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]”

Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: B'Tselem

B’Tselem [summary executions are categorically prohibited]: “International law categorically prohibits the extrajudicial killing of civilians – regardless of the allegations against them”.  This is written in a statement concerning the public killing of 7  men during the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Clouds who were accused of being “collaborators” with Israel.  Some senior Hamas officials, including deputy politburo chief, Mousa Abu Marzook, condemned these executions. [See here.] It is not clear whose idea these executions were. This B’Tselem statement is posted here.

B’Tselem [media sites are not legitimate military targets]: “international humanitarian law is very clear on the subject: Neither reporters nor any other civilians may be intentionally targeted, and every feasible precaution must be taken to protect them from the impact of hostilities. Additionally, the media – including those belonging directly to the parties to the conflict – are not legitimate military targets, even if they are used to disseminate propaganda. Where there exists any doubt as to whether or not a target is military or civilian – that target is to be presumed to be civilian … In a statement issued by the IDF Spokesman immediately following the first attack, on the a-Shuruk Building, the Israeli military stated that the attack had been directed at ‘antennas used by Hamas for military operations against the State of Israel in the northern Gaza Strip’. In a later statement, the IDF Spokesman clarified that both attacks were directed against the communications infrastructure of Hamas, which it claims Hamas uses to communicate operational instructions and disseminate propaganda …

Continue reading “Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: B'Tselem”

Day 3 of IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds [a/k/a Defense Pillar] against Gaza

Today is Day 3 of the IDF’s Operation “Pillar of Clouds”, also known as Operation Defense Pillar against Gaza.

Last night, two Fajr rockets fired from Gaza reached the Tel Aviv area. [Qassam Brigades were calling them Qassam M-75s.]  Earlier in the day, three Israelis were killed by shrapnel after a direct rocket hit on the top floor of an apartment building in Kiryat Malachi.

Overnight, the IDF carried out at least 150 strikes on the Gaza Strip, including on on the Civil Affairs office in the Ministry of Interior in Gaza.

UNRWA photographer Shareef Sarhan took this picture showing the damage to the Civil Affairs office. here.  Other pictures are viewable on the Activestills Flikr page photostream, here.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights [PCHR] sums it up: The “most significant targets was the building of the Civil Department of the Ministry of Interior in Tal al-Hawa neighborhood in the south of the City. The building was totally destroyed and a number of nearby buildings and houses were heavily damaged. Israeli fighter jets bombarded also the building of the Collection and Inspection Center of Gaza Municipality near Abu Mazen Square. The building was completely destroyed and a number of nearby houses and buildings were heavily damaged. Israeli fighter jets further bombarded a plot belonging to an ecclesiastic center near the Roots Restaurant in the southwest of Gaza City. Additionally, Israeli gunboats bombarded an electricity transmitter near the house of Prime Minister Ismail Haniya in the Beach camp. A number of houses and a civilian car were heavily damaged”.

PCHR has called for an urgent meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to examine the situation. As to the UN Security Council, well, it met on Wednesday night after a request from Egypt, but took no decision. The only outcome was a decision that UN Secretary-General BAN Ki Moon would travel to the region on Tuesday — but he does not intend to go to Gaza. UNSG BAN Ki-Moon will apparently have talks in Israel on Wednesday. Mahmoud Abbas announced to the PLO Executive Committee this evening that UNSG BAN would be coming to Ramallah on Thursday.

The Arab League will meet on Saturday afternoon in Cairo, after a delegation led by the Tunisian Foreign Minister, possibly accompanied by the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi and maybe some other officials from other Arab countries, hopes to enter Gaza via Egypt on Saturday morning…

On Friday morning, a delegation of Egyptian officials led by Prime Minister Qandil and accompanied by Egyptian Special Forces entered Gaza on Friday morning to assess the situation, and were received by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh.  As they entered Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, a small child who had just died from an Israeli strike was brought in, and the two men cradled the body.

The photo was posted on Twitter by Hazem Balousha [@iHaZeMi].  Pool photo by Mahmud Hams.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel would serve a 3-hour cease-fire for the visit of the Egyptian delegation on condition that no projectiles were fired from Gaza onto Israel — but there was very little let-up.  Several journalists in Gaza reported outgoing projectiles. Journalists also reported incoming [though IDF spokespeople said there were no attacks during the Egyptian PM’s visit.

A little later, there was an execution of a collaborator in Gaza, which the NYTimes reported on, here.

