January 28, 2011

Gaza protests accuse Palestinian Authority of betrayal in talks with Israel: The Guardian

Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair calls for Palestinians to ignore row over leaked papers and ‘get on with making peace’

Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters in Gaza have staged a demonstration against the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Palestinian Authority dominated by Fatah. Photograph: Mohammed Saber/EPA
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Gaza venting their anger at Palestinian negotiators for offering big concessions in peace talks. Meanwhile, Tony Blair accused those behind this week’s leak of documents of wanting to inflict serious damage on the peace process.

About 3,000 joined a rally organised by Hamas in support of anti-government protests in Egypt. But speeches and the shouts of the crowd focused on the leaked Palestinian papers and fierce criticism of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

Thousands of pages of Palestinian documents covering more than a decade of negotiations with Israel and the US were obtained by al-Jazeera TV and shared exclusively with the Guardian.

The papers revealed that Palestinian negotiators were willing to go much further in offering concessions than their people realised.

In Gaza City the crowd of mostly young men chanted slogans against Fatah, the party that dominates the authority and is Hamas’s bitter rival. “The concept of Palestine is not for sale,” they shouted, before vowing loyalty to Hamas and promising never to relinquish Palestine’s claims to its land and holy sites.

Mahmoud Saleen, 21, said: “We are here to deliver a message to the Palestinian Authority that they must come back to Palestinian ideas and reject the policies of American and Israel.

“We are against the political arrests in Ramallah and against the security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Yusef Salam, 20, said the leaders of the authority “are not from our own blood, they belong to the enemy more than they do to us. We hope there will be a revolution in the West Bank to relieve the Palestinian people from the people in power now.”

Blair, the envoy of the Middle East peace quartet, said the release of the confidential documents prepared by Palestinian negotiators had been “destabilising”. In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he urged the Palestinians to ignore the damage and press ahead with the drive for peace.

Asked how much damage the leaks had caused, Blair told Today: “I think it’s hard to tell right now, but its intention was to be extremely damaging.”

“I think we’ve just got to be big enough and strong enough to say, OK, whatever al-Jazeera are putting out, we’re going to get on with making peace.”

Palestinians preventing Middle East peace deal, says Israeli deputy PM

Moshe Ya'alon said without Palestinian recognition of Israel there could be no resolution of the Middle East conflict. Photograph: Jim Hollander/AP

: The Guardian

Moshe Ya’alon says Israel is ‘fed up of giving and giving’ while Palestinians refuse to recognise Jewish nation state

Moshe Ya’alon said without Palestinian recognition of Israel there could be no resolution of the Middle East conflict. Photograph: Jim Hollander/AP
An agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not happen in the next “one or two years”, Israel’s deputy prime minister said today, blaming the Palestinians for the lack of progress.

“We’re fed up with giving and giving and giving, and not getting any real substance [in return],” said Moshe Ya’alon, the minister of strategic affairs, after this week’s leak of secret documents on the peace talks. He dismissed the extensive concessions offered by Palestinian negotiators, revealed in the documents, saying they were insignificant compared to the “core of the conflict – our right to exist”.

The Palestinians’ refusal to recognise Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people” was preventing a peace settlement, he said. The issue was the most important at stake in negotiations. “We are not ready to discuss territory without recognition of the Jewish state … We’re not ready to start with issues in which we give [ground] and do not get anything.”

Ya’alon, a member of Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and a former military chief of staff, said that without recognition, the Israelis could not “solve the conflict, we have to manage it”.

The issue of refugees was central to the question of recognition, said Ya’alon. Palestinians saw the occupation as beginning in 1948 with the birth of the state of Israel, he said, rather than in 1967, and wrongly believed they could return to Israeli cities such as Tel Aviv, Haifa and Acre. “Our position is not even one refugee is going to be settled in Israel. If you open the door, you open the door.”

Managing the conflict meant working with the Palestinian leadership on economic reform and security. Ya’alon urged Palestinian political leaders to re-educate a new generation in a “culture of peace, coexistence and reconciliation”.

