AxisMundi Jerusalem

Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

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Gridlock in the Mideast

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JamWant to know how it feels to be George Mitchell, President Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East? Try getting from Jerusalem to Ramallah on a typical weekday at the rush hour. And experience stalemate, frustration, competitive selfishness, blind fury and an absence of movement that even the most stubborn and blinkered of West Bank bus drivers might see as a metaphor for the peace process that is going nowhere fast right now.

It took me 2 full hours to drive the 100 metres (yards) or so from the Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank barrier around Jerusalem to reach the relatively open main street through Qalandiya refugee camp, the gateway to Ramallah. The reason? Well, at its simplest it’s traffic chaos caused by anarchy, a vacuum of law and order. Look further, as with much else in the Middle East, and you get a conflicting and contrasting range of explanations.

Traffic coming through the Israeli checkpoint must merge with that arriving on a main road that follows the West Bank barrier on the Palestinian side. Just beyond the checkpoint, where these two flows merge, they must also cross with traffic going in the opposite direction, from Ramallah, either into the checkpoint or along the barrier. The snag? No traffic lights, no traffic police, no nothing (barely smooth tarmac and certainly no painted junction lines) at the crossroads. The result? Check out the picture above.

Why does it happen? For many Palestinians, the cause as in so many other respects is Israel. Take away the checkpoint and the Jewish settlements protected by further military posts and traffic would circulate much more easily. For Israelis, the checkpoints, barrier and so on are the result of Palestinian violence during the Intifada of the first part of this decade. Bad traffic is the price ordinary Palestinians are paying. Dig further, and each side will come up with a long line of causes and counter-causes going back many decades, if not millennia. Stuck in a jam at Qalandiya checkpoint, you have time to muse on all of them, believe me.

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?”

Settlement Freeze Still the Hot Topic

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PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/MITCHELLMonths on, and the buck still stops with the settlements.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is now in Europe to meet in London with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown today and US peace envoy George Mitchell on Wednesday. He will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday.

According to our latest article , the settlement freeze controversy  will dominate discussions, though Netanyahu is also keen to coordinate with Britain and Germany on opposition to Iran’s nuclear program.   (For more information on Netanyahu’s Europe trip, check out our factbox.)

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.

Should an Israeli Settlement Freeze Have a Price?

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PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/ Yesterday Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak met with US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell, in the hopes of easing the stalemate between the two countries over a settlement freeze. (See our latest story on those talks here.)

Reuters recently reported that there have been attempts among US  officials to encourage Arab states to take steps toward normalizing relations with Israel in return for a freeze–such as allowing Israeli registered cellphones on Arab networks, letting Israeli jetliners fly over Arab states’ airspace, or allowing tourists with Israeli stamps enter their countries.  Prospects on that front don’t look good.

from Global News Journal:

Talking about talking to Hamas

Should Israel and/or its allies talk to men like these, the Palestinian Islamists of Hamas, who run the Gaza Strip?

That's a question that has been revived this week following the end of Israel's 22-day war in Gaza, which left Hamas rule apparently intact and 1.5 million people in desperate need, and the arrival in the White House of President Barack Obama, who has indicated he might be willing to talk to people his predecessor George W. Bush had shunned.

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