September 6, 2010

EDITOR: BDS is spreading like bush fire!

Even though the boycott suggested here is limited, this is still another nail in the coffin of the occupation and Israeli Apartheid.Despite all this change, we should not forget one simple fact: None of this would ever have happened, if the world did not listen to the Palestinian call for BDS, and numerous boycotts implemented, by the international community and by the Palestinians.

On their own, Israeli intellectuals are quite content with the occupation. For over four decades, we have not had the flurry of activity we are now seeing, in direct reaction to the BDS movement actions. There is no clearer evidence that the action are successful, and should be contiued and strengthened.

Making history: support for Israeli artists who say NO to normalizing settlements: Jewish Voice for Peace

When some 60 leading Israeli actors and playwrights signed a letter stating they would refuse to play in the new theatre in Ariel, one of Israel’s largest settlements, the attacks from Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sport and many others were swift and intense. Over 150 leading Israeli academics and writers-including Amos Oz and David Grossman- came to their defense. It was the first time such mainstream figures had drawn a line around normalizing settlements which are illegal according to international law, and which constitute one of the main impediments to a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Inspired by their courage, and responding to a call for international support, Jewish Voice for Peace has developed a statement that has been signed by over 150 theater and film professionals representing some of the most respected and renowned artists in theater, film and television – including Four Pulitzer Prize winners, several recipients of Guggenheim Fellowships, a MacArthur Fellowship, a National Medal of Honor,and scores of recipients of the highest U.S. acting honors, including Tony Awards, Emmy Awards, Grammy Awards, Obie Awards, Drama Desk Awards, and the Oscar.

Rebecca Vilkomerson (, Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace: “The response of American and UK artists to the courageous actions of their Israeli counterparts is just phenomenal. It is especially notable that so many of the signatories are Jewish with long-standing connections to Israel. We hope that the strong show of solidarity by Americans and UK actors in response to these brave Israelis will help spark a new conversation in both countries, one that acknowledges that the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are illegal by every measure of international law, contribute to the daily violation of human rights of Palestinians, and are a major obstacle to a just peace in the region.”

News Links:


Ynet: Artists to refuse to perform in Ariel culture hall

New York Times: Boycott of Theater in Israeli Settlement Grows

UK Guardian: Actors boycott West Bank Theater

Text of the statement:

On August 27th, dozens of Israeli actors, directors, and playwrights made the brave decision not to perform in Ariel, one of the largest of the West Bank settlements, which by all standards of international law are clearly illegal.  As American actors, directors, critics and playwrights, we salute our Israeli counterparts for their courageous decision.

Most of us are involved in daily compromises with wrongful acts. When a group of people suddenly have the clarity of mind to see that the next compromise looming up before them is an unbearable one  — and when they somehow find the strength to refuse to cross that line  —  we can’t help but be overjoyed and inspired and grateful.

It’s thrilling to think that these Israeli theatre artists have refused to allow their work to be used to normalize a cruel occupation which they know to be wrong, which violates international law and which is impeding the hope for a just and lasting peace for Israelis an Palestinians alike.  They’ve made a wonderful decision, and they deserve the respect of people everywhere who dream of justice. We stand with them.

*Statement organizers and signatories represent a wide range of political opinions and perspectives, but have come together for the sole purpose of making a joint statement on this one critical issue.
**All identifications and affiliations are for identification purposes only and do not imply endorsements by any institutions

To read the full list of signatories, use the link above

Artists to refuse to perform in Ariel culture hall: YNet

Prominent actors, directors, playwrights send letter to boards of Israeli theaters in protest of plans to put on shows in news culture auditorium beyond Green Line. Yesha Council vows harsh response to ‘vile, anti-Zionist’ letter

A long line of actors and artists from all fields of the theater industry sent a letter to the boards of Israel’s repertory theaters announcing they will refuse to perform in the new culture auditorium in Ariel, which is located outside the Green Line. It should be noted that tickets have already been sold to productions that include all of Israel’s theaters.

The letter, addressed to the boards of the Cameri, Habima, Beit Lessin, Khan and the Haifa and Beersheba theatres, read: “We wish to express our disgust with the theater’s board’s plans to perform in the new auditorium in Ariel. The actors among us hereby declare that we will refuse to perform in Ariel, as well as in any other settlement. We urge the boards to hold their activity within the sovereign borders of the State of Israel within the Green Line.”

