If it's not the money, could it be … covert U.S. pressure?

The JPost has just contributed a very interesting bit of news and analyis to recent reports that work on The Wall has stopped because of a supposed “budgetary shortfall”.

In an article entitled “Kilometers of W. Bank security fence completed since July: 0”, written by Tovah Lazaroff, the JPost reveals that “Not a single kilometer of the West Bank security fence has been completed in the past four months, The Jerusalem Post has learned. This week, the Defense Ministry told three contractors with signed agreements worth NIS 100 million not to begin scheduled work on the fence in the South Hebron Hills – due to lack of funds, according to Dudi Barrel, director-general of the Israel Infrastructure Contractor’s Association. In spite of that claim, as well as media allegations that the Defense Ministry lacks money in its fence budget for this year, the Prime Minister’s Office told the Post that NIS 500m. of the 2007 budget for the barrier remains in the Defense Ministry’s coffer. Both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Defense Ministry said they could not comment on the delay in the work on the South Hebron Hills portion of the fence.
“In general, work on the West Bank barrier, which has earned Israel international condemnation even as it has contributed to a significant decrease in terrorist attacks, has slowed to a trickle.
“Last year, the Defense Ministry completed 102 km. of the fence. Some 10 months into 2007, however, only an additional 48 km. – just 6 percent of the entire planned route of the fence – have been completed. Another 80 km. are under construction. Of those 80 km. the Defense Ministry had hoped to complete 50 km. this year, but it now expects to fall short of that goal. It would not say how much the shortfall would be. Earlier this year, the estimated target date for the project’s completion was moved from 2008 to 2010 – meaning it will take the government eight years to build the fence which was first approved by the cabinet in 2002. As of this week only 56.9%, or 450 km. of the 790-km. route, has been completed, the Defense Ministry told the Post. This response exactly mirrors information given the Post in the beginning of July, when it made the same query. Of the remaining 260 km. of the planned route of the fence, some 100 km. are tied up in petitions before the High Court of Justice. An additional 160 km., the Defense Ministry said, are still in the planning phase. The Defense Ministry, so far, has offered no explanation as to why work on the fence has slowed down in 2007 compared with 2006 …” The JPost article on the slowdown in construction of the Wall is posted here.

A friend who is an expert on The Wall said on Sunday that the IDF website had just suddenly changed its map (do a google search for “seamzone”, he told me), to remove an illustration that showed a large chunk of West Bank land south of Hebron closed off to Palestinians by a proposed routing of The Wall. Now, he said, there is no indication that any Wall construction will happen on this Hebron-area land — and no explanation of this sudden revision.
[I’m not sure if this is a more recent or an earlier one, but see one slow-loading version of the IDF map here].

The JPost article reports an interesting hypothesis that continuing to build The Wall is seen as less important than turning to the construction of some kind of defense against missiles, such as the relatively small and crude Kassam rockets that are shot regularly at Israel’ “Western Negev” these days.

It is intriguing, because the U.S. is on a crusade to persuade the “good guys” of this world to share in its missile defense shield…

Could the U.S. also be using this as leverage to stop Israeli work on The Wall in advance of Middle East peace talks (or “a meeting”) it hopes to convene in Annapolis later this year?

Ex-UNSG Kofi Annan visits Palestinian school in East Jerusalem – may visit Gaza

Thanks to our dear friend Adnan, here is some news you will not read in many other places — it was published in Al-Quds, the Palestinian Arabic-language newspaper published in Jerusalem: ex-UNSG Kofi Annan, here with a delegation of some 10 well-connected do-gooders led by himself and Ted Turner (“We want to help”, Turner told Israeli officials, according to Israeli media), and please see our earlier post here, visited a Palestinian school in Qalandia — right next to one of the world’s most awful checkpoints, between Ramallah and Jerusalem. IDF soldiers at Qalandia routinely tell those crossing that this is a checkpoint between “two countries” — “that’s another country over there”, the soldiers say, pointing over at the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Kofi Annan, Ted Turner, and delegation are also reportedly going to visit Gaza.

How will they deal with the Hamas leadership in Gaza — just ignore it?

It will be interesting to see what the reception will be to their visit to Gaza…

UPDATE: Annan and Turner left Jerusalem on Wednesday, and they are supposed to be leaving the region early Thursday morning, according to the UN Foundation.

