"Why continue to build the settlements?"

Today’s recommended reading [published during the last week]: Andrew Sullivan in The Daily Beast on “Why Continue To Build The Settlements?” — a review of the much-discussed book [or, polemic, as Sullivan writes] by Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism. Sullivan writes: “Let us be clear. The Israeli government is systematically taking and holding the land that could be the Palestinians’ future state. They have been doing so for decades.
The deliberate population of occupied land violates the Geneva Conventions. The occupation itself enrages the Arab and Muslim world and creates a huge drag on the US’s strategic need to build up allies among emerging Arab democracies, and defuse Jihadism across the globe. And Peter’s book is explicitly about this problem. It lies at the center of his argument. And yet it is all but ignored by his critics”… Sullivan’s take is published here.

    UPDATE: On 10 April, Peter Beinart [author of the book, The Crisis of Zionism] wrote an Op-Ed for the NYTimes in which he explained his own position this way: “I’m too young to have seen the terrifying wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973, when Arab armies threatened to vanquish the Jewish state. I’ve never known an Israel that didn’t occupy the West Bank. But like the older man, I’ve seen whole communities of Jews take refuge in Israel. Among my formative memories of the Jewish state are the pictures of Anatoly Sharansky, fresh from a Soviet jail, descending onto the tarmac at Ben-Gurion airport and the images of nearly destitute Ethiopian Jews, separated from the rest of our people since the days when the Temple stood, entering the planes that the Jewish state had sent to take them home. So perhaps it’s no surprise that my book argues that Jews need a state for self-protection and cultural expression, but worries that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank menaces the democratic ideals upon which the state was founded. Some in the organized American Jewish community think this places me on the left. I disagree. I actually occupy a shrinking center of American Jews fiercely committed to Israel’s existence but profoundly troubled by its current course. Our most high-profile critics sound like the man at my University of Maryland talk, unwilling to confront any contradiction between a nation whose declaration of independence promises ‘complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of race, religion and sex’ and an occupation that has held millions of Palestinians as non-citizens for more than forty years … The more permanent Israel’s occupation of the West Bank becomes, the more American Jews will be forced to choose between a Jewish state that is not fully democratic and a binational state that loses its Jewish character. And faced with that choice, a great chasm will divide American Jewry: with most older American Jews on one side, and many non-Orthodox, younger American Jews on the other. Saving Israel as a democratic Jewish state and preserving the Zionist consensus in American Jewish life are two sides of the same struggle. Since my book came out, I’ve sometimes been called a controversial, polarizing figure in the American Jewish community. The accusation makes me sigh. I’ve seen enough questioners like that those at the University of Maryland to realize that if the two state solution dies, the real polarization will be yet to come”.

This could be paired with the Hussein Ibish piece also published in The Daily Beast during the last week, entitled “Show, Don’t Tell: Why the Apartheid Analogy Falls Flat”, which argues why the “A” word [Apartheid] should not be used [and also against a one-state solution]. In this piece, Ibish, who works for the American Task Force on Palestine, writes:
* Because they do not understand what life under occupation means for Palestinians, most Americans are not ready to accept at the outset of any conversation that Israel practices apartheid.
* [I]t is much more effective to simply describe the realities: Every aspect of daily life in the occupied Palestinian territories for every individual is defined by whether the Israeli government categorizes them as an Israeli settler, and therefore a citizen of the state with all the rights and responsibilities accruing to citizenship, or a Palestinian noncitizen living under occupation.
* This discrimination applies to the laws people live under: where they may live; what roads they may use; what access they have to resources like land, water, education, and social services; whether they may be armed for self-defense; whether they may travel freely or have to pass through rigorous checkpoints with the permission of a foreign army; whether they may leave their country with any reasonable expectation of being able to return unimpeded; whether they have any say in the government that rules them or are totally disenfranchised; and whether they are routinely subjected to severe abuses under detention and military tribunals. All these, and almost all other aspects of daily life in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel, are all radically separate and unequal on an ethnically-defined basis.
* The system of ethnic discrimination imposed by military force and Israel’s ‘civil administration’ in the occupied territories is by far the most extreme form of discriminatory abuse anywhere in the world today. When they learn these details, audiences conclude for themselves that this is a wicked, immoral and indefensible system.
* The implied one-state solution suggests that Israel is simply practicing extreme discrimination within an already-existing single state. This effectively lets Israel off the hook completely when it comes to the occupation. And, worse, it suggests that the expansion of settlements is merely construction taking place within that existing state rather than illegal colonization in occupied territories.
* No decent person who is made aware of the realities of life under occupation for Palestinians can fail to see its immorality…
This is posted here.