Further disclosures about negotiations between the two sides are expected this weekend with the serialisation of the former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth. In the last year of his premiership, Olmert offered a deal to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, covering borders, Jerusalem and refugees.

According to a preview in today’s Yedioth, Olmert says in his memoirs: “Never before had any Israeli prime minister presented such a crystallised and detailed position about resolving the conflict as was presented to him on that day. For the first time since the negotiations began, I was very tense. For the first time since I had become prime minister, I truly felt the weight of Jewish history on my shoulders

“Abu Mazen said that he could not decide and that he needed time. I told him that he was making an historic mistake. ‘Give me the map so that I can consult with my colleagues,’ he said to me. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is more fair or more just. Don’t hesitate. This is hard for me too, but we don’t have an option of not resolving [the conflict].'”

The deal was never signed. The Palestinians later claimed that an agreement struck with a lame duck Israeli prime minister would have been worthless.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, today named an American and a Briton in connection with the leak of the documents. He said the Palestinian Authority wanted to question Clayton Swisher, a former state department official and now a reporter for al-Jazeera, and Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer. An unnamed French national was also being sought, he said.

Palestinian killed after settlers open fire in West Bank village: Haaretz

Incident comes only a day after police confirmed Palestinian reports saying that a Palestinian youth was shot to death by an unidentified Israeli citizen.

One Palestinians youth was killed and another wounded early Friday after settlers reportedly opened fire at a village north of the West Bank city of Hebron, only a day after a Palestinian youth was shot and killed by an unidentified Israeli citizen near Nablus.

According to preliminary Palestinian reports, the incident occurred after dozens of settlers from the settlement of Bat Ayin descended on the village of Khirbet Safa in the early morning hours and confronted some of the locals.

The confrontations reportedly resulted in the setters opening fire at the crowd, leaving one Palestinian lightly wounded and another in critical condition. The two were evacuated to a hospital in Beit Jala near Bethlehem, where one of them, a 17-year-old succumbed to his wounds.

The settlers, however, claimed that a group traveling nearby was fired upon, adding that others came to their rescue. Preliminary reports said it took police and Israel Defense Forces units over half an hour to arrive at the area.

Commenting on the fatal incident, Kiryat Arba’s council chief Malachi Levinger reiterated claims that the settlers were attacked while hiking in the area, and emphasized what he called as the “right of Jews to travel their country.”

“We call upon the IDF and the police to aid the defense of this right and to seek the guilty parties within the rioters not within the travelers who acted in self defense,” Levinger added.

On Thursday, police confirmed Palestinians reports claiming that a Palestinian who was shot to death near Nablus earlier in the day was shot by an unidentified Israeli citizen.

Palestinian eyewitnesses said that 18-year-old Fadi Kaddous was shot to death by a settler after clashes broke out between the shooter and a group of rock-throwing Palestinians.

A nearby security camera apparently captured grainy images of the shooting and confirmed that the shooter had Israeli features.

The camera footage showed the group of Palestinians attacking a man with rocks. The man responded by firing a gun in the air, which failed to deter his attackers. The man fired again, this time in the direction of the Palestinians. The video supposedly shows the bullet entering and exiting the shoulder-chest region of one of the attackers; it is being further studied by ballistics experts.

Police also investigated the group of three Palestinian villagers who reported the incident. The group had at first said that armed settlers attacked them but further on in the investigation changed their testimony. The police are currently searching for the unidentified shooter.

A film-maker’s eye on the Middle East: The Guardian

Writer and director Peter Kosminsky has spent seven years making The Promise, a film about the Arab-Israeli conflict. What has he learned?

Christian Cooke as Sergeant Len Matthews in The Promise.

