December 4, 2012

EDITOR: An odd mood is now spreading across Europe!

In the last few days more mention is made of the Two State solution as in the last few years! The dead and buried ‘solution’ is virtually and ceremoniously revived, as it has been so many times before, on the occasion of Israel dealing it yet another ‘almost fatal blow’ as expressed by Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General. How many ‘almost fatal blows’ will become fatal in the minds of those mouthing the mindless mantra of the Two State solution? This has become the perfect cover for Israel’s continued aggression and increasing colonisation of the West Bank. Instead of facing the fact that they have assisted Israeli crimes, people like Ban Ki Moon are redoubling their efforts of reviving the corpse of the ‘solution’ which is blocking any real and just solution in Palestine. Calling in the Israeli ambassadors to ‘slap their hands’ as reported below, is a useless formalistic theatrical act, making sure Israel can continue with immunity, rather than acting politically against the occupation. Old habits die hard – the EU has been acting in this empty ritualistic manner since 1967, and 45 years are a long time. As far as the EU is concerned, Israel is total immune of international law, and it is European protection which makes it so.

Europe, Israel’s mainstay after the US, and its largest trading partner, has continued to pretend it is intent on a solution, while supporting Israel to the rafters, having just accorded to it almost full membership only months ago, despite the clear evidence – the EU buys 15 times more from the Israeli Illegal settlements than it does from Palestine – the EU continues to argue in public against the settlements.  In the wake of the UN GA vote on Palestine, and the Israeli retribution through building even more illegal settlements in the West Bank, totally cutting of East Jerusalem from the West Bank, as well as cutting it in two, a number of EU prominent political figures have argued (The Guardian, ‘A Message to Israel’, December 4th) for the urgent need for EU wide legislation to clearly mark Products from the Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. While this of clarity is most welcome, and will help consumers to make intelligent and informed decisions, I would like to point out the basic and deep contradiction which lies at the heart of the argument made by Mary Robinson and Martti Ahtisaari. The need for such legislation arises, in the first place, from Israel’s long-term policy of denying the facts of the occupation and obfuscation the differences between Israel and its settlements in the occupied territories, either those illegally annexed, such as around Jerusalem, or those annexed de facto, elsewhere in the West Bank.

By separating out for boycott only the products of the settlements, such an initiative acts against the people in these settlements, but allows the political leadership of Israel, which initiates and finances each of the settlements to get off unscathed! It is the government of Israel, and its Jewish population, who willingly and openly support the occupation with their taxes, their reserve service, and their effective silence over the many iniquities involved, who are responsible for the illegal settlements, not just the settlers themselves. In order to act effectively and morally against the Israeli occupation, of which the settlements are but one of the many illegal aspects, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions should be really applied to ALL Israeli products, as was the case during the struggle against the Apartheid regime in South Africa; Any other position is just pandering to and supporting Israeli continuing aggression, and assists in making a just solution ever so remote a possibility.

UN tells Israel to let in nuclear inspectors: Guardian

As nuclear peace talks are cancelled, overwhelming vote by general assembly calls for Israel to join nonproliferation treaty

A vote by the United Nations has called on Israel to open its nuclear programme to inspectors

A vote by the United Nations general assembly has called on Israel to open its nuclear programme to weapons inspectors. Photograph: Chip East/Reuters

The UN general assembly has overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on Israel to open its nuclear programme for inspection.

The resolution, approved by a vote of 174 to six with six abstentions, calls on Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) “without further delay” and open its nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Those voting against were Israel, the US, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau.

Resolutions adopted by the 193-member general assembly are not legally binding but they do reflect world opinion and carry moral and political weight. And the resolution adds to pressure on Israel as it facescriticism over plans to increase settlement in the West Bank, a move seen as retaliation for the assembly recognising Palestinian statehood.

Israel refuses to confirm or deny possessing nuclear bombs though it is widely believed to have them. It has refused to join the non-proliferation treaty along with three nuclear weapon states: India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Israel insists there must first be a Middle East peace agreement before the establishment of a proposed regional zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Its rivals in the region argue that Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal presents the greatest threat to peace in the region.

While the US voted against the resolution, it voted in favour of two paragraphs in it that were put to separate votes. Both support universal adherence to the NPT and call on those countries that aren’t parties to ratify it “at the earliest date”. The only no votes on those paragraphs were Israel and India.

