Do the Americans know how to do peace talks? Can they get a final status agreement within nine months?

Well, they have tried it before — the Annapolis process, Wye River, Camp David July 2000 and let’s not forget former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker announcing “here’s my phone number, call me when you’re ready”…]

Kerry's Iftar - full table - US State Dept on Monday 29 July 2013

Kerry’s Iftar – full table – US State Dept on Monday 29 July 2013

Above photo Tweeted by @michelghandour + posted here

Secretary Kerry Iftar dinner for Israeli + Palestinian Negotiators
Secretary Kerry Iftar dinner for Israeli + Palestinian Negotiators

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

Israerli + Palestinian negotiators at Secretary Kerry Iftar Dinner
Israeli + Palestinian negotiators at Secretary Kerry Iftar Dinner

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

So, as Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said at a joint press conference in Washington on Tuesday evening [with an emotion-laden voice, before apparently impulsively kissing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on both cheeks],  there’s now a second chance:

“A new opportunity is being created for us, for all of us, and we cannot afford to waste it…”

Saeb Erekat + John Kerry + Tzipi Livni after press conference Tuesday
Saeb Erekat + John Kerry + Tzipi Livni after press conference Tuesday

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

Kerry said, at the beginning of the press conference on Tuesday, that:

“As all of you know, it has taken an awful lot of work and a long time, a lot of time, to reach this new moment of possibility in the pursuit of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

He said one striking thing at the end of his prepared remarks:

“I think everyone involved here believes that we cannot pass along to another generation the responsibility of ending a conflict that is in our power to resolve in our time. They should not be expected to bear that burden, and we should not leave it to them. They should not be expected to bear the pain of continued conflict or perpetual war”.

And in between, he said:

“The United States will work continuously with both parties as a facilitator every step of the way. We all understand the goal that we’re working towards: two states living side by side in peace and security. Two states because two proud peoples each deserve a country to call their own. Two states because the children of both peoples deserve the opportunity to realize their legitimate aspirations in security and in freedom. And two states because the time has come for a lasting peace.

We all appreciate – believe me – we appreciate the challenges ahead. But even as we look down the difficult road that is before us and consider the complicated choices that we face, we cannot lose sight of something that is often forgotten in the Middle East, and that is what awaits everybody with success. We need to actually change the way we think about compromise in order to get to success. Compromise doesn’t only mean giving up something or giving something away; reasonable principled compromise in the name of peace means that everybody stands to gain. Each side has a stake in the other’s success, and everyone can benefit from the dividends of peace.

We simply wouldn’t be standing here if the leaders – President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu – and their designated negotiators and all of us together didn’t believe that we could get there”…

A few weeks ago, just after Kerry’s flying visit to Ramallah on 19 July, Rami G. Khouri wrote here: “I have not given up hope that a negotiated peace can one day be achieved, but I pretty much have given up hope that it can be attained through renewed negotiations mediated these days by the United States … It is impossible to expect both sides under their current leaderships to make major substantive concessions on core issues simply in order to get to the negotiating table, where they will not be able to agree on a final accord that addresses the big sticker items of land, settlements refugees, and Jerusalem. The strategy now being used seeks to formulate vague agreements simply to resume negotiations will not work because the imprecision of positions on settlements, borders or mutual recognition necessary to restart the talks only cements the inability of both sides to achieve a permanent, comprehensive agreement”.

So what happened in the last ten days? One thing, apparently, was the U.S. issuance of still-unpublished “letter[s] of assurance”, in which the American administration took a stand in favor of concrete positions [such as, the negotiations will be based on pre-4-June 1967 borders, which changed things for the Palestinians…]

US President Obama + VP Biden meet Palestinian + Israeli negotiators
US President Obama + VP Biden meet Palestinian + Israeli negotiators

This photo was Tweeted by the US State Department and is posted here.

Now, Khouri wrote, in a piece entitled “What Do We Learn from 45 Years of Negotiations?”, syndicated by Agence Global and posted here, that he was disappointed in Kerry’s call, Monday [and Tuesday] for a “reasonable compromise” — Khouri said Kerry “sounded more like a high school guidance counselor speaking to teenagers who had an argument”.