On Wednesday, the Ometz Lesarev (courage to refuse) organization sent a letter to the theaters’ boards and actors requesting they refrain from performing in Ariel. In response, the city’s mayor, Ron Nachman said, “Culture has nothing to do with politics. If the actors and artists want to deal with politics, let them go to the Knesset. The vileness, baseness and hypocrisy of those who work in culture and call on a boycott of us, is intolerable.”

But it seems many in the industry gave in to the organization’s calls, and Friday’s letter included the signatures of dozens of prominent people in the theater business.

Dramaturgist Vardit Shalfi, one of the letter’s initiators, told Ynet on Friday, “Ariel is not a legitimate community, and as such, is against international law and international treaties that the State of Israel has signed. This means anyone performing there would be considered a criminal according to international law. The theater’s boards should inform their actors that there are apartheid roads for Jews only that lead into the settlement of Ariel. The moment we perform there, we are giving legitimization to this settlement’s existence.”

The long list of signatories includes many prominent actors, which could make it difficult for the theaters to decide which shows to put on in Ariel without having to make serious changes to the cast.

The list includes Israel Prize laureate Renee Yerushalmi, actors Yossi Pollack and Itay Tiran, director Ofira Henig, playwrights Joshua Sobol and Savyon Liebrecht and many more.

Yesha Council vows ‘harsh response’
Liebrecht said in response: “I object to the settlement enterprise and obviously, when it comes to theater, it is my duty not to be silent. Until there is a signed peace agreement, Ariel is not a legitimate community. I haven’t crossed the Green Line in years, and as far as I’m concerned, anyone who has decided to live there and wants to enjoy Israeli culture can come to Kfar Saba or any other Israeli city. I believe that if enough actors and people in the theater business sign the letter, the shows won’t go up there.”

Israel Prize laureate Renee Yerushalmi said, “I am not against, but for the future of the State of Israel. These days talks are being head about the Israeli-Palestinian future, and we must allow them to take place to see if there is hope for future existence here. Ariel today is beyond the Green Line and therefore we must not cross it. This applies to theater productions as well.”

Yesha Council said in response: “Our response to the letter signed by a bunch of anti-Zionist leftists and refusniks will be very harsh. This vile letter, which speaks out against the best of the State’s sons who defend them while they are acting on stage, requires a direct, poignant and clear response from the theaters’ boards, and this is what we expect. We will announce our future steps in the coming days.”

The Habima national theater said in response on Friday: “This is the first time the matter of putting on theater shows beyond the Green Line is raised in Israeli discourse. As a national theater, Habima believes discussing the matter is of the utmost importance, but it also calls for an in-depth examination of all the issues it includes… We are looking into the matter.”

Dror Gerber, of the Haifa Theater said, “If the actors are expressing ethical and moral claims in their letter, I consider this problematic. The way to express protest and objection to the occupation is not via boycotting the residents of Ariel. The Haifa Theater was founded in order to bring the art of theater to all the citizens of the State of Israel.”

Tzipi Pines of Beit Lessin said, “I personally object to the occupation and support peace, but there are people living in Ariel who I respect, and I respect their desire to consume culture.”

The Cameri said in response: “We are against boycotts and will perform anywhere where there are people who desire culture and wish to see Israeli theater.”

Rough start for peace: Al Ahram Weekly

An old hand on Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, Nabil Fahmi shares with Dina Ezzat his concerns and meek expectations over fresh US-sponsored peace talks
A bad combination of excessive tactical manoeuvring and shaky political will could blow up the chance to make Middle East peace out of talks to be launched later today in Washington between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel under supervision of US President Barack Obama and with the presence of President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan.

If these talks — over which Nabil Fahmi, a senior Egyptian diplomat, hides no pessimism — are to continue and if they are to produce a final settlement for the decades long Palestinian-Israeli struggle, Fahmi says, Obama needs to complement his moral commitment to the parameters of a fair peace deal with an action oriented approach. Arab negotiators need to show no willingness to bend when push comes to shove, and the Israeli government needs to accept that a final peace deal is only possible when the legitimate rights of Palestinians are secured.

