UN USG Ibrahim Gambari meets Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar


Ibrahim Gambari — Special Representative of UNSG BAN Ki-Moon, and Nigeria’s former Ambassador to the UN — did succeed in meeting today in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi . She has been held under house arrest for some 18 years, but today she was whisked to a Government Guest House for the meeting with Gambari. Suu Kyi is the daughter of a former Burmese opposition leader. And she is a former employee of the UN (they probably did not renew her contract — and she was apparently never promoted!).

However, Gambari apparently did not manage to meet either of Myanmar’s (formerly Burma’s) top leaders, who are officers in the country’s military, which has ruled the country for the last 45 years.

The UN has long sought to win Suu Kyi’s freedom, and national political reconciliation in Myanmar. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won elections in 1990, but were not allowed to take office.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that “Thant Myint-U, the grandson of former U.N. Secretary-General U Thant and the author of The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma, said that the country’s two decades of isolation make the government very difficult to influence. ‘The military leadership is quite happy with the status quo, an inert country that is not engaged with the outside world’, he said.”

The LA Times also says that a communications clamp-down in Myanmar, aimed at stifling news of civic protests and violent repression, is still largely effective.
The LA Times story on the UNSG’s concerns about the situation in Myanmar is here.

The Associated Press is reporting that “On Sunday, the number of troops in Yangon, the largest city, swelled to about 20,000 after reinforcements arrived overnight, ensuring that almost all demonstrators would remain off the streets, an Asian diplomat said on condition of anonymity. ‘I think the chance of protesters coming to the road and mobilizing enough people to topple the junta is zero’, he said … People suspected of leading or organizing the rallies continue to be arrested, the Asian diplomat said, estimating the total number could be as high as 1,000, including several prominent members of the NLD. They joined an estimated 1,100 other political detainees who have languished in jails since before the current turmoil began Aug. 19 with protests against fuel price increases. With the main prison overcrowded, people are now being detained in university buildings and educational institutes, he said.” The AP story on the continuing repression in Myanmar is here.

The recent demonstrations have been galvanized by the large scale participation of Buddhist monks. The Agence France Presse reports today that “In dramatic scenes a week ago, the 62-year-old opposition leader [Aung San Suu Kyi] stepped out of her home in tears to greet Buddhist monks who marched past the house where she has been confined for most of the past 18 years. The march was part of nationwide rallies which erupted two weeks ago led by the revered Buddhist monks, and have evolved into the most potent challenge to the ruling junta for some two decades … The protests first erupted last month after a massive hike in fuel prices, but escalated two weeks ago with the emergence of the Buddhist monks on the front line and drew up to 100,000 people onto the streets last week…”
The AFP report is published here.

Daniel Levy questions Hilary's position on Jerusalem

Daniel Levy is really, really good. He is the extremely impressive, gifted and talented person from the Israeli side who did the drafting for the Geneva Initiative, under the direction of Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli minister and leader of the sort of leftist Meretz-Yahad party. The Israeli “Geneva” team was packed with serious and committed Israelis from a small range of political views but with considerable mainstream political experience.

While one might not agree with all the planks in the platform of this “Geneva Initiative”, formally launched in Geneva on 1 December 2003, with strong if somewhat confused Swiss backing, it is still very much on the table — despite the derisive dismissiveness from the peanut gallery that this was just a crass effort at self-promotion from a bunch of political has-beens and wanna-bes.

Anyway, during a post-Israeli-Disengagement-from-Gaza lull in activity, Daniel has gone off to America, and is now working energetically at a Washington think-tank.

Here is his instructive view, posted on 13 September on his blog, Prospects for Peace, about the not-at-all-impressive positions taken by the leading U.S. Democratic candidates on the very important issue of the status of Jerusalem:

“To coincide with the Jewish New Year, fresh statements are coming out of some presidential campaigns reaffirming the candidates’ ‘pro-Israel’ credentials. It’s the kind of thing that stretches the thread between domestic political posturing and smart policy prescriptions to a snapping point. It is almost redundant to note that the content of these declarations have precious little to do with advancing what is good for Israel, or, for that matter, US interests. But one sentence from the Hillary Clinton press release of September 10 stands out. (Curiously, the the statement is not up on Clinton’s campaign website.) In staking out her position on ‘Standing with Israel against terrorism’, Hillary Clinton defends Israel’s right to exist with ‘… an undivided Jerusalem as its capital’.