SG son-in-law posted to Iraq

About ten days ago, it emerged that the SG’s son-in-law is being moved to Iraq. Journalists at the UN probed the move. Here are some excerpts from an exchange between Inner City Press’ Matthew Lee and UN Spokesperson Michele Montas at the UNHQ daily Noon Briefing for journalists on 19 October:

“Question: And there’s a report that I feel I just need to ask about, saying the son-in-law of the Secretary-General is being named the chief of staff of Mr. de Mistura in Iraq. One, is that true and two, was it a competitive process, or what’s the Secretariat’s statement on some questions that have been raised?

“SG Spokesperson: Well, it’s simply a matter between Mr. de Mistura, who had worked with Mr. Chatterjee in Iraq during the first Gulf War, and he asked him to be his chief of staff. It’s something that is strictly Mr. de Mistura’s decision. It would be a lateral move, not a promotion for Mr. Chatterjee, and as you well know, Iraq is an extremely dangerous environment to operate in. And we shielded the publication of any information that increases the risk to any staff member and to the mission as a whole is not very helpful.

Question: So you’re saying The Washington Post publishing this post puts people at risk?

SG Spokesperson: I’m saying what I said. Okay. Because the Secretary-General has always stressed the security needs of the people over there, particularly –- in any mission, actually –- but particularly in Iraq, where, as you know, the security conditions are particularly difficult. That’s all I said. Yes, any other questions?
The excerpt from an exchange between a journalist and a UN spokesperson on the posting of SG BAN’s son-in-law to Iraq is here.

Stefan di Mistura cuts a dashing figure, with his cognac-colored suede jackets and all, and he is certainly a ruthless political operative. Hiring the SG’s son-in-law as his chief of staff is really a no-brainer. What UN manager would not want to hire the SG’s son-in-law? That way, the mission will not be forgotten (in between crises, that is).
To anticipate the outrage, the guy won’t get a promotion, at least initially… And, a “lateral move” is easier to process, administratively, and does not need to go before the UN’s internal appointment and promotion boards, where objections could well be raised … though would any loyal career bureaucrat openly challenge such a decision?

I’m just wondering if there might not also be another calculation, at least from BAN’s (or his adviser’s) side: Putting his son-in-law in what is clearly possibly harm’s way, might it not be an attempt to set an example? The UN Staff Union has been adamantly opposed to sending UN staff to Baghdad since a bombing attack on its HQ there in August 2003 that killed Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello, one of the UN’s golden boys, and a member of the A-Team … as well as 19 other staff members.

The U.S. Administration is well aware of staff sentiment on this issue, and has not challenged it directly. But there is increasing pressure on SG BAN to “help” the U.S. out in Iraq now. The SG is clearly preparing to enlarge the UN staff presence there. And sending his son-in-law in the first wave might (or might not) be a way to soften the resistance. At any rate, putting the son-in-law in a dangerous (though high-profile) spot — without even giving him an immediate promotion (though he surely will get one in due time, if not in good order, if he isn’t blown to bits first) makes the PR job slightly easier. It will certainly also win points from the U.S. for SG BAN …

On his Inner City Press blog, Matthew Lee wrote, on 19 October: “For weeks it had been rumored, that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s son-in-law would get a high post with the UN in Iraq, and that Mr. Ban’s former colleague in the South Korean foreign ministry, Choi Young-jin, would be named Ban’s envoy to the Ivory Coast. About the latter, Inner City Press asked Ban’s spokesperson Michele Montas, after hearing from Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo that the envoy had been mutually selected. Ms. Montas had no comment at the time. Then on October 18, the Choi appointment was announced, and the following morning’s Washington Post carried a small item noting that Ban’s Iraq envoy Steffan de Mistura is naming Ban’s son-in-law Siddarth Chatterjee as his chief of staff. There are stories behind each, portions of which we’ll endeavor to tell in this end-of-week column. First, the UN’s story. On Friday Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas about Chatterjee’s appointment in Iraq, and she responded that it is strictly a matter between Mr. de Mistura and Chatterjee, that it is a lateral move and not a promotion, and that “we feel the publication of any information that increases the risk to any staff member and to the mission as a whole is not very helpful.”

