Palestinian "bold opening offer" in proximity talks?

The Wall Street Journal has reported that “Palestinian negotiators have surprised Washington with a bold opening offer to White House peace envoy George Mitchell that includes concessions on territory beyond those offered in past Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, according to officials briefed on the current negotiations”.

Continue reading Palestinian "bold opening offer" in proximity talks?

Palestinian negotiator Sa'eb Erekat travels to Tel Aviv to appeal to Israeli audience to give Mitchell a chance

Chief Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat travelled to Tel Aviv Sunday night to plead with an audience of Israeli policy analysts and journalists to give the new American-led peace talks a chance.

“Many believe peace can’t be done now — it’s the elitist and sophisticated way of thinking today”, Erekat told his audience at the Israeli Institute of National Security Studies, adjacent to Tel Aviv University. “I beg to differ — but I’m not trying to export either fear or hope”.

Erekat said that “the Number One priority is a two state solution”.

Proximity talks began last week, Erekat indicated, adding that “hopefully this week we’ll have the second round”. In these talks, he said, “I’m going to demonstrate that for the Palestinian leadership, President Abbas is ready for the end game”.

Contradicting claims published in recent Israeli press reports, Erekat said that during the Annapolis direct negotiations, the Palestinian President had, indeed, responded to an offer made by Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Continue reading Palestinian negotiator Sa'eb Erekat travels to Tel Aviv to appeal to Israeli audience to give Mitchell a chance

The Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and lives – continued – 21 years after the Proclamation of a State of Palestine

Today is the 21st anniversary of the Proclamation, by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at a meeting on 15 November 1988 of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s National Council (PNC) in Algiers, of the still-unrealized State of Palestine.

Still, today is marked as Palestinian Independence Day, here in Ramallah and the rest of the West Bank, and in Gaza as well — and also in East Jerusalem (though there, where I also live, it will have to be surreptitiously, because the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, and the Israeli national and Border Police, are mobilized against any manifestation, however far-removed, of the “authority” of the Palestinian Authority…)

And today, we are informed by YNet, the Israeli English-language website of the country’s most popular Hebrew-language daily paper, Yediot Ahronot, that “Palestinian plans to possibly unilaterally declare a state continue to yield reactions in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to reject the increasingly strengthening Palestinian imitative during his speech at the Saban Forum in Jerusalem on Sunday“. YNet added that Netanyahu “will warn the Palestinians against moving forward with the initiative, emphasizing Israel’s objection, and will stress that the solution for the establishment of a Palestinian state can be found in negotiations with Israel. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned in a speech at the Saban Forum on Saturday that a withdrawal to the 1967 borders will not end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. ‘A return to 1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria will not end the conflict, but rather, shift it into Israel’s borders’, he said, adding that such circumstances would prompt Arab-Israeli demands for autonomy in the Galilee and the Negev”. This YNet report can be viewed in full here

Yasser Arafat himself was strongly warned against “unilaterally” declaring a state, as he had “threatened” to do, in 1999 and in 2000 (after the end of the five-year “transition” period of Palestinian autonomy that was agreed in the Oslo Accords, and just before the start of the Second Palestinian Intifada that was sparked by a militarized visit of Israel’s Ariel Sharon to the mosque plateau known to Palestinians as the Haram ash-Sharif, the third-holiest site in Islam, which Jews believe is the site of the Second and possibly also the First Jewish Temple, the central focus of the most sacred site in Judaism.)