Popular Protests – Year Two

March 30 protests [in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, as well as inside Israel and just outside its northern and eastern perimeters] marked the start of Year Two of Popular Protests against … continued Israeli occupation.

It was, this year, a combination of the Global March to Jerusalem + Land Day.

The day started out slowly — but with prior Israeli preparation that had some of the trappings of the pre-Mavi Marmara “naval incident” during which an Israeli naval boarding on the high seas in the eastern Mediterranean resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish men, including a Turkish-American high school students.

There were. also reminiscent of the pre-Mavi Marmara build-up, even prior alerts about Iranian involvement in sending and training “terrorists” to “infiltrate” the Israeli “borders” from neighboring countries…

As the day went on, it became clear that (1) the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority in the West Bank was ineptly and covertly trying to keep a lid on things there while allowing a low-level flame to burn; that (2) Hamas was making attempts at preventing protesters from actually succeeding in entering the Erez Terminal between Israel and northern Gaza [DEBKAfile reported, sensationally as always, that Hamas took on Islamic Jihad “snipers” to do so]; that (3) Lebanese authorities kept their rumored word not to allow protests south of the Litani River; that (4) the current Syrian Government had no interest in seeing a repeat of last year’s Nakba + Naksa Day fatalities across the UN-monitored demilitarized zone on the Golan Heights; and that government was able to allow some 15,000 Palestinian refugees and their supporters to meet and gather within a few kilometers of the border with Israel without any cross-border clashes. UN Blue Helmet truce monitors kept watch with binoculars all day where last year over 20 people died as they defined warning shots and ran through minefields — this year, the UN observers saw, maybe, a couple of butterflies.

Map showing main Land Day protests via @fadiquran on Twitter

Image of Land Day demos via <b>@fadiquran</b>

Israel’s YNet website confidently reported here that “the security forces in the Palestinian cities did not allow the demonstrations to spread”…

A report from CNN’s Ben Wedeman on a rally at Beaufort Castle in Lebanon can be viewed here.

Photos of part of the gathering not far from the Jordanian border were Tweeted by @tighebarry
Land Day + Global March to Jlem in Jordan - 30 March 2012 - via @tighebarry on Twitter

In preparation for the demonstrations, the IDF ordered a complete closure of the West Bank until midnight.

Around Jerusalem itself, the activities [and clashes] were in the Old City of East Jerusalem [Damascus Gate in particular], at Qalandia Checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, and at the main Israeli checkpoint into Bethlehem.

The New York Times story by Ethan Bronner, published here, used this photo of horse-mounted policemen ploughing through demonstrators in front of Damascus Gate to the Old City of East Jerusalem:

Israeli police on horseback scattering demonstrators opposite Damascus Gate - AP photo in the NYTimes

Bronner noted in his NYTimes piece that “While the events on Friday were less violent and smaller than many anticipated, the tenor of the discourse offered Israel little comfort”.

Another photo from the East Jerusalem protests shows a visibly-outnumbered protester apparently being subjected to close-range pepper spraying to his temple, quite near his eye:

Photo Tweeted by @DidiRemez and also published by Ma’an News Agency, in an album posted here.

