Opposition to occupation

March 16, 2010

EDITOR: Breaking News

`Day Of Rage` Clashes In Jerusalem: Kibush Magazine

Clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya on Tuesday (photo Reuters)

Clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya on Tuesday (photo Reuters)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinians mounted violent protests in a `day of rage` in Jerusalem on Tuesday and a U.S.-Israeli crisis over a Jewish settlement project deepened with the cancellation of a U.S. peace envoy`s visit.
Dozens of rock-throwing Palestinians clashed with police in several locations in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in a 1967 war along with the West Bank. Police responded with teargas and rubber bullets.
Medical officials said at least 40 Palestinians were treated in East Jerusalem hospitals. Police said two policemen were hurt.
The violence was another challenge to U.S. efforts to revive Middle East peace talks after Israel angered Palestinians and touched off a dispute with Washington by announcing plans to build 1,600 homes for Jews in a part of the occupied West Bank it annexed to Jerusalem.

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell cancelled plans to return to the region on Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not curb such construction, opposed by the United States, in and around East Jerusalem.
`There is an explosive situation. There are Netanyahu`s policies, which are tantamount to pouring oil on fire,` said Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Hamas, an Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, said in a statement that Palestinians should `regard Tuesday as a day of rage against the occupation`s (Israel`s) procedures in Jerusalem against al-Aqsa mosque.`
Hamas leaders made particular mention of the renovation of the Hurva synagogue, in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem`s walled Old City, saying the restoration work was an Israeli plot to demolish al-Aqsa, some 400 metres (yards) away.
Israel has denied the allegation and the U.S. State Department, appealing for calm, voiced concern at what it described as Palestinian incitement and mischaracterisation of the renovation of the 18th century synagogue.

Citing biblical and historical links, Israel sees all of Jerusalem as its capital, a claim not recognised internationally. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel`s announcement, during a visit last week by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, of the Jewish housing plan in what Israel describes as a Jerusalem neighbourhood embarrassed the White House.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who had just agreed to start indirect talks with Israel, demanded the project be scrapped first.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in unusually blunt remarks, called Israel`s actions an insult. Netanyahu voiced regret at the timing of the move but made no move to cancel the plan. Israel said construction was several years away.
Clinton telephoned Netanyahu on Friday to convey unspecified demands about the housing project as well as about demonstrating commitment to the U.S.-mediated peace talks, the State Department said, without elaborating.
U.S. officials said they were still waiting for Israel`s formal response. Israeli media reports said Clinton had asked for the settlement plan to be scrapped and for Israel to agree to discuss core statehood issues with the Palestinians.
Palestinians say Jewish settlements will deny them a viable state. Washington has urged both sides not to make moves that could prejudge the outcome of peace talks.

Violence flares in Jerusalem after Hamas declares ‘day of rage': Haaretz

Israeli ‘ethnic cleansing’ making outbreak of third intifada inevitable, Arab leaders warn.
Dozens of Palestinians clashed with Israeli police in East Jerusalem on Tuesday after Hamas declared a “day of rage” to protest Israel’s consecration of an ancient synagogue in the city one day earlier.
Palestinians hurled stones at police and burned tires and trash bins in several areas of East Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank during the 1967 Six-Day War.
Police responded with tear gas and fired rubber bullets, witnesses said. Some 40 Palestinians were treated at East Jerusalem hospitals for minor injuries, medical officials said.

Thirty-one people were arrested as dozens of youths hurled stones at Border Police officers in the Shoafat refugee camp and in the neighborhoods of Isawiyah, Abu Dis and Wadi Joz.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said police fired stun grenades to disperse dozens of protesters at one site. He said village elders helped end protests at another site.
Police also arrested an Israeli rightist who sought to enter the Temple Mount compound and was refused by security forces.
A police spokesman said some 3,000 officers were put on high alert after Hamas, an Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip and wields influence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, called for anti-Israel protests.

“We call on the Palestinian people to regard Tuesday as a day of rage against the occupation’s [Israel’s] procedures in Jerusalem against al-Aqsa mosque,” Hamas said in a statement.
Hamas and Palestinian officials affiliated with its rival Fatah movement have said the restoration work at the ancient Hurva synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s walled Old City endangered al-Aqsa, situated some 400 meters away.

Israel has denied the accusation but Arab MKs warned on Tuesday that Israeli policy could lead to a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
“The policies of the Netanyahu government are nothing less than ethnic cleansing and are a the strongest possible incitement to a third intifada,” said Hanin Zuabi, an Arab Knesset member.
“It seems the submissiveness of the official Palestinian and Arab response has given Israel the false impression that Palestinians will not fight for their liberty and their rights.”

Another MK, Jamal Zahalka, said: “Anyone who builds settlements in Jerusalem is digging a grave for peace,” while Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat likened Israel’s handling of the situation to “pouring oil on fire”.
An inauguration ceremony was held on Monday at the synagogue, which was blown up by Jordanian forces when they overran the Jewish Quarter in the 1948 Middle East war.
Sporadic violence has erupted in recent weeks in Jerusalem after Israel decided to include West Bank religious sites in a Jewish national heritage plan stoked Palestinian anger.

Limitations on access to Muslim prayers on Temple Mount will continue for the fifth day. Members of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee are set to hold a procession in the east of the city on Wednesday.
Galilee police set up roadblocks around Safed and Acre on Tuesday to prevent Israeli Arabs from northern towns and villages from traveling to Jerusalem to take part in the protests.

EDITOR: The only Military Democracy in the Middle East

So now the IOF has closed the villages for 5 MONTHS! This is an interesting and innovative way of controlling reality. Indeed, with the blockade of Gaza, and with those villages under ‘closure’, why not ‘close’ the whole of Palestine? Surely it would save trouble… Israel is losing any sense of reality, and is doing all it can to start the 3rd Intifada. The future is red, red with blood.

IDF declares West Bank protest villages a ‘closed military area’: Haaretz

By Amira Hass, Haaretz Correspondent
Police cite military edict restricting movement in Bil’in and and Na’alin until August.
The army has declared the West Bank villages of Bil’in and Na’alin a ‘closed military area’ until August 17, it emerged Monday.
In arresting a demonstrator on Friday, police cited a military edict closing off the two villages, where weekly protests against the barrier Israel is erecting around the West Bank have often turned violent.
Bil’in residents told Haaretz that late on Friday night dozens of soldiers, some of them masked, deployed throughout the village to post notices of the order, signed on February 17 by the chief of army Central Command, Gen. Avi Mizrahi.
The ruling, which will stay in force six months, applies to land that lies between the separation fence and built up areas in Bil’in.

In Na’alin, restrictions apparently cover the entire village, including residential areas.
For over five years the two villages have seen often violent, and twice fatal, clashes between activists and security forces during regular Friday demonstrations.
In the past year the IDF and the security service, Shin Bet, have tried a variety of tactics to end the protests, including mass arrests, night operations, restrictions on the movement of Israeli activists and the arrest of minors – prompting a military court to declare the measures inappropriate.
On Sunday a Bil’in activist, Iyad Burnat, was summoned for talks with Shin Bet officers, around an hour after sending out an emailed report of last week’s protests entitled “the third intifada [uprising] is knocking at the door”.

At the time of publication, the army had not yet responded to requests by Haaretz for information on the closures.


On 12 January 2010 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel would never ‘cede control of united Jerusalem nor retreat to the 1967 borders’. Since this assertion by Netanyahu that Israel would never end its military occupation of East Jerusalem and return to the 1967 Green Line, Israeli military forces have gradually increased restrictions on Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem. In recent days, there has been a sudden increase in closures and restrictions imposed most significantly in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and the Old City of Jerusalem.

On 28 February Israeli military forces stormed the yards of Al-Aqsa Mosque, in the Old City of Jerusalem, firing rubber bullets and tear gas at worshippers holding a demonstration in the compound. In the weeks following the incident, tensions in the Old City have continued to rise with repeated clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. It appears inevitable that clashes will intensify in the coming days as Jewish settlers re-open the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter on 15 March and as they attempt to lay the foundation stone for the Temple Mount on 16 March.

Since Thursday, 11 March, the Old City has been surrounded by Israeli military and police personnel who control the movement of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, as well as Palestinian citizens of Israel, in and out of the gates. Israeli forces are denying entry to any Palestinian below the age of 50 who does not have an address within the Old City. In addition, Al-Aqsa mosque’s yards have been under restrictive closure since Friday 12 March, with Israeli forces preventing Palestinians under the age of 50 from praying there. Furthermore, three schools located within the Al-Aqsa compound have been affected by the closure, while the students of all the boys’ schools in the Old City are being denied access to their places of study.

As a Palestinian human rights organization, Al Haq finds it necessary to highlight the ongoing violations of human rights resulting from Israel’s discriminatory policies, and requests that action be taken by the international community to prevent Israeli violations of Palestinian rights. The right to manifest religion through worship, the right to education, and the right to freedom of movement are amongst the most basic of rights. Israel’s continuing discriminatory and unlawful policies and practices are successfully raising tensions in East Jerusalem, contributing to the manifold pressures on Palestinians to leave the city. These actions and policies are aimed towards, and effectively achieving, a gradual erosion of the Arabic and Palestinian characteristics of East Jerusalem. The vast majority of Palestinians living under the occupation are already denied any form of access to Jerusalem and its Holy Sites. What we are now witnessing is a further restriction on the rights of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to move and live within their own city, and a significant assault on the Palestinians right to self-determination.

EDITOR: Act 3 scene 4 of the Settlement Show in Jerusalem

We apologise for having to face the readers with the continuation of this bad performance; Not the best show in town. however, signs are that this is nearing is end, at last. If Obama does not understand that he has done exactly what Israel wanted, and froze the talks they were against anyway, than this blog cannot help him. As the whole process was forced on Israel, that wants nothing more than the death and burial of the ‘peace process’, the result is unlikely to worry it unduly. All involved understand that as the Congressional elections get under way, Obama is in the pocket of the Israel Lobby, rather than the other way round. Now all they are fighting about is the ‘bad timing’ on the announcement, as pointed out by Moshe Arens in Haaretz, below.  He is, of course, right: for over four decades, the US and EU have done nothing, absoloutely nothing, to stop the illegal settlements being built; why do they have to worry about it now? It is clear that this is just a performance, and it will pass away.

U.S. envoy’s Israel trip on hold as diplomatic crisis deepens: Haaretz

George Mitchell delays regional visit pending Netanyahu’s reponse to U.S. demands.
A visit to Israel by U.S. special peace envoy George Mitchell was on hold on Tuesday pending an Israeli response to a series of American demands.
Mitchell had been due to leave Washington for Israel early on Monday but will delay his trip in a sign of the Obama administration’s growing anger at Israel’s refusal to stop building Jewish homes in east Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to draw a line under a crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations that erupted last week when Israel announced plans for 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo, an orthodox Jewish suburb beyond the Green Line in the northeast of the city.

Israel would continue to build in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said on Monday.
“For the past 40 years, no Israeli government ever limited construction in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” he said.
Mitchell is thought to have delayed his travel plans until late Tuesday but may now cancel his visit to Israel altogether, instead flying straight to Moscow for talks with the ‘Quartet’ of Middle East peace mediators – the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and Russia.

“We want to make sure that we have the commitment from both sides that when he travels we can make progress,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
Late Monday night Israel’s foreign ministry was still in last ditch negotiations to dissuade Mitchell from calling off his trip.
“Mitchell is hesitant as he is not convinced that the timing of the visit, at a moment of high tension between Israel and the U.S., is genuinely conducive to advancing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” a senior Israeli official told Haaretz.
According to a report in The Washington Post Tuesday, U.S. officials say that Mitchell’s visit will remain on hold until the White House receives an Israeli response to key demands.
Israel must reverse its approval for construction in Ramat Shlomo, make a “substantial gesture” towards the Palestinians and publicly declare that all of the “core issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, be included in upcoming talks.

The three conditions, set by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a 43-minute telephone call to Netanyahu on Friday, have not been publicized by the U.S. – but Israel is expected to provide a formal answer on Tuesday, the Post reported.
Israeli officials told Haaretz on Tuesday that despite the growing diplomatic storm, Netanyahu had no plans to cancel a scheduled trip to Washington on Sunday, where he will address a meeting of pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC.
Ahead of the trip, Israeli diplomats were making concerted effort to arrange a “reconciliation” meeting between the prime minister and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who was angered when his arrival in Israel last week coincided with the government’s announcement of building expansion in Ramat Shlomo.

According to the Washington Post, American officials see a resolution to the current crisis as a test of Netanyahu’s commitment to ties with the U.S.
“We have to have guarantees that these kinds of things will not happen again,” a senior U.S. official told the paper, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“If he is unwilling to make that kind of commitment, it raises the question of how committed he is to negotiations – and it raises the question of how committed he is to the relationship between Israel and the United States.”

The United States, which over the past year has pushed unsuccessfully for a total construction freeze across the West Bank, including in east Jerusalem, has until now accepted unofficial assurances that Israel is restricting settlement building.
But following Israel’s latest declaration of plans to build in Ramat Shlomo, the U.S. changed tack, demanding that Netanyahu commit publicly to a building freeze in Jerusalem.
“He has to take a firm stand to prevent similar kinds of announcements that will have a negative effect on negotiations,” the official said.

Israel doesn’t need to grovel for U.S. forgiveness: Haaretz

By Moshe Arens
So sorry! Very sorry! Very, very sorry! We apologize! This will never happen again! The prime minister, cabinet members and senior bureaucrats repeated this over and over again last week in an attempt to set right what seemed to them to have been a major blunder, one they thought had spoiled what should have been a dramatic goodwill visit by the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have been humming “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood,” while he sat waiting for the arrival of Biden, who vented his anger over what he considered an insult by being deliberately late for dinner.

The government’s critics in the media had a field day. According to them the decision by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee to approve plans for putting up additional houses in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, just as Biden was arriving in the country, was ruining relations between the United States and Israel and causing irreparable damage to strategic cooperation between the two countries. Listening to them, one might have thought that if some years from now historians try to determine why the U.S. administration did not take any effective action to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons, they will find that the responsibility lay on the shoulders of a minor Israeli civil servant who set the agenda of a local planning committee for that fateful day.

Since it was well known in Washington that the Netanyahu government had not frozen building activity in Jerusalem, and that therefore not only construction there was continuing but also the routine planning activities that precede construction, the blame was now being put on the “timing.” Presumably, if the planning committee had held its session a few days before Biden’s arrival there would not have been a problem. Or, had it met a few days after Biden’s departure and he left here under the impression that planning activities had been suspended in Jerusalem, only to find out differently on his arrival in Washington, there would have been nothing to get excited about.

“Timing” is important when investing in the stock market, but it is of little relevance here. There is no substitute for the truth when dealing with friends and allies. And the truth in this case is that while the Israeli government has frozen construction in Judea and Samaria for 10 months, there has been no such freeze in any part of Jerusalem, and certainly no holdup of planning procedures. There was no need for all this groveling by Israeli spokesmen. On the subject of Jerusalem, the government of Israel and the administration in Washington simply disagree.

Throughout the U.S.-Israeli relationship there have been disagreements on certain issues. They are inevitable, even among the best of friends. But generally, the disagreements have not been taken public, but have been discussed in confidential exchanges between representatives of the two governments. U.S. President Barack Obama, however, has taken a new approach, which he signaled at his speech last June in Cairo, where he publicly called on Israel to stop settlement activity.

The rationale of this approach was presumably to accelerate the negotiations between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But what the Americans must be finding out to their chagrin is that this approach is actually making it more difficult, if not impossible, for Abbas to come to the negotiating table. Whereas in the past he negotiated with Israel while settlement activity continued, without setting prior conditions, Obama’s Cairo speech left Abbas no choice but to demand the cessation of settlement activity in Judea and Samaria as a condition for entering negotiations. After all, he cannot be less Palestinian than Obama.

Now, after the statements made by Biden in Israel, followed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s public rebuke of Netanyahu, he will demand the cessation of construction in Jerusalem, and possibly even the freezing of all planning activity regarding future construction as a condition for beginning negotiations with Israel. As the saying goes, “why make it difficult, when with a little effort you can make it impossible?” This is hardly the way to advance the peace process.

US-Israel relations: White House ‘will not shy away’ from pushing for talks: The Guardian

United States determined to persuade Israel into substantive peace talks with Palestinians, Obama administration source says
Palestinian boys play soccer in the Arab neighbourhood of east Jerusalem, where Netanyahu supports the building of 1,600 Jewish homes. Photograph: Ammar Awad/REUTERS

President Barack Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, are on a collision course today in a row described by a senior Israeli diplomat as the worst crisis between the two countries for more than three decades.

An Obama administration source told the Guardian that the White House and US state department are intent on pushing Israel into substantive peace talks with the Palestinians and will not shy away this time as they did when the last effort ended in embarrassing failure in September.

“No one gets anywhere by accusing each other. We are hoping to lay the foundations for negotiations,” the source said. In order to get negotiations under way, the US is demanding that Netanyahu cancel or freeze plans to build 1,600 planned Jewish homes in Palestinian East Jerusalem. But Netanyahu, speaking at a meeting of his own Likud party, showed no signs of backing down. “The building in Jerusalem, and in all other places, will continue in the same way as has been customary over the last 42 years,” he said.

The Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, in a weekend telephone call to other Israeli diplomats, expressed alarm about the extent of the confrontation.

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth quoted the normally cool Oren, an academic-turned diplomat, as saying: “Israel’s ties with the United States are in their worst crisis since 1975 … a crisis of historic proportions.”

Oren was called to the state department last week in a rare rebuke for a diplomat from a country the US normally regards as one of its strongest allies.

The crisis began last week when the US vice-president, Joe Biden, travelled to Israel in the hope of securing a start to the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But his hopes were dashed when Israel announced the new construction in East Jerusalem.

The Palestinian cabinet reiterated today that it will not enter into talks while such construction is planned.

The White House has steadily built up the heat on Israel over the last few days, with the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, berating Netanyahu in a 45-minute call on Friday and David Axelrod, the chief White House adviser, describing Israeli behaviour as an insult yesterday.

The US wants Israel not only to backtrack on the East Jerusalem building plans but to enter into talks with the Palestinians on substantive issues and not just talks about talks, as Israel wants. Washington also wants Israel to make gestures towards the Palestinians, such as releasing Palestinian prisoners and withdrawing more Israeli forces from Palestinian territory. The US special envoy to Israel and the Palestinian territories, the former senator George Mitchell, is to visit Israel this week in the hope of hearing that Israel will bow to at least some of the US demands.

Netanyahu is scheduled to address a meeting in Washington early next week of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), the powerful Israeli lobbying group. The US does not yet know whether he will attend in person or make a televised address.

The Israeli prime minister faces the problem of whether to offer the US a concession, such as a short freeze on house-building in East Jerusalem, a move that might lead to the break-up of his coalition government. Clinton will address the Aipac conference in person, a potentially dramatic occasion if she opts to repeat her calls for Netanyahu to back down.

Yesterday Aipac issued a statement critical of the Obama administration and today embarked on an intensive lobbying exercise to secure the backing of Jewish or strong Israeli-supporting members of Congress.

The more liberal Jewish lobbying organisation, J Street, said the US should use the crisis to push for peace talks. Its executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said: “Too much time has already been lost in getting the two sides into negotiations. We must not lose further time allowing a single development, as objectionable as it may be, to derail progress.”

The US magazine Foreign Policy posted a report on its website yesterdaythat in January top US commanders briefed the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, that US failure to stop Israel continuing with settlement building on the West Bank damaged US relations with the Arab world. Judith Kipper, a Middle East specialist at the Washington-based Institute of World Affairs, said there had long been a divergence between the US and Israel over various issues and a recognition of this fact was overdue.

She did not expect the US to threaten to withhold financial or military aid or intelligence and that going public was sufficient as a big stick.

Paul Scham, an academic at Washington’s Middle East Institute, said: “What is interesting is that US has chosen to make a big deal of it. The reason for doing this is, it seems, to be ready to pull out some version of the peace offensive Obama has been promising for a year. Hopefully, it will not die down as it did last year.”

Israel rejects settlement halt: Al Jazeera TV

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has rejected calls from the US to halt settlement plans in occupied East Jerusalem, saying plans for building new homes would go ahead.
In a speech to Israel’s parliament on Monday, Netanyahu said construction “will continue in Jerusalem as this has been the case for the past 42 years” in reference to the 1967 occupation of the mainly Arab territory.
He said that the plans would not hurt Palestinians, who have said peace negotiations cannot go ahead until the project is cancelled.

His comments come after Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, condemned the plans as “insulting” to peace efforts and reportedly called on Netanyahu to reverse the decision.
Israel’s announcement to build 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem came during a visit to the region by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, sparking a diplomatic row between the two countries.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz said Clinton, in a phone call with Netanyahu on Friday, asked him to make a “substantial gesture” towards Palestinians to help restart peace talks.
She called for an official declaration that talks would deal with core issues, including borders, the status of Jerusalem, refugees, and settlements, the paper reported.

Response requested
Clinton was also said to have requested an official response on whether Tuesday’s announcement was a “bureaucratic mistake, or a deliberate act, carried out for political reasons”.
Netanyahu has apologised for what he called the bad timing and ordered an investigation into how government officials unveiled the plans during Biden’s visit.
The announcement embarrassed Biden, who was visiting Israel in a bid to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Amid the dispute, officials said on Monday that George Mitchell, the US envoy to the Middle East, had delayed a planned visit to the region, during which he had been scheduled to meet Israel and Palestinian leaders separately.

Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, said the spat had brought relations to a 35-year low and had created a “crisis of historic proportions”.
A major pro-Israel US lobbying group also said that the stern US remarks were “of serious concern.”
“Aipac calls on the administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish state,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said on Sunday.
Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington, said there are steps the US could take to pressure Israel over the settlement issue.
“There’s a lot of financial aid that the US gives Israel,” she said.
“One programme that the US has used in the past is reducing loan guarantees. The amount that the settlements cost Israel, that is the amount by which the US can reduce the loan guarantees to Israel.
“We’ve seen that in the 1990s and then again in 2003.”
Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, who is currently on her first official visit to the region, has joined the chorus of criticism of Israel’s settlement plans.

Indirect talks
Speaking in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on Monday, Ashton said that the Israeli decision “endangers” indirect talks between the country and the Palestinians.
“Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks,” she said.

“The EU position on settlements is clear. Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two state-solution impossible.”
Besides Ashton, Luiz Ignacio “Lula” da Silva, the Brazilian president, is also touring the region. He met Shimon Peres, his Israeli counterpart, on Monday, marking the start of a three-day visit.

Media reports suggest Lula is aiming to carve out a role for Brazil in mediating the peace process.

EDITOR: Polar Bears rise from Hibernation in this early spring…

The giant of corporate news, the NY Times, has risen from its long sleep on the Israeli front. It was marked by Thomas Friedman’s searing attack on Satyeday, when he described Netanyahu as a ‘drunk driver in Jerusalem’. Since then, the NY Times has taken the cadjel and stsrted reporting ptoperly, as if Israel was just another country; well, almost… the main problem was the timing, it is clear – Israel can go on building, as long as it does not rub the American nose in the dirt.

Israel Feeling Rising Anger From the U.S.: NY Times

WASHINGTON — An ill-timed municipal housing announcement in Jerusalem has mutated into one of the most serious conflicts between the United States and Israel in two decades, leaving a politically embarrassed Israeli government scrambling to respond to a tough list of demands by the Obama administration.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, right, listened to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, on Monday.
The Obama administration has put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a difficult political spot at home by insisting that the Israeli government halt a plan to build housing units in East Jerusalem. The administration also wants Mr. Netanyahu to commit to substantive negotiations with the Palestinians, after more than a year in which the peace process has been moribund.
With the administration’s special envoy, George J. Mitchell, suddenly delaying his planned trip to Israel, the administration was expecting a call from Mr. Netanyahu, after a tense exchange last week with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On Monday, however, Mr. Netanyahu sounded a defiant note, telling the Israeli Parliament that construction of Jewish housing in Jerusalem was not a matter for negotiation.
He is struggling to balance an increasingly unhappy ally in Washington with the restive right wing of his coalition government.
The prospects for peace in the Middle East seemed murkier than ever, as a year’s worth of frustration on the part of President Obama and his aides seemed to boil over in its furious response to the housing announcement, which spoiled a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“What happened to the vice president in Israel was unprecedented,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Where it goes from here depends on the Israelis.”
But the diplomatic standoff also has repercussions for the Obama administration. Its blunt criticism of Israel — delivered publicly by Mrs. Clinton in two television interviews on Friday and reiterated Sunday by Mr. Obama’s political adviser, David Axelrod — has set off a storm in Washington, with pro-Israel groups and several prominent lawmakers criticizing the administration for unfairly singling out a staunch American ally.

“Let’s cut the family fighting,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut. “It’s unnecessary; it’s destructive of our shared national interest. It’s time to lower voices, to get over the family feud between the U.S. and Israel. It just doesn’t serve anybody’s interests but our enemies’.”
Relations between Israel and the United States have been uneasy ever since Mr. Obama took office with a plan to rekindle the peace process by coupling a demand for a full freeze in Jewish settlement construction with reciprocal confidence-building gestures by Arab countries.

Neither happened, and Mr. Obama, who is not as popular in Israel as he is elsewhere around the world, was forced last September to make do with Mr. Netanyahu’s offer of a 10-month partial moratorium on settlements in the West Bank. But the president was outraged by the announcement of 1,600 housing units in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in East Jerusalem during Mr. Biden’s visit, administration officials said.
Mr. Obama was deeply involved in the strategy and planning for Mr. Biden’s visit and orchestrated the response from Mr. Biden and Mrs. Clinton after it went awry, these officials said.

The administration has used language intended to telegraph anger, defining the dispute not only in terms of the damage it could cause to the peace process but to the American relationship with Israel.
“That is a whole different order of magnitude of importance,” said Daniel Levy, a former peace negotiator who is senior fellow and head of the Middle East Initiative at the New America Foundation, a research group.

The last time relations between the United States and Israel became this strained, analysts said, was when James A. Baker, then secretary of state, clashed with the Israeli government in the early 1990s, also over settlement policy. The United States ended up withholding loan guarantees from Israel for a time.
Mr. Netanyahu said the announcement of the housing development had surprised even him, and he apologized for its timing. But Mr. Obama feels that Mr. Netanyahu should have been in clearer control of the construction process and that he should have done what was needed to stop it, according to officials in Jerusalem and Washington.

There is a feeling among officials in Washington that the Netanyahu government does not fully grasp how angry Obama officials have grown. But there are signs that it is sinking in.
The Israeli ambassador in Washington, Michael B. Oren, used the word “crisis” about his country’s relations with Washington for the first time since taking up his job last year, in a telephone briefing to colleagues over the weekend, according to an Israeli official.
Still, American and Israeli officials also made clear that the core security issues binding the two countries were not in jeopardy, and that what was happening was closer to a married couple having a bad fight rather than seeking a divorce.

In the murky vocabulary of diplomacy, the scheduled talks due to start under American supervision are viewed by the Israelis mostly as “proximity” discussions, in other words procedural talks rather than substantive negotiations. But the Palestinians want the discussions to be as substantive as possible, an approach Mrs. Clinton demanded in her call to Mr. Netanyahu on Friday.
The Israeli leader has said he is open to direct negotiations with the Palestinians. But the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said in an interview in his Ramallah office that the Palestinians and Israelis had exhausted direct negotiations and that it was time for America to take a more direct role. “We have a trust level below zero between the two sides,” he said.

