Are they crazy!!??

This is what people say. here in Israel, if they disagree with somebody else’s proposition: “Are they crazy!!??”

According to an article by Aluf Benn published in Haaretz today, “confidants” and “aides” of Prime Minister Netanyahu said that “Netanyahu believes that U.S. President Barack Obama wants a confrontation with Israel, based on Obama’s speech in Cairo last week … In Netanyahu’s opinion, the Americans believe an open controversy with Israel would serve the Obama administration’s main objective of improving U.S. relations with the Arab world”.

Really, this is too much. After all that Obama said, in his 4 June speech in Cairo! “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable”, Obama said. No one can seriously think that Obama is favoring the Arab world over Israel.

No, this appears to be a manipulative attempt to bully George Mitchell and Barack Obama into backing down in the increasingly confusing confrontation over Israel’s continued settlement activities in the West Bank — which Netanyahu and a number of his appointed government ministers have said they have every intention of continuing.

Continue reading Are they crazy!!??

Mitchell due in Israel today – Netanyahu announces big speech coming this week

Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has announced he will make a big speech this week [UPDATE: at the beginning of next week, Netanyahu’s office confirmed this evening.  FURTHER UPDATE: It will be delivered on Sunday at Bar-Ilan University, as Obama’s speech was delivered at Cairo University. And, by the way, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal will also deliver a speech from Damascus in the coming days, which will reportedly come after Netanyahu’s big speech, but which is also supposed to be a response to Obama].  Netanyahu has said he will present Israel’s idea for “peace”.

Maybe it will even be an “initiative”.

Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar has said, as reported earlier here, that the main Israeli objection to the Arab Peace Initiative is its name. 

Yes, really.

Now, after provoking most of the world into a tizzy by [rather recently] refusing to endorse a two-state solution, analysis and multiple leaks to the media suggest that Netanyahu believes he has gotten the American administration to agree to some kind of less-than-state for the Palestinians.  The model mentioned today is Andorra (no longer Hong Kong or Singapore, or even Switzerland).

Netanyahu may want an “initiative” to supersede the 2003 Road Map.

Members of Netanyahu’s new government have spoken against the Road Map, but voices are now being heard extolling the advantages of this document to which former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon affixed some 13 or 14 reservations.

Even though Phase I has not been fulfilled in the six years since the Road Map was launched in 2003, the supposed benefits of Phase II, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian “State” with provisional — not final — borders, are now coming under renewed examination.

(In addition, Phase II also calls for the Palestinian “State” to take its full place in the United Nations, where it is at presented only represented by an “Observer” mission.)

Over the weekend, interesting reports in the Israeli media suggested that Mitchell might push for an immediate designation of “provisional” borders. which would be in accordance with the Road Map’s Phase II (and should therefore accordingly accompany the creation of a Palestinian state), in order to know where settlement activity would be legal or not.

The notion that agreement on borders would clarify settlement activities originated in the Bush administration during the 2008 Annapolis process of negotiations, and was publicly articulated by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezzaa Rice. However, she did not mention “provisional” borders — which is something that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has firmly opposed.

Continue reading Mitchell due in Israel today – Netanyahu announces big speech coming this week

Israeli official to the NYTimes: "Not everything is written down" in the Road Map

Revelations are emerging from the ping-pong of news developments as revelations in the Israeli media spur publication of reports by American correspondents based in Israel which are in turn picked up by the Israeli media.

At the end of May, according to the Israeli media, there were reportedly talks in London between Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, attorney Yitzhak Molcho [who apparently is Netanyahu’s man in charge of Palestinian “matters”],  National Security Advisor Uzi Arad and the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Ministry of Defense Mike Herzog — and the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell.

