Netanyahu makes surprising announcement proposing renewal of efforts to complete deal on Gaza gas

In a move stunning in its timing and significance, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced on Friday afternoon – with the Quartet’s Tony Blair standing by his side – that he now thinks it’s time, finally, to develop Palestinian-allocated offshore natural gas deposits buried under the eastern Mediterranean in maritime space, defined by mutual agreement under the Oslo Accords, that extends 20 nautical miles out from Gaza’s coastline.

Netanyahu did specifically mention Egypt in the announcement on Friday, saying: “Most of our [natural gas] supply today is coming from Egypt”, Netanyahu said. But, he added immediately, “It’s important for us to develop additional resources”.

The exact situation on the ground, resulting from the Egyptian-Israeli natural gas deal, is rather unclear.

The announcement – as CNN’s Jerusalem correspondent Kevin Flowers pointed out in a Tweet on Friday afternoon – came on the eve of the first meeting of the Middle East Quartet principles of 2011 on Saturday (February 5) in Germany, on the margins of the Munich Security Conference.

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Israel: agreement with Cyprus is "significant"

In continuing confirmation of our previous reporting about the Israeli government’s new appreciation for international law, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is now making an effort to explain the significance of the agreement it reached last Friday afternoon with Cyprus on how to delimit their overlapping maritime rights.

The Israeli FM explained in an email to diplomats that “An Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ can be claimed for up to 200 nautical miles off the coast of the State”.

But, the eastern corner of the Mediterranean is a relatively crowded place.

Therefore, the Israeli FM explains, “Of course, if there is less than 400 nautical miles between opposite states, as is the case between Israel and Cyprus, international law calls upon such states to come to an agreement to divide their overlapping EEZs, which is exactly what Israel did with its agreement with Cyprus”.

The Israeli FM noted that “There are roughly 230 nautical miles between Israel + Cyprus”, and said that the “median line method” was used to divide overlap. Continue reading “Israel: agreement with Cyprus is "significant"”

First Israeli negotiation on maritime boundary concluded today – with Cyprus

The first negotiated Israeli decision — negotiated, not imposed — was announced today from Cyprus.

The Associated Press reported from the Cypriot capital Nicosia this evening that “Cyprus and Israel signed an accord Friday demarcating their maritime borders to facilitate a search for mineral deposits in the east Mediterranean where huge natural gas reserves have been discovered. Cyprus Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou and National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau signed the deal in the island’s capital. No statements were made after the signing”. This AP report is published on the Jerusalem Post website here.

This is an important and interesting development.

The main immediate interest is the formal division of the area where important deposits of natural gas have been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean, and where several countries can claim jurisdiction.

“We could live by ourselves, and we could bring in American, Russian, and other exploration companies to help us develop our own undersea gas. But, we wanted to make it the proper way, and to make everything clear”, said a Cypriot diplomat in the region.

However, it is also a very important regional and international development.

It is Israel’s first bilateral negotiated agreement concerning its maritime space, including an “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) a relatively recent concept that evolved out of long diplomatic negotiations on an major international treaty known as The Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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Near-mythical Jewish Flotilla (one small ship) finally sets sail to Gaza — but says it won't resist if Israel tries to stop it

One small ship with ten passengers including crew [apparently all Jewish, and some are Israeli] quietly set sail, announcing its move only after departure this afternoon, apparently from a port in Cyprus.

This is the so-called “Jewish boat”, or “Jewish flotilla”, which was previously rumored to be much bigger…

The Jerusalem Post says the ship sailed from northern Cyprus, where the Turkish community has been protected, since 1974, by Turkish troops [which have become a settler community as well as an occupation force], heading in the direction of Gaza. Turkey is virtually the only country to recognize the Turkish Government of Northern Cyprus.

CORRECTION: The authorities in the internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus [in the southern part of the island] were NOT apparently unaware of the departure. Marine Police apparently followed the boat out of the harbor, and boarded it at sea.

They previously vowed to prevent any ship from sailing from the island’s ports with the stated destination of Gaza, which they say is not an official destination. But, a photo published by the expedition’s organizers shows Cypriot police on board the boat, and a caption states that the Irene was allowed to leave on the condition that it “never come back”:

Photo from the Jewish Boat to Gaza website here:

Cypriot Police on the Jewish Boat to Gaza website

Still trying to check, but it seems that the photo above shows North Cypriot police, while photo below, posted overnight on the Jewish Boat to Gaza’s new Facebook site, apparently shows an un-uniformed Greek Cypriot Coast Guard subsequently intercepting the boat

Gaza’s maritime space is under an announced Israeli naval blockade, and Israel has vowed to prevent any breach of this blockade.

The ship, the Irene, is reportedly flying the British flag.

