilities”, an end to arms smuggling across Gaza’s border with Egypt – which had been a central aim of Israel’s 22-day offensive – and the re-opening of the Gaza crossings in line with the 2005 agreement brokered by the previous US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. [continued…]

Spanish court to probe Israeli officials for alleged ‘crimes against humanity’

National Infrastructure Minister and former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and former IAF and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz may face criminal charges in Spain for killing Palestinian civilians seven years ago.

A Spanish court granted a petition by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights on Thursday, asking the two be investigated for alleged “crimes against humanity” for their involvement in the 2002 assassination of Hamas operative Salah Shehade. Fourteen civilians were killed in the incident and about 100 more were injured. [continued…]

The “Arab system” after Gaza

The Gaza war can be seen in part as the culmination of America’s short-sighted middle-east policy in the 2000s: that is, of leaving things to take their own shape in Israel-Palestine without external intervention. The result of such indulgence of Israel and indifference to the deep-rooted and long-standing problems of the Palestinians is the emergence of new realities in the region, where pro-western Arab countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in particular) are now being forced to take harder stances as their “moderation” is exposed as ineffective.

The counterproductive effects of the Bush years have buried the aspiration of a peaceful “new middle east” and produced instead emerging signs of what might be called a “resisting middle east” – a region where the moderates have been weakened, the radicals are stronger, anti-Americanism is deeper, and Palestine as the core issue in the region is as persistent as ever.

The rise of this “resisting middle east” is grounded in two great failures over the past two decades: that of Israel to end its occupation and/or subjugation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, especially after the historic Palestinian compromise accepting the two-state solution in 1988; and that of the United States to adopt a fair policy toward Palestine-Israel. Both have fuelled alienation and anger among Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims in ways that have helped strengthen the “resistance” camp. [continued…]

Revealed: the letter Obama team hope will heal Iran rift

Officials of Barack Obama’s administration have drafted a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing US-Iranian relations and opening the way for face-to-face talks, the Guardian has learned.

The US state department has been working on drafts of the letter since Obama was elected on 4 November last year. It is in reply to a lengthy letter of congratulations sent by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on 6 November.

Diplomats said Obama’s letter would be a symbolic gesture to mark a change in tone from the hostile one adopted by the Bush administration, which portrayed Iran as part of an “axis of evil”. [continued…]

Russia and Iran get strategic

On February 20, the Russian Federation Security Council and the State Council will approve a new national security strategy to go through 2020. Without saying the “United States,” the draft document clearly identifies the United States as Russia’s primary rival for the next decade. It goes on to say that the primary focus of the struggle will be for hydrocarbons in some very specific areas. The Middle East and Central Asia are mentioned specifically. In these areas, according to the document, the struggle could develop into a military confrontation.

Russia’s last general security document was adopted in 2000 and was much more general than this one about the security objectives of the Russian Federation. The new draft is much more focused and gives indications of future policy directions.

Looking at the developments of the past 90 days through the filter of the new Russian security framework, a clearer picture emerges. It’s no longer a question for the United States of whether or not Russia will support additional sanctions on Iran. That won’t happen. Russia is on the path to make Iran a strategic partner, a counter to the United States in the regions of rivalry. [continued…]

NATO high commander issues illegitimate order to kill

The approach to combatting the drug mafia in Afghanistan has spurred an open rift inside NATO. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, top NATO commander John Craddock wants the alliance to kill opium dealers, without proof of connection to the insurgency. NATO commanders, however, do not want to follow the order. [continued…]

The Pakistan puzzle

Of all the problems confronting the Obama administration, none is trickier than Pakistan — a nuclear power that has a war in Afghanistan on its western border, a tense confrontation with India on its eastern border and a deadly insurgency at home from Muslim militants who want to topple the pro-American government.

At the crux of all three conflicts are the Pakistani army and its intelligence service, known as the ISI. The army’s pervasive power is summed up in a Pakistani joke: “All countries have armies, but here, an army has a country.”

The challenge for Pakistan and its neighbors was dramatized by the Nov. 26 terrorist attack on the Indian metropolis of Mumbai. The assault on two luxury hotels, a train station and a Jewish cultural center left 165 dead and 304 injured, according to the official Indian count. The attackers were highly trained and used sophisticated GPS navigation devices to find their targets. [continued…]

After the war on terror

In his first White House televised interview, with the Al Arabiya news network based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, President Obama buried the lead: The war on terror is over.

Yes, the with-us-or-against-us global struggle — the so-called Long War — in which a freedom-loving West confronts the undifferentiated forces of darkness comprising everything from Al Qaeda to elements of the Palestinian national struggle under the banner of “Islamofascism” has been terminated.

What’s left is what matters: defeating terrorist organizations. That’s not a war. It’s a strategic challenge.

The new president’s abandonment of post-9/11 Bush doctrine is a critical breakthrough. It resolves nothing but opens the way for a rapprochement with a Muslim world long cast into the “against-us” camp. Nothing good in Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan or Iran could happen with that Manichean chasm. [continued…]

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