The day after the UNGA voted to give Palestine status of state

The day after the vote in the UN’s General Assembly, the sky is blue + cloudless, sun is shining, everything glistens  It is Friday, so it is quiet.

On Palestine Television, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Awqaf  [Islamic Trusts, Mahmoud Habbash, gave the Friday prayer sermon in a mosque in Al-Bireh, next to Ramallah, that was shown on Palestine TV: he was happy about the UN vote.

The PA Minister of Awqaf [he is a former member of Hamas] said that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had followed pathway indicated by long line of martyrs [including Hamas co-founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin + Fatah co-founder Yasser Arafat].

He said:  West Bank, Gaza. Fateh, Hamas. Palestine is above all this, bigger, more important.

Now that the borders of Palestine are outlined and recognized by the UNGA, he said, the question is: why did the settlers decide to live here?  Why in this spot on earth?  Eventually, he asserted, the settlers will leave, they won’t stay here forever.  But, he said, the settler-terrorists — those who have attacked Palestinians and/or their property, must go.

Reaction seemed mixed in the all-male congregation at the Friday prayer sermon given by the PA’s Minister of Awqaf.  Some men looked at floor; some stared intently, unblinkingly, at the speaker. One old man wearing a kuffiyeh on his head, wiped away tears.

Judging from the Friday prayer sermon given by the PA Min of Awqaf, a more proprietary attitude may appear: “We will be masters on our land”…

Hanan Ashrawi, the public face of the push behind yesterday’s UNGA vote, said on Palestine TV [was it a re-play from last night?], explaining the effect of the UNGA vote: “We are now a state”.   She did not waiver in her optimism, despite the polite and well-mannered scepticism of the program host about the lack of prospects for any reach change.

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The UN votes on Palestine upgrade to state [even if only as non-member observer]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, undeterred, is about to ask the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution upgrading the status of Palestine to [non-member observer] state.

Mahmoud Abbas in the UN about to enter the General Assembly hall for the vote to upgrade status of Palestine to state - 29 November 2012
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas heading towards the UN General Assembly hall for the vote on status of Palestine

Photo Tweeted by Widad Franco — #AbuMazen entering #UN General Assembly Hall pic.twitter.com/vbv0BzIp
Mahmoud Abbas is in the center, head down, surrounded by UN + other bodyguards. His older surviving son, Yasser Abbas, is the first figure in the right of the photo, leading the way into the UN General Assembly hall.

It was a world-wide live news top story.  The UN General Assembly meeting was called to order at 3:40 pm in New York [10:40 in Ramallah, Jerusalem, and Gaza].

At the request of the [60] co-sponsors of the draft resolution on the status of Palestine at the UN, the Assembly agreed to move directly to take action.  The representative of Sudan, chairman of the Arab group in the UNGA, called on member states “to join in making history”, and said the draft resolution, once adopted,  would be a historic decision: “We are asking the GA to accord to Palestine non-member observer state status”.

When Mahmoud Abbas was introduced, he received sustained supportive and sometimes standing applause — a recognition of his decision to forge ahead to achieve the self-determination of the Palestinian people, despite advice, opposition, and threats.

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Israel's strategy is collapsing, media say, as support grows for today's UNGA vote upgrading Palestine status to state

Israel’s score-keeping media is reporting that Israel’s strategy is collapsing, with announcements of growing international support, hours ahead of the expected vote later today in the UN General Assembly on a draft resolution that will upgrade the status of Palestine to [non-member observer] state.

Reuters’ Noah Browning Tweeted [@sheikhnb] today” “My take: world map of #Palestine #UNbid votes. Yes in green, No red, Abstain grey. Most undecided will likely abstain pic.twitter.com/va7UPqTO” … The graphic he prepared is posted here.

In Ramallah, a long-disappointed population is warily beginning to celebrate.

Child joins PLO celebrations organized in Ramallah ahead of UN vote on upgrading Palestine status to state - photo by Jihan Abdallah

One of the many thousands of children released early from school today to celebrate upcoming UNGA vote to upgrade Palestine status to State – photo taken in Ramallah’s Yasser Arafat square by Jihan Abdalla [Tweeted by @JihanAbdalla and posted here.

PLO Executive Member Hanan Ashrawi, who discussed the move with journalists in Ramallah yesterday, has written an op-ed entitled, “Supporting Palestine at the UN today is a vote for peace in the Middle East”, which is published today in The Guardian, here. In it, she said that this is, indeed, a unilateral story, but not one that resembles the unilateral scenario that Israel has been warning against, no.

Instead, Ashrawi wrote: “It is a story in which one side makes proposals for nothing in return; one side makes agreements that the other side breaks; and one side keeps commitments that the other side ignores…one side wants to negotiate a permanent solution and the other wants permanent negotiations”.

