How the ‘peace process’ sustains the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Nathan Thrall writes: In the early days of the Gaza war that took the lives of some 2,150 Palestinians and 72 Israelis, a number of officials in Washington, Ramallah, and Jerusalem began to speak of renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations mediated by the United States. As the fighting dragged on, this talk intensified, again showing that the “peace process” gains greatest urgency from the threat of Israeli-Palestinian violence, as well as from the U.S.’s desire to calm a roiling region, including by helping Arab allies justify pro-American stances to their publics. This was why the 1991 Madrid talks occurred during the first Palestinian intifada and immediately following Arab support of the United States in the 1991 Gulf War. It was why President George W. Bush’s 2003 Road Map for Middle East Peace was drafted during the second intifada and as the U.S. assembled a coalition for the 2003 Iraq War. And it is why the United States may soon seek to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, following sharply increased Israeli-Palestinian confrontation not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and after Israel’s actions in Gaza were given both tacit and overt support by Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.

There is little reason to believe that renewed talks would succeed. The obstacles that caused the failure of the negotiations led by Secretary of State John Kerry have not disappeared. Many of them have grown larger. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his political program of nonviolence and negotiation have been weakened by Hamas’s strategy in Gaza, which impressed many Palestinians, although the costs were enormous. Hamas sent thousands of rockets into Israel, killing seven civilians, while Israeli air strikes and artillery killed hundreds of children, devastated large parts of Gaza, and left tens of thousands of people homeless. Reconstruction will cost many billions and take years.

Still, Hamas demonstrated that its militancy and its willingness to endure a ferocious Israeli attack could achieve more in weeks than Abbas’s talks have achieved in years. During the Gaza war, Israel did not announce a single new settlement in the West Bank. Although Israel did not agree to some of Hamas’s most important requests—for example, the opening of a seaport and the release of recently arrested prisoners—it showed eagerness to negotiate with the Palestinians and willingness to make significant concessions, including the easing of some border crossings, extending fishing rights, facilitating the supply of construction materials, and offering to begin working in Gaza with the new Palestinian government formed in June. [Continue reading...]

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Abbas may push for deadline to end occupation

The New York Times reports: President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority may use the global stage of the annual General Assembly here in a few weeks to publicly demand a deadline for ending Israel’s occupation, according to his ambassador, while expecting that the Israelis — and almost certainly their American allies — will oppose that demand.

“He wants the international community to agree on a date,” the ambassador, Riyad H. Mansour, said. Mr. Mansour called the demand part of what he described as a new strategy by Mr. Abbas to unilaterally advance the goal of Palestinian independence and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after a litany of frustrations, notably the collapse of American-brokered talks with Israel this year.

Mr. Abbas also is apparently hoping that the Palestinian Authority’s role in helping to halt the 50-day war in Gaza between Israeli forces and Hamas militants, achieved last Tuesday with an Egyptian brokered cease-fire agreement, has infused his position with new vitality and leverage.

If Mr. Abbas is denied an occupation end date, Mr. Mansour said, he will use the Palestine observer state status at the United Nations, an upgrade won nearly two years ago over Israeli and American objections, to make the occupied territories even more like the independent state he has sought.

The most coercive measure available to him is to make Palestine a member of the International Criminal Court, opening the way for possible prosecutions of Israeli actions as an occupying power. [Continue reading...]

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Israel plans to expropriate 988 acres of West Bank

AFP reports: Israel announced Sunday it will expropriate 400 hectares (988 acres) of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, angering the Palestinians and alarming Israeli peace campaigners.

The move to seize the land, in the Bethlehem area in the south of the territory, is the biggest of its kind in three decades, Peace Now said.

“On the instructions of the political echelon… 4,000 dunams at Gevaot (settlement) is declared as state land,” said the army department charged with administering civil affairs in occupied territory, laying down a 45-day period for any appeal.

It said the move stemmed from political decisions taken after the June killing of three Israeli teenagers snatched from a roadside in the same area, known to Israelis as the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. [Continue reading...]

