Kerry eats a shawarma sandwich in Ramallah today

Here is the photo just Tweeted by the U.S. State Department —

@StateDept — (Photo) #SecKerry stopped by a shawarma shop for lunch in #Ramallah today.  http://flic.kr/p/eoY9a4

This is Samer Restaurant on Nablus Street in Ramallah, not very far from the Muqata’a — and that is Samer himself, opposite Kerry.

US State Dept photo of John Kerry enjoying a shawarma sandwich in Ramallah today
This photo is posted on the US State Department’s Ramallah May 23, 2013 Flickr set, here.

The food here is simple, but healthy [shawarma, bits of grilled meat pressed together with a lot of garlic, is very like Greek souvlaki… We now know from the Passport Blog investigation here that it was turkey (chicken) shawarma that Kerry had.]

Full disclosure: I bought a grilled chicken last night from Samer!

But, Kerry’s adventure in a small block of Ramallah not far from the center was breath-taking, when you see the security measures that the Palestinian President takes in town [much less the U.S. Consulate’s normal precautions]…

And, as one Palestinian official in Ramallah told me a few hours later, it was “very smart!”

He treated a few Palestinian small businessmen as if they were…well, normal people, people that anyone could have a  pleasant interaction with on a sunny spring afternoon, not people who are scary or who should be locked up behind checkpoints.

It’s amazing that the security detail allowed this highly unusual mingling with the people — while a small anti-Kerry demonstration took place a few streets away…

There was a comment on this exact point on Twitter:
Palestine Video ?@PalestineVideoPA news tried to cover protests against Kerry’s visit with news of a Shawerma stunt http://youtu.be/USt9xKAAImE  #Palestine #Video #Palestinian

The State Department photo appears in their Ramallah May 23, 2013 set on Flickr here.

It seems there were a lot of photographers snapping  pictures of this photo-op — here’s another view via @MarquardtA on Twitter:

Kerry eating a shawarma sandwich at Samer Restaurant in Ramallah
Kerry eating a shawarma sandwich at Samer Restaurant in Ramallah

 

Kerry converses with Samer of Samer Restaurant, Ramallah
Kerry converses with Samer of Samer Restaurant, Ramallah

In his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem earlier today, Kerry said:
“Let me just say to everybody I know this region well enough to know that there is skepticism. In some corridors, there’s cynicism. And there are reasons for it. There have been bitter years of disappointment. It is our hope that by being methodical, careful, patient – but detailed and tenacious – that we can lay out a path ahead that could conceivably surprise people, but certainly exhaust the possibilities of peace. That’s what we’re working towards…”

Well, this is a surprise.

UPDATE: A Ramallah taxi driver told me he noticed the whole street was closed with lots of security + presidential guards, so he quickly turned to an alternative route. The whole visit lasted mayhbe 15-20 minutes, he said.

Kerry also visited the bicycle-and-other-things shop across the street from Samer Restaurant – photo from the US Consul General in Jerusalem, here:

Kerry talks with people in the bicycle-and-other-things shop near Samer Restaurant
Kerry talks with people in the bicycle-and-other-things shop near Samer Restaurant

UPDATE: Ma’an News Agency later reported here that “Kerry’s tour [n.b. – he also visited Samer Sweet Shop across the street] followed a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas in the latter’s office in Ramallah.  Several officials attended the talks including PLO secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo, Executive Committee member Saeb Erekat, Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeina and a presidential adviereser on economic affairs. Abbas told Kerry the Palestinians were serious about resuming peace negotiations to save the two-state solution. The president also addressed ongoing settlement expansion and settler assaults against the Palestinian people in the West Bank”.