By the end of the day [Friday] the Palestinian death toll in Gaza rose to 30, with some 250 injured — and climbing. There were no Israeli deaths from Gaza firing reported on Friday.

Continue reading “Day 3 of IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds [a/k/a Defense Pillar] against Gaza”

Day 2 of IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds – Today is Palestinian Independence Day

Today, 15 November, is Palestinian Independence Day. The employees of the Palestinian Authority [PA] in the ministries in Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank are off work for what will be a 3-day holiday. In a rare sign of solidarity, the otherwise disgruntled Palestinian East Jerusalem merchants will also close their shops to mark the date that Yasser Arafat declared the independent Palestinian state, at a meeting of the PLO’s Palestine National Council in Algiers.

In Gaza, people are reeling under [another] full-scale Israeli attack — this one, like the previous ones, designed to “bring about an improvement in the security reality and allow a normal life for the residents of the State of Israel” [Israeli Security Cabinet communique Wednesday evening 14 November].

The Security Cabinet also stated that “Alongside the military effort, Israel will, to the best of its ability, work to avoid harming civilians while honoring the humanitarian needs of the population, in keeping with the rules of international law”.

Israel’s new-found appreciation of international law dates to the fallout from its interception of the Freedom Flotilla on the high seas in the eastern Mediterranean at the end of May 2010. A handful of Israeli special forces boarding the 600-passenger Mavi Marmara in the dark were outnumbered and surrounded, and killed 9 Turkish men, including one Turkish-American high school student.

Without dwelling on the academic distinction between “international law” and “international humanitarian law [which pertains in situations of occupation, for example] it has to be said that there is wide room for various argued-understandings of the construct.

By the time the Security Cabinet convened, there were already casualties — some of those specifically targetted, like the Hamas military chief Ahmad Jaabari, and then the absolutely and completely innocent victims, like this 11-month-old baby boy, Omar Jihad al-Mashhrawi, his body held by his grief-stricken father, Jihad:

Jihad Al-Mashhrawi holding his baby son Omar, killed in Israeli strike on Gaza - 14 November 2012

Photo by Anne Paq of Activestills, posted on the Flickr photostream here.

One of the accusations against Jaabari was that he was responsible for the operation that captured IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit just outside the Gaza perimter near the Israeli crossing of Kerem Shalom in June 2006. Shalit was held somewhere in Gaza until his release in October 2011 — after Egyptian-brokered negotiations carried out with Jaabari.

Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, said on Wednesday evening after the “precision” strike that hit Jaabari’s car in Central Gaza, that Gilad was “still absorbing” the news.

The New York Times reported here that:

    “Military officials in Israel, which took credit for killing Mr. Jabari, said their forces had carried out additional
    airstrikes in Gaza targeting what they described as ‘a significant number of long-range rocket sites’ owned by Hamas that
    had stored rockets capable of reaching 25 miles into Israel. The statement said the airstrikes had dealt a ‘significant
    blow to the terror organization’s underground rocket-launching capabilities’. The Israel Defense Forces said Mr. Jabari had been targeted because he ‘served in the upper echelon of the Hamas command and was directly responsible for executing terror attacks against the state of Israel in the past number of years’. A video released by the Israel Defense Forces and posted on YouTube showed an aerial view of the attack on what it identified as Mr. Jabari’s car on a Gaza street as it was targeted and instantly blown up in a pinpoint bombing. The Israel Defense Forces later posted a Twitter message showing a mug shot of Mr. Jabari overwritten by the word ‘eliminated’.”

Continue reading “Day 2 of IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds – Today is Palestinian Independence Day”

When a state kills its own citizens – cont'd

On Wednesday, the Syrian Air Force struck the Aleppo-area town of Azaz [Ezzaz or Azzaz or Izaz], very near the border with Turkey, killing over 40 people, and causing widescale damage to a civilian area, as this photo shows:

Damage in Ezzaz after Syrian Air Force bombing on 15 August

This photo was posted on Twitter here by @NMSyria.

Despite the proximity to the border, the only reported Turkish response was to take in the wounded for medical treatment.  Some of the seriously wounded later died in Turkey, compounding confusion about numbers of mortalities.

Voice of America [VOA] reporter Scott Bobb, in the town yesterday for an interview with “a local rebel commander”, was present and apparently taken by surprise at the time of the attack. He reported that “Azaz [Ezzaz] has been in rebel control for weeks and was not a government target until Wednesday…’This town had been held by the FSA for some time. It was fairly stable and many of the refugees had returned. Locals say it was the first bombing they have experienced”… His report is posted here.