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Reflections on the war on Gaza

Azzam Tamimi writes: First: For the people of Gaza, the recent ceasefire deal between the resistance and Israel did not accomplish all they were seeking. Yet, at the same time, it achieved none of what the Israelis were hoping for. Perhaps the reason the two sides managed to agree, finally, on a ceasefire, was their conviction that there was no way any of them could achieve more under the prevalent circumstances.

It is true that the Israelis have enjoyed unprecedented Arab support in their war against Gaza and continuous encouragement from certain Arab quarters to inflict as much damage as they could on Gaza to pressure Hamas into capitulation. Yet, they have not been able to cripple the resistance or force it to surrender. As for the resistance, it has indeed enjoyed the full and unconditional backing of the people of Gaza, despite the siege and the pain, in the hope that this latest round of conflict would led to lifting the siege that has been imposed on the Strip for nearly eight years. Yet, it has not been possible for the resistance to obtain guarantees that the siege would finally be ended.

Second: The artillery and the rockets have gone silent and the annoying buzzing and whizzing of Israeli warplanes in Gaza’s skies is no longer there, yet the propaganda warfare will continue for some time to come. Each side will seek to prove it came out victorious having achieved its objectives.

The Israelis consider the continuation of the siege a sign of their success whereas the resistance considers the failure of the Israelis to impose demilitarisation a sign of victory. However, one can see a marked difference between the two sides. As soon as the ceasefire deal went into effect, the masses in Gaza took to the streets to celebrate and express joy over what they truly believed was victory.

On the other side, the Israeli masses seemed confused and even distressed. Few Israelis believe that the war has accomplished much for them. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started the offensive against Gaza with high expectations. He promised his public that he would dismantle the military infrastructure of Hamas and the other resistance factions, that he would destroy the tunnels and that he would put an end to the firing of the rockets from Gaza. However, none of this was achieved. [Continue reading...]

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With Gaza war, movement to boycott Israel gains momentum in Europe

The New York Times reports: A branch of Sainsbury’s grocery store removed kosher products from its shelves, it said, to prevent anti-Israel demonstrations. The Tricycle Theater in north London, after hosting a Jewish film festival for eight years, demanded to vet the content of any film made with arts funding from the Israeli government. George Galloway, a member of Parliament known for his vehement criticism of Israel, declared Bradford, England, an “Israel-free zone.”

Mr. Galloway, in comments being investigated by the police, said, “We don’t want any Israeli goods; we don’t want any Israeli services; we don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or college; we don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford.”

The war in Gaza and its aftermath have inflamed opinion in Europe and, experts and analysts say, are likely to increase support for the movement to boycott, disinvest from and sanction Israel, known as BDS.

“We entered this war in Gaza with the perception that the Israeli government is not interested in reaching peace with the Palestinians,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private university. “Now, after the casualties and the destruction, I’m very worried about the impact this could have on Israel. It could make it very easy for the BDS campaign to isolate Israel and call for more boycotts.”

Gilead Sher and Einav Yogev, in a paper for the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, warn that Gaza means Israel pays “a much heavier price in public opinion and in erosion of support for its positions in negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Along with reports of “familiar anti-Semitic attacks on Jews,” they said, “the movement to boycott Israel is expanding politically and among the public.”

Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations points to the debate over halting arms exports to Israel, which has been given new momentum in Britain and Spain by the asymmetry of the Gaza war.

“You’re beginning to see the translation of public sympathy into something politically meaningful,” he said. He noted two tracks — the governmental one, which distinguishes between Israel and the occupied territories, and the social one of academic, commercial and artistic boycotts. [Continue reading...]

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Which antidote to ISIS?

Rami G Khouri writes: I have no doubt that the single most important, widespread, continuous and still active reason for the birth and spread of the Islamic State mindset is the curse of modern Arab security states that since the 1970s have treated citizens like children that need to be taught obedience and passivity above all else. Other factors played a role in this modern tragedy of statehood across the Arab world, including the threat of Zionism and violent Israeli colonialism (see Gaza today for that continuing tale) and the continuous meddling and military attacks by foreign powers, including the U.S., some European states, Russia and Iran.