Above all, Fahmi adds, all parties concerned need to accept one of the most important lessons of years of Arab-Israeli negotiations: a deal is only possible through a comprehensive package that takes into account the interests of all parties.

Fahmi was heavily involved in the Middle East peace process since its official launch in the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, at a time when Egypt was the only Arab state with a peace agreement with Israel. Beyond his last diplomatic post as Egypt’s ambassador to Washington until late 2008, Fahmi — now founding dean of the School of Public Policies at the American University in Cairo — is keeping up his contacts with top figures of the peace process in and out of Egypt.

Today, Fahmi feels that the region has come a long way beyond the days of Madrid when he arrived to the Spanish capital to set the grounds for the first multilateral Arab-Israeli peace talks. At the time, Fahmi had to negotiate a long list of issues, starting from the content of the talks to the seating of delegations and the nature of the participation of Palestinian delegates. “So much time has been spent on the peace process whose launch was first made possible by the results of the October 1973 War,” that sent Israel a clear message that it cannot always have its way in the Middle East and that the Arabs will not give up on territories occupied in 1967.

The talks to be launched this evening — US East Coast Time — should therefore reach a conclusive point, Fahmi argues, without wasting any further time on excessive tactics applied by the US broker or Israeli negotiators to cover up for a serious lack of political will required to make the final settlement, “for which the parameters are clear to everybody”. This said, Fahmi does not underestimate the many challenges posed by the new round of talks. For him the “disturbed regional context” and the striking difference of the initial standing points of the concerned parties are clear and present threats to the talks.

There is much tension, warns Fahmi. He explains: Israel has gone far right, the Palestinians are falling into divisions, “beyond the Fatah and Hamas division”, and relations among regional players are far from smooth. “And there is hardly any common ground among the parties.” “Arabs want a settlement on the basis of international legitimacy while Israel is saying plain and loud that it would not go for a settlement on the basis of the 1967 borders, it would not allow any Palestinian the right of return, and that it insists on the Jewish nature of Israel and that the future Palestinian state should be disarmed,” Fahmi explains.

As for the US, while Washington “seems to want to stick to the tenets of international legitimacy… and while the US secretary of state indicated a possible one-year timeframe for the new round of talks, it is still the case that the US administration does not seem prepared to move away from [an unfair] letter of guarantees” offered by former US president George W Bush to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2004 that signalled Israel could keep major settlement blocs and deny the otherwise internationally recognised right of return for Palestinian refugees.

With such a confused starting point, and notwithstanding the personal commitment of Obama and concerned Arab leaders to make the best out of realities on the ground, Fahmi finds it “very hard to be optimistic about how these talks will proceed or where they would lead to”.

Once the talks are launched, negotiating teams will meet and committees will be assembled. Come 26 September, the date for the expiry of a partial — some say phoney — freeze imposed on the construction of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, the situation might be completely altered. The head of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas, had said that he would walk out on talks if Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu resumes settlement construction.

For his part, Netanyahu said that he has made no promises, neither to Obama nor to Abbas, to extend a freeze that his ultra-rightwing coalition members are determined to end. “This will be a tough date,” agrees Fahmi. It is unrealistic, he suggests, that Netanyahu who is going to these talks partially to ease tension with Obama would go into full confrontation with his coalition members.

“Obama wanted these talks [ahead of mid-term congressional elections] to prove his determination to attend to Middle East issues in parallel with the pull out of US combat troops from Iraq and the complex situation in Afghanistan”. By producing a context of peace negotiations Obama might be able to extract the commitment of Netanyahu to refrain from ramping up new settlement projects even if the ruling Israeli coalition declines to renew the freeze officially. “Some sort of compromise could be found, but this will remain to be seen,” said Fahmi.

The mode of negotiations itself could prove to be an issue, Fahmi notes, in the sense that the US is unlikely, due to decades-long commitments, to propose ideas to the negotiating teams away from prior consultation with Israel, which in turn is unlikely to agree to anything that aims to take the context of negotiations closer to the tenets of international legitimacy.

