Abu Mazen's tie

It looked better on television than in these stills – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was wearing a beautiful, sophisticated medium blue tie with irregular white shapes on it, for his meeting in Abu Dhabi on Saturday with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Special Envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell.

It was really a fashion statement, and a new look for the Palestinian president. The blue was beautiful — just the perfect medium deep but lumious blue color of the blue ink that is used to full classic, old-fashioned fountain pens. I do not recall Abu Mazen ever wearing such a beautiful and sophisticated tie. This is absolutely his best tie.

Abu Mazen's most beautiful blue tie

Palestinian Presidential Press Office photo - Abu Mazen meeting Clinton and Mitchell in Abu Dhabi

Sa’eb Erekat, to the President’s left, was wearing a very nice teal blue tie, as well — but he’s worn it before. (It was the teal-blue equivalent of the beautiful sunset-colored saffron or rose Thai silk ties that the U.S. State Department Arabic translator has often worn on his visits to the region…)

In a statement later released by the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit, which he heads, Erekat said that “What the Middle East peace process desperately needs right now is credibility, not more ‘process’. If there is one lesson that the last sixteen years of negotiations has taught us, it is that negotiations for their own sake do not create a horizon of hope, but instead provide a cover behind which Israel will further entrench its occupation, and continue to create ‘facts on the ground’ that foreclose any prospect for a two-state solution”. But, hardworking as he is, Erekat often does not have the last word.

Yasser Abed Rabbo — who used to be a fashion plate back in Beirut in the early 1980’s (fine cognac suede battle jacket, grey pleated trousers) — was wearing a dull and boring grey-and-black diagonal striped politburo tie.

Abu Mazen had also apparently been to the hairdresser, and had a very professional blow-dry, too.

Beautiful blues were the theme of the day. Interestingly, a few hours later, when Clinton arrived in Israel and spoke to the press with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu by her side, the backdrop was also a very unusual aqua blue that set off the colors of the Israeli and American flags to perfection. Netanyahu — who often prefers to wear presidential red ties — was today also wearing a nice bluer-blue (not teal blue) tie – in the same tone as the blue part of the Israeli flag.

Clinton-Netanyahu joint press conference - 31 Oct 09

Clinton’s hand gestures in her visit to the region were surprisingly irritating — she needs a coach. In remarks during her joint press conference with Netanyahu, Clinton said that she has not changed her position on the need for an Israeli freeze on settlement-building (despite the widespread interpretation to the contrary), as she explained in this exchange with a journalist:
Clinton: The important thing as the Prime Minister just said is to get into the negotiations. I gave the same message today when I met with President Abbas. We know that negotiations often take positions that then have to be worked through once the actual process starts. I think the best way to determine the way forward is as the Prime Minister said – Get on the path.
New York Times (travelling press?): Madam Secretary, when you were here in March on your first visit, you issued a strong statement condemning the demolition of housing in East Jerusalem. Yet that demolition has continued unabated, and indeed a few days ago the Mayor of the City of Jerusalem issued a new order for demolition. How would you characterize this policy today? …
Clinton: Well, let me say I have nothing to add to my statement in March. I continue to stand by what I said then …”

However, just a few minutes later, in the same press conference, Clinton said that Netanyahu had made an “unprecedented” offer on settlements: “What the Prime Minister has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements which he has just described – no new starts for example, is unprecedented in the context of prior-to negotiations. It’s also the fact that for forty years, presidents of both parties have questioned the legitimacy of settlements, but I think that where we are right now is to try to get into the negotiations. The Prime Minister will be able to present his government’s proposal about what they are doing regarding settlements which I think when fully explained will be seen as being not only unprecedented in response to many of the concerns that have been expressed. You know, there are always demands made in any negotiation that are not going to be fully realized. I mean negotiation by its very definition is a process of trying to meet the other’s needs while protecting your core interests, and on settlements there’s never been a pre-condition. There’s never been such an offer from any Israeli government and we hope that we’ll be able to move into the negotiations where all the issues that President Obama mentioned in his speech at the United Nations will be on the table for the parties to begin to resolve”. [Her husband, Bill Clinton, said the same thing about the Israeli proposals tabled during the failed Camp David peace negotiations between the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak in July 2000, just before the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada…]