Continue reading “Do the Americans know how to do peace talks? Can they get a final status agreement within nine months?”

Qaddura Fares: many things are not clear about the pending prisoner release

A slightly different version of this story appeared earlier today on +972 Magazine, here.

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

“No, I am not satisfied”, said Qaddoura Fares, crisply, commenting on the Israeli Cabinet vote Sunday — after hours of debate and delay for persuasion of the unconvinced —  to release 104 Palestinian prisoners.

Qaddura Fares photo from Ramallah press conference posted on Israel Radio website - interviewed 28 July 2013
Qaddura Fares photo from Ramallah press conference posted on Israel Radio website - interviewed 28 July 2013

That vote led immediately to a formal invitation from the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to both Israeli and Palestinian negotiations to come to dinner in Washington the very next day, for 1st direct meetings [since January 2012].  The State Dept officially announced resumption of “direct final-status negotiations”, and on Monday Pres Obama welcomed the arrival of Israeli + Palestinian representatives to “formally resume direct final status negotiations”,

Qaddoura, a Fatah leader [who, years ago, was a member of what was then-known as “Young Fatah”] spent many years of his youth in Israeli jails, and is now head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club in Ramallah, which works to help Palestinians being tried in Israeli courts — most often, military — and held in Israeli jails.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had given Kerry a list of the 104 longest-held Palestinian prisoners, and Kerry sent that Palestinian list to Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.  Kerry reportedly pressed for their release, and pinched hard when Netanyahu tried to strike off Palestinians who are either Israeli citizens or Permanent Residents of East Jerusalem.  Over the weekend, Netanyahu relented but said he would put the matter to a Cabinet vote on Sunday.

Netanyahu said in a statement published on Facebook on Saturday that “heads of state are at times required to make decisions that go against public opinion when matter of national import is at stake”.

But Netanyahu didn’t want to shoulder this responsibility alone, and said he would submit the matter to a vote in the regular meeting of his Cabinet on Sunday.

He also said the release would happen during the negotiations, not before — and he said it would stop if the Palestinians did not behave well.

Then, Netanyahu started making phone calls to try and get  support for the cabinet vote on the prisoner release…

Israeli government officials said that if Mahmoud Abbas could ask for the release of Palestinians with full Israeli citizenship,  this would imply that the PLO, and not Israel, is responsible for these men.

So, did the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday make the decision that the Palestinians awaited, and the Americans pressed for?  It’s not entirely clear.

Continue reading “Qaddura Fares: many things are not clear about the pending prisoner release”

Despite opposition, a Palestinian delegation will go to Washington on Monday to start talks after Israel's Cabinet approves release of 104 Pre-Oslo Prisoners

After hours of deliberation, Israel’s Cabinet voted on Monday to authorize the release of 104 of the longest-held Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

There was a delay of one and half hours before the start of the cabinet meeting, as Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu moved to shore up his own Likud party and make sure he had enough votes to pass the motion.’

Citizens were protesting outside Netanyahu’s office. A mountain of meanness was being expressed about the prisoner release, and the word “terror” was getting quite a workout.

Dani Dayan, for example, Tweeted this:
@dandayan — Releasing terrorists for peace, is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline, it is dangerous, immoral and irresponsible.
@dandayan — Who did John Kerry set free? My piece at @TimesofIsrael . Releasing terrorists is obscene. http://dlvr.it/3jx4VK
@dandayan — a) I see no reason for any payment for the right to negotiate. b) Release of terrorists is morally flawed

@Marianhouk — Where is the leader who’ll tell his people that both sides have suffered? MT @DanWilliams Netanyahu: “Don’t lecture me abt fighting terror”.

According to Haaretz correspondent @BarakRavid on Twitter, Netanyahu reportedly told Likud ministers that “every Palestinian provocation will result in halting of the prisoner release process”, and also that “every decision to release Arab-Israeli prisoners will be brought back for a vote in the cabinet”…

UPDATE: Barak Ravid later wrote in Haaretz here that this latter proposal was based on a suggestion from Minister Silvan Shalom: “During the debate, Shalom proposed a compromise that eased the way for many Likud ministers to not vote against. Under the proposal, which was adopted by Netanyahu, any decision to release Israeli Arabs would require a new vote by the full cabinet. Based on the tentative schedule of prisoner releases, such a discussion is likely to take place, if at all, only in another nine months”.