The settlement episode has enabled the administration to turn the tables on Mr. Netanyahu, some analysts say. But the question is whether it will be able to extract more concessions from him now.
“The heart of the matter is whether the proximity talks are going to be productive, in the sense of opening a corridor to direct negotiations that will lead to a peace agreement,” said Martin Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel.

The timing of the dispute could not be more awkward for the administration, coming a week before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group, meets in Washington. Mr. Netanyahu and Mrs. Clinton are both scheduled to speak to the group, which has condemned the White House’s tough stance.
Mr. Biden may meet with Mr. Netanyahu while he is here, officials said. But there is no meeting planned between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu because the president will be traveling in Indonesia and Australia, a conflict which one official joked suits the administration well right now. “This may not be the best time for a face-to-face,” he said.

Mark Landler reported from Washington, and Ethan Bronner from Jerusalem. Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.

Palestinians clash with police in East Jerusalem: BBC

Riots broke out in several areas
Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police in East Jerusalem amid increased tension over settlement building and the rededication of a synagogue.
Palestinians burned tyres and threw rocks and police fired stun grenades as rioting broke out in a number of areas.
The rioting follows Israel’s plan to build 1,600 new East Jerusalem homes, angering the US. Its Mid-East envoy, George Mitchell, has delayed his visit.
The reopening of a synagogue in the Old City also drew Palestinian protests.
The clashes broke out in a number of areas, including Qalandia, the Shu’fat refugee camp, Wadi al-Jouz, al-Eisaweyah, Silwan, Ras al-Amoud and near the al-Aqsa mosque.
The Israeli police said they had deployed 3,000 officers across the city.
‘Day of rage’
The clashes come amid a lingering US-Israel row over the settlement announcement.
The announcement came during Vice-President Joe Biden’s high-profile Middle East visit last week, aimed at trying to kick-start stalled peace talks.

The reopening of the Hurva synagogue angered Palestinians
The US says it is still awaiting a “formal” response from Israel to the row and has urged Israel to show it is committed to Middle East peace efforts.
Mr Mitchell, who was to leave for the region on Monday, has now delayed his departure.
The US Embassy in Israel has informed President Shimon Peres that Mr Mitchell will not be in Israel for the planned Tuesday afternoon meeting with Mr Peres.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has stood by Israel’s settlements policy, saying there can be “no curbs” on Jewish building in Jerusalem.
The BBC’s Paul Wood in Jerusalem says there seems to be an impasse – if Mr Netanyahu caves in and cancels the new settlements, the stability of his government may be in doubt; if he does not, it is hard to see how the peace talks can take place.
The reopening of the twice-destroyed Hurva synagogue close to the al-Aqsa mosque – Islam’s third holiest site – has also inflamed tension.
Hatem Abdel Qader, Jerusalem affairs spokesman for the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said: “This synagogue will be a prelude to violence and religious fanaticism and extremism.”
Militant group Hamas had declared Tuesday a “day of rage” against the move.
Thousands of people turned out in Gaza on Tuesday to protest against the rededication of the synagogue, Agence France-Presse news agency reports.
Our correspondent says the call by some Palestinian officials for people to defend the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount, site of the al-Aqsa mosque, comes amid rumours of plans by Jewish extremists to take control of the area.

Palestinian unrest erupts in east Jerusalem: The Independent

Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Masked Palestinians have hurled rocks at Israeli police and burned tires in disputed east Jerusalem.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby says police fired stun grenades to disperse dozens of protesters at one site. He said village elders helped end protests at another site.

No injuries were reported.
Tensions are high in east Jerusalem, fueled in part by a feud between Israel and Washington over continued Israeli construction in the disputed sector of the holy city.
Police presence is high after Hamas militants called for a “day of rage” against Israel following its rededication of a synagogue in east Jerusalem.

‘Day of rage': Riots in Jerusalem: YNet

Masked rioters torch tires, stone Border Guard officers in Shuafat, Isawiya neighborhoods; Three police, 11 rioters lightly wounded. Police set up roadblock on Route 6, inspect all buses traveling to capital; Arab bus from western Galilee turned back
The day dubbed “the day of rage” by Hamas and extremist Islamic groups opened with riots – both in the holy city and on the way to it. Hundreds of Arabs burned tires and hurled stones at Border Guard officers at several locations throughout the city Tuesday morning. At least three officers and 11 rioters were lightly injured, and eight were detained. Meanwhile, in the North, a bus full of Muslim passengers on their way to al-Aqsa Mosque was stopped and turned back. Police said the bus was inspected following tip-offs of possible plans to riot in Jerusalem.

Danger Signs
Arab MKs and members of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee also arrived at the al-Aqsa Mosque Tuesday morning. “The Netanyahu government is dangerous and irresponsible, and is leading the region to a third intifada,” said MK Talab El-Sana (United Arab List – Ta’al).MK Ahmad Tibi told Ynet he was inside the mosque: “There is a renewed occupation of east Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque, gunshots can be heard in every direction.”
Dozens of masked rioters hurled stones at Border Guard officers near the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem, and set fire to tires. The force dispersed the rioters using stun grenades. Two policemen were lightly injured and seven Palestinians were arrested.

In another incident, at the northern entrance to the Isawiya neighborhood in Jerusalem, masked protesters also burned tires and hurled stones at Border Guard officers. The rioters were calmed and dispersed by the village’s elders. Security forces also dispersed masked rioters hurling stones near the Temple Mount’s Majlis Gate.

In Abu Dis, some 50 Palestinians hurled stones at security forces. Police and Border Guard officers responded with teargas and stun grenades. One of the rioters was detained and taken in for questioning. Riots were also noted at the Qalandiya checkpoint.
Meanwhile, dozens of Palestinian youths threw stones in Maale Mota Gur in the Old City and near the wholesale market. Similar riots ensued in Wadi Joz and Silwan. In total, thousands of police officer were deployed throughout the city.

Buses to capital inspected
Meanwhile, at the Achihod junction in the western Galilee, police stopped a bus containing Arab Muslims who were making their way from Majdal Krum in the north, to Jerusalem. The Bus driver was forced to turn back. During an inspection of the bus, a 38-year-old passenger allegedly assaulted a Traffic Police officer and was detained.

Heavy traffic jams were felt on Highway 6 due to a police checkpoint set up to inspect buses traveling to al-Aqsa. Balad Chairman MK Jamal Zahalka, who was also on his way to Jerusalem in his private vehicle, told Ynet, “I suggest they stop with these checkpoints, which only create provocations.”
Police said that since Tuesday was considered a very sensitive day, and in light of information obtained on possible riots in Jerusalem by civilians arriving in buses, every bus on its way to the capital will be inspected. Police added that the decision was backed and approved by the attorney general.
Sources from the Islamic Movement’s northern branch said police stopped two buses. The movement’s spokesman, Attorney Zahi Nujeidat, told Ynet, “Those who are preventing worshippers from traveling to al-Aqsa are the ones who are fermenting the situation. It is natural that a Muslim would visit and pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque. Those that are preventing us from getting there will ultimately carry the blame for any possible scenario.”

On Monday, during the inauguration of the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City, more than 3,000 police and border guards gathered in the Temple Mount area. The event passed in tense calm.

Clashes break out in east Jerusalem: Al Jazeera TV

The “day of rage” follows the reopening of the Hurva synagogue for the first time in 62 years [AFP]
Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police in two areas of occupied east Jerusalem after the Hamas movement called for a “day of rage” over the reopening of a synagogue in the Old City.

Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli police who responded with stun grenades in the Shu-afat and Essawiyya neighbourhoods early on Tuesday.
At least 15 Palestinians were arrested by Israeli police.
About 3,000 police officers had been deployed in east Jerusalem and nearby villages after Hamas called for action in response to the reopening of the Hurva synagogue.

‘Extremely tense’

Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, in Essawiyya, said: “Palestinian protesters have been hurling stones at the border guards and they have responded using stun grenades. It is an extremely tense standoff.
“Police want to patrol the situation using as little force as possible, they told us, but they are wearing full riot gear.
“From our vantage point we can only see about 20 Palestinian protesters, hurling stones, which they have been doing throughout the night and into the morning.
“It seems a few amount of protesters against a large amount of border guards.”

The synagogue, considered by some people to to be one of Judaism’s most sacred sites, reopened for the first time in 62 years a day earlier in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ political chief who is exiled in Syria, warned against the reopening on Monday.
“We warn against this action by the Zionist enemy to rebuild and dedicate the Hurva synagogue. It signifies the destruction of the al-Aqsa mosque and the building of the temple,” he said at a meeting of Palestinian groups’ leaders.
He urged Palestinians in Jerusalem to “take serious measures to protect al-Aqsa mosque from destruction and Judaisation”.
Meshaal also said that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank need to “launch a campaign to protect Jerusalem and Islamic and Christian holy sites there”.

Holy sites

The walled Old City is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which makes the reopening of the synagogue controversial.Israeli officials have also limited access to al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, for the fifth consecutive day for security reasons.
Palestinian men under the age of 50 have not been allowed to enter the mosque.
Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest site, and the Hurva synagogue are about 700 metres apart.
The synagogue, first built in 1694, was first destroyed in 1721 and then demolished during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The al-Aqsa site is revered by Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), comprising al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. It is known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
An Israeli government decision to include two occupied West Bank religious sites in a Jewish national heritage plan has already angered Palestinians and raised tensions in recent weeks.
The announcement last week of Israeli plans for new settler homes near occupied East Jerusalem has also contributed to the unrest.

US/Israel ties under threat?: Al Jazeera TV

The new US administration has not shied away from criticising Israel’s illegal settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territorities.
And when Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new settler homes in East Jerusalem while Joe Biden, the US vice-president, was visiting the country last week as part of a Middle East peace inititative – the US was not happy.
A senior US official has called the timing of the announcement an “insult”.
And Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, had earlier told Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, that his government was putting “US ties at risk” by failing to take action towards renewed Middle East peace talks.
Although Netanyahu has apologised for the timing of the announcement, Israel is not showing any signs of stopping the settlement expansion and the US is not backing down from its tough criticism.

Al Jazeera’s John Terret reports.

Sleepless in Jerusalem and Gaza

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13 Sleepless Gaza Jerusalem.mpg

13 b Film made by Ashira in episode 13, uploaded at request of viewers.mpg

14 Sleepless Gaza Jerusalem.mpg

15 Sleepless Gaza Jerusalem.mpg

A Matter of Timing: Wiping the Spit Off His Face: ICH

By Uri Avnery
It’s all a matter of timing. The Government of Israel has insulted the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, one of the greatest “friends” of Israel (meaning: somebody totally subservient to AIPAC) and spat in the face of President Barack Obama. So what? It’s all a matter of timing.

If the government had announced the building of 1600 new housing units in East Jerusalem a day earlier, it would have been OK. If it had announced it three days later, it would have been wonderful. But doing it exactly when Joe Biden was about to have dinner with Bibi and Sarah’le – that was really bad timing.

The matter itself is not important. Another thousand housing units in East Jerusalem, or 10 thousand, or 100 thousand – what different does it make? The only thing that matters is the timing.

As the Frenchman said: It’s worse than criminal, it’s stupid.

THE WORD “stupid” also figured prominently this week, second only to “timing”.

Stupidity is an accepted phenomenon in politics. I would almost say: to succeed in politics, one needs a measure of stupidity. Voters don’t like politicians who are too intelligent. They make them feel inferior. A foolish politician, on the other hand, appears to be “one of the folks”.

History is full of acts of folly by politicians. Many books have been written about this. To my mind, the epitome of foolishness was achieved by the events that led to World War I, with its millions of victims, which broke out because of the accumulated stupidity of (in ascending order) Austrian, Russian, German, French and British politicians.

But even stupidity in politics has its limits. I have pondered this question for decades, and who knows, one day, when I grow up, I might write a doctoral thesis about it.

My thesis goes like this: In politics (as in other fields) foolish things happen regularly. But some of them are stopped in time, before they can lead to disaster, while others are not. It this accidental, or is there a rule?

My answer is: there certainly is a rule. It works like this: when somebody sets in motion an act of folly that runs counter to the spirit of the regime, it is stopped in its tracks. While it moves from one bureaucrat to another, somebody starts to wonder. Just a moment, this cannot be right! It is referred to higher authority, and soon enough somebody decides that it is a mistake.

On the other hand, when the act of folly is in line with the spirit of the regime, there are no brakes. When it moves from one bureaucrat to the next, it looks quite natural to both. No red light. No alarm bell. And so the folly rolls on to the bitter end.

I remember how this rule came to my mind the first time. In 1965, Habib Bourguiba, the president of Tunisia, took a bold step: he made a speech in the biggest refugee camp in Jericho, then under Jordanian rule, and called upon the Arabs to recognize Israel. This caused a huge scandal all over the Arab world.

Some time later, the correspondent of an Israeli paper reported that in a press conference at the UN headquarters, Bourguiba had called for the destruction of Israel. This sounded strange to me. I made inquiries, checked the protocol and found out that the opposite was true: the reporter had mistakenly turned a no into a yes.

How did this happen? If the journalist had erred in the opposite direction and reported, for example, that Gamal Abd-el-Nasser had called for the acceptance of Israel into the Arab League, the news would have been stopped at once. Every red light would have lit up. Someone would have called out: Hey, something strange here! Check again! But in the Bourguiba case nobody noticed the mistake, for what is more natural than an Arab leader calling for the destruction of Israel? No verification needed.

That’s what happened this week in Jerusalem. Every government official knows that the nationalist Prime Minister is pushing for the Judaization of East Jerusalem, that the extreme nationalist Minister of the Interior is even more eager, and that the super-nationalist Mayor of Jerusalem practically salivates when he imagines a Jewish quarter on the Temple Mount. So why should a bureaucrat postpone the confirmation of a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem? Just because of the visit of some American windbag?

Therefore, the timing is not important. It’s the matter itself that’s important.

DURING HIS last days in office, President Bill Clinton published a peace plan, in which he tried to make up for eight years of failure in this region and kowtowing to successive Israeli governments. The plan was comparatively reasonable, but included a ticking bomb.

About East Jerusalem, Clinton proposed that what is Jewish should be joined to the State of Israel and what is Arab should be joined to the state of Palestine. He assumed (rightly, I believe) that Yasser Arafat was ready for such a compromise, which would have joined some new Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to Israel. But Clinton was not wise enough to foresee the consequences of his proposal.

In practice, it was an open invitation to the Israeli government to speed up the establishment of new settlements in East Jerusalem, expecting them to become part of Israel. And indeed, since then successive Israeli governments have invested all available resources in this endeavor. Since money has no smell, every Jewish casino-owner in America and every Jewish brothel-keeper in Europe was invited to join the effort. The Biblical injunction – “Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the Lord thy God, for any vow; for even both these are abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 23:18) – was suspended for this holy cause.

Now the pace is speeded up even more. Because there is no more effective means of obstructing peace than building new settlements in East Jerusalem.

THAT IS clear to anyone who has dealings with this region. No peace without an independent Palestinian state, no Palestinian state without East Jerusalem. About this there is total unanimity among all Palestinians, from Fatah to Hamas, and between all Arabs, from Morocco to Iraq, and between all Muslims, from Nigeria to Iran.

There will be no peace without the Palestinian flag waving above the Haram al-Sharif, the holy shrines of Islam which we call the Temple Mount. That is an iron-clad rule. Arabs can compromise about the refugee problem, painful as it may be, and about the borders, also with much pain, and about security matters. But they cannot compromise about East Jerusalem becoming the capital of Palestine. All national and religious passions converge here.

Anyone who wants to wreck any chance for peace – it is here that he has to act. The settlers and their supporters, who know that any peace agreement would include the elimination of (at least) most settlements, have planned in the past (and probably are planning now) to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount, hoping that this would cause a worldwide conflagration which would reduce to ashes the chances of peace once and for all. Less extreme people dream about the creeping ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem by administrative chicanery, demolition of houses, denying means of livelihood and just making life in general miserable for Arabs. Moderate rightists just want to cover every empty square inch in East Jerusalem with Jewish neighborhoods. The aim is always the same.

THIS REALITY is, of course, well known to Obama and his advisors. In the beginning they believed, in their innocence, that they could sweet talk Netanyahu and Co. into stopping the building activity to facilitate the start of negotiations for the two-state solution. Very soon they learned that this was impossible without exerting massive pressure – and they were not prepared to do that.

After putting up a short and pitiful struggle, Obama gave in. He agreed to the deception of a “settlement freeze” in the West Bank. Now building is going on there with great enthusiasm, and the settlers are satisfied. They have completely stopped their demonstrations.

In Jerusalem there was not even a farcical attempt – Netanyahu just told Obama that he would go on building there (“as in Tel Aviv”), and Obama bowed his head. When Israeli officials announced a grandiose plan for building in “Ramat Shlomo” this week, they did not violate any undertaking. Only the matter of “timing” remained.

FOR JOE BIDEN, it was a matter of honor. For Mahmoud Abbas, it is a matter of survival.

Under intense pressure from the Americans and their agents, the rulers of the Arab countries, Abbas was obliged to agree to negotiations with the Netanyahu government – though only “proximity talks”, a euphemism for “distance talks”.

Clearly, nothing will come out of these talks except more humiliation for the Palestinians. Quite simply: anyone building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is announcing in advance that there is no chance for an agreement. After all, no sane Israeli would invest billions in a territory he intends to turn over to the Palestinian state. A person who is eating a pizza is not negotiating about it in good faith.

Even at this late stage, Abbas and his people still hope that something good will come out of all this: the US will acknowledge that they are right and exert, at long last, real pressure on Israel to implement the two-state solution.

But Biden and Obama did not give much cause for hope. They wiped the spit off their faces and smiled politely.

As the saying goes: when you spit in the face of a weakling, he pretends that it is raining. Does this apply to the president of the most powerful country in the world?

Israel’s new war on Islamic sites: Al Jazeera online

By Daud Abdullah
In a move that appears to be a celebration of the 16th anniversary of the massacre of 29 worshippers by the terrorist Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli government has proclaimed that the Ibrahimi Mosque in Khalil (Hebron) and Masjid Bilal ibn Rabah (mosque) in Bethlehem are “Jewish Heritage sites”.
Goldstein, an American-born Israeli settler who served as a medic in the military, opened fire on worshippers at a mosque in Hebron on February 25, 1994, killing 29 and wounding more than 150, before being subdued and beaten to death.
The announcement by the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, though not surprising, is the latest in a series of Israeli attacks on Islamic historical and religious sites in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

It is consistent with the Israelis’ long-standing ambition to dispose of all non-Jewish religious symbols and presence in Palestine.
While the Israeli government was announcing the annexation of the Islamic sites, dozens of settlers attempted to storm into Jericho on the pretext that they were visiting an ancient synagogue.
Under the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of May 1994, Israel agreed to dissolve its civil administration and “transferred its powers and responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority”.

Israel disinterested in peace
In his first reaction to the annexation of the Ibrahimi Mosque, Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, said: “This proves that Israel is not interested in peace and negotiations.”
The question is: when was Israel ever interested in such? When has it ever recognised the rights of the Palestinians? Israel’s founding fathers made no secret of the fact that they wanted all of historic Palestine, but without the Palestinians and all that is associated with their history.

Hence, Menachem Begin, the late Israeli prime minister, recorded in his memoirs, The Revolt: “The partition of the Homeland [Israel] is illegal. It will never be recognised. The signature by institutions and individuals of the partition agreement is invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people. Jerusalem was and will for ever be our capital. Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And forever.”
Everything that has happened in Palestine since 1948, and in Jerusalem and Hebron in particular over the past year, can be explained in the context of this statement.

Those who ignore it, not least the Arab and Muslim leadership, do so at their peril.

That having been said, the timing of these latest provocations against the Ibrahimi Mosque has not gone unnoticed.
The Israeli moves come at a time of huge embarrassment for the European patrons of the Zionist project, who saw their passports, among them diplomatic documents, being used illegally to carry out the murder of a Palestinian figure in Dubai, a “moderate” and thus by definition a friendly country.

Crude distraction?
Is Israel trying to divert global attention from the Mabhouh assassination? [AFP]
In as much as the announcement of the new “heritage sites” coincides with the anniversary of the Goldstein massacre, it has been pointedly described as a crude distraction away from the issue of the criminal responsibility for the Dubai murder and the discomfort it has caused many in Europe.
Observers have rightly noted that while the European Union maintains its proscription of Hamas as a “terrorist organisation”, they are yet to produce any evidence that the organisation has carried out a single military operation outside Occupied Palestine.

This is in stark contrast to the Israeli government, which threatens, attacks and occupies the lands of neighbouring countries, and assassinates its opponents in other sovereign nations.
Nevertheless, Israel continues to receive the patronage and support of the European Union.
If nothing else, the Zionists have surely perfected the art of gradualism, taking Palestinian territory inch by inch and brick by brick. Thus, when the Israeli government partitioned the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994 and took two-thirds of it for Jews, it was safe to assume that was not the end of the affair.

PA surrender
While many Palestinians hold the occupation authorities responsible for the escalating tensions and damage to the mosque, they are embittered equally with the Palestinian Authority (PA) for having surrendered the area adjoining the second most important mosque in all of historic Palestine, as part of the “Hebron Protocol” of 1996.
Today, the security agencies loyal to US General Keith Dayton, the US security coordinator between Israel and the Palestinians, and the PA prevent young people living in Hebron from going to the Ibrahimi Mosque to defend it against Jewish settlers.

With the greatest sense of foreboding they point out that today it is the Ibrahimi Mosque but tomorrow it could be Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest mosque in Islam, which is under serious threat.
Salih al-Razim, the imam of the Ibrahimi Mosque, recalls that during the last five years the occupation authorities have prevented systematically the call to prayer in the mosque, particularly the daily maghrib (sunset) prayer, and all prayers on Saturdays.
Typically, the occupiers’’claim that the mosque was being annexed because it was in a state of disrepair is disingenuous because they themselves have deliberately obstructed more than 90% of maintenance efforts by the mosque authorities. In effect, theirs is only a device to intervene and seize control of the mosque.

“Second Temple”

Since the Palestinians have maintained the Ibrahimi Mosque for more than one thousand years there is nothing preventing them from doing so today apart from the occupation authorities.
Meanwhile, in April 2009 the same authorities took a huge stone from the Khatouniyah Palace and embedded it in the square in front of the Knesset, claiming that this was a stone from the “Second Temple”.
Fakhri Abu Diyab, a member of the Council for the Defence of Real Estate in Silwan, reported that the Israeli operation was monitored and documented even though some of it took place in the early hours of the morning.
Several months later, in late December 2009, the Al-Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage reported the theft of archaeological artifacts of historical importance from the Umayyad palaces in Al-Khatouniyah.

The stones in question were transported to the Ma’ale Adumim colony-settlement where some were off-loaded in a dump; other items were taken to warehouses run by the Israeli antiquities department in the Rockefeller Museum, ironically the former Palestine Archaeological Museum.
It is believed that the Islamic relics will be given cosmetic treatment and then reappear, miraculously, as “Jewish” relics. We know this because it’s not the first time that this has been done.

Mosque destruction

Scores of mosques were destroyed across Palestine in 1948 (as reported inter alia in Haaretz on July 6, 2009) and in the succeeding years as part of the deliberate policy to obliterate the Islamic identity of the country. Many were converted into museums, night clubs and restaurants.
The Great Mosque (Jaame’a al-Kabir) in Bir al-Saba’a (Beersheba) was used as a detention centre and subsequently as a court before it was abandoned.

The Afula Mosque was converted into a synagogue and Al-Qaysayrieh Mosque became a restaurant.
None of these acts will give legitimacy to the claims of the Zionist Occupation. The presence of the Palestinian population in Hebron and Jerusalem represent the greatest obstacle to the process of annexation and Judaisation.
This latest outrage could well signal the beginning of a new phase in the conflict – one that has the potential to resonate well beyond Palestine.

Daud Abdullah is the director of the Middle East Monitor- an independent media research institution founded in the United Kingdom to foster a fair and accurate coverage in the Western media of Middle Eastern issues and in particular the Palestine Question.

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March 15, 2010

Get Out! by Carlos Latuff

EDITOR: The Show deteriorates into soap Act 3 Scene 3

You have to cry, really, when reading this text, one of many, about the moving love story gone so wrong… Is there nothing that can be done, to bring back those two lovies together? To read the reports, you would think they are bound for the divorce court, to say the least. Please do not get unduly worried – it is all part of the play.

In a week or two, who would even remember this buildup of consternation between such loving partners. It is just part of the great scheme of things. And the love will be ever greater, as the elections in November get nearer. So, good people, do relax, there is a happy end coming up.

Ties between Israel and US ‘worst in 35 years’: BBC

Ambassador Michael Oren reportedly made the remark to Israeli diplomats
Israel’s ambassador to the US has said that relations between the two countries are at their lowest point for 35 years, Israeli media have reported.
Last week Israeli officials announced the building of 1,600 new homes in occupied East Jerusalem while US Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting.
The move was seen as an insult to the US. Palestinian leaders say indirect talks with Israel are now “doubtful”.
But Israel’s PM said Jewish settlements did “not hurt” Arabs in East Jerusalem.
Addressing Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, Benjamin Netanyahu said he wanted peace negotiations, and hoped the Palestinians would not present “new preconditions” for talks.

Israel and US: A bruised friendship
“No government in the past 40 years has limited construction in neighbourhoods of Jerusalem,” he said.
“Building these Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem does not hurt the Arabs of East Jerusalem or come at their expense.”
Meanwhile, EU foreign policy head Baroness Ashton, who is on a Middle East tour, said Israel’s decision had put the prospect of indirect talks with the Palestinians in jeopardy.
‘Difficult period’
Previously the Israeli government had played down the strain in relations with the US.
But Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, told a conference call with Israeli consuls general in the US that “the crisis was very serious and we are facing a very difficult period in relations”, the Israeli media reported on Monday.


Paul Wood, BBC News, Jerusalem
Mr Netanyahu has been presented with a choice: a breach with right-wing members of his coalition – or with the Americans. With his speech to the Knesset, he seems to have chosen to put the needs of domestic politics first.
It seems the Americans are so angry because they believe that Mr Netanyahu went back on an understanding. This was, apparently, that Israel would not to push forward with any big new settlement building projects in East Jerusalem.
This was necessary if the Palestinians were to be persuaded to join the long-delayed negotiations so painstakingly put together by the US mediators. The decision to go ahead with new building has left the Americans affronted and Mr Netanyahu, while apologetic, is unbending.
The question is now what the US is prepared to do to rescue peace talks in which it has invested so much of its power and prestige.