The vote came as a sequel to the cancellation of a high-level conference aimed at banning nuclear weapons from the Middle East. All the Arab nations and Iran had planned to attend the summit in mid-December in Helsinki, Finland, but the US announced on 23 November that it would not take place, citing political turmoil in the region and Iran’s defiant stance on non-proliferation. Iran and some Arab nations countered that the real reason for the cancellation was Israel’s refusal to attend.

Just before Monday’s vote, the Iranian diplomat Khodadad Seifi told the assembly “the truth is that the Israeli regime is the only party which rejected to conditions for a conference”. He called for “strong pressure on that regime to participate in the conference without any preconditions”.

Israeli diplomat Isi Yanouka told the general assembly his country had continuously pointed to the danger of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, singling out Iran and Syria by name. “All these cases challenge Israel’s security and cast a dark shadow at the prospect of embarking on a meaningful regional security process,” he said.

“The fact that the sponsors include in this anti-Israeli resolution language referring to the 2012 conference proves above all the ill intent of the Arab states with regard to this conference.”

The Syrian diplomat Abdullah Hallak told the assembly his government was angry the conference was not going to take place because of “the whim of just one party, a party with nuclear warheads”.

“We call on the international community to put pressure on Israel to accept the NPT, get rid of its arsenal and delivery systems, in order to allow for peace and stability in our region,” he said.

The conference’s main sponsors are the US, Russia and Britain. The British foreign office minister Alistair Burt has said it is being postponed, not cancelled.

Middle East conflict: it’s time for Europe to suggest its own path to peace: Guardian

Israel’s behaviour is seen as retaliation for the UN vote recognising Palestine as a member state. But it is more than that

Jewish settlement

The West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem. Photograph: Ammar Awad/Reuters

Israel‘s ambassadors to Britain and France must have spent an uncomfortable few minutes on Monday as they were called in to hear of official displeasure in London and Paris at their government’s decision to expand settlements in a key area of the occupied West Bank.

Sweden, Denmark and Spain also summoned Israeli envoys for a slap on the wrist. Even Germany, often cautious about criticism of Israel, issued a public protest.

Israel’s behaviour is seen as retaliation for last week’s landmark UN vote recognising Palestine as a member state. But it is more than that: authorising illegal settlements in the area known as E1 is plainly provocative. It is, as the UN’s Ban ki-Moon put it, a near-fatal blow to the fading hopes for a two-state solution. Britain’s foreign secretary, Wiliam Hague, made the same point starkly.

Swift and concerted diplomatic protests across Europe were certainly headline-grabbing. But what counts is whether they will be followed by more united and robust action. Even more important, what will be the response of the US, the only member of the security council to vote no to Palestine last week? And what effect will all this have on the Palestinians, divided between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and between the PLO and the Islamists of Hamas after the latest blood-letting in the border enclave?

Protests by Britain, France and Germany represented an effectively coordinated position by Europe’s big three powers. But the EU as a whole has spent years aspiring to be a bigger player on the world stage.

Its 27 member states comprise 400 million people. Even so, 14 of them backed UN membership while 12 others, including Britain, abstained. The Czech Republic opposed the decision.

It should be no surprise then that what the EU says about the world’s most intractable conflict has so little effect. Israelis tend to sneer at the collective power of Brussels. If the EU is united it is usually by saying what it will not do — for example shunning Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

“The feeling in Israel is that Europe will never act against it for historical reasons,” argues Yossi Mekelberg, a fellow at Chatham House in London. “The argument is that Europeans were either perpetrators in the Holocaust or failed to do enough to stop it. The Israeli government is always quick to press that button.”

But, 67 years after the end of the second world war, things could be different. The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner and the largest provider of development assistance to the Palestinians. It is often criticised for being a “payer but not a player” especially after millions of euros worth of aid have gone up in smoke in Israeli attacks.

Europe was ahead of the curve in 1980 when the Venice declaration recognised the Palestinians’ right to self-determination at a time when the PLO was beyond the pale.

But occasional talk of punishing Israel – for example by suspending its valued 1995 association agreement with the EU or other co-operation programmes – has remained that, just talk.