There were many injuries – including a young man hit in the head by a tear gas cannister at the Bethlehem checkpoint; an 8-year-old boy hit in the face by a tear gas cannister at the weekly protest in Nabi Saleh; one young man, 20-year-old Mahmoud Zaqout, was shot in the chest and killed on the Gaza side of Erez checkpoint —  his death reportedly brings to 5o the number of Palestinians who have died during Land Day protests since the original event it commemorates, in which six died, in 1976…

At Qalandiya, where there are thousands of civilians living in homes in close proximity to the checkpoint and to the action, tires were burned, the IDF moved 100 meters or so out of the checkpoint fanning north, west, and east, and there were enormous quantities of tear gas used [which fills the rooms of the neighboring houses and shops], as well as rubber bullets, skunk spray, and something used during the boarding of the Mavi Marmara [a projectile which emits smoke when fired and which causes painful welts on the skin].

There was also a problem at Qalandiya during which Mubadara Leader Mustafa Barghouthi was injured — apparently in the midst of a tear gas volley — by fighting about tactics and timing, involving his supporters and those of other Palestinian factions.  Barghouthi, an elected representative to the dormant Palestinian Legislative Council who has run as an independent candidate for President of the PA, also runs the Palestinian Medical Relief Committee whose ambulances were in constant service during the day.

On Friday, @jstthtgood sent these Tweets: “Mustafa Barghouti Attacked in #Qalandia while in an Ambulance because he started the ‘March to Jerusalem’ without other factions present” … and “They were suppose to wait till after prayers, and also for other ‘leaders’ to arrive” as well as “Barghouti started early and alone”.

UPDATE: Ma’an News Agency is reporting on Saturday here that “Palestinian Authority investigators have visited the lawmaker in a Ramallah hospital to check up on the circumstances surrounding the injury, a police report said”. This report also notes that “The police investigation is centered on reports that Barghouti was attacked by political adversaries following a dispute about how to carry out the demonstration, which was attended by several factions”.

The NYTimes piece by Bronner reported earlier that “At the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank and Jerusalem, masked youths threw stones at Israeli troops and set tires on fire. The troops responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Mustafa Barghouti, a doctor and Palestinian politician, said one of the tear-gas canisters hit him, sending him to the hospital. ‘I was hit with a tear-gas bomb on the side of my head and my back’, Dr. Barghouti said in a telephone interview from his hospital bed. ‘My scalp is injured, my right ear has problems, and they are checking to see if I have any spinal injury’.  The Israeli military spokesman’s office, in a set of Twitter messages and later over the telephone, said Dr. Barghouti had not been hit by an Israeli canister but had been attacked by other Palestinians.  A few Palestinian witnesses offered a similar account.  The Palestinian minister of social welfare, Majida al-Masri, was treated after collapsing from tear-gas inhalation“.

Photo of the action at the Bethlehem 300 checkpoint via @GazaYBO [Gaza Youth Breaks Out] on Twitter:

Photo on 30 March 2012 via Twitter <b>@GazaYBO</b>

UPDATE: A collection of wonderfully graphic photos of the day’s activities was posted later by the Denver Post here.

Bethlehem activist Mazin Qumsiyeh, who has an email list of some 50,000 names, sent out an email summary at the end of the day which concluded with the words: “Action is the best antidote to despair”.

Mahmoud Abbas tells a TV interviewer that "Unity is Frozen" – UPDATED

Speaking in a television interview from Baghdad, where he is attending the Arab League summit, the man who holds all the reins of Palestinian political power, Mahmoud Abbas, said “unity” between Hamas and the rest of the Palestinian body politic, and therefore between Gaza and the West Bank, is “frozen”.

His remarkable remarks — which appear to have been made in an interview with Ma’an Television, but it is not clear from the article — are reported by Ma’an News Agency, here.

The general reaction has been, “ho hum” [a big yawn].

In the article about the interview, Abbas also reportedly said: “We agreed on the vision and objectives and conditions in full…I confirm that Mashaal was honest and we were ready (to proceed)”.

The Israel News Network report, here, tells us that ” ‘some Hamas leaders rejected the agreements reached in Doha’, he [Abbas] said in a clear reference to Ismail Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders in Gaza who blocked the deal”. This innuendo is left out of the Ma’an report…

Earlier this week, the Palestinian Supreme Court dismissed a legal challenge to the proposal that arose out of long “unity” negotiations that Mahmoud Abbas would replace Salam Fayyad [whose appointment in 2007 irritated Hamas] and would serve as interim Prime Minister in an interim unity governments of technocrats [though Abbas could hardly be called a technocrat] that would prepare for new elections [in which Fatah hopes Hamas will be trounced, just to show them] that should have been held in May 2012.