Bobb also reported that “The citizens are panicking. Many have just jumped into whatever vehicle they have – cars, tractors, motorcycles – and headed away from the town with the fear that this may be the beginning of an offensive … I have seen dozens of people fleeing, often families, sometimes three or four on a motorcycle. I saw one family of about six on a farm tractor crossing through a rural road, an olive tree field, and others have come through in ambulances, pickup trucks, civilian vehicles, cars”…

But there were many who didn’t flee immediately, including those who were helping to search through the rubble of destroyed buildings, looking for survivors or for bodies, as this photo, also posted on Twitter here by @NMSyria, shows:
Survivors of air attack in Ezzat search through rubble for survivors - 15 August 2012

    UPDATE: Human Rights Watch [HRW] has compiled a report during a visit two hours after the attacks by a Syrian fighter jet on Wednesday, and is now saying that 40 people were killed, and more than 100 were wounded. HRW said that: “at least two bombs destroyed an entire block of houses in the al-Hara al-Kablie neighborhood of Azaz, in Syria’s northern Aleppo province … Azaz residents told Human Rights Watch that, at around 3 p.m., they saw a fighter jet drop at least two bombs on the residential area. Within seconds, dozens of houses in an area of approximately 70-by-70 meters – more than half a football field – were flattened. Houses on the surrounding streets were significantly damaged, with collapsed walls and ceilings. On the streets around the bombed area, windows were broken and some walls had collapsed. Two opposition Free Syrian Army facilities in the vicinity of the attack might have been targets of the Syrian aircraft, Human Rights Watch said. One was the headquarters of the local Free Syrian Army brigade, in the former building of the Baath party, two streets away from the block that was hit. The other was a detention facility where the Free Syrian Army held ‘security detainees’ – government military personnel and members of pro-government shabeeha militia. Neither of these facilities was damaged in the attack … The exact number of victims is difficult to verify. Most of the wounded were transported to hospitals across the nearby Turkish border”. This report is posted here.

Other reports, on Twitter, claimed that one or more “vacuum” bombs had been dropped in the government aerial attack on Azaz on Wednesday.

In the aftermath, Syria’s membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC] was suspended overnight, as it had been months earlier in the Arab League.

And, a two-person committee appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva issued its latest report, on developments from 15 February to 20 July.  This latest report is the first since the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] made a determination [it is apparently up to the ICRC to do this] that the conflict in Syria had reached the level of civil war.

The UN HRC-appointed committee is composed of human rights expert Paulo Pinheiro of Brazil and Karen Abu Zayd of the U.S., has not been permitted to enter Syria, and is working from compiled reports and visits to neighboring countries in the region, as well as by interviews conducted over the phone and by Skype.

Their latest report said there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that the documented instances reported to them show “widespread or systematic attack against predominantly civilian population”. And, the UN HRC report said, the commission concluded that the scale of the attacks on a predominantly civilian population showed they were “conducted pursuant to State policy”.

Continue reading “When a state kills its own citizens – cont'd”

The Apology – more background from Israeli officials via Turkish media

Israel’s colorfully-spoken Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor has kindly explained, to representatives of the Turkish media, some of the problems involved in Israel’s failure to apologize [so far] for the deaths of nine Turkish men [including a 19-year-old Turkish American high school student] during the ill-prepared and ill-conceived boarding of the 600-passenger Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the eastern Mediterranean on 30 May 2010 by a few helicopter-borne Israeli commandos [who apparently expected to be instantly obeyed].

The Turkish Hurrieyet Daily News reports today that Palmor said negotiations with Turkey involved discussions including the word “apology”. “Yigal Palmor, a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, also told a group of Turkish journalists in Jerusalem earlier this week that the deal was put on hold at the very last minute before being voted on by the Israeli Cabinet. This was due to ‘additional conditions’ set by senior Turkish government officials”. This is reported here.

As it turns out from a reading of this Hurriyet report, the “additional conditions” were not part of the discussions or negotiations, but rather were entirely separate. It appears that the linkage was made by Israel.

Hurriyet reports that “the agreement had lost its credibility before it was put to a vote by the Israeli Cabinet, Palmor said, due to the additional conditions later publicly set by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an. ‘While it was being discussed by the Israeli Cabinet, Mr. Erdo?an made a statement in which he called on Israel to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Later, a high-ranking Turkish official, it may have been Mr. Erdo?an again, said the government would not pursue prosecution of the Israeli soldiers involved in the raid, but that they could not give guarantees for other parties. Those were additional conditions’, Palmor said. Following these statements, the deal was shelved, Palmor said”.

