Douglas's Feed
Oct 29, 2009

Plan B for Abbas – Palestinian unity or bust

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – President Mahmoud Abbas has no intention of going down in history as the man who legitimized the permanent and possibly fatal division of the Palestinian independence movement.

But he has called an election for January that could be a nail in the coffin of Palestinian unity, assuming his Islamist political rivals in control of the Gaza Strip are serious about their threat to ban the vote on their territory.

Oct 23, 2009

UN envoy urges Israel to show vision, grasp peace bid

JERUSALEM, Oct 23 (Reuters) – Israel must display vision and seize the current window of opportunity to resume negotiations on a final peace treaty with the Palestinians before it closes, United Nations Middle East envoy Robert Serry said on Friday.

U.S. President Barack Obama took office in January and "from day one" made a Middle East peace deal a priority, Serry said. Despite hard going so far Obama is not giving up, and he has full European Union, Russian and United Nations backing. "I am pessimistic that another such opportunity would come anytime soon," the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told Reuters in an interview. "The window is closing down … we should not believe time is on our side."

"The parties, deep down, know what it takes. They need the political will," the envoy said . "Frankly I don’t see urgency on the Israeli side. I would like to see more commitment."

"If Israel has a sense of urgency and finality it will live up to its commitments," Serry said. To those Israelis who believe the status quo is acceptable, he said: "I do not agree." It is obvious, Serry added, that there is no point in "talks for the sake of it". The negotiations must have "a credible political horizon", with two-state solution at the end.

They must resume where they left off with the last Israeli government in late 2008, and not start from scratch while the new Israeli government continues to permit the building of settlements on occupied West Bank land, he said.

Letting Israel negotiate "while they also move the goalposts on the ground" would fail. And in the Arab-Israeli context, assuming there was more time to stall simply meant running greater risks of events that could derail the process.



TRIPWIRES

Looking out over Jerusalem from his U.N. headquarters perch in the shade of stone pines at the venerable Government House, the Dutchman waved a hand at the Old City — long a flashpoint — and parts of East Jerusalem where Israeli eviction orders are provoking Palestinian anger.

Career diplomat Serry, 59, has been based here for two years. There is no shortage of potential trip-wires on his doorstep to trigger some explosion of violence that could destroy this chance, he said.

And in Gaza, he noted, a low-level conflict persists between Israel and Islamist militants following their three-week war in January which left a trail of death and destruction.

Talks must resume in a way that "they cannot fail again", Serry said. That was why Obama’s mediator George Mitchell was insisting on clear goals, and while the latest U.S. status report on his mission was not rosy, "Mitchell is coming back".

"The Israelis must have the vision to see a two-state solution is the only way to peace and security," the U.N. diplomat said. They have a "progressive partner" in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

"It is hard to say how many more weeks" it might take for Mitchell to fix a credible re-start for the peace process. "We’re not there yet but we are not losing confidence in U.S.-led efforts."

As for the Palestinians "at some point they will have to go to the ballot box" to end the split between Islamist Hamas which rejects peace with Israel and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority which is ready to make a treaty to end the conflict.

Hamas, which rules in the Gaza Strip, had the power to change the political climate by releasing captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a prisoner exchange, he said.

And the Israel government must rethink a "politically wrong-headed and morally wrong" policy that is blocking U.N. completion of the rebuilding of Gaza schools and clinics in the blockaded enclave before winter comes.

"Some projects are 70 percent finished. They need glass, doors, toilets," Serry said. "This has already taken months." The U.N. was disappointed that Israel so far had not accepted that it could prevent "diversion" of the material to Hamas militants.

(Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

Oct 14, 2009

Fayyad to Obama: Tell Israel no Mickey Mouse state

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinians will not be pushed into accepting the “Mickey Mouse” state which Israel has in mind for them as part of a peace deal, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad warned Wednesday.

If such a state is what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu foresees, then the Middle East peace process will remain suspended, he told a news conference.

Oct 13, 2009

Abbas tries to reduce remoteness from Palestinians

JENIN, West Bank (Reuters) – President Mahmoud Abbas made a rare public foray outside his presidential palace on Tuesday to reassure Palestinians there was no truth to rumors he encouraged Israel’s bombing of Gaza.