A Presidential Decree must be issued three months before elections, so the May date has already slipped.

Oh, and Palestinian leader [there is almost no other] Mahmoud Abbas now reportedly has agreed to drop [or perhaps to postpone?] a threat to dismantle the Palestinian Authority…

This news of a not-yet-happened development is attributed to unnamed “foreign diplomats” [American?], and published in Haaretz here.

The Haaretz report tells us that:

    “The diplomats who provided the letter said Abbas scrapped the threat at the urging of President Barack Obama. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the letter has not yet been sent. The letter was leaked more than ten days after, Saeb Erekat asked for a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but his request was denied. During the meeting, Erekat was to submit the letter to Netanyahu. The letter was originally supposed to include an ultimatum on the part of the Palestinians, saying that if their demands were not met, they intended to turn to the international community, urge that Israel uphold international law, and demand that Israel take direct responsibility for the situation in the West Bank. However, beacause of the heavy pressure exerted by U.S., the ultimatum was dropped. The current draft includes only the Palestinians core demands: 1967 borders as a framework for negotiations, a settlement freeze, the release of prisoners, and a section that was added later to the letter: a demand to end IDF operations in West Bank Area A.”

Obama spoke to Abbas recently for the first time since September [when Obama was warning Abbas not to make the “UN bid” for full membership of the state of Palestine in the United Nations. Obama’s phone call was followed by one from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton…

Maybe they told Abbas that Obama can’t do anything until after the elections — but then [when Obama is re-elected, the presumption is], just wait, there will be big moves…

Meanwhile, Marwan Barghouthi [a Fatah “Youth” leader in his time] now in his 50s and just marking ten years in Israeli jail, where he is serving five life sentences ordered by an Israeli court at the start of the second Palestinian intifada, has reportedly called for “a renewal of efforts” in the “UN bid” to gain UN membership for the state of Palestine. This “UN bid” is why Israel and the U.S. withheld money to the PA earlier this year — prompting one of Mahmoud Abbas’ periodic thoughts of quitting or of dissolving the PA.

Marwan Barghouthi’s message, transmitted via his lawyer, urged Palestinian leaders to “Stop marketing the illusion that there is a possibility of ending the occupation and achieving a state through negotiations after this vision has failed miserably”. He also called for “stopping all forms of security and economic coordination [with Israel] in all areas immediately”… And, most interestingly, Barghouthi called for “a renewal of efforts” concerning the “UN bid”. According to a wire service report, published here, “Barghouti said that the Palestinians should take their statehood case to the General Assembly or other agencies as an alternative, alluding to forums in which the Palestians have wider support”.

In his weekly article, veteran Israeli activist Uri Avnery wrote about this statement by Marwan Barghouthi, and said:

    “I FIRST met Marwan in the heyday of post-Oslo optimism. He was emerging as a leader of the new Palestinian generation, the home-grown young activists, men and women, who had matured in the first Intifada. He is a man of small physical stature and large personality. When I met him, he was already the leader of Tanzim (‘organization’), the youth group of the Fatah movement. The topic of our conversations then was the organization of demonstrations and other non-violent actions, based on close cooperation between the Palestinians and Israeli peace groups. The aim was peace between Israel and a new State of Palestine.

    When the Oslo process died with the assassinations of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, Marwan and his organization became targets. Successive Israeli leaders – Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon – decided to put an end to the two-state agenda. In the brutal ‘Defensive Shield’ operation (launched by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, the new leader of the Kadima Party) the Palestinian Authority was attacked, its services destroyed and many of its activists arrested.

    Marwan Barghouti was put on trial. It was alleged that, as the leader of Tanzim, he was responsible for several ‘terrorist’ attacks in Israel. His trial was a mockery, resembling a Roman gladiatorial arena more than a judicial process. The hall was packed with howling rightists, presenting themselves as ‘victims of terrorism’. Members of Gush Shalom protested against the trial inside the court building but we were not allowed anywhere near the accused. Marwan was sentenced to five life sentences. The picture of him raising his shackled hands above his head has become a Palestinian national icon. When I visited his family in Ramallah, it was hanging in the living room.