Inner City Press asked, “Are you saying that the Washington Post’s publication puts the mission at risk?”

“I’m saying what I said,” Ms. Montas replied.

“An aside: Inner City Press often takes and presents UN Spokesperson Montas’ objections to the legitimacy of questions at face value. But in this case, we have reason to believe, and have decided to report, that the responsibility for the above-quoted dig at press freedom lies on the 38th Floor, and not the third (where the Spokesperson’s Office is housed). Apparently from the highest levels, attempts were made that this widely-rumored story not be published. But since it is journalistically legitimate, even imperative, to report on what some are calling possible nepotism in public institutions, security concerns would have militated against this assignment of the Secretary-General’s son-in-law to Iraq. “It’s a big world,” as one source fearing retaliation put it, adding that Chatterjee was initially going to be promoted from P-5 up into the “D” ranks, but that it was decided to forego this for now, to present the move as lateral.

“The subtext to Ms. Montas’ statement that this was a matter between Mr. de Mistura and Mr. Chatterjee is that these fearful insiders report that Mr. de Mistura made the appointment in order to curry favor on the 38th floor, just as, the sources say, he previously hired the son of Kofi Annan’s close aide Iqbal Riza. What makes it unrealistic to expect this story not to be explored is that de Mistura was so recently given the Iraq envoy post”. The Inner City Press post on SG BAN’s son-in-law being posted to Iraq is here.

Danger facing all Iraqi journalists

In an editorial a few days ago, the NYTimes put the spotlight on the recent “courage in journalism award” that he International Women’s Media Foundation gave to six Iraqi women who work for the McClatchy Newspapers bureau in Baghdad.

The NYT reproduced remarks made in an acceptance speech by Sahar Issa, on behalf of all six women:

“…[S]ince the war started, four and half years ago, an average of about one reporter and media assistant killed every week is something we have to live with.

“We live double lives. None of our friends or relatives know what we do. My children must lie about my profession. They cannot under any circumstance boast of my accomplishments, and neither can I. Every morning, as I leave my home, I look back with a heavy heart, for I may not see it again — today may be the day that the eyes of an enemy will see me for what I am, a journalist, rather than the appropriately bewildered elderly lady who goes to look after ailing parents, across the river every day. Not for a moment can I let down my guard.

“I smile as I give my children hugs and send them off to school; it’s only after they turn their backs to me that my eyes fill to overflowing with the knowledge that they are just as much at risk as I am.

“So why continue? Why not put down my proverbial pen and sit back? It’s because I’m tired of being branded a terrorist: tired that a human life lost in my county is no loss at all. This is not the future I envision for my children. They are not terrorists, and their lives are not valueless. I have pledged my life — and much, much more, in an effort to open a window through which the good people in the international community may look in and see us for what we are, ordinary human beings with ordinary aspirations, and not what we have been portrayed to be.

The NY Times editorial with excerpts from remarks made by Iraqi journalist Sahar Issa is here

UNSG BAN Ki-Moon: Punitive measures against Gaza are unacceptable

Yesterday, as Israeli sanctions went into effect against the Gaza Strip, the UNSG issued this statement:

“The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the cessation of indiscriminate rocket attacks by Palestinian militants targeting Israel, and strongly condemns these actions.  However, he also believes strongly that punitive measures taken by Israel, which harm the well-being of the entire population of the Gaza Strip, are unacceptable.  The limitation of fuel and electricity supplies deepens the humanitarian distress of the 1.4 million residents of Gaza, as does the reduction of the supply of essential commodities and the tightening of restrictions on movement and access.  The Secretary-General calls upon Israel to reconsider its actions and for all concerned to protect civilians and to meet their obligations under international law”.

On Guantanamo and on Cuba

The UN’s independent investigator on human rights in the fight against terrorism, Martin Scheinin, said in a report released Monday to the UNGA in NY that he’s concerned about U.S. detention practices, military courts and interrogation techniques. He urged the U.S. government to end the CIA practice of extraordinary rendition, in which terrorism suspects are taken to foreign countries for interrogation”, the Associated Press reported.

The AP added that Scheinin said he was also concerned about what he termed ‘enhanced interrogation techniques reportedly used by the CIA’, saying that under international law ‘there are no circumstances in which cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment may be justified’.”