Fahmi warns that Israel is working to get the US and the rest of the concerned parties to agree that any settlement has to be formulated according to the facts on the ground, and that if the facts on the ground are unlikely to be altered it becomes almost absurd to talk of a fair and comprehensive settlement. He adds, Israel will likely attempt to negotiate a provisional Palestinian state — something that Fahmi believes no Arab leader is willing to settle for.

Obama has to be more forcefully engaged, Arabs have to underline their positions as expressed in the Arab Peace Initiative, and Israel has to come to terms with the concepts of international legitimacy, says Fahmi. Otherwise, he adds, pessimism over the talks to be launched today might well be fully justified.

A Special Place in Hell / Real men don’t talk Mideast peace: Haaretz

Much too much of it has nothing to do with ideology, God’s promises or promises to God. For Jews and for Palestinians, much too much of it has to do with the need to prove oneself a man.
By Bradley Burston
BEIT SHEMESH – There was something wrong with the air here the day President Obama hosted Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. There was a bottom-heavy grip to the heat, the air almost too thick to breathe, as though it had to be forced down, like medicine.

In other places, this freight in the weather is the kind which announces a monsoon, or an earthquake. Not here. Here it was murder that was in the air. It just hadn’t happened yet.

The stage had been set for days. Israel’s most influential former chief rabbi had ushered in the week with a message about the Palestinians that hinted at expulsion and flirted with genocide.

Soon after, the head of Hamas’ political bureau told an interviewer that the upcoming peace talks would come to nothing. “I tell my people that the Palestinian state and Palestinian rights will not be accomplished through this peace process,” Khaled Meshal, “but will be accomplished by force, and it will be accomplished by resistance.”

The army and the police would later say that there were no special alerts in place for attacks against civilians. As if any were needed.

In fact, none of it was needed. Nor is it ever. Not when there is any threat of peace.

There is something in the air here that mitigates against peace itself. It is more than mere tribalism, although tribalism is a part. It is more than past experience, although history’s lessons have been almost uniform in their bitterness.

What it is, constitutes is something akin to a religion of its own, rooted in fundamentalism and terrifying focus, not an unusual circumstance in this cradle of monotheism and mania.

Where it comes to peace talks, this new religion has an oddly unifying effect on extremists, whether Jewish, Muslim, or even Born-Again Christian. None may believe in a Holy Land shared by Israeli and Palestinian states, but just to be on the safe side, a number of them are going to make sure that it doesn’t happen.

What is all this, really? Much too much of it has nothing to do with ideology, God’s promises or promises to God. For Jews and for Palestinians, whom history and tragedy have often and profoundly robbed of the sense and the substance of manhood,
much too much of it has to do with the need to prove oneself a man.

Even at the price of thinking like a 12-year-old boy.

Real men, this religion preaches, don’t talk Mideast peace. Real men do not compromise. Real men neither bend nor relinquish, they concede no error, correct no course,

It is a religion whose first tenet is that a peace which does not conform to the vision of the extremist is no peace at all. It is a religion which effectively believes that there can be no peace. My way or the die way.

Thus it is, that Avigdor Lieberman chose a festive pre-Rosh Hashanah gathering of his Yisrael Beiteinu – perhaps the only Israeli political party which looks down on and dislikes native-born Israelis nearly as much as it dislikes and looks down on Arabs – to declare that a U.S.-brokered peace with the Palestinians is “unattainable, not in the course of this year, and not in the course of a generation.”

Lieberman and Meshal, Eli Yishai and Mahmoud Zahar, all share more than just this religion of negation. They are bullies. They bully their peoples into believing that compromise is immoral, and that the highest form of courage is the frank pursuit of violence.

On the even of the White House meeting, my Palestinian-American colleague Ray Hanania wrote that peace would depend on real courage from both Netanyahu and Abbas. “Do they have the courage to stand up to the fanatics in their own community and confront the growing anger from the moderates who are pulled apart by violence, failure, and the actions of the other side?” he asked.

Many years ago, a Hasidic figure, now largely forgotten, taught that a human being – a real person, male or female, a mensch – is made with a Gibor (hero) on one shoulder, and a Tzaddik (righteous one) on the other. The first takes initiative, takes responsibility, takes chances, the second taking the long view, the broad view, tempering justice with wisdom.