    IN PRISON, Marwan Barghouti was immediately recognized as the leader of all Fatah prisoners. He is respected by Hamas activists as well. Together, the imprisoned leaders of Fatah and Hamas published several statements calling for Palestinian unity and reconciliation. These were widely distributed outside and received with admiration and respect.

    [Now, in his latest statement, issued through his lawyer] Marwan advocates an official end to the charade called ‘peace negotiations’. This term, by the way, is never heard anymore in Israel. First it was replaced with ‘peace process’, then ‘political process’, and lately ‘the political matter’. The simple word ‘peace’ has become taboo among rightists and most ‘leftists’ alike. It’s political poison. Marwan proposes to make the absence of peace negotiations official. No more international talk about ‘reviving the peace process’, no more rushing around of ridiculous people like Tony Blair, no more hollow announcements by Hillary Clinton and Catherine Ashton, no more empty declarations of the ‘Quartet’. Since the Israeli government clearly has abandoned the two-state solution – which it never really accepted in the first place – keeping up the pretense just harms the Palestinian struggle.

    Instead of this hypocrisy, Marwan proposes to renew the battle in the UN. First, apply again to the Security Council for the acceptance of Palestine as a member state, challenging the US to use its solitary veto openly against practically the whole world. After the expected rejection of the Palestinian request by the Council as a result of the veto, request a decision by the General Assembly, where the vast majority would vote in favor”…

Whose fault is it?

A colleague called me today as he was leaving Erez “terminal”, just coming out of Gaza after two days there.

The situation of the people who don’t have any electricity, or any fuel, is terrible, he said.

He asked, “Whose fault do you think it is”?

[He said he is leaning toward blaming Hamas…]

But, there is enough blame to go around…

Where to start?

The European Union was paying for the special industrial diesel fuel used to run the Gaza Power Plant once it was repaired in November 2006 [precision Israeli Air Force bombing took out each of the four generators/turbines, one by one, in late June 2006, in response to the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, and the EU paid for repairs that were done through Egypt].

The way it worked is important to understanding the situation: Gaza would tell the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah how much fuel it needed. Ramallah would order the fuel from an Israeli fuel company [Dor Alon] with whom Ramallah had concluded a contract. Fuel transfer facilities were constructed at Nahal Oz — Dor Alon paid for the installation on the Israeli side of the facility, and the PA paid for the installation on the Gaza side. Israeli tankers came one by one to offload their fuel cargoes into underground pipes which transferred the fuel into Gaza where it was loaded into Palestinian tanker trucks for delivery around the Gaza Strip.

VAT taxes paid on these fuel purchases by the PA were returned by Israel to the PA in Ramallah.

These arrangements continued after the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian preventive security services in mid-June 2007.

(1) Because Hamas was in power there, Israel’s military was authorized to implement tightening sanctions against Gaza, starting in late October 2007. These military sanctions were designed to cut the fuel deliveries to Gaza by about 15% each month. Gaza’s Power Plant experienced shut-downs from January, due to Israeli-military-mandated cuts in fuel delivered to Gaza.

(2) About four years later [at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011], there was a switch of responsibilities that was never fully explained, in which the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority took over from the EU the payment for the fuel, in exchange for the EU paying for salaries and pensions… There soon arose disputes over payments. Ramallah said that Gaza was not remitting enough in payments for electric bills, so they cut down on the fuel they ordered and paid for. More shut-downs in Gaza’s Power Plant ensued. VAT

(3) Gaza decided to stop going along with this arrangement, and its dependency on Ramallah’s good will, and turned instead to taking fuel for the Gaza Power Plant smuggled in via the tunnels under the border with Rafah. At around the same time, a clever tweak — invented by Gaza Power Plant Engineer Dirar Abu Sisi [later kidapped in Ukraine, where he was trying to emigrate with his Ukranian wife and their children, and brought to Israel, where he is still in jail] — allowed the Gaza Power Plant to use normal diesel fuel to operate. There were considerable cost savings. Taxes for the import of fuel went to Hamas.