In my 45 years in the Arab world observing and writing about the conditions on the ground, the only thing that surprises me now is why such extremist phenomena that have caused the catastrophic collapse of existing states did not happen earlier. At least since around 1970, the average Arab citizen has lived in political, economic and social systems that have offered zero accountability, political rights and participation. States have been characterized by steadily expanding dysfunction and corruption, economic disparities that have driven majorities into chronic poverty, and humiliating inaction or failure in confronting the threats of Zionism and foreign hegemonic ambitions. They have also virtually banned developing one’s full potential in terms of intellect, creativity, public participation, culture and identity.

The Islamic State phenomenon is the latest and perhaps not the final stop on a journey of mass Arab humiliation and dehumanization that has been primarily managed by Arab autocratic regimes that revolve around single families or clans, with immense, continuing support from foreign patrons. Foreign military attacks in Arab countries (Iraq, Libya) have exacerbated this trend, as has Israeli aggression against Palestinians and other Arabs. But the single biggest driver of the kind of criminal Islamist extremism we see in this phenomenon is the predicament of several hundred million individual Arab men and women who find – generation after generation – that in their own societies they are unable to achieve their full humanity or potential, or exercise their full powers of thought and creativity; or, in many cases, obtain basic life needs for their families. [Continue reading...]

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People are blocking cargo ships to protest Israel

Vice News: The Israeli Zim Piraeus cargo ship arrived at the port in Oakland, California for its usual weekly offloading last Saturday—but it was unable to unload any of its cargo. The ship’s crew had to wait four days at sea before faking a departure and then sneaking back into a new terminal to evade hundreds of activists who had created a picket line the longshoremen’s union wouldn’t cross. Even when the ship finally left, many believe it still had most of its cargo.

The ship’s acrobatics were induced by a coalition of Palestine solidarity activists and organized labor, with activists originally intending to delay it for just a day as a way to send a message that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians should make it an international pariah.

The Zim Integrated Shipping Services is Israel’s largest shipping company, but its appeal as a target for the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement goes beyond its mere financial value. With Israel’s ability to drop thousands of tons of explosives on the captivated and densely packed population of Gaza and then sail into international ports without consequence, Zim vessels embody Israel’s enduring impunity. [Continue reading...]

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Desmond Tutu — My plea to the people of Israel: Liberate yourselves by liberating Palestine

Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes: The past weeks have witnessed unprecedented action by members of civil society across the world against the injustice of Israel’s disproportionately brutal response to the firing of missiles from Palestine.

If you add together all the people who gathered over the past weekend to demand justice in Israel and Palestine – in Cape Town, Washington, D.C., New York, New Delhi, London, Dublin and Sydney, and all the other cities – this was arguably the largest active outcry by citizens around a single cause ever in the history of the world.

A quarter of a century ago, I participated in some well-attended demonstrations against apartheid. I never imagined we’d see demonstrations of that size again, but last Saturday’s turnout in Cape Town was as big if not bigger. Participants included young and old, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, blacks, whites, reds and greens … as one would expect from a vibrant, tolerant, multicultural nation. [Continue reading...]

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#BDS: Protesters block Israeli-owned boat from unloading at Port of Oakland

KTVU reports: Dockworkers at the Port of Oakland honored a picket line this evening marking the second day in a row that an Israeli-owned commercial vessel was unable to unload cargo at the port, event organizers said.

For the second time this weekend, Bay Area protesters gathered at the Port of Oakland to stop a Zim Integrated Shipping Services vessel from docking and unloading in an act of protest against recent Israeli military action in Gaza.

The ship, identified as Piraeus by the online ship tracking service Marine Traffic, was moored at the Port of Oakland area as of 5:30 p.m. this evening, according to the website.