Chris Patten, EU external relations commissioner when Israel reoccupied the West Bank after suicide bombings in 2002, used to attack the US as the “Washington branch of the Likud”. Still, European divisions have had a persistent life of their own. Change has been patchy. Individual member states have required that consumer produce from Israeli settlements, which all regard as illegal, be clearly labelled. But overall the EU still imports 15 times more from them than from Palestinians — an obvious inconsistency.

Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator who now works for the European Council for Foreign Relations, said that an EU rethink is required urgently but does not expect it to happen quickly. “When you are so deep in a policy that essentially accords impunity to Israeli actions you can’t spin on a dime,” he argued. “It requires a whole different approach that isn’t going to happen overnight.”

It was in 2001 that the then French foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, defined the challenge. “The EU should make the US recognise that it is legitimate for Europe to take its own approach to peace,” he said.

“If the union really wishes to play a role, it must escape from the situation where defining a common position comes down to seeking the lowest common denominator in platitudinous declarations or ritualised diplomatic tours.”

That advice remains relevant to this day.

Israel-Palestine: concreting over the solution: Guardian Editorial

If this is punishment for the crime of going to the UN, how does Netanyahu hope to persuade Palestinians back to talks?

Supporting a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict feels increasingly like clinging onto a cliff edge while someone with heavy boots stamps on your fingers. The boots were Israeli on Monday. Having spun the line that European governments had misunderstood Israel‘s plan to create a settlement that would cut the West Bank in two and separate it from East Jerusalem, the prime minister’s office vowed that nothing would alter their decision. The European diplomatic protest was, by its meek standards, unprecedented. Israeli ambassadors were summoned in Britain, France, Sweden and Spain but none of the four threatened any concrete measures to punish Israel. They should have.

From their inception, the West Bank settlements have been a cumulative study in opportunism. It matters not whether the horrified US secretary of state is a Republican or a Democrat. Condoleezza Rice said in 2007 that Har Homa should not be built. Five years later it is a fact on the ground, “the last brick in the wall of Jerusalem”, and never be surrendered. The same is about to happen to an area of land called E1, which lies between another egregious act of occupation, Ma’aleh Adumim, and Jerusalem.

The Israeli NGO B’Tselem says the plan dates back to 1999. Every US administration since has condemned it, because it would sever the Palestinian state from its capital in East Jerusalem. Although European diplomats call it a red line, it should have surprised no one that it is now to be crossed. Each piece in the jigsaw of settlement planning had been laid by previous Israeli administrations. Sealing the West Bank off from Jerusalem had been their purpose from the start.

The decision was intended as a punishment for Palestinians having the temerity to seek observer status from the same body, the United Nations of which Israel is already a full member. Israel hoped to rally between 20 and 30 countries to oppose the Palestinian request. In the event only eight countries, among them four tiny Pacific island nations, complied. Instead of isolating Palestinians, the UN vote showed how much support Israel lost in the place it values most – Europe. Only Czech Republic supported them.

If this decision is the punishment for the crime of going to the UN, how does Binyamin Netanyahu hope to persuade the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, now that he has just blocked their route off physically? Unless of course he, too, believes a two-state solution is a convenient fiction. One thing is clear. He continues to act with impunity. Until the US callibrates its relationship with Israel, until its leaders feel there is a price to pay for settlements, the plan for a two-state solution will remain a pipedream.

Israel defiant on settlements expansion after European condemnation: Guardian

Official says Israel will ‘stand by our vital national interests’, after ambassadors summoned in five EU countries

 in Jerusalem and  in Paris

Maale Adumim

The West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, with the E1 area in the background. Photograph: Ariel Schalit/AP

Israel was defiant on Monday in the face of a serious diplomatic rift with five European countries over its plans to expand illegal settlements in the West Bank, warning that it may take “additional steps” despite mounting international alarm that it was killing off any prospect of a future peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Israeli ambassadors to the UK, France, SwedenSpain and Denmarkwere summoned to hear condemnation of plans to develop a highly sensitive expanse of land east of Jerusalem. The move signalled a widening gulf not just between Israel and Europe but also between Europe and the United States.

Despite growing international isolation, a source in the Israeli prime minister’s office said: “We will continue to stand by our vital national interests against international pressure and there will be no change in the decision that was made.”

The source added: “There should be no surprise that Israel will not stand idly by in the face of unilateral Palestinian steps. If they continue taking unilateral steps, Israel will act accordingly.”