Continue reading “Israel's strategy is collapsing, media say, as support grows for today's UNGA vote upgrading Palestine status to state”

PLO's Hanan Ashrawi: "we hope the international community will stand with us" at the UN tomorrow

The PLO Executive Committee’s Hanan Ashrawi told journalists in Ramallah today that “the last few days have been incredibly decisive for the Palestinian people”.  She was speaking in a press conference called to discuss the Palestinian leadership’s 29 November move to go to the UN General Assembly to ask for a modest upgrade from observer “organization” to observer “state”.
Hanan Ashrawi at PLO press conference in Ramallah on 28 Nov 2012 - photo published by theaustralian.com.au

Hanan Ashrawi speaking at a PLO press conference in Ramallah on 28 November 2012 – photo by AFP published here

UPDATE: Amira Hass, who was one of those attending Ashrawi’s press conference, later wrote in Haaretz here, that “as the day of the vote neared, it seemed that the excitement of those behind the move was finally beginning to percolate downward. For a moment, it seemed as if the PLO had stopped thinking like a ruling organization bent on preserving the status quo and was once again thinking like a national liberation organization capable of imagining change and effecting it through the balance of international forces”.

Ashrawi told journalists that “There will be a vote in the UN General Assembly at the end of the debate on Thursday on the upgrade in status of Palestine to [non-member observer] state, Ashrawi said. She added that the draft resolution for Palestine’s status upgrade to state has been tabled, it will not be amended any further, and it has some 60 co-sponsors — as well as enough support to pass in the UN GA vote tomorrow.

“It is time for the Palestinians to gain their right to self-determination and independence”, Ashrawi said. “It is time the occupation is removed”.

In the June 1967 war, Israeli military forces occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

The UNGA vote is scheduled for 29 November — the date of the anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s adoption in 1947, following the Second World War, of Resolution 181, recommending a partition of Palestine, under British Mandate from the end of the First World War, into two states — on Jewish and one Arab. The State of Israel was proclaimed from Tel Aviv six months later. The Declaration of Independence of the State of Palestine was adopted by the PLO’s Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers in November 1988.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry “now estimates that at least 150 UN member states will support the Palestinians” upgrade to observer state, according to a report in Haaretz, posted here. The same article reported that as the Israeli leadership realized over the last two days that its position was eroding, the decision was to “lower the profile” and make no more threats, at least for now. “Whatever we do will hurt Israel at least as much as it will hurt the Palestinians”, one Foreign Ministry official was quoted as saying.

By the time the vote takes place on Thursday, it may be almost midnight in Ramallah and Jerusalem and Gaza, she noted.

Ashrawi told journalists: “This constitutes a historical turning point and opportunity for the world to rectify a grave historical injustice that the Palestinians have undergone since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and their statements that it was a land without people…”

Continue reading “PLO's Hanan Ashrawi: "we hope the international community will stand with us" at the UN tomorrow”

Yasser Arafat's mortal remains exhumed in Ramallah + samples taken for forensic testing about possible poisoning + laid back to rest again

As the day dawned, there was red light on the Ramallah horizon, with the rest of the sky covered with a layer of grey clouds, as the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s mortal remains were exhumed and brought up for forensic testing by teams of Swiss, French and Russian experts.

“Red in the morning, a sailor’s warning”… a traditional warning of storms ahead.

UPDATE:  Despite the 3:00 pm report on BBC World News from the BBC correspondent in Ramallah Jon Donnison,  after the exhumation was finished, saying he personally believed it was quite unlikely that there will ever be any conclusive results from today’s forensic testing, the BBC right afterwards ran an interview with Scottish forensic investigator David Barkley who said that “it’s almost certain already”, from the results of the testing done in a Swiss lab, that Yasser Arafat was poisoned with polonium.

Barkley appeared in the Al Jazeera Investigates program “What Killed Arafat?”, aired at the beginning of July, which made necessary this exhumation and forensic testing of Arafat’s remains. In that program, Barkley said that Swiss lab testing showed unexpectedly high levels of polonium [of the type that can only be a by-product of a nuclear reactor] in the spots of blood, urine and sweat tested on Arafat’s clothing. When tested for comparison, he said, the areas of clothing around those spots showed only “background” levels of polonium [of the type found in nature].

Barkley told the BBC World TV news this afternoon that if the results of testing of samples taken in today’s forensic procedures match the results earlier found in his clothing, that “probably does prove” that Arafat was poisoned and murdered.