By tradition, the concept of the Gibor is more complex than its English equivalent. True heroes, the Talmud says, resist, conquer their own passions, for the sake of doing what is truly righteous.

In the end, what in the world are the extremists really after?

They are after your humanity. They are betting that when the smoke clears after the damage caused by settlement expansion and drive-by killings, moderates will have surrendered to apathy, despair, or vengeful rage, and the extremist will then have won.

In the long run, though, the one thing that bullies cannot defeat, is courage.

For this peace to have any chance, two peoples, the Jewish and the Palestinian, here and abroad, must take a stand against their own extremists. To reclaim their own independence. Our independence.

It may well make more sense, in the present reality, to put your money on bloodshed. “I hope that one of my personal rules about the Middle East is proved wrong,” Thomas Friedman wrote as the talks neared, “that in this region extremists go all the way and moderates tend to just go away.”

In response, my wife wondered aloud why, under this formula, we were still here.

Perhaps its time to call moderates what we, in fact, are. Extremists for peace.

The occupation, the culture of militant Islam, the constant undermining of peace moves, the propaganda that states that killing of civilians is ever justified or that theft of land is somehow legal – all of it is after your humanity.

Resist. They’ll only take your soul if you let them.

Gaza: a castle in the sand: Al Ahram Weekly

Two years after Cast Lead Hamas is indomitable and the Palestinians withdrawn, writes Graham Usher in Gaza
Abu Raad’s home is built of mud. Hewn from concrete splits, water and sand, the artifice is necessary because of an Israeli siege that bars all raw materials into the Gaza Strip. Abu Raad lost six houses when the Israeli army blitzed northern Gaza in operation Cast Lead in December 2008.

Fifty-two of his family ran for their lives, under Israeli fire, waving white flags. In 2006 18 others had been killed when a “stray” army shell smashed into an earlier home near the Israeli border, forcing the flight to northern Gaza.

Today he sits on his own land before a mud-house that looks like a sand castle. When will he be able to rebuild his home? “When your country ends its blockade of mine,” he answers.

Steadfastness, cynicism, powerlessness: that’s the mood four years after the world slapped a blockade on Palestinians in Gaza for the temerity of voting for a Hamas government, and nearly two since the Israeli army tried to restore the lustre dimmed by its defeats in Lebanon by blasting Gaza to smithereens. That onslaught still reverberates, like an aftershock.

“I lived through the Israeli massacre in Khan Younis in 1956; I lived through 1967. But I never lived through anything like Cast Lead. You thought every moment would be your last,” says a friend from Jabalyia.

In 2009 northern Gaza was a detritus of bombed houses, scorched fields and flattened factories. Today, the land is clear, with reconstruction by local Islamic groups and international ones like the Turkish IHH, tribunes of the flotilla whose attempt to reach Gaza last May left nine dead but compelled Israel to ease the siege.

That victory has redounded to Hamas, the Islamic movement and now government that blockades, assaults and attempted coups all tried to topple. Three years since it vanquished Fatah in a brief but bloody civil war, Hamas looks indomitable in Gaza, shaping a new Palestinian polity out of the ruins of the old.

The new order is felt not so much in the marquee projects that so intrigue in the West: like the small flurry of resorts on the seafront and an even smaller mall in Gaza City. For Gazans it is felt more in a new sense of personal security.

There are no guns in Gaza, not even in the hands of the police. Hamas has banned their display. It is a far cry from the armed lawlessness of the Fatah era, when militia, tribes, even wedding parties could all suddenly ignite into warfare. The ban is rigorously enforced, with big families punished no less than small. This is populist, and very popular.

Nor do Gazans blame Hamas for an economic blitzkrieg in which at least 40 per cent are jobless and 80 per cent of Gaza’s 1.6 million inhabitants depend on aid. “Hamas is under siege too,” they answer.

A friend drives me across fallow lands once occupied by Jewish settlements that cannot be turned into agriculture or industry or residences for want of investment. He points out new housing projects amidst slums that cannot be completed for want of materials. “Were things equal, Gaza could advance,” he says. “But the siege retards all.”