Oddly enough, this places her in direct contradiction with the plan put forward by a certain President Bill Clinton in December 2000. He proposed dividing Jerusalem: ‘The general principle is that Arab areas are Palestinian and Jewish ones are Israeli. This would apply to the Old City as well. I urge the two sides to work on maps to create maximum contiguity for both sides’.
Continue reading Daniel Levy questions Hilary's position on Jerusalem

So why, exactly, is there no Palestinian State?

Reuters has released an amazing report based on newly-declassified documents from the British Foreign Office, including diplomatic reports from the 1970s that recount discussions with Palestinians about Palestinian discussions. This is the sort of thing diplomats do all the time — every day, in fact — to help their governments know what is going on in the countries to which they are posted, and to help their governments develop appropriate policies.

It is not spying — um, because diplomats operate overtly. Their job involves finding out and transmitting this sort of information.

In any case, the Reuters report, released late Thursday night, says: “Newly released Foreign Office cables show British diplomats spent much of their time canvassing opinion among influential Palestinians to try to understand whether Arafat was intent on declaring an independent Palestinian state and how Jordan and other neighbours might react if it were to happen. One cable released by the National Archives on Friday records a meeting a diplomat had with Rashad al Shawa, a Palestinian leader in the Gaza Strip, in February 1974, shortly after Shawa had met Arafat to discuss independence. ‘Rashad [Shawwa] rejected the suggestion made to him by Yasser Arafat on the grounds that any attempt to form an independent Palestinian state would provide the Israelis with an opportunity to insist on maintaining their sovereignty over the whole of Palestine for security reasons‘, the diplomat wrote. ‘Rashad says the vast majority of the people of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are in favour of the formation of an independent Palestinian state because of their hatred to the Jordan regime but they do not realise that such a state would not survive without foreign help’ … Some Arab leaders at the time, principally President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, were encouraging Arafat to declare an independent state, but Shawa warned Arafat that Egypt was merely trying to rid itself of any obligation to the Palestinians. ‘Sadat and other Arab leaders are getting fed up with the Palestinians and they are only interested in the welfare of their own people‘, a diplomat quoted Shawa as saying. At the same time, Jordan, which governed the West Bank until 1967 and had taken hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees under its wing, was fearful that Arafat would act independently and cause ructions among its own population … Powerful Palestinian businessmen in the West Bank were also unconvinced that Arafat should declare independence, instead favouring unity between the West Bank and Jordan’s Hashemite royal family, with whom they had close ties. Sami Joudeh, a West Bank Palestinian, told Melhuish, a British diplomat, that Jordan’s paying of salaries to Palestinians had made the Hashemites popular. ‘He himself did not see any future for an independent West Bank and favoured either unity with Jordan or a federal solution’, Melhuish wrote. ‘If it became apparent that their material and political future was more likely to be assured under King Hussein than under Yasser Arafat, they (Palestinians) would vote for unity or a federal link (to Jordan)‘.”
Haaretz’s posting of the Reuters report on declassified diplomatic reports about the declaration of a Palestinian state is here.

One thing this proves is that the Palestinian aid dependency started well before the 1993 Oslo Accords ushered in the present era of dependency on donors and donor domination.

But these dumb objections should hardly have discouraged Arafat…so what is really going on here?

In any case, these reported discussions coincided with preparations for one of the major developments in the history of the Palestine Liberation Organization — a decision taken in 1974 that a Palestinian state would be created on any inch of liberated Palestine. PLO officials at that time explained, with winks and nods, that this was a signal of recognition of Israel and interest in the possibility of a two-state solution.
Continue reading So why, exactly, is there no Palestinian State?

Israel doubles police presence around Old City of Jerusalem — for third Friday in Ramadan???

There will be 4,000 — instead of 2,000 — Israeli police deployed around the Old City of Jerusalem today, ostensibly to prevent disturbances on this third Friday in the holy month of Ramadan.