Haaretz writer @AnshelPfeffer Tweeted slightly earlier that:
No PM in #Israel ever lost vote on releasing prisoners. #Netanyahu trying to “convince” ministers meant to show how “hard” the decision is

But, this leads to questions:
@Marianhouk — So it can be stopped if there are problems in talks? MT @rcolebourn – #Israel PM: prisoner releases will only happen after talks start + in a staged way…

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas called his Government ministers to the Muqata’a for a [rare] meeting at 2 pm.

And, a protest demonstration was called by the PFLP in Ramallah at noon.
@DaliaHatuqa reported that according to @Addameer:  A Ramallah demo against negotiations was broken up by PA police who beat protesters, including PLC member Khalida Jarrar

@RZabaneh Tweeted an amazing video of the clashes duringt the #PFLP protest against the resumption of negotiations. http://youtu.be/yF-IfN7Uw1Q

@LinahAlsaafin wrote that Demo against negotiations broken up by Palestinian Authority. PA is now arresting injured demonstrators from Ramallah Hospital v @Addameer

During the wait for the Israeli Cabinet vote, @DaliaHatuqa Tweeted that The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society published the list of names of detainees expected to be released = http://bit.ly/1c2lp3g

And, a PLO official told Haaretz that “The release of all the prisoners was an agreement between the U.S. + Israel, not between Israel + the Palestinians…Based on this agreement, the Americans received our consent to renew talks”…

Continue reading “Despite opposition, a Palestinian delegation will go to Washington on Monday to start talks after Israel's Cabinet approves release of 104 Pre-Oslo Prisoners”

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem [last night]

“The absence of peace is, in fact, perpetual war, even if it’s low intensity. Are we ready? Do we want to live with a permanent intifada?” — John Kerry on 26 May 2013

Not long after John Kerry said these words at the World Economic Forum meeting on the Jordanian coast of the Dead Sea, this video was taken of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is very visually-striking photography, beautiful –with the night lighting and the narrow alleys between stone walls, double-story green arches, and the clear plexiglass shields of the soldiers:

It seems to have been filmed and uploaded to Youtube here by Abdelafo Ba, and it was Tweeted this morning by @PalestinianVideo:  Palestine Video @PalestineVideo — #Palestine #Video Arrests and confrontation in occupied #Jerusalem http://youtu.be/txp6n8EUeSc  #Palestinian

 

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”

Olmert's 2008 proposal on Palestinian refugees – to take a total of 5,000 over 5 years

Of course Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could not have signed on to this stingy proposal when it was tabled by Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in their last meeting on 16 September 2008.

Not only is the number of Palestinian refugees that Israel would take back “inside the Green Line” less than Ehud Barak’s previous suggestion [to take back tens of thousands a year, as a “humanitarian gesture”] at Camp David talks in late July 2000, but this is also supposed to extinguish any further mention of the “Right of Return”. At the same Camp David discussions, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he wanted to solve the problem of some 450,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon first — an idea that the Israeli delegation, who had just completed their unilateral May 2000 withdrawal for almost all of the “security zone” they had created during their 25-year occupation of South Lebanon, did not dismiss out of hand.

It is true that the Barak team said that most of the Palestinian refugees who would want to return would have to do so to the future Palestinian state. [Then, there was some suggestion that Israel would want to have a say in who and how many returned, even to the Palestinian territory = West Bank or Gaza…]

In any case, here is the relaxed way Olmert himself recently described it to Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff in a recent interview which was reported yesterday, here:

“I agreed to absorb into Israel up to 5,000 Palestinian refugees over five years. Why 5,000? It may sound kind of strange, but during the talks between Rice and Abu Mazen he said that he needed the settlement of tens of thousands of refugees inside Israel, and that Ehud Barak had been ready to take in 100,000. She told him that he could get the same number of people as could fit inside the Mukataa at any given moment. We estimated that number to be about 5,000. So that’s how I came up with the number. I’m telling you, if Abu Mazen had been ready to sign on an agreement that would require our absorbing 10,000-15,000 over five years, I would have agreed. It was after all about the number of African illegals who were sneaking across the border every year back then. But all of it, of course, on condition that they would sign an agreement for an ‘end of conflict and end of demands,’ so there would no longer be a ‘right of return.’”