Here are a few bare facts of the day from the English-language publication in Israel, the Jerusalem Post, (generally considered more right-wing than the English-language version of the Israeli paper, Haaretz). [The JPost and the Ma’an News Agency in Bethlehem are the only two media covering such news as this] —

(1) This report is talking about the Israeli-occupied West Bank:
Nov 15, 2009 8:09
IDF troops detain 4 Palestinian fugitives in West Bank ops
“IDF troops detained four Palestinian fugitives Saturday overnight near Ramallah and Bethlehem. The military said all detainees were transferred to security forces for interrogation”. This JPost report can be read in full here.
These reports appear several times a week, sometimes daily. The Palestinians (men, usually) who are seized, often from their beds, are variously described as “suspects”, “fugitives”, “wanted”, and so on. No one ever really bothers to ask what happens to these people. Most often, they are eventually, if not immediately, taken out of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) to jails inside Israel, which is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. (Today it was reported that the Arab League has decided to request an advisory opinion from the UN’s International Court of Justice in The Hague about Palestinian and Arab (yes, there are others, from Lebanon, Syria, and other countries, some of whom are explicitly being held in exchange for release of information about missing Israelis) prisoners in Israeli jails

(2) This report is talking about the State of Israel:
Nov 15, 2009 9:48 | Updated Nov 15, 2009 9:52
Border Police arrest 252 illegals over weekend
“Border Police arrested 252 illegal aliens over the weekend. The Palestinian illegals were working in Israel without permits. Three people were arrested for employing the illegals and thirteen on suspicion of transporting them”. This JPost report can be read in full here.
These reports appear once every couple of months. Often, the figures are larger — 1000 or 1,500 “illegal aliens” from the West Bank, who are working in Israel, often with the complicity of Israeli employers who can, among other things, pay them a lower wage with fewer benefits…

Then, let’s take a step back and try to understand what is going on here.

Suad Amiry, a Syrian-born Palestinian architect who came to Ramallah to teach at Bir Zeit in the 1980s and who now heads the Ramallah-based organization Riwaq, dedicated to preserving Palestinian architecture, has written a new book entitled Murad, Murad, about the life of Palestinian West Bankers who — despite The Wall and Israeli bureaucratic and military restructions — continue to try to work in Israel. (Her earlier book, Sharon and my Mother-in-Law, chronicled life under house confinement during the forceful military Israeli re-occupation of Ramallah in 2002). Suad Amiry said in an interview published in the Summer issue (number 38) of the Jerusalem Quarterly that: “We who are professionals in Ramallah are able to make a living away from Israel. It’s difficult to understanding the complexity of Murad and other workers’ relation to Israel. Murad went to Israel when he was 13. All his growing up happened there. He is oppressed, beaten, and lately has been put in prison – but in a strange way, Israel is also his home. In this contradictory relation, he is more like the Palestinians inside Israel”. The Jerusalem Quarterly interview reports that “Suad tells a story of lives that are largely invisible – invisible to her before her journey, and invisible to much of the Palestinian public, as well as to the world. She notes that when the Palestinian Authority didn’t pay salaries [to its employees, over half of whom work for the security services] for several months, it was the talk of the town. But Murad told her: ‘Why the big fuss? When we are thrown into prison, no one helps us’. In the year 2000, there were about 100,000 West Bankers workers in Israel, with many more family members dependent on their work. While numbers fluctuate today, it is no exaggeration to say that the lives and rights of a substantial proportion of the population are rarely acknowledged … Suad Amiry’s new book, Murad, Murad, scheduled for publication in Italian in the summer of 2009, is the story of her eighteen-hour journey in 2007 with Murad, an ‘illegal’ Palestinian worker and his friends, as they attempt to cross the ‘border’ into Israel and find work. Starting off at midnight from the village of Mazra el Noubani, in the Ramallah-area, a group of workers, accompanied by Suad in male disguise and Mohammed, Murad’s brother who is a colleague of Suad, set off in a rackety bus on a journey that resembled a maze, as they struggle to avoid army patrols, skirt the Wall, walk through ditches, orchards and tunnels to reach the ‘other side’ and work in Israel … Murad, who has worked in Israel since he was thirteen and is utterly determined to continue to work there, despite the enormous odds against him”. This is published in the Summer issue of Jerusalem Quarterly, and posted on the internet here.

