Kerry says Tony Blair has 300 businessmen planning to raise $4 billion for the West Bank Palestinians

After the build-up that led to the Swiss-based World Economic Forum’s session at Jordan’s Dead Sea on Saturday and Sunday — it was hard to understand why, at least during the speeches of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Abbas waived a copy of the Arab Peace Initiative in the air and asked Israelis to actually read it. It was not clear why. [Later it did become clear that the reason was the incentive it gives to Israel for withdrawing from the West Bank: recognition + full normal relations including trade with the entire Arab and Muslim world.]

Peres spoke about being born in an age of agriculture and living in a world of technology, where all good things could happen to the region if only there were peace. It was not clear why. [Peres contradicted the Israeli government’s current disapproval and said the Arab Peace Initiative was a strategic opportunity…] It was not clear why.  But, his reasons seem to be the same as Abbas’.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry started to talk, and seemed to have not much new to say; he thanked a lot of people and spoke about the Arab Spring. It was not clear why.

Then, Kerry said, he wanted to give ” I want to say a special thank you to the Quartet Representative, former Prime Minister Tony Blair… he is working diligently on a special project that I want to share with you in a few minutes”…

It was all downhill from there…

US State Dept photo - Kerry greets Blair at WEF Dead Sea, Jordan meeting 26 May 2013
US State Dept photo - Kerry greets Blair at WEF Dead Sea, Jordan meeting 26 May 2013

Photo from the US State Dept “Amman and Dead Sea, Jordan” Flikr set, here.

Kerry said: “No one doubts that this is a very complex moment in international relations. But still, I don’t think that there is any secret about the conditions that are necessary for peace and stability to succeed. Those are: good governance, security, and economic opportunity. And so the real question for all of us, for President Abbas, President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, all of us, is a very simple one: Will we, despite the historic hurdles, have the courage to make the choices that we know we need to make in order to break the stalemate and provide a change of life for people in this region?”

Then, Kerry announced the creation of an investment fund to be financed with a possible $4 billion dollars to spur private-sector development in the West Bank [though he did also mention  4 million people, though it was not clear who: if Kerry meant Palestinians only, that would include the West Bank population of some 2.8 million  and Gaza with some 1.5 million…]

It was clear that Kerry’s remarks were the real reason all those people were there, in the meeting at the Dead Sea in Jordan on a Sunday afternoon…and Abbas and Peres were just there to prop up the show.

Kerry then explained the still-vague Blair super-project:
“I have asked Quartet Representative Tony Blair and many business leaders to join together. And Prime Minister Blair is shaping what I believe could be a groundbreaking plan to develop a healthy, sustainable, private-sector-led Palestinian economy that will transform the fortunes of a future Palestinian state, but also, significantly, transform the possibilities for Jordan and for Israel.

It is a plan for the Palestinian economy that is bigger, bolder and more ambitious than anything proposed since Oslo, more than 20 years ago now. And this, the intention of this plan, of all of its participants, is not to make it merely transformative, but frankly, to make it enormously powerful in the shaping of the possibilities of the future so that it is more transformative than incremental and different from anything that we have seen before.

To achieve that, these leaders have brought together a group of business experts, who have donated their time, who have come from around the world over the course of the last six weeks to make this project real and tangible and formidable – as we say, shovel-ready. They have come from all over the world because they believe in peace, and because they believe prosperity is both a promise and a product of peace.

This group includes leaders of some of the world’s largest corporations, I’m pleased to say. It includes renowned investors and some of the most brilliant business analysts out there – and some of the most committed. One of these senior business leaders actually just celebrated his 69th birthday in Jerusalem at the Colony Hotel after spending a 14-hour day in the West Bank trying to figure it out.

When others ask them, all of them, why they’re here, doing this on their own time, the unanimous answer is: ‘Because we want a better future for both Israeli children and Palestinian children’.

Their plan begins with encouraging local, regional and international business leaders to, and to encourage government leaders in various parts of the world. I raised this issue with the President of China, with the Prime Minister of Japan, with all of our European leaders, and everywhere – with the Brazilian Foreign Minister a few days ago, with the New Zealand Foreign Minister. All of them have on the tip of their tongues the idea that we can make peace in the Middle East and need to, and all of them are committed to be part of this effort in order to change life on the ground.

The fact is that we are looking to mobilize some $4 billion of investment. And this team of experts – private citizens, donating their time – are here right now. They’re analyzing the opportunities in tourism, construction, light manufacturing, building materials, energy, agriculture, and information and communications technology.