One Israeli publication (I think it was Haaretz, but — sorry — I lost the reference!!) reported last week that the U.S. Special Envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell “emphasized that the U.S. does not accept the concept of ‘natural growth’ for the settlements. ‘We did not hear from the Bush administration about any of these so-called understandings with Israel on the settlements – all of which were supposedly oral understandings between different people every time’, said one senior American official. ‘But we’ve never heard a thing about them – they certainly weren’t formal agreements between our governments. The Israelis want us to commit to oral understandings we have never heard about, but at the same time they are not willing to commit to written agreements their government has signed, like the road map and commitment to the two-state solution’. The disagreement over the understandings concerning the settlements produced an embarrassing encounter in London last week during a meeting between Mitchell, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor and a number of Netanyahu’s advisers. At the meeting, the Israelis claimed there was a letter between former president George W. Bush and former prime minister Ariel Sharon stating that the settlement blocs would remain in Israeli hands, so construction is permitted there. Mitchell showed the Israelis that one of the letter’s sections discusses the principle of two states for two peoples. ‘That is also written in the letter – do you agree to that?’ he asked”.

Pretty good.

Then, the NY Times correspondent in Jerusalem, Ethan Bronner, reported that “Senior Israeli officials expressed irritation on Wednesday that President Obama had declined to acknowledge what they called clear understandings with the Bush administration that allowed Israel to build West Bank settlement housing within certain guidelines while still publicly claiming to honor a settlement ‘freeze’ … The Israeli officials said that repeated and ongoing discussions with Bush officials starting in late 2002 gave unambiguous permission to build within the boundaries of certain settlement blocs as long as no new land was expropriated, no special economic incentives were offered to move to settlements and no new settlements were built”. The NYTimes reported that an Israeli official who asked for anonymity said that “When Israel signed onto the so-called roadmap for a two-state solution in 2003, which says its government ‘freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)’ … it was after a detailed discussion with Bush officials that laid out those explicit limits. ‘Not everything is written down’, said one of the officials. He and others said that Israel agreed both to the roadmap and to move ahead with the removal of settlements and soldiers from Gaza in 2005 on the understanding that settlement growth could continue”.

The NYTimes checked this with American officials and former officials, and then reported that “a senior official in the Bush administration disagreed, calling the Israeli characterization ‘an overstatement’. ‘There was never an agreement to accept natural growth’, the official said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter. ‘There was an effort to explore what natural growth would mean, but we weren’t able to reach agreement on that’. ..

Continue reading Israeli official to the NYTimes: "Not everything is written down" in the Road Map

Barak with UNSG: Trying to derail Goldstone mission?

This photo was published in the Israeli media – but it is not available on the UN photo site:

Israeli Defense Minister Barak meets UNSG BAN Ki-Moon - AP

Whereas this is one of two UN photos, published on the UN website, showing Barak — standing alone: his preference?  Or UN decision? — talking to journalists at a “stakeout” probably after the meeting:

Barak standing alone at UNHQ-NY after meeting UNSG BAN - UN photo by Mark Garten

UN Radio’s Diane Bailey reported from UNHQ/NY that “Barak said on Monday that he does not think that his government will cooperate with the team investigating alleged war crimes committed during the recent Israeli-Hamas conflict … The Israeli Defense Minister said knowing how such missions operate, he does not think his government should cooperate with the team despite the fact that Richard Goldstone has a lot of respect around the world.  ‘The mandate that the Goldstone committee got is to look into war crimes in regard to the operation in Gaza and from our experience, we well know that they will never be able to talk to Gaza side and to penetrate or to interrogate the series of terrorist operations along years, including thousands of rockets and missiles fell upon the heads of Israeli citizens in order to get unbiased conclusion’.”

How does Barak know that the Goldstone mission will “never be able to talk to [the] Gaza side”?

Another very real question is:  will they be able to talk to the Israeli side?

Justice Goldstone and his team entered Gaza via Egypt through the Rafah crossing on Monday — because the Israeli government did not respond to the mission’s request for visas to come to Israel.

They were greeted by Hamas official Ghazi Hamad, a former editor and journalist, and former adviser to Hamas’ deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who served as spokesman for the Palestinian Authority Government in 2006, after Hamas won Legislative Council elections, and who is sometimes described as a “moderate”.  Hamad has written that Palestinians should stop “limiting our thinking” and has recently urged Palestinians to take into account the international community.  He currently works in the Gaza crossings authority.

Goldstone told journalists later that “We have come here to see, to learn, to talk to people in all walks of life; ordinary people, governmental people, administrative people”.

The mission’s mandate is to “investigate all violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.”