Olmert added that “he explained to Abbas during their talks that Israel could not agree to any solution to the refugee problem according to UN Resolution 194, which in his view had created the Palestinian’s ‘claim of return’ myth. ‘But I said to him, first we will set up a special fund for compensation to the refugees, second, we will accept the road map, which includes in it the Arab peace initiative which also refers to resolution 194 with respect to a solution for the refugee problem. That way you too can claim that Israel accepted the basis of the Arab peace initiative including Resolution 194’.”

And, what did Mahmoud Abbas say?

From Olmert’s account, as reported by Issacharoff, you could get the impression Abbas was only prepared to engage immediately on the Land Swaps proposal… and even on that he hesitated [and cancelled the follow-up meeting of map expert’s scheduled for the next day].

Continue reading “Olmert's 2008 proposal on Palestinian refugees – to take a total of 5,000 over 5 years”

Can Mahmoud Abbas negotiate on equal basis with less fluent English?

The language in which Israelis and Palestinians negotiate is: English. The original language of documents signed during the Oslo process is: English.

This brings up a delicate but extremely important point: Can Mahmoud Abbas negotiate on an equal basis with less fluent English than the Israeli Prime Minister?

Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff touched on the point in his report today, published here, of his interview with Israeli former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who presented a map and detailed negotiating points to Abbas in their last meeting on 16 September 2008.

The question is worth exploring.  Issacharoff reported that the first meeting between Olmert and Abbas on 23 December 2006 “launched a model for talks between the two leaders: every so often, usually every two week, the two would meet and after some opening remarks and some food, they would go off to the side and speak one-on-one about the issues regarding final status”.

Was Abbas able to navigate the subtleties?  Did his imperfect control of the English language have anything to do with his reported lack of response?  The last discussion between Olmert and Abbas was inconclusive — yet Abbas wants any new talks to start from that point.

Mahmoud Abbas has said many times that he wants direct negotiations to resume where they left off on that day.

Israel’s current Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu does not agree. He explains this by saying he wants negotiations without preconditions. But, Netanyahu does not agree with the major concessions that Olmert offered Abbas in September 2008 — (1) that the hugely important mosque esplanade in the Old City of East Jerusalem would be under no country’s sovereignty, and would instead be administered by a five-nation group of countries; and (2) that Israel was prepared to make significant Land Swaps with Palestinians, including giving up the Jordan Valley that Netanyahu seems determined to retain on a long-term basis as an essential security assurance. [Netanyahu is also determined to obtain Palestinian recognition of Israel as “a Jewish State” or “the state of the Jewish people”, which is a point that was also raised by Olmert at the start of the Annapolis process of negotiations in November 2007.]

The substantive part of the negotiations began, apparently, four months earlier — in May 2008.

Olmert told Issacharoff that Condoleeza Rice “was concerned about the differences in our English – since mine was much more fluent then Abu Mazen’s…”

It’s interesting that Rice was so concerned. The disparity in power between the two parties — one of whom is occupied by the other — and who have engaged in direct negotiations over the self-determination of one of them, could be considered an argument that might invalidate the legality of any agreement reached. And the imbalance in negotiating conditions is exacerbated by an imbalance in linguistic capability.