The sharp rebuke issued by the five nations followed an announcement last Friday that Israel would press ahead with plans to build settler homes that will close off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. The move came hours after the Palestinians won recognition of their state at the United Nations general assembly.

Only eight countries out of 193 voted with Israel against Palestinian statehood. Despite vigorous efforts to win over European countries, only one – the Czech Republic – rallied to Israel’s side.

The British minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, formally summoned the Israeli ambassador to London, Daniel Taub, to the Foreign Office to convey “the depth of the UK’s concern” about the decision and to demand its reversal.

In a statement, Burt said: “The settlements plan … has the potential to alter the situation on the ground on a scale that threatens the viability of a two-state solution.”

The Israeli ambassador to Paris was formally told of France’s “serious concerns” and reminded that “settlements are illegal under international law, destroy confidence in reviving dialogue and constitute an obstacle to a fair peace based on a two-state solution”, according to a statement.

European countries were furious at Israel taking punitive measures in response to the UN vote, with one diplomat describing the steps as “cynical”, “self-destructive” and “outrageous”. Israel announced 3,000 new settler homes, the preliminary stages of the E1 development plan and the withholding of more than $100m (£62m) in tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

A Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath, welcomed the European diplomatic response. “For this to come from France and England is very beneficial to us. We highly appreciate it and we are hoping the US will follow their lead,” he said.

However, there was no parallel move from Washington. The last year has seen a growing divergence between Europe and the US, with many EU countries taking a more robust approach to Israel’s continued settlement expansion. Some European diplomats believe that the EU must exert pressure on Washington to force the two sides to return to negotiations.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has repeatedly said he is willing to resume talks with the Palestinians, though many diplomats are deeply sceptical about the value of such statements when Israel continues to expand its settlements across the pre-1967 line. The Palestinians say settlement construction must cease before talks can begin following more than two years of stalemate.

Earlier on Monday there were suggestions Britain and France were considering recalling their ambassadors to Israel. However, a Downing Street spokesman said: “We are not proposing to do that. We are not proposing to do anything further at this stage … Clearly, we are concerned about the situation … but we are not setting out any further action at this stage.”

There was no reciprocal move by the US, but a state department spokesman, Mark Toner, said any building in the E1 area was contrary to US policy. “The United States opposes all unilateral actions, including West Bank settlement activity and housing construction in East Jerusalem, as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations, and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations,” Toner said. “This includes building in the E1 area as this area is particularly sensitive and construction there would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution.

“We have made clear to the Israeli government that such action is contrary to US policy. The United States and the international community expect all parties to play a constructive role in efforts to achieve peace. We urge the parties to cease unilateral actions and take concrete steps to return to direct negotiations so all the issues can be discussed and the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security can be realised.”

Israeli plans to develop E1 have been on hold for more than a decade, largely due to US pressure. Construction of Israeli homes, hotels and businesses in the area would make it almost impossible for East Jerusalem to become the capital of Palestine under a future agreement, and would almost bisect the West Bank. Western diplomats regard the development of E1 as a game-changer with regard to a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict.

At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu rejected criticism of the decision to activate the plan. “We will carry on building in Jerusalem and in all the places that are on the map of Israel’s strategic interests,” he said.

Netanyahu’s stance is expected to find wide support among the Israeli public, who will go to the polls in a general election next month. Netanyahu’s rightwing coalition is on course to emerge from the election with the largest number of seats in the Israeli parliament.

Tension mounts in East Jerusalem as Israel prepares settlement construction: Haaretz

Police and bulldozers arrive in Palestinian Jerusalem neighborhood A-Tur, in wake of the UN decision to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state.

By  and  | Dec.04, 2012


The road leading to the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. Photo by Reuters

Israel is continuing to take apparent retaliatory measures in wake of the United Nations decision last week to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state.

In the Palestinian Jerusalem neighborhood A-Tur, tensions escalated on Tuesday after bulldozers arrived to demolish a home located in the premises of a designated national park. The local families’ lawyer has won a delay in the slated demolition.