Goldstone has interpreted this to mean that the mission will look at violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by all parties — including Hamas.

“So far, Israel is refusing to cooperate”, said Rina Jabareen of Adalah, “and that means that the Goldstone mission wouldn’t have access to speak to the army, to the military and the political leaders”.

Was Barak trying to bully the UNSG, in this meeting at UNHQ/NY, to go easy on Israel with this investigation, as Israeli media reports suggested yesterday afternoon?

Israel’s YNet news website is reporting today that “Barak told the secretary general that Israel expects the organization, and the international community, to increase efforts to secure the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.   The Iranian nuclear threat was also discussed at the meeting. Barak said Tehran ‘is endangering both regional and global stability. We insist that the economic sanctions on the Iranians be intensified’ …

Barak, at least according to this report, notably did not discuss the Israeli sanctions against Gaza, which UN Security Council Resolution 1860 said should be modified to allow re-construction materials into Gaza after the very IDF Operation Cast Lead that the Goldstone mission is investigation.

Nor did BAN mention this, apparently … At least, there was no statement to this effect issued by the UN spokespeople.


UPDATE: At the regular noon briefing at UNHQ/NY on Tuesday [half a day after this post was posted], UN spokeswoman Michele Montas offered journalists this tidbit: “In response to questions I have been getting about the Secretary-General’s meeting with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, the two discussed the Board of Inquiry, the Gaza fact-finding mission led by Justice [Richard] Goldstone, access and movement issues relating to Gaza, the importance of the peace process, Lebanon, and the upcoming report on Security Council resolution 1701 (2006). On the Gaza fact-finding mission, the Secretary-General renewed his call for cooperation from Israel. The full briefing transcript can be consulted here.

SECOND UPDATE: The next day — that is, at the regular noon briefing at UNHQ/NY on Wednesday 3 June — UN Spokeswoman Michele Montas announced:  “I have been asked in recent days about the Secretary-General’s position concerning inquiries into what happened earlier this year in Gaza, and I wanted to make a few points clear.  The Secretary-General has certainly not rejected the notion of an inquiry into the recent Gaza conflict.  On the contrary, and apart from the Board of Inquiry that he had instituted into the damages against the UN, he has both privately and publicly supported the Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission.  He has also counselled and urged the Israeli Government to cooperate with this inquiry.  Indeed, he last did so yesterday at his meeting with the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister.  It is precisely because such an inquiry exists that the Secretary-General did not contemplate establishing another commission to undertake the very same task.  The Secretary-General is conscious of the fact that the Human Rights Council is especially well placed to commission an investigation into whether breaches of international humanitarian law have taken place, and had done so, inter alia, by selecting respected jurists to undertake this task, and had revised their terms of reference to ensure a balanced approach”.  The full transcript is published here.