This group will make recommendations to the Palestinians. They’re not going to decide anything. The Palestinians will decide that in their normal course of governance. But they will analyze and make recommendations on a set of choices that can dramatically lift the economy.

The preliminary results already reported to me by Prime Minister Blair and by the folks working with him are stunning: These experts believe that we can increase the Palestinian GDP by as much as 50 percent over three years. Their most optimistic estimates foresee enough new jobs to cut unemployment by nearly two-thirds – to 8 percent, down from 21 percent today – and to increase the median annual wage along with it, by as much as 40 percent.

Continue reading Kerry says Tony Blair has 300 businessmen planning to raise $4 billion for the West Bank Palestinians

Yes, she looks good in jeans

Japan's First Lady wins prize for looking good in jeans

Miyuki Hatoyama, 66, wife of new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has won an award for looking good — in her jeans. According to a report by the Associated Press, she won the annual prize given to celebrities who look best in denim, along with four Japanese musicians and a Taiwanese actor. The first lady was recognized for ‘wearing jeans gracefully, with a bit of a revolutionary touch’, according to the Japan Jeans Association, which represents denim importers and manufacturers”. The AP report added that “she’s been called Japan’s most colorful first lady for her cheerful character and quirky comments”.  This report can be read in full here.

New UNSC resolution on nuclear disarmament: "enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder"

U.S. President Barack Obama presided over the UN Security Council meeting today that adopted Resolution 1887, which notes, among other things, that “enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder”. That is a nice, consensus phrase — and one directed specifically at Iran, which is claiming the right to a full enrichment cycle of uranium for nuclear fuel, but which is accused of not having reported the development of its program in a timely manner.

The SC meeting, and agreement on the resolution, is a very major diplomatic achievement for Obama.

The resolution says that the main aim is, eventually, “a world without nuclear weapons”, which would be a total reversal of the doctrine of Mutually-Assured Destruction that is believed to have kept the Cold War from developing into a hot war.

Resolution 1887 also “Calls upon all States that are not Parties to the NPT to accede to the Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon States so as to achieve its universality at an early date, and pending their accession to the Treaty, to adhere to its terms”. Israel is one of the countries most affected by this clause — as are also India and Pakistan (and apparently also now North Korea). These are countries which were regarded as “threshhold” countries when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was adopted in 1967, but which have since reportedly become nuclear weapons states (though Israel maintains its policy of “nuclear ambiguity”). The only states recognized as nuclear powers by the NPT are the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council — pure coincidence, if you believe some of these council members …

Most of these former-threshhold states are not likely to be happy at the prospect that they can only join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapons states.

In any case, it was a rare UN Security Council summit, with 14 of the 15 UN Security Council members represented by their Heads of State and/or Government — and only Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi was absent (though he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York earlier this week, and Libya is currently one of the non-permanent members of the UNSC).

Instead, this SC meeting was addressed by Libya’s UN ambassador, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam, who told the meeting that Israel’s nuclear sites should be subject to international oversight, or “Otherwise, all the states of the Middle East will say, `We have a right to develop nuclear weapons. Why Israel alone?’ “. Israel has not ratified the NPT, and thus cannot be accused of having violated its provisions. John Bolton, when he was in charge of disarmament matters for the American State Department, said when pressed by a journalist once in Geneva that the U.S. does believe Israel should join the NPT — but eventually, in the far distant future. Another American official later added that this would have to be as a “non-nuclear-weapon State”. This does not, apparently, mean that the former “threshhold” states would have to eliminate their arsenals, but rather that they would not be allowed to assume the title (or perquisites) of nuclear weapons powers.

As remote as they may seem, major documents such as this often become the basis and the justification for major future international policy moves.
The Associated Press counted, and reported that the resolution contains 2,300 words.

It is a document full of nuance.

It was promoted by the U.S., and adopted in a UNSC meeting chaired by the President of the U.S., which calls for all states to “sign and ratify” the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), “thereby bringing the treaty into force at an early date”. The CTBT was, in fact, promoted by the U.S., and which then-U.S. President Bill Clinton did sign in 1996 (after the text of the treaty was finally agreed in international negotiations in which the U.S. actively participate) did not even try to take to the U.S. Congress for approval in 1999, because Republican opposition to curbs they said would be imposed on U.S. sovereignty so clearly indicated that the move would have been defeated.