Unable to develop, Hamas entrenches its regime. It is sustained by cash from Iran and a global Muslim Brotherhood but above all from a smuggler economy tunnelled under the Egyptian border that last year supplied 80 per cent of Gaza’s civilian imports and, say local bankers, earned Hamas a cool $150-200 million in revenue.

Tunnels won’t bring prosperity to Gaza. But they help Hamas pay 32,000 civil servants, including 16,000 security personnel, and 40,000 others engaged in the black market economy or welfare institutions. These are formidable constituencies — and powerful systems of patronage — that no other political group in Gaza can rival.

Yet Hamas is hardly more popular than Fatah. Like them, it cannot deliver what its people most want: not governance but liberation.

“Freedom to move, to travel, to leave,” says a man who hasn’t left Gaza for five years. Save for rare “exceptions”, most Palestinians remain interned in the largest prison camp on earth, locked in by Egypt to the south, locked out by Israel everywhere else.

Due to the blockade Fatah would win any new election, says a man from Nusierat. “We know Fatah are corrupt. But with them there’s at least a chance the siege might end. There’s a breeze through the gate. With Hamas, there’s not even a breeze.”

Hamas leaders seem to agree. They no longer speak of democracy: they speak of “10 year plans”. There is a creeping authoritarianism behind what initially had been a cautious, uncertain rule.

Since 2007, Hamas has banned all public activities by Fatah in Gaza, mostly in reprisal for similar actions meted out to Hamas in the West Bank by the Ramallah Authority. But the rod now reaches erstwhile allies like the PLO’s Popular and Democratic Fronts and Islamic Jihad.

And while Hamas has not imposed an aggressive Islamic agenda, certain of its younger cadres spoil to replace jihad against Israel (currently banned by an unannounced non- aggression pact) with moral crusades against the mores of their people.

“They fly kites,” says a woman doctor from Khan Younis. “Now telling women they cannot smoke water pipes; now telling women lawyers they must wear a hijab in court. When you resist, they back off. When you don’t, they Islamise”.

This is what angers people most. Their hunch is that Hamas — no less than Fatah — prefers the power acquired by office to any strategy to heal the worst schism the national movement has ever suffered. “They have grown accustomed to their chairs,” says a veteran activist in Jabalyia.

As for reconciliation between the two movements, he shrugs his shoulders. “It’s about as likely as Israel lifting the siege”. So, in distaste, Palestinians withdraw from politics. Some return to their families; others to the mosque. All seek escape. Depression is rife. And, even in a territory as crowded as Gaza, the sense of isolation is overpowering.

That’s why the flotilla inspired hope. When thousands of Gazans rushed to meet the boats last June, they did so not because they thought they would break the siege. (Any Gazan will tell you Israel’s policy is not to starve them but to contain them in a “bottle” permitting no development, no prosperity but no humanitarian crisis either). Rather they went down to the sea because the flotilla let them glimpse another world and defy a military occupation that, though remote, still controls every facet of their lives.

Since then, life has returned to a kind of dull habit. Watching the sun drop like a gold coin into the ocean I ask a friend what time it is. “The same as always,” she smiles, then frowns. She scans the horizon. She knows while the sea sometimes brings flotillas it can also send waves cast with lead to flatten whatever sand castle Gaza builds.

West Bank settlement freeze will end – Israeli minister: BBC

Mr Lieberman has been largely sidelined from the peace talks
The Israeli foreign minister says he will block any attempt by the coalition government to extend the partial freeze on settlements in the West Bank.

Avigdor Lieberman said his hard-line Yisrael Beitenu party was powerful enough to defeat any such proposal.

The Palestinian Authority has said it will not continue US-sponsored peace talks – the first in almost two years – if settlement building resumes.

The partial freeze is due to expire later this month.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet indicated how he intends to handle the 26 September deadline.

Direct peace talks resumed in Washington on Thursday with the target of reaching a deal within a year.

Mr Netanyahu is due to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for a second round of talks next week in Egypt.

Meanwhile, the Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip says the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank have detained another 35 of its members, following attacks by Hamas’s armed wing that left four Israeli settlers dead and two others wounded.

Hamas said the latest arrests took the number of its members detained since last week’s attacks to 750.

Israel had demanded that the Palestinian Authority take action against Hamas, and has said that the recently relaunched peace talks must involve further moves to protect Israeli security.

