Netanyahu discusses establishing Israeli commission of inquiry on Gaza war

The Jerusalem Post reported that “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was expected to meet with his top ministers on Wednesday evening, for the second time in one day, to discuss establishing a commission of inquiry to investigate IDF actions during Operation Cast Lead”.

However, this is not being painted as a any kind of concession to those who have been calling on Israel to establish its own independent investigation.

The JPost stated that “The commission would aim to curb a recent wave of calls to prosecute Israeli leaders and top IDF officials for alleged war crimes, after the release of the Goldstone Report, Army Radio reported. According to Israel Radio, senior Israeli officials said that as the Goldstone report is full of lies and distortions, Israel should probe how Richard Goldstone and the other members of the commission reached their conclusions”.

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Goldstone defends his report on Gaza war before UN Human Rights Council — says Israel is still avoiding dealing with the substance of the report

South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, today defended before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva his fact-finding mission’s nearly 600-page long report on the 22-day Israeli military offensive in Gaza (27 December to 18 January).

He said he regretted that regret that “the response to date of the Government of Israel avoids dealing with the substance of the report”, which was published in an advance form on 15 September. Instead, he noted, the report “has been rejected in vehement terms by the Government of Israel. The call for transparent investigations has been rejected. The Government of Israel wishes to restrict its investigations to secret inquiries by the Military investigating itself. That would clearly not satisfy the legitimate expectations of the many victims of the Israeli military operations”.

The webcast of the meeting can be seen here .

In his statement to the Human Rights Council today, Justice Goldstone said that “The Mission decided that in order to understand the effect of the Israeli military operations on the infrastructure and economy of Gaza, and especially its food supplies, it was necessary to have regard to the effects of the blockade that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip for some years and has been tightened since Hamas became the controlling authority of Gaza. The Mission found that the attack on the only remaining flour producing factory, the destruction of a large part of the Gaza egg production, the bulldozing of huge tracts of agricultural land, and the bombing of some two hundred industrial facilities, could not on any basis be justified on military grounds. Those attacks had nothing whatever to do with the firing of rockets and mortars at Israel … The Mission looked closely and sets out in the Report statements made by Israeli political and military leaders in which they stated in clear terms that they would hit at the ‘Hamas infrastructure’. If ‘infrastructure’ were to be understood in that way and become a justifiable military objective, it would completely subvert the whole purpose of IHL [International Humanitarial Law] built up over the last 100 years and more. It would make civilians and civilian buildings justifiable targets. These attacks amounted to reprisals and collective punishment and constitute war crimes”.

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Jerusalem tensions persist

Tensions continue — among Palestinians, at least — after disturbances the mosque esplanade in the Old City of East Jerusalem on Sunday, despite the imposed calm for the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur observed this year from Sunday night through Monday night.

There were minor disturbances reported in several East Jerusalem neighborhoods and in Bethlehem.

UPDATE: TV reports showed young — very young, perhaps underage — Palestinian men in handcuffs being processed by Israeli authorities after about 50 persons were reportedly detained in and around East Jerusalem’s Old City in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

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Israel reportedly links telecommunications frequencies to PA request to ICC on Gaza war

Palestinian journalists have confirmed with sources in Ramallah a report that first appeared in Haaretz today, which said that Israeli officials are linking the release of telecommunications frequencies for a new Palestinian mobile phone operator to the withdrawal of the Palestinian Authority’s request to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to investigate information published in the 15 September Goldstone report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council.

The Human Rights Council will discuss the Goldstone report in Geneva on Tuesday.

According to the Haaretz report, Israeli officials are furious at the Palestinian Authority (PA), and have accused it of being unfair, for asking the International Criminal Court to investigate information published in the Goldstone report.

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Tensions flare on mosque esplanade in Old City of East Jerusalem

Clashes are continuing on Sunday afternoon on the mosque esplanade where two mosques Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock are situated in the Old City of East Jerusalem.

In the morning, there were reports saying hat Jewish worshippers protected by Israeli police (armed of course) had entered the mosque esplanade — which is called the Temple Mount in Israel — in advance of the very serious Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and annual repentance.

Palestinians had been on alert since Thursday, when Al-Quds newspaper published a report saying (at least according to an SMS summary): “Extremist Jews plan to break into al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday, similar incident occurs in Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron”.

Apparently, Palestinians present on the mosque esplanade began throwing stones at the group that turned up Sunday morning.