THIRD UPDATE: On Thursday 4 June, at the regular noon briefing at UNHQ/NY, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas, had the following exchanges with journalists:
Question: The Palestinian situation … continues to be dire. Has the Secretary-General spoken to anybody in the Israeli authorities now to loosen up the border crossings and things like that?
Spokesperson: Well, you know that he has been doing so extensively, actually. He met Israeli officials twice during the week, as we mentioned in the readouts, every time it was [discussed] … You know, nothing has changed in terms of the actual access. As you know, we talked about construction material, we talked about the fact that there was no way we could help reconstruct Gaza if none of the material was allowed in. Yes, Talat.
Question: Michele, the [inaudible] spoke with us last week from the region and said that there were 630 blockades [n.b., he must mean roadblocks and/or checkpoints] and that they were primarily being set up to protect Israeli settlements. Was there any statement or follow-up from the Secretary-General on that comment? He also had said that senior advisers on behalf of the Israeli side were speaking with UN officials about bringing down some of those blockades. Is that…?
Spokesperson: We have been talking about this for a long time now. Those blockades are not new, as you know, and they have been hampering the free circulation of people, and we have been talking about them since the Secretary-General has been Secretary-General. He has been talking about those restrictions to free movement … We have been following up, as I said, on a regular basis on this.
Question: So there is cohesive agreement that the blockades are being set up primarily to protect Israeli settlements?
Spokesperson: Well, this is something for the Israeli Government to say. They’re the ones setting up the blockades. It’s not for us to say. What we are saying, what we have been protesting, is the fact that there are so many of them and it makes the life of Palestinians increasingly difficult. That we have been saying over and over again.
Question: Michèle, just a follow-up on that topic?
Spokesperson: Yes.
Question: In the readout from the Secretary-General’s meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister earlier this week, it says in among urging the Israelis to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid, it said that they discussed socio-economic projects in the West Bank. Is he referring to settlements in, by socio-economic projects, the Israeli socio-economic projects in the West Bank? I mean…
Spokesperson: I can try to get more details on what they mean.
Question: Okay, because it seems like there is a moment of opportunity here with President Obama calling today in a speech for the settlements to stop, there seems to be some momentum…
Spokesperson: Well, we have been coming out very strongly against the settlements ourselves. As you know, the UN has been very vocal about that, saying that these go against previous agreements and that they should not build any new settlements.
Question: Sure, but I mean, the Secretary-General has been urging the Israelis for over a year now to alleviate the blockade of Gazans and there has been nothing in response. Is he looking that this is a moment of opportunity to kind of elevate his pressure to try and…?
Spokesperson: Well, his pressure continues, you know. It was the case when he met two high Israeli officials this week and all these were expressed during those meetings.
Question: Well, it’s kind of, just the meetings, it’s kind of hard to determine which way the pressure was going. And just from reports, the Israeli media reports, it indicates that those Israeli Government officials were pressuring him, and the UN seems to be indicating that the Secretary-General was trying to pressure the Israelis. So, there is a disconnect here of who is…
Spokesperson: I don’t think there’s any disconnect. Each group or each side just flagged their own concerns and that’s the way it went. That doesn’t mean that one accepted the point of view of the other one … Yes, Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Also on the Middle East, Michèle. The United Nations is a part and parcel of the Quartet. Are there any preparations towards holding a meeting of the Quartet on the Middle East at this stage?
Spokesperson: Well, I think there are discussions about the next meeting and I’ll let you know when it happens”.
This briefing transcript is available here.


YNet also reported that “Barak also briefed Ban on the ‘Jenin Model’ project, which has seen Palestinian Authority defense forces assuming responsibility over security in West Bank cities. He also expanded on the actions Israel is taking to improve the quality of day-to-day life for the Palestinians in the West Bank, including the removal of roadblocks and various economic initiatives.  Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Barak explained that Israel would not cooperate with the UN investigation because by its very nature it cannot be objective … ‘And knowing the procedures by which such operations are taken, I don’t think that Israel has to or will cooperate with this interrogation and I say this despite the fact that Judge Goldstone personally has a lot of respect all around the world’, he said.   Asked whether Israel accepts the two-state solution, Barak said: ‘Israel wants peace with its neighbors. We are in favor of a regional process. This government recognizes all the agreements signed by previous governments, and that answers the question’.”

YNet also reported that “Barak will stay in New York today to meet with the US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell. On Tuesday he will arrive in Washington for a series of meetings with administration officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor James Jones”.  This YNet report can be read in full here.

Former top officials urge Obama to contact Hamas

Former U.S. National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, are among the ten authors of a newly-revealed letter handed to Barack Obama just before his inauguration, urging the new president-elect to change policy and make contact with Hamas.

This was revealed today in a story published by the Boston Globe, which reported that “Nine former senior US officials and one current adviser are urging the Obama administration to talk with leaders of Hamas to determine whether the militant group can be persuaded to disarm and join a peaceful Palestinian government, a major departure from current US policy…
Continue reading Former top officials urge Obama to contact Hamas

George Mitchell met Palestinian PM Fayyad in Jerusalem

The U.S. State Department spokesman announced in today’s regular daily briefing in Washington that U.S. Special Envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell, met Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Jerusalem.

This meeting could have happened at the U.S. Consulate in East or West Jerusalem, of course …
Rice had some meetings at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem once with Fayyad. The U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem is almost next door to where some of Fayyad’s children went or are still going to school, at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral.