That was a lie spread by his enemies in the rival Islamist movement Hamas, the president told a crowd of 1,500 students, many of them taking pictures of a man they had never seen before other than on posters and in televised speeches.

Oct 9, 2009

Netnayahu-Mitchell talks “constructive”: Israel PM

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “constructive” talks on Friday with U.S. President Barack Obama’s envoy George Mitchell on advancing efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians, his office said.

A statement said the two-hour meeting focused “on steps for advancing the peace process.”

Oct 9, 2009

Netnayahu-Mitchell talks "constructive" – Israel PM

JERUSALEM, Oct 9 (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had "constructive" talks on Friday with U.S. President Barack Obama’s envoy George Mitchell on advancing efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians, his office said.

A statement said the two-hour meeting focused "on steps for advancing the peace process".

Netanyahu, whose refusal to freeze West Bank settlement construction has opened a rare rift with Washington, agreed to further talks in the coming days. The U.S. envoy and his aides were expected to meet a team of Netanyahu aides on Saturday.

Mitchell later met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and, in remarks afterwards to reporters, acknowledged the continued challenges.

"We do not underestimate the difficulties for us or for the parties, but we all have obligations to do everything we can to help achieve the goal of comprehensive peace that will be good for the Palestinians, good for the Israelis, good for all the people in this region," Mitchell said.

He said that Israeli and Palestinian envoys had been invited to continue their consultations in Washington. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters that he saw those talks taking place "maybe in the next two weeks".

Mitchell’s mission — the ninth by the 76-year-old trouble-shooter since his appointment in January — saw mixed messages from Netanyahu’s rightist coalition government.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said ahead of meeting Mitchell on Thursday that he intended to "tell him clearly" that Washington’s goal of comprehensive peace was an illusion.

But centre-left Defence Minister Ehud Barak separately told Mitchell he believed "the time had come to move determinedly forward" toward a comprehensive treaty.



CREDIBILITY PROBLEMS

Netanyahu is the ultimate arbiter of policy in the coalition, whose inherent instability has been cited as one reason for not acceding to a demand by Obama and the Palestinians to suspend all Jewish settlement building on occupied land seen as part of a future Palestinian state.

Abbas also has credibility problems, as his Islamist Hamas rivals control the Gaza Strip — half the Palestinian polity — and rule out any permanent peace accord with the Jewish state.

Low-yield peace talks limped on last year under the previous government of Ehud Olmert, until derailed by the Gaza war.

Obama has made resumption of substantive negotiations one of his policy priorities and underscored the goal in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month, saying it was "past time to stop talking about negotiations; it is time to move forward".

Obama arranged a meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas in New York, but with scant results. He said further meetings would be held at lower levels and he would receive a status report sometime in October.

The New York encounter was seen as a humiliation for Abbas by many Palestinians, and the pro-Western president now appears weakened politically.

Lieberman said there was no chance of a Middle East peace deal for many years.

"There are many conflicts in the world that haven’t reached a comprehensive solution and people learned to live with it," he told Israel Radio on Thursday.

The Palestinians say Lieberman has made it clear why "there will be no relaunch of negotiations any time soon", Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said. "We need to hear a response to this statement from Mitchell."

There was no word from the envoy on Lieberman’s views.

(Reporting by Dan Williams and Mohammed Assadi; writing by Doulgas Hamilton; editing by Richard Williams)

Oct 8, 2009

Grim omens as U.S. envoy pursues Mideast relaunch

JERUSALEM, Oct 8 (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama’s peace envoy sought on Thursday an "early relaunch" of Israeli-Palestinian talks but Israel’s foreign minister said Washington’s goal of comprehensive peace was an illusion.

With wider Muslim-Jewish tension brewing over access to holy sites in Jerusalem, Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas struggling for credibility and Islamist Hamas ascendant in Gaza, omens for U.S. envoy George Mitchell’s trip were not good.

"We are determined, persevering, and we recognize the complexities and the difficulties," he told reporters before talks with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv.

"We remain committed and confident that ultimately the goal of comprehensive peace will be achieved."