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police then spread out of the mosque compound and into the streets of the Old City.

There were injuries both to Palestinians and to the Israeli police.

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IDF announces it is now enforcing a TOTAL CLOSURE of "Yehuda/Shomron"

The IDF has just sent out an announcement that it has started enforcing a total closure of what it called “Yehuda/Shomron”, until the end of Yom Kippur (which starts tomorrow, Sunday, at sunset, and which ends 25 hours later, on Monday evening just after sunset).

IT is not clear exactly what “Yehuda/Shomron” is — though it seems to mean more or less the same thing as “Judea and Samaria”, which was the terminology used last year, and it seems be more or less the same thing as what the rest of the world knows as the occupied West Bank. [Perhaps “Yehuda/Shomron” are the Hebrew-language words for Judea and Samaria?] As we reported here , the terms “Judea and Samaria” were used as recently as this past spring.

The announcement, received by SMS, informs us of the following: “IDF now enforcing general closure on Yehuda/Shomron from now until the end of Yom Kippur”.

Meanwhile, YNet reported on Sunday that “Vehicles will not be allowed to pass from east Jerusalem to the western part of the city in order to minimize the friction between Jews and Arabs“. Given that there are so many Israeli and Jewish “neighborhoods” are now in East Jerusalem, it might be hard to enforce this measure. However, a distinctive feature of the Yom Kippur holiday is the extent of the shut-down in Israel, with the airport closed, and traffic completely banned in many areas. Last year, it was possible to drive from the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem to the Dahiet al-Bariid neighborhood, past Psgaat Ze’ev and Neve Yaacov, but Israeli police cars barred the entrance to both places.

The YNet report added that “The defense establishment has declared a heightened state of alert across the country ahead of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. On Saturday evening, a closure was imposed on the West Bank until Monday at midnight. Residents will only be allowed to cross into Israel in humanitarian cases. The defense establishment will focus its Yom Kippur Eve activity around cemeteries, while on Yom Kippur itself forces will be deployed around synagogues”. This report can be read in full here.

Leonard Cohen plays in Israel: one bereaved Palestinian parent said "I can't boycott a heart as big as Leonard Cohen's"

Leonard Cohen, who celebrated his 75th birthday earlier this week, gave his scheduled concert at Tel Aviv’s Ramat Gan stadium last night without any adverse incident — bringing enormous pleasure to the mostly but not entirely Israeli audience.

It is a pity that he will not be playing in Ramallah this weekend, as he had proposed when the Palestinian boycott committee objected to his performing in Tel Aviv. That suggestion was not acceptable to some — it seems, in fact, to a very few only — but the whole matter therefore became too much, too controversial, and too exhausting for others, who simply chose not to deal with the issues raised.

For the boycott committee, the sole issue was that Leonard Cohen should have totally avoided Israel, and played only in Ramallah.

We reported on this controversy earlier here, as well as
here, and also here.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Cohen told the audience of over 50,000 people on Thursday night that: “I don’t know if we will pass this way again” … so, he promised “to give it everything tonight.” The JPost also said that the concert transported the audience to “a vibrant spiritual high”.

A Youtube video shows Leonard Cohen performing “Hallelujah” in the Ramat Gan stadium on Thursday night:

“I did my best, it wasn’t much”, Cohen sang in this song, “I told the truth, I did not come to Tel Aviv to lie”… and the audience roared in response.

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Adriana Huffington on blogging (and also on Obama)

Adriana Huffington, who has apparently been in Israel for a conference of bloggers, was interviewed by the Jerusalem Post. The full interview will be published by the newspaper next week, its website says. But a video excerpt is already posted.

Adriana Huffington of Huffington Post interviewed by Jerusalem Post

Huffington said that blogs “can keep the stories alive by staying on them until there is some real impact.”

Asked if she believed that bloggers would eventually replace journalists, Huffington said she didn’t see this as an “either-or” situation. Today’s media, she said, unlike yesterday’s media, includes an online component, — and there’s absolutely no reason why the online media should be any less good than the main-stream media at accuracy, fairness, or fact-checking.

