Another take on the Palestinian reconciliation "summit": punishment looms, as it does for "UN bid" too

The Jerusalem Post reports today that it has been told that “Palestinian unity efforts stumble” after the reconciliation summit in Cairo on Friday.

But, while there may be outstanding differences between the two largest Palestinian political factions, the real delay may be an attempt to avoid various threatened punishments, until something changes…

Khaled Abu Toameh, Arab affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, writes today, here, that he has been told “that differences between the two parties remained almost the same as they were before the summit. In addition to the ongoing dispute over the make-up of the proposed unity government, Fatah and Hamas have failed to solve their differences over the reconstruction of the security forces and the release of detainees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip being held by both sides. ‘The 45-minute meeting between President Abbas and Khaled Mashaal was not as successful as it is being portrayed’, a senior Fatah official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post. ‘The most important thing was that the two leaders met and agreed to continue talking about reconciliation and unity. It will take a long time before we ever see real changes on the ground’.”

Punishment for Palestinian Unity

Well, that will be reassuring to American officials who have been worried that they might have to punish the Palestinians, if they actually achieve unity”, by withholding large sums of money that have been the opium of the people in Ramallah.

Jordan-based Palestinian Journalist Daoud Kuttab had earlier reported “rumors” following the flying visit to see Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Ramallah presidential headquarters [the Muqata’a] by Jordan’s King Abdallah II on Monday, that there were rumors that Palestinian officials told the Jordanian delegation they would not accept security aid if the U.S. withheld other forms of aid.

Kuttab developed this into two articles: one an opinion piece for the Washington Post, published here, and the second was published by the Huffington Post, here.

[See below for more…]

Punishment if Salam Fayyad is replaced as PM {?}

In his Jerusalem Post article, Abu Toameh reported punishment-related issues were a priority matter in the discussion, writing that “a senior Fatah official” told him “that Hamas’s refusal to accept current PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as head of any future government remained a major obstacle to the implementation of the reconciliation deal … Abbas had initially considered dumping Fayyad in favor of the establishment of a unity government with Hamas. However, immense pressure from the US and some EU countries, as well as a strong warning from Jordan’s King Abdullah, who flew to Ramallah last week for emergency talks with Abbas, persuaded the PA president to hold on to Fayyad … [But] Abbas explained to Mashaal [in Cairo on Friday] that without Fayyad the Palestinians would be punished by the Americans and Europeans, the official said. ‘But this did not change Mashaal’s position. Hamas believes that in wake of the Arab Spring, Arab governments would compensate the Palestinians for any loss of Western financial aid’. On Saturday, Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, reiterated his movement’s strong opposition to the appointment of Fayyad as prime minister of a unity government”.

Abu Toameh added that “Abbas also made it clear during the summit with Mashaal that he would not be able to incorporate Hamas militiamen in the PA security forces, another Fatah official said. The official quoted Abbas as saying that merging Hamas militiamen into the PA security forces would give Israel an excuse to launch attacks on these forces under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Abbas also expressed deep concern that Israel and Fatah would vehemently oppose any attempt to bring Hamas policemen to the West Bank, the official added”.

He also wrote in the JPost that “On the issue of ‘political detainees’ who are being held in PA and Hamas prisons in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the two parties continued over the weekend to blame each other for failing to release their supporters. Abbas and Mashaal have announced twice this year that they would end the arrests of Hamas and Fatah supporters. Despite the announcements, PA security forces continue to arrest Hamas supporters and activists in the West Bank. Hamas, on the other hand, has also been accused of cracking down on Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip by arresting them and preventing them from travelling outside the strip. PA officials denied on Saturday that the PA was holding people in detention for ‘political reasons’. They said all the Hamas detainees in West Bank prisons were being held for allegedly violating the law, but did not give further details … [n.b. Elections are supposed to be held around May 2012, according to a reconciliation agreement initialed in Cairo this past May. But…] According to Zahar, there is no way elections would be held while Hamas supporters remain in PA-run prisons”.

Continue reading Another take on the Palestinian reconciliation "summit": punishment looms, as it does for "UN bid" too

Meanwhile, in Gaza… (re-mix)

Journalist Ashley Bates [Mother Jones] has posted an interesting video on the Haaretz website, reporting the views of Gaza residents’ at the present moment:

Waiting for the Flotilla in Gaza (English) from Ashley Bates on Vimeo.

At about the same time, a debate took place on Russia Today’s Crosstalk program about the current situation in Gaza. The participants were: Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah, UNRWA’s spokesperson Chris Gunness and the Jerusalem Post’s Defense Correspondent Yaacov Katz — what a line-up! The video is posted on the Electronic Intifada website, here and on Youtube:

Israeli human rights groups testify to Turkel Commission on Flotilla fiasco

Three of Israel’s most distinguished and respected human rights groups testified before the Israeli-government-appointed Turkel Commission on Wednesday in a six-and-a-half hour marathon public session (with two 10-minute breaks).

One Israeli media report afterwards described the rather mainstream groups [(1) B’Tselem(2) Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, and (3) GISHA] as “left-wing”, and B’Tselem’s Director Jessica Montell as a “radical leftist activist”, — which says a lot about the atmosphere in the country. See story here

The polarization increased geometrically after the massive Israeli military operation in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead [27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009] — during which Israel first announced its formal naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space, on 3 January 2009, as the ground phase began.