Robert Fisk wrote in the Independent here, that “it is much to al-Jazeera’s credit that they pushed to have his hat and urine stains from his pants examined in Switzerland. That’s when the polonium-210 was discovered”…

Media technicians + journalists wait outside during Arafat exhumation

Media workers outside Muqata’a in photo [Sipa] posted on Nouvel Observateur website here

Media crews were kept behind Palestinian police barricades put up a couple of weeks ago, outside Ramallah Muqata’a, during Arafat exhumation + forensic taking of samples for testing [which will take months].  The exhumation + sampling was done out of the public view.

Photo of more media workers outside the Muqata’a today – Tweeted by @RZabaneh and posted here

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In a press conference held at 2:00 pm in the Muqata’a,  Dr. Abdullah Bashir, head of the Jordanian Medical Association [who has been working on the Arafat case for several years on behalf of the Yasser Arafat Foundation, run by Arafat’s nephew Nasser al-Qidqa] said that the exhumation began at 5:00 am.   Tawfik Tirawi, head of the Palestinian inquiry that has already been underway for several years, told journalists at the press conference that the results of the tests can be expected after about four months.  “We want to arrive at the truth”, Tirawi said.  The Palestinian Authority Minister of Health, Dr. Hani Abdeen, said in response to a journalist’s question that “the state of the body was exactly as expected, in the case of somebody buried eight years already”.

Al-Jazeera reported here that a group of Palestinian officials were witnessing the procedure, but no family, and also not Suha Arafat’s lawyers. The Al-Jazeera report said that its journalists had been followed around Ramallah in recent days by Palestinian security forces.

Suha, however, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that she had watched the exhumation from her residence in Malta. It seems, but it is not completely clear, that a private TV feed may have been arranged for family members.

Suha Arafat in Malta watching her husband's exhumation in Ramallah - 27 Nov 2012
Suha Arafat in Malta watching her husband’s exhumation in Ramallah – 27 Nov 2012 – Reuters blog here.

There is not a religious problem with exhumations, but some consider it disrespectful. The Palestinian arrangements for today’s exhumation + forensic testing — supervised by Tawfik Tirawi — emphasized respect for deceased, honor for national leader, Palestinian “sovereign” control of the procedure. Tirawi told journalists that only Palestinians would touch Arafat’s mortal remains.

Tirawi was at Arafat’s side during several years of Israeli siege of the Muqata’a, and who was once the head of Palestinian Preventive Security but now oversees the Palestinian Authority Police Academy [Al-Istiqlal University] in Jericho

Al-Jazeera reported that “On Monday night, workers with hand tools drilled through more than 4 metres of concrete over Arafat’s body.  Investigators have collected several samples on the way down to look at polonium levels”.

Continue reading “Yasser Arafat's mortal remains exhumed in Ramallah + samples taken for forensic testing about possible poisoning + laid back to rest again”

Draft resolution on upgrade of PLO status in UN — rev.1

From Matthew Lee of Inner City Press, the first revision of the draft resolution that PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is still vowing to put to a vote in the UN General Assembly on Thursday, 29 November, posted here.

As Matthew noted in his blog post, here, “The changes in today’s “Rev 1″ are marked in bold. The new draft adds the term ‘non-member’ in the Operative Paragraphs, and moved the recognition of 132 states out of the Operative Paragraphs. It adds the issue of prisoners”.

Yes, Hamas leadership does support Mahmoud Abbas' UNGA move to upgrade Palestine status

In a report from Amman, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said today that “President Mahmoud Abbas Monday received a phone call from Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in which he confirmed his support for the Palestinian bid to the United Nations General Assembly to gain a non-member state status”. This is posted here.

There has been confusion about this since last week, when WAFA published something similar, just after the cease-fire announced from Cairo. But some Hamas people denied the report.

This time, there is no denial.

Ma’an News Agency then wrote a corroborating report, posted here, saying: “Hamas chief-in-exile Khalid Mashaal telephoned President Abbas on Monday to confirm the Islamist movements’ support for the upcoming UN bid, the official news agency Wafa reported”.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, Ismail Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza that he supported the move in the UNGA:  “nobody is against statehood, and (my government) supports any political movement to establish a Palestinian state on the occupied Palestinian territory…Our vision is to have a state based on inalienable Palestinian principles, and a state on the pre-1967 borders does not mean ceding the rest of Palestinian land”. This is published here.

We reported this Hamas position last week — see our earlier report here.

Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: Giora Eiland says Gaza is a de facto independent state, so its "national infrastructure" could have been hit harder [to deter Hamas]

This man’s remarks deserve a separate entry all to themselves.

Giora Eiland, a retired Major-General in the Israeli Defense Forces, and former head of Israel’s National Security Council, has written a piece published by YNet, here, in which he attempts to justify attacks on what he called “national infrastructure targets” – in Gaza, in this case.