The interviewer asked her: While the advantages of “citizen journalism” (as blogging is sometimes called) are speed, immediacy, and the fact that people have a major platform to express their opinion, what about the supposed problems of “citizen journalism”, such as credibility or lack of professionalism, and the disguising of news as opinion (the interviewer must have meant the opposite)? Will bloggers would eventually replace journalists)? Huffington replied that she didn’t see this as “either-or”, and she went on to explain: “I believe the existence of online media can really facilitate the breaking of stories, and the staying on stories, because we are in a way suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder and the main-stream media is suffering from attention deficit disorder, and you need both to be able to really stay on a story. When major stories are broken on the front pages of newspapers in the States, and die there, we can keep the stories alive by staying on them, and staying on them, until there is some real impact”.

New UNSC resolution on nuclear disarmament: "enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder"

U.S. President Barack Obama presided over the UN Security Council meeting today that adopted Resolution 1887, which notes, among other things, that “enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder”. That is a nice, consensus phrase — and one directed specifically at Iran, which is claiming the right to a full enrichment cycle of uranium for nuclear fuel, but which is accused of not having reported the development of its program in a timely manner.

The SC meeting, and agreement on the resolution, is a very major diplomatic achievement for Obama.

The resolution says that the main aim is, eventually, “a world without nuclear weapons”, which would be a total reversal of the doctrine of Mutually-Assured Destruction that is believed to have kept the Cold War from developing into a hot war.

Resolution 1887 also “Calls upon all States that are not Parties to the NPT to accede to the Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon States so as to achieve its universality at an early date, and pending their accession to the Treaty, to adhere to its terms”. Israel is one of the countries most affected by this clause — as are also India and Pakistan (and apparently also now North Korea). These are countries which were regarded as “threshhold” countries when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was adopted in 1967, but which have since reportedly become nuclear weapons states (though Israel maintains its policy of “nuclear ambiguity”). The only states recognized as nuclear powers by the NPT are the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council — pure coincidence, if you believe some of these council members …

Most of these former-threshhold states are not likely to be happy at the prospect that they can only join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapons states.

In any case, it was a rare UN Security Council summit, with 14 of the 15 UN Security Council members represented by their Heads of State and/or Government — and only Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi was absent (though he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York earlier this week, and Libya is currently one of the non-permanent members of the UNSC).

Instead, this SC meeting was addressed by Libya’s UN ambassador, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam, who told the meeting that Israel’s nuclear sites should be subject to international oversight, or “Otherwise, all the states of the Middle East will say, `We have a right to develop nuclear weapons. Why Israel alone?’ “. Israel has not ratified the NPT, and thus cannot be accused of having violated its provisions. John Bolton, when he was in charge of disarmament matters for the American State Department, said when pressed by a journalist once in Geneva that the U.S. does believe Israel should join the NPT — but eventually, in the far distant future. Another American official later added that this would have to be as a “non-nuclear-weapon State”. This does not, apparently, mean that the former “threshhold” states would have to eliminate their arsenals, but rather that they would not be allowed to assume the title (or perquisites) of nuclear weapons powers.

As remote as they may seem, major documents such as this often become the basis and the justification for major future international policy moves.
The Associated Press counted, and reported that the resolution contains 2,300 words.

It is a document full of nuance.

It was promoted by the U.S., and adopted in a UNSC meeting chaired by the President of the U.S., which calls for all states to “sign and ratify” the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), “thereby bringing the treaty into force at an early date”. The CTBT was, in fact, promoted by the U.S., and which then-U.S. President Bill Clinton did sign in 1996 (after the text of the treaty was finally agreed in international negotiations in which the U.S. actively participate) did not even try to take to the U.S. Congress for approval in 1999, because Republican opposition to curbs they said would be imposed on U.S. sovereignty so clearly indicated that the move would have been defeated.

This resolution also calls for the negotiation of a treaty limiting the production of fissile material — this has been the chief U.S. goal in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament for years, but it has been held up because the U.S. has not agreed to deal with China’s main concern, which is the prevention of an arms-race in outer-space. The Conference on Disarmament works on consensus, and China’s position has been backed by Russia. Other countries have also objected to other aspects of this proposal, including the fact that the proposed new Fissile Ban treaty would only limit future production of the fissile material needed to make nuclear explosions — meaning that the big and powerful countries would be able to keep the large stockpiles they already have of fissile material, while all others would be left as “have-nots” (just as with nuclear weapons themselves, which is the basis of the objections to the NPT from some countries, including those former “threshhold” countries who have since become self-declared nuclear weapons states, as India did in 1998. This self-definition has now officially been shot down in this new UNSC resolution adopted today).