It’s April 1988, about five in the morning, 40km outside Kabul in Afghanistan. I’m taking shelter in a scrape in the rock, flattening my cheek against the cold surface, semi-automatic gunfire and the concussion of departing mortars beating in my ears. In theory, I’m making a documentary about young Soviet army conscripts in Afghanistan. In reality, I’ve been marooned on this “zastava”, or mountain outpost, for days. The 17-year-old kids, who are the heroes of our documentary, fire back at the attacking mujahideen, in the grip of a kind of hyper-bravado. I, on the other hand, have leapt from my makeshift sleeping bag to cower in what passes for cover on this bare outcrop. “Why am I here?” I ask myself pointlessly, and not for the first time. “Aren’t there safer assignments I could pursue, where nights are spent between soft sheets? Why am I obsessed with war?”

A quarter of a lifetime later, I’m still exploring that obsession, trying to bring to the screen what is, without doubt, the most ambitious, agonising and creatively troublesome film I’ve ever undertaken. The Promise, which screens on Channel 4 from 6 February for four weeks, attempts in drama to come to an understanding of the most dangerous and intractable war of our age – the conflict between Arab and Jew in the Middle East – as seen through the eyes of two outsiders, a British teenager and her grandfather. Erin Matthews, an 18-year-old just beginning her gap year, travels to Israel with her Jewish schoolfriend, Eliza. Eliza, who has dual nationality, has been summoned back to Israel for military service. Erin goes with her for moral support, taking a diary written 60 years before by her grandfather, Len. Fresh from the second world war and the airborne assault on Germany, Sergeant Len Matthews has been unexpectedly posted – like 100,000 other British troops – to keep the peace in what was then called Palestine. As Erin reads his diary, we travel back in time to witness, with Len, the war at the birth of the state of Israel. And as Erin reads, she becomes curious about the disputed country beyond the comfort of Eliza’s seaside home. She starts to retrace her grandfather’s steps, beginning a journey through modern-day Israel and the occupied territories that will see her solve the mystery of why Len’s life was destroyed by the few months he spent in that troubled land.

War attracts nothing so much as cliche. Perhaps the greatest is that the first casualty of war is truth. For example, to my knowledge there are at least three convincing and apparently well-documented explanations of the killings that took place in the Arab village of Deir Yassin, one of the emblematic events of the bloody war of 1948. If we were to tiptoe into the minefield that is Middle-East politics, we had better get our facts right. For four years, a team of six researchers picked away at the story of Len and Erin in our two time frames, 1945-48 and today. We tracked down and interviewed over 80 veterans of the British Mandate in Palestine (Britain was the colonial power until 1948), studied archives from the period at the Imperial War Museum, the Airborne Forces Museum at Duxford and at the public record office in Kew, where thousands of declassified intelligence reports from the period can still be found and read. We unearthed unpublished photographs and accounts of the perilous journey undertaken by Palestinian Arabs in 1948, fleeing their homes in the face of the advancing Jewish forces. We spoke to Israeli academics who had interviewed Jewish women used to befriend British soldiers to covertly extract intelligence from them. And we spoke to their controllers, the underground fighters of the Irgun Tsvai Leumi, who fought to a standstill a proud British army fresh from victory in a world war.

For the present-day story we interviewed Israeli Jewish boys and girls, conscripted at 18 in defence of their country. We tracked down children of the same age from overseas, members of the International Solidarity Movement, who had confronted Israeli bulldozers to protect the homes of Palestinians in the occupied territories. We drew on testimony from Combatants for Peace, Breaking the Silence and other organisations concerned with the uneasy and undeclared truce in Israel today. On my own research trips to the region I located and visited the site of the massacre at Deir Yassin, finding the former Arab village still intact but, incredibly, now being used as a high-security hospital for mentally ill patients. I stood in the death cell where Jewish fighters condemned by the British Mandate government for insurrection awaited their fate, visited the sites of recent suicide bombings and gazed out across Israel’s protective wall, surely the most palpable and chilling symbol of division on our planet.