[UPDATE: Silly me — I didn’t realize it earlier: THIS WAS THE 28th OF SEPTEMBER, and thus the sixth anniversary, according to the calendar of the Common Era, also known as the Christian era, of Ariel Sharon’s famous “controversial” visit, accompanied by many Security Personnel, to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound (or the Temple Mount, as it is more usually referred to by Israel).  This “controversial” visit is generally referred to as the start of the Second Intifada — although it may be more accurate to say that it was the violent and deadly repression by the Israeli Security Personnel to the protests of Palestinians who were at the site at the time that actually sparked the Second Intifada, just as the rather wanton killing of Palestinian workers in Gaza by an Israeli truck driver that sparked the first Intifada. In other words, it is the treatment of Palestinians as if their lives are not worth much that has sparked the major Palestinian uprisings … ]

The Palestinian independent news agency, Ma’an, reports that “Israeli sources added that the police will not allow male residents of the West Bank who are under the age of 45 to go to the Al-Aqsa mosque without a permit. But they will allow men over the age of 50 to go to the mosque without a permit. This however does not take into account men between the age of 45 and 50, who do not appear to be included in Israel’s ruling.” The Ma’an news report on the Israeli security preparations for today’s Friday prayers at al Aqsa mosque is posted here.

But, why should there be any more disturbances this week than previously? There is no religious reason to anticipate any greater agitation.

A story put out after the prayers by Ynet news gives a glimpse into the heightened security: “The heightened security alert declared by the defense establishment prior to the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is expected to increase further, Ynet has learned. Sources in the defense establishment said that there are seven specific indications of potential terror attacks over the holiday, as well as dozens of general indications of such possible attacks. The decision to increase security alertness was made following the IDF’s latest operation in Gaza – which left 11 Palestinians dead – and the threat of retaliation made by Hamas, which clouds the many events planned throughout Israel for the coming holiday week. Security forces are expected to especially focus on Jerusalem …”
The Ynet report on heightened security in Jerusalem on Friday is here.
Continue reading Israel doubles police presence around Old City of Jerusalem — for third Friday in Ramadan???

Israel's general closure of Palestinian territory may last at least eight days

Though I have not seen any official announcement of this, there is word going around that Israel’s general closure of all crossings into and out of Palestinian territory may last throughout the entire week-long Sukkot holiday — even though the only full official public holiday during the period is today.

This is a blanket closure, during which there will be (NOT previously announced) travel bans within the Palestinian areas.

During this lengthy period of Jewish holidays that began on 13 September with the celebrations of the Jewish New Year and continued after a short break with the solemn commemoration of Yom Kippur, there have already been two periods of general or blanket closures of the Palestinian territory.

However, neither the holiday nor the closure are preventing the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) from operating in both the West Bank and Gaza. On Wednesday evening and night, at least 8 Palestinians were killed [LATEST UPDATE: Ynet is now reporting 11 Palestinian deaths. UPDATE: Haaretz reports 10 Palestinian deaths] in Gaza in Israeli retaliatory strikes after Qassam rockets were again fired into Israel’s “Western Negev” region, including the hard-hit town of Sderot.
Continue reading Israel's general closure of Palestinian territory may last at least eight days

How did Karnit Goldwasser get into a UN press conference with Ahmadinejad?

The wife of one of the Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah last year — the immediate cause of the “Second Lebanon War” — had every reason to want to try to reach Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And even to have this encounter in front of the world press.

The question is, how did she get in to a UN press conference, held at UNHQ/NY during the height of the UN General Assembly’s high-level debate? George Bush was in the same building, for God’s sake — the security was super-tight.

She would have had to have some kind of pass just to enter the Secretariat building on that day. It could have been one issued by a friendly small Caribbean island-state, for example. Or, from Israel itself — but that might have been just a touch too obvious.

But, to enter the press conference, Karnit would have had to have — and to exhibit — a UN press badge.

That means that the UN Department of Public Information would have had to issue her a temporary press badge, upon the presentation of another recognized press badge, from somewhere, and/or with a letter from an editor of a recognized media organization assigning her to cover the UN, at least on that day.

Did she have one? If so, from what media?

Goldwasser recounted her experience to Ynet news — perhaps she had an accreditation from Ynet, or Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest-circulation daily newspaper.

In any case, when she got to ask her question to President Ahmadinejad, she identified herself not as a journalist, but as Wife of kidnapped IDF soldier Ehud Goldwasser. That would have been enough to have gotten her ejected from the room.

Her action was political drama — it could not have been more highly politically charged.

This photo, published on Ynet’s site, shows Goldwasser sitting virtually in the front row, smack dab in front of Ahmadinejad.

Photo by Shachar Ezran - Ynet news


“During the questions we made eye contact, we looked at each other more than once. The look on his face changed the moment he realized who was facing him and what I wanted from him,” Goldwasser told Ynet.