By Olmert’s account [reported today by Issacharoff], he said that even before the Annapolis process — in fact, on 23 December 2006 — Abbas asked for Israel to free 500-600 prisoners. “I said, ‘Why don’t you ask for more?’…”

In this 23 December 2006 meeting at Olmert’s house, Abbas “asked for the taxes owed the PA – 50 million [shekels]”… And Olmert said he told Abbas: “not a chance…you will get 100 million, it’s Palestinian money. The days when you have to ask for what is rightfully yours are over…”

But, when Condoleeza Rice gave Abbas Olmert’s proposal “that he appoint a representative on whom he relied completely who would formulate the peace agreement. I had already turned to someone like that; someone with international standing. But Abbas said he preferred that the talks be carried out directly with him. She was concerned about the differences in our English – since mine was much more fluent then Abu Mazen’s – but I promised her that I wouldn’t take advantage of it, and she believed me”

But, by Olmert’s account, he actually had to coach Mahmoud Abbas: “When we talked about the subject of borders, Abbas reiterated that he wanted land swaps of 1.9% only, or the 1967 borders. I told him that the 1967 borders did not include a passage between Gaza and the West Bank, and if they want to make that connection and the necessary adjustments of the map, then it should be done in a smart way”…

According to Olmert, “The two men met 36 times, mostly in Jerusalem + once in Jericho”.

At the end of this series, it was Sa’eb Erekat who cancelled the post-map-presentation follow-up session scheduled for 17 September 2008, Olmert said, and their excuse was that they’d “forgotten that Abbas had to go to Amman”.

Olmert told Avi Issacharoff that he’s “still waiting” since September 2008 for a call from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, just as just as Yasser Abed Rabbo told Avi Issacharoff [for an article published in mid-May in the Times of Israel] that he’s been waiting for a call from Netanyahu since February 16 2011..

Our reports on Avi Issacharoff’s recent reports are on our sister blog, Palestine-Mandate, here: [Olmert-Abbas 2006-2008] here … and [Yasser Abed-Rabbo-Netanyahu 2011] here.

Day 7 of IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds [a/k/a Defense Pillar]

Day 7 opened with reports from international journalists in Gaza saying it had been an unusually quiet night — but the IDF reporting some 180 overnight strikes.  The rocket fire from Gaza resumed just before the start of the business day.

UNSG Ban Ki Moon was in Egypt, and had already made a press statement from Cairo saying it would be a bad idea for Israeli to move to a ground operation inside Gaza, before a delegation of Arab Foreign Ministers headed by Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Araby headed to Rafah to go to Gaza on another solidarity visit.

European Foreign Ministers and Quartet Envoy were doing the rounds in the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem-Ramallah circuit.

A surprise announcement this morning said that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was diverted to head to the region from Thailand today, and should arrive in Israel by the afternoon or evening to strengthen efforts to conclude a cease-fire.

Then, by  mid-day the  cease-fire [vs escalation by ground invasion] roller-coaster ride picked up weight + speed.  Via Twitter:

@CNNInternatDesk – BREAKING NEWS: Israel Security Cabinet decided to put temporary hold on possible ground offensive into Gaza

RAGreeneCNN ?@RAGreeneCNN – Israel to HOLD OFF on ground offensive “for a limited time for a diplomatic solution,” Israel govt official tells CNN’s @camanpour

Earlier, veteran French TV [2] correspondent Charles Enderlin ?@Charles1045 – Avant de faire des concessions majeures au Hamas en échange d’un cessez le feu Bibi veut la preuve que le Hamas contrôle Gaza  [My translation:  Before making major concessions to Hamas in exchange for a cease-fire, Bibi wants proof that Hamas controls Gaza { !!! }]

Enderlin’s next Tweet said: je n’arrive pas a croire que Benjamin Netanyahu va conclure un accord avec des terroristes 🙂
[My translation: I Ican’t believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is going to make an agreement with terrorists : )…]

Then just after 13:hh, a Tweet from the BBC’s Lyse Doucet [@bbclysedoucet] – Mohammed Deif Head of Hamas Military wing will give “important announcement” on #Hamas TV shortly #Gaza #Israelah

But, the BBC’s Paul Danahar then Tweeted: @pdanahar – Head of the Hamas military wing Mohamed Deif in #Gaza says nothing about ceasefire he just encouraging people to keep fighting

@pdanahar – Head of the Hamas military wing Mohamed Deif in #Gaza says their fighters should be ready for a ground war with #Israel

And then from @bbclysedoucet – Deif Head #Hamas Military wing says #Israel ground invasion best way to get Pal prisoners released – by capturing Israel soldiers

Just after 14:00 air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem. There is no Iron-Dome battery in Jerusalem. An explosion was heard. The missiles [reportedly, two] apparently hit an area of open ground. The AlQassam Brigades said they were M-75 missiles with a 75-km range. It was later reported [via Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency] that the missiles hit in a Palestinian area near Surif, Beit Ummar, in the southern West Bank.