So, what was the “apology” going to be?

According to this account in Hurriyet, Palmor “revealed the long-discussed wording of the planned deal on the issue: ‘If possible operational mistakes led to unintentional damage and unintentional loss of life, then Israel apologizes’. The spokesperson also underlined the fact that it was an agreement that ‘included an “if”,’ and it was not intended to state as a fact that something wrong had happened as a direct result of Israeli policy”.

This Turkish newpaper’s report on Palmor’s briefing adds that “The planned agreement, which was negotiated by Turkish and Israeli diplomats in Geneva, had many layers, said Palmor. ‘According to the plan, Israel was supposed to announce an agreed formula that would be satisfactory for both sides, to agree with the [UN’s] Palmer Report before it was published, and to agree to pay compensation to the families of victims through a joint Turkish-Israeli fund’, he said … According to the spokesperson, Turkey, in return, agreed to restore diplomatic ties to their previous level, to declare it had no claims left on the issue, and to announce it would not pursue the prosecution of the Israeli soldiers who were involved in the raid. But, following the statements from Turkey, the deal was never submitted to the Israeli Cabinet for voting, Palmor said”.

The Mavi Marmara was part of a “Freedom Flotilla” of some six boats, with large unofficial Turkish participation headed by the IHH humanitarian aid organization, headed to “break the siege” on Gaza — over a year after Israel had declared a formal maritime blockade of Gaza’s maritime space.

Israeli think-tanks and Israeli officials warned many times in advance of the sailing of the Freedom Flotilla that they viewed it as a “terrorist” threat.

Charm offensive? Israeli PM Netanyahu gives interview to journalists from three Turkish newspapers

As the regional situation continues to be extremely tense, Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu today met with journalists from three Turkish newspapers: Hurriyet, Zaman and HaberTurk. Earlier, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met the three journalists.

It was a surprise.

On Twitter, Zaman journalist @MahirZeynalov that his newpaper’s correspondent reported that “the Turkish flag was displayed during the interview, in a hall where Israeli cabinet meets”.

Hours later, the Israeli media was almost unanimously reporting that Israel was on the verge of reestablishing relations with Turkey.

But, it was Turkey who lowered the level of its relations with Israel, because Israel has not apologized for the deaths of nine men aboard the Mavi Marmara when it was boarded by Israeli commandos at the end of May 2010.

Nine Turkish men, including one Turkish-American high school student, were killed during an Israeli commando boarding of the 600-passenger Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the Eastern Mediterranean on 30 May 2010. The Mavi Marmara was en route to Gaza as part of a Freedom Flotilla that intended to “break the siege on Gaza”, almost 1.5 years after Israel declared a formal naval blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Turkey has continued to insist that Israel must apologize for the deaths, and must also offer compensation to the families of the men who were killed during the botched boarding.

It is not yet known what effort Netanyahu or Lieberman might have made, during their separate meetings with the three Turkish journalists, in the direction of meeting either or Turkey’s demands.

But, apparently no apology was offered.

UPDATE: Today’s Zaman has reported here that “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has maintained that Turkey and Israel are looking for ways to normalize political relations, saying, ‘We want to restore relations with Turkey’. As the crisis in Syria aggravates and instability in the region looms, Israel has started to send warm messages, the first of which came from Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman last week, to Turkey in an effort to mend significantly damaged diplomatic relations. Relations between the two countries have been strained since 2010, when Israeli troops killed nine civilians of Turkish origin in cold blood during a raid of the Mavi Marmara vessel in international waters as it headed to the Gaza Strip to deliver humanitarian aid supplies”.

Today’s Zaman also reported that “As another indication of importance Israel attaches to restoring political relations with Turkey, Netanyahu received Turkish journalists in the same room where Israel’s National Security Cabinet meets. And in the back, behind Netanyahu both Israeli and Turkish flags stood”. The newspaper politely avoided making any comparison with Israel Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s deliberate humiliation of Turkey’s Ambassador to Israel by summoning Israeli media to the Foreign Ministry and then explaining, in Hebrew, while the Turkish diplomat was in the room, that the chair on which he had been offered a seat was lower than the chair Ayalon was using.

    UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post reported here that “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met Monday with a delegation of eight senior Turkish print journalists the Foreign Ministry brought to Israel in an attempt to “break the ice” with Turkey’s public. The delegation, representing such leading Turkish newspapers as Hurriyet, Zaman and Haber Turk, met with Netanyahu a day after meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman”. According to the JPost eport, the encounter was organized by Israel’s reduced embassy in Turkey; there were 8 Turkish journalists invited; and it was the first time in more than two years that Turkish journalists have met with Israel’s “senior leadership”. The JPost reported that an Israeli “diplomatic official said the delegation was invited because Israel was interested in reaching out to the Turkish public and letting it know that relations between the two countries were important to Jerusalem”.

Today’s Zaman noted, in its report, that “A high-level Israeli official’s comment on the present situation in the region was revealing as to why Israel finds it necessary to mend ties with Turkey: ‘Now that the circumstances and interests have changed. We need to get positioned accordingly’.”

There were months of Israeli-Turkish negotiations about an apology, which fell apart.

We reported a year ago, here that Özdem Sanberk, described as “one of Turkey’s most experienced diplomats” and Turkey’s representative to the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General, which came up with the UN’s Palmer Report, said in an interview published on 19 July 2011 in Today’s Zaman that “obviously we cannot be expected to accept nine deaths”.

Sanberk gave the interview after a week of closed-door negotiations in New York at the beginning of July 2011. The paper added that “The report’s publication has been further delayed until the end of July in a [further] attempt to give Turkey and Israel a chance to resolve their differences”.

In fact, as the negotiations over an apology continued, the publication of the UN Report was delayed until it was actually leaked, in an precipitous action, by the New York Times on 1 September.

Sanberk noted last July that in the negotiations over an apology Israel “repeatedly expressed their demand for understanding in the face of their serious security problems, and expect the same understanding from Turkey, which they see as a friend”.

The situation appears to be the same today.

Sanberk also expressed disagreement with the then-draft conclusions of the UN Palmer Commission’s Report on the grounds of whether or not Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal and legtimate, or not — because “we know that the Israeli blockade of Gaza amounts to collective punishment as it includes civilians, women and children who bear no responsibility for the perceived threat to Israel”. Sanberk also said that “even though these details are not clearly stated in the [UN] panel’s report, another UN body, the UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission in Geneva, had said last October that Israel’s military violated international law during the raid”.

Now, Today’s Zaman has just reported that: “According to the high-level official, the two countries have been trying to find a magical formula to mend the bilateral ties, but as of yet the efforts remain fruitless. Noting that they are open to proposals from third parties regarding the magical formula, ‘The formula needs to not only appeal to both countries but it should also not harm the dignity of either country’, the official remarked. The Israeli official repeated their standard version of the Mavi Marmara incident, maintaining that the incident also led to trauma in Israel, but he is of the opinion that it is important for the two countries to get over the trauma at this point”.

However, on 1 September 2011 there was an under-reported apology of sorts offered, in what was presented as an unofficial way — but it didn’t do the job, As we reported at the time, here, the former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz [Haloutz] told journalists at a hastily-organized briefing for journalists at the Misheknot Shaananim center in Jerusalem: “Yes, we are sorry people were killed during the operation, very sorry”.

Was that an attempt at satisfying Turkey’s requirement of an apology?

The timing and purpose of the press briefing that day would otherwise seem…vague. It was only afterwards that journalists there realized the New York Times was about to publish the leaked UN Palmer report. But Israeli officials knew in advance.

Halutz appeared at the press briefing in the company of a professional Public Relations man [who also had a military rank].

But, in response to a question about whether it was an apology, Halutz seemed to back off a bit, qualifying his words: “I believe there were some innocent ones among those nine, but…that mission was not so innocent … The word apology is too strong…because Israel was doing a legal action to prevent [a violation] of the siege we imposed”.

Halutz added: “Our soldiers were under a live threat”.

Halutz was IDF Chief of Staff from 2005-2007, and was previously commander of the Israeli Air Force, and said he had made many trips to Turkey in his professional capacity. But, he is now retired from active military service, having been severely criticized for Israel’s military performance during the Second Lebanon War. After retirement, he dabbled briefly in business before joining, in early 2011, the opposition Kadima party, which he has since left.

Halutz spoke in the briefing about his close ties with his counterparts in the Turkish military during his period as ID Chief of Staff.