What Obama said: "Palestinians deserve a state of their own"

In his joint press conference in the Ramallah Muqata’a on Thursday, with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Obama said:
(1) “Marhaba” [Arabic for “Hi”] – This is posted on the White House website, here.
(2) “I’ve returned to the West Bank because the United States is deeply committed to the creation of an independent and sovereign state of Palestine. The Palestinian people deserve an end to occupation and the daily indignities that come with it. Palestinians deserve to move and travel freely, and to feel secure in their communities. Like people everywhere, Palestinians deserve a future of hope — that their rights will be respected, that tomorrow will be better than today and that they can give their children a life of dignity and opportunity. Put simply, Palestinians deserve a state of their own.” – This is posted on the White House website, in an edited version [which omits the text in bold, above] here, with the full version here.
(3) “Here in the West Bank, I realize that this continues to be a difficult time for the Palestinian Authority financially. So I’m pleased that in recent weeks the United States has been able to provide additional assistance to help the Palestinian Authority bolster its finances. Projects through USAID will help strengthen governance, rule of law, economic development, education and health. We consider these to be investments in a future Palestinian state*”
*Details of this assistance were revealed after Obama left the region, and will be examined in another post here.
(4) “the United States remains committed to realizing the vision of two states, which is in the interests of the Palestinian people, and also in the national security interest of Israel, the United States, and the world. We seek an independent, a viable and contiguous Palestinian state as the homeland of the Palestinian people, alongside the Jewish State of Israel — two nations enjoying self-determination, security and peace”.
Continue reading “What Obama said: "Palestinians deserve a state of their own"”

Should the UN protect Palestinians [It won't]

It was reported this morning here that the Palestinian Authority [PA] Foreign Ministry urges the UN to protect Palestinians — from “Israeli settlement building and aggression”.

He may have a point, especially in light of two excellent pieces of reporting today by Chaim Levinson in Haaretz, the most disturbing of which, published here reveals Israeli “plans to start compiling land registry records of assets controlled by settlers [in the West Bank]…[to] bypass regular tabu land-listing processes”, which, Levinson writes, “appears designed to prevent Palestinians from appealing the validity of the ownership listings”.

Among other things, this seems to suggest a slide towards extension of Israeli civil law in the West Bank — or at least the outline of a new Israeli move to annex parts of the West Bank, which has been hinted by officials and others with increasing frequency in recent months. Some will say, though, that “creeping annexation” is nothing new.

Levinson’s other piece, as complex as the subject matter itself, is published here, and reports that “Residents of the condemned West Bank outpost of Migron have appealed the High Court to stay the demolition of the settlement’s illegal structures on Tuesday, claiming that they had recently purchased the land on which the homes were built. However, a preliminary inspection of the purported sale reveals that the Palestinian whom the settlers claim sold them the land passed away in 2011, one year before the alleged transaction”. This has happened before, but there appear to be several new twists in this case.

But, it does seem absurd for the PA to be asking the UN to protect Palestinians as its security forces beat protesters brutally on Saturday and Sunday — reportedly in violation of an instruction given by the PLO Executive Committee itself. On Satuday, plainclothes men [whose existence wass later denied, despite ample photographic evidence] attacked demonstrators who were then arrested by uniformed police in broad daylight in downtown Ramallah [and then beaten some more]. See our previous post.

And, at the same time, hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank have been arrested and jailed in recent months, either by the IDF or by the PA.

The Jerusalem Post’s well-connected defense correspondent Yaakov Katz wrote a piece, just posted here which reported that “An ongoing Palestinian Authority crackdown on crime and corruption in the West Bank, including the arrest of senior security officers, is being viewed in Israel as a milestone for the PA as it imposes its rule and authority throughout the territory”.

Katz’s piece in the JPost goes on to say that “A senior IDF officer from the Central Command said the operation was yielding impressive results and was viewed as a possible ‘turning point’ for the PA as it tries to impose its authority throughout the West Bank”. Either the same or another unidentified IDF officer even reportedly told Katz that “If effective, the operation could be used by the PA as a key argument in its bid for independence and statehood by demonstrating its ability to enforce law and order and clamp down on corruption within government and security ranks”.

Then, this JPost report adds, “The Presidential Guard, a force loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, is leading the operations … While the IDF is not actively involved in the operation, it is closely following developments and has granted the PA approval to deploy additional forces in Jenin and Nablus to carry out the arrests. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has also played an assisting role in locating several Palestinian fugitives who fled from the Jenin area and returning them to PA hands”.

