Shimon Peres obituary: Peacemaker or war criminal?

Jonathan Cook writes: Famously in the late 1990s, [Shimon] Peres [the last major figure in Israel’s founding generation, who died today, age 93] made the mistake of asking a Labour party convention whether he was a “loser”. The delegates roared back: “Yes”.

Over two decades, Peres lost five elections in which he stood for prime minister.

Although he served in the top job on two occasions, he never won a popular mandate.

He briefly took over from Rabin after the latter was felled in 1995 by an assassin’s bullet. He was also prime minister in an unusual rotation agreement with his Likud rival Yitzhak Shamir after neither secured a parliamentary majority in the 1984 election.

Unlike Rabin and Ariel Sharon, two figures of his generation who enjoyed greater political acclaim, Peres suffered in part because he had not first made a name for himself in the Israeli army, Ezrahi observed.

He was seen as more uninspiring technocrat than earthy warrior.

Even on Israel’s left, said Roni Ben Efrat, an Israeli political analyst and editor of the website Challenge, he was viewed as an opportunist.

“His real obsession was with his own celebrity and prestige,” she said. “What he lacked was political principle. There was an air about him of plotting behind everyone’s backs. He was certainly no Nelson Mandela.”

Rabin, who tussled regularly with Peres for leadership of the Labour party, called him an “inveterate schemer”.

With Rabin’s victory in 1992, Peres was appointed number two and returned to what he did best: backroom deals, in this case a peace track in Norway that led to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.

When Rabin was assassinated two years later, it was assumed that Peres would romp home in the general election a short time later, riding a wave of sympathy over Rabin’s death.

Instead he lost to Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who profited from the right’s campaign to discredit the peace process and its architects as “Oslo criminals”.

Peres would see out much of his remaining time in frontline politics providing a veneer of international respectability to right-wing Sharon governments through the second Intifada as they crushed the Palestinian leadership and built a steel and concrete barrier through the West Bank. [Continue reading…]

Anshel Pfeffer writes: Perhaps the final irony of Shimon Peres’ life was that his last act in the service of peace, remains secret and undocumented. As an octogenarian president, he observed the conventions of the ceremonial office and refrained from openly intervening in politics. That didn’t stop the commanders of the army and chiefs of the intelligence services turning to him for advice when they felt their political masters were dangerously wrong. Towards the end of his seven-year term, he was the secret leader of the faction within the defence establishment that successfully worked to block the plans of Netanyahu, the prime minister and the defence minister Ehud Barak to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations, before it could build an atomic bomb.

Ultimately he had to rely on the generals and spy chiefs to avert war. He never convinced ordinary Israelis to make the same leap of faith he had. [Continue reading…]

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Rights groups say Israel behind death threats campaign

Al Jazeera reports: The threats have come via emails, phone calls, and once with flowers delivered directly to the front door.

Amid months of sustained intimidation, harassment and threats, Palestinian human rights defenders are coming forward to denounce a campaign that they say aims to “plant fear” into their efforts to hold Israel accountable for human rights violations.

“This is a very organised and advanced campaign,” said Shawan Jabarin, director of Al Haq, a prominent Ramallah-based Palestinian human rights organisation.

“The goal is to stop us [from] dealing actively with the [International Criminal Court], cooperating actively with the ICC,” Jabarin told Al Jazeera. “They want to plant fear on our side … when it comes to accountability [and] when it comes to our advocacy work.” [Continue reading…]

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Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinian children decried

Al Jazeera reports: Human rights groups have condemned Israel’s approval of a new law allowing the imprisonment of children as young as 12 for “terrorist offences”, and which is expected to apply mostly to Palestinian children in occupied East Jerusalem.

The “Youth Bill” allows authorities to imprison minors convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder or manslaughter, even if he or she is under the age of 14, the Israeli government said in a statement on Wednesday.

Attacks in recent months “demands a more aggressive approach, including toward minors”, the government said in the statement.

Israeli rights group B’Tselem criticised the law and Israel’s treatment of Palestinian youth in general.

“Rather than sending them to prison, Israel would be better off sending them to school where they could grow up in dignity and freedom, not under occupation,” the group said in a statement. [Continue reading…]

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Turkish aid flows into besieged Gaza Strip

Al Jazeera reports: The night before Eid, Basem Abu Attia received a call from a local official with some good news: His food package was ready for pick-up.