This resolution also calls for the negotiation of a treaty limiting the production of fissile material — this has been the chief U.S. goal in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament for years, but it has been held up because the U.S. has not agreed to deal with China’s main concern, which is the prevention of an arms-race in outer-space. The Conference on Disarmament works on consensus, and China’s position has been backed by Russia. Other countries have also objected to other aspects of this proposal, including the fact that the proposed new Fissile Ban treaty would only limit future production of the fissile material needed to make nuclear explosions — meaning that the big and powerful countries would be able to keep the large stockpiles they already have of fissile material, while all others would be left as “have-nots” (just as with nuclear weapons themselves, which is the basis of the objections to the NPT from some countries, including those former “threshhold” countries who have since become self-declared nuclear weapons states, as India did in 1998. This self-definition has now officially been shot down in this new UNSC resolution adopted today).

The UN press release providing coverage of the meeting stated that: “Unanimously adopting resolution 1887 (2009) in its first comprehensive action on nuclear issues since the mid-1990s, Council members emphasized that the body had a primary responsibility to address nuclear threats, and that all situations of non-compliance with nuclear treaties should be brought to its attention … The meeting began at 9:30 a.m. and ended at 11:30 a.m”. All of this, within two hours.

The UN press release also reported that “the Security Council had before it a concept paper conveyed in a letter dated 15 September 2009 (document S/2009/463) from the President of the Security Council [this month, it’s the U.S] and addressed to the Secretary-General [which said that] the Security Council will focus broadly on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament and not on any specific countries, with the goals of underscoring the global reach of proliferation threats; the broadly shared obligation to respond; the positive steps taken to reduce nuclear dangers; and the Council’s essential role in addressing growing and pressing nuclear threats … According to the paper, the summit is intended as an opportunity to build support for fissile material cut-off treaty negotiations; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol; ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; and strategic arms control, including new negotiations over the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START)”.

While the U.S. said that the focus would be broad rather than on any specific countries, the individual statements made by world leaders in the UN SC meeting Thursday did name names — especially Iran and North Korea …

A group of countries including Western Europeans and the U.S. are due to meet again on 1 October with an Iranian delegation in Geneva, Switzerland for “Geneva Talks Two”, a continuation of a day-long meeting held in Geneva in July 2008.


Continue reading New UNSC resolution on nuclear disarmament: "enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder"

Israel opens small field hospital inside Erez terminal

The Israeli government opened a small “emergency medical treatment center” on Sunday in the main building of the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza. A doctor working in the “field hospital” said that three patients had arrived from Gaza on Sunday. [UPDATE: There have also since reportedly been seven children who passed through the treatment center — most of them cancer patients wanting to resume their treatment in Israeli or Palestinian hospitals outside the Gaza Strip.]

Many people may not have known about the new “field hospital”, one of the medical personnel at the clinic said, and more are expected in the coming days.

Haaretz reported here that “Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog, who attended the clinic opening in the Erez crossing pedestrian zone, said the clinic would treat as many people as possible”.

The maximum capacity is 100 to 150 people a day.

It is actually set up more like a neighborhood clinic than a “field hospital” in the war zone that Gaza has become. The clinic does not appear to be prepared to mount a massive rescue operation of critically wounded patients. It will take a minimum of two to three hours — a minimum — to process a patient through, once they arrive at the clinic, which is set up in converted office space on the ground floor of the Erez terminal building. There is even a play area for small children.

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post has written that “the clinic is a humanitarian gesture by Israel following the 22-day operation in Gaza”.

Patients would have to be pretty mobile just to get there, and they have to go through an Israeli security check — after passing through a Palestinian security control — before entering the terminal. There does not seem to be an operating room, although there is an emergency resuscitation room with life support machines which were used for one Gazan who had managed to walk in before having a heart attack in the terminal. Another woman was allowed to pass through to Israel to resume her cancer treatment at a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem. And a third patient was treated for sinusitis, before choosing to return to Gaza.

Access to the Erez terminal is now strictly controlled by the military at a point about a mile away on the Israeli side. From the Gazan side, it is a nearly two-kilometer walk on earth that is un-even because it is regularly dug up by IDF tank forays. It can be creepily empty at times, and it is occasionally shot at by both sides. Back-to-back ambulance transfers would be difficult, if they are even possible under the current security regulations.