Our research turned up some surprising facts, counter to common knowledge. For example, for many years I had believed that the Israeli military had invented the strategy of destructive reprisals against the families of insurgents. If a Palestinian blows him or herself up in an Israeli city, the Israeli Defence Force will locate the family home of that bomber and bulldoze it. How strange then to discover, as we pored over records of tactics in Mandate Palestine, that the British used exactly the same techniques against the Irgun, part-precursors of the present-day Israeli military, in 1946. If British interests were attacked by a Jewish “terrorist”, the home of that terrorist would be dynamited, as a matter of policy. Why would the Jews, who demonstrably defeated the British and their entire tactical handbook, adopt exactly the same failed anti-insurgency approach as their former masters when they in turn faced an insurgency? It made no sense but, as we were to discover, nothing is simple in a land where truth has long since been co-opted as a weapon of war.

Making the drama in Israel itself also turned out to be anything but simple. At the outset, it had seemed a wise decision. Nowhere else looks quite like modern-day Israel – the topography, the architecture, the physiognomy of its diverse population. Creating Erin’s story elsewhere in the Arab world would be time-consuming and costly. And where better to stage scenes set in 1940s Palestine than in the locations where the events had taken place, where some key buildings survive and others could be readily recreated from local archive and memory. English is widely spoken, period weapons and vehicles abound, there’s a thriving film industry. It ought to have been straightforward. In practice, it was anything but. When I dramatised events from the Bosnian war for Leigh Jackson’s Warriors, I faked them in the Czech Republic. Scenes for my drama about Somalia and Liberia were recreated in Kenya and Ghana. I did Iraq in Morocco, Pakistan in India, even Belfast was carefully remounted in the streets of Leeds and Bradford. Never before had I attempted to dramatise a conflict in the land in which it was taking place, using ex-combatants and reservists as actors and extras, local technicians as crew, shooting events still raw in the memory in the places in which they had occurred. Scenes that look achievable on paper take on a lively extra dimension when you have real Israelis and Palestinians playing your roles.

One particularly difficult scene calls for an actor playing an IDF commander to use a Palestinian civilian as a human shield while moving through a dangerous area in Gaza. We had detailed research supporting the event we were depicting and, by chance, an Israeli soldier had been found guilty in the courts for using exactly these tactics in the week we were to shoot the scene. None of these justifications made the sequence any easier to achieve in the cockpit of unresolved animosities that is Israel today. The first actor I cast walked out during rehearsals, explaining politely that, although he knew these things happened, recreating such an event in a scene with Palestinian actors wasn’t something he was able to do. I recast the part, outlining in over-elaborate detail to the talented substitute actor we chose what the scene would involve. When he agreed, I privately assumed he was a committed liberal, out of sympathy with Israeli military policy. But when it came to staging the scene, in the predominantly Arab town of Ramle with Palestinian actors playing opposite him, it became clear that he had recent military experience in the occupied territories. Eventually, he revealed that he was an officer in the Israeli army reserves, spending a weekend a month in uniform. When I asked why, if that was true, he had been prepared to accept the role he said: “These things happen. We need to confront them.” And confront them he did, in one of the most distressing and powerful scenes in the film.

In episode three of The Promise, Erin travels to Hebron in the occupied West Bank. We used her visit as an opportunity to restage a scene from our research, where a Jewish settler faces off angrily against an Arab resident. The actors involved wanted to be photographed together at the end of what was an unremittingly aggressive confrontation. “The image you’ll never see in The Promise,” said the Jewish actor as she posed arm-in-arm with her Arab fellow actor. Later she told me that, in a long career on stage and screen in Israel, this was the first time she had ever acted with a “real Palestinian”. It had taken the arrival of a foreign film crew, not realising the magnitude of what it was they were asking, to bring this thing about.

So what have they taught me, my seven years engaged with the inciting conflict of our terrorist-obsessed age? The most striking thing I’m left with is a question: how did we get from there to here? Like most British soldiers we interviewed, arriving in Palestine from the war in Europe, Len Matthews felt only sympathy for the Jewish plight. Having seen the ovens of Bergen-Belsen, his heart tells him that Jews deserve a place of safety, almost at any price. In 1945, that view was shared by most of the world. In the era inhabited by Erin, his granddaughter, just 60 years later, Israel is isolated, loathed and feared in equal measure by its neighbours, finding little sympathy outside America for its uncompromising view of how to defend its borders and secure its future. How did Israel squander the compassion of the world within a lifetime? That’s the question The Promise sets out to explore. Its other purpose is to act as a reminder to all of us Brits who shake our heads and mutter “not our problem”. As the departing colonial power, Britain was charged with seeing both communities to independence in good order. In Palestine, as in so many other examples of our rapid retreat from empire, we left chaos, political confusion, bloodshed and war. It turns out that it is our problem, at least in part, and we should take some responsibility for it.

