AxisMundi Jerusalem

Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

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The “S” word

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Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton visited Jerusalem today for the first time as Secretary of State. Note that last word. It’s become central to diplomacy and Israeli domestic politics. State. The Palestinians want one. Hillary Clinton, echoing her predecessor Condoleezza Rice, said they should have one. She told Israelis that a Palestinian state was in their best interests. But many Israelis are not so sure, including allies of incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanayahu. And many Palestinians are losing hope of getting one. We looked at some of the issues in an analysis today, speaking to experts and policymakers.

But what of the ordinary people on the ground? We spoke to them too. Here’s what some of them had to say:

Hani Mohammed, 42, an engineer from Tulkarm in the Israeli-occupied West Bank: “Only wishful thinkers believe in the so-called ‘two-state solution’. I cannot think of any Israeli leader, loyal to his country, who would agree to give up the West Bank.”

Haitham Yousef, 38, a bank clerk at Qalqilya, West Bank: “I am with the two-state solution because it’s the only way out. But the coming of a right-wing government (in Israel) would kill this vision by increasing the number of (Jewish) settlements on our land.”

Because it’s there…

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Despite living in a region steeped in so much history – history central to the beliefs of billions of people around the world – we at AxisMundi would like to think we have an eye on the future as well.

With that in mind – we opened a Twitter account today http://twitter.com/reuteraxismundi.

Heaven or Hell

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To be in the right place at the right moment – this is every photojournalist’s dream. To be on the scene to record the “decisive moment” with your camera.

Most photojournalists around the world consider Israel and the Palestinian Territories as ”heaven” for great stories providing great pictures. Well they are wrong.

Two-state solution, Mrs. Clinton? Not so fast

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Silvan ShalomSilvan Shalom is a man to watch as right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu goes about forming a new Israeli government. Already foreign minister in the last Likud-led government (2003-06), the 50-year-old Shalom is proud of a picture in his 29th-storey office in Tel Aviv showing him meeting a beaming Barack Obama. Along with a shelf of mementos from George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice et al, he makes no secret of Israel’s close dependence on the United States. In an interview with us he called Washington “maybe our only ally in the world”. Be that as it may, he and Netanyahu are not prepared to be pressured when Hillary Clinton arrives today on her visit as secretary of state into repeating the undertaking given by successive Israeli governments to working with the Palestinian leadership to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That, Shalom said, would be to pre-judge the outcome of negotiations. As another Netanyahu aide, Dore Gold, told us last week, the prime minister-designate wants to be sure of limitations on the sovereignty of any Palestinian state before agreeing to its existence.

To see the rest of the interview with Silvan Shalom, listen below.

As for Hillary Clinton, this was what she had to say about the Palestinian issue earlier on Monday at a conference at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

from Global News Journal:

Gaza shows Kosovo “doctrine” doesn’t apply

Protesters staged large demonstrations in Western capitals 10 years ago to urge governments to intervene to stop Serb forces killing civilians in Kosovo.Despite having no United Nations mandate, NATO went to war for the first time and bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to stop what it called the Yugoslav army's disproportionate use of force in its offensive against separatist ethnic Albanian guerrillas."We have a moral duty," said then NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana as bombers took off on March 24, 1999 to "bring an end to the humanitarian catastrophe".The intervention helped launch a doctrine of international "Responsibility to Protect" civilians in conflicts. Advocates of "R2P" proposed humanitarian intervention in Myanmar in 2007 and military force in Zimbabwe in 2008.But it never happened and the likelihood of this doctrine being adopted universally now in a UN declaration is slim, as was shown by the Gaza war that began two months ago.On Dec. 27, Israeli bombers went into action over Gaza. As reports of civilian deaths grew, protesters staged rallies in Western capitals to demand leaders act to end the offensive against Islamist Hamas militants in the Palestinian enclave.Critics accused Israel of using "disproportionate" force, just as many said Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic had done.But intervention in Gaza was impossible politically and militarily unimaginable. Unlike Serbia, Israel is not seen in the West as a rogue state and widescale ethnic cleansing was not under way in Gaza.Solana visited the enclave on Friday as foreign policy chief of the European Union, which seeks to foster peace in the Middle East through "soft power" -- diplomacy and aid, not intervention of the kind he advocated as head of the NATO alliance.NATO never embraced the "responsibility to protect" concept, arguing that Kosovo, which most allies have subsequently recognised as an independent state, was a unique case that should not set a precedent.Soft power may eventually mean encouraging talks with Hamas -- which is now shunned by the West. In an open letter published this week, a group of former foreign ministers urged a change in that policy, saying peace depends on talking to the militants.But with rockets from Gaza again being fired daily into Israel, the prospect of a breakthrough soon seems bleak as right-wing prime minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu tries to form a government.Viewing war damage in Gaza on Friday, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store spoke of "senseless destruction." He blamed Hamas for starting the conflict, but said Israel's response "goes beyond what international law allows."Serb forces in the 1998-99 Kosovo war ignored the idea of  "proportionality" on the battlefield. They were sure no army would willingly tie its own hands in the face of insurgency. They mortared, burned and raided "guerrilla" villages to driveoff civilians and deprive the rebels of cover.On Thursday, the U.N. tribunal in The Hague sentenced two Serbian generals to 22 years in jail for war crimes in Kosovo. Serbia handed them over under Western pressure.Israel openly assured its soldiers during the Gaza offensive that they would not face such prosecution. Discussing tactics for a future conflict, one senior Israeli general also dismissed "proportionality" as a deterrent."We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction," said Northern Command chief Gadi Eisenkot."This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has been authorised," he told daily Yedioth Ahronoth ast October.Defending Israel's action in Gaza, President Shimon Peres reminded NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer that NATO's own bombing of Serbia killed "hundreds of civilians".Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mocked the idea that he should ask soldiers to fight an evenly-matched battle in which a few hundred might be killed simply to win international approval for a war in which Hamas was fighting in heavily populated areas.But scholars of international law say proportionality does not mean a "fair fight" or balanced death toll, let alone making sure no civilian dies. It requires belligerents to use weapons that distinguish civilians from military targets and combatants.According to Gaza figures -- which Israel says are suspect-- some 600 of 1,300 Palestinians killed in Gaza were civilians. Of 13 Israelis killed during the 22-day war, 10 were soldiers.Human Rights Watch, the U.N. Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Israeli rights group B'Tselem have called for investigations.