But Fayyad himself is also a resident of (East) Jerusalem, living in Beit Hanina … which may or may not be part of the package deal (or, shall we say, part of one of the package deals) that outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is reported to have put on the table for the “sharing” of Jerusalem …

Here are some excerpts about what was said at the State Department briefings today (and yesterday):

QUESTION: Senator Mitchell’s trip – do you have anything to say about —

MR. WOOD: Yeah, let me give you the latest readout that I have. Senator Mitchell was in Jerusalem this morning. He had productive meetings with Mossad Director Meir Dagan, Israeli Security Agency Director Yuval Diskin, Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi, and our Consul General Jacob Walles. Senator Mitchell arrived in Ramallah in the afternoon and met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He will be – he is scheduled to return to Jerusalem later in the day and meet with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Tomorrow, he is scheduled to meet with —

QUESTION: I’m sorry, he’s meeting with Fayyad in Jerusalem?

MR. WOOD: It says here he is – he is scheduled to return to Jerusalem late in the day and meet with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. That’s what I have.
Continue reading George Mitchell met Palestinian PM Fayyad in Jerusalem

George Mitchell in Ramallah calls for "mechanism" to bring legal goods into Gaza

George Mitchell, the new U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, said after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah today that he wanted to convey the deep concern in the U.S. about the loss of Palestinian life.

Mitchell arrived in the region just days after the end of the active phase of a three-week Israeli military offensive in Gaza in which some 1,300 Palestinians died and about 5,300 were wounded, according to Palestinian figures.

There was a palpable but non-verbal reaction in the room in the Muqata’a, or Palestinian Presidential compound, where Mitchell was making remarks to the press.

Mitchell arrived in the region just days after the inauguration of new U.S. President Barak Obama, whose first overseas telephone call on his first full day in office was to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas did not join Mitchell for this statement to the press.

During the first week of the Israeli military operation against Gaza, Palestinian Authority President Abbas called off direct negotiations with Israel under the process that began in Annapolis at the end of November 2007. That process was to lead to the creation of a Palestinian state by the end of 2008 — or at the very latest, by the end of George W. Bush’s term in office on 20 January this year. Many Palestinian groups, including Hamas, have called throughout 2008 for an end to the negotiations in protest of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, and its violence against Palestinians both in the West Bank and in Gaza.

Mitchell also stated Thursday that the U.S. was also concerned about the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and added that “To be successful in preventing illegal weapons smuggling into Gaza there must be a mechanism to allow the import of legal goods — and that should be with the participation of the Palestinian Authority”.

There are probably too many mechanisms in place already, however — almost all of them under the control of the Israeli military — which do not appear to be working very well.

And, there is also the problem of allowing exports from Gaza, which have been banned for a year-and-a-half. The ban on Gaza’s flowers, strawberries, and finished goods has plunged the Gazan economy into a deep crisis, even before Israel’s recent military operation damaged a significant part of Gaza’s small-industry infrastructure.

Mitchell’s statement did not sound like a call for just throwing open the borders — as most Palestinians (and even many Europeans) would want.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has said several times that Israel would not just withdraw and “throw the keys over the border”, and let the Palestinians do whatever they want. Mostly she has been talking about the West Bank, but she has recently said this in regard to Gaza, as well.

The Agence France Press reported that Israel’s Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said again that Israel would not open the borders as long as rocket, mortar or missile fire from Gaza continued — and acknowledged that this would mean a delay in any reconstruction efforts. ” ‘To start such works, you need cement, pipes, all sorts of construction materials. If Hamas leaders want to leave this area in the state that it’s in right now, they will have to answer to the residents’.”

AFP added that Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Mitchell today that the opening of the border crossings into Gaza depended on the release of an Israeli soldier who was seized in a cross-border raid from Gaza in June 2006, and who is still believed to be held captive somewhere inside the badly-battered Gaza Strip. AFP reported that a senior Israeli official quoted Olmert as telling Mitchell that “A permanent opening of the crossings will be linked to solving the issue of Gilad Shalit”. This report can be read in full here.

AFP reported that Mitchell said, after his meeting with Olmert, that “The prime minister and I discussed the critical importance to consolidate the ceasefire, including a cessation of hostilities, an end to smuggling and re-opening of the crossings based on 2005 agreements”.