The Promise begins on Channel 4 on 6 February.

Al Jazeera leaks: Who are the winners and losers?: Haaretz

Does the common wisdom that Al Jazeera is close to Hamas and wanted to undermine Abbas really hold true?
By Carlo Strenger
Now that the sound, the fury and the dust from the Al Jazeera leaks are beginning to fade, the inevitable question is: what are we to learn from the material that was published? What are we to learn from the way the material was presented by the various parties? And finally the inevitable question: who are the winners and losers of the leaks?

First, the dry conclusions that have been pointed out by commentators around the world including the New York Times: there were serious and constructive talks between Ehud Olmert’s government and the Palestinian Authority; and the differences between Israel and the Palestinians, while not negligible, were by far not as deep as both politicians and the press seemed to imply.

Common wisdom is as follows: Al Jazeera is close to Hamas and wanted to harm Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiating team, since they are against a negotiated peace agreement. They therefore wanted to portray Abbas and his team as selling out to Israel, as weak “collaborators with the Zionists.” It was supposed to be a shock that Palestinians were making concessions on the right of return to Israel within the 1967 borders and on Jerusalem, including the Old City.

The interesting question is, why indeed there should have been any shock at all, as most Israeli commentators have pointed out. The basic parameters of any future peace agreement were already formulated by Bill Clinton in the year 2000, and they were reasserted in the Geneva Accords. None of the contents of the Al Jazeera leaks differ dramatically from either. Anybody who was shocked would have to be profoundly misinformed about the peace process in the last twelve years.

It might indeed be that Abbas, Saeb Erekat and Ahmed Qureia will have to be less forthcoming in the foreseeable future to counteract the impression Al Jazeera tried to create. But so far Palestinian reactions have been less negative than many expected.

On the international level, the credibility of the Palestinian leadership has actually increased. It is clear that they mean business, and that the Netanyahu-Lieberman line that there is no partner for serious negotiations is groundless. This will certainly increase the momentum of the Palestinian effort to push for international recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Hence Abbas, Erekat, Qureia and other negotiators may have gained from the leaks. It is to be hoped that Palestinians will realize that Abbas and his team are far from selling out to Israel: they are trying to ensure that the Palestinian people will be able to live in freedom and dignity.

Netanyahu’s government is the most immediate loser. Nobody on the international scene believed their adage that the Palestinians are the peace refuseniks to begin with. If anybody had any doubts left that their position is both insincere and false, the leaks have made it clear beyond any doubt that their position is cheap propaganda.

Abbas and his team come across as eminently sensible; they have good understanding of Israel’s needs, particularly when it comes to security. Most importantly, they showed flexibility in what is by far the most pressing existential issue for Israel, the Palestinian right of return. The leaks show beyond any doubt that the slogan “There is no partner,” coined by Barak after the failure of the Camp David Summit of 2000 is a misrepresentation at best and a simple lie at worst.

The result is that Bibi’s government is now officially stamped as the peace refusenik. Its attempt to offer the Palestinians a state with temporary borders didn’t stand a chance to begin with – but now it proves to be a total no-brainer.

This didn’t prevent foreign minister Lieberman from saying immediately that the leaks prove that there is no chance for a final status agreement. This has further cemented Lieberman’s status as the Israeli Sarah Palin: Nobody in his right mind expects to hear anything from him other than the same, tired repetitions of right-wing clichés.

Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni come across as serious about a peace agreement. While Olmert’s claim that Abbas never replied to his generous offer turns out simply false, this does not diminish from the seriousness of his effort. Livni comes across as a fair but tough negotiator who has a good rapport with the Palestinian leadership. This may bode well for a, hopefully not distant, future, in which she will be in charge of the negotiations again.