“I was very surprised,” Abu Attia told Al Jazeera. “I wasn’t expecting anything … I had nothing to give my family, so when the aid came I was overjoyed.”

More aid from Turkey has started flowing into Gaza this week under the terms of the recent Turkey-Israel deal, after the Social Affairs Ministry spent weeks organising the material. Distribution to about 75,000 families dependent on government subsidies began on Tuesday, although delivery was previously expedited to some of the neediest families, including Abu Attia’s.

The aid package included rice, oil, olives, dates and flour – basic items that Abu Attia, who lives in the Nuseirat refugee camp, cannot afford himself. His 10 children, the youngest of whom is three, were elated, he said – “especially with the chocolates”. He hopes that later deliveries will include toys for his children.

Just a week into receiving the package, however, all that remained was a bag of rice and a can of olives.

“We need a long-term programme, and we’re hoping the Turks will help us with this,” said Talla Abu Jomaa, the Social Affairs Ministry representative in Nuseirat camp, who delivered the aid package to Abu Attia.

Uncertainty was cast over the Turkey-Israel deal after a failed coup attempt by members of the Turkish military last week. But as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged in control, Turkish officials confirmed that the agreement remains on course. [Continue reading…]

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Tel Aviv mayor says the occupation is a cause of Palestinian terror

Edo Konrad writes: Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai shocked many Israelis Thursday morning when he cited Israel’s occupation as one factor that leads Palestinians to turn to terrorism. Speaking on Army Radio about Wednesday’s deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv and reported celebrations of it in the West Bank and Gaza, Huldai argued that Israelis should focus instead on the fact that Israel is “perhaps the only country in the world holding another nation under occupation without civil rights.”

“On the one hand the occupation has lasted 49 years, and I took part in it,” Huldai told veteran journalist Ilana Dayan, “I recognize the reality and know that leaders with courage must look to take action and not just talk. The fact that we are suffering does not lead to a change in understanding of what must be done… There is no courage to do what needs to be done in order to reach a [peace] agreement.”

“There is no way to hold people in a situation of occupation and think that they will reach the conclusion that everything is okay and they will continue to live like that,” Huldai added. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli minister wants to annex half of West Bank and kick out the Palestinians

The Washington Post reports: A top Israeli minister said he wants the government to take complete control of more than half of the West Bank and remove the Palestinian residents of the territory.

While traveling with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a state visit to Russia on Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel told the Times of Israel that the world should forget about a Palestinian state.

“We have to aspire to the annexation of Area C; these are areas where there are no Arabs at all,” Ariel said. “We would remove a few thousand, who do not constitute a significant numerical factor.”

According to the Oslo Accords, the West Bank is divided into three areas. Area C comprises more than 60 percent of the West Bank and is under complete Israeli military control, both for security and civil affairs. [Continue reading…]

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Marwan Barghouti’s plan for Palestinian independence

After outlining the contenders’ claims to become a replacement for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Menachem Klein writes: [Mohammed] Dahlan and [Majd] Farj’s weak spots are precisely where jailed popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti has an advantage. He enjoys widespread support among both Fatah members and the Palestinian public, and his status as a prisoner only adds to his image. As opposed to his opponents, who mostly market their personalities and ties with foreign groups, Barghouti turns inward to the Palestinian public, and offers a fundamentally different strategy.

As the Palestinian public reels from a feeling of crisis, despair, and dead end, as well as a deep suspicion vis-à-vis the interests driving those fighting over Abbas’ succession, Barghouti has the ability to win support, as he is paving a new path and believes in the populace’s power to take control. A document published by one of the heads of the Barghouti camp, which I recently obtained, reveals more than what I have published on these issues in the past.

Barghouti’s goal is no different from that of Abbas or even the Arab Peace Initiative: a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders and implementing UN Resolution 194 regarding Palestinian refugees and their right of return. The difference is in the way Barghouti proposes to achieve these goals.

As opposed to Abbas and his competitors, Barghouti’s supporters believe that the key to liberation is not on the international stage but in the Palestinian arena. Abbas’ insistence on using exclusively international channels is, to their mind, the problem and not the solution. It allows Israel to continue with its colonial project. The alternative is recruiting the masses to a determined, lasting, popular nonviolent struggle. The change must first come from below, only later can it be translated into political maneuvering. The struggle will end only after independence is achieved. There is no agreeing to stop the struggle as a condition to hold negotiations with Israel, according to the document.