On Friday, Mr Oren was summoned to the state department and was reprimanded about the affair, the Israeli Ynet News website reported.
Ynet quoted the ambassador as saying “Israel’s ties with the US are in the most serious crisis since 1975″.
In 1975, US-Israeli relations were strained by a demand from then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin partially withdraw its troops from the Sinai Peninsula, where they had been since the 1967 Six-Day War.
The Haaretz newspaper said the ambassador’s quote had been reported to it by four of the Israeli consuls general following the conference call on Saturday.
Mr Oren had appeared “tense and pessimistic”, the consuls general told the newspaper.
They were instructed to lobby members of congress and Jewish community leaders and tell them Israel had not intended to cause offence.
“These instructions come from the highest level in Jerusalem,” Haaretz quoted Mr Oren as saying.
The Israeli embassy in Washington has not yet commented publicly on the story.
The EU, as part of the Middle East Quartet, has already condemned Israel’s decision to build new homes in East Jerusalem.
Speaking to members of the Arab League in Cairo on Monday, Lady Ashton said the move had “endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks”.
She added: “The EU position on settlements is clear. Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two state-solution impossible.”
On Sunday, a top aide to US President Barack Obama said Israel’s announcement of plans to build 1,600 homes for Jews in East Jerusalem was “destructive” to peace efforts.

David Axelrod said the move, which overshadowed Mr Biden’s visit to Israel, was also an “insult” to the United States.
Just hours before the announcement Mr Biden had emphasised how close relations were, saying there was “no space” between Israel and the US.
Mr Netanyahu has tried to play down the unusually bitter diplomatic row between the two allies.
He said the announcement was a “bureaucratic mix-up” and that he “deeply regretted” its timing.
Under the Israeli plans, the new homes will be built in Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians are threatening to boycott newly agreed, indirect talks unless the Ramat Shlomo project is cancelled.
Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

EDITOR: Bibi and Juliet, a Love Story

Well, how could anyone not love this man? He is tough, he is not afraid of anyone, he can even face little Palestinian boys – he is the Macho Man of the Orient, and the US and the EU are both wooing with gusto. Now he tells it like it is – “We will continue to build in Jerusalem, whatever you Lovey-doveys say, so there”. You can tell they will only love him more for it in the end…

Netanyahu: Israel will keep building in Jerusalem: Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said that Israel would continue to build in Jerusalem in the same way that it has over the last 42 years.
“The building in Jerusalem – and in all other places – will continue in the same way as has been customary over the last 42 years,” said Netanyahu at a Likud party meeting.

Israel drew angry reactions from the U.S. and the Palestinians by announcing last week the construction of 1,600 new housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden last week.
Netanyahu did not specifically address the diplomatic crisis with the U.S.over Israel’s announcement about the East Jerusalem construction.
However, when asked by MK Tzipi Hotovely what would happen in September, when the 10-month settlement freeze ends, Netanyahu responded that construction would continue unabated.
Under U.S. pressure, Netanyahu imposed a limited moratorium on new housing starts in West Bank settlements in November but excluded Jerusalem from the 10-month partial freeze.
Also on Monday, in a speech to the Knesset to welcome Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Netanyahu said the construction of homes for Israelis in the city’s eastern sector in no way hurts Palestinians.

In his speech, Netanyahu gave no indication he would cancel the project or limit construction in East Jerusalem.
“For the past 40 years, no Israeli government ever limited construction in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” he said in a speech to the Knesset, citing areas in the West Bank that Israel captured during the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed to the city.

Netanyahu called on the Palestinians, who have said they would not restart peace negotiations unless the project was scrapped, not to place new preconditions on the revival of the talks.
He added that there was nearly total consensus among Israeli political parties that what he called Jewish neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem would remain “part of the state of Israel” in any future peace agreement.

Palestinians say Israeli settlement in the West Bank will deny them a viable state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They claim East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak earlier on Monday urged the government to work toward defusing the diplomatic crisis over Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and getting peace talks with the Palestinians back on track.
The government must make an effort in order “for this crisis to be forgotten and for the proximity talks, and later direct talks, to return to the right path,” said Barak at a Labor party meeting.

Barak said he met with American officials about the necessary steps to move forward.
“Peace talks are a first priority for Israel and for the entire region,” said Barak. “The political process is in the interest of the state and it is a subject in which the Labor party believes. It is one of the things that anchors us in the government and drives us to work within it.”

Leading article: Israel’s high-risk strategy: The Independent Editorial

Monday, 15 March 2010
Israel’s Prime Minister has often tried, and succeeded, in having it both ways on the question of a peace deal – talking to the US, in vague but emollient tones, about a two-state solution while palming off his right-wing allies with pledges of more Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

The escalating row between Benjamin Netanyahu and the US suggests this strategy is now starting to unravel. Hillary Clinton’s heated discussions with Mr Netanyahu at the weekend showed that the Obama administration feels that Israel has crossed a red line by announcing plans to build thousands more Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, and by releasing that inflammatory information when the US Vice-President, Joe Biden, was in town to restart stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Mr Netanyahu’s latest contribution, a suggestion that everyone should “calm down”, has not helped matters, by sounding patronising. There is no disputing the virtue of calmness, but the real obstacle to fresh talks between Israelis and Palestinians is not excess emotion; it is the Israeli’s leader’s reluctance to alienate his right-wing coalition allies by spelling out exactly what he is prepared to pay for peace.
Like many in Israel, and on the political right in the US, Mr Netanyahu may be banking on Mr Obama turning out to be a one-term president; a leader to be endured until a more ardently pro-Israeli Republican takes back the White House. That offers one explanation for Israel’s almost deliberate-looking humiliation of the President. But if this is the strategy – to appeal over Mr Obama’s head to a right-wing audience in America – it is fraught with risk.
The strength of Israel’s alliance with the US has depended on its bipartisan character, which meant Israel not taking sides between Democrats and Republicans. The danger of Mr Netanyahu’s approach is that Democrats may start to see Israel not as the great friend of America but as the great friend of the Republicans, which will change the entire dynamics of the alliance. It may be that in a few years’ time the US will have another Republican president, in which case Israel can presumably restart settlement activity without any apology. But it should not bank on such an outcome at this stage.

Savage sentences on Muslim demonstrators will be counterproductive: Letters to the Guardian

The savage “exemplary” sentences handed out to young Muslims (Sent to jail for throwing a single bottle, 13 March) need to be viewed in the broader context of the “war on terror”, which itself has turned out to be a euphemism for a more shadowy war on Islam. While the government’s huge assault on our basic civil liberties has affected a wide range of citizens (prayers for the fallen at the Cenotaph, calling out “rubbish” at a party conference, silent prayer in Trafalgar Square), it has impacted mainly on the Muslim community.

The absurdly high-profile assaults on Muslim households are designed to send a clear message to a vulnerable group. They should be seen within the context of the illegal attack on Iraq, the government’s acquiescence in the incarceration of over a million Gazans, and the calamitous neglect of Afghanistan post-2002. The attitudes inherent in all these actions seem designed to create a climate of contempt that can only oil the wheels of extremism, defeating the very object the government proclaims – at the expense of the daily loss of young lives and the huge waste of economic resources.

Future historians may well trace the dramatic decline of this country in economic, political, social and democratic terms to this disastrous failure to relate these repressive attitudes to the ongoing creation of a negative climate that can only be self-destructive.

Roger Iredale
Yeovil, Somerset

• On reading the report on the arrest and conviction of many young Muslims over the January 2009 demonstrations against the massacre in Gaza, a number of uncanny similarities strike one with the situation in Palestine. The first is the reported police brutality in response to low-level violence, where the Israeli security forces use similar methods.

The second parallel is the behaviour of the legal systems. Israel’s overlooks the war crimes in Gaza reported by Judge Goldstone, but is keen on arresting and holding without charge boys of 10, and treating boys of 12 who throw stones as terrorists. Meanwhile, the London courts seem as keen to throw young Muslims in jail, as Gordon Brown is prepared to bend the legal system after the election so as to not inconvenience those responsible for ordering and managing the massacres in Gaza. Certainly, if Britain set out to create Muslim radicalism, it could do no better.

Professor Haim Bresheeth

University of East London

• After acknowledging Mosab al-Ani’s excellent character, Judge John Denniss is quoted as saying: “I’m going to give you this [prison] sentence to deter other people.”. I thought fair sentencing was supposed to work on the “punishment fits the crime” principle. If so, Judge Denniss badly needs reminding of this, or better, early retirement. I was at the demo and that bottle never got near the Israeli embassy.

Judith Kazantzis
Lewes, East Sussex

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March 14, 2010

To Exist is to Resist!

EDITOR: The Show Drags On…

Though few tickets were sold for this piece of hamming, and even fewer came to witness it, it still drags on like an aligator through thick molasses. Now Netanyahu, shedding crocodile tears, is regretting the whole affair, like a burglar who, having been caught, saying the whole thing wasn’t his idea, he did not know, he is just the PM, how can he possible know what was, according to Akiva Eldar, agreed between Israel and the US in advance of Biden’s visit?

On the other side of the Pond, Mrs Clinton is all steel. She will not allow this, she will not accept that, and couldn’t Israel wait few days before advertising the fact that they will continue to build, and intensify the building? Are you asking why thee is nothing here from the NY Times? Well, they have nothing to say… again.

You have to hand it to the cast: though not experienced in this kind of acting, they are certainly doing the very best to persuade each other, and maybe also Brown and Berlusconi. The rest of us will have to resist the temptation to retch at such performance. Still, this show will close this week, and you will never hear of it again, same as the Dubai murder (what murder? In Dubai? Never heard about it.) After all, we now have to prepare for the attack on Gaza and Lebanon, the Iran war, and the 3rd Intifada…

Watch this space!

Netanyahu: Row with U.S. should not have happened: Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday referred to Israel’s recent approval of a plan to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, announced during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit, as a “harmful” incident that “should not have happened.”

In his first public remarks on what Israeli commentators called his most serious crisis with Washington since taking office a year ago, he gave no sign he would meet Palestinian demands to cancel a project for 1,600 new settler homes.
“There was a regrettable incident here, that occurred innocently,” Netanyahu told his cabinet at its weekly meeting, though he urged ministers to stay calm amid the tensions.

“We opened the newspapers this morning and read all kinds of commentary and assumptions regarding the crisis with the U.S. I recommend not to get carried away and to calm down,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu reiterated that he had appointed a committee to investigate the events leading up to the decision to ensure that such a thing not happen again.
The prime minister stressed the importance of Israel’s relations with the United States, which were strained as a result of the incident.
The U.S. has waged harsh criticism of Israel’s announcement on Tuesday about new settlement construction – a move that deeply embarrassed Biden and imperiled U.S. plans to launch indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The investigative team will be headed by Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office, Eyal Gabai, and will include members of the Interior Ministry, Housing Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday called Israel’s announcement “insulting” to the United States.
“I mean, it was just really a very unfortunate and difficult moment for everyone – the United States, our vice president who had gone to reassert our strong support for Israeli security – and I regret deeply that that occurred and made that known,” Clinton told CNN.
Clinton did not blame Netanyahu personally for the announcement, but she said: “He is the prime minister. Like the president or secretary of state…ultimately, you are responsible.”
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said over the weekend that the ensuing crisis appeared to be orchestrated by the U.S. administration, as Netanyahu apologized to Biden and believed that the crisis was behind the two allies.

EDITOR: The Settlements Show, Act 2, Scene 4

So now the discussion is clearing up. Neither the US, nor the EU are much worried about Israel stealing the whole of Palestine, or building settlements. After all, if they were, they had 43 years to say so, and also do something about it. The opposite is true. Now they are discussing the main issue: the Timing of the announcement! As we all know, all good theatre is a matter of perfect timing. So the advice to the cast in Jerusalem is simple: ‘improve your timing!’. First allow American and EU politicians to prattle on peace, then allow them to return home, and only then announce more building. That way, the Palestinians can be blamed for the debacle, and we can get to Act 3, at last.

In Israel, they are picking up the message loud and clear. Delaying the discussions in Jerusalem until the EU representative, the esteemed Baroness Munchhausen has been and left make a lot of sense. She is also singing the 2-State song, with the same old tune. Nice. Isn’t it good to know that the fate of the Middle East, Europe, the world, is in the hands of capable actors, who know their lines by heart? Enjoy the Show!

Jerusalem council drops construction, apparently due to U.S. crisis: Haaretz

The Jerusalem District Planning and Building committee has canceled two meetings planned for this week, apparently out of concern that any more decisions on construction might result in further tensions with the United States.
As reported in Haaretz last week, the committee had already pulled from its agenda discussion of all Israeli construction over the Green Line.
The Interior Ministry has said that the meetings were canceled due to technical reasons, as the director of the committee Ruth Yosef had been invited to overlapping Knesset sessions.

Settlements by Carlos Latuff

Interior Minister Eli Yishai denied last week having ordered the committee to change its agenda following the recent crisis with the U.S. ? but committee members nevertheless have received a new schedule, on which all meetings pertaining to controversial construction areas were erased.
Yishai last week gave the city approval of a plan to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, a decision which led to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most serious crisis with Washington since taking office a year ago.
Members of the building and planning committee were instructed last week not to hold any more discussions or approve any more announcements regarding construction in East Jerusalem.
Sources close to the matter have said that the meetings in question were to have dealt with minor construction plans.

Likud faction whip Ze’ev Elkin earlier Sunday urged Netanyahu not to deviate from his policy on East Jerusalem construction, saying Israel must keep the capital undivided and under its sovereignty.
Netanyahu had not included East Jerusalem in his declaration of a 10-month construction freeze, but Israel’s recent approval of 1,600 new housing units during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit has raised tensions between the two allies.
The timing of the disclosure deeply embarrassed Biden, whose visit coincided with Palestinian agreement to restart peace talks suspended since December 2008 in the form of indirect, U.S.-mediated negotiations with Israel.

Opposition leader and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni on Sunday cast her own criticism of Netanyahu regarding the recent row, saying his weakness to his coalition partners was costing the government its stability.
“The coalition agreement is not a substitute for a set path and a vision,” Livni said, adding that “we have a prime minister who does not know what he wants and this weakness is leading to a political landslide.”
“Israel is paying the price for the fact that her government is not making decisions and it will continue to pay for it,” Livni added.
“It is not God’s decree for the world to be against us,” said the opposition leader. “We can change the reality, but for this we need a prime minister who has a clear policy and strategic path, who doesn’t place national security in the hands of [Interior Minister] Eli Yishai.

2 States, by Carlos Latuff

EDITOR: Dénouement – Act 3 Scene 2 of the Great Show in Jerusalem

Now it seems that they all started reading this blog… How else could they have worked it out? Not by themselves, surely?…

On stage we see the main culprits now sticking knives into each other’s back – The band of robbers fighting each other after a failed job – Barak gets Netanyahu while he can, and Axelrod spills the beans about the real task of the announcement. I feel they are starting real competition with the blog, and I wonder how I can stop them from stealing my lines…

Barak: East Jerusalem announcement was unnecessary, damaging: Haaretz

Obama aide Axelrod says approval of 1,600 new East Jerusalem homes seemed meant to thwart talks.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday joined widespread condemnation of the Israeli government’s recent announcement to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem.

“The mishap that took place while the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting was unintentional, but it was, without a doubt, unnecessary and damaging,” said Barak.
Earlier Sunday, President Barack Obama’s chief political adviser David Axelrod slammed the Israeli construction plan in East Jerusalem and said that the move, which was announced during Biden’s visit, looked like a deliberate attempt to frustrate upcoming proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Barak, speaking during an event celebrating the upcoming Passover holiday, emphasized the importance of the Israel-United States friendship.
“Even though we are the ones ultimately responsible for our fate, the friendship of the United States is important to both the security and the peace of the region, and this friendship commits us to mutual respect and responsibility,” Barak said.
“I am convinced that we must carry on the renewal of peace talks, and we must also invest thought and effort into it.”
Referring to Israel’s announcement of the plan to build 1,600 more housing units in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, Axelrod told ABC’s This Week that “what happened there was an affront.”

Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the announcement as a “harmful” incident that “should not have happened.”
In his interview with ABC, Axelrod hinted that Israel’s announcement was a deliberate attempt to thwart indirect talks with the Palestinians.
“It was an insult, but that’s not the most important thing,” Axelrod added, saying that the move was disruptive to upcoming proximity talks with the Palestinians and that the approval during Biden’s visit “seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was – that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace and security in the region.”
Axelrod said that the bond between Israel and the United States was “strong,” but adding that “for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave.”

“That was expressed by the secretary of state, as well as the vice president. I am not going to discuss what diplomatic talks we’ve had underneath that, but I think the Israelis understand clearly why we were upset and what, you know, what we want moving forward,” Axelrod added.
Responding to the possibility that Israel’s move could have any effect on U.S. soldiers in the region, Axelrod said that he believed “that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I’m not going to put it in those terms.”

However, the top Obama aide added that he did “believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.”
In his first public remarks on what Israeli commentators called his most serious crisis with Washington since taking office a year ago, Netanyahu gave no sign earlier that he would meet Palestinian demands to cancel a project for 1,600 new settler homes.

“There was a regrettable incident here, that occurred innocently,” Netanyahu told his cabinet at its weekly meeting, though he urged ministers to stay calm amid the tensions.
“We opened the newspapers this morning and read all kinds of commentary and assumptions regarding the crisis with the U.S. I recommend not to get carried away and to calm down,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu reiterated that he had appointed a committee to investigate the events leading up to the decision to ensure that such a thing not happen again.

The prime minister stressed the importance of Israel’s relations with the United States, which were strained as a result of the incident.
The U.S. has waged harsh criticism of Israel’s announcement on Tuesday about new settlement construction – a move that deeply embarrassed Biden and imperiled U.S. plans to launch indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The investigative team will be headed by Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office, Eyal Gabai, and will include members of the Interior Ministry, Housing Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday called Israel’s announcement “insulting” to the United States.
“I mean, it was just really a very unfortunate and difficult moment for everyone – the United States, our vice president who had gone to reassert our strong support for Israeli security – and I regret deeply that that occurred and made that known,” Clinton told CNN.
Clinton did not blame Netanyahu personally for the announcement, but she said: “He is the prime minister. Like the president or secretary of state…ultimately, you are responsible.”
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said over the weekend that the ensuing crisis appeared to be orchestrated by the U.S. administration, as Netanyahu apologized to Biden and believed that the crisis was behind the two allies.

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March 13, 2010

Prevent Holocaust, Bomb Iran! by Carlos Latuff

EDITOR: The Show Must Go On!

And it indeed does. We has already seen Akiva Eldar’s report about the settlements enlargements was indeed agreed beforehand by the US! O’Bummer and Clinton are now making noise, but no action will be forthcoming, you may depend on it, as the Israel Lobby looms large over the coming mid-term elections in November 2010. The US, who are boss and paymaster of the Israeli imperial enterprise, are the only force which may change Israel’s behaviour, but never do the least to change it. For the next week, we can expect a lot of sanctimonious words, and no action, until the whole issue sinks below the waterline, as did the Gaza Carnage, the Dubai murder, and so many others. They only need to ride the news ebb and flow.

Clinton Rebukes Israel for Housing Announcement: NY Times

WASHINGTON — In a tense, 43-minute phone call on Friday morning, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel’s plan for new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem sent a “deeply negative signal” about Israeli-American relations, and not just because it spoiled a visit by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Mr. Biden, in Israel this week to declare American support for its security, had already condemned the move as undermining the peace process. But Mrs. Clinton went a good deal further in her conversation with Mr. Netanyahu, saying it had harmed “the bilateral relationship,” according to the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley.
Such blunt language toward Israel is very rare from an American administration, and several officials said Mrs. Clinton was relaying the anger of President Obama at the announcement, which was made by Israel’s Interior Ministry and which Mr. Netanyahu said caught him off guard.

The Israeli leader repeated his surprise about the plan to Mrs. Clinton, a senior official said, and apologized again for the timing. But that did not appear to mollify Mrs. Clinton, who said she “could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States’ strong commitment to Israel’s security,” Mr. Crowley said.
Hours after the phone call, Israel was again condemned for the plan in a statement issued by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, which work together in a group known as the Middle East quartet to mediate Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The Israeli ambassador to Washington, Michael B. Oren, was summoned to the State Department on Friday by the deputy secretary of state, James B. Steinberg, a senior American official said. The Israeli Embassy declined to comment on Friday evening.
The coordinated moves were a remarkable show of displeasure by the Obama administration, which has been rebuffed in its yearlong effort to persuade Israel to freeze construction of settlements as a first step toward reviving the long-stalled peace talks. Mr. Obama has been personally involved, discussing the matter with Mrs. Clinton in their regularly scheduled Oval Office meeting on Thursday.

But the moves place the administration in a delicate position, two weeks before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, holds its annual meeting in Washington. Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Netanyahu are scheduled to speak at the gathering.
On Friday, Mrs. Clinton told the prime minister that the United States expected Israeli officials to take “specific actions” to show “they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process,” Mr. Crowley said.
He declined to say what those actions were, though other administration officials said the United States hoped Israel would do something drastic enough to send a signal to the already reluctant Palestinian Authority that it was committed to the peace process.

Mr. Biden also spoke to Mr. Netanyahu Friday, reiterating the message.
Mr. Netanyahu has not said he will try to rescind the plan for the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, nor has he expressed regret for building in East Jerusalem.
Last November, the Israeli government imposed a 10-month partial freeze on the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But it exempted Jerusalem because Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and regards it as part of its united capital, a position the rest of the world rejects.
In the absence of direct talks, the United States has begun what it calls “proximity talks,” in which the administration’s special envoy for the Middle East, George J. Mitchell, carries messages between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He had expected to return to the region on Sunday, but will probably delay that by a day.

Next Friday, Mrs. Clinton is to meet in Moscow with leaders of the quartet.
She waited to call Mr. Netanyahu until after Mr. Biden had left Israel. Analysts said the administration held its fire until Mr. Biden left so it would not undermine the trip’s purpose, which was to reach out to the Israeli population.
In a speech at Tel Aviv University on Thursday, Mr. Biden spoke of the Obama administration’s “ironclad commitment to Israeli security.” But in language added after the settlement announcement was made, he said that “the status quo is not sustainable,” adding, “Sometimes, only a friend can deliver the hardest truths.”

Clinton rebukes Israel over East Jerusalem homes: BBC

Tensions are high in East Jerusalem after the Israeli announcement
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has sharply rebuked Israel over its recent decision to build new settlements in East Jerusalem.
She told Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu by telephone that the move was “deeply negative” for US-Israeli relations.
The BBC’s Washington correspondent, Kim Ghattas, says it was a rare and sharp rebuke from Washington.
Israel’s announcement overshadowed a visit by US Vice-President Joe Biden aimed at restarting peace talks.
Since then the Palestinians have indicated they will not return to the negotiating table unless the Israeli decision is revoked.
America’s top diplomat delivered her rebuke during a 43-minute telephone conversation with Mr Netanyahu, the US state department said.
US state department spokesman PJ Crowley said Mrs Clinton called “to make clear that the United States considered the announcement to be a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and contrary to the spirit of the vice-president’s trip”.

Hillary Clinton called on Israel to show commitment to the peace process
“The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States’s strong commitment to Israel’s security,” he added.
“She made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process.”
The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators – the US, Russia, the EU and the UN – also condemned the Israeli housing announcement and said it would review the situation at its ministerial meeting scheduled for 19 March in Moscow.
Mr Netanyahu earlier apologised for the timing of the settlement announcement, which was made as Mr Biden was holding a day of talks in Jerusalem.
He said he had summoned Interior Minister Eli Yishai to reprimand him.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders had agreed to hold indirect, “proximity talks” in a bid to restart the peace process, which has been stalled for more than a year.
But after the announcement, the Palestinian Authority said talks would be “very difficult” if the plans for the homes were not rescinded.
Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
The latest announcement by the Jerusalem municipality approves 1,600 new housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo.

EU: Israel must renew peace talks if it wants closer ties: Haaretz

The European Union could use closer trade ties as leverage to urge Israel to resume peace talks with the Palestinians, the EU’s top diplomat said on Saturday ahead of a trip to the region.
EU high representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, who begins her first visit to the Middle East on Sunday, said the European Union would be active in getting peace talks to resume and had influence in the issue.

“We’re a huge supplier of aid and development in that region. We are strong with Israel in terms of trade and Israel wants to enhance its relationship with us, it wants to upgrade relations,” she said when asked what leverage the EU could have in talks given that the United States has struggled to be heard.
“Our ambition is that they know – because they do – that the solution lies in a negotiated settlement. Our view is that it needs to happen quickly and now, with the opportunity that that affords Israel … to be able to enhance the relationships it wants with us in any event for the future.”
Ashton, who flies to Egypt on Sunday and is due in Israel on Wednesday after stopovers in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, said it was not about withholding Israel’s access to EU markets, but about showing what more could be granted if progress was made.

“What we have at the moment is a traditional relationship with Israel, they would like more,” she said.
The trip to the Middle East is Ashton’s most high-profile diplomatic mission since becoming the EU’s high representative last December, succeeding Javier Solana, who focused much of his time in office on Iran and Middle East negotiations.
Ashton’s visit comes at a sensitive time, with the United States expressing frustration with Israel on Friday over plans to build 1,600 settler homes in East Jerusalem, an announcement made while U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden was visiting.
Israel has since apologized for the timing of the announcement, but U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in strongly worded comments on Friday, said it was not the timing of the announcement that was the problem, but the substance.

“The announcement of the settlements on the very day that the vice president was there was insulting,” she told CNN.
Ashton, who is holding informal talks with some EU foreign ministers and Turkey’s foreign minister in Finland, told reporters she was concerned about Israel’s settlement announcement but that the focus should be on getting the Israelis and the Palestinians back on track with talks.
“My view remains that we have to get the talks moving and the solution lies in getting an agreement, and proximity talks are the beginning of that,” she said, referring to U.S.-led efforts to get both sides talking indirectly via mediators.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who is also taking part in the meeting in Finnish Lapland, said he suspected Israel had purposefully made the announcement on new settlements, and said he had doubts about Israel’s commitment to peace.
“I would hope the Israelis are still interested in peace although there have been distinctly mixed signals recently,” he told reporters.
“I suspect the decision [to announce new settlements] was purposeful. Not by the prime minister but by someone who wanted to send that particular signal when the U.S. vice president was coming. It’s certainly coloured the entire relationship in a way that is detrimental to the peace process.”

Israel and America: Foolish tricks: The Guardian Editorial

By its continued settlement expansion, Israel makes the two-state solution ever harder to realise
Politics is ultimately about interests. Morals and highfalutin principles have their place, but a more reliable truth is that governments and countries usually act in their own self-interest. Usually. The way Israel greeted the visiting US vice-president, Joe Biden, this week offers an intriguing exception to the rule, a rare instance of a state acting in a way that brings itself almost no benefit and delivers a huge amount of self-inflicted harm.

Instead of embracing Mr Biden, Israel showed him the finger, choosing the very day of his visit to announce the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. That counts as an in-your-face insult to a US administration that has demanded Israel freeze all settlement activity in the territories conquered in 1967, which include East Jerusalem. Little wonder that President Obama was said to be “incandescent with anger”, spending 90 minutes on the phone to his deputy drafting a statement of condemnation rare for its ferocity.

The Israeli press has been full of conflicting explanations for this extraordinary behaviour. Some suggest Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, was a fool, haplessly unaware that a lower-level planning committee was about to make the move. Others wonder if Mr Netanyahu was a knave, seeing some perverse value in advertising Israel’s defiance, demonstrating to the world that it can, in the words of one senior European official, “put sticks in the Americans’ eyes” and get away with it. As one Israeli commentator has put it, neither of these possible explanations are very attractive: they are like choosing between plague and cholera.

The harm done to Israel’s own interests is huge. It is bad enough to insult your most loyal ally, especially when that ally happens to be the sole superpower, with unique influence over the region. But it is positively reckless to insult the figure widely acknowledged to be Israel’s greatest friend within the entire US administration, a man who proudly calls himself a Zionist.