In an article today in Haaretz, Gideon Levy commented that “In other trouble spots, America takes a different tone. It bombs in Afghanistan, invades Iraq and threatens sanctions against Iran and North Korea. Did anyone in Washington consider begging Saddam Hussein to withdraw from occupied territory in Kuwait? But Israel the occupier, the stubborn contrarian that continues to mock America and the world by building settlements and abusing the Palestinians, receives different treatment. Another massage to the national ego in one video, more embarrassing praise in another. Now is the time to say to the United States: Enough flattery. If you don’t change the tone, nothing will change. As long as Israel feels the United States is in its pocket, and that America’s automatic veto will save it from condemnations and sanctions, that it will receive massive aid unconditionally, and that it can continue waging punitive, lethal campaigns without a word from Washington, killing, destroying and imprisoning without the world’s policeman making a sound, it will continue in its ways. Illegal acts like the occupation and settlement expansion, and offensives that may have involved war crimes, as in Gaza, deserve a different approach. If America and the world had issued condemnations after Operation Summer Rains in 2006 – which left 400 Palestinians dead and severe infrastructure damage in the first major operation in Gaza since the disengagement – then Operation Cast Lead never would have been launched … Israel of 2009 is a spoiled country, arrogant and condescending, convinced that it deserves everything and that it has the power to make a fool of America and the world. The United States has engendered this situation, which endangers the entire Mideast and Israel itself. That is why there needs to be a turning point in the coming year – Washington needs to finally say no to Israel and the occupation. An unambiguous, presidential no”. This Gideon Levy piece can be read in full here.

None of this, of course, is very helpful to Abu Mazen…

Coming back to the very important matter of visuals: Abu Mazen wore lighter colors for his appearance a week ago before his televised appearance at a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council (the gathering was in the Palestinian Presidential headquarters in Ramallah, the Muqata’a) — this was also a very good look: lighter grey suit, and a beautiful greyed-pink tie.

Abu Mazen chairs PLO Central Council meeting in Ramallah - Oct 09

Abu Mazen has clearly had a recent make-over. It is a success, if you want to look rich and powerful. Or, presidential. [Never mind that he has reportedly, again, recently threatened to resign. Watch the ties.] Abu Mazen now seems to change his ties several different times a day — and they’re almost all new ties, and very nice ones at that. Who is the stylist?

How Palestinian Authority politics work

Basem (Correction from comment below: Bassim) Khoury won a lot of admiration and respect when he reportedly resigned, at the beginning of October, in protest of the (later reversed) Palestinian decision to withdraw support from a resolution they (the Palestinians) had been drafting in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in support of the Goldstone report on last winter’s Gaza war. At that time, the Palestinian leadership agreed to another resolution, which was adopted, postponing consideration of the Goldstone report until March 2010.

Then, Bassim Khoury (a successful businessman who heads a Ramallah-based pharmaceutical company, and a good-looking nice guy who regularly brings flowers to his wife) refused to confirm these reports when contacted by various media.

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After weeks of tensions and provocations – and predictions of trouble today – Israeli police enter Al-Aqsa Mosque COMPOUND

Tensions — and provocations — have risen for weeks.

Jordanian intervention recently defused a days-long sit-in by Muslims who heeded an earlier call, during the recent Jewish holidays, to come to defend Al-Aqsa against a reported call by Jewish settlers for their faithful to come to pray inside Al-Aqsa.  A group of about 200 Palestinians slept and prayed inside, while Israeli forces threatened to arrest them when they came outside.  Then, agreement was reached, and those inside departed quietly.

Today, after yet another call for the Muslim faithful to come to protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque, next to the Dome of the Rock on the mosque plateau known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, the third most sacred site in Islam, the situation appears to be blowing up.

For days, it has been reported that preparations were being made (on both sides) in advance of a demonstration that was supposedly planned by Israeli “far-right extremists” to take place at Al-Aqsa on Sunday.

The feeling that there is incitement and provocation is inescapable — from elements on both sides.