From a historical perspective the ultimate loser from the Al Jazeera leaks is Ehud Barak: he now has a legitimate claim to have been one of the most destructive leaders Israel has ever had. He invented the slogan “there is no partner” that has shaped Israel’s collective consciousness for the last decade. His center-left credentials, that he has now officially forgone, gave this slogan enormous weight. To explain away his historic failure to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians, he has repeated this slogan time and again and turned himself into the fig-leaf for Israel’s most extreme right-wing government ever.

It is not yet clear whether the people of Israel will lose or gain. That depends on whether Israel’s citizens read the map as a whole, or whether they will let themselves be brainwashed by the propaganda of their current government.

The bottom line of the Al Jazeera leaks is very simple: the leadership of the PLO accepts the existence of the State of Israel. They have renounced the idea that they will return into pre-1967 Israel in large numbers. They are willing to accept that Palestine will be demilitarized, and for the foreseeable future NATO forces will take care of security. This means that Israel’s long-term survival is safeguarded – and this is mainstream Israelis’ overriding concern.

Hence Israelis are well-advised to listen to Bill Clinton, as good a friend as Israel has ever had. He strongly advises Israel to engage with the current Palestinian leadership and close a deal now. They should listen to one of Israel’s most astute political thinkers, Shlomo Avineri, who is certainly not suspect of being overly left-leaning or of being naïve about Israel’s security needs: Moving towards the two-state solution quickly is the only way to fulfill the Zionist dream of being a free nation in our land.

Seizing a Moment, Al Jazeera Galvanizes Arab Frustration: NYTimes

Published: January 27, 2011

The protests rocking the Arab world this week have one thread uniting them: Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite channel whose aggressive coverage has helped propel insurgent emotions from one capital to the next.

Militants in Gaza denounced the Palestinian Authority after Al Jazeera broadcast a report based on leaked documents that discussed possible concessions to Israel.

Al Jazeera has been widely hailed for helping enable the revolt in Tunisia with its galvanizing early reports, even as Western-aligned political factions in Lebanon and the West Bank attacked and burned the channel’s offices and vans this week, accusing it of incitement against them.

In many ways, it is Al Jazeera’s moment — not only because of the role it has played, but also because the channel has helped to shape a narrative of popular rage against oppressive American-backed Arab governments (and against Israel) ever since its founding 15 years ago. That narrative has long been implicit in the channel’s heavy emphasis on Arab suffering and political crisis, its screaming-match talk shows, even its sensational news banners and swelling orchestral accompaniments.

“The notion that there is a common struggle across the Arab world is something Al Jazeera helped create,” said Marc Lynch, a professor of Middle East Studies at George Washington University who has written extensively on the Arab news media. “They did not cause these events, but it’s almost impossible to imagine all this happening without Al Jazeera.”

Yet Al Jazeera’s opaque loyalties and motives are as closely scrutinized as its reporting. It is accused of tailoring its coverage to support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza against their Lebanese and Palestinian rivals. Its reporter in Tunisia became a leading partisan in the uprising there. And critics speculate that the network bowed to the diplomatic interests of the Qatari emir, its patron, by initially playing down the protests in Egypt.

Not since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when American officials accused it of sympathy for Saddam Hussein and the insurgency that arose after his downfall, has Al Jazeera been such a lightning rod. This time, its antagonists as well as its supporters are spread all over the Arab world.

This week, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, accused Al Jazeera of distorting his positions, inciting violence and trying to destroy him politically. The station had broadcast a special report based on leaked documents that appeared to show Mr. Abbas and his allies offering Israel far-reaching concessions on Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees. The reporting set off angry demonstrations against the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, and in response, Abbas loyalists attacked Al Jazeera’s office in Ramallah.

In Lebanon, Sunni supporters of the ousted prime minister, Saad Hariri, set fire to an Al Jazeera van and menaced a crew in the northern city of Tripoli, accusing the channel of sympathizing with their Shiite opponents.