Ynet reported that “Goldwasser said she was not afraid to present the president with her question, and asked him, ‘Hello, my name is Karnit, the wife of Ehud Goldwasser, the soldier who has been held captive for over a year. Since you are the man that is behind the kidnapping due to the aid you grant Hizbullah, why don’t you allow the Red Cross to visit the two soldiers?’ she asked.
The president ignored the question … Not carrying the proper press pass, Goldwasser was escorted by security out of the room towards the end of the press conference. ‘I wanted to pass out pictures of the captives to the reporters in the back rows, but they took me out’, she said. Despite the incident, Goldwasser said she did not resent the security guards. ‘They were only doing their job’, she said, adding that she appealed to one of the guards. ‘I told an officer that this man would decide whether my husband will come home and that this is the man that can, within a second, solve the conflict. I am sure it did something to his heart when he heard that’.”
The Ynet report on Karnit Goldwasser’s participation in a UN press confernce with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is published here.

That looks like Florence Avakian, who writes for an Armenian publication, following Goldwasser’s eviction from the press conference for not being a properly-accredited journalist …

Photo by Shachar Ezran for Ynet

And, here is Goldwasser after being evicted from the room where the press conference was being held:

Photo for Ynet by Shachar Ezran

UPDATE — The Associated Press reported overnight that: “In an exchange broadcast on Israeli radio stations Wednesday, Karnit Goldwasser accused the Iranian leader of responsibility for her husband’s capture. ‘My name is Karnit and I’m the wife of Goldwasser that was kidnapped by Hezbollah to Lebanon more than a year ago and you’re responsible for this by your support. I’m asking how come you’re not allowing the Red Cross to go to visit them’, Goldwasser said at the Tuesday news conference. Ahmadinejad ignored her, saying ‘next question’. Goldwasser told Israeli Army Radio on Wednesday that Ahmadinejad was clearly caught off guard. ‘He was pretty surprised to find me there’, she said. ‘The distance between us was about two meters (yards)’ … Goldwasser’s husband, Israeli soldier Ehud Goldwasser, and Eldad Regev were seized in a July 2006 Hezbollah cross-border raid, triggering a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah. Hezbollah did not comment on Tuesday’s incident at the UN. In the past, Hezbollah has said the two soldiers are being treated ‘humanely’, but it has not provided any sign of life from the men and refused to allow the Red Cross to see them…”

The AP report that the audio recording of the exchange between Karnit and Ahmadinejad was broadcast on Israel radio stations is published here.

UNHQ/NY has central audio recording of all public meetings and all public news conferences in the building. Copies of these recordings are available free of charge or restriction to all members of the press, and to all diplomatic missions to the UN.

Israel's central bank may use Israel's Postal Bank to supply shekels to Gaza

Reuters is reporting on Wednesday evening that the Bank of Israel is proposing to supply shekels to Gaza.

The story said that “Israel’s central bank has proposed using a state-owned institution to supply funds to Gaza banks after private lenders began severing ties to a territory that Israel labels an enemy entity, officials said on Wednesday. The anemic Gaza economy depends on Israeli shekels, long provided by Israeli commercial banks with a green light from the Israeli government, to finance imports, pay Palestinian Authority workers and carry out day-to-day transactions. Providing salaries to Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s loyalists in the territory is part of a U.S.-led strategy, backed by Israel, to strengthen the Western-supported leader and weaken Hamas, which violently took over the Gaza Strip in June … Abbas’s government in the occupied West Bank uses shekels to pay salaries to tens of thousands of its employees in the Gaza Strip. It is unclear whether the Bank of Israel’s proposal to have the state-owned Israel Postal Bank take over Gaza transactions for the private banks will win Israeli government approval … Avi Hochman, president and chief executive officer of the Israel Postal Company, which includes the Postal Bank, said the proposal was developed earlier this week and presented to him by the Bank of Israel and Israel’s Finance Ministry. ‘We are considering it. There are some legal, logistical and operational issues that we have to find a solution to. Once we find a proper solution that will enable us to provide the services, we will be happy to provide them’, he told Reuters. He said the Israel Postal Bank has the financial capacity to fill the financial void left by Bank Hapoalim and Discount Bank. ‘Capacity is not an issue’, he said. The Bank of Israel declined to comment on the proposal. New shekels are needed in Gaza to replace those leaving the territory to pay for imports, mainly from Israeli suppliers. Without new shekels, Palestinian banks could run out of currency to cover deposits. A Palestinian banking official said the move could force Gaza banks to shut down”.
The Reuters story on the proposal to use the Israeli state-owned Postal Bank to bring shekels to Gaza is published here.