Another article in the same issue of the Jerusalem Quarterly is an excerpt of remarks made earlier this year by leading Palestinian academic and writer, who has also participated in multilateral negotiations under the Madrid Process, Salim Tamari, in a discussion at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which were summarized in the Summer 2009 issue (no. 38) of the Jerusalem Quarterly, which he edits, for the Institute for Jerusalem Studies, which he heads. The Institute for Jerusalem Studies (a branch of the Institute for Palestinian Studies) was formerly located in Jerusalem, but was forced by Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement to re-locate to Ramallah. Salim Tamari is commenting, here, on an analysis also presented at MIT in a discussion last February at the Department for Urban Planning, by Israeli academic Eyal Weizman:
An Architectural Laboratory of the Extreme? Reflections on Weizman’s Hollow Land by Salim Tamari
“Eyal Weizman’s Hollow Land is the first systematic study of Israel’s regime of spatial control, combining the insights of political geography, architecture, semiotics, theories of counterinsurgency, and an appreciation for the shifting ideological tenants of Zionism and the history of settler regimes. It combines a majestic sweep of broad conceptual paradigms about population control, with a meticulous examination of the detailed mechanisms of such control and the thinking among military strategists who plan it, as well as their willing and unwilling accomplices among them. Those are the social scientists, contractors, and service providers who cater to their vision, and who often provide humanitarian services to mitigate the dire human costs and the disastrous results of these strategies. One of the most rewarding features of this study is the manner in which it posits architectural knowledge and affiliated disciplines in social science, engineering and politics as partners, willing or sometimes unconscious, in the process of colonial conquest. The study provokes a number of issues that are only partly examined, and in need of elaboration. Here are some of them, listed briefly as questions:

The Process of ‘Distanciation’. One of the most significant achievements of the Oslo Agreement from an Israeli governmental perspective (as pointed out in The Hollow Land) is the creation of a spatial geography of fragmentation in which the de-linking of the Palestinian and Israeli population has enhanced the legitimacy of occupation. This happened through withdrawal to the periphery of urban areas and handing over the administrative control and welfare of 80 percent of the Palestinians, in areas A and B, to the Palestinian Authority. In effect it created conditions for population control from a distance, either through surveillance and checkpoints, or through administrative autonomy by a non-sovereign Palestinian regime.

But the process is not complete. Rural areas in region C, the settlements, and the greater Jerusalem area (outside the municipal borders), remained zones of direct military control. Arab Jerusalem also continued to be ruled directly, but was separated both from other Palestinian communities and from Palestinian leadership. To a large extent the process removed the physicality of the confrontation and therefore made the tactics of civil insurrection and strategy of disobedience (which defined the first uprising) virtually impossible. No alternative resistance strategy since then evolved partly due to the absence of physical encounters, but also due to the absence of a leadership.

One area where I differ with Weizman is over the issue of the illusion of sovereignty, which he illustrated through the semiotics of the one-way mirror: the example from the pre-intifada period was the presence and power of Israeli officials at the King Hussein/Allenby bridge who used a one-way mirror to monitor (and approve or disapprove ) Palestinian passage. I do not believe that there was an “illusion of sovereignty” here, and it did not need the conditions of dusk to unravel the real power behind the mirror. What existed rather is rather a consensual delusion in which Palestinians (as in La Vita è Bella) shared in the self-deception in order to make life more tolerable knowing that they could not resolve the issue of sovereignty, given the existing power relationship between them and the Israelis.

Normalization of Occupation?

One consequence of removing the physical military presence in the major urban areas has been to create a sense of normalcy. Weizman refers to the normalization of the ‘absurd’ system of population control through filtering checkpoints. The system creates a mechanism of routinization of arbitrary military control that is internalized by the subject population, leading to protocols of acceptance through negotiating its loopholes (permits, exceptions, smuggling). But this system of normalization of oppression has built-in weaknesses that undermine its own sense of normalcy.

Two features of this system are its unpredictability and irrationalism. It is supposed to create mechanisms of control in order to prevent penetration, circumvention and deceit. But in overdoing its objective of population control it leads to immense resentment and conditions of rebellion. A relevant question here is why does the system resort to extreme humiliation of the population when such humiliation defeats its function of security control?