The UN press release providing coverage of the meeting stated that: “Unanimously adopting resolution 1887 (2009) in its first comprehensive action on nuclear issues since the mid-1990s, Council members emphasized that the body had a primary responsibility to address nuclear threats, and that all situations of non-compliance with nuclear treaties should be brought to its attention … The meeting began at 9:30 a.m. and ended at 11:30 a.m”. All of this, within two hours.

The UN press release also reported that “the Security Council had before it a concept paper conveyed in a letter dated 15 September 2009 (document S/2009/463) from the President of the Security Council [this month, it’s the U.S] and addressed to the Secretary-General [which said that] the Security Council will focus broadly on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament and not on any specific countries, with the goals of underscoring the global reach of proliferation threats; the broadly shared obligation to respond; the positive steps taken to reduce nuclear dangers; and the Council’s essential role in addressing growing and pressing nuclear threats … According to the paper, the summit is intended as an opportunity to build support for fissile material cut-off treaty negotiations; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol; ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; and strategic arms control, including new negotiations over the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START)”.

While the U.S. said that the focus would be broad rather than on any specific countries, the individual statements made by world leaders in the UN SC meeting Thursday did name names — especially Iran and North Korea …

A group of countries including Western Europeans and the U.S. are due to meet again on 1 October with an Iranian delegation in Geneva, Switzerland for “Geneva Talks Two”, a continuation of a day-long meeting held in Geneva in July 2008.

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Saying one thing, doing another

The AP’s Karin Laub, who normally works from Ramallah, is in New York to cover the Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy going on at the sidelines of the high-level segment of the annual UN General Assembly debate. Today, she wrote a report (based on an interview published in the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat — which she did not of course need to be in New York to read) that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has said that “The Palestinians cannot return to peace talks at this time because of ‘fundamental disagreements’ with Israel on what should be on the agenda … Abbas rebuffed an appeal by President Barack Obama that both sides get back to the table promptly”.

Meanwhile, Palestinian and Israeli teams are supposed to meet today (in NY, each separately with U.S. officials, but not all together) to work out how to re-start negotiations. Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat reportedly said “we agreed to continue dealing with the Americans until we reach the agreement that will enable us to relaunch the negotiations”.

Haaretz’s Avi Issacharoff also wrote about Mahmoud Abbas’ interview with Al-Hayat: “Abbas called the Netanyahu government ‘a real problem’ … ‘The Netanyahu government is a real problem and there is no common ground for negotiations with it. Construction in the settlement is continuing, Netanyahu is declaring Jerusalem and [Palestinian] refugees topics not up for negotiations, so what is there to talk about?’ The Palestinian leader added that he could not agree to Israel’s compromise for a partial settlement freeze, which he said inherently implied continued construction. Abbas reiterated his stance that peace negotiations must resume from where former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government left off and insisted they include the core issues. Some stride was made during talks with the Olmert government, said Abbas, adding: ‘There were maps drafted by both sides and proposals for territorial exchanges, and thus we cannot return to point zero.”

However, Israeli officials have said on several occasions in recent months that Abbas did not respond to Olmert’s offer, and that the Palestinian side did not present any maps of its own …

Issacharoff also reported that “Abbas and members of the Palestinian delegation to the UN were pleased with Obama’s statement that Washington is pursuing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, as Abbas has that diplomatic talks with Israel with Israel cannot begin unless it is clear that the 1967 lines are the goal.
But the officials expressed displeasure with Obama’s declaration that negotiations with Israel should begin without preconditions. Yasser Abed Rabbo, who heads both the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee and the PA negotiating team [?], said the PA was pleased with Obama’s decision to hold another round of
preliminary talks in the interest of bridging the gaps between the parties. ‘Still, our message is clear – we have not retreated from our demands, and relinquishing them will lead to a diplomatic disaster’, he said”. Issacharoff’s article can be read in full here.