Now, this very same PA Security spokeman Adnan Al-Damiri — who said that no plainclothes police [despite ample photographic evidence] were involved in the repression of Saturday’s protest, and that violent individuals attacked the police and caused chaos — who was described in the JPost as “security forces spokesman Gen. Adnan Damiri” told the Israeli English-language daily that the PA arrests “would continue in order to dismantle criminal gangs in the West Bank. He said that security forces had confiscated over 100 weapons”…

According to the latest reports, the “Youth” protesters in Ramallah intend to resume their protests for a third day, later today.

Another journalist beaten in Ramallah

Does this man, who was accosted on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a nearly-empty street in central Ramallah — near his office — look armed and dangerous?

No?  Then why was he stopped by plainclothes men in broad daylight in downtown Ramallah on the fringes of a protest on Saturday, beaten, and arrested by uniformed police — then beaten again while in custody?

He was covering the demonstration and, yes, he probably was somehow involved in preparations for a protest on Saturday, held nearby, against the policies of the Palestinian leadership — yes, the same Palestinian leadership which has said that peaceful protests are allowed under the Palestinian Authority [PA].

He is also a known and recognized journalist, familiar to those in downtown Ramallah, including the Palestinian security forces.

This compilation of photos, which was posted on Twitter yesterday [Sunday] by Maath Musleh [@MaathMusleh] here. The Tweet said: PHOTO: from yesterday’s [Saturday 30 June] beating and arrest of Journalist Mohammed Jaradat #Ramallah pic.twitter.com/qCsHSEA0

Compilation of photos of beating of Palestinian journalist Mohamed Jaradat on Saturday 30 June 2012

These photos were taken on Saturday.

“Youth” protests in Ramallah continued a second night, on Sunday night, with more beatings and injuries and arrests. The privately-owned Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency reported here that “Journalists were also attacked for the second day in a row, the correspondent reported … Reuters photographer Saed al-Hawari was attacked and photographer Ahmad Musleh was arrested. A camera belonging to journalist Ahmad Ouda was confiscated”.

There is an account by Electronic Intifada blogger Jalal Abukhater — who says he was “forced to delete photos he took of Palestinian Authority (PA) police violently attacking a protestor in Ramallah on Sunday” — posted here:

    Abukhater [a 17-year-old student who just graduated from high school and a Jerusalem resident, whose father is a Palestinian journalist working with an international media organization] recounts on Electronic Intifada that: “After the police started pushing and beating protestors with sticks and batons, I managed to slip behind their line to be met with another line of police only a few meters behind. There, I was alone with my camera, I saw a guy lying on the ground being beaten by the police behind their line, I tried to take a picture but my camera was then confiscated. I was forced to delete all the pictures on my camera by the police, then my camera’s SD card was destroyed to pieces. The guy who was being beaten by the police managed to stand up – he was visibly bleeding – he was then slapped and dragged to the nearby police vehicle”.

The Electonic Intifada article also provides a link to other photos of Saturday’s protest on the Facebook page, showing the action and the results, including some impressive welts and other injuries here.

UPDATE: The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, MADA, said the assault on reporter Mohamed Jaradat “who was simply doing his job is an abuse of human rights and is a serious backward step in freedom of opinion and expression”, according to a report published by Ma’an News Agency, published here today. MADA reported: “After visiting Jaradat in a Ramallah hospital, where he is still receiving treatment, MADA said the reporter noted that he was beaten at the demonstration within sight of police, by four people in civilian clothing who belong to a police unit. Jaradat said he was then taken to a police station after his camera was confiscated, where one of his attackers said: “‘He is a journalist. Take care of him'”. ‘After that they brutally attacked me, despite me showing my press identification. They took me to the upper floor and continued to beat me with a stick, causing bleeding in my nose’, Jaradat told MADA. ‘Then they arrested me, with six other people. While they beat me, I asked to see the Director of Police who is a relative of mine and he came after an hour of detention and beatings. He apologized to me and I was released’.”