Arriving at the large grey concrete terminal, two very large white banners are clearly visible, hanging over the line of glass doors. These banners, in three languages, prominently proclaim that here is the “The State of Israel REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER FOR THE PEOPLE OF GAZA” …

MDA photo of Erez medical center for Gazans

Meanwhile, international NGOs are complaining about their lack of access to Gaza (which now reportedly looks rather like downtown Grozny did after two Russian offensives), more than a day after the cease-fire went into effect. Cassandra Nelson of The Mercy Corps said “It’s a disgrace. There’s no transparency, no process — not even any single point person to contact. We’ve had to call all over, and we don’t know what is happening, or when we can get in”…
Continue reading Israel opens small field hospital inside Erez terminal

Conversations at a checkpoint

It really gets on your nerves, sometimes.

At a checkpoint this morning, the soldier took my passport, then barked: “Where are you from?” he asked.

“You mean where was I born? That’s different than where I am from. It’s written on my passport — New York”, I said.

[Huda reported that she was stopped at the Hizma checkpoint this morning and pulled over for questioning. It was her first day back from two weeks in Paris visiting her parents, and she said she was still feeling good when this happened. She, too, has an American passport. When asked “Where are you from?”, she replied that she was born in Sudan. “Oh, is that why your skin is so dark?”, she said the Israeli soldier — apparently a Druse Arab — asked her…]

The soldier at my checkpoing then barked at me: “Baggaaaaage”.

Ah, I said, “Baggaaaaage”.

Sometimes they also hit the car when they shout the order: “Baggaaaaage”.

The Wall at Qalandia Checkpoint - Ctrl + Alt + Del

Photo taken today from a car of graffiti [Ctrl + Alt + Del] on The Wall at Qalandia checkpoint

I got out to open the trunk. It was empty, like it always is. They can see this through the window of the hatchback. I go through this several times a day, sometimes. This is just down the hill from my house.

Yesterday, a woman soldier barked: “Baggaaaaage”.

She also said she had to see the spare [tire]. This is the rule, she said.

This morning, another woman soldier/border policewoman stepped forward. “We have problems with English at this checkpoint”, she said. “He meant to say the trunk”.

“It would be even better to say, Please open the trunk”, I said. “It’s empty, as it always is”…

There were four armed persons standing beside my car.

“You shouldn’t get angry”, said a third soldier, who I see regularly, and who usually lets me go through without having to get out of the car to open the trunk. “Or else we’ll make you open it every time”.

“So, why are you making me open it, then — for security reasons, even though there really isn’t any reason to suspect me of anything? Or are you doing it just to punish?”

“It was just a joke”, the woman soldier said.

But there is no joke possible when you are holding guns on people — then it becomes laughing at someone. It is deliberate humiliation.

“Oh, stop this bullshit”, the woman soldier said, in her good English …

Sometimes they also shout, in a derogatory tone, “Yella!” [“Beat it! Go on, get outta here!], and sometimes they just jerk their head to order me to go.

U.S. and North Korean negotiators meeting in Geneva

The exact and up-to-the minute state of play between the U.S. and North Korea was described to journalists in Geneva, Switzerland on Friday by U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill (Assistant U.S. Secretary of State) speaking on the eve of a two-day round of direct talks hosted by the Swiss government.

Did Hill really mean it when he said [see below] that “nuclear weapons really need to be done away with”? (see below)

OK, the truth is, this is a selective and edited quote. Hill might have been suffering from jet lag, and boredom at some of the journalists questions … or maybe he really was choosing his words with precision, because what he said was actually: “these nuclear weapons really need to be done away with.”

Maybe he meant exactly what he said — that North Korean “nuclear weapons really need to be done away with”, and not all nuclear weapons (as called for by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, to which the U.S. is a party, but from which North Korea withdrew).

That is, of course, if the North Koreans actually have nuclear weapons, as they have recently suggested, though perhaps only as a negotiating prod, during the dragged-out efforts to release frozen North Korean funds held in the Banco Delta Asia of Macao – a bank that is under China’s ultimate control.

Hill was speaking at the Hotel de la Paix in Geneva, Switzerland:

“This will be a two-day meeting of the U.S. – DPRK working group. This is in the fram ework of five working groups that are called for in the February ’07 agreement. For us it’s an important working group because it allows us to really prepare for the next plenary session, Six-Party plenary session, and I think it also allows the U.S. and DPRK to make progress on our relationship…
Continue reading U.S. and North Korean negotiators meeting in Geneva