Resuming talks suspended 10 months ago was essential for a comprehensive regional treaty involving Israel and neighbors that include Syria and Lebanon. Obama believes "there is no alternative" if the region wants peace, Mitchell said.

Desultory peace talks were derailed by the Gaza war. Obama has made their resumption a priority, and last month arranged a meeting of the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in New York, but with scant results.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced before meeting Mitchell earlier on Thursday that he would tell the envoy there was no chance of a peace deal for many years.

"There are many conflicts in the world that haven’t reached a comprehensive solution and people learned to live with it," Lieberman, a hawk in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-leaning coalition government, told Israel Radio.

"Whoever says that it’s possible to reach in the coming years a comprehensive agreement … simply doesn’t understand the reality," Lieberman said. "He’s spreading illusions and in the end brings disappointment."

BARAK UPBEAT

But the center-left Barak took a different tack, telling Mitchell that "the time had come to move determinately forward" and that comprehensive peace in the Middle East was not a "zero-sum game" but a "win-win" situation for all the parties.

U.S. officials said Mitchell, who meets Abbas and Netanyahu on Friday, was back with a sense of urgency but no expectation of a breakthrough.

Since his appointment in January, Mitchell has visited Israel and the West Bank nine times. The missions have been stymied by Netanyahu’s refusal to halt settlement construction and by Arab states’ reluctance to make peace overtures.

The Palestinians say Mitchell must realise that Lieberman has made it clear why "there will be no relaunch of negotiations any time soon," Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters from Rome, where Abbas was on an official visit.

"We need to hear a response to this statement, from Mitchell and from the American administration who are making efforts to salvage the peace process while faced with an Israeli government which destroys all those American efforts."

King Abdullah of Jordan, whose country has made peace with Israel and who plays an important role in advancing the peace process with the Palestinians, was quoted on Thursday as saying in an interview "we are sliding back into the darkness."

The sense of pessimism was deepened by the political weakness of Abbas, who has angered Palestinians by agreeing under U.S. pressure not to push for action on a U.N. war crimes report critical of Israeli conduct of the Gaza war.

Abbas aides admit this was a mistake and say he will explain everything in a broadcast to the nation. Support for the 74-year-old leader has been badly damaged. Critics say he should resign and in the Gaza Strip he is branded a "traitor."

Hamas asked Egypt to postpone a meeting with Abbas’s Fatah movement to sign a reconciliation pact. It was supposed to take place in Cairo on Oct. 24-26, but Hamas said Abbas’s decision had "sabotaged the atmosphere."

At the United Nations, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki accused Hamas of trying to exploit the U.N. report and "score points."

He challenged Hamas leaders to endorse the document, which also criticizes Hamas, "and to commit themselves fully … that they will implement the report."

King Abdullah warned in an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz that Jerusalem, which Israel says is its non-negotiable, non-divisible capital, is "a tinderbox" that could ignite fire throughout the Islamic world.

Palestinian leaders on Thursday called for a general strike over disputed Jerusalem and warned of further protests on the Muslim day of Friday prayers at al-Aqsa mosque.

Israel says it is not taking seriously recent Palestinian warnings that a general uprising is about to break out.

Malki told reporters at the United Nations he had briefed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about what he called Israeli "escalation measures against the Palestinians in Jerusalem" and urged the U.N. chief to intervene immediately. He did not say how Ban had responded. (Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Alastair Macdonald Joseph Nasr and Sangwon Yoon in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah; Editing by Angus MacSwan)




Oct 7, 2009

Abbas on the ropes as Palestinians vent anger

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – President Mahmoud Abbas faced a wave of anger on Wednesday from Palestinians who accuse him of selling out the national cause in favor of Israel under political pressure from the United States.

As frustrations with his perceived weakness boiled over, aides conceded Abbas, 74, was on the defensive. They said he would address the nation, but did not say when.