Whereas a year ago these “Youth” protesters were calling to an end to the division between Fateh and Hamas [including an end to media incitement and a complete release of Palestinian political prisoners being held by each side], as well as worldwide elections to a new PLO Palestine National Council, they are now demanding an end to the Palestinian Authority and the departure of Mahmoud Abbas. One Tweet on Saturday noted that Mahmoud Abbas said he would resign the moment there were two protesters in the street against him. [Mahmoud Abbas had a track record of resigning when the going got tough, particularly under the rule of the late Yasser Arafat, see our post on the upper left hand side of the page. More recently, as he has consolidated his hold on all the reins of Palestinian power, Mahmoud Abbas has much less frequently threatened to resign — but he has, once or twice, still done so, whenever donors were not coming up with the money needed to maintain the fragile ecosystem of “rule” symbolized by PA Ministries in Ramallah + security forces now permitted to operate in major West Bank cities].

Nearly a full day after the violence shown in the photo collage above, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said that the Palestinian Authority police had violated instructions not to interfere with the Saturday protest, which was called to protest the invitation to Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz to visit Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Muqata’a in Ramallah, which was supposed to take place on Sunday, but which was cancelled on Saturday [see our previous post].

UPDATE: The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate said in a statement issued on Sunday that “Palestinian journalist Muhammad Jaradat was beaten by non-uniformed individuals at the protest, who referred to themselves as members of the security forces … Jaradat was injured in his left eye and had bruising on his chest, back and other parts of his body … After the beating, he was taken to the Ramallah police station where he was kicked in front of police officers who did not intervene to protect him … the assault on Jaradat breaks the government’s stated commitment to freedom of expression. They called on police to urgently investigate and punish those involved in the attack”. This is reported here.

UPDATE: And, according to another report by Ma’an News Agency, “PA Minister of Interior Said Abu Ali said Monday he will form a committee to investigate clashes between police and protesters in Ramallah in the last two days … [and that] the Palestinian Authority will take all necessary legal and internal procedures in line with its commitment to freedom of expression and right to assembly. He called on all Palestinians to obey the law in order to avoid repetition of the events in Ramallah. Security forces spokesman Adnan Dmeiri had defended his forces on Sunday, saying fighting only broke out when protesters tried to reach the presidential headquarters, which police are required to stop as protesting there is forbidden. He said police were investigating who was behind the protest, saying the ‘agendas of those unknown movements are to create chaos and harm security and attack Palestinian police’. But the forceful reaction to the protests drew criticism from some Palestinian officials who said the police were under standing orders not to intervene”. So, the situation is again unclear and chaotic.

Continue reading “Another journalist beaten in Ramallah”

Solidarity protests at the ICRC in Ramallah on Thursday to demand international action in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails

This morning, solidarity protesters showed up at the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC]  in Ramallah, in support of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails on hunger strike:

Solidarity protests at the ICRC in Ramallah on Thurs 10 May - photo posted on Facebook by Radio Ajyal

Photo by Radio Ajyal, posted on Facebook here

Hamas figure dies in Nablus, condolences cause traffic jam

It was so hot. It was the second hot day, after a long and dreary winter, one of the worst in recent years, most people here agree.

And then, unexpectedly, there was such heavy traffic. It came to a standstill in the village of Huwwara, just south of Nablus. It was so hot, and the traffic was so bad…

The reason, I was told, was the large number of people coming to Nablus to give their condolences and pay respect for the death of a religious scholar and Hamas figure who was also an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council:

    * Bumper-to-bumper traffic going thru Huwwara village to Nablus after news of death of Sheikh Hamed al-Betawi – background story here.

    * Unprecedented traffic between Ramallah + Nablus afternoon said to be officials going to pay condolences on death of Hamas scholar

    * Can demonstration of respect upon news of death of Nablus’ Hamas MP+scholar be extrapolated to predict results of next elections [if held]?

    * Religious leaders and scholars are due to drive to Nablus on Friday to express their condolences upon death of Hamas MP + religious scholar

    * Completing the picture, Ma’an reports that Fadel Beitawi, 33 [son of Hamas Sheikh] was detained Monday [just three days before his father’s death] by IDF after a pre-dawn raid on home in Nablus

    * Though Sheikh al-Betawi himself was arrested by the IDF several times, the arrest of his son coming so soon after the Sheikh’s recent heart surgery could not have helped his medical condition.