Peace deal ‘not possible’
In an interview with Israeli Army Radio on Sunday, Mr Lieberman – who lives in a settlement himself – said there was “no need to extend the freeze”.

I do not believe that a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians is possible within a year, nor even during the next generation”

“Yisrael Beitenu has enough power in the government and in parliament to ensure that no such proposal succeeds,” he said.

His nationalist party is the second largest faction in the governing coalition after Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, which also opposes any extension.

On Sunday, Mr Lieberman reportedly brushed off the latest round of talks, from which he has been largely sidelined.

“I do not believe that a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians is possible within a year, nor even during the next generation,” he said, according to army radio.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has said the settlement issue should be discussed alongside other core disputes, including the final status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Some 300,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements, among the territory’s 2.5 million Palestinians.

They are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
Mubarak pledge
Meanwhile, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has spoken in favour of peace talks in a televised address.

“We [Egypt] are determined to continue our efforts until a just and honourable peace agreement is reached, that brings security for all, ends occupation, places the Middle East on a new track and sets up an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital,” he said.

Mr Mubarak said solving the conflict was central to the region’s security.

“The Palestinian issue will continue to be the key to our regional security and the approach to solve the rest of its crises and problems,” he said.

He delivered his address as Washington announced that the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, would attend the next round of direct talks later this month in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

Egypt’s FM: Israel as ‘Jewish state’ cause for concern: YNet

Aboul Gheit equates Israel’s demand to be recognized as Jewish state to Iran’s decision to call itself ‘Islamic Republic'; expresses concern for fate of Israel’s Arab minority

Israel’s demand to be recognized as a Jewish state is worrying, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told the al-Arabiya television network.

“If the international community defines Israel as a Jewish state – such a decision should be approved by the UN,” Aboul Gheit said.
Washington Summit

In the interview, Aboul Gheit equated Israel’s demand to Iran’s decision to call itself the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” saying, “Israel wants to call itself a Jewish or Hebrew state. This is worrying.”

The Egyptian FM expressed concern about the fate of Israel’s Arabs should the UN approve a resolution defining Israel as a Jewish state. “Will they receive all the civil rights? Will they remain a minority or will they be expelled?” he said.

Turning his attention to the recently launched direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Aboul Gheit said, “The Israeli side decided to freeze settlement construction, and I called this decision disgraceful because (Israel had issued building) permits that allow continued construction for the next two or three years.”

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who attended last week’s summit in Washington along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah, also urged Israel to extend the construction moratorium in the West Bank.

Mubarak said settlement building constituted a “violation of international law.”

Israel and Egypt signed a peace agreement in 1979.

Moment of reckoning: Al Ahram

As direct Palestinian-Israeli talks begin, few are optimistic, but all know the outcome will be decisive, writes Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank
As US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) get underway in Washington, most observers are reluctant to give them the benefit of the doubt given a long legacy of failure after many years of direct and indirect talks between the two sides, especially since the conclusion of the Oslo Accords nearly two decades ago. And while both sides are saying that they are going to the talks “with an open mind”, it is clear that there is a little change — if any — in the declared positions of Israel and the PA on the basic contentious issues.

On the eve of the talks, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu continued to make largely propagandistic statements, saying he wished Israel would have a peace partner like former Egyptian president Anwar El-Sadat. This statement ignores the clear fact that the intensive building of Jewish settlements all over the West Bank, not the absence of Sadat on the Arab side, has been the main obstacle impeding resolution of the Palestinian cause.

On the Arab side, Arab League Chief Amr Moussa has voiced his pessimism about the outcome of the talks. Moussa was quoted this week as saying that he had little hope that the talks would succeed due to Israel’s adamant refusal to end the occupation that started in 1967 and put an end to Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, especially occupied East Jerusalem.

As to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, who seemed to have only reluctantly agreed to join the Washington talks so that the Palestinians wouldn’t be blamed by the Obama administration for the failure of US-led peace efforts, he made it clear that Israel alone would be responsible for the failure of the talks if they did fail.