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The occupation is a political problem needing a political solution — not a humanitarian band-aid

Taghreed al-Khodary, former Gaza correspondent for the New York Times, said in an interview: Ending the siege is not a “Hamas demand.” It is the people’s demand. Gaza is still under occupation — it is an open jail. Israel always says, “We withdrew, we gave them land to control…” I am always shocked when I hear this line repeated by someone on CNN. The borders are completely controlled by Israel, the sea is completely controlled by Israel. The airspace is completely controlled by Israel. The crossings are completely controlled by Israel, aside from one crossing, controlled by Egypt—and this is now closed as well.

My father had cancer. Because he knew people, he managed to go to Israel to get treatment, but most others cannot. When he died two months ago while getting his cancer treatment in Israel, only my mother was allowed by Israel to join him. None of his daughters or brothers were permitted to join him. Imagine dying far away from your loved ones…the occupation is cruel.

What is happening in Gaza and throughout the occupied territories is not primarily a humanitarian issue, although there are devastating humanitarian side effects: It is a political issue. Focusing only on the humanitarian issues is a pretext not to have to come up with a long-term political solution.

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Anti-Israel boycotts are spreading across Britain and they’re here to stay

BuzzFeed reports: “We’re not planning on stopping our actions, because the siege of Gaza still goes on,” Clare Essex, a spokeswoman for London Palestine Action (LPA), said. “People can’t have medicine. The one power plant in the city has been destroyed. More than ever, we need to keep pushing that into people’s consciousness.”

In the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting in the streets of London, Manchester, and Edinburgh against the government’s stance on the conflict in Gaza. Alongside larger actions, there have been protests inside supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, and shopkeepers have claimed to have faced intimidation on the high streets of Manchester.

But despite a short-term end to hostilities in Gaza, the campaign shows no signs of winding down. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s (PSC) chair, Hugh Lanning, said the organisation plans to build on the momentum it has gained. There will be another national day of action next Saturday, when activists will target high street stores that sell the products of SodaStream, a manufacturer of DIY carbonated-drink machines that has its headquarters in an Israeli settlement. [Continue reading...]

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A piecemeal parochial approach won’t solve the Middle East crisis

Chris Doyle writes: “The lamps are going out all over the Middle East”, to update Sir Edward Grey’s doom-laden warning to Europe a hundred years ago. The areas of calm and stability seem like small oases in a multitude of firestorms. Many areas are literally without lights. Gaza has around two hours electricity a day. The power cuts in Yemen are worse and worse, leading to major protests. But, more worryingly, the lights of the democratic, liberal, pluralistic forces that for many months in 2011 lit up the region are also dimming, overshadowed by the twin forces of brutal dictatorship and brutal religious sectarian extremism.

Syria and Iraq are divided and near ungovernable, in the waiting room for failed-state status. The so-called Islamic caliphate or Isis, which in reality bears no resemblance to any caliphates of the past, covers an ever-expanding area, larger than the United Kingdom, including 35 per cent of Syria. Libya is being terrorised by rival militias. Palestinians in Gaza, for the fourth time since 2006, are at the wrong end of an Israeli military aggression that pits one of the world’s most sophisticated militaries against a captive population inside the world’s largest prison. The collective pile of rubble from these conflicts would grace a mountain range.

Those states and areas that enjoy calm become refugee camps. Lebanon and Jordan host almost two million Syrian refugees between them, as well as 2.5 million Palestinians. Tunisia is confronted with a mass Libyan exodus; while Iraqi Kurdistan is home to more than 300,000 Iraqis displaced only since June, as well as 220,000 Syrian refugees. In each case, the numbers are rocketing up – with the number of Syrian refugees alone expected to reach four million by the end of the year. Each humanitarian appeal is underfunded.

Will it get worse? The signs are worrying. The fighting in Lebanon last week, in Arsal in the north Bekaa valley, is yet another example of why the Syrian crisis threatens to move from spilling over, to swamping, its smaller neighbour. The instability could spread to Jordan. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states will not be immune to the regional changes.