The question of agency in Weizman’s analysis is also problematic. The system of control chartered by the author produces an occupation regime that is all pervasive. Does the cunning adaptation of the subject Palestinian population to this regime through subversion of building regulation and getting around the blockade, constitute resistance to the regime, or a normalization of oppression?

The System is over-designed. Weizman skillfully draws an architectural system of control that is omnipotent and omnipresent. The regime of population control through the technology of monitoring and surveillance; of countless filtering systems; of segmented road systems; of counter-insurgency through predicting every possible contingency of the enemy and pre-empting it, is ultimately overdesigned. It ostensibly operates through open and closed spaces, underground and in the air, and through the bureaucratic regime of permits and civil administration. By investing so much conceptual capital in detailing its omnipotence Weizman produces a paradigm that is hermetically sealed and has the force of nature. There seems to be no escape from it.

Even on the intellectual plane, in this paradigm the military commanders have captured the terrain, utilizing critical theory, Foucault, Deleuze (and Marx, in the case of the Village Leagues) to (successfully) engineer a counter-revolutionary reality. The weakness of this paradigm is that it overdetermines the omnipotence of the hegemonic power by attributing to it exaggerated capacities of control both at logistic and intellectual levels. It leaves unexamined its own contradictions; its misadventures; its control by politicians who have myopic ideological visions, whose thirst for land grabbing will make them choke on excessive expansion of limited economic capacities; and who seem to behave as if they are independent from the world around them. But after all, as Weizman points out in “Demographic Architecture,” it is indeed remarkable that Israel’s planning policies in Jerusalem have not succeeded in transferring the requisite number of Palestinians outside of the city; even the most powerful do not operate in a laboratory where they control all the elements”. These comments, and more, can be viewed in full on the Jerusalem Quarterly website,

NOTE: The Two-State Solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has, since the Second Palestinian Intifada, become the central credo of Israel and American diplomacy, and thus also of “international” efforts (backed by the European Union and the United Nations). However, there is still no Palestinian state. After returning to power in February general elections, the current Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu resisted for months agreeing to this Two-State formula, and only did so in a speech months later at Bar Ilan University, in which Netanyahu posed several major limiting conditions. Opposition leader (and former Israeli Defense Minister) Shaul Mofaz has just proposed Israeli support for a Palestinian State on 50-60 percent of the West Bank (excluding existing Israeli settlements, which would remain under Israeli sovereignty). As the climate has deteriorated, with intense Palestinian disappointment in the position of Barak Obama’s Administration, Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat has “threatened” that the Palestinian Authority is ready to jettison its commitment to the Two-State Solution, and to mobilize behind a theoretical “One-State solution” — by which is generally meant Palestinians and Israelis living together with full and equal rights, as if they had the choice… But this option it is not on the table. The only alternative to the Two-State solution now appears to be a continuation of more of the same, with continued direct Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem — now officially ruled by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, with limited autonomy given to the present Palestinian Authority and its security forces, and also of Gaza (where Hamas may or may not be allowed to continue its present “de facto” rule if it becomes a “responsible address” that Israel can count on to limit attacks against Israel. It is not terribly surprising that the powerful Israeli military leadership opposes ending the occupation — they feel more comfortable being in control, and they would like a 25, 50, or 100-year period to continue the current status quo, with checkpoints and all (perhaps even inside Israel, certainly also in the Golan Heights), to see if the Palestinians have peaceful intentions, these Israeli miltary officials say, after which they might begin to consider talking about territory. The impression is given that they would not mind if all of Israel, or even all of the world, became like the West Bank… But this current status quo is, simply, unsustainable. What will happen next is unclear…

Three-way meeting at UN in New York not going down well in the region

U.S. President Obama went public with his plea/request/invitation for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to meet him at the UN in New York on Tuesday , on the margins of the annual high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly.