Meanwhile, Karin Laub’s story for AP continues: “The Palestinian leader said he wants to avoid a crisis with the Obama administration at any cost, but stressed that ‘there is no common ground for discussion’ with Israel’s hardline leader, Benjamin Netanyahu … Abbas, who is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, said that even at the risk of alienating Obama, he cannot return to talks without a clear agenda. ‘In all honesty, we want to protect our relations with President Obama under any conditions … We don’t want to come out with a crisis with the Americans, or create a crisis. But in the meantime, we can’t go on unless there is a clear path. The road must be defined so we can know where we are going’ … Abbas said in the interview that only a complete freeze [on Israeli settlement activities] will do. ‘We can’t accept the status quo because a partial halt means a continuation of settlements … Even if it is halted by 95 percent, it is still a continuation of settlement activities.” Abbas said that despite ‘fundamental disagreements’ with Netanyahu over the terms of negotiations, he will keep talking to Israel about day-to-day issues that concern the Palestinians, including security and the economy. ‘We don’t reject the principle of talks and dialogue’, he said. In Jerusalem, Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon suggested the Palestinians are wasting time by insisting on a settlement freeze. He noted that when required to do so in the past — as part of a peace deal with Egypt and the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza — Israel has uprooted settlements”. Karin Laub’s report can be read in full here .

What is Danny Ayalon doing here? If Israel is prepared to uproot settlements, as Ayalon suggests, why doesn’t it say so clearly, now? To the contrary, Prime Minister Netanyahu is publicly saying the opposite.

Haaretz reported today that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Haaretz on Wednesday that he would not agree to the Palestinian demand to accept the 1967 borders as a condition for renewing peace negotiations. Netan Barayahu also said that U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday was ‘positive’ because ‘he also said something we had been seeking for six months, that we have to meet and begin the diplomatic process without preconditions’. Obama had spoken clearly about Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people’, said Netanyahu. ‘I believe that disagreement about this is the root of the conflict’ … Netanyahu also told Israel Radio on Thursday that he would never drop his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. ‘I told Abu Mazen [Abbas] I believe peace hinges first on his readiness to stand before his people and say, “We … are committed to recognising Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people”,’ Netanyahu said … ‘I will not drop this subject and other important issues under any final peace agreement’, Netanyahu added … [He suggested there can be peace] if the Palestinian leadership says we want peace, we recognize Israel as the Jewish state, the nation state of the Jewish people, just as we’re asked to recognize the Palestinian state as the nation state of the Palestinian people’. The prime minister concluded by saying that Israel wanted ‘a real peace … Israel wants both recognition and security from its neighbors, and this will be the task of the negotiations in the coming months’.”

As noted in our blog post yesterday, Israelis have not yet done a convincing job of explaining to Palestinians what, exactly, the demand for recognition of Israel as the “state of the Jewish people” means. Nor have Israelis made any effort to address or allay Palestinian fears that this phrase is just code for prohibiting the return of Palestinian refugees, and also the possible expulsion of Israel’s Palestinian-Arab citizens. This Israeli position was first made public in Ariel Sharon’s 13 or 14 reservations on the Road Map. Then, it was raised by the previous Israeli government, headed by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, at the launch of the Annapolis process of negotiations in November 2007. Now, Netanyahu is saying that this a demand he will never drop, that peace hinges on this issue, that this is the root of the conflict.

The Haaretz report stated that Netanyahu, in his interviews in New York, also stated concerning Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly that: “The things he said about the occupation are not new. He also said them in Cairo, and in fact that is the formula adopted by the road map — and it does not say we have to go back to the 1967 borders. This is the formula adopted by governments before the one I head, which did not agree to go back to the 1967 borders. We certainly would [also] not agree to that. In the matter of the settlements he also said nothing new. These disagreements should not prevent the beginning of the process which, among other things if it is successful, will also decide this issue”.

This Haaretz article also duly noted that on the specifics of Israeli settlements, Netanyahu told American TV interviewers that “Israel was unwilling to freeze ‘life’ in West Bank settlements. NBC interview Matt Lauer that he was ‘willing to make gestures to help the peace process’. When asked how big a gesture Israel intends to make, the premier said ‘we’ll get there very soon, I suppose’. ‘But I’ll tell you one thing I’m not willing to do. I can’t freeze life’, Netanyahu added, referring to a possible West Bank settlement freeze, insisted on by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. ‘There are a quarter of a million people there, in these communities which are called “settlements”, although really most of them are bedroom suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’ … ‘There are a quarter of a million people living in these communities. You know, they need kindergartens. They need schools. They need health clinics … They’re living. I’m committed not to build new settlements. I am committed not to expropriate additional land for existing settlements. But people have to live. You can’t freeze life’.” This Haaretz article can be read in full here .

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