Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
from AxisMundi Jerusalem:
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip may just feel a little less isolated today. Israel is bowing to international pressure and rejigging its embargo on the enclave in the wake of the bloodshed 3 weeks ago when it enforced a longstanding maritime blockade.
But earlier this month, taking my leave at the end of a 3-year assignment, I reflected while walking the half-mile (700-metre) cage (picture, right) that separates Gaza from Israel on how the barriers that surround and divide this region have, if anything, grown higher, deepening the isolation of the rival parties. That may make any kind of reconciliation more difficult as time goes on. I wrote about this earlier today.
Since Israel pulled out troops from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas took control in 2007, the 1.5 million people in the 40-km (25-mile) sliver of Mediterranean coast, have been cut off. But they're not the only ones. Israel is itself a virtual island in the Arab world. Though it has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, contact with them seems if anything to be retreating. Relations look little more vigorous at times than they are across the frontlines with Lebanon and Syria. Israeli dreams, backed by some serious cash lately, of re-establishing a regional rail transport hub, seem far-fetched.
The frontier lines weave their way around and among Israeli and Palestinian populations that live lives in parallel but now rarely meet after a decade in which peace hopes faded amid bloodshed. New divisions among Palestinians, between Hamas and Fatah, have left Gaza virtually at war with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Israelis, too, have seen sharper confrontations within their nation, notably between secular and religious Jews. Inside the West Bank and across Jerusalem, I've also watched new physical barriers going up and the battle for territory has heated up. Today's revival of Israeli building plans in the annexed Arab east of the city is the latest development to stir angry passions.
It started with "assalaamu alaykum" and ended with "may God's peace be upon you." Inbetween, President Barack Obama dotted his speech to the Muslim world with Islamic terms and references meant to resonate with his audience. The real substance in the speech were his policy statements and his call for a "new beginning" in U.S. relations with Muslims, as outlined in our trunk news story. But the new tone was also important and it struck a chord with many Muslims who heard the speech, as our Middle East Special Correspondent Alistair Lyon found. Not all, of course -- you can find positive and negative reactions here. (Photo: Iraqi in Baghdad watches Obama's speech, 4 June 2009/Mohammed Ameen)
Among Obama's Islamic touches were four references to the Koran (which he always called the Holy Koran), his approving mention of the scientific, mathematical and philosophical achievements of the medieval Islamic world and his citing of multi-faith life in Andalusia. These are standard elements that many Islam experts -- Muslims and non-Muslims -- mention in speeches at learned conferences, but it's not often that you hear an American president talking about them.
from AxisMundi Jerusalem:
Not so long ago, as war raged in Iraq, there was much talk about a suggestion that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians deserved less attention from the United States and other world powers than it had enjoyed over the past 60-odd years, that the intractable dispute was distracting policymakers and that the plight of the stateless Palestinians was much less central to the problems in relations between the Arab world and the West than had long been supposed. It is a debate that continues, though as journalists who have chosen to work in Jerusalem perhaps we may be forgiven for occasionally pointing out that many thinkers continue to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as central to the problems of the region and so to the world at large.
A survey last year by Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institution, Does the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Still Matter?, found that 86 percent of non-Palestinian Arabs, from Morocco to the Emirates, placed the fate of Palestinians among their top three concerns. That was an increase from 69 percent in 2005, when a larval sectarian civil war in Iraq seemed to be dragging Sunni and Shiite Muslims into a broader regional conflict. And it was still higher than the 73 percent who thought the Palestinian question mattered in 2002: "Despite the Iraq war and the increasing focus on a Sunni-Shiite divide, the Palestinian question remains a central prism through which Arabs view the world," Telhami concluded.
When I began my assignment to Israel & the Palestinian Territories two months ago, I was determined to get out and about and see as much as possible for myself. I wanted to find out up close what life was like for the people who live here -- from the Palestinians lining up obediently to get through intimidating Israeli checkpoints, to the nightlife crowd a world away in chic Tel Aviv, to the Orthodox Jews in 16th century attire in their Jerusalem districts where you dare not drive on the Sabbath, to the Palestinian olive groves and to the settlers on the occupied land of the West Bank.
Street violence in the ancient port of Acre over the past few days has traumatised a town that has promoted itself as a multicultural tourist hotspot, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rare model of integration between Israel’s Jewish majority and the Arabs who make up a fifth of the population.
It has provoked an outpouring of reflection on the place of Arabs within Israel, on the nature of Israel as a Jewish state and on its broader relations with the Arab world, not least with the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Barack Obama said in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee yesterday: “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”
Compare that remark with this comment by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert published on January 1 in an interview with The Jerusalem Post: “The world that is friendly to Israel… that really supports Israel, when it speaks of the future, it speaks of Israel in terms of the 1967 borders. It speaks of the division of Jerusalem.”
Obama’s comment infuriated Palestinians.
The United States and other international powers do not recognise Israel’s annexation of Arab East Jerusalem following the 1967 war. The future of Jerusalem is one of the most divisive issues facing Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators as they try to reach a deal before George W Bush leaves office in 2009.
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank called it a “pandering performance”