Above all, Israel’s move came just as the US was set to announce a new round of proximity talks with the Palestinians. Predictably, those have now been jeopardised. And yet what is the ultimate aim of those talks and the entire Middle East peace process? It is the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. That scenario is the preferred outcome of a vast international consensus, but it is also, as most Israelis now recognise, in the best interests of Israel itself. By its continued settlement expansion, and its cack-handed treatment of its friends, Israel makes the two-state solution ever harder to realise. That is not just bad news for the Palestinians; it is bad for Israel.

Report: U.S. vows to halt Israeli building in East Jerusalem: Haaretz

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell promised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that the U.S. will bring a halt to Israeli building in East Jerusalem, a Palestinian official told the newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi on Saturday.
“In a telephone conversation, Mitchell said the U.S. would make sure Israel stops building in the area,” the Palestinian official told the London-based Arabic daily newspaper.

The U.S. has recently expressed frustration over Israel’s announcement on Tuesday of new settlement construction, a move that deeply embarrassed visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and imperiled U.S. plans to launch indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
In an interview with CNN aired Friday night, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Israel’s announcement of new construction of homes in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem was “insulting” to the United States.
“I mean, it was just really a very unfortunate and difficult moment for everyone – the United States, our vice president who had gone to reassert our strong support for Israeli security – and I regret deeply that that occurred and made that known,” Clinton said during the CNN interview.

While Clinton did not blame Netanyahu personally for the announcement, she said, “He is the prime minister. Like the president or secretary of state…ultimately, you are responsible.”
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Clinton spoke with Netanyahu on the phone and told him the announcement was a “deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship…and had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process.”
“The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States’ strong commitment to Israel’s security,” Crowley said.

“She made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process,” he said.
Clinton’s rebuke of Netanyahu capped a week of tense exchanges between the United States and Israel, which on Tuesday announced it was building 1,600 new settler homes in an area of the occupied West Bank it annexed to Jerusalem.
The announcement infuriated the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership, which threatened to pull out of U.S.-brokered indirect “proximity” talks with Israel that Washington hoped would be the first step toward relaunching full peace negotiations after more than a year.

Another senior U.S. official said Friday that Netanyahu’s political standing is “perilous” because of divisions within his coalition over efforts to pursue peace with the Palestinians.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, predicted “a dicey period here in the next couple days to a couple of weeks” as Washington tries to get the indirect talks launched.
Quartet condemns Israel: Unilateral action cannot prejudge talks’ outcome

In addition to the U.S. condemnation of Israel’s announcement, the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers also condemned on Friday Israel’s announcement approving new construction in east Jerusalem.
“The Quartet condemns Israel’s decision to advance planning for new housing units in east Jerusalem,” the statement said. “The Quartet has agreed to closely monitor developments in Jerusalem and to keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation on the ground.”
“Unilateral action by the Israelis or Palestinians cannot prejudge the outcome of (peace) negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community,” the statement said.

“The Quartet will take full stock of the situation at its meeting in Moscow on March 19,” the statement said.
The Quartet called on all concerned to support the urgent resumption of
dialogue between the parties and to promote an atmosphere that is conducive to successful negotiations to resolve all outstanding issues of the conflict.
The group reiterated that Arab-Israeli peace and the establishment of an
independent, contiguous and viable state of Palestine is in the fundamental interests of the parties, of all states in the region, and of the international community.

ADL ‘stunned’ by U.S. condemnation of Israel
The U.S. based Anti-Defamation League said late Friday that it was “stunned” by Clinton’s “dressing down” of Israel.
“We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the United States,” said Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in a statement.

The ADL called Clinton’s remarks a “gross overreaction” to a “policy difference among friends.”
“One can only wonder how far the U.S. is prepared to go in distancing itself from Israel in order to placate the Palestinians in the hope they see it is in their interest to return to the negotiating table,” Foxman said.

Clinton warns Israel over settlements: The Independent

By Andrew Quinn, Reuters
Saturday, 13 March 2010
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday his government sent a “deeply negative signal” by taking steps that undermined renewed Middle East peace talks.

Clinton telephoned Netanyahu and expressed frustration over Israel’s announcement on Tuesday of new settlement construction, a move that deeply embarrassed visiting US Vice President Joe Biden and imperiled US plans to launch indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
During an interview in New York with CNN, Clinton said the developments did not put the US-Israeli relationship at risk, calling it “durable and strong.” But Clinton, using unusually harsh language, added, “The announcement of the settlements on the very day that the vice president was there was insulting.”

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Clinton told Netanyahu the announcement was a “deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship … and had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process.”
“The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States’ strong commitment to Israel’s security,” Crowley said.
“She made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process,” he said.
The “quartet” of Middle East peace mediators – the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia – issued its own condemnation yesterday of the settlement plan and said it would assess the situation at a previously scheduled meeting in Moscow next week.
“The Quartet has agreed to closely monitor developments in Jerusalem and to keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation on the ground,” the group said in a statement, without providing further details.
Clinton, speaking in New York during talks with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the Moscow meeting would be an opportunity “to take stock of the progress that has been made in moving toward relaunching negotiations.”

Clinton’s rebuke of Netanyahu capped a week of tense exchanges between the United States and Israel, which announced it was building 1,600 settler homes in an area of the occupied West Bank it annexed to Jerusalem.
The announcement infuriated the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership, which threatened to pull out of US-brokered indirect “proximity” talks with Israel that Washington hoped would be the first step toward relaunching full peace negotiations after more than a year.
It also embarrassed Biden, who repeated calls for talks despite Palestinian demands that Israel first cancel the settlement project.
But in an interview with Reuters yesterday aboard his plane, Air Force Two, Biden sounded upbeat about the prospects of launching indirect peace talks mediated by the United States despite tensions over Israel’s announcement.

Asked whether he believed Netanyahu was “sincere” about negotiating peace with the Palestinians, he said, “Yes, I do.”
Crowley said US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell and Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman had made numerous calls to regional leaders, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and underscored commitment to the plans for the indirect talks.
Mitchell is due to return to the region next week and US officials hope the indirect talks might begin then.

Israel has so far balked at Palestinian demands that the indirect phase include talk of “final status issues” including the delineation of borders, the fate of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem.
The Obama administration wants indirect talks to cover issues of “consequence” but has yet to spell out publicly what that would entail.
Palestinians have called the settlement announcement a deliberate attempt by Netanyahu to sabotage peace talks in which he could come under pressure to trade land for a deal.

Netanyahu has said he did not know the announcement was coming and castigated his interior minister, while noting that nothing would actually be built in the area for years.
But his relationship with the Obama administration was already under heavy strain, and Clinton made clear that Washington would hold him responsible.
“Well, I don’t have any reason to believe he knew about it, but he is the prime minister. It’s like the president or the secretary of state; when you have certain responsibilities, ultimately, you are responsible,” Clinton told CNN.

Letter to the Guardian

Yet again Israel shows complete contempt not only for international law but for its closest ally and most staunch supporter (Biden condemns Israel for new homes plan just hours after US pledges support, 10 March). And no wonder. They know that Joe Biden’s condemnation of still more settlement expansion, in the most sensitive part of the occupied territories, will not be followed up by action of any kind. What a contrast with the reaction of western governments to the results of the Palestinians’ democratic elections, four years ago: immediate, swingeing sanctions that are still in force. Until it is made clear that illegal actions have negative consequences, no progress can be made towards peace in the region.

Hilary Wise
Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Jerusalem and West Bank tense after day of turmoil: Haaretz

At least 12 arrested and 15 injured as leftists and Palestinians clash with security forces.
An uneasy calm returned to Jerusalem on Friday evening after a day of turmoil that saw Palestinians and leftwing protestors clash with security forces across the city.
In East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrakh neighborhood police arrested eight leftwing activists demonstrating against Jewish construction there.

The detentions sparked fury among protesters, some of whom told Haaretz that the arrests were unlawful. Police has discriminated against the 100-odd leftists who took part in the march, at the same time allowing a rightwing counter-demonstration to continue unimpeded, they claimed.
Palestinian sources, meanwhile, reported that at least 15 Palestinians were injured in demonstrations in the West Bank villages of Bil’in, Na’alim and Dir Nizam, according to an Army Radio report.
Earlier in the day, four Palestinians were detained on suspicion of throwing stones and two officers were slightly injured in clashes in Jerusalem’s old city, a police spokesman said. At least one protester was treated by medics.

Israel had on Friday barred Palestinians from crossing from the West Bank into Israel and Jerusalem, and barred men under 50 from al-Aqsa mosque, the flashpoint holy site in the walled Old City.
As hundreds of youths streamed away from noon prayers at a mosque in the district of Ras al-Amud, men hurled stones at a car carrying Orthodox Jewish children. One rock smashed a side window, but there were no obvious injuries, Reuters reported.
Israel’s closure of the West bank, which authorities say is aimed at preventing a repeat of violent clashes last week in which dozens were injured, is set to last until Sunday.

In the Gaza Strip Islamists rallied supporters to protest at Israel’s policies in Jerusalem: “We will redeem al-Aqsa mosque with our souls and our blood,” the crowd chanted.
As demonstrators burned U.S. and Israeli flags, Khalil al-Hayya, a leader of the Hamas movement which rules Gaza, urged Hamas’s rival, West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to reverse his decision to engage in “proximity talks” with Israel through U.S. mediators after a hiatus of 15 months.
“These direct and indirect negotiations provide a cover to the Zionist aggression against our people and our lands,” Hayya told the crowd. “Our angry people now are calling on the Palestinian negotiator to back off from these negotiations which encourage more settlements and the Judaisation of Jerusalem.”

Clinton: Israeli move insulting: Ynet

Secretary of state tells Netanyahu announcement of plan to build more Jewish homes in east Jerusalem ‘contradicts spirit of Biden’s Mideast trip, undermines confidence in peace process’. Quartet also condemns Israel’s decision

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday delivered a stinging rebuke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his government’s announcement this week of new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem.

In an interview with CNN Clinton said the move was “insulting” to the US. “We have to make clear to our Israeli friends and partner that the two-state solution which we support, which the prime minister himself said he supports, requires confidence-building measures on both sides,” she said.
“The announcement of the settlements the very day that the vice president was there was insulting.” However Clinton stressed that US-Israeli relations were not at risk over the mishap.
Earlier Friday Clinton spoke to Netanyahu by phone to express US frustration with Tuesday’s announcement that cast a pall over a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden. A State Department spokesman said the Israeli move has endangered indirect peace talks with the Palestinians that the Obama administration had announced just a day earlier.

Clinton told Netanyahu that Israel’s plan to build 1,600 new homes in east Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood was “a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president’s trip,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a news briefing.
The harsh criticism of America’s closest Mideast ally and questions about its commitment to the US-Israeli relationship followed equally blunt condemnation of the housing announcement from the White House and Biden himself.
It also comes ahead of a trip to the region by US Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell and a meeting in Moscow next week of senior officials from the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers.
The Israeli announcement took the US by surprise and enraged Palestinians and Arab states, jeopardizing indirect peace talks Mitchell is to mediate

“The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States’ strong commitment to Israel’s security and she made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process,” he said.
Crowley stressed that the United States strongly objected to both the content and timing of the announcement and said Clinton had “reinforced that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests.”
The Mideast Quartet, which consists of the US, Russia, the European Union, and the UN also condemned Israel’s decision to permit new construction in east Jerusalem and called on all parties concerned to support the early resumption of dialogue.

The Quartet called on Israel and the Palestinians to refrain from taking any one-sided measures in an attempt to determine the results of the negotiations in advance. It said any such actions would not be recognized by the international community.
‘Iran requires resolution with teeth’
During her interview with CNN Clinton also spoke about about the Iranian nuclear issue. “I think that the process that we’re engaged in right now at the United Nations is to narrow the differences and to arrive at a resolution that can be adopted by the Security Council that will have teeth, that will set forth consequences for Iran’s violations of regulations that they agreed to under the Nonproliferation Treaty, ignoring the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as resolutions by the United Nations,” she said.

Clinton added that the Security Council members had been united until recently on the matter of sanctions.
“Now, some of the members, both the permanent and the non-permanent members, believe that they can, through their efforts, persuade Iran to take action that Iran so far has shown no inclination to take,” she said.
“We respect their commitment to diplomacy and negotiation, but we think the time has come for the international community to express itself that unilateral actions on the diplomacy track or unilateral actions that could lead to an arms race in the Middle East, that could lead to conflict in the Middle East, are not a very good outcome.”

Robert Fisk’s World: Try this reading list if you want to understand the Middle East: The Independent

The greatest problem of writing historically is that the story has not ended
Saturday, 13 March 2010
If you want to understand al-Qa’ida, try this for size:

“The desert dweller could not take credit for his belief … He arrived at this intense condensation of himself in God by shutting his eyes to the world, and to all the complex possibilities latent in him which only contact with wealth and temptations could bring forth. He attained a sure trust and a powerful trust, but of how narrow a field! His sterile experience robbed him of compassion and perverted his human kindness to the image of the waste in which he hid… There followed a delight in pain, a cruelty which was more to him than goods … He found luxury in abnegation, renunciation, self-restraint. He made nakedness of the mind as sensuous as nakedness of the body. He saved his own soul, perhaps, and without danger, but in a hard selfishness.”

That is from T E Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom – and what a cracker! I always think of this passage when I watch Bin Laden’s videotapes. The narrow field. The abnegation. The cruelty. I don’t necessarily agree with Lawrence, but with passages like this, I find myself reflecting on his words with ever deeper intensity.

I say this because several times a year, I’m asked by Independent readers for a recommended “reading list” of Middle East books in the English language. It’s a tough one. The greatest problem of writing historically about the Middle East is that the story has not ended. The war goes on. And both “sides” – actually, there are rather a lot of sides – produce conflicting narratives. Yet I don’t go along with the idea that you can produce a balance sheet of books. Here’s the Israeli version. Here’s the Arab version. Here’s the madcap American version etc. The Middle East is about injustice. So who tells the story best?

When it comes to the Arab-Israeli dispute, the two incomparably finest books must be George Antonius’s The Arab Awakening, and The Gun and the Olive Branch by my colleague and friend David Hirst. Antonius was writing in 1938, when Hitler had already been in power for five years – but 10 years before the dispossession of the Palestinians – when he stated: “The treatment meted out to Jews in Germany and other European countries is a disgrace to its authors and to modern civilisation; but posterity will not exonerate any country that fails to bear its proper share of the sacrifices needed to alleviate Jewish suffering and distress. To place the brunt of the burden upon Arab Palestine is a miserable evasion of the duty that lies upon the whole of the civilised world. It is also morally outrageous. No code of morals can justify the persecution of one people in an attempt to relieve the persecution of another. The cure for the eviction of Jews from Germany is not to be sought in the eviction of the Arabs from their homeland …”

So here was the first truly eloquent warning of what was to come, and Hirst completed the narrative of Antonius’s all too accurate predictions, the first author, I believe, to counter the trashy novel Exodus with which Leon Uris graced the Jewish state – much to Ben Gurion’s delight, though he should have known better – by deconstructing “terrorism” without romanticising the Palestinian refugees and their “resistance” movements. In this same context, one must remember the work of Israel’s “new historians”, who created a complementary narrative. Benny Morris was the most prominent Israeli researcher to prove that it was indeed Israel’s intention to evict the Palestinians from their homes in their tens of thousands in 1948 – the fact that Morris has since gone completely batty by claiming the Israelis didn’t ethnically cleanse enough of them does not detract from his seminal work.

F R Leavis allegedly once began a sentence with the words: “As any fit reader of poetry will know …” So I suppose we have to say that “any fit reader” of the Middle East must read Edward Said. One of his best books, by the way, is about music, although orientalism will always be on the set-book list. He did for the Middle East narrative philosophically – and historically – what Antonius did politically. I am not disparaging Said’s political work when I say this, although doubts do creep upon me from time to time as critical scholars re-examine his work. I’m not talking of the loony condemnation by Al Dershowitz and his gang. But at least one of his supporters fears that Said did not take account of the vast “orientalist” literature of Italy, Germany and Russia.

The Soviet Union, of course, always had a problem with the Prophet, because Mohamed was a bourgeois merchant. At least Jesus was a worker’s son, although just how much Stakhanovite endeavour his father Joseph actually performed we are not told. But I must say the fact that Joseph and Mary had to travel all the way to Jerusalem to be taxed is truly Ottoman in its bureaucracy. And that no hotel could find room for a pregnant woman has a special Middle Eastern flavour – but now I’m becoming an “orientalist”.

And so to that brilliant Lebanese journalist and thinker, the late Samir Kassir – very late, for he was assassinated almost five years ago and the last I saw of him was the blood beside his blown-up car – whose monumental history of Beirut in English (I admit it, I am writing the preface) comes out this year. Everything you ever wanted to know about Beirut – and a lot, I fear, that you didn’t want to know — is here. He records how 100 years ago, a young Christian capo di capo – one Costa Paoli – had a habit of kissing the faces of newly murdered Lebanese Christians before they were buried. He was a well-dressed man – “a rose in his lapel and a perfumed handkerchief in his breast pocket”, according to the scholar Edward Atiyah – and he was a qabaday, a gangster; who took his revenge on Muslims. In those days, there were militias and armed groups to support Christian and Muslim communities and there was sometimes street fighting. Just as my colleague David McKittrick discovered that 19th-century Belfast’s first street riots occurred at exactly the same locations as the battles of the 1970s, so Beirut’s 19th-century militia conflicts took place at the very spot where the Lebanese 1975 war would break out.

Kassir is the first author whose only human being is a city, in whose beautiful and gruesome history little men turned on their torture wheels. I never knew that the Hizbollah suburb of Ouzai took its name from the revered ancient divine Imam Ouzai; or that the Syrian Social Nationalist Party – a boring, pan-Arab society – was inspired to create its red, white and black banner (it enclosed crossed pens) from the Nazis; or that the present-day all-purpose Arab obscenity sharmut or sharmuta – meaning whore – was a derivation of the far gentler French word charmante. Lawrence and other authors, please note.

Robert Fisk is the author of The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East

Don’t Let them Kidnap Mazin Qumsiyeh

In the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour (next to Bethlehem) settlers and the Israeli Defense Force are defying Obama’s call for a settlement freeze and are preparing seized land (Ush Ghrab) for a new Jewish-only settlement. Settlers have defaced a children’s playground by drawing Jewish stars all over the facility. People of the Beit Sahour have held peaceful demonstrations to try to prevent the settlement.

One of the leaders of the popular committee in Beit Sahour doing work on this land grab is Dr. Mazin Qumisiyeh an officer of our Middle East Crisis Committee and formerly on the faculty of Yale and Duke universities. He left for a speaking tour of the U.S. on Feb. 28, but on March 2nd the streets around his Beit Sahour home was blockaded by the army at 1:30 in the morning. Army officers told his family that he must report to them. Fears are that he may be abducted by the army on his return to the West Bank The Israelis have a procedure called Administrative Detention, months of prison without charges or trial under grueling interrorgations and miserable conditions. We can prevent his arrest if there’s a MASSIVE publicty campaign about Ush Ghrab and plans to abduct Mazin Qumsiyeh, letters to the media, Congress, etc. etc.. Watch this space for further information. WE HAVE TO GET THIS CAMPAIGN IN FULL GEAR WITHIN A WEEK.

Mazin Qumsiyeh has been blogging for some years now, and since then has become a target for the IOF as he is active daily against the brutality and lawlessness which have become the hallmarks of this illegal military occupation.Help to keep im free by supporting this campaign and spreading it!

Jonathan Cook: The Decline of Israel and the Prospects for Peace: IOA

New Left Project interview with Jonathan Cook – 10 March 2010
In a wide ranging interview journalist Jonathan Cook describes the increasingly repressive nature of Israeli society and the prospects for a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict
What did you make of Ehud Barak’s recent comparison of Israel to South Africa?
We should be extremely wary of ascribing a leftwing agenda to senior Israeli politicians who make use of the word “apartheid” in the Israeli-Palestinian context. Barak was not claiming that Israel is an apartheid state when he addressed the high-powered delegates at the Herzliya conference last month; he was warning the Netanyahu government that its approach to the two-state solution was endangering Israel’s legitimacy in the eyes of the world that would eventually lead to it being called an apartheid state. He was politicking. His goal was to intimidate Netanyahu into signing up to his, and the Israeli centre’s, long-standing agenda of “unilateral separation”: statehood imposed on the Palestinians as a series of bantustans (be sure, the irony is entirely lost on Barak and others). Barak knows that Netanyahu currently has no intention of creating any kind of Palestinian state, even a bogus one, despite his commitments to the US.
The last senior Israeli politician to talk of “apartheid” was Ehud Olmert, and it is worth remembering why he used the term. It was back in November 2003, when he was deputy prime minister and desperately trying to scare his boss, Ariel Sharon, into reversing his long-standing support for the settlements and adopt instead the disengagement plan for Gaza. Olmert’s thinking was that by severing Gaza from the Greater Israel project – by pretending the occupation had ended there – Israel could buy a few more years before it faced a Palestinian majority and the danger of being compared to apartheid South Africa. It worked and Sharon became the improbable “man of peace” for which he is today remembered. (Strangely, Olmert, like Barak, defined apartheid in purely mathematical terms: Israeli rule over the Palestinians would only qualify as apartheid at the moment Jews became a numerical minority.)
Barak is playing a similar game with Netanyahu, this time trying to pressure him to separate from the main populated areas of the West Bank. It is not surprising the task has fallen to the Labor leader. The two other chief exponents of unilateral separation are out of the way: Olmert is standing trial and Tzipi Livni is in the wilderness of opposition. Barak is hoping to apply pressure from inside the government. Barak is eminently qualified for the job. He took on the mantel of the Oslo process after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and then tried to engineer the final separation implicit in Oslo at Camp David in 2000 – on extremely advantageous terms for Israel.
Can he succeed in changing Netanyahu’s mind? It seems unlikely.
Avi Shlaim recently described Tony Blair as ‘Gaza’s Great Betrayer’. What do you make of Tony Blair’s role as Middle East peace envoy?
Blair is a glorified salesman, selling the same snakeoil to different customers.
First, he is here to provide a façade of Western concern about mending the Middle East. He suggests that the West is committed to action even as it fails to intervene and the situation of the Palestinians generally, and those in Gaza in particular, deteriorates rapidly. He sells us the continuing dispossession of the Palestinians in a bottle labelled “peace”.
He is also here as a sort of European proconsul to advise the Americans on how to repackage their policies. The US has become aware that it has lost all credibility with the rest of the world on this issue. Blair’s job is to redesign the bottle labelled “US honest broker” so that we will be prepared to buy the product again.
His next task is to try to wheedle out of Israel any minor concession he can secure on behalf of the Palestinians and persuade Tel Aviv to cooperate in selling an empty bottle labelled “hope” as a breakthrough in the peace process.
And finally, he is here to create the impression that his chief task is to defend the interests of the Palestinians. To this end, he collects the three bottles, puts them in some pretty wrapping paper and writes on the label “Palestinian state”.
For his labours he is being handsomely rewarded, especially by Israel.
You have described how Israel is becoming increasingly repressive regarding its own Arab population. In what ways?
Let’s be clear: Israel has always been “repressive” of its Palestinian minority. Its first two decades were marked by a very harsh military government for the Palestinian population inside Israel. Thousands of Bedouin, for example, were expelled from their homes in the Negev several years after Israel’s establishment and forced into the Sinai. Israel’s past should not be glorified.
What I have argued is that the direction taken by Israeli policy since the Oslo process began has been increasingly dangerous for the Palestinian minority. Before Oslo, Israel was chiefly interested in containing and controlling the minority. After Oslo, it has been trying to engineer a situation in which it can claim to no longer be responsible for the Palestinians inside Israel with formal citizenship.
This is intimately tied to Israel’s more general policy of “unilateral separation” from the Palestinians under occupation: in Gaza, through the disengagement; in the West Bank, through the building of the wall. Israel’s chief concern is that – post-separation, were Palestinian citizens to remain inside the Jewish state – they would have far greater legitimacy in demanding the same rights as Jews. Israelis regard that as an existential threat to their state: Palestinian citizens could use their power, for example, to demand a right of return for their relatives and thereby create a Palestinian majority. The problem for Israel is that Palestinian citizens can expose the sham of Israel’s claims to being a democratic state.
So as part of its policy of separation, Israel has been thinking about how to get rid of the Palestinian minority, or at the very least how to disenfranchise it in a way that appears democratic. It is a long game that I describe in detail in my book Blood and Religion.
Policymakers are considering different approaches, from physically expelling Israel’s Palestinian citizens to the bantustans in the territories to stripping them incrementally of their remaining citizenship rights, in the hope that they will choose to leave. At the moment we are seeing the latter policy being pursued, but there are plenty of people in the government who want the former policy implemented when the political climate is right.

Due to the length of this important inteview, please read the whole piece on the link above

Harvard students condemn center’s defense of fellow’s racist statements: The Electronic Intifada

Abdelnasser A. Rashid, Johnny F. Bowman, Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, The Electronic Intifada, 12 March 2010

The following open letter, a version of which was published as an op-ed by The Harvard Crimson on 12 March 2010, was issued by a student coalition that formed at Harvard University after The Electronic Intifada reported on the pro-genocide statements made by Martin Kramer, a fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University:

We address this open letter to Beth Simmons (Director, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs), Jeffry Frieden and James Robinson (Acting Directors, WCIA) and Drew Faust (President, Harvard University).

We write as gravely concerned students and student group leaders representing over 16 groups throughout Harvard University. (An updated list of our entire constituency can be viewed online (http://www.harvardagainstracism.com/).)

We are disturbed by the racist and inhumane comments of Martin Kramer, Visiting Scholar at the National Security Studies Program at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. We have become even more alarmed that rather than taking a dissociating or even strictly neutral stance against such extremist and hateful statements, the Weatherhead Center issued a defensive response.

At the Herzliya Conference in Israel last month, Mr. Kramer, who in his own words provides advice on “US policy options in the Middle East,” advocated measures to diminish Palestinian birth rates as a means of population control. Mr. Kramer stated that Israel’s siege on Gaza, which prohibits the entry of crucial humanitarian supplies, helps “break Gaza’s runaway population growth and there is some evidence that they have.” He suggests that this phenomenon “may begin to crack the culture of martyrdom, which demands a constant supply of superfluous young men.” Mr. Kramer’s public call to halt food, medicine and humanitarian aid — which he calls “pro-natal subsidies” — would read as a cruel joke if it did not so egregiously violate the most basic norms of human decency. Such statements have been echoed by people in power and have even been directed at Israel’s Palestinian citizens: at the same conference in 2003, Israel’s current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian citizens of Israel a “demographic threat.”

Harvard professor Stephen M. Walt commented, “What if a prominent academic at Harvard declared that the United States had to make food scarcer for Hispanics so that they would have fewer children? Or what if someone at a prominent think tank noted that black Americans have higher crime rates than some other groups, and therefore it made good sense to put an end to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other welfare programs, because that would discourage African-Americans from reproducing and thus constitute an effective anti-crime program?”