    * Despite who he is, the Sheikh did get a permit to go for treatment to a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem, on part of the Mount of Olives, where he is reported to have died.

    * IDF presence discretely reduced along the way to Nablus [+ back], as what must have been thousands went for condolences on death of the Hamas learned scholar and MP, Sheikh Hamed al-Betawi.

Rallies in Ramallah + other West Bank cities supporting UN bid

Rallies are taking place in cities around the West Bank today, organized by the non-official but officially-approved “National Committee – Palestine: UN State 194”.

Palestine TV, which is covering the Ramallah rally live, listed a series of uninspiring speeches for demo in ex-Clock Square [now Yasser Arafat Sq] in Ramallah, then performance by Al-Ashaqeen.

At the start of today’s events, Palestine TV was showing split screen: rallies in both Ramallah + Nablus. Moment ago: melodius intonation of Quranic verse.

Main official speaker in Ramallah is Tayyib Abdur-Rahman, addressing Ramallah rally now. Imagine if Mahmoud Abbas were speaking live, via satellite hook-up…

Next major demonstration planned for Friday — the day Mahmoud Abbas is due to address the UN General Assembly, and the day he has said he will present [to the UNSG BAN Ki-Moon, who must then transmit it to the UN Security Council] the official Palestinian request for full membership in the UN.

As we Tweeted yesterday [@Marianhouk]:
– Palestinian WBank secondary school students free to participate tomorrow in pro-PalState194 rally, leaflets distributed Monday in schools
– Excitement + enthusiasm said to be high among WBank students before demo, but level of information about what’s going on seems rather low
– Surprised to hear that many students apparently believe that Palestine Papers, Al-Jazeera programs on negotiations, are malicious fakes

Unmistakably, Qalandia Checkpoint

The Israeli military checkpoint at Qalandia, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, in the heat of the day (early) – but why is it closed?

No cars are moving in either direction.

Was there a demonstration on the other side?

It looks neat and clean and orderly, right?  This is deceptive.  This checkpoint processes many tens of thousands of people, cars, huge trucks with huge industrial loads, and more, every single day.  But, at this moment, it is closed…

Photos (apparently taken on 12 July) by Xavier Abu Eid, posted on Facebook:

Qalandia - closed - July 2011

Qalandia - more

Qalandia - closed in both directions

Picasso in Palestine — UPDATED

Yes, there is one — just one — Picasso work on display now in the International Art Academy of Palestine (IAAP) in Ramallah.

It is Picasso’s Buste de Femme (1943), which the IAAP says is one of Picasso’s “most iconic works”, on loan from the collection of the Van Abbe museum in Eindhoven (in the Netherlands).

Picasso in Palestine

The IAAP says, in their invitation to the exhibit, that “The work is one of the most outspoken examples of Picasso’s expressionistic period — a period in which he spoke out in response to the Spanish Civil War. Perhaps through his work we are able to talk about and imagine conditions in relation to cultural rights and struggles in other places and times too”.

[It should be noted that the Spanish Civil War — in which an estimated 500,000 died in battles and purges between conservatives allied with fascists who eventually won against an elected socialist government — was fought from 1936 to 1939, and Picasso’s Guernica was one of the most famous artistic works inspired by that cruel conflict.  It is perfectly possible that Picasso was still inspired by the Spanish Civil War in 1943, when he painted this Buste de Femme now on display in Ramallah — but it is more likely that the horrors elsewhere in Europe during the Second World War, from 1939 to 1945, just might have occupied greater place in his consciousness at that time…]

Picasso’s Buste de Femme (1943) is on view at the IAAP in Ramallah, behind the Arab Bank branch, across from the Friend’s School football field, until 22 July.

UPDATE: It is with mixed feelings that we report, on 21 July, that the IDF spokespersons unit has announced here that this exhibition of Picasso’s Buste de Femme could not have taken place without their “facilitation” and “coordination” — as if we could have forgotten, for an instant that the West Bank is under a full Israeli military occupation, and that the only real ruler of the West Bank is the Israeli Defense Minister, who at the moment is Ehud Barak.