But, as Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal notes, in Israel Halutz is remembered for other reasons: “When asked what he feels when he drops a multi-ton bomb on a Palestinian building in Gaza [after this powerful explosion killed more than a dozen members of a family in an effort to eliminate one man], his response was ‘a bump in my plane’. For the general public, he’s known for having found the time on the morning of the second Lebanon War to protect his savings in his bank account, based on his advance knowledge of what was about to happen. His historic role is having replaced Ya’alon as chief of staff at the request of Sharon, because Ya’alon had misgivings about the disengagement from Gaza, while Halutz was ready to carry it out”…

Schenker added that though Halutz was “one of the trio of leaders, together with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz who are perceived in Israel to be responsible for ‘the failure’ of the Second Lebanon War, he was the first to pay the price with his position — particularly since he was the only one of the three considered to have security expertise”.

The way that the Halutz press conference was so hastily arranged last 1 September suggests something and somebody other than Halutz by himself was behind it. The timing — just hours before an early version of the UN Palmer report on the Mavi Marmara boarding was leaked to the New York Times — suggests it was a deliberate attempt either at damage control or at altering the course of reaction. Halutz was accompanied by a PR escort [who was also a serving IDF officer, though not in uniform in that PR function]. And, an official of Dore Gold’s Jerusalem Center for Policy Affairs was also present, unusually — and this person appeared to be functioning in that event as a journalist, and asked a question that led to Halutz saying: “We’re sorry, we’re very sorry”.

Halutz himself, who chain-smoked nervously after the briefing, then raced all the way up several flights of steep stone steps, taking two at a time, with his PR escort bounding up a few steps behind Halutz.

The UN report, released a few hours later, made pointed criticism about the use of force, and resistance, during the Israeli naval interception — which, the report notes, took place 72 nautical miles off the coast, well outside of Israeli territorial waters [or Gaza’s maritime space]:

“Israel´s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable … Non-violent options should have been used in the first instance…[and]…The operation should have reassessed its options when the resistance to the initial boarding attempt became apparent…”
“Israeli Defense Forces personnel faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded…”
“The loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces during the take-over of the Mavi Marmara was unacceptable. Nine passengers were killed and many others seriously wounded by Israeli forces. No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the Panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths. Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel…”

In its report on the meeting with Netanyahu yesterday, Today’s Zaman noted that “Deterioration in relations between Turkey and Israel, which earlier enjoyed rather good relations at all levels, started at the end of 2008 when Israel, which was on the verge of concluding a peace agreement with Syria, with Turkey acting as the mediator, suddenly bombarded the Gaza Strip in a devastating assault, eliminating all hopes for peace with Syria. Turkey probably felt deceived at the time and had the impression that its efforts to bring about peace were not given due respect by Israel. Then came the Davos summit in Switzerland in January 2009, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke out against Shimon Peres for bombarding Gaza and walked out of the forum. Then in May 2010 came the raid by Israeli soldiers on the Mavi Marmara that led to the death of nine Turkish civilians”.

[It should be noted that Israel was raising alarms about the Freedom Flotilla being a “terrorist” threat against Israel’s interests — and its blockade of Gaza — for months before the Flotilla set sail for Gaza, before the Israeli commandos descended from hovering helicopters onto the decks of the Mavi Marmara. Nine Turkish men were then killed… which Turkish officials have said cannot be forgotten.]

Reports: Fayyad to deliver Abbas letter to Netanyahu today

Though there was no announcement of either the time or the place that this will take place, reports indicate that Palestinian Authority P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will deliver a letter today signed by Palestinian leader [and President of the State of Palestine] Mahmoud Abbas to Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

UPDATE:

      On the other hand, this might not happen after all. One of the main recipients of leaked documents, Barak Ravid, has just reported on Haaretz that “Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Tuesday morning that the meeting between between Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is likely to be canceled … In an interview with Army Radio, Barak said that Fayyad is not interested in meeting with Netanyahu, because of differences of opinion over the issue of Palestinian tax revenues. In addition to this, a European diplomat and two Israeli officials confirmed that Fayyad is against the passing of a missive to Netanyahu from PA President Mahmoud Abbas, which was due to take place at the meeting, and that he does want to head the Palestinian delegation meeting Netanyahu in Jerusalem. The time and place of the meeting were still unconfirmed on Tuesday morning. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Tuesday morning that he had still not been notified by Israel of the time the meeting is due to take place. Erekat also insisted that Fayyad would be attending the meeting … If Fayyad does not attend the meeting, Saeb Erekat will head the delegation. If this is the case, it is uncertain whether Netanyahu would actually attend the meeting, or whether he would prefer Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho to attend in his stead. Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, who is expected to attend Tuesday meeting, told the United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, that the meeting’s goal is merely transferring Abbas’s message and that what is important is what happens afterwards”.

OK.

This situation becomes even more ridiculous.