Netanyahu adviser speaks on foreign policy plans

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We interviewed one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s leading advisers on foreign policy earlier this week. You can read what Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the United Nations, had to say in our story, looking at Netanyahu’s plans to use special industrial zones and easing in Israeli military occupation measures to bolster the Palestinian economy in the West Bank. You can also read fuller extracts of Gold’s comments. As we look at other ways to bring you the news via AxisMundi, we thought you might also like to listen in full to what this key figure in the likely incoming administration has to say, not just about Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, but also on Iran, relations with Washington and the possibilities for contacts with the wider Arab world. So please have a listen and let us know if you find it useful to hear direct from key policymakers in the region.

Waiting, in Gaza

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gazashelterWalking in the street, travelling in a car or sitting in a cafe in the Gaza Strip these days, you can hear people talking about and analysing one central issue - whether new Egyptian-sponsored efforts to reconcile the rival Islamist Hamas and the secular Fatah groups can work.  Another thorny thought common in almost every discussion is whether Cairo would be able to turn the current lull in fighting between Israel and Hamas into a durable, sustainable ceasefire that will allow a proper opening of crossings into the coastal territory. Gaza’s 1.5 million popupation was relieved when Israel and Hamas declared separate ceasefires in January following 22-day of Israeli military strikes that killed 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. But relief is still mixed with doubt and unease a month later.

People who lost their houses remain homeless, living with friends, with relatives and in rental apartments and their hopes to rebuild their homes seem remote following news of a setback in Egyptian efforts to reach a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas earlier this month. In daylight those people visit tents they established on and near the rubble of what were once their houses in order to receive Arab and other foreign visitors who visit to assess the damage and promise aid to come. International donors will discuss funding at Sharm el-Sheikh in neighbouring Egypt on Monday. Bulldozers have cleared streets in areas where the Israeli army operated in January but the rubble of houses, offices and Hamas security headquarters remained unremoved. Hamas policemen helped by United Nations teams acted to remove several unexploded bombs from several locations after two children were killed playing with an object recently.

The music stops for ‘Waltz’

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In one of the biggest surprises on Oscar night, the animated Israeli documentary Waltz with Bashir did not walk away as many expected with the famed statuette in the Foreign Film category, which instead went to Japanese film Departures.

Even the star of Departures acknowledged he was expecting Waltz with Bashir to win the Academy Award.

The comeback kid?

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Questioned by police on a nearly weekly basis now about a string of corruption allegations that include suspected double-billing of official travel expenses and pocketing of cash-filled envelopes from a U.S. businessman, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces an uncertain legal future as he prepares to leave office.

But in an off-the-cuff address in English to the the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental group that helps to arrange Jewish immigration to Israel, was Olmert hinting at a political comeback down the line, even as Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party was seeking partners for a new administration following the Feb. 10 election?

You’ve set my mind at ease

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peresnetanyahuIsrael’s political picture has been so unclear and complicated since an indecisive Feb. 10 election that President Shimon Peres said he asked right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu to put it down on paper that he had in fact agreed to accept his mandate to go out and form the next Israeli government.

“And he has put it in writing, so now my mind is at ease,” Peres joked as he announced his decision to designate Netanyahu, rather than centrist Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as potential prime minister — once he completes that task of coalition building.

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