(4) Israel gradually closes all cargo transport into Gaza via all crossings except Kerem Shalom — where Israeli customs officials operate. This move was opposed by the PA. Israel delayed the move, but eventually did it.

(5) Egypt, under pressure, decides to reduce the fuel transfers through the tunnels.

(6) Hamas hopes to persuade Egypt to deliver fuel through Rafah crossing — preferably via tankers crossing into Gaza — though there is no provision for cargo transfer via Rafah in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. Israel prefers fuel to come from Egypt via Kerem Shalom. There are negotiations and talks and more talks. Gaza’s Power Plant shuts down three times in recent weeks due to fuel shortage — including after an exceptional one-time transfer last Friday of 450,000 liters of fuel bought from Israel and paid by the PA. This quantity of fuel lasted for just over a day, and the Gaza Power Plant shut down again on Sunday.

During these talks and negotiations, it was reported here that “The [Gaza] cabinet also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, saying it has instructed the European Union to stop funding the power station in Gaza for political reasons. The Gaza government said it had turned to Egypt to relieve the current fuel crisis and thanked Cairo for its efforts, adding that it was also in contact with Qatar, Algeria and Turkey to ease shortages”.

An equivalent or greater amount of energy was put into mutual recriminations. Haaretz reported on 20 March here that Iran paid Hamas to block a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas [which might have eased the fuel crisis]:

    Hamas spokesman Ahmed Assaf said: “We have information that Iran paid tens of millions of dollars to Zahar and Haniyeh in their visits to Iran”. [He was referring to Hamas leaders Mahmoud Zahar who visited Tehran last week and Ismail Haniyeh who was there in February. Assaf was responding to a comment by Zahar that Palestinian political reconciliation “is in the freezer now”, despite a unity deal signed last month.
    “Reconciliation is in the freezer because Zahar was the one who put it there and he got the price from Iran,” Assaf told Reuters. “Zahar, Haniyeh and Hamas’s Gaza leadership were paid by Iran to freeze reconciliation.”
    Hamas rejected the charges. “The Fatah government did not implement any of their obligations (under the unity deal) and they prefer American money to nationalist agreements,” spokesman Taher al-Nono said.

    “Iran has an interest in the division continuing. Iran realizes the importance of the Palestinian cause from the religious, political and geographic status and, therefore, it wants to control it,” Assaf said.
    If unity was restored and the Palestine Liberation Organization or any legitimate leadership ruled Gaza, Iran would lose its influence, he said.

(7) Emergency talks and negotiations ensue on Monday. On Tuesday, there is an announcement in Cairo of a deal with Egypt, made by the Gaza head of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Energy Authority. But, this deal involves the transfer of Egyptian gas through Rafah to Gaza [not fuel]. This deal is reported by Ma’an News Agency, here.

Here are comments I Tweeted [@marianhouk] yesterday on this announced deal:

27 Mar @Marianhouk
Gaza Power Plant, constructed to run either on indust. diesel or gas, will now be converted to use gas [provided initially by Egypt].

27 Mar @Marianhouk
The World Bank recommended in 2007 that the Gaza Power Plant switching to using gas as fuel, ultimately cheaper then indust. diesel

27 Mar @Marianhouk
Gas will come from Egypt [initially] by terms of agreement signed today in Cairo by Gaza rep of PA Energy Authority – http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=471644

27 Mar @Marianhouk
How fast can this happen? “technicians in Gaza will prepare to install a 30-km pipeline from Rafah to the power plant in Gaza City” via Maan

27 Mar @Marianhouk
Gas cld come to Gaza Power Plant from Palestinian Gaza Marine undersea gas fields in Med, if reconciliation [or if offshore island built]

27 Mar @Marianhouk
“Egy technicians have been instructed 2 conduct geograph surveys 2 find best route for pipelines 2 transport gas from Sheikh Zweid 2 Rafah”

27 Mar @Marianhouk
Gaza rep of PA Energy Authority in Ramallah in Cairo: “the new agreement will increase the plant’s capacity from 40 to 180 Megawatts”. When?

