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.

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.

Poisonous Plans:Revealing the Truth? Or Taking Down Mahmoud Abbas?

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This week, Farouq al-Qadoumi, general secretary of the Fatah party’s Central Committee, set off a firestorm in the Arab media. He released documents that he claims links Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to a plot to poison Yasser Arafat. The episode not only stoked controversy among Palestinian political factions, it led to the shutting down of the Arabic news broadcaster Al-Jazeera in the West Bank.

Al-Qadoumi has only released some parts of the document in question. According to Al-Jazeera, Al-Qadoumi says that Arafat gave him a record of the secret meeting before his death, and that a plot existed in which Abbas and security adviser Mohammed Dahlan met with former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and some US intelligence agents.

Israel’s New Ambassador to the United States

With disagreements between Israel and the United States over the issue of settlements getting public attention in recent weeks, and a peace process lacking momentum, Michael Oren has his work cut out for him. He’s Israel’s new ambassador to the United States.

Reuters correspondent Adam Entous and producer Labib Nasir talked to Mr. Oren Tuesday in Jerusalem. You can read Adam’s story here. You can watch their entire interview below.

Vacation with a difference

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Modern vacation tastes have long-since evolved from the ‘sun, sea and sangria’ beloved of our forebears. 

Niche holidays are all the rage these days and a cursory browse of the web quickly throws up an eclectic mix of possibilities from this Elvis Presley-themed trip to the United States,  to a pleasant vacation in Germany looking at tractors and other farm machinery, right through to this combination “boat trip on the Seine/making a quilt” holiday. (And those are all from just one web site).

Following the money from Washington to the West Bank…

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By encouraging foreign investment in the Palestinian economy, and notably the part of it controlled by President Mahmoud Abbas rather than the Hamas Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip, the United States and its allies hope to create conditions more conducive for long-stalled peace talks with Israel to succeed.

Israel, too, led by the government installed this month under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is hoping for an “economic peace” with the Palestinian Authority.

Foreign Affairs

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lieberman1Israeli newspapers are abuzz this morning as they mull over the possibility that ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman could be appointed foreign minister in the government that Benjamin Netanyahu is working to stitch together.

The strong showing by Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel our Home) party in last month’s election – where it won the third most Knesset seats ahead of the Labour Party - has put the Moldovan-born former nightclub bouncer turned bureaucrat in a strong position in the lobbying for top ministerial posts in the new government.

A covert challenge to Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

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Israeli officials aren’t talking, but Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper is quoting intelligence experts and an unnamed former CIA agent as saying that Israel is waging a covert war of sabotage inside Iran in an effort to delay its suspected attempts to build a nuclear weapon.

An intelligence source in the Middle East has told Reuters the Israeli campaign includes sending letter bombs or anthrax-tainted mail to scientists involved in Iran’s nuclear programme and sabotaging related infrastructure. European countries and the United States are also part of the cloak-and-dagger war, the source said.

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