There is little doubt that Al Jazeera takes sides in the Palestinian dispute, portraying Hamas more favorably than its rivals — and it is more open about Arab anger at Israel than some other outlets. Even the station’s fans concede that it has blind spots and political vulnerabilities.

On Tuesday afternoon, as the street protests in Egypt were heating up, Al Jazeera was uncharacteristically slow to report them, airing a culture documentary, a sports show and more of its “Palestine Papers” coverage of the leaked documents.

Many Egyptians felt betrayed, and Facebook and Twitter were full of rumors about a deal between Qatar — the Persian Gulf emirate whose emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, founded Al Jazeera in 1996 — and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who visited the emir in Doha last month. Within a day, Al Jazeera was reporting from the streets in Cairo in its usual manic style.

Al Jazeera’s freewheeling broadcasts have long made it the bête noire of Arab governments, and in some earlier instances they have succeeded in reining it in.

In 2007, the channel received orders to soften its blunt coverage of Saudi Arabia after Qatar and the Saudis mended a smoldering political feud. That remains a weak point for Al Jazeera — as for most of the pan-Arab press, which is largely owned by Saudi Arabia.

Yet for all its flaws, Al Jazeera still operates with less constraint than almost any other Arab outlet, and remains the most popular channel in the region. To many Arabs, Al Jazeera’s recent exposé on the Palestinian Authority documents — sometimes called “Pali-leaks” — is of a piece with its reporting on protests against autocratic Arab regimes.

The Palestinian Authority is widely seen as a pawn of Israel and the West, an institution with little popular support that is kept alive by force, much like those Arab dictators. If Al Jazeera is often accused of institutional sympathy for Islamists, that is at least in part because Islamism has become the most powerful popular force in the region (though not, curiously enough, in the recent protests).

And Al Jazeera has been widely admired for its aggressive coverage of the Tunisian uprising, which was largely ignored in most Western outlets. The channel succeeded despite serious obstacles: the Tunisian government had barred its reporters from the country, and a Tunisian born-anchor, Mohammed Krichen, arranged for an old friend, Lotfi Hajji, to work under cover as Al Jazeera’s eyes and ears on the ground.

Mr. Hajji, a freelance journalist who also calls himself a human rights activist, was followed and harassed by the secret police almost constantly. After the uprising started, local contacts began sending Mr. Hajji amateur videos of police violence over Facebook. Al Jazeera began showing the grainy cellphone videos on its broadcasts, as part of what the station sympathetically labeled “the Sidi Bouzid Uprising” after the town where a young man started it all by setting himself on fire on Dec. 17.

Each time Al Jazeera broadcast the videos, more would flood into Mr. Hajji’s Facebook account, in a cycle that blew the seeds of revolt across the country.

“During the era of Ben Ali a lot of journalists wouldn’t dare broadcast these images — like a video of a policeman beating a common citizen, because the police might come for them,” Mr. Hajji said. “But being a human rights activist pushed me to show what was really happening.”

Two years ago, an amateur journalist reporting for a Web site was jailed for showing film of an uprising in the Tunisian city of Gafsa; with no coverage in Facebook or Al Jazeera, it never spread to other towns.

As the protests accelerated this month, some Tunisian officials protested that Al Jazeera was hyping the unrest because of its anti-Western agenda: its managers wanted to see a “moderate” Arab regime fall, even if the protesters were not Islamists, like those in so many earlier revolts. But that seems unlikely. Al Jazeera’s producers knew they had a story line that their audience would love.

Since the fall of Tunisia’s autocratic president, Al Jazeera’s reporters and producers have spoken with pride of their role in the events. They also recognize that their reputation as a catalyst carries risks.

“I think we should be careful — I mean we shouldn’t think that our role is to release the Arab people from oppression,” said Mr. Krichen, the anchor.

“But I think we should also be careful not to avoid any popular movement. We should have our eyes open to capture any event that could be the start of the end of any dictator in the Arab world.”