There are still British bases on Cyprus, and a long-standing UN peacekeeping operation which observes the line of demarcation between the Turkish and Greek sides of the divided island.

UPDATE: Marion Kozak, mother of Ed Milibrand, the newly-elected leader of the Labour Party in Britain [who ran against and defeated his older brother David Milibrand, Britain’s Foreign Secretary for three years, and still a MP — so she’s his mother, too], happens to be a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, one of the groups backing this expedition. The Jerusalem Post has a story, here, which highlights the support of prominent British Jews for the group, as well as the group’s use of a quote from Rabbi Hillel [see below] as their political solgan…

One of the organizers, Richard Kuper of the British group, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, part of the coalition mounting this expedition, said that the ship “won’t resist if the Israelis try to stop it”.

On a new press release posted on the main page of the Jewish Boat to Gaza’s website, here, Kuper is quoted as saying: “This is a nonviolent action. We aim to reach Gaza, but our activists will not engage in any physical confrontation and will therefore not present the Israelis with any reason or excuse to use physical force or assault them”.

On 31 May, an Israeli naval assault at sea on six boats in a Freedom Flotilla left nine men dead on board the 600-passenger Mavi Marmara, including a 19-year-old American living in Turkey. The Mavi Marmara was one of three boats contributed by the Turkish humanitarian relief organization, IHH, which Israel says made deliberate preparations for a confrontation with its forces.

Since that Flotilla fiasco, Israel’s military has changed the regime of restrictions it imposes on goods getting into Gaza, as Major-General Eitan Dangot, head of the military’s COGAT [Coordinator of (Israeli) Government Activities in the (Palestinian) Territories] department, explained in an interview which we posted about here. Dangot said that before, only items on a [secret] list were permitted into Gaza. Now, everything is supposedly allowed in — except those items on new military lists. (Nothing is currently getting out of Gaza, though the Israeli military keeps saying this is under consideration.)

Continue reading “Near-mythical Jewish Flotilla (one small ship) finally sets sail to Gaza — but says it won't resist if Israel tries to stop it”

Investigation: IHH says it was notified of 40-mile Israeli no-go zone

2010.05.07
On 7 May, the Turkish relief organization IHH posted these remarks on its website [in a post entitled “Israel Is Acting Like Pirates”]:

“Bulent Yildirim, President of IHH, said ‘If they harass the flotilla, what is left to separate the state of Israel from the pirates of Somalia?’ noting that the convoy will not even draw close by Israel’s territorial waters, in his response to the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s threats of attacking the ships, should they sail near the Gaza territory.

IHH administration said ‘We will not even pass close by the Israeli waters. If they attack us regardless, what is the difference between them and the pirates of Somalia?’, in their response to the threats by Israeli Foreign Ministry regarding the humanitarian aid ships to Palestine, saying ‘We will strike on the ships if they sail near Gaza’.

Bulent Yildirim, President of IHH (The Foundation For Human Rights And Freedoms And Humanitarian Relief) , said ‘Let them come and attack us, we have no preparation to strike back. Whether they fire down on us, bomb us with airplanes, we will not let them onto our ships. They can attack, yes, but they will not be let onboard. We are not carrying weapons to Palestine, we are carrying humanitarian aid only’.

Yildirim went on to say ‘As a requirement of international laws, 12 miles off the shores belong to the territorial waters of countries. It applies to Israel as well. Our flotilla will be sailing 80 miles off of Israeli coast. We will never enter Israeli waters. We will take a 90 degrees turn just before entering the Egyptian territorial waters. Therefore, Israel have no right to claim ‘They have entered our territorial waters.’ They have no authority there. If they decide to attack us regardless of this fact, then, there is no difference left between Israel and the pirates of Somalia’.”

This statement is posted here.

There is no mention whatsoever on the IHH website — or in any of the organization’s statements that I have been able to locate so far — of the formal declared Israeli Naval blockade [which was announced on 3 January 2009, as the Israeli Army lauched the ground phase of Operation Cast Lead], though this should have factored into the Freedom Flotilla’s strategic planning, and though in fairness and full disclosure all passengers who joined the trip should have been made aware of the implications.

Continue reading “Investigation: IHH says it was notified of 40-mile Israeli no-go zone”

Cyprus?

According to my first morning sms, the Lebanese Transport Minister has told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation that the two boats planning to sail to Gaza — the Lebanese Flotilla — have been given permits to go to Cyprus.

He indicated that it will then be up to Cyprus to decide if these Lebanese ships can go to Gaza!

But, haven’t we just been through that?