We have reported about this letter — draft versions in Arabic + English were leaked to the Israeli media — for the past two weeks.

According to these leaked DRAFT versions, Abbas will say that the P.A. has lost its “raison d’etre” — a nice French term, meaning that Abbas is saying the P.A. has lost any meaning or purpose, so there is no reason for it to exist.

Does anyone else remember the late Yasser Arafat saying in Geneva, when he was being pinched to say certain things in December 1988, after his proclamation of Palestinian independence in Algiers in November 1988, and he said that aspects of the PLO Charter were “caduc” [another French word, meaning something like “no longer valid”, or maybe “de facto, null and void”].

Does this  not mean that Abbas is dissolving the P.A. and turning the keys over to the Israelis — unless of course they immediately recognize the State of Palestine, stop all settlement building, and agree on minor land swaps?

It is not clear what the real and lasting significance of this letter will be.

For one thing, it will not bind Hamas.

Perhaps this is part of the Israeli interest in this “pas de deux” [a dance step, as in “it takes two to tango”].

Though Hamas might not mind too much having the P.A. declare itself “caduc“, the way this move is being choreographed will only entrench the division between the West Bank and Gaza.

The DRAFT version of the letter does say that the Oslo Accords have been rolled back in many areas — and in the same text, the letter notes the Oslo Accords’ insistence that Gaza and the West Bank are parts of a single territorial unit…

Al-Arabiya’s website is reporting that independent P.L.O. Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi [who ran in the 2006 Palestine Legislative Council elections on the same ticket as Fayyad] explained that this letter “is a last ditch effort indicating that we’re doing everything possible in order to realize a two-state solution … We hope that there’s a positive response, but we’re sending a message that, without one, we have a strategy for what follows”.

The same post on Al-Arabiya notes that Abbas told the official Palestinian News Agency WAFA last week that “All options are all on the table for Palestinians, with the exception of dissolving the national authority or withdrawing recognition of Israel. We are not seeking the isolation of Israel, but rather to isolate its settlement policy”…

Mahmoud Abbas DRAFT letter: "The P.A. lost its raison d'etre".

The Times of Israel today published in English, here, the full text of the DRAFT letter that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has been preparing to send to Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu later this week.

The Times of Israel said that the DRAFT letter from Abbas was “bitter”.

Haaretz’s Barak Ravid first wrote about this letter ten days ago, here, as we reported here — but Haaretz did not publish the full text.

In his article, Ravid noted that “The letter was meant to include a threat to dismantle the PA, although that paragraph was later taken out due to heavy U.S. pressure”.

Ravid also reported the news that at the end of March, “a secret meeting was held between Saeb Erekat and [Netanyahu adviser Yitzhak] Molho. While the two hold occasional phone conversations, last week’s session was the first meeting between the two officials in two and a half months. In the meeting, Erekat relayed the content of the letter Abbas intends to pass on to Netanyahu in the coming days. Molho and Erekat are expected to meet again before the Palestinian delegation arrives for the meeting with Netanyahu”.

Ravid did Tweet the DRAFT letter’s four pages, in Arabic, and the links were included in our post, here.

But, it is likely that the letter that will be delivered is in English, because when Israelis and Palestinians sit together for negotiations, they speak in English, and when they draft agreements [like the Oslo Accords], it is done in English. Really.

In the letter, which is still apparently in DRAFT form, Abbas writes:

    “Twenty years ago, we concluded with Israel an agreement under international auspices which was intended to take the Palestinian people from occupation to independence. Now, as a result of actions taken by successive Israeli governments, the Palestinian National Authority no longer has any authority, and no meaningful jurisdiction in the political, economic, social, territorial and security spheres. In other words, the P.A. lost its reason d’être”.

Journalists [including here] are reporting that Abbas has “stopped short” of dissolving the P.A.

Abbas has been reported to be contemplating just that. His former negotiating partner, Yossi Beilin, called on Abbas to dissolve the P.A. in an article published on FP recently here. Beilin wrote to Abbas, via FP:

    “One simply cannot continue with an interim arrangement for almost 20 years. This was not the intention when we spearheaded the Oslo process in late 1992 — you from Tunis and I from Jerusalem — or when we assiduously worked on what subsequently became known as the ‘Beilin-Abu Mazen Agreement’ between 1993 and 1995. You and I both understand that the current situation is a ticking time bomb … Do not hesitate for a moment! Do not accept the request of President Obama, who merely wants to be left undisturbed before election day. Do not let Prime Minister Netanyahu hide behind the fig leaf of the Palestinian Authority — impose upon him, once again, the responsibility for the fate of 4 million Palestinians. Remain as the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which will give you the authority to lead the political negotiations if and when they resume. But for the sake of your own people, and for the sake of peace, you cannot let this farce continue”.