The AP story said that “In the report, Scheinin called for the abolition of the military commissions which were established in 2001 by President and declared unlawful by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 because they were not authorized by Congress. Congress responded by passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Scheinin said the offenses in the 2006 law — including terrorism, wrongfully aiding the enemy, spying and conspiracy — ‘go beyond offenses under the laws of war’. He argued that the offense did not apply at the time of the alleged acts by detainees, and maintained that the commissions are applying criminal law retroactively in violation of international law. Due to various concerns, Scheinin recommended the abolition of the commissions. ‘Wherever possible, ordinary civilian courts should be used to try terrorist suspects’, he said [Nevertheless] he welcomed the recent invitation by the U.S. government to Guantanamo to observe proceedings before military commissions. Scheinin called on the U.S. to lift restrictions that prohibit Guantanamo Bay detainees to seek “full judicial review of their combatant status.” The U.S. prohibition violates the International Covenant’s prohibitions on arbitrary detention, the right to a judicial review which could grant freedom, and the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time, he said. He urged “determined action” to move toward Bush’s goal of closing Guantanamo. Scheinin said he has been advised that up to 80 detainees will be tried by military commissions, and that the U.S. wants to return the rest to their countries of origin or to a third country. He said the U.S. and the U.N. should work together to resettle detainees in accord with international law”.
The AP report on the UN special rapporteur who is calling for the closure of the Guantanamo detention center is posted here.

The AP has also reported, meanwhile, that the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to urge the US to end its 46-year-old trade embargo against Cuba; “The resolution passed with 184 member states in favor, four against, and one abstention … “Cuba’s Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque foreign minister accused the U.S. of stepping up its ‘brutal economic war’ against his country… ‘The blockade had never been enforced with such viciousness as over the last year’, Perez Roque told the assembly, accusing President Bush’s administration of adopting ‘new measures bordering on madness and fanaticism’ “.   The AP report on the UNGA resolution calling for a lifting of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba is here.

The Dutch say their UNIFIL ship did not disrupt Israeli TV

The Jerusalem Post is reporting Monday that Dutch officials are denying that their ship participating in UNIFIL’s “expanded monitoring” off the coast of Lebanon had anything to do with the disruption in Israeli TV reception from a satellite transmitter that began on 6 September, the day of the apparent Israeli attack near Deir Az-Zor in Syria.

“Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Dutch defense officials categorically rejected claims floated two weeks ago by Israel that one of their missile ships that is part of the UNIFIL maritime taskforce which patrols the Lebanese coast – HNLMS De Ruyter – was behind the month-long disruptions experienced by YES subscribers. According to the officials, last week, the De Ruyter docked in Greece for routine missile inspections and at the same time underwent a thorough systems check to see if it was the real source behind the disruptions to YES. ‘Our checks showed that we were 100 percent not responsible’, a senior official from the Netherlands told the Post, adding that Holland expected the Israeli Defense Ministry to issue a clarification concerning their earlier accusatory comment. Despite the Dutch claims, Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office said it was ‘unfamiliar’ with the new findings and as a result was unwilling to issue a clarification. Dutch officials said they were surprised by the response since the Netherlands had immediately transferred the new findings to Barak’s office … Two weeks ago, Israeli defense and diplomatic officials announced that they had discovered that the source for the disturbance was a Dutch UNIFIL ship. They said that had a few hours after the attack, the Dutch navy vessel moved into position and began deploying its radar to obtain as much information as possible about the military events of that night in northern Syria.”

In addition, the JPost added: “The Dutch defense official said that his country was surprised by the initial accusations but that despite the discontent there was no intention to pull out of UNIFIL. ‘We agreed to become part of UNIFIL with the basic goal of defending Israel’, he said. ‘We should have received better and more fair treatment throughout this affair’.” Today’s JPost story carrying a denial from a Dutch defense official that its radar monitoring of Israeli air activity over Syria on 6 September caused disruption in Israeli TV reception from a satellite transmitter is here.

Israel starts phased Gaza sanctions

So, it’s done.

Not exactly as announced, but it’s started.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced last week that sanctions would go into effect against Gaza on Sunday — to start the next time a Qassam rocket is fired from Gaza into Israel –and be racheted up with every new attack.