Cyprus didn’t want to encourage the last three Free Gaza expeditions to sail, once the massive IDF Operation Cast Lead was launched against Gaza (27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009):
X.) Free Gaza’s Dignity was rammed by Israeli warships on 30 December 2008, and limped to a Lebanese port for months of repairs. A formal Israeli naval blockade was declared on 3 January 2009 (just as the ground operation phase began).
Y.) Saying “We had no choice”, Free Gaza’s Spirit of Humanity decided on its own to turn around, “to save lives”, on 15 January 2009.
Z.) Then, after the Gaza war, Free Gaza’s Spirit of Humanity tried again, in June 2009. This ti.me, the ship was boarded and forced to go to Ashdod port, where the activists on board were detained for about ten days then deported, while its cargo was offloaded, some (maybe most) of it was sent into Gaza under Israeli procedures via Israeli-controlled land crossings.

Cyprus tried the same thing Lebanon is doing now — banning ships from leaving its ports if the declared destination was Gaza (which, the Cypriot government said, standing on a fine technical point, was not a real harbor).

So, the latter Free Gaza expeditions gave another destination.

When the Freedom Flotilla was moving, the Cypriot government finally issued a formal decision banning the ships from leaving its harbors if their destination was Gaza, because of the formal declared Israeli naval blockade.

Six ships in the Freedom Flotilla [formed by an expanded coalition including Free Gaza; Free Palestine (a group which split from Free Gaza due to siome ideological or tactical dispute); the European Campaign to end the siege; Ship to Gaza (Sweden) and Ship to Gaza (Greece); plus a large, very large contribution from a Turkish relief organization IHH, which apparently did have a small ad hoc group of men engaged to act as security on board the large (600+) passenger ship Mavi Marmara, with very ad hoc instructions to prevent Israeli forces from boarding the ship at sea] was stopped on 31 May by shocking use of force, and at least nine deaths on board the Mavi Marmara.

The MV Rachel Corrie, part of Freedom Flotilla but travelling separately and more slowly, went on principle straight into the same procedures (but it was smaller, and those involved on both sides acted with much more scripted behavior…)

Now, it’s going to start all over again?

By the way, it seems that the Free Palestine splinter or offshoot group (and not Free Gaza) is involved in the organization of the Lebanese Flotilla, which has been at pains to stress that it is not linked to Hizballah. (And, like many of those who don’t know and don’t have to deal with the reality of Israel every day, they seem to have exaggerated estimations of Israeli fragility…)

It’s true that this will now bring media attention, in a way that Free Gaza expeditions never did (even at the height of Operation Cast Lead), and it focuses on the core issues. But, lives are at risk, a lot of money is simply being wasted, and don’t we have to ask — if this is just a kind of kabuki political theater — isn’t there a better way?

Israel will not loosen naval blockade of Gaza

As we reported earlier, Israel will maintain its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip even as it accedes to international demands to ease the military-administered sanctions it imposes on the coastal territory.

Israel’s security cabinet met on Sunday, as did the full cabinet. A decision was taken to allow into Gaza (via land crossings only) all materials which are not weapons or “materials used to make weapons” (this could be a very broad list, including sugar).

But boats will not be allowed to travel directly to Gaza.

Continue reading “Israel will not loosen naval blockade of Gaza”

Waiting for news about MV Rachel Corrie

We are waiting for news on Friday afternoon about the fate of the MV Rachel Corrie, a ship wholly owned by the Free Gaza movement which has made 8 expeditions by sea to Gaza (with mixed results, but some initial success).

There have been all kinds of contradictory reports today

UPDATE’: The Irish Times is reporting tonight, here, that Irish “Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has again called for the MV Rachel Corrie to be allowed to proceed to Gaza after it emerged that an agreement allowing it to dock at the port of Ashdod in Israel, was turned down by those onboard the boat … In a statement issued this evening Mr. Martin said an understanding had been reached with the Israeli government earlier today whereby the Irish-owned aid ship would have been allowed to approach the Israeli exclusion zone before accepting diversion to Ashdod. Once there the cargo would have been unloaded and inspected under the supervision of UN and officials from the Irish Aid Division of the Department for Foreign Affairs and then transported to Gaza. Under the deal, two representatives from the Rachel Corrie would have been permitted to accompany the cargo to the Israeli border crossing into Gaza at Erez. However, the proposal was turned down by those on board the ship who are still en route to Gaza despite the Israeli government stating that it is not willing to allow any breach of its naval blockade. ‘As the Rachel Corrie continues to approach Gaza, the Government’s primary concern is the safety of Irish citizens and others on board. We are also conscious of the urgent need to address the humanitarian concerns of the people of Gaza, the desirability of reducing international tensions following the violent storming of humanitarian supply vessels by Israeli commandos earlier this week, and the obligation of States to respect the right to peaceful protest’, said Mr. Martin. Mr. Martin urged the Israeli authorities to demonstrate restraint if it intercepts the MV Rachel Corrie, saying that those onboard the ship have made clear their peaceful intentions and stated that they will offer no resistance to Israeli forces. ‘Based on these assurances, there can be no justification for the use of force against any person on board the Rachel Corrie’, he said. Mr. Martin also urged the Israeli Government to ensure the transfer to Gaza of the entire cargo of the ship, including cement which is urgently needed for the reconstruction of Gaza. ‘The Government continues to call on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. Pending that, Israel should immediately facilitate the import into Gaza of all goods, other than weapons’, he added.