In two weeks, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee will discuss a controversial plan to build 1,700 homes in the East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, in the north of the capital. The committee will reconvene the following day in an emergency session to approve another project, this one for hundreds of homes in Givat Hamatos, a Jewish neighborhood in the south of the city. It too is located on the other side of the Green Line. In addition, after a two-year hiatus during which the Interior Ministry demolished no homes, this week supervisors from the ministry began patrols in Arab East Jerusalem in preparation for resuming the destruction of illegally built homes.

The plan for the expansion of Ramat Shlomo was approved in March 2010, during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. The approval sparked an unprecedented diplomatic crisis between Washington and Jerusalem, as a result of which the plan, along with additional construction projects in East Jerusalem, was suspended.
Construction tenders will be published soon for another 800 homes in Gilo as well as 187 in Givat Ze’ev, as part of the government’s announcement of plans to build 3,000 new residential units in the E-1 corridor linking Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.

Meanwhile, residents of Shoafat who own lands in the area submitted their opposition to the erection of the neighborhood. Attorney Sami Arshid, who submitted the petition on behalf of the residents, received a surprising phone call from the Interior Ministry yesterday, asking him to attend a discussion on the oppositions to the plan within two weeks. According to the law, the government can announce such a discussion a minimum of 14 days before it is held. Arshid, a seasoned attorney in planning and building issues, says the extremely short notice he was given for the hearing is unprecedented. “Something special is going on,” Arshid told Haaretz. The hearing is part of a new Interior Ministry procedure intended to cut red tape. Ministry officials insists that the timing was a mere coincidence and that the plans have been in the works for two years.
Adding to the tension, Jewish settlers moved on Monday into a five-story building in East Jerusalem’s Jabal Mukkaber neighborhood, presumably with the intention of establishing a new Jewish stronghold in the neighborhood. The building was constructed by a Palestinian but was sold to a foreign company that cooperates with Elad, a settler organization.

The Judea and Samaria District headquarters of the Israel Police may be one of the oddest police stations in the world. It is completely detached from the population is is supposed to serve. The fortress-like station was built on the top of a hill, with a narrow road leading up to it like the string of a toy balloon.
The surrounding barren hills constitute the area known as E-1. The government’s recent announcement that it plan to build 3,000 new homes housing units in the area could lead Israel into deep diplomatic solitude. The area is the battlefield between two conflicting powers – settler initiatives, supported by right-wing cabinet ministers, and international pressure on Jerusalem.

In the decade beginning in 2000 massive infrastructure work was done in the area, including the building of what was to be the main road to Mevasseret Adumim, a planned satellite of Ma’aleh Adumim satellite. Huge sums were spent on building town squares, laying electricity and water conduits and leveling building plots. But after heavy pressure by successive U.S. administrations the plans were shelved. Today there is a kind of ghost town, with roads, squares and utilities but no buildings with the exception of the police station on the top of the hill. The silence is a mirror image of the international and political uproar over the area. Yesterday the only human life that could be seen were two Palestinians waiting for the release of their confiscated truck, and a small camel caravan passing in the distance.

A small gravel lot near the police has become a temple of sorts for the Israeli right and the Ma’aleh Adumim municipality. A ceremonious sign includes the September 2009 “Founding charter – the cornerstone for Mevasseret Adumim neighborhood: Here in face of the holy city and our eternal capital Jerusalem, we have all laid the cornerstone for a new neighborhood, Mevasseret Adumim, that God willing will be built and will strengthen out city of Ma’aleh Adumim.” Meanwhile the neighborhood exists only in the imagination of those who laid the cornerstone – all the right wing Knesset members.

A number of days ago attorney Daniel Seidemann presented a set of maps that tell a complex story. Seidemann sees E-1 as the key to a comprehensive plan to surround Jerusalem with settlements and separate it from the West Bank. He divides the Jerusalem settlements into two distinct “circles.”

This is Europe’s big chance to help the two-state solution become reality: Guardian

The EU and its consumers can put pressure on Israel to end expansion of its illegal settlements


Settlement of Ma'ale Adumim

The Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in the West Bank. Photograph: Sean Smith Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

The vote to grant Palestine observer state status at the UN last month brought a rare promise of hope to a land where it has been in short supply. It is disappointing, however, that European countries failed to endorse the bid unanimously. As former European heads of state, we find such a lack of coherence difficult to reconcile with the European Union’s support for a two-state solution.