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Richard Falk on Solana proposal – a negative development inconsistent with the right of self-determination

The latest report by Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, transmitted through the United Nations Secretary-General (document A/64/328), dated 25 August but presented by Falk himself to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee at UNHQ/NY this week, says that:

“On Palestinian self-determination, the most fundamental international human right whose realization has been thwarted by Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is the inalienable right of self-determination as enshrined in article 1 of both international human rights covenants. It has been widely assumed that the exercise of this Palestinian right would be brought about through bilateral negotiations, reinforced by the role of the United States, more recently by the Quartet (that has involved direct United Nations participation) and encouraged by the international community as a whole. Because the exercise of this right has been so long deferred and because the Palestinian situation under occupation endures multiple forms of unlawfulness, it is of utmost urgency to work towards a peaceful solution and an end to Israeli occupation.

“The main negative development [bearing on the right of self-determination] is the seeming unwillingness of the recently elected Israeli Government to endorse in clear terms the international consensus on a sovereign Palestinian State comprising the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem as its capital; the inability on the Palestinian side to achieve unified and legitimated representation that would seem to be a precondition for meaningful peace negotiations is another negative development.

This set of conditions has led in recent months to the advocacy of an imposed solution by external parties, often known as ‘the Solana Plan’ because of the prominence accorded to proposals made along these lines by Javier Solana. At present, neither public opinion nor leaders in Israel or Palestine are favourable to an imposed solution, and its advocacy must be considered a negative development, inconsistent with the right of self-determination, and an expression of frustration arising from the seeming futility of direct negotiations” …

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U.S. diplomat: Palestinian Authority should investigate Hamas violations in Gaza war

A  U.S. diplomat representing her country at a debate of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee last week said, after hearing the presentation of Richard Falk, the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967, that “her delegation had serious reservations about the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation, including that anybody request an opinion from the International Court of Justice on Israel’s refusal to cooperate” …

This diplomat, who is not indentified in the UN press release summary of the Third Committee meeting, “noted that Israel had received at least 100 complaints of abuse in Gaza and had already investigated several of them.  On other hand, Hamas was a terrorist group that had seized control of Gaza and had no institutions to deal with these violations.  She requested that the Palestinian Authority carry out its own investigation into the violations of international law by Hamas”.

The Palestinian Authority would probably just love to do so …

The UN press release noted that, in a response, Falk said that all three of the Special Rapporteurs who spoke that day to the Third Committee “had faced the same problems of non-cooperation from the country they were tasked with assessing.  He believed that it was the responsibility of the international community, as well as the General Assembly, to take this non-cooperation seriously and to address it in a non-political manner.  Israel should receive the same focus that Myanmar and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea did”.

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UNSG Ban Ki-Moon target of Israeli lobbying against Goldstone report

Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at UNHQ in New York on Friday afternoon, and afterward told the Israeli Ynet media group that the Goldstone report on the Gaza war should be “buried”, according to a report on the YNet website.

According to Ynet, Shalom said, “I am more optimistic that Ban won’t pass the report on to the Security Council … I told him that I request the report not reach the Security Council”. Palestinian officials have considered asking the UN Secretary-General to forward the Goldstone report to the UN Security Council. We have previously predicted that this will not happen.

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Palestinian President starts procedure for elections on 24 January

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas started the legal procedure, in Ramallah today, for presidential and legislative elections to take place in three months’ time, on 24 January 2010.

In the announcement, Abbas said that the elections would take place in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem, and in the Gaza Strip which has been controlled by Hamas since the rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces there in mid-June 2007.

Hamas spokespersons denounced Abbas’ announcement.

Goldstone to Washington: what's wrong with report on Gaza war

Both the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon — a cautious bureaucrat if ever there was one — and the more-willing-to-take-risks UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have backed the Goldstone report on last winter’s Gaza war that at least two (or three) and perhaps four (or all five) of the UN Security Council’s Permanent Members don’t want to discuss.

This is an unusual situation.

The UN Security Council is not on the immediate horizon in any case — the Goldstone report itself has recommended that both Israel and Hamas be given six months to set up their own independent investigations before the UN Security Council would be asked to get involved. So far, the U.S., Russia, and now reportedly China are now opposed to discussing the Goldstone report in the Security Council. The UN Security Council could, if it agreed, eventually ask the International Criminal Court in the Hague to look at certain aspects of the Israeli military operation, and of the Palestinian firing of rockets, mortars, and missiles at Israeli territory from Hamas-controlled Gaza.