Had Mr. Kramer’s comments been directed at any other marginalized or minority groups — leaving aside the enormous challenge faced by Palestinians living in the impoverished enclosure of Gaza — we believe that the Weatherhead Center would not have hesitated to classify them as racist and hateful. It has described Mr. Kramer’s proclamations as “controversial,” an alarming position since less than a century ago similar remarks were made against African Americans and Jews. The characterization of his statements as merely “controversial” is offensive and dismisses their deeply racist nature.

Since the Weatherhead Center provides Mr. Kramer with a legitimizing and prominent public platform, we wonder whether it views any policy call as ethically disgraceful. We are troubled that the Center has presented little to no diversity of viewpoints on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The only notable statements on the conflict emerging from the Center are Mr. Kramer’s.

However, we believe that the Weatherhead Center has an opportunity to rectify the damage caused by Mr. Kramer’s repugnant statements and redeem its esteem with the student body. First, we ask that the Weatherhead Center not renew Mr. Kramer’s fellowship or affiliation with the NSSP. Second, we call on the Center to establish a committee of faculty and students to recommend the adoption of a set of vetting practices for incoming fellows that uphold a set of principles unified on non-racism, in concert with Harvard University’s own commitment to non-discriminatory practices and diversity of viewpoints. We are concerned that the defense of Mr. Kramer’s statement reflects a violation of basic principles to which the Weatherhead Center and Harvard University claim to adhere. The above measures are an effective way for the Center and the University to make amends.

Johnny F. Bowman ’11 is president of the Undergraduate Council. Maryam Monalisa Gharavi is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature. Abdelnasser A. Rashid ’11 is president of the Harvard Islamic Society and board member of the Palestine Solidarity Committee.

Signatories to the statement include: Alliance for Justice in the Middle East (Graduate School of Arts & Sciences), Asian American Association, Association of Black Harvard Women, Dharma, GSAS Capoeira Angola, Harvard College Human Rights Advocates, Harvard Islamic Society, Harvard Longwood Muslims (Harvard Medical School), Human Rights PIC at Harvard Kennedy School – Leadership Team, Justice For Palestine (Harvard Law School), Latino Men’s Collective, Middle East Law Students Association (HLS), Palestine Caucus (HKS), Palestine Solidarity Committee, Society of Arab Students and the W. E. B. Du Bois Graduate Society.

‘People are laughing at you': U.K. expert on Israel’s PR effort: Haaretz

By Raphael Ahren
Conventional marketing wisdom has it that even bad news is good news, as long as people talk about you. But Jonathan Gabay, a leading London-based marketing and branding expert, disagrees, at least when it comes to Israeli hasbara, or public diplomacy.
He is extremely critical of the new campaign recently launched by Israel’s Information and Diaspora Ministry, which seeks to motivate Israelis traveling abroad to speak up on behalf of Israel. Dubbed Masbirim Israel, or Explaining Israel, the campaign advises citizens on how to discourse politely and provided a list of Israel’s achievements to be highlighted in conversations.

“People are laughing at you,” Gabay, 48, fumed as he was looking at some articles in British newspapers making fun of Masbirim. “Who is advising you on your brand? This is not good, this is pretty bad.”
Media outlets all over the globe reported about Masbirim, many deriding the campaign. “Apparently your pamphlet says people should first listen and then talk, make eye contact, used relaxed body language – I mean, really?” said Gabay, who teaches at a major marketing school, regularly appears on British TV channels and has written 15 books about branding. “This is very serious. We live in a world of cynicism. This is producing the worst kind of [public] diplomacy,” he stressed.

“What upsets me is that when I come here I actually think that Israel is the most democratic country in the whole of the Middle East,” continued Gabay, who visited Israel this week to consult several hi-tech companies. “But this doesn’t come across in your PR. Because you guys put out marketing campaigns which talk about Israel being a peace-loving state that developed the cherry tomato and won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998. As fascinating as it is that you developed the cherry tomato, do you honestly think that’s going to change people’s perceptions?”

Information and Diaspora Minister Yuli Edelstein rejects Gabay’s criticism. He contests the campaign is succeeding, having stirred public discussion and brought 150,000 Israelis to visit its Web site to date. The campaign not only features information about supermodel Bar Refaeli and other such lighter items but also about the country’s successes in high tech and medical research. It also suggests answers to tough questions about Israel’s policy’s vis-a-vis the Palestinians, he added.
“The mission of four million Israelis traveling abroad every year is not to try to get in the United Nations and explain that in the 32nd paragraph of the Goldstone report there is a mistake,” Edelstein told Anglo File. “The main task is to paint Israel with a human face, to talk about their personal lives, their hobbies and achievements and the achievements of the country that allowed them to be successful.”

For Gabay, this is “too fluffy.” Rather, such a campaign should work according to his basic branding model, for which he draws the interior of an egg. The values – the white – draw their strength from its core idea, the yoke. Masbirim, Gabay contests, focuses too much on Israel’s values – such as tourism, culture and science. “What is Israel about? It’s not just about Bar Refaeli, as beautiful as she is,” he said. “Without the central bit, all this stuff is fluff and doesn’t mean anything.”

Gabay proposes Israel to be more straightforward about the one issue people connect with the brand Israel – the conflict with the Palestinians. Instead of merely reacting to accusations of oppression or war crimes, Jerusalem should actively and confidently – but not arrogantly – explain why it’s acting the way it does, Gabay suggests. “Treat people intelligently and they will respond. Treat people as if you’re selling soap powder and people won’t believe you. That’s the bottom line.”

Capital Anglos mobilize against practice of spitting at Christians: Haaretz

By Raphael Ahren
Shocked by growing reports about Ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting at Christians in Jerusalem’s Old City, a group of Anglo residents is now mobilizing against this ugly practice. Although such incidents reportedly have decreased since a council of Haredi rabbis issued an official condemnation in January in response to the public outcry, Christian and Jewish activists agree the problem is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

“I felt I had to protest,” said Andrea Katz, 57, who is planning several events within Jerusalem’s liberal Orthodox Yedidya congregation to show solidarity with the Christian community and educate the English-speaking Jewish public about their Christian neighbors. “I don’t think that all of a sudden the Haredi world is going to say: Oh my Gosh, we did so wrong, let’s stop this. But somehow I had to do something; I just couldn’t sit around and do nothing.”

For years, there have been incidents of Haredi youths spitting at Christian clergymen in the Old City and near the Mea She’arim neighborhood, according to several Jewish and Christian residents of Jerusalem. One cleric said told a European news site that the spitting was “almost a daily experience.”

In late 2009 such incidents started to mount, provoking a growing number of complaints and increasing press coverage. The Haredi Community Tribunal of Justice subsequently published a statement condemning such acts, calling them a “desecration of God’s name.” Christian leaders met in January with Foreign Ministry staff and representatives of the Jerusalem municipality and the Haredi community to tackle the problem.

Over the last two months the number of spitting incidents declined somewhat, according to Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, of Jerusalem’s Armenian Patriarchate, who says that in the 12 years he has lived in Jerusalem has been spat on about 50 times. “It’s good to see the reduction of this phenomenon, but to eradicate it completely may take time. I don’t think it will be stopped in a fortnight or so,” he told Anglo File. He praised the Baka-based Yedidya community for its efforts to raise awareness but added the events planned failed to reach the perpetrators within the Haredi community. “It’s a good step forward, but more has to be done.”

Yedidya, which was founded in 1980 by a group of British and American immigrants, currently plans three events. The first, a lecture, is scheduled for March 15 and will take place in the synagogue. Besides Katz and Shirvanian, the panelists include the director of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations, Daniel Rossing; the head of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish; religion professor Yiska Harani; Fr. Athanasius Makora, of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land; and Dr. Debbie Weissman, who heads the International Council of Christians and Jews.

The shul also plans to organize visits to Jerusalem’s Christian communities. “The majority of congregants – even if we’re from abroad – is certainly ignorant of the Eastern and Orthodox churches that are here,” Katz said. “In order for people to sympathize they have to know whom they are sympathizing with.”

Around Easter, Katz is hoping to create what she calls a “human corridor.” Marching with the Armenian community while they carry a Cross would be inappropriate for an Orthodox congregation, the Buffalo, New York, native explained. Rather, she’d like her community to “simply stand, to make a corridor – no words, no speeches – so that they [the Armenian clerics] can walk from [the Church of] St. James to [the Church of] the Holy Sepulchre. Nothing big, just to show there are people who care and don’t find this kind of behavior acceptable.”

Katz said she felt the need to become active when she hosted a group of officials from the U.S.-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs. They wanted to learn more about the phenomenon of Jews spitting at Christians – something she had never heard of. “They were from an organization abroad, and they knew about something that was going on that I found horrifying and I didn’t know about. I live in this city since 1974, and I had no idea.”

Wondering what could bring religious people to commit such ugly acts, Katz surmised that some Jews might not have learned yet what it means to be the majority in a country.

“It’s still very new for us,” she said. “We’re taking our experiences from the Diaspora and acting and reacting in way that would befit a powerless minority. Now that we do have power simply because Jews are ‘in control,’ we are not protecting the minorities and allowing the Christian or the Muslim minority to practice freely what they want to practice…. We haven’t got our heads around the fact that our job is now to protect them.”

Kronish, of the Interreligious Coordinating Council, said the spitting is rooted in “penned-up anger” about the long history of Christian anti-Semitism. “The Haredim give their children a distorted education, which is conducive to such behavior,” he said. Despite the recent decline in spitting incidents, he asserts the “underlying fear and ignorance is still there” and can only be combated if people learn about the other.

“People fear the unknown,” he explains. “The unknown is the Christians and the reasons we’re doing this educational event with Yedidya is because people felt: Gee, we really don’t know who these Christians are over there in the Old City. We don’t know anything about them – we live here in Baka, they live over there behind those walls. It’s time for us to know more about them.”

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March 12, 2010

Iran threat to peace, By Carlos Latuff

EDITOR: Jerusalem Comedy routine turns sour

While Netanyahu and Barak do all they can to derail and sabotage the ‘non-talks’, and continue to settle the Occupied Territories of Palestine, and the US mandarins are spinning about like headless chickens, the Palestinians are on the move. That is, not the bizarre and supine goverment in Ramallah, by people everywhere on the West Bank. It seems that Israel has played itself out of court, by being too smart by half, as usual. This will not end up like Netanyahu planned, it seems.

While it is true that audiences in the West forget and forgive (who now remembers the Dubai murder?) it seems that this time Israel has again overstepped the mark for oppressive regimes, and managed to affront quite a few, who understood the crude maneuver for what it was -a way to derail the talks, and to avert the ‘danger of peace’, which is the main danger faced by the mini-empire of occupation, settlements and oppression. There is also another group who does not forget in hurry – Palestinians and Arabs elsewhere, who are facing oppressive regimes on their own, and well understand the events despite the veneer put on them by the media.

Residents of Nabi Saleh march with Israeli and international activists in protest at the confiscation of their lands by the adjacent settlement of Halamish

U.S. gave Israel green light for East Jerusalem construction: Haaretz

By Akiva Eldar
The apology offered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai recalls the joke about the servant who pinched the king’s bottom. En route to the gallows, the servant apologized: He thought it was the queen’s bottom.

Saw nothing, heard nothing, knows nothing...

The statement issued by Netanyahu’s bureau said that in light of the ongoing dispute between Israel and the United States over construction in East Jerusalem, the plans for new housing in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood should not have been approved this particular week. It also said the premier had ordered Yishai to draft procedures that would prevent a recurrence. In other words, Yishai is welcome to submit more plans for Jewish construction in East Jerusalem next week, when U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will no longer be here.

Based on Biden’s reaction, it seems that he (and, presumably, his boss) has decided that it is better to leave with a few sour grapes than to quarrel with the vineyard guard. In his speech at Tel Aviv University, he said he appreciated Netanyahu’s pledge that there would be no recurrence. But what exactly does that mean? That next time he comes, the Planning and Building Committee will be asked to defer discussion of similar plans until the honored guest has left?
With the media storm dying down, Netanyahu can breathe a sigh of relief.
In a sense, the uproar actually helped him: To wipe the spit off his face, Biden had to say it was only rain. Therefore, he lauded Netanyahu’s assertion that actual construction in Ramat Shlomo would begin only in another several years.

Thus Israel essentially received an American green light for approving even more building plans in East Jerusalem.
Biden might not know it, but the Palestinians certainly remember that this is exactly how East Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood began: Then, too, Netanyahu persuaded the White House that construction would begin only in another several years.
When Biden arrived, the Arab League had just recommended that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accede to Washington’s proposal for indirect talks with Israel.

But instead of being able to leave with an announcement that the talks have officially begun, Biden is leaving with the news that the Arab League has suspended its recommendation.
Netanyahu can thus hope that the Ramat Shlomo imbroglio has deferred the moment of truth when he must reveal his interpretation of “two states for two peoples.” And just in case anyone failed to realize how impartial a mediator the U.S. is, Biden said in his Tel Aviv speech that the U.S. has “no better friend” than Israel.

For Netanyahu, the cherry on top was that the onus for advancing the negotiations has now been put on the Arab states – just two weeks before the Arab League summit in Tripoli, where the league’s 2002 peace initiative will again be up for discussion. For months, U.S. President Barack Obama has been trying to persuade Arab leaders not to disconnect this important initiative from life support. His argument is that nothing would make Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad happier than a final blow-up of the peace process and the outbreak of a third intifada. And his joy would be redoubled if the fire started in Jerusalem.

But while the U.S. may be papering over the rift for now, Western diplomats said the bill will come due once the talks with the PA begin (assuming they do). The U.S. has already said it will submit bridging proposals of its own during these talks, and its anger and frustration over the Ramat Shlomo incident are likely to make it far more sympathetic to the Palestinians’ positions, the diplomats said.
For instance, Netanyahu wants security issues to top the talks’ agenda, an Israeli source said. But the Palestinians want the first issue to be borders, including in Jerusalem.
And the European Union, which had planned to upgrade various agreements with Israel this week in honor of the resumed talks, has now postponed the upgrade until it becomes clear whether the talks will in fact take place.

IDF seals off West Bank amid Jerusalem tensions: Haaretz

Defense Minister Ehud Barak Thursday ordered the Israel Defense Forces to impose a general closure on the West Bank, preventing Palestinians from entering Israel.

Barak said only patients, medical staff, religious workers and teachers with special permits to pass through army roadblocks on key access roads.
On Friday, Palestinian youths attempted to break through the blockade the police set up at the entrance to the Temple Mount. Police forces managed to prevent the youths from entering, and one Palestinian was arrested after he assaulted one of the police officers.
“The IDF will continue to operate in order to protect the citizens of Israel while maintaining the quality of life of the Palestinian population in the area,” it said in a statement.
The move was made in anticipation of renewed Jerusalem riots in response to a recent government decision to expand settlements in East Jerusalem.
The West Bank will be sealed off for 48 hours, and the closure will be lifted on Saturday at midnight.
Police say only men over 50 will be allowed to pray Friday at the Temple Mount, while no limitations were placed on women.

On Tuesday, the Interior Ministry announced its decision to authorize 1,600 more housing units in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem. The announcement created a diplomatic uproar and received stark condemnation from visiting United States Vice President Joe Biden.
There have been clashes after Friday prayers at mosques in Jerusalem and
elsewhere in recent weeks, sparked by deadlock in peace talks and Israel’s inclusion of two West Bank shrines on a list of national heritage sites.

On Friday last week, youths hurled rocks from the Temple Mount, on which the al-Aqsa Mosque stands, at Jewish worshippers praying at the Wailing Wall beneath the elevated compound.
Police responded by storming the open-air plateau to disperse the protesting crowd and some 60 Palestinians were treated for the effects of teargas, while 15 policemen were lightly wounded by stones.
Several Palestinians have been badly wounded and dozens of protesters and
Israeli policemen have suffered light injuries.

The closure began at midnight Thursday and will end at midnight Saturday

Sleepless in Jerusalem and Gaza 7

Ashira covers a non-violent protest in Sheikh Garrah’s district with Palestinians, peace activists and Israelis in the march.
Nagham meets a friend in Gaza Strip and have a little talk with people whose house was destroyed in the last war.

Sleepless in Jerusalem and Gaza 8

Day 8: Ala’ goes to Ramallah, the most lively city in Palestine, for shopping. Goods are cheaper and the city is enjoyable.
Nagham head to the French Cultural Center for an art gallery on Gaza. She has an interview with Jean Mathiot, the Director of the French Cultural center.

US / Israel: The Special Relationship: Press TV

An Entangled Alliance
Interview With Jeff Gates By Press TV
To restore national security requires a reappraisal of the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship.”
Jeff Gates is A widely acclaimed author, attorney, investment banker, educator and consultant to government, corporate and union leaders worldwide.

Why is the EU failing to comply with its international law obligations over Israel?: Times online

Michael Mansfield, QC
If you lived on a street where a neighbour frequently and flagrantly broke the law, you would want something done about it, especially if that neighbour took part of your garden, replaced the fence with a 30ft wall, cut down your trees and redirected your water supply.

Suppose the authorities to whom you complained merely denounced the illegalities and took no action? You might think that this situation is inconceivable. But that is precisely what has been happening to the Palestinians for the best part of 60 years.
On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ) produced a strong advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied territories.
Fourteen of 15 judges agreed the core findings: that the construction was contrary to international law, both human rights and humanitarian; that it should be dismantled with reparations being made for all damage caused. This was adopted by a UN General Assembly resolution on July 20, 2004.

This resolution, like so many before it concerning violations perpetrated by Israel, was fundamentally ignored. The ICJ had not only specified the obligations owed by Israel under international law but also spelt out very clearly the obligations incumbent on third-party states to ensure that the core values or peremptory norms — such as the right to self-determination — are upheld by those states that break them. This is a matter of common sense and ordinary reason; for, were it to be otherwise, the rule of law and the authority of international justice would be completely undermined.

It was in this context that the Russell Tribunal was reconvened in Barcelona on March 1 to 3 to examine the legal responsibility for violations in the Palestinian Territories. Four more international sessions are planned.
The tribunal has an illustrious history with its origins in the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation launched in 1963. The first tribunal concerned the war in Vietnam, and led to citizens’ commissions of inquiry held in several American cities. A second tribunal was established to investigate human rights violations in South America in 1974-75.
These are tribunals of conscience, created in response to the demands of citizens in many countries who feel that perpetrators must be held to account and that states cannot be allowed to act with impunity; which is often the result of inaction and complicity by others.

The first session examined the responsibility of the European Union and its member states. The hearings dealt with six topics: self-determination; the annexation of East Jerusalem; settlements and the plundering of natural resources; the EU Israel Association agreement; the Gaza blockade/Operation Cast Lead; and the wall.

Proceedings were opened by Stéphane Hessel, a co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, followed by 27 witnesses with a range of expertise and experience (lawyers, academics, aid workers, human rights advisers, members of the European and British parliaments and a military adviser).

Israel’s violations are well known and well documented through to the Goldstone report on the invasion of Gaza in early 2009 and were summarised in the tribunal’s report under ten separate headings. The tribunal determined that a form of apartheid is being practised. The EU and its member states were found to have transgressed the EU Treaty itself as well as international obligations under the UN Charter and the 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The real question, however, is not just inaction but positive action undertaken by Europe that supports the illegality. This can be exemplified by the export of weapons and components; the trade in produce from settlements in the occupied territories and above all the multibillion EU Israel Association agreement that confers benefits on Israel. The EU is the third most important trading partner for Israel and the EU Parliament has passed a resolution requiring the suspension of the association agreement, but like so much else this has not been implemented.

It was obvious to the tribunal, therefore, that the EU may not be prepared to comply with international law. In these circumstances it is necessary for concerned citizens to examine ways in which accountability may be effected. There are a number of legal avenues that can be pursued against individual European governments and their agencies, and individual private companies that maintain the regime of illegality. Additionally Israeli perpetrators of war crimes are susceptible to universal jurisdiction and are liable to be arrested should they travel to Europe.

So far the exercise of this power has not been overwhelmingly embraced by European states; instead it has been left to the endeavours of committed individuals on behalf of the victims and their families in the Palestinian Territories.

The author, a QC, was one of the eight member international jury panel of the RTP. See their full report at www.russelltribunalonpalestine.com

Israel’s unfair ‘law of return‘: The Guardian CiF

While British Jews are offered property in the West Bank, Palestinian refugees are still denied the right to return
Abe Hayeem
The yearly drive to encourage British Jews to emigrate to Israel culminated last weekend in the Israel Property Exhibition in a north London synagogue. “Make your dream come true with your own home or investment in Israel,” it urged. Although most of the property for sale is in Israel itself, some is in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Jewish Agency also placed ads in Jewish News and the Jewish Chronicle, which last month included a glossy pamphlet with programmes to “ease and speed up the process of immigration”. Free flights and citizenship within 24 hours were on offer, together with generous financial and social benefits and tax exemptions.

The “community aliyah programme” shown in the pamphlet calls on UK Jews to “start a new life in a vibrant Israeli city” but of these, only three – Haifa, Modiin and Yad Binyamin – are within Israel proper. The other five are Jerusalem (evidently including the illegally annexed eastern part); Ariel, “located in the centre of Israel” (sic); Maaleh Adumim; Efrat (the capital of Gush Etzion); and the Gush Etzion bloc as a whole, which spreads south of Jerusalem into the heart of the West Bank. On YouTube, a Jewish Agency video shows a British family leaving their house in the suburbs, piling into their car and setting the sat-nav to “Home”, eventually being raucously welcomed to Israel.

This drive to increase Jewish emigration has accelerated in recent years. One organisations, Nefesh B’Nefesh (“Soul by Soul”), says its core mission “is to revitalise aliyah [migration to Israel] and to substantially increase the number of future olim by removing the financial, professional and logistical obstacles that prevent many individuals from actualising their dreams”. It adds: “We aim to educate and inspire the Jews of the diaspora as to the centrality of the Jewish state to the Jewish people and its desirability as a Jewish home.”

The Jewish Agency is part of the parent World Zionist Organisation. It promotes and manages aliyah to Israel, purchases land in Israel and the West Bank through the Jewish National Fund, and plays a key role in establishing and funding the settlements there. The pamphlet shows the increasing aliyah figures from the UK (853 in 2009, a 37% increase from 2008). In effect, UK citizens are being encouraged to live in Israel and also in illegally-occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, whose settlements have been established and enlarged in direct violation of international law.

Although Israel is most keen to welcome Anglo-Saxon Jews from the US and UK, Jews from “lost tribes” such as the Bnei Menashe (Children of Menasseh) in India have also been fast-tracked in to subvert the settlement freeze. Even Peruvian Indians were brought in (provided they converted immediately to Judaism) and sent to West Bank settlements. Jewish people throughout the world have an automatic right to Israeli citizenship under Israel’s “law of return”, though many in the US, UK and Australia now are rejecting this right.

Today there are more than seven million Palestinian refugees around the world. Israel denies their right to return to their homes and land – a right recognised by UN resolution 194, the Geneva convention, and the universal declaration of human rights. Further, “an occupier may not forcibly deport protected persons… or transfer parts of its own civilian population into occupied territory” (article 49).

The Foreign Office emphasises that the UK’s “policy on settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is absolutely clear: Israeli settlements activity is not only illegal under international law, it is also in contravention of Israel’s obligations under the Road Map to Peace and detrimental to the peace process. The prime minister made this point most recently in a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu of 5 January.”

The Israeli government continues to expand these settlements and encourage immigration in order to consolidate its hold on the occupied territories. The new Jewish-only settlement towns being built by the Jewish National Fund within Israel, in the Negev and Galilee, also continue Palestinian dispossession, by displacing Bedouin in “unrecognised villages”. While Palestinians are being continuously dispossessed, imprisoned in enclaves, and prevented from building to house their families on their own land, Jewish people from any part of the world can be housed anywhere they choose within Israel and West Bank. Precious water resources are used lavishly in the settlements, while drastically limiting Palestinians’ access. Use of the super-highways linking settlements to Israeli cities is denied to Palestinians, and sewage from the settlements is discharged into Palestinian villages and agricultural areas. The settlement freeze is a joke, and is ignored by Israel. It is more a settlement frenzy.

So far, the British government, while issuing protests to the Israeli government, has not taken proper measures, together with the Quartet, that would stop the settlement construction. Arguably, British citizens who settle in Israel may be accessories to a crime if they move to these illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, contravening the 1977 additional protocol and the International Criminal Court Act 2001, which the UK has ratified. Unless Britain acts firmly to end Israel’s impunity to international law and agreements, hopes of establishing a lasting and just solution for peace in the Middle East will be indefinitely delayed.

UN humanitarian chief criticises Israel over Gaza: BBC

Israel’s blockade of Gaza has not weakened Hamas, Mr Holmes said
The UN’s top humanitarian official, John Holmes, has criticised Israel for linking the 2006 capture of an Israeli soldier to its blockade of Gaza.
Mr Holmes also said Israeli actions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, including expanding settlements, was counter to the peace process.
He urged a relaxation of the blockade, warning Gaza was “de-developing”.
It came as Israel ordered the army to seal off the West Bank for 48 hours until midnight on Saturday.
An army spokesman said the move had been made because of heightened tensions in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Israeli aircraft hit two targets in southern Gaza Strip early on Friday. Witnesses reported seeing several injured people.
The developments follow a visit to Israel and the West Bank by US Vice-President Joe Biden, during which the US and Palestinians criticised Israel’s plans to build more Jewish homes in the Arab east of the city.
‘Gangster economy’
The Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was captured by Palestinian militants nearly four years ago near the border with Gaza.
Mr Holmes, of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, was speaking at the UN after visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories earlier this month.
“Obviously we’ve called for the release of Cpl Shalit, and that he should be treated in accordance to the Geneva conventions,” Mr Holmes said.
“But the link between that and the fate of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza does not seem to us a reasonable one.”
He said the blockade of Gaza had not weakened Hamas, the militant Islamist movement which controls the territory.

Mr Holmes told journalists there had been some progress: the Israelis had allowed into Gaza goods such as glass to fix broken windows.
But, he said, in general Gaza was being pushed backwards, or “de-developing”, because it was not possible to repair war damage and revive the economy.
Mr Holmes said the situation in Gaza was so bad that even though smuggling tunnels to Egypt were fostering a “gangster economy”, the situation would become unsustainable if they were blocked.
The tunnels are a conduit for badly needed commercial goods, including food and medicine, but are also widely believed to be used for smuggling cash and weapons to Hamas.
Egypt is reinforcing its Gaza border barrier with underground metal plates in an attempt to block the tunnels.
Mr Holmes spoke as Mr Biden was winding down his trip to the Middle East, the highest ranking Obama administration official yet to go to Israel and the West Bank.
‘No better friend’
On Tuesday, the Israeli interior ministry said that the Jerusalem authorities had approved the expansion of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem.
Mr Biden said the decision “undermined the trust required for productive negotiations” and warranted his unequivocal condemnation.
But he also said the United States had “no better friend than Israel” and urged peace talks to resume without delay.
Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
They are illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

‘Abbas seeks U.S. pledge to freeze East Jerusalem construction’: Haaretz

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday sought guarantees from Washington that it would pressure Israel to cancel its plan for 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, Palestinian media outlets reported.
U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell spoke with Abbas late Thursday and urged him not to walk away from indirect peace negotiations with Israel, a senior Palestinian official quoted in the reports said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said he believes indirect talks with the PA will continue as planned early next week despite the crisis with the U.S. over the plan for new housing in East Jerusalem and the protests by the Palestinian Authority and Arab world.