The invitation came after Obama’s Special Envoy George Mitchell’s extended efforts in the region this week to get the Israeli government to agree to a settlement freeze so the Palestinian leadership could agree to resume negotiations they broke off during the IDF military operation in Gaza this past winter (Operation Cast Lead). Mitchell even went back and forth between Jerusalem and Ramallah four times on Friday, during terrible traffic on the last Friday in Ramadan, and as the Palestinians prepared for the big Eid holiday, and Israelis prepared for the Rosh Hashonah New Year’s weekend (which of course required a TOTAL CLOSURE of the West Bank until midnight on Tuesday).

Anyone who wants to recap that run-around can read a summary account in Haaretz here. This article also reports that “A senior source at the Prime Minister’s Bureau said Sunday that the Palestinians were the ones who ‘folded’ after they refused a meeting with Netanyahu. ‘They made militant statements but in the end they will come’, the source said. Senior officials at the U.S. administration have also stressed that there has been no major breakthrough and that the differences between the sides have remained unchanged since U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, departed the area on Friday afternoon. U.S. officials said that they expected no declaration of the negotiations’ resumption at the end of the meeting, and the talks on this issue would continue in the coming weeks. The aim is to resume the negotiations by the first half of October”.

Of course, the Palestinians could not be so rude as to refuse Obama’s invitation — despite earlier remarks about their refusing to cave in. It’s no big deal, suggested Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat, who was recently elected to the Fatah Central Committee, and to the PLO Executive Committee — it’s just a meeting, it doesn’t mean that negotiations will resume.

But, they probably will.

Just hours earlier, Erekat said there was “zero chance” of a meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA in NY …]

Now, it will be up to Obama to squeeze the Israeli leadership for a big concession.

Continue reading Three-way meeting at UN in New York not going down well in the region

Sari Nusseibeh is surprise candidate for Fatah Central Committee

In a surprise move (rumored a week ago by Fatah activists in Jerusalem), Sari Nusseibeh has thrown his hat into the ring of Palestinian high politics, and is running as a candidate for Fatah’s Central Committee.

Nusseibeh is regarded as a master politician, and the move as highly tactical.

He has also been denounced for what is generally called political “moderation” — though longer explanation would be required to describe exactly what that means in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and internal Palestinian politics. He retreated tactically for years into his work of building up Al-Quds (Jerusalem) University, now behind The Wall in Abu Dis; he formerly taught philosophy at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah.

But, for those who want to ensure Fatah’s appeal to the “international community”, Nusseibeh would be an important choice.

If this Fatah Conference is an “Abu Mazen show” — as many delegates and media observers claim — then Sari Nusseibeh’s candidacy can be seen as a result of effective back-room lobbying. It is unlikely that he would have nominated himself without prior assurances of big support from Abu Mazen.

However, Palestinian analysts at the Bethlehem conference say that they doubt he has a reach chance among the general delegates to the conference. “He was the first person to sell out the Palestinian right of return, and he is a member of Fatah”, said one analyst, “while Fatah’s position remains that the right to return is an inalienable right of the Palestinian people”.

Nusseibeh himself did not join the active campaigning, and was not hopping from table to table or making and receiving promises at the Jacir Palace International Hotel in Bethlehem — or even at the Bethlehem Hotel where slightly less prominent delegates were staying.

I did see him walk, alone, with one colleague, out of the Terra Sancta meeting hall on Saturday afternoon, going towards a car park to leave.

Nusseibeh was appointed the PLO representative in Jerusalem following the death of Faisal Husseini in 2001, but his attempts at activism were blocked by Israel’s reprisal policy of suppressing Palestinian political activity in East Jerusalem that was developed in response to Palestinian attacks upon Israelis at the start of the Second Intifada. He was arrested several times, and he was beaten several times as well, including by student Fatah activists, then withdrew into academia.