Given the epidemic of crises in an area of the world vital to our trade, energy and security interests, the minimal expectation would be an energetic and engaged response. Yet, when asked about Western policy towards the region, my instinctive response is, “There is one?”

The failure is first and foremost one of leadership, at an international and regional level. Who are great international statesmen in the West or in the Middle East? Who do young Arabs, who make up most of the population, look to for inspiration? President Obama has been blasted for his indecisiveness but he is not alone. George W Bush and Tony Blair were decisive over Iraq and destroyed the country. There is no strategy, and often the debate is reduced to a question of to bomb or not to bomb. [Continue reading...]

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To end violence, end the occupation

Charlie Rose in conversation with Nadia Bilbassy-Charters, Khaled Elgindy, Rula Jebreal and Yousef Munayyer. Starts at 15 minutes 40 seconds.

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#BDS: Boycott #Israeli products app gets 350,000 supporters

International Business Times: An app that allows users to search for a product linked to targeted companies or countries in order to boycott them has seen a significant surge in users signing up to anti-Israel campaigns.

Buycott catalogues brands and their affiliations and lets users set up campaigns to either help or avoid funding certain causes. By scanning a product’s barcode with their smartphone camera, consumers are able to determine which brands are associated with which campaigns.

The two most popular campaigns currently on Buycott are Long Live Palestine Boycott Israel and Avoid Israeli Settlement Products. Between them they have close to 350,000 supporters, over a quarter of which have joined in the last 12 hours (at time of publication).

Included on the list of companies implicated by the Long Live Palestine Boycott Israel campaign are McDonald’s, Intel, Nestle and Marks & Spencer. [Continue reading...]

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Is another Intifada possible in the West Bank?

Ahmad Kittaneh was shot by Israeli soldiers on Thursday night during the largest protest in the West Bank since the Second Intifada. He and almost died. From his hospital bed he told Dalia Hatuqa, protest “is a national duty for every one of us.”

In the last two weeks, three separate attacks on Israelis took place in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and two Palestinian men participating in separate protests in villages near Tulkarem and Ramallah were shot dead. These skirmishes, coupled with the massive protests that Kittaneh took part in, have left many wondering if they were witnessing the beginning of a formal Intifada — or if the uprising would just patter out over time.

“What I saw the other day were people finally rising up,” Kittaneh insisted. “The numbers were huge. I don’t think we can go back from this.”

While the immediate motivation for these flare-ups may be the Gaza bombardment, it’s undeniable that a change in West Bank dynamics has also played a major role. With the temporary trappings of a quasi state-let slipping away — the peace process at a standstill, economic stagnation setting in — the only part of the window dressing that remains are the PA’s security forces whose main job, as far as regular Palestinians are concerned, is to protect Israel. This harsh reality is now in stark relief since Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad left office roughly a year ago.

“People are coming to the conclusion that maybe what was taken by force cannot be returned except by force,” said Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Bethlehem-based activist and university professor. “There has been significant upheaval and anger. It’s hard to determine the future, but the Palestinian psyche is changing, and we may be closer to a revolution against the PA, which is needed as well.” [Continue reading...]

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#Israel, trapped by 19th century nationalism

Pankaj Mishra writes: Successive Israeli governments may appear to have succeeded in creating indestructible boundaries on the ground, as well as in the air. The Israeli Defense Forces’ barrier, which separates Israeli territory from the West Bank, has successfully blocked the flow of suicide bombers. The so-called Iron Dome prevents most Hamas rockets from reaching their targets.

In the past, too, freedom and democracy depended upon the exclusion of others; the walls of the Greek polis drew clear lines between citizens and enemies. But the impulse to shut oneself off in an interconnected world can only clash with other aspirations that modernity creates: whether to grow and expand or to live a quiet and dignified life.

The IDF’s barrier and the settler enclaves not only make a Palestinian state unachievable and, if it was ever attained, ungovernable. It also, ironically, contradicts the expansionist vision of “Eretz Yisrael.”