“The crisis is behind us,” sources in the Prime Minister’s Bureau. They said proof was the invitation to Netanyahu by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to meet in Washington in 10 days while Netanyahu visits a meeting of the AIPAC lobby group.
Nonetheless, senior American officials said that even though the crisis is over publicly, it will take time to restore trust between the two sides.
The future of the negotiations was raised during a telephone conversation between Biden and Netanyahu Thursday. Biden also discussed the issue with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Biden told the Palestinian leader that the United States opposes settlement construction but is determined to resume talks. He stressed to Abbas that Washington would disapprove of a delay in taking the talks forward.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley on Thursday also said the U.S. believes indirect peace talks will go ahead as scheduled, casting doubt over comments by Arab League chief Amr Moussa on Wednesday who said Abbas had decided to scrap the talks to protest Israel’s plan.
“I don’t think that that report that’s been circulating for the last 24 hours is accurate,” Crowley said. “As far as I know, we are still moving forward. We have not heard from the Palestinians that they have pulled out.”
He said that Mitchell and Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman had been telephoning regional leaders to assess the situation following Israel’s announcement, but that Mitchell still planned to return to the region next week with a view to launching the talks.
“George Mitchell is planning to be in the region next week and for further discussions on these issues. We remain committed to the process that is under way,” Crowley said.

How Bibi lost a best friend: The Guardian

Netanyahu needs all the support he can get. But he still turned Biden’s visit into a diplomatic fiasco
Aluf Benn
Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has a bad habit: when things appear to be moving in the right direction for him, he stumbles upon some stupid political landmine, raising doubts about his leadership and credibility.A series of blunders had ruined his first term in the 1990s, and on his way back to power Netanyahu promised that he had changed. For a year, he stayed away from trouble, avoiding unscripted public remarks, giving no interviews, and being attentive to other politicians’ needs and interests. But this week, he did it again, ruining the visit of American vice president Joe Biden with an official announcement of a plan to build 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighbourhood of East Jerusalem – despite a well-known American opposition to Israeli settlement expansion. Netanyahu apparently didn’t know in advance about the interior ministry’s decision, taken by mid-level planning and zoning bureaucrats. But it was according to his government’s policy, and he should have and could have taken steps to avoid such unpleasant surprises. His failure to do so portrays him as a hopeless schlemiel, just like “old Bibi” from the previous term.

Biden’s trip was meant to mark a new chapter in the cool relationship between the Obama administration and Israel. Mindful of its political trouble at home in view of the midterm elections, and worried about an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the White House dispatched the veep – known to be Netanyahu’s best friend in Washington – to plead Barack Obama’s case to the Israeli leadership and public. Biden’s trip coincided with the announcement of indirect Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, to give the battered administration a diplomatic success.

The Israeli interior ministry announcement, on Tuesday afternoon, put Biden in the worst possible position: rather than visit the Middle East as an honest peacebroker, he appeared as Israel’s patsy. And not only Biden: Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, agreed to resume talks with Netanyahu despite Israel’s refusal to hold off construction in East Jerusalem. The new project threatened to show Abbas as Israel’s collaborator.

Previous prime ministers built more than Netanyahu in East Jerusalem, but they were careful to tie it in with positive developments in the peace process to avoid American anger. Lacking peace negotiations, Netanyahu’s rightwing coalition could not enjoy the American blind eye like its predecessors. Time and again in the past year there were diplomatic clashes over Israeli plans to settle Jews in Arab neighbourhoods, to build new homes for Jews, or to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. Each time Netanyahu argued that he was not in the loop, but backed the decisions. His coalition partner Eli Yishai, the interior minister and leader of the rightwing Shas party, has made the settling of more Jews in East Jerusalem his cause celebre – to prevent a future partition of the city, and to deliver cheap housing to his ultra-Orthodox constituents.

In November the Americans tacitly agreed to the exemption of East Jerusalem – the most contested spot in the Holy Land conflict – from the settlement freeze announced by Netanyahu. But they expected not to be publicly embarrassed. When Israel couldn’t keep the deal, snubbing its senior American guest, the administration exploded. Biden called Obama, who told him to condemn the Israeli decision in the strongest terms – an unprecedented step in a high-level visit. Netanyahu apologised for the timing, and told Biden that the project in question will be built only “within several years”. The vice president accepted the apology, and delivered a staunchly pro-Israel speech at Tel Aviv University, praising “my close personal friend” Netanyahu. The Palestinians were less satisfied, withdrawing their agreement to renew talks.

Netanyahu’s constant zigzagging between his rightwing ideology and political partners and his craving for American support has turned the vice president’s visit into a diplomatic fiasco. Ultimately Netanyahu could not please both sides without paying a price. Biden’s face-saving remarks aside, “Bibi” is left with no friends in America’s highest echelons – when he needs all the support he can get vis a vis Iran’s threats and the Palestinians’ quest for independence. America will not abandon Israel, but its patience for its leader is running out.

West Bank rises up in a new ‘white’ intifada: The Independent

As Israel cracks down harshly on unarmed protesters, Donald Macintyre meets one Palestinian family whose teenage son has paid a heavy price
Friday, 12 March 2010

Asdal found his son, 14, on the road from their village of Beit Rima and ordered him into the car. “I told him: ‘You shouldn’t go, you’re too young.’ He told me: ‘I want to resist.’ I said: ‘Do you want me to see you on TV?'” But when Asdal stopped at a local garage and went in to talk to the mechanic, Ehab made his escape.

A few hours later he was unconscious in intensive care in Ramallah’s main hospital, a rubber-coated steel bullet having penetrated his skull. He had been standing among a crowd of youths, well inside the nearby village of Nabi Saleh, on a hillside carpeted with the first daisies and wild flowers of spring. Many of the youths were throwing stones at an unfinished house 25 metres away which had been occupied by armed Israeli Border Police some 15 minutes earlier. Shortly after 2.30pm a shot rang out, probably from the window, and Ehab dropped face down on the ground before being carried vomiting and bleeding from the wound above his right eye by four older men to relative safety back up the hill.

Even if freshly promised “proximity talks” between Israelis and Palestinians get under way, they are unlikely to halt the weekly protests that will take place after noon prayers today in some villages and tomorrow in others. The Palestinian Authority did not start the weekly protests that have now spread to more than half a dozen West Bank villages. And it is not leading them. But a supportive Palestinian cabinet statement appeared to adopt their model last month, applauding that: “Peaceful and popular efforts have regained international recognition of the just Palestinian cause and revealed the void Israeli excuses for the construction of settlements and the wall.”

For something is happening in these villages nestling among the rocky hills and olive groves between Ramallah and Nablus. The Israeli military does not accept the classification of the protests as non-violent; most usually end in confrontations between stone-throwing Palestinian youths and armed police and troops. But for the six years of such protests none of the Palestinians, in contrast to the security forces, have carried weapons. If these are the first tentative stirrings of a new uprising, and it is doubtful they can be described as that yet, then they are closer to the beginnings in 1987 of the first intifada, the so-called “war of stones”, than the second, with its bloody record of suicide bombings between 2000 and around 2005. Some commentators have dubbed the protests – and the apparent endorsement of them by the internationally respected Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad – as the “white” intifada.

Either way the protests, and the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to condemn them, have provoked a strong reaction from Israel’s security establishment. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this week that Israel had warned the PA that if it did not “contain” the protests it would lose co-operation with Israel and there would be more arrests within the West Bank. An unnamed Israeli security official was earlier quoted in the same paper as having told diplomats that the protests constituted an “existential” threat to Israel.

Except for the 10 real injuries (eight to demonstrators and two to photographers), Nabi Saleh, where the villagers all belong to one clan, the Tamimis, last Friday had a flavour of Kabuki about it with Palestinians, supporting international and Israeli activists, and security forces all playing their part. The march of perhaps 100 men, children and a few women started in bright sunshine from the middle of the village. They began their descent along the main street chanting slogans like “National Unity: Fatah, Hamas, PFLP”. They followed the road round to the left, past the petrol station and were still a good 800 metres from the main road (Route 465) separating Nabi Saleh from the Israeli settlement of Halamish when the first tear gas canisters – along, say the protesters, with rubber bullets – were fired by the Israeli forces who had long taken up a position on a hilltop to the right. Some marchers scrambled down the hillside to the right, others retreated back towards the village, while others continued to move forward.

There was perhaps an hour of cat-and-mouse between the Tamimi youths and the Israeli forces controlling the exits from Nabi Saleh, the former throwing stones that fell short of any target and the latter firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters (aluminium and rubber) that hit and injured a few protesters before the forces began to advance into the village itself. Three Jeeps advanced slowly up the road behind a white truck carrying a water cannon spraying “skunk”, a foul-smelling substance that leaves its odour for a week in the clothes of anyone who comes into direct contact with it. Taking refuge with perhaps a dozen protesters in the back room of the petrol station you could hear the loud explosion of a stun grenade – and the firing of tear gas and rubber bullets to cover the front Jeep as it was pelted with stones – before it began to move slowly back down the road again.

It seemed all over. But then the forces took over two houses, one the green building from which Ehab Barghouti, still in a coma yesterday, was shot. Pictures taken by The Independent from earlier in the protest show him hanging back from the front lines. But once the forces were inside the house, he was within range and in real danger. According to the Israeli human rights agency B’tselem, the regulation minimum range for firing rubber bullets is 40 metres and such bullets must be fired only at legs and not fired at children. Secondly, it is far from clear why the security forces occupied the house at all. According to Ramzi Tamimi, 33, one of the men who took the inert Ehab back up the hill: “As long as the soldiers stay away from the village and stay at the entrances, nothing happens. They deliberately come to make friction with us.” And beyond this is the fact that the entire protest took place on Palestinian land, land that if the putative peace talks ever had an outcome, would be part of a Palestinian state. For the stated, and of course never reached, destination of the march was a spring a few metres on the other side of Route 465, on what had long been Tamimi land. But the Halamish residents now control the land – and the spring – to the extent that when the villagers tried to cultivate their olive trees last November, they say they were driven away by armed, stone-throwing settlers.

The military says that “rock-throwing is considered a serious offence, placing others at significant risk and endangering both public and regional security.” But in Nabi Saleh the protesters were still marching peacefully, well within the village, and certainly not throwing stones when the military started firing tear gas.

At times the Israeli military has been deploying more lethal ammunition. The more famous and longer-running protests against the separation barrier have been at Nilin and Bil’in (where the IDF has finally decided to modify the route of the barrier so it will swallow up less of the villagers’ land, two-and-a-half years after a court order to do so). At both it has fired .22 live ammunition and high-velocity tear gas projectiles which are intended by their US manufacturers to be used to penetrate walls rather than against open-air crowds. It was one of these that severely wounded the US activist Tristan Anderson in the forehead in Nilin in March 2009 and has left him, after months in an Israeli hospital, with permanent brain damage. Another killed a prominent Bil’in protester Bassem abu Rahmah a month later.

According to the Popular Struggle Co-ordination committee, a loose body linking the local protest organisers, the .22 live bullets – which were proscribed for crowd-control by the military Advocate General in 2001 but reintroduced Operation Cast Lead in Gaza – have killed one demonstrator and injured 28 in Nilin alone since January last year.

Then there are the scores of arrests, frequently at night, including five in Nabi Saleh two days before last Friday’s demo. The arrests – including 112 in Bil’in alone since May 2008 – have worried European diplomats enough for them to form a rota to monitor the military court in Ofer where most of the detainees appear. One day last week – in the additional presence of an official from the US Consulate General – one of the Bil’in protest leaders, Abdullah Abu Rahmah, 39, who has been in military detention since December, was remanded again on a series of charges including a bizarre one of illegal arms possession; the indictment relates to Mr Abu Rahmah’s collection of spent tear gas canisters for an exhibition. As his Israeli lawyer Gaby Lasky told the court, her client was in no different a position from the police in the Negev border town of Sderot who have a collection of exploded Qassam rockets fired from Gaza to show visitors. “Because they are spent, they cannot be addressed as illegal arms,” she patiently explained to the military judge. The case continues.

The military has also sought to move against another notable aspect of the protests, the supportive presence of the left-wing Israeli activists who now regularly join them. The registration numbers of cars entering the West Bank through various checkpoints are checked against those of known Israeli participants. Among the 15 Israelis taking part in Nabi Saleh last week was Jonathan Pollak, a 28-year-old from Anarchists Against the Wall who is media co-ordinator on the joint committee.

For Ayed Morrar, a true Palestinian veteran of unarmed protest in the West Bank, the presence of Israelis is highly positive. “It’s good for our people, and good for them,” he says. Mr Morrar (who was injured by rubber bullets when he took part in the first demonstration in Nabi Saleh in January) is a popular leader in Budrus, where the villagers managed to change the route of the barrier at a time when suicide bombing was at its height and popular unarmed protest much criticised by Palestinian militants. Mr Morrar has spent six years in an Israeli prison as a Fatah activist (even though he never participated in armed violence) but now charges both Fatah and Hamas with being more interested in the sometimes bloody rivalry with each other than the national cause. His credo is to “apply all the sources of pressure on the occupation except killing. It is forbidden to decide to kill, to try to kill or to kill.” Arguing the Palestinians needs the international community on its side, he adds: “We want to show we are not against Jews, not against Israelis. We are against the occupation.”

EDITOR: The Army which Fights Children

The largest daily in Israel, Yediot Ahronot, has published the witness’ full testimony at the trial of a number IOF soldiers, earlier this week. It is makes for just amazing reading. And again: An army fighting against children, has already lost!

Child’s testimony incriminates soldiers: Ynet

Indictments issued Thursday against two soldiers who fought in Operation Cast Lead for allegedly forcing child to open bags suspected of being booby trapped. Ynet reveals full testimony of child, Majd that lays out alleged events of that day.

The war through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy
Anat Shalev

“I thought they would kill me. I became very scared and wet my pants. I could not shout or say anything because I was too afraid… He pushed me towards the small corridor in front of the bathrooms. He began shouting at me and speaking a language I did not understand… There were two bags in front of me. I grabbed the first one as he stood one and a half meters away. I opened the bag as he pointed his weapon directly at me. I emptied the bag on the floor. It contained money and papers. I looked at him and he was laughing. I grabbed the second bag to open it but I could not. I tried many times but it was useless, so he shouted at me. He grabbed my hair and slapped me very hard across the face.”

Witness: Majd R., a Palestinian boy, 9 years old

On this morning, IDF soldiers stormed the ground floor of a residential building in the neighborhood, while firing live ammunition. The soldiers separated the men from the women and children and ordered the men to strip before leading them one by one outside the building. A soldier approached Majd, who was hiding behind his mother in fear – and motioned for him to step forward.

What took place from here is the basis for an indictment issued against two Givati soldiers for overstepping their authority to the point of endangering life or health and unfit behavior. The soldiers, according to the indictment issued by the Military Prosecutor, asked Majd to open bags suspected of being booby trapped.

This is the second indictment filed against soldiers for their conduct during Operation Cast Lead, and additional indictments, much more serious, are already underway.

Investigation of this incident was initiated in June 2009 after the IDF was made aware of it by the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and by the Israeli branch of Defense for Children International. Members of the organization were the ones who took the child’s testimony on March 30, 2009.

That testimony is printed here in near entirety.

“On the night of January 14, the bombing increased and explosions were heard every few minutes. So, we decided, my family and I, to go down to the ground floor where we stored water tanks. There, my brother said, it would safer for all of us. We were 40 people in the storage room with all the neighbors – men, women, and children.”

“At 5:00 am, I heard doors being broken. I heard heavy fire and bullets entered the windows of the warehouse. We had no electricity; the only light came from my brother N.’s torch that was placed on a concrete pillar inside the warehouse, and our vision was limited.

“Around 40 people were inside. Everybody was standing because there was no place to sit. We stood for about 10 minutes, during which the sound of explosions grew bigger. We heard Israeli soldiers shouting nearby, and the sound of gunfire entering the warehouse. I then heard the door of the warehouse being broken and Israeli soldiers shouting in a language that I later learned was Hebrew.

“The soldiers entered the warehouse firing everywhere. I saw small red lights moving everywhere inside the warehouse. I saw the shadows of around 30 soldiers on the wall in front of us. At this point, A. S. shouted at us “Say katan…katan; a word in Hebrew meaning small.” He was telling everyone, including the children, to say this. Everyone shouted but I did not because I was scared if they heard me they would shoot me. I then learned that katan means children. After the shouting stopped, the shooting also stopped.

“I saw two soldiers standing by the door of the bathrooms where I was hiding behind my mother. One of them lit a torch he held in his hand and said in broken Arabic “Come on, get out, one by one.” My brother N. was the first to get out. Once he got out, the soldiers shot at him. I thought they killed him but then I saw him; he was still standing. He began taking off his clothes. A.S. and his sons, I do not know their names, got out and the other men followed them. The soldiers took them and forced them to lie down on the floor on the eastern side of the warehouse. My mother, sisters, and the other women and children got out as well.

At this moment, I saw a large number of soldiers standing in the warehouse. They were carrying weapons and wearing green caps. Their faces were painted with the same color I see in action movies on television. A soldier spoke to us in broken Arabic that was difficult to understand. He told us to go to the southwestern corner of the warehouse. My mother, the other women, children, and I went to the southwestern corner as he said. I was very scared thinking they would shoot me. I was grabbing my mother’s hands and hiding behind her. We stood for about 10 minutes as the soldiers walked through the warehouse searching the men and forcing them to strip down to their underwear.

‘He grabbed my hair and slapped me across the face’
“At this moment, a soldier came and stood two meters away from us. “Come here,” he said while pointing at us. “Me?” my mother asked. “No, him,” he said in broken Arabic as he pointed at me. He approached me and grabbed my shirt from my neck and dragged me away. “He’s a child,” my mother began shouting. I thought they would kill me. I became very scared and wet my pants. I could not shout or say anything because I was too afraid.

The soldier dragged me towards the bathrooms, 20 metres away. He pushed me towards the small corridor in front of the bathrooms. He began shouting at me and speaking a language I did not understand. I was very scared by the way he looked. He was very tall and his face was painted black, green, and other colors. He was wearing a cap. Everything about him scared me. He lit a torch he was carrying in his hand and I saw his face very well. He pointed his weapon at me. He was shouting at me and I did not understand him, so he grabbed me and pushed me against the wall.

He then started motioning with his hand and I figured out he wanted me to open the bags; small bags that the residents brought down with them containing their personal effects and money. The bags were similar to the bags used by soccer players. I understood from his hand gestures that he wanted me to open the bags.

“There were two bags in front of me. I grabbed the first one as he stood one-and-a-half meters away. I opened the bag as he pointed his weapon directly at me. I emptied the bag on the floor. It contained money and papers. I looked at him and he was laughing.

“I grabbed the second bag to open it but I could not. I tried many times but it was useless, so he shouted at me. He grabbed my hair and slapped me very hard across the face. I did not shout or cry, but I was very scared. He dragged me away from the bags and forced me to stand against the wall, as he stood about one and a half meters behind me. He then shot at the bag that I could not open. I thought he shot at me, so I shouted and put my hands on my head. He then pulled me through the corridor.

“‘Go to your mother,’ said another soldier who spoke Arabic well, but was dressed like them and was carrying a weapon. I ran to my mother and hid in her arms. ‘I wet my pants,’ I said to her. ‘It’s fine,’ she said. I then saw the soldiers drag the men to the southern side of the warehouses near the water tanks.

“I understood later that they asked who spoke English and my sister-in-law M. talked to them. She asked us to sit on the mattresses on the floor. The mattresses and blankets were burnt from the gun fire. She then told us that the soldiers wanted us to sit in a circle with our backs facing each other. We did what they said. I was sitting next to my mother. A soldier then came and brought a chair, which was already in the warehouse, and placed it in the middle of the circle. I thought they would ask us to sit on this chair and then shoot us.

“I became very scared but could not do anything. However, the soldier sat on it and would shout now and then ‘Boom. Boom,’ like the sound of an explosion. We would all put our hands on our heads, and the soldier would laugh loudly. He repeated this about five times.

“He then went and sat about five meters away from us. Four other soldiers sat next to him. The soldiers pointed their weapons at us, and I would get scared. I could see the red light moving over my body and on my siblings and mother. There was a thin red light coming from their weapons. Whenever I saw them lifting their weapons or the red light, I thought they would shoot us. I relaxed a little whenever they lowered their weapons.

“The soldiers then took out chocolates and biscuits and began eating. I was very hungry. The soldiers looked at us and lifted their chocolate bars. I thought they would give us some. One of them then pointed at me to sit down, while another placed his hand against his neck, as if he was telling us they would slaughter us. I was scared to death and focused my eyes on the ground so that he would not see me. We stayed like this for about five hours.

‘I’m ashamed to talk about it’
At around 3:00 pm, a soldier came and told M. as I understood to ‘hold a white flag and head to the Red Crescent.’ My mother took off her white headscarf and we all left the warehouse and headed west to the Red Crescent, about 150 meters away. The men remained in the warehouse and did not come with us. I did not see them when we left the warehouse. M. walked in front, holding the white flag. I was holding my mother and siblings’ hands.

“I saw a tank positioned at the front door of the tower, while other tanks were on the street that leads to the Red Crescent.. We walked over the rubble until we reached the Red Crescent. M. brought us biscuits and water. We then heard extensive fire and the sound of explosions grew bigger. The bombardment and shelling also intensified. The situation remained like this for several hours.

“At around 8:00 pm, I heard the doctors and some people shouting ‘Get out, the hospital is on fire.” I grabbed my mother’s hand tightly. My siblings were with us. My mother gave us white napkins and said, ‘Lift them and let’s get out.’ I lifted it and ran out to the street. I saw many people outside. I think they got out of the hospital just like we did. We quickly headed north to the main street. I saw black smoke rising from the hospital, especially from the top floor. At this moment, I heard a woman shouting ‘Come, come.’ She was in an ambulance. I looked at her and saw it was M. We went inside the ambulance and it quickly drove away.

“On the street, I saw patients on hospital beds accompanied by doctors fleeing the area. I also saw something strange. There was a patient lying on a bed with a generator hanging from it. Another person was pushing the bed. The people were shouting loudly. Everyone in the street was shouting. The ambulance drove us to some relatives living in Sheikh Radwan neighborhood. We spent the night there. We were less scared than before. There, my mother did laundry. She also asked me to take a shower. I took some clothes from my relatives and changed my dirty clothes. I slept in my mother’s arms that night and I did not leave her.

“At school, I am afraid of remembering and talking about what happened. Some people from different organizations came to the school and talked to us about the events and all the dead and injured people. I am sometimes ashamed to talk about things in detail with people I do not know. I am also afraid to tell people about the difficult situation I experienced, which I do not like to remember. I don’t even talk about it with my mother. I prefer to forget, and sometimes I cry when I remember. I talked to you only because you said you are from an organization that is devoted to helping children.”

‘We hope soldiers be held accountable’
Isabelle Gittar, the Defense for Children International lawyer assigned to Majd’s case, expressed her satisfaction with the indictment issued against the soldiers.
“We praise the development in the investigation of the complaint and hope the responsible soldiers will be held accountable in a way that will recognize the gravity of the documented actions,” said Gittar in a conversation with Ynet. “Majd was only nine, and he suffers from a severe trauma from the event.”
According to her, “The indictment must create a precedent for other instances of using children as human shields.”

Europe backs Biden’s criticism of Jewish settlement plans: The Independent

By Donald Macintyre
Thursday, 11 March 2010
Joe Biden, the US Vice-President, yesterday repeated his attack on Israel’s plans to build 1,600 new Jewish homes in Arab East Jerusalem as European governments backed his complaint that they undermined trust before imminent new indirect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Standing alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Mr Biden pointedly re-emphasised earlier US calls on both sides in the conflict to refrain from actions “that inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of talks”. He added: “It’s incumbent on both parties to build an atmosphere of support for negotiations, and not to complicate them.”

Israel’s Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, who heads the department which made the announcement on Tuesday, was contrite about the timing, but not the substance of the proposal. “We had no intention, no desire, to offend or taunt an important man like the Vice-President during his visit,” Mr Yishai told Israel Radio. “I am very sorry for the embarrassment … Next time we need to take timing into account.”

The lack – so far – of any public suggestion that the proposal would be abandoned came despite an unusually strong statement on Tuesday night when Mr Biden expressed anger at its substance and timing. He stressed the importance of Jerusalem to both Israelis and Palestinians and said he hoped for an outcome that could realise the aspirations of both sides for the city. He also made clear that the Americans would be actively involved in the forthcoming “proximity talks” and that the Palestinians deserved a “viable and contiguous” Palestinian state – diplomatic code for one which would need large-scale withdrawals of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Germany said the proposal for new housing units in the Ramat Shlomo East Jerusalem settlement was not “acceptable”. David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, condemned the move as a bad decision at the wrong time.

Palestinians Should Declare Statehood: ICH

By Cesar Chelala

March 11, 2010 “Information Clearing House” — The unceasing building of settlements on Palestinian land underscores the need for Palestinians to take a more definite action regarding their future and their rightful desire to have their own state. They should declare statehood.

While condemning Israel’s decision to build more settlements in east Jerusalem as a move that could “inflame” tensions, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden has told Palestinians that they deserve a “viable” independent state with contiguous territory. At the same time, both French and Spanish officials are reportedly working the conditions that would lead to a European recognition of an independent Palestine.

This measure has the support of some Israelis. A recent newspaper ad by Gush Shalom, one of the best known peace groups in Israel reads, “We shall welcome the declaration of the Free State of Palestine.”

What could lead Palestinians to follow such a drastic course? On one of the more contentious issues, the building of settlements, no progress has been achieved. For the past 25 years, every U.S. President has tried to persuade Israel to stop building settlements in Palestinian lands to no avail. And this is just one of the topics separating Israelis and Palestinians.

The Palestinians declare that they have already made important concessions by accepting a state covering only the areas of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem which are significantly smaller than the territory allocated to them in UN Resolution 181.

At the time of that resolution, which recommended the division of the British Mandate of Palestine into two provisional states, one Jewish and one Arab, the UN General Assembly also recommended that the City of Jerusalem be administered by the United Nations. This could be one of the options to overcome the present impasse on the status of that city.

Israel most probably would reject a Palestinian declaration of independence as it did in 1978 during the Camp David negotiations between Israel and Egypt when Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s president, proposed the creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza.

But there is an important precedent regarding the status of Jerusalem. At the Annapolis conference of 2007, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an important proposal. He offered East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and 99.3% of the West Bank to the future Palestinian State. His position, however, was strongly criticized by Israel’s right wing political parties.

Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, threatened that his party would leave the government coalition, thus ending the coalition’s majority in the Knesset, if Olmert agreed to divide Jerusalem. Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer due to the non-inclusion of the Gaza Strip and continuing settlement construction.

A unilateral declaration of statehood is fraught with complications, although it would follow on the steps of Israel’s unilateral declaration of independence on 1948. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu has warned Palestinians that such a declaration would lead to Israeli counter-measures that could include annexation of more of the occupied West Bank, a move that is illegal from the point of view of international law and of the UN Security Council Resolution 465.

In addition, such a move would probably be vetoed by the U.S. at the U.N. Security Council. However, as the noted Israeli journalist Gideon Levy recently stated, “Israel is so much not willing to make peace, someone has to push Israel, and the only actor who can push Israel is the United States.”