The Israeli cabinet apparently believes that its September 19 decision to label Hamas-run Gaza as an “enemy entity” or “hostile territory” [see here], absolves them from any thought that this is a violation of international law.

The trigger-happy Dor Alon, a private Israeli firm which has the contract to supply Israeli-provided fuel into Gaza — and their diesel fuel is what operates Gaza’s power plant — began implementing these sanctions on Sunday, apparently without an official Israeli government go-ahead. But, it was Sunday. It got that part right.

There was some confusion on Sunday, however, as the spokesman for Israel’s Coordination and Liaison Administration, Lt. Shadi Yassin, denied that Barak had given any order to cut the supplies. However, it was later reported in Haaretz that “The Defense Ministry said in a statement Sunday that the Sufa crossing between Gaza and Israel, used for transporting fuel, has been closed”. The Haaretz report that Sufa crossing — where fuel is delivered to Gaza — was closed on Sunday is here.

[Interestingly, Israel’s Ynet news reported Monday that “Heavy exchanges of fire between IDF soldiers and Palestinian gunmen [n.b. Hamas, in this instance] took place Sunday night near the Sufa crossing, which connects between Israel and the Gaza Strip … IDF forces operated inside the Palestinian territory, about 1 kilometer from the security fence. The operation was aimed at distancing terror cells from the fence and uncovering terror infrastructures. According to reports, the exchanges of fire continued Monday morning”. The Ynet report on military clashes at the Sufa crossing on Sunday and Monday is here.]

Haaretz reported in two separate articles that Israeli groups have petitioned to the High Court of Justice to stop the cut-off of fuel and other vital supplies to Gaza:
(1) “The plan to disrupt the electricity supply to Gaza has not yet been implemented in light of a petition to the High Court of Justice Sunday by the Arab-Israeli legal advocacy center Adalah against the disruption”.
The Haaretz report that Adalah has appealed to the High Court of Justice to stop the cut-off of supplies to Gaza is here.

(2) “The High Court of Justice on Sunday ordered the state to respond within five days to a petition submitted by dozens of human rights groups requesting that Israel halt its cutoff of fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip … Following the commencement of the fuel cutoff, dozens of human rights organizations petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding that the Israel Defense Forces halt the cessation of fuel and electricity supplies. According to the rights groups, the decision to cut off vital power supplies is illegal and could likely harm the innocent civilian population in the embattled Gaza Strip”. The Haaretz report that dozens of human rights groups had filed a petition asking the Israeli High Court of Justice to stop the cut-off of fuel to Gaza is here.

The Jerusalem Post reported today that “Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz is scheduled to meet Monday with IDF and Defense Ministry representatives to work out a formula that will enable Israel to reduce the supply of services to the Gaza Strip without the move being defined as ‘collective punishment’ … Defense officials said that starting Sunday Israel cut fuel supplies to Gaza by 5 percent to 12%. The main reduction was in gasoline: Instead of 450,000 liters a week, Israel will now supply 300,000; Israel will continue to supply the same amount of industrial fuel – 1.75 million liters per week – for Gaza’s sole power plant; and instead of 1.4 million liters a week of diesel, Israel will now supply 1.25 million … Israeli officials said the changes would not affect hospitals, water supplies or sewage plants, and that the gasoline cuts were ‘marginal’ but were enough to disrupt the daily lives of Palestinian civilians and cause them ‘to ask themselves if the Kassam rocket fire is beneficial for them or not’. Officials said that while Israel did not want to ground ambulances or garbage trucks, the defense establishment decided to reduce the diesel supply since it was also employed by Hamas for its car pool that is used daily in terrorist activity. In a further effort to pressure Hamas, the IDF also decided to permanently shut down the Sufa crossing into Gaza, which had been used in recent months as a temporary replacement for the main Karni cargo crossing that has been closed due to increasing terrorist threats against it. With Sufa closed, the Kerem Shalom crossing near Sinai will be the only entry point operated by the IDF for the transfer of humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip. Defense officials said Sufa was being shut in line with the new policy of increasing pressure on Hamas. ‘There are daily rocket attacks against the crossing, and until now we used to switch off between Kerem Shalom and Sufa and used the one that wasn’t under fire’, an official said. ‘From now on, however, if Hamas fires at Kerem Shalom it will immediately shut down and will only reopen the next day if the firing stops’. ” The JPost report on Monday’s meeting about how to spin the reduction in vital supplies to Gaza is here.