Paraguay recognizes ‘free’ Palestine: Ynet

South American nation joins wave of other regional countries which have already backed Palestinian statehood declaration

Paraguay has recognized a “free and independent” Palestinian state within its 1967 borders, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday.

The South American nation thus joins a wave of other regional countries that include Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana and Uruguay.

“The Republic of Paraguay expressly reiterates the recognition of this state as free and independent with the borders of June 4, 1967,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The 1967 borders include east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands conquered by Israel in the Six Day War.

With this measure, Paraguay “reaffirms its conviction that negotiations between Israel and Palestine should re-start with the goal of reaching peace and security for both nations.”

US-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks last collapsed in September 2010 when a limited moratorium on Israeli settlement construction in the territories expired.

“The region is slipping away”: Al Jazeera online

Documents reveal a Palestinian Authority that’s critical, mistrustful and fearful of Arab neighbours.

Earlier this week, in response to Al Jazeera’s first release of The Palestine Papers, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas tried to dismiss the documents by invoking pan-Arab solidarity.

“We don’t hide anything from our Arab brothers,” he said in Cairo. “We have been briefing our Arab brothers about all our activities with the Israelis and the Americans.”

But there is little Arab unity on display in The Palestine Papers: The documents reveal a Palestinian Authority that is often critical and mistrusting of its “Arab brothers”.

Some of the earliest criticism came in July 2007, when chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat met with US security coordinator Keith Dayton. Erekat wanted to weaken Hamas, and asked Dayton to pressure several Arab regimes to cut support for the group:

Erekat: “Last 6 months we had the least amount of money transferrals from Arab states. Someone has to tell them something. Egypt is allowing the tunnels to continue. What’s this business with the Saudis too? Bandar strikes a deal then Abdullah outmaneuvers him. These regimes depend on you, how can you…”

In an October 20, 2009 meeting with George Mitchell, Erekat accused the Qatari government of carrying out a campaign against him:

Erekat: The Emir of Qatar going on phone personally, calling intellectuals telling them to attack Abbas – calling Azmi Bishara and Abdul-Bari Atwan. This is because Abbas wouldn’t go and do reconciliation in Qatar like the Lebanese. But there is nothing you do with Qatar. Qatar’s prince, your ally, is conducting a personal campaign against Abbas.

The next day, while talking with then-US national security adviser James Jones, Erekat accuses the Saudi government of handing the region over to Hamas:

Erekat: “The Saudis are also crucial… with Iran, Hizbullah, Syria – jumping around the region. They are doing nothing. Abbas is doing Saudi Arabia’s job. Instead they equate him with Hamas. The region is slipping away like sand through our hands.”

Mistrust is another common theme, particularly with regards to the Egyptians. According to a February 3, 2008 e-mail, for example, Erekat worries that the Egyptian government is being duplicitous in regards to its position on Hamas:

“The President has heard re-assuring positions from Egypt regarding controlling Rafah crossing, and the need to abide by the Rafah agreement, as it preserve the political and economic unity b/w the West Bank and Gaza. Dr. Rafiq is not very confident; however, on trusting every single word that the Egyptians are saying, especially when it comes to the relations with Hamas.”

Other documents show similar mistrust of the Egyptians. Erekat asks Mitchell in October 2009 to talk with the Egyptians about a proposed reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah, asking Mitchell to ensure that “whatever they put in the paper won’t result in the return of the siege. We don’t want any surprises.”

Qatar’s role causes similar concerns for the PA. Hazem Atallah, the West Bank security chief, tells Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni that “Hamas is funded from Qatar” in an April 2008 meeting.

And there is a bizarre exchange in February 2009, when Erekat meets with Obama adviser Gamal Hilal:

Erekat: “How are your Qatari friends?”

Hilal: “Not my friends. We should replace the US base there with Palestinian forces. Maybe they can take over.”

Erekat: “Who pays for the US base?”

PS: “Qatar paid for much of it. Moving it (to the Emirates) would be very expensive. They also subsidize its operations.”

Hilal: “So we can ship missiles from there to Israel…”

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