Jul 23, 2009
via AxisMundi Jerusalem

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.A State Dept. spokesman at Wednesday’s regular briefing could not say much at all about Mitchell’s movements beyond he has left Washington.  Could he be in London meeting the Syrian foreign minister? Don’t know.  Is he going to Turkey as well? We will try to find that out. When is he going to be in Israel? Can’t say exactly.Mitchell is famous for playing his cards very close to his vest and his vest very close to his skin. He gives out very little information when he is engaged in high-stakes mediation.There is an unmistakable aura of mystery about what is going on at this delicate stage of talks with Israel and the Palestinians to get stalled peace negotiations started again, by resolving what looks like a standoff between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Israel’s settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and Washington’s demand that it cease.There is intense speculation in “diplomatic circles” over whether the coming visit by Mitchell could lead to a showdown, or pluck some brilliant compromise from the jaws of deadlock, setting the rusting wheels of the peace process back in motion at last. But so far its mostly all heat and no light, pending the arrival of Obama’s mediator.If Mitchell is true to his Hitchcock thriller persona, this may be the moment he chooses to produce “the MacGuffin”, the twist element that’s pitched into the drama at just the right moment to rivet the attention of the audience and drive the plot forward – even if it is sometimes completely forgotten by the end of the movie.

Jul 16, 2009
via AxisMundi Jerusalem

Death, destruction and moral relativity

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Comparing one theatre of conflict with another is always dangerous, often meaningless, unless they belong in the same timeframe and context e.g. the World War Two of Europe and that of the Far East.This week saw publication in Israel of a report by the activist group Breaking the Silence. Featuring testimony from Israel’s own soldiers on the behaviour of troops in January’s Gaza offensive, it raised questions about the alleged “moral degeneration” of the armed forces, their alleged preference for risking civilian casualties rather than casualties in their own ranks, through hesitation or over-cautious trigger fingers. The army’s response was angry and indignant. Defence Minister Ehud Barak repeated his claim that Israel has “one of the most moral armies in the world”.This is a slippery concept, because as armies move along the sliding scale of conflict — from robust policing or anti-guerrilla operations to total war for national survival — the notion of what is moral conduct and what is immoral is progressively lost.Britain’s wartime “Bomber” Harris in Europe and America’s Curtis LeMay in the Pacfic were airforce generals who had no trouble with killing as many German and Japanese civilians as possible, in avowedly terroristic incendiary raids by fleets of bombers with the approval of their political leaders.Harris, most notoriously, bombed Dresden. But it was only one of many German cities fire-bombed to hasten the collapse of the Third Reich. LeMay on 9 March 1945 sent 330 B-29s  to Toyko where in the space of a few hours their napalm incendiaries roasted to death 100,000 Japanese civilians, to the extent that pilots said they could smell burning flesh in the rising columns of smoke.  You can read about this in ”Nemesis” by British military historian Max Hastings, who quotes LeMay as saying his policy was to ”bomb and burn ‘em till they quit”.Hastings quotes the official U.S. Army Airforce history of LeMay’s command, the Twentieth Airforce, calling its blitz on Japan “this fiery perfection, which literally burnt Japan out of the war”. “In its climactic five months of jellied fire attacks, the vaunted Twentieth killed outright 310,000 Japanese, injured 412,000 more and rendered 9,200,000 homeless. Never in the history of war had such colossal devastation been visited on an enemy at so slight a cost to the conqueror … The 1945 application of American Air Power, so destructive and concentrated as to cremate 65 Japanese cities in five months, forced an enemy’s surrender without land invasion for the first time in military history …”Hasting quotes LeMay, who like Harris, he says, remained impenitent to the end: ”Nothing new about death, nothing new about deaths caused militarily. We scorched and boiled and baked to death more people in Tokyo on that night 9-10 March than went up in vapor at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined,” he said.LeMay, clearly, had no problem with “breaking the silence”.This is not intended as a comparison of Gaza with WWII, or to  exonerate Israel’s allegedly “disproportionate” conduct of the operation, or to diminish the Palestinian loss of 1,417 lives in 22 days, or to gloss over the Palestinian militants’ pursuit of “asymmetric” fighting methods including the use of rockets fired deliberately into towns. Perhaps all it says is that it is better to have conflict in which armies are very sensitive to charges of savagery and barbarism than to have total, all-out war, in which all considerations of morality are swept aside.PHOTO: Bombing of Tokyo, 1945