So, though the fuel supplies destined for Gaza were not officially cut back (and the Israeli High Court of Justice must still rule on this, probably next week), the crossing where fuel supplies are allowed through to Gaza was closed by the Israeli military, so the supplies did not get through on Sunday anyway.

It takes a lawyer, or an investigative journalist, to keep up with all this.

In addition, the Palestinians have previously objected to using Keren Shalom crossing, south of the twice-destroyed Gaza International Airport, and at the point where the borders of Gaza, Israel, and the Egyptian Sinai meet. So, this appears to offer another golden opportunity for Israel to compel the Palestinians to accept Israeli decisions.

Haaretz reported in another article that the Kerem Shalom crossing has only about half the capacity of Sufa crossing to transfer humanitarian goods to Gaza. Sufa, Haaretz said, “had been operating since the Hamas takeover of the Strip in June instead of the Karni crossing that was closed down due to terror alerts. Most of the merchandise moved to the Gaza
Strip  about 100 to 120 truckloads a day went through the Sufa crossing. Merchandise will now be able to enter the Gaza Strip only at Kerem Shalom, which has a much smaller capacity of up to 55 trucks a day”. The Haaretz story which mentions the much smaller capacity of Kerem Shalom crossing is here.

The JPost also disclosed, in its report today, that “A senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office said that while it had not yet been decided when to begin suspending electricity to the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks, this new policy would also likely be implemented within the next few days. The officials said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had not been flooded with urgent calls for Israel to rescind these measures, and that Israel had explained to the international community that the goal was not to punish residents of the Gaza Strip, but rather to protect Israeli citizens”.

Since its air attack destroyed the generators that operate the main Gaza power plant last year, Israel has also been directly providing about one-third of Gaza’s electricity, as well — in addition to the diesel fuel that has been used to run the Gaza Power Plant since the June 2006 airstrike.

The Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday that “truck drivers at Gaza’s main fuel depot complained that they were unable to fill their tankers, and some drivers said they were turned away altogether”. The JPost also reported that the head of the Palestinian Fuel Agency, Mujahad Sa’alama, said that “on Saturday, a reduction of 40-50 percent was recorded in the supply of diesel fuel and that there was a decrease of 12% in fuel for the Gaza power station”.

Later news reports said that the European Union confirmed the immediate and large reduction in supplies.

The JPost said that “Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i told Israel Radio that Israel would begin to make the cuts to Gaza’s fuel and electricity supplies as early as Sunday or Monday, after the court system gives the government its final authorization. The plan, approved by Barak Thursday, is to cut electricity for an initial 15 minutes after a rocket attack, gradually increasing the length of outages if the attacks continue … Despite the clear indication that the planned power cuts was retaliation for Kassam attacks, Vilna’i insisted Saturday that the decision was another stage in disengaging from Gaza and was not a part of any ‘punishment policy’. He said the sanctions are meant to wean Gaza’s dependence on Israel and conceded that they were unlikely to halt rocket fire”.

The JPost added that Ahmed Ali, deputy director of Gaza’s Petroleum Authority, which distributes Israeli fuel shipments in Gaza, said that ” ‘This is a serious warning to the people of the Gaza Strip. Their lives are now in danger … The hospitals, water pumping station and sewage will now be affected by the lack of fuel’. Ali said daily fuel shipments on Sunday were more than 30 percent below normal. He said Israel delivered 200,000 liters of diesel fuel, compared to 350,000 liters on a normal day, and 90,000 liters of gasoline, instead of the regular supply of 150,000 liters. He said it would take several days for the fuel crunch to be felt, since Gaza keeps about four days of fuel in reserve”. The JPost report that Dor Alon had indeed cut fuel supplies to Gaza on Sunday is here.

Dor Alon was the company that cut off fuel supplies into Gaza in August, the day the European Union said it might cut off funding if it were confirmed that Hamas might somehow be collecting the Gaza Palestinian consumer’s payment for their electricity bill. (The EU pays for the fuel that Israel provides to Gaza via Dor Alon, and this fuel runs the Gaza power stations, since an Israeli air strike in June 2006 knocked out all the generators, which have not since been replaced due to the sanctions imposed on Gaza).