“For the past month, the International Academy of Art Palestine (IAAP) in Ramallah exhibited the $4.3 million painting, allowing Palestinians to experience the most valuable work of art to have ever been exhibited in the area. As part of a larger project, IAAP documented its experience in requesting, transferring, exhibiting and returning the famous work of art”.

Apparently, the exhibit ended on 21 July (though the Palestinian announcement said it would continue “until 22 July”.

Among its good works in this connection, the IDF noted that “Due to special circumstances, Israel waived the mandatory 15% security deposit on all important artwork”. In its press release, the IDF noted that the painting was worth $4.3 million — which means that if Israel had applied its own mandatory requirement in the West Bank, the Palestinian Art Academy would have been required to post a deposit of $675,000…

The IDF press release notes that “Today [21 July], the Israeli Civil Administration assisted in the passage of Pablo Picasso’s famous painting, ‘Buste de Femme’, 1943, coordinating its shipment from Ramallah to the Netherlands“.

Another useful thing we learn from this press release is that “The Israeli Civil Administration was pleased to contribute to this endeavor and will continue to assist in all future artistic and cultural efforts”.

More than that, this press release gives us a very useful working definition of what the “Israeli Civil Administration” actually is: “The Israeli Civil Administration is a government and IDF body, which runs local Palestinian civil matters and cares for their well-being. The administration is composed of Israelis, Palestinians, IDF soldiers and officers and others from around the world. It does not work with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”.

Who, do you suppose, are the “others from around the world”???

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The Israeli Peace Initiative is the Arab Peace Initiative-plus, with a better name?

The announcement came by email today, from Ben Or, an Israeli PR firm in Tel Aviv.

The email says: “President Abbas has invited the leadership of the Israel Peace Initiative to the Mukaata [sic] in Ramallah to present their new regional peace initiative. The invitation follows the Palestinian President’s recent statement regarding his willingness to relinquish the plan to appeal to the UN General Assembly, if the political negotiations, based on the ’67 borders, are renewed”.

A report by Israel National News today — along the same lines — said Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told Israel Radio “that Washington is attempting to convince its European allies that a unilateral declaration of statehood for the Western-backed Palestinian Authority will bring conflict and not peace”, and that “Israel is trying to renew negotiations with the PA in order to draft an agreement of two states for two nations in the Land of Israel”. The report is posted here.

So, if these two assertions are correct, both the Palestinian and the Israeli leaderships are looking for a way to create a Palestinian State by September. Could that be true?

One of the problems with the email sent out by the Israeli PR firm about tomorrow’s [Thursday’s] meeting at the Muqataa is that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seems not to have made the statement attributed.

It was Yasser Abed Rabbo who said it — he is Secretary (and member) of the PLO Executive Committee, and he is also head of Palestinian Television, and he was (and still may be) the head of the Palestinian team in the “civil society” Geneva Initiative [signed December 2003]. He reportedly said it in an interview in the London paper Al-Hayat, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz here.

There are, in fact, a number of signatories to the Israeli Peace Initiative who are associated with the Geneva Initiative. Before he was elected President, Abbas himself was involved in drafting the Geneva Initiative through the efforts of his staff member Ghaith al-Omary, now at the American Task Force on Palestine in Washington D.C. This is one of several indications of the tacit approval given was to the effort by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Israeli former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin was Yasser Abed Rabbo’s counterpart, and Beilin’s staff assistant Daniel Levy, now also in Washington at the New American Foundation, was al-Omary’s counterpart in the drafting process.

The Geneva Initiative was viewed with hostility in Israel — mainly because the Israeli government at the time said it had not been informed in advance. The Swiss government, which did give substantial diplomatic and financial support to the Geneva Initiative, was surprised and flustered by the Israeli rejection. The Swiss support since then has fluctuated. Other European states, the United Nations, and the U.S. were cool — though former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was at the signing ceremony in Geneva on 1 December 2003.

Since then, the Geneva Initiative Israeli team has been much more active than the Palestinian team — though they seem to have revived a bit, and recently held a meeting in Nablus on the Right of Return, one of the points in the Geneva Initiative most criticized by Palestinians and their supporters.