As opposed to Abbas’s other opponents, as well as Abbas himself, Barghouti is close to high-ranking Hamas members, and in the past met with Hamas members in prison to discuss national reconciliation efforts. It is likely that his plans are accepted by Hamas officials both inside and outside prison. The first step Barghouti proposes is national reconciliation and holding elections within PLO and PA institutions, which will include Hamas. [Continue reading…]

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Should Israel negotiate with Hamas?

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How the Syrian Revolution transformed this Palestinian activist

Budour Hassan is a law school graduate and freelance writer based in Jerusalem who contributes to Al Jazeera, Electronic Intifada, Middle East Eye, and elesewhere. She writes:

The world revolves around Palestine, or so I thought until 2011.

The Palestinian cause, I argued, was the litmus test for anyone’s commitment to freedom and justice. Palestine was the one and only compass that must guide any Arab revolution. Whether a regime is good or bad should be judged, first and foremost, based on its stance from the Palestinian cause. Every event should somehow be viewed through a Palestinian lens. The Arab people have failed us, and we inspired the entire world with our resistance.

Yes, I called myself internationalist. I claimed to stand for universal and humanist ideals. I blathered on and on about breaking borders and waging a socialist revolution.

But then came Syria, and my hypocrisy and the fragility of those ideals became exposed.

When I first heard the Syrian people in Daraa demand a regime reform on 18 March 2011, all I could think about, subconsciously, was: “If the Egyptian scenario happens in Syria, it would be a disaster for Palestine.”

I did not think about those who were killed by the regime on that day. I did not think of those arrested or tortured.

I did not think about the inevitable crackdown by the regime.

I did not greet the incredibly courageous protests in Daraa with the same elation and zeal I felt during the Tunisian, Egyptian, Bahraini, Yemeni, and Libyan uprisings.

All I could muster was a sigh of suspicion and fear.

“Assad is a tyrant and his regime is rotten,” I thought to myself, “but the subsequent results of its fall might be catastrophic for Palestine and the resistance.” That sacred axis of resistance meant to me back then much more than the Syrian lives being cut short by its defenders.

I was one of those whose hearts would pound when Hassan Nasrallah appeared on TV. I bookmarked loads of YouTube videos of his speeches and teared up while listening to songs glorifying the resistance and its victories.

And while I supported the demands of the Syrian protesters in principle, I did so with reluctance and it was a conditional support. It was not even solidarity because it was so selfish and always centered around Palestine.

I retweeted a blog post by an Egyptian activist calling on Syrians to carry Palestinian flags, in order to “debunk” regime propaganda. The Syrian people took to the streets defending the same universal ideals that I claimed to stand for, yet I was incapable of viewing their struggle outside my narrow Palestinian prism. I claimed to be internationalist while prioritizing Palestinian concerns over Syrian victims. I shamelessly took part in the Suffering Olympics and was annoyed that Syrian pain occupied more newspaper pages than Palestinian pain. I was too gullible to notice that the ordeals of both Syrians and Palestinians are just footnotes and that the breaking news would become too routine, too dull and unworthy of consumption in the space of few months.

I claimed to reject all forms of oppression while simultaneously waiting for the head of a sectarian militia to say something about Syria and to talk passionately about Palestine.

The Syrian revolution put me on trial for betraying my principles. But instead of condemning me, it taught me the lesson of my life: it was a lesson given with grace and dignity.

It was delivered with love, by the women and men dancing and singing in the streets, challenging the iron fist with creativity, refusing to give up while being chased by security forces, turning funeral processions into exuberant marches for freedom, rethinking ways to subvert regime censorship; introducing mass politics amidst unspeakable terror; and chanting for unity despite sectarian incitement; and chanting the name of Palestine in numerous protests and carrying the Palestinian flag without needing a superstar Egyptian blogger to ask them to do so.