The words from Abbas are clear — and it does not seem possible to understand them as saying anything other than the present game is over.

If this doesn’t mean that the P.A. is being dismantled, then the Palestinian people have good reason to want to know why not.

    UPDATE: In an informal poll conducted Monday afternoon in Ramallah, four Palestinian men all expressed puzzlement, uncertainty, and thinly-disguised disgust.   One, a former journalist, gave a standard template analysis: “Abbas is just playing for time… he knows nothing will happen until after Obama is re-elected in November”, he said.  One, a senior leader in a small Palestinian faction, said only: “Our problems are more serious than anybody really knows”.

Meantime, the real question is: why will Salam Fayyad be delivering this letter to Netanyahu? [It may happen on Tuesday 17 April in Jerusalem…]

Is it just because Netanyahu prefers Fayyad to Sa’eb Erekat? It’s true that Fayyad and Erekat will be accompanied by the Secretary of the P.L.O. Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo — but Fayyad’s position is only with the P.A.

All three men are expendable — though all of them have survived strong criticism before.

Fayyad is the Prime Minister and Finance Minister of the Palestinian Authority [P.A.] created by agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] as a local temporary and subsidiary body to administer the occupied Palestinian territory during negotiations.

Fayyad was appointed PM in the P.A. by Abbas to replace Hamas leader Ismail Haniyya, after Hamas kicked Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security out of Gaza in mid-June 2007, and Abbas retaliated to that “military coup”, as he called it at the time, by a political coup dissolving a short-lived “National Unity” Government. This is one reason why Hamas refused to agree to keeping Salam Fayyad as PM in a new “technocratic” government that was supposed to be formed after a reconciliation agreement concluded in Cairo last year.

Fayyad himself has never been formally involved in negotiating, though he has had a couple of official meetings in Jerusalem previously [one was with Condoleezza Rice, during the Annapolis process].  Fayyad is a resident of East Jerusalem, and does not need a permit to travel around Jerusalem [or within Israel, if he wanted…]

We have speculated on this in a previous post [on 7 April], published here.

The DRAFT letter from Abbas, meanwhile, calls on the Government of Israel to do the following:

    “1- Accept the two-state solution on the 1967 borders with possible minor and mutually agreed upon land swaps of equal size and value;
    2- Stop all settlement activities, including in East Jerusalem;
    3- Release all prisoners, in particular those imprisoned prior to the end of 1994; and
    4- Revoke all decisions taken since 2000 which undermine agreements signed between Israel and the PLO”.

These are obligations, the Abbas DRAFT letter says [meaning, not “pre-conditions” as the Israellis complain].

If Israel refuses to honor these obligations, the Abbas DRAFT letter says:
“We will seek the full and complete implementation of international law as it pertains to the powers and responsibilities of Israel as occupying power in all of the occupied Palestinian territory.  For the Palestinian Authority—now stripped of all meaningful authority—cannot continue to honor agreements while Israel refuses to even acknowledge its commitments. The P.A. is no longer as was agreed and this situation cannot continue”.

What does that mean — “The P.A. is no longer as was agreed and this situation cannot continue”…

It does not sound like a call to return to the situation before the Camp David talks of the summer of 2000, or to the pre-Second-Intifada situation…

It sounds, in fact, just like a decision to dissolve the P.A. …

Welcome to…

Here’s a photo by French journalist Emilie Baujard, taken at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport at midday today, showing press technicians waiting for the arrival of any Air Flotilla participants who managed to slip through the barriers at European airports before boarding flights to Ben Gurion today.

Photo at Ben Gurion Airport at midday 15 April 2012 - by Emilie Baujard

Hundreds of tickets were cancelled at the request of Israeli authorities, who circulated the names of those they suspected were flying as part of the Air Flotilla “Welcome to Palestine” campaign.

Here is a copy of the letter sent by Israeli authorities to European airport authorities:
Letter sent by Israeli authorities to European airports to prevent boarding of suspected Air Flotilla participants

The Air Flotilla participants intend to tell Israeli passport control agents that the purpose of their visit is to go to Bethlehem [in the occupied West Bank].

And, here is a copy of the letter that Israeli authorities intend to distribute, in various languages, to mock Air Flotilla participants:
Israeli letter to be distributed to Air Flotilla participants