A recent Tweet from the Israeli Geneva Initiative office (@genevaaccord on Twitter) said, based on the Haaretz report, that: “Geneva Initiative’s cofounder Yasser Abed Rabbo: PA prefers negotiations to unilateral declaration of Palestinian… http://fb.me/y2FruuVl”

According to the Haaretz report, “The Palestinian Authority will defer its attempts to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state at the United Nations if “real and serious” negotiations with Israel begin, an official was quoted saying Monday. Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization Yasser Abed Rabbo told London-based Al-Hayat newspaper on Monday that the basis of any negotiated agreement must be according to ‘the 1967 borders, very limited exchange of land and no exchanges of populations’. Abed Rabbo called on the Middle East quartet, comprised of the UN, the European Union, the United States and Russia to ‘tackle these negotiations in accordance with the timetable we previously agreed on, which ends in September’, he told the London-based daily … ‘Otherwise’, the PLO official said, ‘we will go to the United Nations, then ask them to deal with the military presence and the Israeli settlements as an assault on the sovereignty of another state, which is a member of the United Nations’. He added that ‘these are the two solutions for international powers, especially Washington. We do not have a third option’. Abed Rabbo said that the PA will honor all of its internal and external obligations as a formal state, but that it would not accept Israeli military or civilian presence in its territories”…

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has never said anything publicly like this, and has continued to insist that the Palestinians would present their request for recognition of a Palestinian state to the UN in September.

Given the track record, however, that doesn’t mean he disagrees with the proposition.

Maybe there is something in the works that we all don’t know about, yet.

The head of President Abbas’ press office, Mohamed Edwan, said Wednesday “No, the President has never said that he was willing to relinquish this plan” if political negotiations are renewed. However, Edwan noted, “if we reach that [a Palestinian state] by negotiation by September, that would logically change the current plan, IF…”

The website of the Israeli Peace Initiative, we are informed by today’s email, is here.

The email sent out by the Israeli PR firm also says that “The Israeli Peace Initiative is a new regional peace initiative, calling upon the Israeli government to take action that will ensure the existence of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State, its security and prosperity, and also to ensure normal relations between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world, and not be dragged along by the political events. More than 70 Israeli leaders from the fields of economy, defense, education, media, diplomacy and academy have already signed the initiative”.

This is the same Israeli PR company that is representing another group of Israelis who made their own recent peace initiative in Tel Aviv last week, the Declaration of Independence from the Occupation (as we wrote about here yesterday, see our post, A Tale of Two Translations, here.

Though both groups are represented by the same Israeli PR firm, only one is being taken to the Muqataa tomorrow to present their plan to the Palestinian President.

Is this a conflict of interest? Does one group of Israelis simply pay a better retainer to the Israeli PR firm?

Or are their other reasons for this selection? Does the Palestinian leadership prefer to deal with ex-military and ex-security officials? Does it judge that they have a greater chance of success? Does it feel that this particular group of Israelis will be in a better position to make accusations against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if there is no other development between now and September? Is it the linkage (though not explicit) with the Geneva Initiative part of the charm?

This Israeli Peace Initiative has already been welcomed by the U.S. as a “positive contribution”, according to a report by AFP posted here.

That, of course, is polite, but falls short of a full endorsement. It’s not a cold shoulder, however.

According to AFP, the U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said: “We remain committed to achieving an agreement… we also support the goal of fully normalized relations between Israel and the Arab world … We welcome all ideas to achieve those goals and we look forward to hearing more about the Israel peace initiative. We believe it could possibly make a positive contribution”.

Akiva Eldar, Israeli journalist who is big supporter of Arab Peace plan, and one of the signers of this new Israeli Peace Initiative, has said that the biggest problem, for Israelis, with the Arab Peace Initiative is its name.

This is not a joke.

A number of other Israelis I’ve questioned over the last three years all agree — Israel can never sign on to an “Arab Peace Initiative”. It has to be Israeli, they said.

So, now we have it — the Israeli Peace Initiative (proposed by private Israelis, not the government).

However, it is written as if by the government.

The full text of the proposed Israeli Peace Initiative [IPI], posted here.

Continue reading “The Israeli Peace Initiative is the Arab Peace Initiative-plus, with a better name?”