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Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

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“An intifada of the wealthy”

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Living conditions seem to be improving in the West Bank. Thanks to a recently gained sense of security and availability of funding, Palestinian farmers are diversifying their crop portfolio away from staples like tomatoes, for a competitive edge. Palestinians have announced the launch of one of their most ambitious real estate projects to date in the central West Bank. Nablus, long the industrial hub of the West Bank, the city’s once ubiquitous soapmakers who have survived a sharp decline in sales are eyeing new markets abroad for their all-natural product. A recent International Monetary Fund report projects real GDP in the West Bank to rise by about 7 percent this year, provided that remaining Israeli military restrictions are lifted. This growth will mark “the first substantial increase in living standards since 2005″, the IMF says. Cafes in Ramallah are bustling with business, and unemployment is down.

Five years ago, such positive economic climate could not have been imagined. The West Bank’s economy had been weak and dwindling under checkpoints and roadblocks imposed by Israel following the Palestinian uprising of 2000. Things started changing this summer, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easing travel within the West Bank as part of an “economic peace” that he described as a prelude to a fuller accord with the Palestinians. Consolidating that vision despite his own reservations about Israel’s long-term intentions, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad unveiled a 65-page plan for building the institutions and infrastructure of the future state of Palestine.

Many Palestinians, like Nimmer Nazal, acknowledge the economic improvements but are still wary of how long this trend might last. Israel has ultimate control of roads, energy, water, telecommunications and air space, and “there were checkpoints on the roads everywhere,” he said.
“They stopped us going to market. We could take all day just getting into Jenin, which is only a few minutes away now,” Nazal told Reuters. “But everything still depends on the security situation. If the atmosphere goes sour, everything will collapse overnight.”

There has been no major violence and Palestinians are enjoying an economic recovery, but some Israeli pundits say this is too reminiscent of the fleeting stability enjoyed just before past outbreaks of violence. A columnist for the leading Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth wrote: ”The statistics are clear and frightening: Every time the standard of living in the Palestinian parts of the West Bank reaches a new zenith, an Intifada (revolt) breaks out and turns back the wheel. This was the case in 1987, this is what happened in 2000, and this may be happen now.”

The Opportunity Cost

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(Read the English transcript of Shalit’s video message here.)

It’s been two days since the exchange of the captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit’s proof-of-life video for Israel’s release of 20 Palestinian female prisoners. The final prisoner of the 20 was freed today as the last step to the soldier-video swap.

After being made public, the video has been replayed nonstop on television, radio, and video web-hosting sites. As of Monday, the endless number of video uploads by individual users on Youtube had each been viewed over at least 40,000 times.

The Iran question, again

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It seems last week’s focus, settlement expansion, has given way to this week’s prime focus: Might Israel attack Iran?

Last week the Arab media found Israel’s refusal to cease settlement expansion unsurprising and affirmative of what they said was Israel’s unwillingness to pursue a peace settlement with the Palestinians. An op-ed in Al Ahram Weekly, an English-language newspaper in Egypt, questioned the Arabs’ ability to challenge Israel: “Will they have the courage to shift the focus back from the Israeli-instigated ‘Iranian threat’ to the clear and present Israeli danger to the region?”

Hopeless or Hopeful?

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The trilateral summit tomorrow at the United Nations in New York will be the first time the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president will be meeting since the suspension of peace talks last December, but nobody’s waiting with bated breath. According to our latest article, the inability to reach an agreement on a settlement freeze and Israelis and Palestinians accusing each other for the lack of efforts to revive peace negotiations, continue to be the bumps in the road to peace. (Read our FACTBOX about Israel’s settlements.)

After the U.S. envoy George Mitchell’s week-long shuttle diplomacy ended last week without obvious result. He had attempted to break the negotiation deadlock between the two sides, any chance of bringing three leaders together for dialogue – albeit “without preconditions” and promise for resumption of negotiations – should seem to be an occasion worth anticipating. (Read more of our coverage here.) Israeli newspapers, however, were not encouraged, calling the summit “the flight to nowhere” and projecting it would be “solely symbolic”.

Generation gap?

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In a speech in which he again voiced his five conditions for peace with the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had this to say about prospects for real change in the Middle East:

“… it will still take a whole generation before Palestinians internalise recognition of the state of Israel and its permanent legitimacy”.

The Mysterious Mr. Mitchell’s MacGuffin

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It’s a bit like a Hitchock thriller. Nobody knows where he is — not even the U.S. State Department — and nobody knows when he will show up in Israel. All we know is, suspense is building and it’s time to watch out for surprises.

President Barack Obama’s Middle East peace envoy Senator George Mitchell is somewhere in transit — probably – and expected in Israel and the Palestinian Territories next week –  sometime.

Insulting the intelligence

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Good morning, children.

Today we are going to learn about two common rhetorical tricks that help greatly with the cynical manipulation of arguments.

First, disingenuousness. The Oxford Shorter English Dictionary defines disingenuous as “lacking in frankness, insincere, morally fraudulent”, in the sense of pretending not to know what you in fact know very well.

Man with a plan

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bibi1 Israel’s annual political exercise of passing a budget reached a successful conclusion on Wednesday, albeit a few months behind schedule given that 2009 is already more than halfway through.

Another plus for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that he was able to make history without much diplomatic risk, but by getting Israel’s fractious parliament to back the nation’s first two-year spending plan.

The new budget totals 316.5 billion shekels ($80.7 billion) for 2009, and an additional 325.3 billion shekels ($82.9 billion) earmarked for next year, 2010.

5 Years On: The ICJ and Israel’s Separation Barrier

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This week marks the fifth anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s ruling against Israel’s controversial separation barrier, which  is still under construction in and around the West Bank. According to a report from the UN High Commission for Human Rights, about 60 percent of the barrier has been constructed.

Israel says the barrier is aimed at preventing Palestinian terrorism, and says that since the wall has been built there has been a significant drop in attacks. However, the ICJ condemned Israel’s construction of the barrier on land within the West Bank-land Palestinians want for a future state-instead of on the Israeli side of the green line (the 1949 armistice line).

from Global News Journal:

Peace is no kiss, Israeli aide says

A top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used an odd turn of phrase to explain what some see as a puzzling demand put to Palestinians by the right-wing leader as a condition for any any Israeli agreement to establishing a state in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu wants Palestinians to recognise Israel explicitly as a Jewish state, in addition to their having recognised Israeli sovereignty as part of an interim peace deal in 1993. He feels this would symbolise an historic end of conflict, his aides have explained.

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