It was a gradual learning process in which I had to grapple with my own prejudices of how a revolution should “look like,” and how we should react to a movement against a purportedly pro-Palestinian regime. I desperately tried to overlook the ugly face beneath the mask of resistance worn by Hezbollah, but the revolution tore that mask apart. And that was not the only mask torn apart, many more followed. And now the real faces of self-styled freedom fighters and salon leftists were exposed; the long-crushed Syrian voices emerged. [Continue reading…]

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Israel must recognize its responsibility for the Nakba, the Palestinian tragedy

Saeb Erekat writes: For the Palestinian people, the Nakba is a collective tragedy whose wounds have yet to heal 68 years later.  What we call the ‘Catastrophe’ is not just the destruction of at least 436 villages or the forced displacement of 70 percent of our people, but of our ethnic cleansing at the hands of a colonialist strategy. For reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel must recognize what it has done to the Palestinian people.
 
It is time for Israelis to confront reality: when the Zionists came to Palestine, there were another people living here. Over 100 years ago, a Zionist mission was sent to Palestine and their report acknowledged this fact: “The bride is beautiful but she is married to another man.” And this: soon plans to displace Palestine’s population were unveiled. Millions of Palestinians still pay for the colonialist British promise referred to as the Balfour Declaration. No people on earth would have accepted such a clandestine deal, sealing their fate to a foreign power intent on wiping its presence and identity from the land they came from, tilled, and souls returned to.
 
Unfortunately, Nakba deniers throughout Israeli society continue to use neocolonialist nationalism to rejects the existence of the Palestinian people while redefining traditional constructs of colonialism to justify the systematic Israeli theft of Palestinian land and deprivation of Palestinian human rights.
 
Palestinians are Arabs who immigrated to Israel. We Jews fended off the attacks by seven Arab armies in self-defense. These declarations deny the very existence of the Palestinian people, continue to justify the atrocities committed against us, and deny Palestinian refugees’ legitimate right of return. However, if Israel aspires to live in peace in the region, it must face its own archival evidence attesting to the past that ties our two peoples together. Even 68 years after the Nakba, Jews are still the minority in historic Palestine while Palestinian Christians aren’t even recognized by Israel as Palestinian. Israel cannot continue to deny what it has done to the Palestinian people, and it’s time it understood that coexistence means acknowledgment. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli convicted of Palestinian murder that helped trigger 2014 war

AFP reports: The Israeli ringleader in the beating and burning alive of a Palestinian teenager in 2014 has been convicted of his murder.

Yosef Haim Ben David, 31, was found in November to have led the assault, but a verdict was delayed after his lawyers submitted last-minute documents saying he suffered from mental illness.

The court ruling on Tuesday said that Ben David “was not psychotic, fully understood the facts, was responsible for his actions, had no difficulty in understanding reality and had the capacity to prevent the crime”.

A sentencing hearing has been set for 3 May.

The family of the teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, welcomed the decision but said they hoped judges followed through with a life sentence for Ben David.

At the hearing Mohammed’s mother wore a heart-shaped pendant containing an image of her son wearing a baseball cap, and his father said the decision “should have been made a long time ago”.

“We knew that he wasn’t mad,” Hussein Abu Khdeir told Agence France-Presse. “It was all a big lie to get off from the crime which he carried out. Even if they sentence him for life, this will never bring Mohammed back again. Our hearts are wounded from what happened.”

In February, a court sentenced Ben David’s two young Israeli accomplices to life and 21 years in prison for the killing, which was part of a spiral of violence in the run-up to the 2014 Gaza war. [Continue reading…]

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‘Desperate’ Palestinian refugees starve as battle rages in Damascus

The Guardian reports: Thousands of civilians are trapped in “desperate” humanitarian conditions in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus where fighting has been raging for days between Islamic State fighters and other extremists, the UN has warned.

UNRWA, the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, said at the weekend that up to 10,000 residents of the Yarmouk camp in the south of the Syrian capital have gone without food or water for more than a week.

“Civilians in Yarmouk are facing starvation and dehydration alongside the heightened risks of serious injury and death from the armed conflict,” said Christopher Gunness, a UNRWA spokesman. People are trapped in their homes, hunkered down to avoid being hit by bullets and shrapnel, he added.

The camp, a sprawling urban neighbourhood that was once home to 150,000 people, has been ravaged by fighting between Isis and al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, al-Nusra Front, while government forces regularly shell it from outside. “Whatever supplies of food and water they had have long been exhausted,” Gunness said. [Continue reading…]

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