The same gap between rhetoric and action can be seen in the EU policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which are encroaching on the land of the prospective Palestinian state and rendering it ever harder to achieve. Just last week, the Israeli government authorised settlement on a crucial area of land connecting East Jerusalem to the West Bank.

A report by 22 European NGOs, Trading Away Peace, reveals that Europe imports 15 times as much from the Israeli settlements as it does from the Palestinians. The EU has repeatedly urged Israel to “immediately end all settlement activity”. And yet, by trading with settlements, Europe is inadvertently shoring up their economic viability and contributing to their permanence. It is also stifling the chances of economic development in the West Bank, undermining the billions the EU is simultaneously investing in Palestinian state-building.

A delegation of Elders, the group of independent leaders of which we are members, recently returned from a visit to Israel and the West Bank. The strongest impression was one of disillusionment, even fatigue, among both Israelis and Palestinians, who feel the two-state solution inching ever further away.

Contrary to widespread perceptions of stalemate, the situation on the ground is far from static: more than 40% of the West Bank has already been taken for settlements, roads and military use, as have the majority of water and other natural resources. This is a moment for the EU to show greater leadership. As Israel’s largest trading partner, the EU could start by differentiating between Israeli goods and those produced in illegal Israeli settlements. In most European supermarkets, it is impossible to tell whether dates or avocados marked “Israel” were grown in Israel or on confiscated Palestinian land.

A wide range of goods manufactured in Israeli industrial zones established in the West Bank are sold on European markets under the misleading label “made in Israel”. The British and Danish governments have already taken the lead by adopting simple labelling guidelines which allow consumers to distinguish between products from settlements, those made in Israel, and Palestinian products.

What these governments have done is nothing more than what is required by existing EU consumer protection legislation. As a result of the policy, major retailers in Britain and Denmark have stopped selling products from illegal Israeli settlements. Correct labelling of settlement goods is not an anti-Israeli policy. It is pro-consumer, pro-peace and pro-international law. It is an approach which supports the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

By drawing a clear distinction between settlement goods and Israeli products, the European Union has a unique opportunity to reconcile its positions and actions on West Bank settlements, and restore its credibility on the Middle East peace process. This would be a small but responsible step, from the recipient of this year’s Nobel peace prize, to preserve the two-state solution, and therefore the very feasibility of peace.

Israeli settlement move risks further isolation, say Netanyahu opponents: Guardian

International community losing patience, says Labour, but polls suggest PM’s backing among Israeli voters is solid

, Jerusalem correspondent

Benjamin Netanyahu

Binyamin Netanyahu appears to have little to fear from Israeli voters in January’s general election. Photograph: Lior Mizrahi/AP

Opposition politicians have warned that Israel risks becoming further isolated internationally following the diplomatic furore surroundingBinyamin Netanyahu‘s decision to press ahead with highly sensitive settlement expansion in the wake of the UN general assembly’s recognition of the state of Palestine.

Tzipi Livni, who formed a new party last week to compete in January’s general election, said the prime minister’s move “isolates Israel [and] encourages international pressure”.

Referring to steps to develop the E1 area, east of Jerusalem, and last month’s operation in Gaza, she said: “In one month of dangerous military and diplomatic moves, Netanyahu formed a Hamas state in Gaza, a Palestinian state in the UN and now, with his response, made Israel appear guilty in the eyes of the world.”

The Labour politician Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the international community was “losing its patience to Netanyahu’s irresponsible policies”. The decision on settlement expansion was, he said, “a badly timed decision” which “risks the loss of support from the United States and from European countries … [and] can lead Israel to international isolation.”

Despite growing international pressure on Israel, Netanyahu appears to have little to fear from voters in the Israeli election. An opinion survey last week found that his rightwing coalition, Likud Beiteinu, formed with the hardline foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was on course to emerge from the poll as the biggest party in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

The coalition is on course to win 37 out of the Knesset’s 120 seats, with its nearest rival, Labour, expected to secure 19 seats. Between 55% and 67% of respondents to the survey said Netanyahu was the most suitable candidate for the post of prime minister when pitted against a range of other party leaders.

While the international community views Netanyahu’s policies with growing concern, the prime minister’s backing within Israel appears to be solid. Indeed, following the ceasefire that ended last month’s mini-war in Gaza, a clear majority of those polled were against the truce, hawkishly preferring the government and military continue the onslaught in which more than 160 Palestinians were killed.