He did foray back into politics briefly in 2003 when he and the former head of the Israeli secret service (Shin Bet) Ami Ayalon (who is definitely not an adept politician) launched an initiative — which Nusseibeh, at least, still supports — called “The People’s Voice”, whose aim is to mobilize grassroots support for a two state solution with a return to 1967 borders, Jerusalem as an open city, and a right of return of Palestinian refugees to a (demilitarized) Palestinian state, and Jews having a right of return only to Israel. The “Peoples Voice” is a sort of competition for the Geneva Initiative launched by Yasser Abed Rabbo, now Secretary-General of the PLO, and Yossi Beilin, an Israeli politician who headed the left-wing Meretz Party and who served as the Minister of Justice under Ehud Barak.

In a rare meeting with journalists a year ago, sponsored by Media Central a West Jerusalem organization that tries to help reporters better cover Israel, which we reported here, Nusseibeh announced that he had urged visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a meeting organized by embassy officials to introduce Brown prominent Jerusalem Palestinians, to “think very seriously about stopping aid to the Palestinians”. [Nusseibeh’s wife, Lucy, is British.] The suggestion, aimed to shock but nonetheless apparently quite serious, ran at counterpurposes to Brown’s visit to the region, which was aimed in part at promoting an “economic road map” to help improve conditions for the Palestinian people living under occupation as a kind of political incentive. The British Prime Minister seemed surprised and taken aback by his suggestion, Nusseibeh said. So, he said, he was bringing his proposal to the media: “My suggestion is to stop this (the European aid)”, Nusseibeh said. “The money being donated is just being wasted”, he said: “It is just sustaining the occupation”. Nusseibeh explained that “The Israelis are happy because they do not have to pay the cost of the occupation. The Europeans are happy because they feel they are doing their part by providing economic assistance … and the Palestinians are happy because we have jobs and we feel free.”

But, Nusseibeh said, “Israel cannot have its cake and eat it, too … Israel cannot continue occupying us and having European Union funds and American dollars”.

The Fateh General Conference decided on Saturday that the first new Central Committee in 20 years will have 18 elected members, plus four Presidential appointees that will have to be gain approval by a two-thirds majority of the Central Council and also of its larger Revolutionary Council.

Voting is now expected to start on Sunday night, and continue into the early morning hours of Monday.

UPDATE: voting is now expected to start at 3 pm on Sunday, and end around midnight. Counting the results is expected to take many hours, and conference planners say the results will not be known until Tuesday morning.

There are now 103 candidates (one withdrew overnight) for the 18 seats in the Central Committee, and some 650 candidates for the Revolutionary Council.

A dramatically more relaxed and lively — even charismatic — Mahmoud Abbas was appointed party President by acclamation on Saturday afternoon, and there were outbursts of flag waving and debka dancing around the hall, despite the 65 votes against the proposal (out of more than 2000 attendees). His new style mesmerized Palestinian journalists and security men watching the scene in the Bethlehem Peace Center, which is also serving as a sort of minimalist press center, on Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born.

Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency reported today that “The total number of participants in the conference reached 2,325, including 25 Palestinians who were deported from Bethlehem during the siege of the Nativity Church in 2002“. This report can be read in full here .

Continue reading Sari Nusseibeh is surprise candidate for Fatah Central Committee

Maher Hanoun in East Jerusalem: "We do not want any tent – we want our home"

In the early morning hours on Sunday, Israeli Border Police broke into the homes of the Hanoun and Ghawi families in Sheikh Jarrah, north of the Old City but still part of downtown East Jerusalem, and forcibly expelled at gunpoint three families from one building (only one of them was under court expulsion order) and four from another (there, only one was under court expulsion order).

Over 50 Palestinian refugees (from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war) immediately became homeless, with nowhere to go. No provisions were made to care for their household possessions or to shelter them by the Israeli authorities who have administered the area since their conquest in the June 1967 war, and who had ordered the expulsions to be carried out.

Sunday night, the Hanoun and Ghawi families were out on the streets. “The Red Cross came and offered us tents”, said Maher Hanoun, “But we do not want any tent. We do not want rations of rice and sugar. We want to return to our home”.

Just after the eviction operation, settlers moved in, protected by the Israeli Border Police.

