Israel may not be able to escape the reach of international law

Although in 2002 Israel withdrew its signature from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and as a consequence the court has no jurisdiction over possible war crimes committed on Israeli territory, the ICC is considering a request by the Palestinian Authority to investigate allegations of war crimes committed in the Gaza Strip, a senior court official told The New York Times.

Following Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, the PA assumed sovereign control of the territory and last month provided the ICC with an official letter confirming its jurisdiction there.

“If the court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, and judges were to rule that the Palestinians do indeed have sovereignty in Gaza – a tricky legal issue given that Israel still controls Gaza’s water and land borders – they could then theoretically try Israeli officials for any war crimes committed there.

” ‘This is potentially huge,’ said the ICC official, who declined to be identified because the investigation has barely begun. ‘It’s a Damocles sword hanging over Israel and some of its most senior figures.’ [continued…]

Americans fighting for Israel in Gaza

The black flag is waving

A Spanish judge has instituted a judicial inquiry against seven Israeli political and military personalities on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The case: the 2002 dropping of a one-ton bomb on the home of Hamas leader Salah Shehade. Apart from the intended victim, 14 people, most of them children, were killed.

For those who have forgotten: the then commander of the Israeli air force, Dan Halutz, was asked at the time what he feels when he drops a bomb on a residential building. His unforgettable answer: “A slight bump to the wing.” When we in Gush Shalom accused him of a war crime, he demanded that we be put on trial for high treason. He was joined by the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who accused us of wanting to “turn over Israeli army officers to the enemy.” The attorney general notified us officially that he did not intend to open an investigation against those responsible for the bombing. [continued…]

Promoters of ethnic cleansing: the rise of Israeli Jewish extremism

Eight days ahead of the general elections, and with polls predicting four Knesset seats for the National Union, Dr. Michael Ben-Ari – number four on the party’s list and a man who defines himself “Kahane’s student and follower” – is very likely to find himself in the Israeli parliament.

In a conversation with Ynet, Ben-Ari presented his proposed solution to the “problem” of Israeli Arabs, declared he would not be part of a Knesset that engages in negotiations with the Palestinians and explained his support for soldiers disobeying orders.

“I’m not the only one who represents (late Rabbi Meir) Kahane. He’s represented by a great many people today, within the Knesset and outside it,” Ben-Ari stated. “(Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor) Lieberman masquerades as Kahane to win more mandates, (Likud MK) Limor Livnat also sounds like Kahane, and everybody realizes the need for a solution to the problem of Israeli Arabs – a subject which was once taboo.

“The saying, ‘Kahane was right,’ has already been used up. You can practically see how what Rabbi Kahane brought up 24 years ago has now become the central issue of this election campaign,” he added.

Ben-Ari explained that his plan was to open a “humanitarian corridor” for Arabs to places like Turkey or Venezuela, and raise money worldwide that would go towards providing them with an “acclimatization grant” in their new countries. [continued…]

An open letter to Turkey’s prime minister, from Hamas

Mr. Prime Minister, you have stressed that Hamas is a reflection of the will of the people of Palestine; and we intend to serve our compatriots within the scope of our mandate. We will honor elections in 2010, when the people shall vote again; and we shall honor the outcome of their wishes.

Yet despite the fact that January 2009 was to be the month of Palestinian presidential elections, Mahmoud Abbass continues to hold that position.

The Israelis with the support of members of America’s administration machinate to exclude the elected government not only from negotiations but even from receiving aid on behalf of our people, moves that we see as a shameful effort to divide Palestinians while paying lip service to their unity.

Mr. Prime Minister, you have always been a man of principle, yet in recent weeks you have proven to be a man of unparalleled integrity among leaders of Muslim countries. Where some nations were unsure of how to proceed, you spoke as a man of conscience not of politics. For that, we salute you.

In the weeks to come, we pray you will navigate the treacherous political waters to come; and we hope your voice shall once again be heard. We hope the international community, with your guidance, will finally realize that the exclusion of a democratically elected government from any discussions may satisfy some egos, but will not eliminate its presence on the ground. [continued…]

George Mitchell and Hamas

If George Mitchell is to have any chance to succeed in using American engagement to prod a just and lasting Arab-Israeli peace agreement, he will have to make a very fundamental decision very soon:

Is his main task and that of US foreign policy to please Israel by shunning Hamas at any cost, or is it to identify and work to implement the equal rights of Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs to statehood and security?

It is no surprise that Israeli officials and their political hirelings and hit men in the international media and American policy community have launched a campaign to try to perpetuate the role of the American government as subserviently implementing Israeli policy. The main focus of this effort is to prevent Hamas from becoming a legitimate partner in the pre-negotiating process now underway.