The Israeli public has moved steadily to the right over recent decades, and the political reach of relatively leftist and “pro-peace” parties has collapsed. Part of the explanation is disillusion in the so-called peace process and alarm at the rise of Islamist parties in Gaza and elsewhere in the region. The right has also been buoyed by the influx of one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union with a strong identification with rightwing politics.

Increasing diplomatic isolation could indirectly shore up support for Netanyahu, according to Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent of the Jerusalem Post. “Israelis are under the impression that the entire world is against them, no matter what they do,” he said.

Most Israelis supported the expansion of “quality of life” settlements close to the pre-1967 Green Line, as distinct from ideologically hardline settlements deep inside the West Bank, he added. “By making such an uproar over a consensus issue, the international community is actually discouraging concessions in the future.”

On issues relating to Israel’s security and the Palestinians, “no one on the right can challenge Netanyahu. This strengthens him, it plays into his hands,” Hoffman said. “The international community has made that mistake time and time again. It’s not Netanyahu who’s shifting Israel to the right, but European politicians like [the British foreign secretary] William Hague.”

Union for Reform Judaism denounces Israel’s decision to expand settlements: Haaretz

URJ Board of Trustees also condemns ‘unilateral’ Palestinian move at UN – but it is their public criticism of Israel that is likely to generate controversy.

By  | Dec.04, 2012


The road leading to the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. Photo by Reuters

In a move certain to generate controversy and public debate, America’s largest Jewish movement, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), has formally adopted a resolution that publicly denounces Israel’s decision to increase settlement activity, “especially in the E-1 area”.

The URJ resolution comes less than a week after Israel announced its plans to build 3,000 new apartments in the E-1 corridor connecting the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem, in response to the United Nations vote to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status to that of a non-member observer state.

The URJ resolution, adopted at a meeting of its North America Board of Trustees in St. Petersburg, Florida, states that the Israeli decision “makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel’s stated commitment to a two-state solution.”

Read the full text of the resolution here

The resolution also “condemns” the “unilateral and counterproductive” Palestinian bid for UN recognition and commends the U.S. and Canada for opposing it. At the same time, the resolution urges both countries to refrain from cutting off funding for either the Palestinian Authority or the United Nations or from downgrading the “currently recognized” Palestinian diplomatic presence in their respective capitals.

“Endangering the viability of a PA already teetering on financial bankruptcy, or taking steps to make the prospects of returning to the negotiating table without preconditions more difficult, will only empower Hamas and its like-minded allies in Iran and elsewhere,” the resolution states.

Although leaders of the Reform movement have been harshly critical of Israel in recent years on matters concerning religious pluralism and democratic freedoms, they have largely refrained from openly disputing Israeli government policies on security matters. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent decision to respond to the UN recognition of Palestine as an observer state with the construction of 3,000 new apartments, especially in E-1, has elicited widespread criticism in liberal Jewish circles, which until now was expressed only in private conversations, not in public proclamations.

The URJ resolution, which was endorsed by its affiliated rabbinical organization, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) is likely to spark a harsh internal debate in the American Jewish community and to rekindle the kind of political divisions and discussions of legitimate Diaspora criticism that have been sidelined during the past year because of the U.S. election campaign and the shift of focus among American Jews away from the peace process with the Palestinians and towards Iran and the Arab Spring.

The Israeli decision to expand settlements has sparked harsh criticism among its European allies. Haaretz learned Monday that France and Britain may be considering unprecedented moves over the matter, including recalling their ambassadors. Both countries have downplayed specific action, but have summoned the Israeli ambassadors to their countries demanding that Jerusalem rescind its decision. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday that Europe was unlikely to reach a consensus to slap economic sanctions on Israel, but added that further steps would be considered if Israel did not cancel its decision.

The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, has lodged an official complaint with the United Nations, demanding that Israel be held accountable for its actions in the settlement.