Israeli settlers move into Hanoun home in Sheikh Jarrah - 2 August 2009

Continue reading Maher Hanoun in East Jerusalem: "We do not want any tent – we want our home"

Palestinians asked, again, to say: "Israel is the national state of the Jewish People"

The Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, might have been a bit surprised tonight to have heard Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say, in a speech that had a big advance build-up, that he views them essentially as a bunch of intruders: “In the very heart of our Jewish homeland today there is a large population of Palestinians”.

Netanyahu said that Palestinians are living in the Jewish homeland and they must recognize Jewish right to be there.

Netanyahu’s speech, at Bar-Ilan University not far from Tel Aviv, was planned and designed as the answer to U.S. President Barak Obama’s speech to the Muslim world from Cairo University on 4 June.

“Our links with the land of Israel, and the presence of Palestinian people living here, have led to many problems”, Netanyahu said.

What the Palestinians have to do, for peace, is “to accept that the Jewish people have a right to live in its historical homeland”, Netanyahu said. “If Palestinian leaders say these simple words to our people, then the path/road will open up”.

Palestinians must accept “the State of Israel as a Jewish State”, Netanyahu said.

Palestinians could live as a “free” people, side-by-side with the Jewish people, with each having its own “national existence”, Netanyahu said, if (1) they recognize Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, and if (2) they agree that “the Palestinian entity must be demilitarized”, with Israel having a real defensive edge.

But the question is is about what Netanyahu means when he suggests that the Palestinians, in his vision, would be “free”.

Continue reading Palestinians asked, again, to say: "Israel is the national state of the Jewish People"

Are the Americans serious this time?

The international press is writing that it seems different this time, that this new American administration may be serious this time — about stopping Israeli settlement-building, expansion, and whatnot. But, that’s what sells newspapers.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and company were received at the White House in Washington on Thursday 28 May. Obama is the leader, here, talking with dominant body language.

The protocol is interesting: on the couch beside Obama are (No. 1) Special MidEast envoy George Mitchell, (2) U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton (the one in the more colorful clothing), and (2) VP Joe Biden.

On the couch beside Abbas are PLO Executive Secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo (who is also now apparently in charge of media for the PA), long-time negotiator Saeb Erekat, and someone I can’t immediately identify who is writing on a notepad (very similar to the one the interpreter is using in the photo below).

A portrait of the U.S. “founding father”, George Washington, is over the no-frills mantle decorated with Republican greens (no floral arrangements, but why not herbs that can be replanted later in Michelle’s garden?). And Abraham Lincoln is prominently displayed in the upper left side of the photo.  The Palestinians would probably have been happy if there were also a portrait of Martin “I-have-a-dream” Luther King, but the Israelis might have freaked out…

The expanded meeting between Obama and Abbas at the White House on 28 May 2009

Continue reading Are the Americans serious this time?

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.

Saeb Erekat says: "We're different"

“Signing agreements doesn’t make peace … The only lasting agreements are the fair ones”, veteran Palestinian peace negotiator Sa’eb Erekat said at a press conference in East Jerusalem today.

He said he was under oath not to speak about or disclose the details of the current negotiations.

“What I said is that what needs to be done is to take decisions … What is needed are decisions, not negotiations”, Erekat said.

“U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is coming in two weeks, and American diplomats are on the phone every hour. But now it’s the moment of truth — It’s either settlements or peace”.

“President Bush has no right to discuss with Israel ceding some territory in Palestine. He can cede New Mexico, maybe, but not here”, Erekat said. “One day in 1995, Jordan decided to cede 29,000 square kilometers [to Israel, in the context of their peace treaty]. We’re different”.

“Without giving me the percentage of [territorial] swaps”, Erekat said, “there will be no agreement”.

But “with the percentage of agreed swaps, you’ll get an agreement in three months”, Erekat said. “The end game is defined and the rest is all technicalities, and if you settle them, you’ll get a treaty of 1,000 pages in three months”.

No further details were given.

For more, see Wednesday’s post on Palestine-Mandate here .