Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
This is a common phrase used by both Israelis and Palestinians when asked about the negotiations process that was launched by U.S. President George W. Bush at Annapolis last year and which, according to Bush’s timeline, should have produced a Palestinian state by the end of his presidency in January.
Since the signing of the Oslo provisional peace deal 15 years ago, Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals, professionals, and politicians have held hundreds of meetings in Israel and in most European cities to promote dialogue and coexistence, in the hope that eventually Palestinians will have the state the accords outlined for them, living in peace alongside Israel.
This week, the Peres Center for Peace, established after the Oslo peace accords, drew hundreds of Israelis, Arabs, and international leaders and professionals to discuss peace during its 10th anniversary event in Tel Aviv, under the aegis of former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, now Israel’s largely ceremonial president.
I attended sessions of the 3-day event and also took part, as a journalist covering the conflict for the past 14 years, in a meeting a week earlier between Israeli and Palestinian representatives of the media and academics in Seville, Spain, hosted by the Three Cultures Foundation , a non-profit organization founded under the aegis of the Andalusian Regional Government and Morocco, and organized by the Israeli and Palestinian branches of the Geneva Initiative Peace Coalition.
Sometimes we journalists speak of stories that are so compelling, so important to tell that they “hit you in the face”. In the West Bank these days, we’ve begun to take that literally. In the past couple of weeks, Palestinian journalists working for international media, including Reuters, have become the targets of Jewish settlers in a way that has highlighted what many see as a violent trend among that community which has caused alarm not only among ordinary Palestinians but among Israeli leaders and their international allies, most recently the European Union . The EU noted an upsurge in violence during the annual harvest of olives, a key crop in the hills of the West Bank. The statement came out just hours after settlers had again attacked journalists, as well as Israeli police.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my colleagues, photographer Nayef Hashlamoun, was among journalists hurt when young Jewish religious settlers set about them in Hebron as they tried to cover efforts by local Palestinians and Israeli and foreign activists to pick olives. Israeli troops stepped in disperse the attackers and to offer medical aid to the journalists. But the soldiers’ actions were not enough to spare them criticism from fellow Israelis in the media. The incident led major television news bulletins in Israel that evening, with the channels questioning why the soldiers, part of the conscript army Israel deploys across the West Bank to protect some 300,000 settlers, had not arrested the assailants.
In downtown Beirut, resurrected from the rubble of the 1975-90 civil war, one is spoilt for choice of smart restaurants, trendy bars and lively clubs. Performances by sexy Lebanese divas and belly dancers contribute generously to Lebanon’s gross domestic product by attracting Gulf Arab tourists enchanted with Lebanese talent and beauty — not necessarily in that order.
There is isn’t a single international designer who has not found his or her way to Beirut’s elegant boutiques and jewellery shops. On the other hand, Lebanese designers such as Elie Saab are dressing Hollywood stars these days.
Four years ago this week, on July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, known as the World Court, ruled in an advisory opinion that the wall and fence barrier which Israel was building in the West Bank was illegal under international law and that Palestinians affected by it should be compensated. Israel responded by dismissing the decision as politically motivated and defended the barrier, which it calls the “security fence”, as an effective response to “Palestinian terrorism”. Israel says the barrier, whose projected route of fences and walls snakes through the West Bank for over 700 km, has saved Israeli lives by preventing a continuation of attacks, notably suicide bombings.
The United Nations General Assembly voted later in July 2004 to demand that Israel comply with the decision of the World Court. Following the court ruling, the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators – the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia – also reaffirmed an earlier statement which said “We note the Government of Israel’s pledge that the barrier is a security rather than political barrier and should be temporary rather than permanent. We continue to note with great concern the actual and proposed route of the barrier, particularly as it results in confiscation of Palestinian land, cuts off the movement of people and groups, and undermines Palestinians’ trust in the roadmap (peace) process by appearing to prejudge the final borders of the future Palestinian state.”
The Gaza Strip and the Israeli towns and farms surrounding the Palestinian enclave spent a quiet morning on Thursday after a ceasefire deal came into force after dawn between the Jewish state and the Hamas Islamists who rule Gaza’s 1.5 million people. The absence of mortars and improvised rockets falling on the Israeli side of the border and of Israeli air strikes and ground incursions on the other were welcomed by ordinary people. For Palestinians in Gaza, the biggest hope is an increase in supplies which Israel has kept under tight blockade since Hamas seized control a year ago.
Both sides, as well as Egypt which mediated the deal over several months and the international powers, have plenty of reasons to see the truce work . The UN even told Reuters it could help pave the way for UN peacekeepers in Gaza. But equally there are plenty on all sides who are already saying it is as doomed as previous “calms” between Israel and Hamas, which has been shunned by Western powers for its refusal to give up violent tactics such as suicide bombings and Gaza rocket salvos. Not least among the apparent pessimists has been Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has warned the peace may be short-lived. Olmert has plenty of critics who would happily use that adjective of his own career – the prime minister has promised to resign if he is indicted in a corruption investigation that has already seen an American businessman testify to handing Olmert large sums of cash stuffed in envelopes. The premier has survived a series of such scandals in his two and a half years in power and he again denies all wrongdoing. However, his enemies, including within his own coalition government, are circling and could vote next week to dissolve parliament and start the process of triggering an early election .
So how is Olmert fighting back? By making himself seem indispensable to Israelis as a peacemaker on all fronts, some say. As well as U.S.-sponsored talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, begun last November, he has lately revealed Turkish-mediated talks with Syria, a desire to open negotiations with Lebanon and progress in talks with Hezbollah on exchanging prisoners. Not to mention today’s truce with Hamas. So can Olmert stave off the public prosecutor and keep the peace?
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”