The balance of legitimacy shifting in favour of Palestinians: Al Jazeera English

 by Ahmed Moor

Israel can destroy, demolish and colonise, but cannot resist the overwhelming morality of the Palestinian cause.
Last Modified: 03 Dec 2012

The Israeli leadership’s reaction to Abbas’ bid – the extension of settlements in E1 – has real consequences [EPA]
The past several weeks have seen the Palestinian issue regain international prominence. Israeli attacks on Gaza, and Hamas’ response to those attacks produced political benefits for the Islamic party, which caused some to argue that non-violence is a failed strategy for the Palestinians. However, Fatah’s success at the United Nations created the potential for the imposition of new costs on the Israelis. The successes of both parties have worked to create the most conducive environment for Palestinian reconciliation since 2007 even as Israel continues to colonise and fragment Palestine.Hamas and Israel have done a lot to validate the idea that armed resistance to the Israeli occupation can produce positive outcomes for the Palestinians. The argument that Israel responds to force is basically correct. But it doesn’t mean that non-violent resistance has been undermined – a view that American television host Chris Hayes recently propounded in a segment on his show on MSNBC.The basis for the argument that non-violence (more accurately, the unarmed struggle) is not a viable strategy for the Palestinians is that Mahmoud Abbas has tried it – and he hasn’t succeeded in producing a state. But that analysis fails under careful scrutiny, particularly as various forms of non-violence are considered.

Palestinian non-violence

Palestinian non-violence has developed in several ways. In the West Bank, the Popular Committees in villages like Budrus and Bil’in have organised weekly marches to highlight the illegality of Israel’s ravenous colonisation of the West Bank. Their chief accomplishment has been to dispel the notion that Israel is a Western democracy governed by law.

 Palestinians in the West Bank react to the UN vote

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement has worked to affect similar change in the views of people worldwide. Its most recent victory also became one of its most visible as performer Stevie Wonder withdrew from a fundraiser for the Israeli army. Activist pressure on other performers has only grown in recent years.

Palestinian NGOs, cultural institutions and civil society present another form of successful non-violent resistance. The challenge of maintaining social cohesion in the face of occupation, apartheid and a corrupt, weak or divided leadership cannot be underestimated, and it is something that the Palestinians have done successfully.

All of these forms of non-violence – which are not linked to the activities of the Palestinian Authority – should reinforce the value of unarmed resistance to the Israeli occupation.

As for Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, the Israelis are right when they say that the United Nations bid has failed to do produce a viable Palestinian state. Binyamin Netanyahu’s November 30 decision to extend his people’s colonies into the E1 area of the West Bank acts as an additional, especially effective, abortive measure. The reason for that is that the E1 region is expected to act as a corridor through which Palestinians in the West Bank will access East Jerusalem after the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

In reality, Jerusalem has already been isolated from the Palestinian West Bank, a development that one more additional colony in the E1 area will only reinforce. The United Nations’ decision does nothing to reverse the permanent colonisation which has extinguished the possibility of a two-state outcome.

Resisting Israeli apartheid

Yet, even that fact does not mean that Mahmoud Abbas’ non-violent approach at the United Nations has failed. In fact, he has produced a new framework through which Palestinians can resist Israeli apartheid. His success in gaining access to international forums like the International Criminal Court has enervated the Israeli leadership.

That’s something that Abbas appears to have finally recognised. The Palestinian bid for enhanced status at the United Nations is a worthwhile undertaking because it carries mechanism for punishing Israel. Hamas’ endorsement of Abbas’ move signals the organisation’s appreciation for his new contribution to the resistance toolkit.

And that’s perhaps the most meaningful development of the past two weeks. The Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have independently arrived at means of imposing higher costs on Israeli occupation and apartheid. Hamas’ longer range rockets have succeeded in altering the balance of fear in their favour.

And the Palestinian Authority may succeed in accessing a framework for issuing indictments against Nir Barkat, Ehud Barak, Binyamin Netanyahu and others. The joint development carries positive implications for Palestinian reconciliation – particularly as partisans on either side recognise the accomplishment of the other. A great deal hinges however, on the PA’s willingness to actually hold Israel to account.

The Israeli leadership’s reaction to Abbas’ bid – the extension of settlements in the E1 corridor – has real consequences. But for now, the balance of legitimacy is shifting in favour of the Palestinians. Recent events have demonstrated that while Israel can destroy, demolish and colonise, it cannot resist the overwhelming morality of the Palestinian cause. It cannot prevent its deepening isolation and accelerating delegitimisation.

Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American graduate student of Public Policy at Harvard University and co-editor of After Zionism (Saqi Books, July 2012).



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