In a pre-recorded speech on Monday, 30 August, Abbas indicated that the decision to join the talks was a collective Arab decision. He argued that it was unimportant whether peace talks were direct or indirect as long as the goal was to end the Israeli occupation and facilitate the creation of a viable Palestinian state, which he said would ensure just peace in the region.

While asserting continued Palestinian rejection of the Israeli settlement policy, Abbas made no mention of any formal guarantees or conditions. However, he did say that he had informed the Obama administration that the talks would reach a dead end if Israel resumed settlement activities, partially frozen since spring of this year.

“In these critical moments in the history of the region, we understand Israel’s need for security, as well as our own need. But the need for security is not an excuse to expand settlements and steal land.”

While the settlement-expansion issue may be viewed as a maker-or-breaker of the talks, the continuation of the talks, let alone their success, will depend largely on the sides’ ability and willingness to successfully tackle the main outstanding issues of the conflict. These include security, borders, water, settlements, Jerusalem and the refugee problem. This is in addition to the plight of thousands of Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli detention camps, some for decades, without any realistic prospect of freedom.

Yet these issues have been thoroughly discussed in intensive negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators. In some cases, partial agreements or understandings were reached. However, it is uncertain if the Netanyahu government will abide by agreements reached with the PA by previous governments. What is also uncertain is whether Netanyahu will stick to his erstwhile conditions for agreeing to the creation of a Palestinian state.

These conditions, revealed during a speech at Bar-Allan University last year, preclude the establishment of a viable, sovereign and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, as Israel would retain effective security and economic control over the would-be Palestinian entity. More to the point, Netanyahu has always insisted that Israel must be allowed to have sweeping security concessions from the Palestinians, which Palestinians argue correctly would rob them of any semblance of sovereignty or authority. If Netanyahu clings to his conditions, it means talks in Washington will fail, before even they start.

As to borders, it is expected that both sides will hit a formidable snag when this issue comes up for discussion. After all, this is the crux of the matter. The PA argues that it is impossible to discuss security before establishing the borders of the Palestinian state. However, agreement on borders has been virtually impossible given Israel’s adamant refusal to dismantle dozens of settlements created in the occupied West Bank. A compromise, taking the form of a land-swap, has been discussed by the two sides. However, while the Palestinians would accept a possible swap that would encompass 1-4 per cent of the territories occupied in 1967, Israel insists on a much larger swap that would cover up to 10 per cent of the occupied Palestinian land.

The border issue is by far not the only explosive issue that could torpedo the talks. Israel considers occupied East Jerusalem part of its “eternal and undivided capital”. For their part, the Palestinians are unlikely to accept an agreement that would leave Al-Quds Al-Sharif (the Noble Jerusalem) under perpetual Jewish control. Such an arrangement would be rejected, not only by the Palestinians, but also by the entire Muslim world, given the city’s religious symbolism to Muslims. Similarly, the refugee problem is likely to be the ultimate make-or-break issue. It is widely viewed as the core of the Palestinian problem. Indeed, it was this issue that brought about the collapse of talks between former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Camp David in 2000.

Israel is especially intransigent about rejecting the mass repatriation of Palestinian refugees back to their homes and villages in what is now Israel. Israel argues that this threatens the Jewish identity of Israel. On the other side, the PA is worried that sacrificing the refugees’ right of return would turn millions of Palestinians uprooted from their homes in 1948 against any deal, effectively undermining it and making implementation impossible. The United States and other countries have tabled the idea of compensation for the refugees while allowing a symbolic number, not exceeding tens of thousands out of nearly five million, to return over a span of two decades or more. It is doubtful, too, that this proposal will find acceptance among the refugees.

Finally, Israel insists that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Undoubtedly, this is an explosive demand that can be interpreted as an undeclared Israeli intention to deport or ethnically cleanse its large Palestinian minority that constitutes nearly one quarter of Israel’s overall population. Indeed, even relatively moderate Israeli leaders, such as Tzipi Livni, have declared that Israeli Arabs’ “national fulfilment” should be sought not in Israel but in a future Palestinian state.

In light of these and other facts, a fleeting look at the talks in Washington shows a terrain littered with landmines, the clearance of which would take exceptionally strenuous effort and considerable goodwill and sincere intentions. No wonder the pessimist’s view is prevailing.

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