Hamas, whose officials have carried suitcases filled with cash into Gaza since sanctions were implemented against the whole Palestinian Authority since Hamas won the majority of seats in elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council in early 2006, indignantly denied it wasn’t pocketing any money.

In any case, very few Gazan Palestinians are able to pay their utility bills anyway — and the Palestinian Authority is now basically run by the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with a number of Fatah or independent ministers, and it has decided to maintain the supply of electricity to Gaza whether the people there can pay for it or not.

On top of that, in any case, Israel has simply been deducting “at the source” the entire amount due [n.b., at least for the electricity it provides to Gaza since the June 2006 air strike] from the millions of dollars of Palestinian customs tax revenues that Israel collects at its ports, and which Israel has largely been withholding from the Palestinian Authority since donor sanctions against Hamas’ electoral victory went into effect in early 2006. Whether or not the EU donors pay for the fuel, the PA has been paying … (Israel has been holding about 46 of those elected Hamas parliamentarians in detention, many for over a year.)

The European Union’s Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner of Austria, met on Monday morning with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and said during the meeting, according to the Associated Press that “she was ‘very concerned’ about Israel’s decision to reduce fuel supply to Gaza and cut back on electricity to the Strip. While noting the ‘distress’ caused to Israelis by Palestinian rocket fire, she said, ‘I think collective punishment is never a solution’.” The AP report on the EU Commissioner’s meeting with Olmert is published here. Ferrero-Waldner has served as Austrian Foreign Minister, and before that she was also, for a while, the former UNSG Annan’s Chief of Protocol at UNHQ/NY.

Unlike Ferrero-Waldner, Annan (who now heads the new Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum) apparently had nothing to say about the Gaza sanctions when he met Israeli Prime Minister Olmert on Sunday. See UN-Truth’s post on the Annan-Olmert meeting here.

Kofi Annan meets Israeli PM Olmert today

The Israeli Government Press Office has just sent out an UPDATE to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s schedule today — announcing a meeting early this evening with former UN SG Kofi Annan as head of a delegation of the “UN Foundation” [I think they mean “Annan’s” Global Humanitarian Forum, which was just officially launched on 17 October in Geneva to tackle “humanitarian challenges”. The UN Foundation was set up to spend Ted Turner’s multi-million-dollar donation to the UN to help make up for a shortfall caused by the U.S. Government’s withholding of funds.]

UPDATE: Col. Miri Eisin, the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser for the Foreign Press, has responded to my query by confirming, on the one hand, that Kofi Annan is in Jerusalem for the Global Humanitarian Forum, and on the other hand that Ted Turner will also be in the meeting with Prime Minister Olmert this evening.

UPDATE TWO: the Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that the cut-off of fuel supplies to Gaza was not discussed with the former UNSG or his delegation: “The issue – according to officials in the Prime Minister’s Office – was not raised during a meeting Olmert held Sunday evening with a delegation from the Board of Directors of the United Nations Foundation that included former UN secretary general Kofi Annan. The delegation also included Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and chairman of Turner Enterprises, and former Atlanta Mayor and US ambassador to the UN Andrew Young“. [n.b., Andrew Young, who was U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s Ambassador to the UN, was forced to resign when it was revealed, probably by an over-eager Zuhdi Terzi, may his soul rest in peace, that he had received Terzi, the PLO Ambassador to the UN at the time. Andrew Young was serving as the rotating President of the UN Security Council when the meeting took place, and apparently thought that this would provide enough cover for the meeting, even during a time when it was strict U.S. policy not to have any contacts with the P.L.O., which was not yet recognized by Israel, and was deemed as a “terrorist” organization due to what were regarded as ambiguities in the P.L.O. Charter about Israel’s “right to exist”.]

The JPost added that “The prime minister told the delegation that Israel would be more than willing to converse with Hamas if it accepted the principles that Annan himself had laid down: recognizing Israel, rejecting terrorism and accepting previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements.” The JPost UPDATE on Olmert’s meeting with Kofi Annan and his friends is here.