27 Mar @Marianhouk
However, vulnerability of Sinai pipelines will be an issue in new decision signed today to supply Egyptian gas to fuel Gaza Power Plant…

The latest World Bank report on Palestinian economy — told in Tweets

The most interesting report to last week’s Ad Hoc Liaison Committee [AHLC] meeting of major Donors to the Palestinian Authority was that of the World Bank, published in advance on 15 March.

Here is a summary of some of the World Bank points, told in Tweets [by @marianhouk]

********************************************************************************

* The PA has now a “total domestic debt to NIS 4.15 billion [$1.1 billion}”, meaning it has “almost reached the limit” for the domestic banks

* World Bank: in 2011 the PA borrowed from the local banking sector + delayed payments to its private sector, but “unlikely” this can continue

* Palestinian Authority 2012 budget isn’t yet published, but World Bank predicts a gap between needs + funding of over half a billion dollars

* The World Bank worries a “continuation of the current trend of reduction in donor aid would likely aggravate the Palestinian fiscal crisis”

* World Bank [circular reasoning]: West Bank growth slowed due to “falling donor support” + “the uncertainty caused by the PA’s fiscal crisis”

* World Bank: “The Israeli Min of Finance withheld large amt from 4th Q clearance revenues to cover some electricity + net lending arrears

* Israel told World Bank that some PA municipalities have recently not been paying their bills to the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) b/c…

* because the Palestinian Authority has been having trouble making all required transfers to local governments.. [to pay what they owe to IEC]

* Got it? Israel’s Min of Finance complains IEC is getting paid late by villages in the West Bank b/c PA has shortfall in donor funding…

* [or b/c Israel delays transfer to the PA of the VAT+ customs duties Israel collected at its ports + points of entry on behalf of PA]

* “Tax clearance revenues collected by Israel at ports + transferred monthly to the PA constitute the largest source of PA revenues” [70%]

* “However, the PA believes that there is widespread undervaluation + that Israeli Customs rarely questions declarations of WB&G bound goods”

* “Moreover, even if the Israeli authorities penalize Palestinian importers for under-invoicing declarations”, these fines are not given to PA

* …”because the Israeli authorities do not view them as part of the revenue arrangement” – World Bank report to donors for meeting next week

* So, the PA wants Israel’s Finance Ministry to turn over info on tax invoices issued by Israelis to Palestinian traders, including from Gaza

* Palestinian Central Statistics Bureau estimates that Israel imports to PA + Gaza in 2011 were US $2.85 billion [but only Israel knows the real figures]

* The PA is suspicions about this: In 2006, when PA tax officials worked in Gaza, VAT receipts from Gaza were abt 17%… but only 6% in 2010.

* Meanwhile, PA gets a bit less from Israeli-collected VAT on imports of fuel because Gaza decided to buy fuel less expensively from Egypt…

* The PA is also annoyed that Israel raised Allenby Bridge travel fees from $26 to $40, but still only gives $14 to PA [= 60 million NIS lost]

* Israel withheld VAT transfers to the Palestinian Authority in May + November, while US withheld funding from August [due to UN bid], so…

* So, the World Bank warns, failing to support the PA now may “jeopardize the PA’s progress” in building the institutions of a future

*******************************************************************************

Danger ahead

It doesn’t take the UN to say it, but the UN Special Coordinator on the Middle East, Robert Serry, today told the UN Security Council that “The events of the past month demonstrate a dangerous combination of no political progress, instability and violence on the ground, especially in Gaza, and an increasingly precarious situation for the Palestinian Authority [PA] … The very viability of the Palestinian Authority is at stake, and ensuring its sustainability remains a fundamental priority”.

Right.

That has come to mean throwing money at it.

Twice a year, major Donors who keep the PA afloat meet to discuss the financial situation — and the spring meeting was held in Brussels this year, on 21 March.

Serry told the UNSC today that, in that meeting, “the primary concern of all AHLC members was the dire financial situation of the Palestinian Authority”.