By many criteria, a unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians is an expression of desperation. But it is also an act that can give them a much needed sense of belonging to the community of nations. As stated by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish “…we declare our presence as a wound crying in the depths of time and space in spite of the tempests which try to rend our roots from the very earth to which we gave our name.”

Cesar Chelala, a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award, is the foreign correspondent for the Middle East Times International (Australia) and a contributing editor to The Globalist.

PLO paper reveals leadership bereft of strategy, legitimacy: The Electronic Intifada

Ali Abunimah, 11 March 2010

Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas listens to US Vice President Joe Biden at a press conference in Ramallah on Wednesday 10 March. Biden condemned Israeli plans to build an additional 1,600 settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem but insisted that indirect US-brokered peace talks should proceed despite Abbas' objections. (MaanImages)

At last September’s New York summit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, US President Barack Obama publicly abandoned his demand that Israel halt construction of colonies in the occupied West Bank as a precursor to the resumption of US-brokered negotiations. Thus, Obama humiliatingly signaled the collapse of his much-hyped peace effort.

Since then, Obama’s envoy, George Mitchell, has been shuttling about looking for a face-saving formula to make it seem as if there were still a “peace process” that might one day result in a two-state solution.

After months of effort, the US managed to bludgeon and cajole Abbas and certain “moderate” Arab states into backing “indirect talks” between Israel and Abbas, even as Israel escalates its ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, its colonization of the West Bank, its blockade of Gaza and its daily rounds of murders and kidnappings of Palestinians throughout the occupied territories. Even this meager achievement seemed in doubt after Netanyahu’s government brazenly announced an additional 1,600 Jewish-only homes during a visit to Israel by US Vice President Joe Biden.

There is no doubt that the Obama Administration will press on with the charade of negotiations no matter what. The alternative would be to actually use the massive US subsidies Israel receives to tame its rogue behavior. But Obama, before and after entering office, never showed the slightest inclination to do that (despite naïve and inflated expectations across the Arab world and within peace process industry circles), and will not do so now as his vulnerable Democratic Party heads for midterm elections with virtually no achievements to present to voters.

Amid this dismal situation, comes a new paper by Saeb Erekat, senior aide to Abbas, and “chief negotiator” for the US-backed Ramallah Palestinian Authority (PA).

The 7,000-plus word document, produced by the Negotiations Affairs Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization (NAD-PLO), is clumsily titled “The Political Situation in Light of Developments with the US Administration and Israeli Government and Hamas’ Continued Coup d’etat: Recommendations and options.” (NAD-PLO is actually administered by the Adam Smith Institute, “the UK’s leading free market think tank,” and funded entirely by Western governments.)

Dated December 2009, the paper was reported on in several Israeli newspapers in mid-February, and distributed to European and other diplomats as a warning that the Palestinians had options other than continuing with futile negotiations. They could, for example, abandon the two-state solution and call for one state, it warns. However, a close reading reveals a different picture.

The paper is very poorly-written, repetitive and at times barely coherent. One passage reads: “Accreditation papers cannot be presented to the US Administration and to others without the Palestinian paper. These issues bear a significant link with the forcible take-over of the Gaza Strip, which cannot be construed except by accurately understanding regional developments and how to present accreditation papers.” There is much more of this jumbled, and seemingly nonsensical language — all those governments should wonder what their money is really buying!

Nevertheless, a key concern does emerge: Erekat is very worried that the US will pressure Abbas to resume negotiations from scratch, instead of from the point at which they ended in December 2008 with the previous Israeli government headed by Ehud Olmert. Indeed, the paper makes this precise demand no fewer than 15 times, warning that failure to start from that point would make Palestinians vulnerable to “Netanyahu’s vision” which would mean Palestinians “will be obliged to accept Israeli positions” particularly its refusal to negotiate about Jerusalem, “as well as recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” The paper warns that “The file of refugees will be excluded from negotiations and Palestinians [would] need to agree that Israel preserve control over Palestinian border crossings and aerial space.”

Only starting from the point reached in December 2008, it would seem, could stave off such a disaster! But in fact, the paper lays out in detail what was supposedly agreed by December 2008 and it is clear that on all the key issues the Abbas leadership had already conceded to Israel’s demands in principle and in practice.

Abbas had offered (and Israel had rejected) that only 15,000 refugees per year return to the lands from which they were ethnically cleansed in what is now Israel, for a period of ten years. This effectively cancels the right of return, and acts as a de facto recognition of Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state” by conceding that its racist exclusion of non-Jewish Palestinians trumps the refugees’ human right to go home.

Moreover, the Erekat paper makes no mention whatsoever of the “right of return” — a fundamental consensus demand of Palestinians inside the country and in the diaspora — but refers vaguely to a “just and agreed solution in accordance with UN [General Assembly Resolution] 194.” It does not call for implementation of the resolution — which demands that any refugee who wishes to do so be allowed home “at the earliest practicable date.” Needless to say, what Israel considers “just” and would agree to is completely at odds with Palestinian rights and international law. Indeed, Olmert had offered the return of 1,000 refugees per year for five years — or about one tenth of one percent of all refugees.

As far as territory is concerned, the paper reveals that Abbas conceded Israeli demands to annex large settlement blocs all over Jerusalem and across the West Bank. Once this concession is made, all the bluster about the “1967 border” being a sacred line behind which Israel must withdraw becomes meaningless.

While not conceding a “demilitarized state” by name, Abbas apparently offered that the “sovereign” Palestinian state “would have the right to possess the weapons necessary for the full assumption of its responsibilities” but only “in cooperation with [a] third party.” This third party is not named, but this is almost certainly a reference to the United States, which has since the George W. Bush Administration armed and trained PA militias under the supervision of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton to go out and hunt Palestinians who resist the occupation; US officials have often stated that these repressive militias are to be the nucleus of the armed forces of the future Palestinian state.

Given that the purpose of negotiations is presumably to reach an outcome that lies somewhere between the starting positions of both parties, it is horrifying to think that these proposals are Abbas’ and Erekat’s starting positions. Even if Israel were to grant them, which it clearly will not in any US-brokered process, the end result would be a Palestinian pseudo-state: a bantustan. It would not be a state that fulfills Palestinian rights, but exists in order to deny them, particularly the right of return.

The incoherence of this approach is further highlighted by the fact that the paper accuses the Obama Administration of first promising Abbas that any negotiations would restart from the December 2008 point, and then abandoning that promise. Yet despite the apparent betrayal on this issue and the settlement freeze, the Erekat paper still proposes that the Palestinians “[u]rge the US to propose principles for the resolution of all core, final status issues (borders, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees, security, water, prisoners) …”!

This addiction to always-broken American promises recalls the iconic episode in the Peanuts comic strip where Charlie Brown repeatedly runs to kick a ball held in place by Lucy; each time, Lucy pulls the ball away at the last second leaving Charlie Brown to fall flat on his back. And each time, Charlie Brown believes Lucy’s renewed promises that the next time she will hold the ball in place.

The Erekat paper provides insight into the thought processes of a “leadership” that has not only lost all legitimacy, but does not dare to even to speak about the rights of the people it purports to represent. Indeed, it holds those people and their rights in utter contempt.

While appealing for “national unity,” the paper continues to propagate the false story of a Hamas “coup” in Gaza (in fact the Abbas leadership through its warlord Muhammad Dahlan had tried, ever since Hamas won elections in 2006, to launch a civil war to violently overthrow the group as part of a scheme conceived and executed in collaboration with then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and approved by President Bush — see David Rose, “The Gaza Bombshell,” Vanity Fair, April 2008).

Apparently aware of the utter lack of credibility that the Ramallah Palestinian Authority and the Abbas-controlled skeleton of the PLO have, the Erekat paper proposes a sort of PA hasbara campaign among the Palestinian diaspora in Europe, the Americas and Asia, “to confirm the unified and legitimate representation by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) wherever they are.” This strategy, to be conducted by the “PLO Expatriates Affairs Department” (as if Palestinians are merely emigrés and not refugees), the “Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs” and Fatah itself is aimed to “protect the question of Palestine from attempts targeting the promotion of division, separation and fragmentation and finding an alternative for the PLO by manipulating resistance and religion.”

In other words, the Abbas leadership wants to export its civil war to the diaspora. Indeed, we have already seen this effort begin with the attempted launch of the Abbas-controlled “Palestine Network” aimed to divide and co-opt Palestinian activists (“USPCN: ‘Palestine Network’ is a PA Attempt to Divide the Palestinian People and Surrender their Rights,” 20 November 2009).

Nowhere of course does the Erekat paper actually propose reviving and democratizing the PLO and really involving Palestinians whose voices have been so long shut out by the corrupt and oppressive Oslo clique. It does not recognize or mention the growing civil society-led campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (which scares Israel much more than Erekat’s barking), and mentions the one-state solution only in passing without acknowledging the serious work that has already been done to develop and disseminate this idea.

This is not surprising; to acknowledge any of that would be to admit that the fiction of US-brokered negotiations is over, that those who acted in it and benefitted from it for so long have already done all the damage they can do to the Palestinian people and their rights, and that they should leave the stage.

US and Israel dodge settlement confrontation: BBC

Mr Netanyahu gave Mr Biden a framed certificate, but broke the glass before handing it over
By Paul Wood
During the vice-president’s visit, Benjamin Netanyahu presented Joe Biden with a framed certificate but managed to lean on it, shattering the glass.
One Israeli newspaper had a cartoon showing an Israeli settler with a leaf-blower, blasting the shattered glass into Mr Biden’s face.
The settler was presumably from Ramat Shlomo, where Israel has just announced it would be building 1,600 new homes on occupied land.
The Americans weren’t buying Israel’s explanation that this was the result of a slow-moving bureaucratic process which caught Mr Netanyahu and other senior officials unawares.
Immediately following the announcement, the vice president kept the Israeli prime minister waiting 90 minutes for an official dinner.
That was taken as a sign of Mr Biden’s displeasure.
It also reflected the time needed to work out the line to take with President Barack Obama about the settlement issue.
In the end, the Americans seem to have acquiesced in a face-saving formula drawn up by Mr Netanyahu.
Warm speech
This says procedures will be put in place so that in future such announcements are not made at sensitive junctures in the peace process.
It also states that building at Ramat Shlomo will not start for several years.
In his speech in Tel Aviv, Mr Biden seized on this to say that negotiations should start immediately – there would be time later to work issues such as Ramat Shlomo (along with the division of Jerusalem, control of the holy sites, what is to happen to Palestinian refugees and the final borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state).
Mr Biden used his speech to reiterate yesterday’s unequivocal condemnation of the Israeli decision to build these 1,600 new homes on occupied land.
He said it undermined the trust needed for negotiations to succeed. But the speech was nevertheless warm and non-confrontational.
Indeed Mr Biden began it by saying that he had been a friend and supporter of Israel’s for the past 37 years as an elected public official.
‘Don’t bomb Iran’
Part of Mr Biden’s speech was aimed at Israel’s fears over Iran
Some Israeli commentators have raised the question of whether the United States will be able to fully trust Israel over the sensitive and vital issue of how to deal with Iran if Israel was prepared to humiliate Mr Biden over the settlements issue.
To dispel such thoughts, the vice-president attempted to reassure Israelis that they would not have to face what they assume to be an Iranian nuclear threat alone.
He did however plead for sanctions and diplomacy to be given a chance to work before any military action.
A big part of his private discussions with Israeli leaders is thought to have been about delivering the message: don’t bomb Iran.
Mr Biden’s visit was about resuscitating a peace process which doesn’t seem to have much life of its own – indeed one key part of his speech in Tel Aviv was to tell both parties to the conflict that the United States could not want peace more than they did.

Talks in doubt
So it seems that the White House had decided to try to avoid another damaging and protracted tussle with the Israeli prime minister about settlements.
After all, Israel came out on top in the last test of wills, agreeing to something far less than the total settlement freeze that Washington – and the Palestinians – had been demanding.
All this leaves the Palestinians in a very difficult position.

1 Gilo: 850 homes approved for publication and planning objections in Nov 2009
2 Pisgat Zeev: 600 homes approved for publication and planning objections in Jan 2010
3 Sheikh Jarrah: Several Palestinian families evicted in past 18 months to make way for Jewish settlers after court ruled in ownership dispute
4 Ramat Shlomo: 1,600 homes approved for publication and planning objections in Mar 2010
5 Silwan: Demolition orders on 88 Palestinian homes built without difficult-to-get permits – Israel planning controversial renewal project
6. West Bank barrier: Making Palestinian movement between West Bank and Jerusalem harder – Israel says it’s for security

Backed by the Arab League, they have said that it will be very difficult for them to enter indirect talks unless the Ramat Shlomo project is cancelled.
Yesterday, they were feeling pretty pleased that Israel was at odds with its main ally.
Now the Palestinians must decide if they will go along with the formula adopted by Mr Netanyahu.
For the time being then, the much-delayed peace talks remain in doubt.

UN humanitarian chief warns of disaster if Gaza siege continues: Haaretz

The United Nations humanitarian chief warned Thursday of an impending humanitarian disaster if Egypt succeeds in blocking the tunnels that pass under it’s border into the Gaza Strip.
John Holmes said that as bad as the hundreds of tunnels that bypass the
Israeli blockade are, Gaza would have difficulty surviving if Egypt succeeds in blocking them because they are a conduit for badly-needed food, medicine and commercial goods.

He repeated calls for Israel to end its blockade of the Palestinian territory.
“If those tunnels were blocked, however undesirable they may be, and however undesirable the effect they’re having on the Gazan society and Gazan economy, the situation without the tunnels would be completely unsustainable,” said Holmes, who visited the region for four days earlier this month.
The tunnels are also widely believed to be used for smuggling cash and weapons to Hamas, which wrested control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2005 and refuses to recognize Israel. The Israeli government has repeatedly tried to shut the tunnels down.
Egypt has a fence along Gaza’s southern border and is reinforcing the area with underground metal plates to try to block the tunnels. Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak has defended the move as necessary for his nation’s security following a series of terrorist attacks on nearby tourist resorts.

Holmes said it was very frustrating to see that there has been almost no
rebuilding in Gaza, as a result of the Israeli blockade, since the three-week conflict that ended in Jan. 2009, leaving 13 Israelis and almost 1,400 Palestinians dead.
“What people in Gaza want to see is the opening of the crossings … not only for goods but for people because they are living … in a large open-air prison,” Holmes said.

Holmes said the blockade is not helping Israel’s security or weakening Hamas’ hold on the Palestinian territory.
“The blockade of Gaza does not serve any purpose in my view in security terms for Israel because anything can come in through those tunnels at the moment, nor is it weakening the hold of Hamas on Gaza,” he said. “That’s perfectly clear when you’re there.”
Israel has linked the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Palestinian militants in 2006 and is being held by Hamas, to the blockade, saying it will not consider easing the embargo until Shalit is home. Holmes said the United Nations has called for the release of Shalit and urged that he be treated in accordance with the Geneva conventions.
“But the link between that and the fate of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza does not seem to us a reasonable one,” he said

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March 11, 2010

EDITOR: Who believes the Jerusalem Charade?

It is now unclear who still hangs on to this charade set up by the combined efforts of the US and Israeli administration. No one in Israel or Palestine is confused about what happened here – how could they be? After all, this comedy routine has been played to international audiences for over four decades: Israel wants peace, is crazy for peace, loves peace, eats and drinks peace, etc. If it wasn’t for those terroristic Palestinians, peace would already be here, and Israel would be able to continue building settlements in peace

It is interesting that the writing in Israel about this charade is even clearer and stronger than that aboroad.

Biden to address Israelis as peace talks crisis looms: Haaretz

U.S. condemns Israel after E. Jerusalem building plans threaten negotiations with Palestinians.
United States Vice President Joe Biden will address the Israeli public directly on Wednesday amid a growing diplomatic storm after Israel approved the construction of 1,600 Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem.
According to his official itinerary, Biden is due to focus on American commitment to Israel’s security, Iran’s nuclear program and the peace process.
But the vice-president, the most senior official in the administration of President Barack Obama to visit Israel, has already seen his schedule disrupted as the surprise announcement of the new building work by Interior Minister Eli Yishai coincided with his arrival.

Biden reportedly came close to canceling a state dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the issue and on Tuesday censured Israel in strong language rarely used by the U.S in reference to its close ally.
“I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem,” Biden said.
Earlier Tuesday, the Interior Ministry approved the building of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo, beyond the Green Line in northeast Jerusalem, with a ministry official saying the plan would expand the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood to the east and south.

Israel’s commitment last year to suspend new settlement construction in the West Bank, a response to continued U.S. pressure, did not include East Jerusalem. But the timing of Tuesday’s decision, which came just as Israel and the Palestinians apparently agreed to renew mediated peace negotiations, aroused anger in the U.S. and across the Arab world.
Biden said: “The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.”

On Wednesday Amr Mousa, General Secretary of the Arab League, said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had told him he intended to pull out of the negotiations.
Collapse of the latest round of talks before they are even underway would be a blow to the Obama government, which has so far made little progress in its efforts to revive the deadlocked peace process.

Thank you, Eli Yishai, for exposing the peace process masquerade: Haaretz

By Gideon Levy
Here’s someone new to blame for everything: Eli Yishai. After all, Benjamin Netanyahu wanted it so much, Ehud Barak pressed so hard, Shimon Peres wielded so much influence – and along came the interior minister and ruined everything.

There we were, on the brink of another historic upheaval (almost). Proximity talks with the Palestinians were in the air, peace was knocking on the door, the occupation was nearing its end – and then a Shas rogue, who knows nothing about timing and diplomacy, came and shuffled all the proximity and peace cards.

The scoundrel appeared in the midst of the smile- and hug-fest with the vice president of the United States and disrupted the celebration. Joe Biden’s white-toothed smiles froze abruptly, the great friendship was about to disintegrate, and even the dinner with the prime minister and his wife was almost canceled, along with the entire “peace process.” And all because of Yishai.
Well, the interior minister does deserve our modest thanks. The move was perfect. The timing, which everyone is complaining about, was brilliant. It was exactly the time to call a spade a spade. As always, we need Yishai (and occasionally Avigdor Lieberman) to expose our true face, without the mask and lies, and play the enfant terrible who shouts that the emperor has no clothes.

For the emperor indeed has no clothes. Thank you, Yishai, for exposing it. Thank you for ripping the disguise off the revelers in the great ongoing peace-process masquerade in which nobody means anything or believes in anything.

What do we want from Yishai? To know when the Jerusalem planning committee convenes? To postpone its meeting by two weeks? What for? Hadn’t the prime minister announced to Israel, the world and the United States, in a move seen at the time as a great Israeli victory, that the construction freeze in the settlements does not include Jerusalem? Then why blame that lowly official, the interior minister, who implemented that policy?

What’s the big deal? Another 1,600 apartments for ultra-Orthodox Jews on occupied, stolen land? Jerusalem won’t ever be divided, Benjamin Netanyahu promised, in another applause-winning move. In that case, why not build in it? The Americans have agreed to all this, so they have no reason to pretend to be insulted.

The interior minister should not apologize for the “distress” he caused, but be proud of it. He is the government’s true face. Who knows, perhaps thanks to him America will finally understand that nothing will happen unless it exerts real pressure on Israel.

What would we do without Yishai? Biden would have left Israel propelled by the momentum of success. Netanyahu would have boasted of a renewed close friendship. A few weeks later, the indirect talks would have started. Europe would have applauded, and Barack Obama, the president of big promises, would even have taken a moment away from dealing with his country’s health-care issues to meet with Netanyahu. George Mitchell, who has already scored quite a few diplomatic feats here, would shuttle between Ramallah and Jerusalem, and maybe Netanyahu would eventually have met with Mahmoud Abbas. Face to face. Then everything would have been sorted out.

Without preconditions, certainly without preconditions, Israel would have continued to build in the territories in the meantime – not 1,600 but 16,000 new apartments. The IDF would have continued arresting, imprisoning, humiliating and starving – all under the auspices of the peace talks, of course. Jerusalem forever. The right of return is out of the question, and so is Hamas. And onward to peace!

Months would go by, the talks would “progress,” there would be lots of photo ops, and every now and then a mini-crisis would erupt – all because of the Palestinians, who want neither peace nor a state. At the very end, there might be another plan with another timetable that no one intends to keep.

Everything was so ready, so ripe, until that scoundrel, Yishai, came and kicked it all into oblivion. It’s a bit embarrassing, but not so terrible. After all, time heals all wounds. The Americans will soon forgive, the Palestinians will have no choice, and once again everyone will stand ceremoniously on the platform and the process will be “jump-started” again – despite everything that the sole enemy of peace around here, Eli Yishai, has done to us.

The Obama administration asked for the East Jerusalem fiasco: Haaretz

By Yossi Sarid
Don’t believe Benjamin Netanyahu for one moment when he says he “never knew.” The Jerusalem planning committee is only too aware of what the bosses want, and the government has decided to step up construction in greater Jerusalem. Dispossession and taking possession, kicking out and moving in – that’s what it’s all about.

Over the years, a streamlined and generously lubricated machine has evolved, one that makes it possible to take solace in the building of Jerusalem (in the phrase used to console mourners) and to take pride – but also to take cover – behind a facade of disingenuousness and disowning. Yesterday, it was convenient to disown.

No pretext is more dismal than “bad timing.” Ehud Barak immediately put out a press release about the “harmful timing of the publication.” As if there were a proper time for provocations. If the announcement of the 1,600 planned housing units had come before Joe Biden’s trip, they would have said it was aimed at sabotaging the visit, and if it happened after he left, they would have said Biden himself was in on the secret.

But with Barak, that willing slave-minister of Netanyahu’s, everything’s cool, but if only they had kept that call for bids confidential, if only they built apartments in some dark secluded hideaway, like the Western Wall tunnel.

Don’t believe for a moment that they never knew: The chaos works like clockwork. The detonation mechanism is activated remotely and a safety range is carefully observed. It will always be possible to make procedural claims – “it’s a technical matter” or “the political echelon wasn’t involved” or “the timing was purely coincidental” or “three years of deliberations happened to end now.” What judge hearing a case would accept “I didn’t know” as a mitigating circumstance?

This is one visit Joe Biden will not quickly forget. First he was compelled to sit through 25 minutes of an annoying speech in his honor by our president. Shimon Peres really believes that he is the destination for pilgrims from all over the world who drink in his musings and are intoxicated by his vision.

Later, Biden was given a certificate memorializing his mother, but the glass broke. Once again, Bibi didn’t pay attention, leaned on it and shattered it. No fear, his speeches have always diverted attention from such mishaps. And finally, to add a finishing touch of infuriating disgrace, the Haredi neighborhood Ramat Shlomo was dumped on the vice-presidential head.

Truth be told, the Obama administration just about asked for this slap. In Jerusalem, the lesson has been learned that the White House doesn’t fulfill its obligations – it just goes through the motions by issuing insincere rebukes. And now, they’ll begin the “proximity talks” – Orwellian for distance, which is greater than it’s been in 20 years.

If I were Rahm Emanuel, I wouldn’t advise Barack Obama to follow in his Veep’s footsteps and visit Israel soon. It’s safe to predict that on the day he’s addressing the Knesset, they’ll tell him work has begun on the Temple Mount. The first Temple was that of Solomon the Wise, the Second was that of Ezra the Scribe, and the Third of Netanyahu and Eli Yishai. Let the Temple be built, and the home of the nation will be laid waste.

EDITOR: Sleepless in Gaza and Jerusalem

Two more excellent episodes of this unique and courageous project. Each day, 26 minutes of new material is filmed, edited, and put onto YouTube. The material is just amazing – this is like being there on a daily basis! A big Thank You to all the incredible women working on this project!

Sleppless in Gaza and Jerusalem 6

Ala’ from Jerusalem attends a lecture on gender issues in Bethlehem University in the Holy Land, where she is going for a master degree.
Nagham waits for her brother to arrive from Dubai in the bus station but was her waiting in vain?

Sleepless in Gaza and Jerusalem Day 9

Two IDF soldiers charged with using 9-year-old ‘human shield’ in Gaza war: Haaretz

IDF court free soldier convicted of beating Palestinian, rejects demand to return officer to the ranks.
The Israel Defense Forces prosecution on Thursday filed an indictment against two combat soldiers suspected of inappropriate conduct during Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip in 2008.
The soldiers, who served as staff sergeants in the Givati Brigade during Operation Cast Lead, allegedly forced a 9-year-old Palestinian boy to open a number of bags they thought might contain explosive materials.
The soldiers, who breached the army’s rule against using civilians as human shields during war, will be tried for violating their authority and for inappropriate conduct.
The incident in question occurred in the Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood in south Gaza City in January 2009, toward the end of the war.

IDF court releases soldier convicted of beating Palestinian
In a separate incident earlier Thursday, the military court ordered the release of Adam Malul, an IDF officer convicted in December on charges of aggravated assault and conduct unbecoming an officer after hitting a Palestinian in the West Bank.
In sentencing the officer, 1st Lt. (res.) Adam Malul of the Kfir infantry brigade, the court ruled that he had already served a sufficient punishment after spending 64 days in jail and a further 32 days under house arrest.

The court also rejected a request by the prosecution to demote Malul to the rank of private.
Malul was convicted in of hitting a man while making an arrest in the West Bank village of Kadum in September 2008.
In its December verdict, the court rejected testimony by a former commander of the Kfir infantry brigade, Col. Itai Virob, and a former commander of the Shimshon unit, Lt. Col. Shimon Harush, in which they justified hitting Palestinian detainees under exceptional circumstances.

Malul’s family has said that the trial was a smear campaign against him and accused the court of scape-goating him while acquitting his superiors.
During his trial, Malul testified that he was not ashamed of hitting the Palestinian man, saying, “It was what I had to do”.
However, GOC Central Command Gadi Shamni testified during the military trial that IDF soldiers were not authorized to attack Palestinian civilians during arrest raids, adding that those who cross the army’s “red lines” must be put to trial.
Shamni added that the IDF never authorized the use of such aggression during questioning of detainees.

Joe Biden steps up pressure on Israel over E Jerusalem: Haaretz

Joe Biden: Israeli government’s decision “undermines trust”
US Vice-President Joe Biden has again condemned Israel over a controversial building project, saying its approval undermined trust in the peace process.
Mr Biden was speaking after meeting the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank.
Mr Abbas also said the approval of another 1,600 homes in occupied East Jerusalem threatened the peace process and demanded the plans be scrapped.
Israel has insisted the move had nothing to do with Mr Biden’s visit.
‘Lasting peace’
Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to hold indirect “proximity talks” in a bid to restart the peace process, which has been stalled for 17 months.
However, the Israeli settlement announcement has cast a shadow on those talks, with the Palestinian Authority saying the approval showed Israel believed US negotiation efforts had failed before they had even begun.

Joe Biden was forthright in condemning Israel’s approval of plans for another 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem.
In the future, he asserted, Washington would hold both sides accountable for any statement or actions that inflamed tensions or prejudiced the outcome of talks. Strong words. But was Israel’s prime minister listening?
Many observers see Mr Netanyahu’s priority as being political survival, and he is practiced in the art of navigating between domestic pressures and those coming from Washington.
Historical boldness, as Mr Biden put it, is not in his nature – nor in fairness is it part of the make-up of President Abbas. But that is just what the US now expects.
Mr Biden’s mission underscores the fundamental ambivalence in the US position. It must seek to make Israel feel secure, because only a secure government – it is said – can take the risks needed for peace.
But equally it wants to exert some pressure over a government that, in resisting a full-scale settlement freeze, has pretty well outfoxed the US during the first year of President Obama’s tenure.