Not long afterwards, the IDF reported they made a direct hit on a motorcycle, killing the riders who the IDF identified as the crew which fired the missiles towards Jerusalem.

After that, leaflets were dropped in certain areas of Gaza, instructing residents to leave their homes and move towards the center of Gaza City.  That should make it very crowded…

This could be an indication of an imminent ground invasion. Or, it could be a Psy-Ops operation intended to push truce negotiations forward.Leaflets dropped by the IDF in Gaza Tuesday afternoon instructing residents to move towards specified areas in the center

A translation, posted here, offered by Yousef Munayyer of the Palestine Center says:

Military Communique  

To the residents of Sheikh Ajleen, Tal Al-hawa, Al-Rimal janoob, Al Zaytoon neighborhood, Shija’eya, Al Turkman, and New Shija’eya,

The IDF is not targeting any of you and does not want to harm you or your family. For your safety, we demand you to evacuate your homes immediately and move toward the center of the city via one of the following paths: Al Qahira, Jami’at Al Dool Al Rabya, Al-Aqsa, Alqadsyah, Om El Laymon, Salah Eldeen, Almansoorah, Khalas and Baghdad. The designated area in the city of Gaza is limited to west of Salah-a-deen Road, north of Omar Al Mokhtar Road, east of AlNassir Road and south of al-Quds road. This is a temporary confrontation and in the end every person will return to his home . Obeying these IDF instructions will keep civilian residents like you from harm’s way

The leadership of the Israeli Defense Force

An alternate translation can be found here.

Yousef Munayyer notes that the area delineated is “the most densely populated area of the Gaza Strip in and around Gaza city. This is one of the most densely populated places on earth. According to UN OCHA, the population density in this area is close to 7,000 persons/SqKm. Hundreds of thousands of people are being told to immediately leave their houses”…

His post offers a larger map, published here, showing exactly the area defined. He explains: “The red area represents the neighborhoods which must evacuate immediately into the area in the blue square”.

People in the center of Gaza are advised to go be squeezed together inside an even tighter and smaller area — for how long?

Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of terrified people, crowded overnight into a central area — without shelter, sanitation, food and water?

The Arab League delegation of Foreign Ministers did go in and out of Gaza today, rolling in impressive SUVs on some surprisingly clear streets with security guards standing in the doors of the cars as the convoy whizzed passed.  Ismail Haniyeh gave the group a brief lecture, then they went to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu showed some emotion.

AlQassam Brigades said the Turkish FM was “sharing the #Palestinian people pain and sorrow”, and Tweeted a photo of one of the moments: @AlqassamBrigade – pic.twitter.com/JHMh4PEI

Turkish FM Ahmet Davuto?lu at Gaza City's main Shifa Hospital - 20 Nov 2012

Then, two journalists working for Al-Aqsa TV [Mahmoud Al-Komi and Husam Salama ] were killed in a targetted strike moments after the Arab League delegation’s convoy left, burning to death in their struck car, which was clearly marked “PRESS”.  A third journalist was targetted a short while later, elsewhere in Gaza.   Ma’an News Agency later reported here that Palestinian press freedom group Mada “condemned the strike as a ‘heinous crime … (and) a flagrant breach of the international conventions that protect journalists’.”, and demanded an international investigation.

Six men accused of being “collaborators” — identifying targets for Israeli strikes — were pulled out of a van that pulled up on a downtown street and shot in front of surprised onlookers.  Despite the ongoing air attacks, the crowd grew when the executioners said that the men were collaborators.  One report later said Hamas was investigating.  Reuters reported that “Hamas executed six Palestinians accused of spying for Israel, who a security source quoted by Hamas Aqsa radio said had been ‘caught red-handed’ with ‘filming equipment to take footage of positions’.  The radio said they had been shot. Militants on a motorcycle dragged the body of one of the men through the streets”. This report is published here

The Gaza Mall, which also houses the offices of AFP, was targeted later.