Attacking or defending Hamas diverts attention from the core issue to be resolved: the simultaneous and equal national rights of Israelis and Palestinians. Mitchell should be careful to not allow himself to be dragged into the Israeli-defined game of arguing over Hamas, its tunnels, or other side issues. This will only guarantee diplomatic stalemate and failure. [continued…]

The other Iran

At one of the embassies offering islands of peace from the gridlocked, grinding Iranian capital, a Western diplomat said this of United States and allied policy toward Iran: “You could argue that our policy has not yet failed.”

That would be the most charitable view. But it is failing. Where Iran had a handful of centrifuges enriching uranium four years ago, it now has at least 5,000. With its enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan removed by American military force, it has extended its regional influence.

This city, whose real-estate boom has rivaled Manhattan’s in recent years, is still awash in cash from the giddy oil price season. Those billions, even ebbing, equal confidence. The Iranian Revolution, at its 30th anniversary, has recharged its batteries on a global wave of Bush-inspired, Gaza-cemented, anti-Western sentiment. [continued…]

America must fight for an Afghan exit

It is certain that as one of its first actions, President Barack Obama’s administration will approve a military “surge” in Afghanistan come the spring. The question that needs to be decided is: a surge for what? On the answer will depend in large part the success or failure of the administration in the “war on terror” as a whole.

This is less because of Afghanistan itself than because of the impact on neighbouring Pakistan – a country of critical importance to global security, where extremism is being gravely worsened by the war on its borders and the demands being placed on it by Washington.

If the Obama administration’s goal in the surge is to buy some more time for a continuation of existing policies, then the Taliban will simply bury their weapons, melt into the population and across the border into Pakistan and lie low until US forces pull back to their bases. Thirty thousand more soldiers can certainly drive the Taliban underground for a while but they are not remotely enough to garrison their strongholds permanently. [continued…]

A litmus test for Iraq

Participation in the 2009 provincial elections is far more extensive than in 2005. In 2005, most Sunni Arabs, answering the calls of communal leaders for a boycott or fearing insurgent attacks, abstained from the voting, and only one party with an explicit “Sunni” profile, the Iraqi Islamic Party, ran candidates. This time, the Iraqi Islamic Party will face challenges from numerous political forces originating in Sunni Arab circles. Sunni Arab participation will likely also contribute to dramatic changes in the Diyala, Salah al-Din and Nineveh governorates east and north of Baghdad, where, due to the boycott, Kurds and Shi‘i Islamists wound up in control of provincial councils despite their status as minorities. It is sometimes maintained that another difference from 2005 is the absence of Shi‘i Islamist unity. But with the exception of the province of Wasit east of Baghdad, there was no Shi‘i coalition in local politics in 2005 similar to the United Iraqi Alliance in the national elections. Intra-Shi‘i competition did take place, and in certain areas, it was fierce. In Basra, for instance, the Fadhila Party raised the slogan “made in Iraq” against its Islamist competitors with a past in Iran. The real difference in 2009 is that overall participation is wider, with the Sadrists supporting two lists (in addition to “independents” in some areas), and with Da‘wa now a more prominent player, having drawn a brighter line between itself and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Hence the second salient feature of the 2009 elections: greater competition centered on issues and candidates. Partners in Green Zone government since 2006, Da‘wa and the Supreme Council have developed significant disagreements over the past year about the basic political system of Iraq. Emboldened by his improved standing in the eyes of many Iraqis after the military operations in Basra and ‘Amara in 2008, Maliki, along with independent Shi‘i allies, is increasingly reverting to an Iraqi nationalist discourse that includes a tough stand on issues relating to Kurdistan, tentative moves away from sectarianism and hardline Islamism, and, most notably, centralism — the wish for a strong Baghdad government able to resist further devolution of the capital’s powers to the periphery. [continued…]

In Iraq, security trumps sectarianism at polls

A young Sunni man strolling along the Tigris River hesitated when asked whom he had voted for in provincial elections Saturday. Then he gave an answer that would have seemed unthinkable during the depths of Iraq’s bloody civil war: “Our prime minister” — the Shiite head of government, Nouri Maliki.

Along Haifa Street, where high-rises once served as shooting galleries for Sunni gunmen battling U.S. troops, another Sunni voter was coy about his choice but hinted that he too was pleased with the job Maliki has done. “Definitely I’m happy,” the elderly man said when asked his opinion of the current state of affairs in Iraq.

Four years ago, during Iraq’s last provincial elections, most Sunnis boycotted the vote, leaving the country’s powerful provincial councils dominated by the ascendant Shiites and Kurds. This time the Sunnis took part, but that won’t necessarily hurt Maliki as he seeks to solidify his Islamic party’s hold on power.

Sectarianism remains an issue here, but in some voters’ minds, it’s trumped by the improved security that Maliki, rightly or wrongly, is credited with bringing to once-lawless parts of Iraq. [continued…]

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