UPDATE THREE: The JPost reported in another story on Monday that Kofi Annan has just become a member of the board of Ted Turner’s UN Foundation. The Annan – Turner delegation apparently also met with Israel’s President Shimon Peres: “Asked by The Jerusalem Post whether he had come to invite Peres to join the board of the UN Foundation, which was established in 1998 with his billion-dollar gift, Turner said the foundation was not a membership organization, ‘but we’d love to have him if he’d like to join us’. The board’s members include Queen Rania of Jordan. Among the Israelis at the luncheon [which Peres hosted for the delegation] were former chief of General Staff and ex-government minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Ron Pundak, director-general of the Peres Center for Peace and one of the architects of the Oslo Accords”. The JPost story about Annan and Turner meeting with Shimon Peres is here.

The Global Humanitarian Forum has been set up in Geneva by the Swiss Government, in order to make good use of the presence of the retired UNSG. Apparently, it’s not as if Kofi Annan was burning with his own ideas and projects. A Swiss news report earlier this year indicated that Annan was basically going to let the Swiss Foreign Ministry and one other Swiss agency [the Swiss Development Corporation, an official government body run by Swiss Ambassador Walter Fust] to determine what this UN Foundation should do — and then Annan would just do it.

In his inaugural speech, Annan told assembled dignitaries that “The Global Humanitarian Forum will put the prevention of individual suffering at the centre of our concern”. He indicated it would wish to better “serve the individual who is most vulnerable and in need”. This Global Humanitarian Forum will hold an annual high-level meeting in Geneva (which just loves to host high-level international conferences) — and the first one will be next June.

Annan also said in the speech: “Let us cut down the barriers that separate one of us from another, that stand between us and more effective prevention of human suffering”.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry, of course, is still interested in promoting the Geneva Initiative that has been strongly backed by Swiss Foreign Ministere Michelene Calmy-Rey, who is also the Swiss Federal President this year. And the Swiss Foreign Ministry has also been interested in being helpful in promoting peace talks between Israel and Syria. [The Swiss authorities are also almost certainly strongly against any military action against Iran].

The humanitarian situation in Gaza must also be on the agenda …

In any case, after the Sunday evening meeting, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office issued the following statement: “The Prime Minister briefed the delegation on the talks being held with the Palestinians in order to reach a two-state solution in which the State of Israel and a Palestinian state live side by side in peace and security, and on his talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The delegates expressed their appreciation for the Government’s efforts to advance relations with the Palestinians…”

On Monday morning, Kofi Annan and the delegation with whom he is travelling are to receive a briefing on the situation on the ground by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (probably when he was SG, Kofi Annan would not have had time for such things). The former SG and the other members of the delegation are expected to stay in Israel (and the Palestinian territory) for about a week.

I wonder what other meetings and activities will be on the former UNSG’s schedule during his visit here? I wonder, for example, if he will visit The Wall …?

On a visit to the Golan Heights last week arranged by the privatized Israeli Media Central organization that aims to inform journalists of Israeli reality and points of view, we were shown the cleverly-named “Coffee Anan” coffee shop on a prominent Israeli outlook point high up on the Golan.

It’s a play on words, our Israeli accompaniers explained – “Anan” means clouds in Hebrew, so this is a coffee shop in the clouds…

Human rights experts frustrated by lack of media coverage

The UN’s Human Rights Committee is frustrated at the lack of media coverage of its work, it appears.

A press release published by the UN Office in Geneva, where the Committee meets, reports that: “Committee Expert Ivan Shearer presented a working paper on how to improve the Committee’s relations with the media and to make the work of the Committee more widely known, as well as to improve public understanding of its work. Among issues raised in the paper were how to make the Committee’s traditional end-of-the-year press conference more effective; whether Committee meetings should be moved from Palais Wilson to the Palais des Nations, were there were more facilities and were it was easier to attract the press; and whether the Committee’s conclusions on private communications should be communicated to the media.

“Further questions and remarks, raised for discussion by Mr. Shearer included whether the Committee should abandon its rule of keeping the name of the country Rapporteurs confidential; whether draft versions of General Comments should be posted online before they were being adopted; and whether the results of the follow-up procedures should be made available in the public domain. He also suggested that the Committee consider naming a Rapporteur on media relations.

“During the ensuing discussion, a number of Experts criticized the current Committee website, which was categorized by one Expert as ‘a mess’.

Continue reading Human rights experts frustrated by lack of media coverage