The only explanation is this Tweet put out by the IDF: @IDFSpokesperson – Targeted in #Gaza over evening: bank used to finance Hamas operatives, command & control center, Hamas hideout & operatives’ meeting place

According to a later report on Reuters, here, “Israel’s military said it had been targeting a Hamas intelligence centre in the tower”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] issued a statement saying that Israel “must immediately halt airstrikes targeting news offices”, apparently referring to the strikes over the past several days.  The CPJ statement is published here.

CPJ later issued a second statement, which focused a bit more on the targetted killing of the three Palestinian journalists working for Al-Aqsa TV + Radio.

“We’re alarmed by the mounting toll on journalists in Gaza,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Israeli airstrikes continue to put journalists in harm’s way. This reflects the risks journalists face while reporting on conflict, especially in such a densely populated area.” A third journalist was killed when his car was hit by a missile this evening, The Associated Press reported citing a Gaza official. Initial local news reports identified the journalist as Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio. The reports said his vehicle was hit while he was driving in the Deir al-Balah neighborhood, but did not say whether Abu Aisha was reporting at the time. CPJ continues to investigate the circumstances of his death. This is posted here

This morning, it was reported that 111 Palestinians had been killed since the start of Pillars of Clouds.  By 16:30, the death toll in Gaza had increased to 121… and counting. Just after 22:00, Arwa Damon of CNN posted this Tweet:

@arwaCNN – #gaza casualty toll in last 7 days – 130 dead, more than 1020 injured

The Haaretz Live Blog reported here at 10:40 P.M. “IDF: Since beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, 1,500 targets were hit in the Gaza Strip, 133 on Tuesday. Iron Dome intercepted 389 rockets since operations’ onset, including 51 on Tuesday”…

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. …

Dennis Ross: Palestinians should set up their own stone quarries in the West Bank!

In an otherwise uninteresting commentary published as an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Dennis Ross, adviser to several American presidents on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, suggested that … as Israel’s Supreme Court has just recommended that there should be  “no additional quarries” in the West Bank that are Israeli-owned, there is now some sort of “opening” for Palestinian ownership!

[Have we mentioned how much the terrible Qalandia checkpoint is clogged up by the huge double-dump truck convoys loaded with cut stone and spraying rock dust all over the area? These huge stone transport trucks mix with tens of thousands of stressed and some crazed-aggressive drivers, on a two-lane road — with just one lane in each direction. Many tens of thousands of people, and perhaps more, are forced to drive on this dreadful route around or through Qalandia every single day, for lack of any alternative routes…]

Ross’ piece in the Washington Post is entitled, How to break a Middle East stalemate

It is an astonishing reading of the Israeli Supreme Court ruling.

In effect, as we have written earlier [on December 28] here, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by Tel Aviv-based lawyer Michael Sfard on behalf of the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din against the Israeli exploitation of Palestinian natural resources in the occupied West Bank.  The only argument from the Yesh Din petition retained by the Israeli Supreme Court is that there should be no more Israeli-owned stone quarries.  The Israeli government supported that argument in the Yesh Din petition, too — so it wasn’t really very hard for the Israeli Supreme Court to back it.

But, for Dennis Ross to extrapolate from that Israeli Supreme Court decision rejecting the petition, and argue that the Israeli Supreme Court has now opened the way to Palestinian ownership, is a surprising logical leap.

Dennis Ross wrote [referring to the Haaretz story here as his source], in his Washington Post opinion piece:

    To give one example, there are Palestinian stone masonry factories in Area A, but Palestinians have limited access to the rock quarries in the West Bank, which are in Area C. In a case brought against Israeli ownership of the rock quarries, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled late last month that no additional quarries should be Israeli-owned. That ruling creates an opening for private Palestinian ownership, should any new quarries be established — and there clearly is room for more”.

Continue reading “Dennis Ross: Palestinians should set up their own stone quarries in the West Bank!”