Continue reading “Waiting for news about MV Rachel Corrie”

Game changer: US-flagged Flotilla ship enters Famagusta port in northern Cyprus

“Now, it’s a mess”, one Cypriot diplomat in the region said Saturday afternoon.

One of the two U.S.-flagged ships (it seems to be Challenger One) has entered Famagusta port northern Cyprus today, saying they must pick up European parliamentarians who were planning to sail with the Freedom Flotilla on the Spirit, the boat that the Cypriot government grounded in Cyprus on Thursday night because it was planning to sail into Gaza’s maritime space, a zone that Israel has put under a formal naval blockade.

This entry of the Challenger, which is part of the Flotilla, into Famagusta is in direct defiance of the wishes of the government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Instead of “forcing its way into Gaza”, as the colorfully-spoken Israeli Yigal Palmor said in recent days, the Freedom Flotilla has apparently tried to force its way into Cyprus.

The Republic of Cyprus is a member of the European Union, while the admission of the Turkish communal authority in northern Cyprus, where Turkish troops are still stationed since the early 1970s, awaits a political resolution to the long-standing conflict on that eastern Mediterranean island.British troops are still stationed in British bases in the Republic of Cyprus, and the UN also maintains a peacekeeping mission along the separation line between northern and southern Cyprus.

For the Republic of Cyprus, northern Cyprus is Turkish-occupied.

Cypriot officials say that Palestinians — and their supporters — must not cooperate with an occupation.

(Cypriot officials have also, however, offered as one part of the reason for their decision on Friday not to allow any of the Freedom Flotilla ships to depart from Cypriot ports the fact that the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, which has an intense dislike for the Hamas authorities in Gaza, has not made any request for support for the Flotilla…)

It appeared, several weeks ago, that the massive Turkish support for this Freedom Flotilla expedition might have been a “game-changer” that would deflect Isrraeli opposition.

Now, however, the entry into Famagusta port of this U.S.-flagged ship, in defiance of the Cypriot Government which has supported previous expeditions organized by the Free Gaza movement has thrown everything into disarray — and may itself be a game-changer that ruins this expedition.

Battles over political righteousness may be very damaging in this context, and sow confusion. They also may cast doubt on the original and declared aim of bringing humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.

“This time, it is a game of secret services”, said one Cypriot official. “It seems that the idea is to force recognition of the Turkish Cypriot communual authorities, and if that happens, they’ll forget all about Gaza. And the Palestinians should not forget that the medicine used for one thing can also be used for another”.
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UPDATE: The Greek parliamentarians who were waiting in Cyprus to join the Freedom Flotilla are returning to Greece, according to sources in Cyprus. The Cypriot parliamentarians who were going to join the Flotilla will not, now. What the others will do is not yet clear…

UPDATE TWO: Free Gaza has just tweeted that four German MPs and one Swedish MP have boarded the Challenger that entered Famagusta port this afternoon, along with all the passengers from the Challenger that is docked for repairs in a shipyard in Limassol. According to Free Gaza, the Flotilla will leave for Gaza in the morning, and should then arrive in the mid-afternoon…that is, if the Israeli Navy does not intercept it.
Continue reading “Game changer: US-flagged Flotilla ship enters Famagusta port in northern Cyprus”

D-day for Freedom Flotilla to Gaza?

The Freedom Flotilla to Gaza appears to be having difficulties as it nears it goal – arrival on the shores of Gaza with a reported 10,000 tons of donations (prefabricated housing to pencils, they say).

The Turkish organization for humanitarian relief, IHH – “We are taking the largest fleet of aid to Palestine to date”, its website says — has been responsible for the geometrically-larger size of this venture in comparison with the eight Free Gaza expeditions that preceeded this effort. The Freedom Flotilla is a coalition of several organizations (including Free Gaza) which do not always seem to agree on tactics and strategy, and this appears to be one of the reasons for its difficulties. IHH is still showing a live stream on a sunny day in the Mediterranean off one side of the Mavi Marmara, a large passenger ship with nearly 800 people on board.

Free Gaza (via Gazafriends) has posted this video of an exchange yesterday between a Cyprus police helicopter and Challenger One:

Continue reading “D-day for Freedom Flotilla to Gaza?”