Mr Biden told a joint press conference with Mr Abbas that he would condemn all statements that inflamed the situation or prejudiced the peace process.
He said the US would play an active and sustained role in the talks process and warned that it was “incumbent on both sides not to complicate the process”.
“Yesterday, the decision by the Israeli government to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem undermines that very trust – the trust that we need right now in order to begin as well as produce profitable negotiations.”
Mr Biden said achieving peace would require both Israel and the Palestinians to take “historically bold” steps.
Mr Abbas said he was addressing the Israeli people in saying that the “time is right for peace based on two states – an Israeli state living in peace and security alongside a Palestinian state”.
He said there should be a “permanent, lasting and just peace” that took in all areas, including Syria and Lebanon.
But he was also highly critical of the planning decision, saying it represented “the ruining of trust and a serious blow” to peace efforts.
Mr Abbas has refused to resume direct negotiations with the Israeli government because of its refusal to put a complete stop to the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israeli denial
In November, Israel announced a 10-month suspension of new building in the West Bank, under heavy US pressure. But it considers areas within the Jerusalem municipality as its territory and the restrictions do not apply.

Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
During their dinner on Tuesday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Mr Biden that he had no prior knowledge of the decision to authorise the new housing units in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Ramat Shlomo, officials said.
He said the plans had been submitted three years ago and had only received initial approval that day.
“The district committees approve plans weekly without informing me,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai, the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, told Israel Radio on Wednesday morning.
“If I’d have known, I would have postponed the authorisation by a week or two since we had no intention of provoking anyone.”
But the US government has not accepted Israel’s explanation that the announcement was essentially part of a bureaucratic process that had no connection with Mr Biden’s visit, says BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in Jerusalem.
Israel, deliberately or not, inflicted something close to a humiliation on the Obama administration and the words they chose in reaction reflected that, our correspondent says.
The UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband condemned the announcement by Israel.
“This is a bad decision at the wrong time. It will give strength to those who argue that Israel is not serious about peace,” he said in a press statement.
“I condemn it as certain to undermine the mutual confidence we need.”
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton also condemned the move, saying it risked peace talks before they had even begun and called on Israel to reverse the decision.
The Arab League was due to meet in Cairo to decide on a response.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev insisted Israel had “a very good working relationship and a very good personal relationship” with the US.
He dismissed speculation that the interior ministry’s announcement was a deliberate move by some members of Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet to scupper any chance of peace talks.
The US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is scheduled to arrive in the region next week to conduct the second round of proximity talks.

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March 10, 2010

Banksy December 5, 2007, in Bethlehem

EDITOR: “Peace Talks” Scene 2

So now we are into the script with earnest. The Peace Talks have started – Mitchell is shuttling between camps, trying work out who wants tea and who is for coffee, and having a difficult time with it, as Israel will not agree to accept any preconditions, and no tea can be ordered until the PNA, with its unelected President, will recognise Israel as Jewish State!

Well he almost succeeded, him with Irish experience of hard bargaining, only to have, together with his Vice President who flew in to be humiliated, the unmitigated pleasure of being spat upon by the Israelis; he did not like it, but took it like a man, and said: “Hey man, isn’t it raining?’

If only Joe Biden would read this website, he will face fewer surprises. Don’t those guys ever read the script?

Now we are waiting for Scene 3…

Biden: East Jerusalem plan undermines peace talks: Haaretz

Biden: Not a Happy Bunny

Israel’s decision to approve 1,600 new homes in an ultra-Orthodox East Jerusalem neighborhood is undermining Middle East peace talks, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Earlier Tuesday, the Interior Ministry approved the building of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo, with a ministry official saying the plan will expand the ultra-Orthodox East Jerusalem neighborhood to the east and to the south.

“I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem,” Biden said.
The American vice president added that the “substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I?ve had here in Israel.”
“We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them,” Biden said adding that the “announcement underscores the need to get negotiations under way that can resolve all the outstanding issues of the conflict,” Biden said.
“The United States recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply important issue for Israelis and Palestinians and for Jews, Muslims and Christians.”
Biden also said that the U.S. believed “that through good faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem and safeguards its status for people around the world.”

“Unilateral action taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations on permanent status issues. As George Mitchell said in announcing the proximity talks, ‘we encourage the parties and all concerned to refrain from any statements or actions which may inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of these talks,'” Biden said.
The Palestinian Authority had also remarked on the announced plan Tuesday , saying that it ended efforts to renew negotiations with Israel.
The statement approving the 1,600 new houses, released by the Interior Ministry’s Jerusalem district planning committee, headed by Ruth Yosef, said that at least 30 percent of the units will be allocated to young couples.
Public facilities and spaces which were, the statement said, lacking in the existing parts of the neighborhood, are also to be added as part of the new plan, including a new central park.

Also Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority said that Israel’s decision to approve new East Jerusalem houses effectively prevents any peace negotiations from taking place.
Director of policy and strategy of the U.S. pro-peace organization J Street, Hadar Susskind, said in a statement that the organization joined Biden “in condemning Israel’s announcement of new East Jerusalem construction that only serves to hinder Middle East peace efforts, particularly as the Israelis and Palestinians begin proximity talks.”
“Continued construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank only diminishes the chances of achieving a viable two-state solution to the conflict,” Susskind added.

The statement also said that Israel’s approval of new East Jerusalem homes marked a “disappointing inflaming of tensions and undermining of trust – and is particularly surprising given Vice President Biden’s present visit to Israel aimed at underscoring the U.S.-Israel relationship and the American commitment to a two-state resolution of the conflict.”
“We echo Vice President Biden’s call for all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that may inflame tensions and prejudice the outcome of peace talks,” the J Street statement added, saying that “If we are to achieve a true resolution to the conflict – and secure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic homeland – all sides must demonstrate their commitment to the diplomatic and constructive engagement needed to succeed.”

Meir Margalit, Meretz’s representative to the Jerusalem city council, claimed that the statement was meant to disrupt the Biden visit, saying that he had “no doubt that the timing isn’t coincidental,” calling the announcement Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s “answer to Netanyahu’s willingness to renew indirect peace talks with the Palestinians.”
“The fact that Eli Yishai couldn’t restrain himself for another two-three days until Biden left Israel means his intention was to slap the U.S. administration in the face,” Margalit said, adding that the announcement was “a provocation to the U.S. and to the prime minister.”

Following a request for a statement by Prime Minister’s Office, Yishai said in response that the timing of the announcement had no connection to Biden’s visit.
The Interior Ministry had announced the decision to build 1,300 new homes in Ramat Shlomo, in 2008, with the approval of the regional planning board as part of Jerusalem’s housing master plan.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat at the time called the announcement part of “a systematic policy to destroy the peace process,” urging then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to make the issue her top priority

Joe Biden steps up pressure on Israel over E Jerusalem: BBC

Joe Biden: Israeli government’s decision “undermines trust”

US Vice-President Joe Biden has again condemned Israel over a controversial building project, saying approval had undermined trust in the peace process.
Mr Biden was speaking after meeting the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah.
Mr Abbas also said the approval of 1,600 more Jewish homes in East Jerusalem threatened the peace process and called for it to be cancelled.
Israel insists the move has nothing to do with Mr Biden’s visit.
The timing of the move, shortly before Mr Biden’s visit, angered the US.
Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to hold indirect “proximity talks” in a bid to restart the peace process, which has been stalled for 17 months.
However, the Israeli settlement announcement has cast a shadow on those talks, with the Palestinian Authority saying the approval showed Israel believed US negotiation efforts had failed before they had even begun.

Senior Palestinian officials have described as catastrophic Israel’s decision to push ahead with a planning process for 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem.
This is a part of the city which the rest of the world sees as occupied territory and which the Palestinians want as a capital for their new state.
The Americans are still hoping that Israel and the Palestinians will begin a round of indirect talks, but now members of the Arab League are threatening to withdraw their grudging support for fresh negotiations.
Before the discussions have even started, accusations of bad faith abound.

Mr Biden said at a joint press conference with Mr Abbas that he would condemn all statements that inflamed the situation or prejudiced the peace process.
He said the US pledged an active and sustained role in the talks process and it was “incumbent on both sides not to complicate the process”.
“Yesterday, the decision by the Israeli government to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem undermines that very trust – the trust that we need right now in order to begin as well as produce profitable negotiations.”
Mr Biden said achieving peace would require both Israel and the Palestinians to take “historically bold” steps.
Mr Abbas said he was addressing the Israeli people in saying that the “time is right for peace based on two states – an Israeli state living in peace and security alongside a Palestinian state”.
He said there should be a “permanent, lasting and just peace” that took in all areas, including Syria and Lebanon.
But he was also highly critical of the planning decision, saying they represented “the ruining of trust and a serious blow” to peace efforts.
Mr Abbas has refused to resume direct negotiations with the Israeli government because of its refusal to put a complete stop to the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israeli denial
In November, Israel announced a 10-month suspension of new building in the West Bank, under heavy US pressure. But it considers areas within the Jerusalem municipality as its territory and the restrictions do not apply.
Israel, deliberately or not, inflicted something close to a humiliation on the Obama administration and the words they chose in reaction reflected that, our correspondent says.

Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
During their dinner on Tuesday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Mr Biden that he had no prior knowledge of the decision to authorise the new housing units in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Ramat Shlomo, officials said.
He said the plans had been submitted three years ago and had only received initial approval that day.
“The district committees approve plans weekly without informing me,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai, the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, told Israel Radio on Wednesday morning.
“If I’d have known, I would have postponed the authorisation by a week or two since we had no intention of provoking anyone.”
But the US government has not accepted Israel’s explanation that the announcement was essentially part of a bureaucratic process that had no connection with Mr Biden’s visit, says BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in Jerusalem.
The Arab League will meet in Cairo later to decide on a response.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev insisted Israel had “a very good working relationship and a very good personal relationship” with the US.
He dismissed speculation that the interior ministry’s announcement was a deliberate move by some members of Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet to scupper any chance of peace talks.
The US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is scheduled to arrive in the region next week to conduct the second round of proximity talks.

When Israelis degrade Israel by humiliating Joe Biden: Haaretz

By Bradley Burston
Why would Israeli officials degrade Israel by humiliating the vice-president of the United States?
What conceivable advantage is there in the Interior Ministry choosing the occasion of a high-profile visit by Joseph R. Biden, Jr., a mission aimed at soothing strained relations between Israel and the Obama administration, to announce the approval of 1,600 new homes for Israelis in East Jerusalem?

Or to add, in insult to injury, that construction on the new homes could begin as soon as early May.

What could officials here gain from what is, in effect, an Israeli version of the incitement the government so keenly – and correctly -decries in its Palestinian incarnations?
It the same edge that Knesset Deputy Speaker Danny Danon of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud stood to gain by telling the Washington Post, “While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel, we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.”

It is the base sentiment that Avigdor Lieberman’s Foreign Ministry has courted in trying to make Israel appear to loom large by treating dignitaries from overseas to petty indignities and frank disrespect.
The profit, for the hard right, is political. It mines an emotional vein along a relatively small but potent segment of the Israeli electorate, which holds that to insult Israel’s indispensible ally is to assert the Jewish state’s independence.
In their drive to expunge any trace of hitrapsut – groveling to the colonial master – there are those among the ostensible super-patriots of the right who revel in shots across the bow of the American ship of state.

On the whole, the farther right one goes in Israel, the more pronounced the sentiment. Avowedly pro-Kahane extremists, now strong enough to have placed their own representative in the Knesset, have gained shock cred by lining highway underpasses with posters of the “Jew-hater Obama” photoshopped into wearing a Palestinian kaffieh.
Harder to fathom was the Defense Ministry’s Monday announcement that work would resume on 112 homes in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit, units whose construction had been suspended under a White House-spurred settlement freeze.
Chalk it up, if you like, to the powerful pro-settler presence in certain strata of Israel’s bureaucracy. Or credit the mercurial, not to say, erratic, policy style of Defense Minister and Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak. Or accept the official explanation that the timing of the decision was coincidence, entirely unconnected with the vice-presidential visit.

In the anarchic swirl of current Israeli governance, the correct answer may well be: all three.

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March 9, 2010

How many Mossad agents... by Khalil Bendib

EDITOR: Some sane signs amidst the media glitz and medness

For Haaretz to publish a call for Israel to speak with Hamas, at the very moment of preapring another war on Gaza while talking ‘peace’ with the US, however mild the article may be, is not a usual practice in country where the mere name of Hamas is used to frighten the public into docile submission. Let us hope some more sane voices may follow.

Israel must talk to Hamas before it’s too late: Haaretz

By David Zonsheine
Israel must talk to Hamas. Not secretly. Not indirectly. Not for a politician to rehabilitate himself on the way to taking over the leadership of a party, as Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz tried to do, but openly and seriously. Just as the United States regularly talks to the Israeli opposition, Israel should maintain a dialogue with the Palestinian opposition. The dialogue should cover all core issues including a final settlement.

It’s not a simple matter, of course. There is agreement across the political spectrum to reduce the debate to a demonization of Hamas, dwelling on the organization’s external attributes as perceived by Israel – religious, extremist and desiring all the territory between the river and the sea. This debate does not focus on the Israeli interest. We should be asking ourselves the following questions: Is it worthwhile to speak with Hamas? What are our reasons for not talking to them? Is boycotting them linked to an erroneous preconception?
Israel rigorously insists that Hamas is not a partner and that our partner is Fatah, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But negotiations with Fatah have been going on for nearly two decades, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that he accepts the principle of two states for two peoples looks like just another trick to postpone the demise of the current negotiation process.

In 2004, the Israeli government decided that Yasser Arafat was not relevant. Abbas, Israel’s leaders have said, is weak. At the same time, Israel has for years been doing all it can to weaken the Palestinian Authority. That way, it will be possible to prove yet again that although “we have to talk, there’s no one you can close a deal with.” Even if an agreement is signed under American pressure, the PA will not be able to implement it because more than half the Palestinians don’t accept its authority. This is why the refusal to speak with Hamas is pointless. It is no more than a continuation of avoiding talking to the Palestinians by other means.

Hamas’ rule in Gaza is the outcome of despair with the Fatah leadership. The deterioration of the situation in Gaza after the ongoing failure of negotiations and the total dependence on Israel for receiving basic needs intensify the despair and extremism. (And no one is talking about the right to free movement, to go abroad to study.) Even today, there are groups resisting Hamas that resemble Al-Qaida. We can drag things out as much as we want, but we have to admit that the notion that time is on our side is baseless. The people who led Abbas to consider resigning and who refuse to talk to Hamas will find themselves in five years with a partner who reports to Osama bin Laden.
Nothing is possible without Gilad Shalit. People may say that the fate of a country cannot be dependent on what happens to one abducted soldier. There is no greater mistake. The abandonment of Shalit is symptomatic of Zionism’s failure, the elevation of pride over wisdom and tactics over strategy. It’s the denial of the sanctity of life and redeeming prisoners, values that are at the heart and soul of the nation.

Precisely here, the soft underbelly of public opinion, it would be possible to makes progress on the delicate matter of contacts with Hamas. More than 7,000 Palestinians are being held prisoner in Israel. There is one Israeli prisoner in Palestine. The suffering of both sides, and with it the tremendous joy that a prisoner exchange would produce, can and should be the lever for a stepped-up conciliation process.
For years Israel and its citizens have been paying the price of choosing solutions that were appropriate for the last war. Hiding our head in the sand at such a critical stage is dangerous. We have to declare our readiness to speak with the Palestinian opposition, immediately.

The writer is a joint founder of an initiative seeking direct and open talks with Hamas.

Banksy December 5, 2007, Betlehem

Possibilities of war: Iran: Al Ahram Weekly

Despite how alarming the prospect of a nuclear Iran might be to Washington, enhancing sanctions or authorising pre-emptive strikes could lead to an all-out war the US might lose, writes Azmi Bishara
The Obama administration’s reappointment of the Bush administration’s secretary of defence, Robert Gates, reflects the growing involvement of the US military establishment in decision-making processes on matters of war and peace, and hence in US foreign policy in general. The primary catalyst in this development has been the dismal results of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan leading to attempts to reform the military establishment’s modus operandi, which isn’t directly affected by elections, a couple of years before the end of Bush’s tenure. The new programming was scripted to a considerable extent in the Baker- Hamilton Report, submitted to Bush in December 2006. The most important recommendations of this report were, first, its call for a dialogue with countries neighbouring Iraq, including Syria and Iran, in order to persuade them to help promote stability in order to extricate the US from the Iraqi quagmire it created after having invaded that country and demolished its existing governing infrastructures, and second its call to renew efforts towards a political solution to the Palestinian cause, which is to say to revive the so-called “peace process”.

Against this backdrop, the appointment of Gates as secretary of defence, instead of Rumsfeld, was a manifestation of the military establishment’s rejection of the latter and of the neoconservatives’ adventurism. Gates is now the military establishment’s man in the White House and his influence has increased under Obama. He epitomises that conjunction between the refusal to allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons and the desire to avert an all-out war with Iran. This is the current position of the establishment in the West, regardless of the Tony Blair-like histrionics that only a handful of Arab officials buy.

Washington’s refusal of a nuclear Iran has its roots in its relations with Tehran since the Islamic Revolution. Its position is based on both rational and irrational reasons, even from the American perspective, and these are precisely the reasons that compel a regime that feels itself under perpetual threat from the US, which has not recognised it until today, to contemplate possessing a nuclear weapon for deterrent purposes. The mutual antagonism between Washington and Tehran is fed by the former’s declared and applied intent to overthrow the Iranian regime and by the latter’s refusal to accept US hegemony and its consequences in the Middle East. However, the more immediate cause for hostility is the Israeli attitude towards Iran, even in the reformist era, versus the Iranian attitude towards Israel.

It is this factor that accounts for why the tenor of Iranian-US relations has remained unchanged even after much has changed in both countries. It is what fuels that dynamo that whirs tirelessly in the international domain to impose sanctions and to keep the Iranian question a top priority on the global agenda. Israel is the most active country in this dynamo. It is the party that most clearly and persistently urges the use of all means to prevent Iran from attaining the ability to produce its own nuclear weapon, and it is the most adamant about keeping the military option open, if only in theory, in the game of tug-of-war with Iran. The Israeli lobby in Congress and the White House is steering the campaign against Iran. Its success in this regard was crowned with the appointment of Dennis Ross as the White House’s advisor and special envoy on matters pertaining to Iran. Western leaders, in general, can come up with no other justification for their opposition to the Iranian nuclear programme than their anxiety over “its potential threat to Israel’s security and existence”.

While European officials were discussing the question of tougher sanctions on Iran, Israel marked the 61st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz with even louder than the previous year’s commemorations. In the process, teams of Israeli officials were deployed in every European capital to mount podiums, wag their fingers and deliver lectures on the relationship between the Nazi Holocaust and the Iranian position on the existence of Israel. Needless to say, the wiles and ruses of political exploitation know no bounds. Few are the arenas that have not come under pressure from Israel and the US to prevent Iran from arming itself and to tighten sanctions. The campaign extends across the whole of Europe, Russia, China, India, the Arab world and even Africa. No field of industry, banking and even the media has escaped being turned into a means for weakening and surrounding Iran. Even the Lebanese/Syrian front, from the Israeli perspective, has been subordinated to calculations pertaining to the primary front against Tehran. The existential threat comes from there, according to the current Israeli thinking, and the chief strategic threat is Iran’s missiles with regard to which Israelis are keeping very close watch on range, accuracy, the type of warhead they can carry, and their destructive power.

In the distant past, the Arab nationalist regimes of the 1960s constituted the real threat. They were existentially antithetical to Israel and applied their energies against it on all fronts. Today, the visible danger resides in a hostile regime that is ideologically opposed to Israel, that has given no hint of an inclination to reach an understanding, and that possesses advanced missilery. The Arabs, of course, remain the existential antithesis in the long run, but they are unorganised and they are not collectively represented by a sovereign state or even several separate states.

Binyamin Netanyahu has taken this thinking so far as to dub Iran the “new Amalek” ( Haaretz, 18 February 2010). The reference is to the Biblical Amalekites who occasioned the first divinely ordained genocide in history when the Old Testament Yahweh commanded the Israelites to destroy them totally, sparing no one, including women, children and even their livestock. Of course, such a thing is not possible in our modern day and age. However, apparently it is possible for a secular prime minister of a “democratic” state to hurl an allusion to this blood-steeped legacy at his contemporary political enemies without raising the eyebrows of the civilised world, where the current bent of literature, arts and dialogue conferences of every sorts is to heap scorn and derision on Ahmadinejad, and without stirring The New York Times into devoting even a small editorial to this dangerous and provocative indulgence in religious imagery.

Turning to the other half of Washington’s dilemma, its reluctance to start a full-fledged war against Iran resides in its anxieties over the fallout from such a war on the rest of the region, inclusive of Iraq, all the more so given that the repercussions are impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy. It also has to do with doubts over whether the US and its allies could sustain the costs of a war, and with the lack of any volunteers to side with the US in such a war in spite of the many parties prodding and plotting for a military showdown. To further aggravate this factor, the US remains mired in Iraq and Afghanistan, where resistance movements remain strong, and it is doubtful whether it could stretch its forces to other fronts.

It should be mentioned here that Arab countries could be certain of preventing a war, for there could not be a war without their approval, whereas their approval alone is not sufficient to make a war. Evidently, they have opted for the less certain path. This is also the place to register a reminder that if the Arabs had systematically opposed the American invasion of Iraq they would have prevented that war.

Of course, the Obama administration has political considerations for avoiding combat against Iran. Obama was elected largely on the basis of his pledge to put an end to wars begun by his predecessor. He was not elected to start new wars. If he has yet to score any major inroads towards the fulfilment of that pledge, imagine the political risks he would incur if he plunged his country into another war, especially one that would be so unpredictable.

There are, nonetheless, the seeds of a different approach to the Iranian question, but they are unlikely to find fertile ground in view of the hold the Israeli perspective has over US strategy for the region. The alternative viewpoint is to learn to cope with the idea of Iranian nuclear capacity; it would not be the end of the world. Iran is better organised and more institutionalised than Pakistan. Of course, there would have to be comprehensive understandings, but these are reachable with a state that is developing a nationalist pragmatism that seeks to translate economic, political and strategic advantages into regional and international status. No one has anything to gain if this power is built under boycott, and certainly those who violate the boycott do not do so free of charge: some receive payment in material goods or cash (Russia), others in reduced oil prices (China), and others in commercial, financial and real estate returns (Dubai). So, according to this point of view, what’s wrong with containing Iran within a framework that acknowledges its standing? In return, Iran would accept conditions that not only meet the approval of the US but also of a large segment of Iranian public opinion that wants the Iranian government to give priority to the needs of its citizens and the country (a policy of “Iran first” one might say).

In fact, Iran has come a long way in this direction. The development is particularly apparent in its relations with neighbouring Arab countries in which it is constantly trying to turn local sectarian affiliation into political affiliation to Tehran (“Iran first”). However, the Shia Islamist ideology on which the Iranian regime is founded restricts the tendency towards state pragmatism, for not only does it highlight what separates Iran from its surroundings it also underscores what it has in common with it, namely Islam and antagonism towards Israel. Still, in the absence of the abovementioned alternative, the US position remains caught between its rejection of a nuclear Iran and its desire to avoid an all-out war.

Within this framework, both sides have a margin of manoeuvrability. The US-Israeli margin ranges from pressing for harsher sanctions (covering economic, commercial and financial activities, as well as transportation and communications) to calculated raids on specific targets (along the lines of the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor or its “pre-emptive” strike against Deir Al-Zor). Somewhere in the middle lie intelligence operations, such as supporting armed insurgents in Iranian border regions, and — more recently on the American agenda — supporting the new Iranian opposition. In the not so distant past, US intelligence efforts focussed on backing the conventional opposition made up of members and supporters of the ancien régime. However, the US could not pass up the window of opportunity presented by the front that rallied behind the rejection of the Ahmadinejad approach and the results of last June’s presidential elections. This opposition is deeper, broader and morally weightier than the conventional opposition, for which reason it will obtain unconventional assistance, both directly and indirectly.

The Iranian margin of manoeuvrability covers warding off harsher sanctions for as long as possible, announcing conciliatory initiatives — especially at times when it makes another breakthrough in uranium enrichment — and sustaining good relations with countries that are more concerned about promoting their economic interests than about pleasing the US, such as China and Russia. Even a country such as India, which has entered the US-Israeli alliance (largely because of the Arabs and Pakistan) and has more reasons than China to value this alliance, has strategic reasons for not jeopardising its relationship with Iran. In addition to such concerns as a shared position towards Afghanistan, for example, India refines some 40 per cent of the gasoline that is imported into Iran. Turning off the taps to refined gas is the furthest the US is contemplating on going in terms of “effective sanctions” and this step it would save for last. At that point Washington would not only have to pressure China, it would have twist India’s arm too. However, its ability to do so has gradually dwindled with respect to India because of the US’s declining fortunes in its war against the Taliban which, in my opinion, it will ultimately lose, and with respect to China because of the repercussions of the global financial crisis.

In calculating the limits of military confrontation in that space between the desire to avoid comprehensive engagement and the rejection of a nuclear Iran it is best to exclude actions that could lead to a full-scale war, even if that is not their initial nature or intent. For example, tactical raids are theoretically possible as an upper threshold of engagement, yet one side or the other could take such an action as an act of war and respond accordingly, on the basis of the reasoning that that is what war is. Thus, attacks against certain locations in Iran could escalate into a full-scale war, but the same might apply to a cut-off of imports of refined gas. Much would depend on the Iranian reaction. If Tehran saw this as grounds for retaliatory skirmishes in the Straits of Hormuz, would the US not respond to the challenge? In other words, might not the imposition of certain types of sanctions feasibly degenerate into all-out war?

While the US, now, seems to be treading these waters with care, it will still continue its gradual push no notch up sanctions in a way that will guarantee a favourable response from the countries that count. It will simultaneously build on the development of the Iranian opposition. This is now Iran’s fundamental problem and it should compel Tehran to deal more seriously with the dialectic of citizenship and the official ideology of the state. The Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe and China have passed through such a phase. This is not the place to elaborate on those battles. However, the civil rights camp, as rightful as its demands are, continues to regard foreign policy and ideology as the cause of its tragedies, although there is not necessarily a connection between the two, apart from the regime’s attempts to use ideology and the banner of solidarity with the oppressed as a pretext for abusing the rights of citizens, restricting freedoms, and nurturing and protecting corruption among the ruling classes. I stress “as a pretext”. The oppressed and those who side with them, wherever they might be in the world, are not to blame for the mismanagement of the kolkhozy, domestic repression or the failure of five-year plans. In addition to people’s tendency to blame an ideology that had become totally devoid of substance at the time of the state’s collapse, and hence an easy target, the opposing camp, too, plays on ideology in its propaganda campaigns against its adversary and in marketing itself. Some self-appointed spokesmen for the oppressed do this in the course of their praise for domestic policies in totalitarian states. Iran faces a dialectic of this sort. It will have to come to terms with it in order to strengthen its resilience against outside pressures.

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