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva voted last week to “recommend” the Goldstone report to the UN General Assembly, which may consider the matter before its current session is adjourned in December.

South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, who worked against the apartheid system through the country’s legal system, and who subsequently was appointed by the UN as a former prosecutor for the International Tribunals on the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, was working under a mandate from the UN Human Rights Council when he headed its Fact-Finding Mission into the Gaza war.

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Israeli officials present spectrum of views on independent investigation of Gaza war

Israeli officials seem to be taking a range of views on the question of establishing an independent Israeli commission to look into last winter’s war on Gaza.

The IDF’s Operation Cast Lead (27 December to 18 January), was primarily justified as necessary to stop rocket, mortar, and missile fire from Gaza onto surrounding Israeli communities (the range was expanded during the war to up to 60 km). In some instances, Israeli officials said that it was necessary to end Hamas rule in Gaza.

Haaretz is reporting that “Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor thinks Israel should establish its own independent committee to investigate Israel Defense Forces activity in the Gaza Strip during last winter’s Operation Cast Lead. ‘I have faith in the army and it is my duty to protect it, its commanders and its soldiers – and the most effective tool for this is serious self-examination’, Meridor said in a recent interview with Haaretz. ‘A state that examines itself [protects itself from] harassment. Today, with the development of international law, one of the best means of defense is for a state to investigate itself … The commission of inquiry that I hope will be established must examine the Goldstone report’s claims, even if it is a biased report, and its mandate from the outset was to examine Israel’s crimes, and one of the committee’s members stated prior to the investigation that Israel commits war crimes’, said Meridor, who also serves as minister of intelligence and atomic energy. ‘But the threat is serious and a commission of inquiry should be established, also to examine the suitability of the rules of war to the new type of war that has been imposed on us’ … As for Meridor’s recent return to politics, he attributed the move to the Second Lebanon War. ‘I saw how a government of intelligent people, some of whom I know very well personally, weren’t asking the elementary questions when sending the nation to war’, he said. ‘Going to war is the hardest decision a government can make. You don’t go to war unless all other options have been exhausted. You don’t go to war because you’re right, but because you know where you want to get to’.”  This article is posted on Haaretz’s website, here.

Israeli officialdom, however, appears to be divided — though mainly over tactics.  Like Meridor, some senior Israeli officials are reportedly speaking out in favor of an independent Israeli investigation.  Some “mainstream” (as opposed to “left-wing”) Israeli experts in international law, and some Israeli legal figures agree.  However, as reported in recent days, the explanation given in some cases is that the independent investigations should be just to comply with the bottom-line recommendation contained in the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Goldstone report — namely, that Israel and Hamas must each establish internal investigations within six months, or be referred to the UN Security Council. Some say this is required for “better PR”.

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Abbas, in Egypt, gives another explanation of Goldstone fiasco

Today, speaking to journalists at a press conference at the presidential headquarters in Cairo (after his meeting with Egyptian President Husni Mubarak), the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave some new details about the circumstances surrounding the fiasco concerning the Goldstone report in the UN Human Rights Council on 2 October.

According to a report of Abbas’ remarks published by Ma’an News Agency, when “Asked why he asked the UN Human Rights Council initially to defer the vote, Abbas said, ‘When the report was revealed in Geneva, Arab countries, African countries, the Non-Aligned Movement group, and the Islamic group submitted a proposal, but the superpowers rejected it. Then … the US submitted a very low-level resolution to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, and we rejected that. It was necessary to defer discussion of the report, and this decision was made by the four groups: the Arab countries, the Islamic countries, Palestine, and the Non-Aligned group.”

The Ma’an report also says that in the press conference in Egypt today, “Abbas alleged that the controversy following the delay of the vote was manufactured by his opponents. ‘It was a campaign full of lies and false accusations. When we requested submitting the report after it was deferred, 25 member countries voted for the report, and had it not been deferred, only 18 members would have voted for it’.”

This Ma’an report can be read in full here.

The Palestinian Investigative Committee appointed by Abbas nearly two weeks ago is presumably still doing its work.

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