The 2005 agreement was brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It put European Union observers at the Palestinian crossing from Gaza into Egypt at Rafah — but real time images were monitored by the Israeli military at Kerem Shalom (near where Shalit was captured). The Israeli military monitors had final say on any passage through Rafah.

European Union observers left their positions at Rafah after Hamas routed Fatah security forces in Gaza in June 2007, and the crossing has been closed almost all the time since then.

Mitchell said in Ramallah today, too, that it was important to consolidate a sustainable and durable cease-fire. “Lasting peace is our objective”, he said, adding that the U.S. has a lasting commitment to “two states living side by side in peace and security”.

It was announced many times that Mitchell would not be taking any questions from the press. A U.S. official did not answer when asked if the decision to take no questions was from the American side, or from the Palestinian side.

Mitchell’s brief in the region is to “listen”.

Mitchell arrived in Israel from Cairo on Wednesday, and held talks in Tel Aviv on Wednesday and on Thursday morning. He also held talks in Jerusalem on Thursday, before going to Ramallah to meet Abbas. The Israeli officials Mitchell met include Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Ashkenazi, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and State President Shimon Peres.
Mitchell will apparently have no contact with Hamas.

Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat, who greeted Mitchell upon his arrival in the courtyard of the Muqata’a, made a brief statement to the press — and then answered one question in Arabic and one in English.

Erekat said that “It is a vital American interest to end the occupation”. He added that “We hope President Obama will shift American policy”. Erekat said that “what’s needed is to transfer the vision into two states … by ending the Israeli occupation that began in 1967″.

Then Erekat left.

The journalists were then locked into the room where the press statements had been made — and stayed locked up for 40 minutes. It was explained that this was a decision of Palestinian security, because President Abbas wanted to leave the compound. Palestinian security in Ramallah is often very heavy handed, but this had never happened before.

Bring back Rice!”, one journalist chanted, jokingly.

The new U.S. Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, said earlier this week in Washington that the new Administration “wanted to reengage vigorously from the very beginning in the Middle East”. She said that Mitchell would be carrying the message that “we’re going to be working on a series of short-term objectives with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but that we remain committed to the long-term objective of a comprehensive peace that provides security in the context of a two-state solution for the Palestinians”.

Clinton added that “we want to give him [Mitchell] the opportunity to listen and bring back his impressions and information. And we are at this moment focused only on the Israel-Palestinian track … We have, as I said, some short-term objectives such as a durable ceasefire, which as you know has receded somewhat today because of the offensive action against the IDF along the border. But of course, we’re concerned about the humanitarian suffering. We’re concerned any time innocent civilians, Palestinian or Israeli, are attacked”.

A senior Hamas official, meanwhile, separately gave from Gaza the same message as Sa’eb Erekat gave from Ramallah. In remarks to Al-Jazeera Thursday, Ismail Haniyeh appealed to U.S. President Barack Obama to change American policies in the Middle East. News agencies said that “it was not clear where the interview was taped as Haniyeh has been in hiding, fearing Israel will kill him”.

Israeli officials have suggested that Hamas leaders are hiding also because the public rage at the death and destruction inflicted on Gaza — because of Hamas, Israel says — during the three-week Israeli military offensive.

Some Palestinian officials in Ramallah have echoed the same thought.

But many Palestinians in the West Bank say they believe that Israel would have attacked Gaza anyway, even if Hamas had stopped rocket, mortar and missile fire from Gaza onto surrounding Israeli land.

Meanwhile, top Hamas officials, including Haniyeh in Gaza and Khalid Meshaal in Damascus, have now said that they do not require emergency aid or reconstruction assistance to pass through their hands.

While Hamas continues to reject any linkage between freeing Gilad Shalit and the opening of the border crossings into Gaza, they do say they are willing to engage in a long-term cease-fire with Israel if the border crossings are opened.

Shalit’s liberation, they maintain, depends on the freeing from Israeli jails of a certain number of Palestinians whose names are on a list they have submitted to negotiators. Israel is currently holding some 11,000 Palestinian prisoners or detainees.