Eiland — apparently trying to amend longstanding principles of international war — wrote that that national infrastructure targets should be considered more military than civilian targets. “Such targets, which include government buildings, fuel caches, communication centers, bridges and the power system, are legitimate in the event of a military conflict between two countries, and this was the exact situation between us and Hamas”.

Eiland’s new argument depends on seeing Gaza as a state. As he wrote today, “Israel is not fighting terror organizations but a state. Gaza became a de facto independent state in as early as 2007, and that’s a good thing. Israel is always better off facing a political entity which serves as a clear address, both for deterrence purposes and for an agreement, than a situation in which the government is formally in the hands of one body but the ability to use fire is in the hands of others”.

By this line of argument, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority is not a “clear address”, as the IDF rules the West Bank.

Eiland continues: “Because Gaza is a state which initiated ongoing rocket fire on Israel, in a military conflict the right thing to do is to hit all the targets serving the rival regime and allowing it to continue controlling and conducting a war against us“.

Therefore, Eiland writes, “The operation can and should be expanded against the state of Gaza, yet not necessarily through a ground offensive but by causing much greater damage to the infrastructure there”.

“Had there been an ongoing shortage of water and fuel in Gaza, had the power system been seriously damage, had the landline communication system gone out of order, had the roads connecting the different parts of the Strip been
destroyed, and had the government buildings and police stations been destructed, we could have estimated with greater confidence that deterrence had been achieved. This is an important lesson ahead of the next war, and as important in regards to Lebanon. If we conduct the ‘Third Lebanon War’ exclusively against Hezbollah’s military targets, we may lose it”.

Eiland’s argument ignores the Israeli Supreme Court ruling in late January 2008 saying that because Israel has a “historical responsibility” for Gaza, the Israeli military must ensure that it does not cause a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. [The Supreme Court, however, did not define “humanitarian crisis”…]

There it is: the reason to attack “national infrastructure” is to ensure winning a war. The justification is created separately, by merely inventing a new category in which targets, it will be argued, are not civilian [but maybe “dual-use? A lot of mileage can be gotten by trotting out a “dual use” justification.]

Eiland writes: “Hamas is the establishment in the state of Gaza … [and] we missed an opportunity to extensively damage Hamas’ ruling abilities, guaranteeing even greater deterrence, which was the main goal of the operation”.

Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: Sara Roy [Boston.com] + Rashid Khalidi [NPR]+ Eyal Weizmann [LRB] + a JPost editorial

Sara Roy, a economist who’s done extensive work on Gaza over years, now senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, wrote an article entitled “Where’s our humanity for Gaza”, which is published here on Boston.com. In it, she reports that:

“The Gaza Strip is now in its 46th year of occupation, 22nd year of closure, and sixth year of intensified closure. The resulting normalization of the occupation assumes a dangerous form in the Gaza Strip, whose status as an occupied territory has ceased to matter in the West; the attention has shifted — after Hamas’s 2006 electoral victory and 2007 takeover of the territory — to Gaza’s containment and punishment, rendering illegitimate any notion of human rights or freedom for Palestinians. The Israeli government has referred to its siege policy as a form of ‘economic warfare’ … which was achieved through an Israeli-imposed blockade that ended all normal trade”.

Continue reading “Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: Sara Roy [Boston.com] + Rashid Khalidi [NPR]+ Eyal Weizmann [LRB] + a JPost editorial”

Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: Adam Shatz [in LRB] + Daniel Levy [The Daily Beast]

Adam Shatz has just written an article entitled “Why Israel didn’t win” in the current issue of the London Review of Books, in which he says:
“The ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas in Cairo after eight days of fighting is merely a pause in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It promises to ease movement at all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, but will not lift the blockade. It requires Israel to end its assault on the Strip, and Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets at southern Israel, but it leaves Gaza as miserable as ever … The fighting will erupt again, because Hamas will come under continued pressure from its members and from other militant factions, and because Israel has never needed much pretext to go to war” … This is posted here.

Daniel Levy [Senior Fellow and the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation — and the real drafter for Yossi Beilin + the Israeli team of the Geneva Initiative] wrote in an article titled “Seven Takeaways from the Gaza Ceasefire”, published in The Daily Beast:
“At times, operation Pillar of Defence and the lessons being taken from its conclusion sounded like déjà-vu all over again: featuring an Israel that addresses political problems with military solutions and that wastes whatever quiet is achieved by refusing to take diplomatic initiatives…the Netanyahu-Lieberman axis does have its own thinking on the Palestinian question, and…Israeli politics has significantly shifted. [Netanyahu + Lieberman] have no interest in pursuing a solution that would seem decent or realistic to any neutral observer. They are not two-staters in any recognizable way”. Daniel Levy’s analysis is posted here and here.

Continue reading “Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: Adam Shatz [in LRB] + Daniel Levy [The Daily Beast]”