Largest Israeli Bank (Hapoalim) shuts operations in Gaza – bigger crisis possible

Israel’s Kol Israel Radio, and the news agencies, are reporting that one Israeli bank — the largest Israeli bank, Bank Hapoalim — is cutting off relations with banks in Gaza, as a result of the Government’s recent decision to brand Gaza as an “hostile territory”/”enemy entity”.

The Jerusalem Post wrote Wednesday that Bank Hapoalim is “Israel’s second-biggest lender by assets”, and added that: “It could take up to a month to completely cease services to Gaza’s financial institutions. ‘We have correspondence with the banks there (in Gaza) doing all different things, just like we have with banks all over the world, and now we are stopping all of our activities with Gaza’, a Hapoalim spokeswoman said. ‘Some of the banking activities will be stopped immediately and some will be stopped within 30 days, but I think that everything will be stopped before that time’. The decision could restrict the supply to Gaza of the shekel, which is the official currency of the governing Palestinian Authority…”
The Jerusalem Post report on the Bank Hapoalim move is posted here.

AP says that: “Bank Hapoalim said in a statement that it would cease activities ‘with banks and branches located in the Gaza Strip’. The statement did not indicate the extent of the bank’s operations in Gaza or say when the decision would go into effect, and a spokeswoman declined to elaborate. Palestinians have no currency of their own and do most of their local business in Israeli shekels. A Gaza expert warned the move could cause monetary chaos there. Sharhabil al-Zaim, legal adviser for six Gaza banks, said since Gaza can work only through corresponding banks, a cutoff of Hapoalim service would cause “partial paralysis of the banks’ operations in Gaza” and might lead to a run on Gaza banks. In a letter to Hapoalim’s management, the Israeli human rights group Gisha asked the bank to reconsider its action, saying it would not only further damage the already-battered Gaza economy but would also hurt Israeli firms exporting to Gaza and seeking to collect payment. It also said the bank was going further than the government itself, which announced last week it would cut utilities to Gaza but has so far taken no operative steps…”
Continue reading Largest Israeli Bank (Hapoalim) shuts operations in Gaza – bigger crisis possible

General Closure of West Bank and of Gaza crossings started last midnight for Jewish holiday — but only announced this morning

Of course, it was to be expected that there would be a general closure of the West Bank and Gaza crossings for the Jewish holidays. But, it is never known in advance — at least to the general public — when it will start, and how long it will last.

In this case, the Jewish holiday of Sukkot starts Wednesday at sundown, and lasts seven days. In general, only the first day — Thursday — is a full public holiday, although the Israeli Government Press Office is closed from the day before (Tuesday afternoon), until 7 October.

So, it might have been reasonable to expect that the closure would start sometime around sunset.

But no, it started the previous midnight, on Tuesday, just after 2400.

There were unusually long lines at the evening rush hour on Tuesday at all the checkpoints in the north Jerusalem area — notably Ar-Ram and Hizma. This is also the time of the really bad Ramadan rush hours, when Palestinians rush home, barring all normal traffic rules and conventions, to join their family to break the day’s fast.

But, like so much that happens here — where the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory is simultaneously highly-bureaucratized and at the same time casually, humiliatingly and overwhelmingly arbitrary — no one knew in advance that the closure would start at midnight.

Anyone who had been invited to Jericho, for example, for a Ramadan iftar on Tuesday evening, and stayed just a little bit late, would have gotten a bad surprise when returning home after midnight last night.

The announcement speaks of a “high terror threat”. Despite the shrieks and groans that I might hear from some (though not all) of my Israeli friends, I must say that the basis for this alarming evaluation is not at all clear…
Continue reading General Closure of West Bank and of Gaza crossings started last midnight for Jewish holiday — but only announced this morning

Haidar Abdel-Shafi wanted a Palestinian "National Unity" Government

At first, Abdel Shafi wanted a National Unity Government in order to curb the late Yasser Arafat’s solo rule, or solo decision-making power.

His comments on the break-up of a National Unity Government as a result of Hamas-Fatah fighting have not been reported.

But, his reasons to wish for a National Unity still appear as valid today as ever.
Continue reading Haidar Abdel-Shafi wanted a Palestinian "National Unity" Government