Barak Ravid reported in Haaretz, just ahead of the meeting, that the between-the-lines significance of the report presented by Israel was: the Palestinians are not ready to have a state. A very self-serving message indeed. He wrote that:

    “Parts of the report are worded in a way that aims to make clear that the Palestinian economy is unable to support an independent state … ‘While the present fiscal crisis was caused by a shortfall in donor aid, there were also deviations in the execution of 2011’s budget’, the report said. ‘The public finance management system’s role in the current crisis may undermine its track record as a system that meets the requirements of a well-functioning state’. The report also indicated that the PA’s fiscal management contributed to the current crisis. ‘This demonstrates the need for further reform in order for the PA to meet the standards of a well-functioning state … The fiscal crisis is especially acute because much of the West Bank economy still depends on the public sector and on construction projects, both still heavily financed by foreign aid. It also serves as an alarming warning sign for the stability of the Palestinian economy … The current fiscal situation raises doubts about whether the PA will be able to reduce its dependency on foreign aid in the coming years’.”

Barak Ravid’s article, based on an insider briefing, is posted here.

Amira Hass took the Israeli report apart, in another article entitled Ignoring Israel’s complete domination, published in Haaretz here:

    “Who better than these delegates [the Donors, at the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting in Brussels last week] knows the great service the family of nations is doing to Israel by providing massive, ongoing aid to the Palestinians? Taxpayers around the world are the ones who are relieving Israel of its obligations as an occupying power and repairing the damage it is causing. It turns out it’s easier for the family of nations to fund the occupation than to force Israel to put an end to it. The guys in our finance and defense ministries – upon whose data the report is based – state, in fact, that the donor countries should get their checkbooks ready, because our policy this year won’t be different.

    With smug arrogance, the report’s authors ignore Israel’s complete domination over the resources essential to economic progress and expansion: land, water, time, a Palestinian population registry, currency, territorial expanse, air space, radio-frequency spectrums, territorial contiguity, banking services and television broadcasts, freedom of movement, border crossings, foreign nationals who are allowed entry and the duration of their stay, highways, and personal and communal security.

    With all the precision of a shopkeeper, the drafters of the report recount all of the measures that Israel, in its great magnanimity, has taken ‘to support economic growth in the West Bank’. But beyond all the means of support detailed in the report, there are the unmentioned hours wasted by Palestinian, American and European bureaucrats seeking to convince their Israeli counterparts to put them into practice

    The number of tourists coming to the West Bank city of Bethlehem last year, for example, was 1,174,280 (compared to 1,092,811 – note the precision! – in 2010), according to the report. Then there was the extension of the hours of operation at checkpoints; the agreement over the Palestinian police presence in Area B (which is under Israeli military control and Palestinian civil responsibility); construction of a visitors’ lounge for meetings between Palestinian and Israeli business people at one of the checkpoints; the drilling of four wells in a nature reserve’s eastern aquifer; 17 (again, note the precision!) preparatory meetings (regarding water infrastructure) with representatives of the U.S. State Department and USAID; one meeting with a Dutch representative over Israeli-Palestinian cooperation; 434,382 cars, owned by Palestinian citizens of Israel, that were allowed passage via the West Bank town of Jenin; consideration of a Palestinian request for a customs exemption for cars owned by foreign investors and the disabled; and approval of 2,777 requests for changes of address on ID cards from Gaza to the West Bank (of 3,857 people who sought approval).

    With a whiff of the theories of economist Milton Friedman, the report sneers at the size of the Palestinian public sector. But if there is anything that assures Palestinian social stability – and in turn quiet and prosperity for Israel – it is the regular (if unreasonably low ) salaries paid to that public sector. Since the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO were drafted in the 1990s, payment of wages has been a major means by which support of and dependence on the PA leadership has been buttressed. The adaptability of the Palestinian leadership to Israel’s policy of carving out Palestinian territorial enclaves was based in part on that very internal instability“…

Sometimes, it's all too much

Sometimes, things here in Israel-Palestine just get to be too much.

There are always things to write about — too many, more than one person can possibly handle, sometimes 5 – 25 things a day.

Due to this pressure, and circumstances beyond our control, I could not write for a while.

So, with apologies for the unscheduled break, I plan to resume shortly.