In any case, the most primitive rockets can clear all fences and walls; better-designed ones will no doubt beat even the Iron Dome; and deeper tunnels will be dug. Not surprisingly, punitive Israeli measures — the blockade of Gaza from 2007 and military incursions in 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014 — eventually reveal themselves as futile exercises in self-assertion. Each time, the increased sophistication and ferocity of the attacks is matched by greater resilience on the other side.

The consistent Palestinian refusal to be shocked and awed by superior firepower will puzzle only those who have failed to grasp the central idea and event of the 20th century: the urge of self-determination and decolonization. [Continue reading...]

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The smoke screen of a two-state solution has disappeared — #Netanyahu’s plan for #apartheid

Stephen Robert writes: So much tragedy and insufferable grief now engulfs the Israel-Palestine debate that the past year’s transformation of Israeli politics is easily overlooked. Yet, it is the nutrient for the present catastrophe, and perhaps for even worse in the future.

In 2009, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a major speech at Bar Ilan University, which, though highly nuanced, purportedly supported a two state solution. His father, a darling of the right-wing, then gave an interview to Israeli TV in which he stated that his son would never approve a state the Palestinians could possibly accept. The past year has demonstrably proved the father’s prophecy.

Netanyahu’s pretense to the contrary has been demolished, both by others and himself. Since there is no other sustainable solution, Palestinians have now lost all hope of their God-given right to govern themselves with the dignity humanity demands. History informs us that when that hope is lost, radicalism will ensue. Occupiers lose in the end.

Public and private statements from officials deeply immersed in these talks suggest this Israeli government was never serious about peace. Comments by U.S. Special Envoy Martin Indyk and President Obama’s chief Middle East advisor, Philip Gordon, place considerable blame on Israel; perhaps with bluntness unprecedented for American diplomats. They cite Israel’s refusal to discuss borders, produce maps, end settlement expansion and negotiate many of the big gap issues. Indyk believes Palestinian President Abbas was humiliated and embarrassed by Israel’s coupling of settlement expansions with each release of Palestinian prisoners, implying that Abbas had agreed to pay for the prisoners. During the nine months of negotiations, Israel announced the planning of 8000 settlement units, largely outside the area likely to be part of Israel in any peace agreement. Both men also place considerable responsibility on the Palestinians, but the proportionality is notably different from previous failed attempts to broker peace.

Most important, Prime Minister Netanyahu has now removed his mask. At a recent press conference, after implying Secretary Kerry and General John Allen were naïve about Israel’s security, he proclaimed that any Palestinian state contiguous to Israel constituted an unacceptable danger. Therefore, he said, such a state must have indefinite Israeli military occupation, not only in the Jordan Valley but throughout all of its territory. It appears that the alleged supporter of two states envisions a sovereign Palestinian state – but under Israeli occupation.

Certainly Netanyahu’s position doesn’t pass the laugh test. Still, it represents a less nuanced and unrestrained hawkishness by the Israeli right wing. Perhaps because the press conference was in Hebrew, these transformational comments have been vastly under reported.

Foreign Minister Lieberman fought for the invasion of Gaza, and driving Hamas out. His goal is an occupied Gaza, as compliant as the West Bank, creating a “stable condition similar to the West Bank.”

The smoke screen of a two state solution has disappeared. [Read more...]

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#Israel eavesdropped on John Kerry in Mideast talks

SPIEGEL has learned from reliable sources that Israeli intelligence eavesdropped on US Secretary of State John Kerry during Middle East peace negotiations. In addition to the Israelis, at least one other intelligence service also listened in as Kerry mediated last year between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states, several intelligence service sources told SPIEGEL. Revelations of the eavesdropping could further damage already tense relations between the US government and Israel.

During the peak stage of peace talks last year, Kerry spoke regularly with high-ranking negotiating partners in the Middle East. At the time, some of these calls were not made on encrypted equipment, but instead on normal telephones, with the conversations transmitted by satellite. Intelligence agencies intercepted some of those calls. The government in Jerusalem then used the information obtained in international negotiations aiming to reach a diplomatic solution in the Middle East.

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