And, the polarization was all too obvious in Wednesday’s hearing.

The Turkel Commission [website here – H/T to Jessica Montell] says it is an independent public inquiry looking into what they call the “maritime incident” of 31 May 2010 [or, the Flotilla fiasco] which occurred in the pre-dawn hours that day when Israeli naval missile boats and helicopter-borne Israeli commandos intercepted the Freedom Flotilla, and killed 9 men [8 Turkish, one American high-school student from a Turkish family] on board the larger Turkish passenger ship, the Mavi Marmara.

It is Israel’s main state-appointed body of inquiry on this matter, which was one of the main news stories in the world for several weeks.   An outpouring of international criticism followed the brutality of the interception.

GPO photo

The Commission’s website notes that it “was asked to relate to an assessment of the security circumstances of placing the maritime closure on the Gaza Strip and the maritime closure’s compatibility with the rules of international law”.

Continue reading Israeli human rights groups testify to Turkel Commission on Flotilla fiasco

Israeli Deputy FM says military-administered sanctions on Gaza were "ineffective"

It appears that National Public Radio (NPR) correspondent in Jerusalem, Lourdes Garcia Navarro, managed to get a big admission from Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon: Israel’s two-and-a-half-year-old program of military-administered punitive sanctions against Gaza was “not that effective”. The Israeli military sanctions, which were to have been progressively tightened, were unsupervised by any other government body, After consideration of a petition by Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, led by GISHA, against the military sanctions policy, the Israeli Supreme Court refused to intervene, other than to instruct the military that it was not to cause a “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza.

The military sanctions followed a determination by Israeli Government cabinet ministers in September 2007 that Gaza was a “hostile territory”, or an “enemy entity”, less than three months after a Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security forces in the Gaza Strip.

In her radio report, aired on NPR’s All Things Considered program on August 30, 2010, Navarro reported that:

    “…this summer, Israel came under heavy international pressure to ease the blockade, after an Israeli military raid on a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead.

    Mr. DANNY AYALON (Deputy Foreign Minister, Israel): Actions like a flotilla certainly is trying to put Israel in a no-win situation.

    GARCIA-NAVARRO: Danny Ayalon is Israel’s deputy foreign minister. He says Israel has to keep weapons and items that could be used for military fortifications out of Gaza, which is why it retains such tight restrictions on the land and sea borders. But he acknowledged in an interview with NPR that the punishing, three-year ban on most foodstuffs and other commodities was a mistake.

    Mr. AYALON: Denying different items or products into Gaza was not that effective. Hence, now we have changed the policy altogether.

    GARCIA-NAVARRO: But people would say that you’re – that what you’re saying now is disingenuous, that this is only in reaction to pressure put on you after the Turkish flotilla incident.

    Mr. AYALON: It certainly expedited this decision, but I believe this decision would have come up anyway“.

The transcript of this NPR report is posted here.

For an idea of exactly how the Israeli blockade of Gaza was — though brutal — just “not that effective”, see Nicholas Pelham’s report to MERIP, posted here.


Monday 21 June 2010

Ram Cohen, principal of the Aleph High School in Tel Aviv, was summoned to appear before the Knesset Education Committee and the Minister of Education, Mr. Gideon Saar, today, as Cohen explained in an article published in YNet, “following my unequivocal words to my students, condemning the 43 year-old occupation and rule over the life of the Palestinian people …

Continue reading Round-up

More news: IDF schedules 213 truckloads of basic goods to go to Gaza today

This, Madame Secretary [Hilary Clinton], is positive reinforcement:  when the IDF, exceptionally, schedules over 200 truckloads of what they call “humanitarian aid” — really, the most basic goods — to enter Gaza, it is worth writing about.

This is the third time in the past two weeks that we’ve had such an astonishing development.  It is the third time since 19 September 2007 that over 200 truckloads worth of goods have been permitted to enter Gaza from Israel.  Since the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead last winter, nearly a year ago (27 December – 18 January), anything approaching 100 truckloads a day has been good news.

We previously posted about this (so far publicly unexplained) new development on 16 November here and again on 19 November here. Usually, there is a temporary liberalisation of the draconian sanctions regime when there is strong international pressure from the right quarters. This time, there may also be other (so far unclear) reasons…

However, before the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces in mid-June 2007, the daily average was 400 to 600 truckloads per day…

This is not, however, “humanitarian aid” from Israel — it is, perhaps, partly including aid from international organizations and non-governmental organizations.  But it is also normal consumer goods purchased by the Palestinians themselves (some from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and quite a lot purchased by Gaza merchants themselves, through orders corrodinated with the PA in Ramallah.

But it is designed to prevent a “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza — which some have said has been in place for the past two years or more, and what is now being prevented is a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

The important thing here is that the  Israeli Supreme Court  told the IDF, in its final ruling on the matter after a lengthy court battle led by a grouping of Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations — that preventing a “humanitarian crisis” is a requirement for maintaining the policy of sanctions or blockade that the IDF has been authorized by the Israeli government to impose on Gaza… and the IDF has been doing so without any other effective Israeli government oversight.

The 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza have been basically locked into the Gaza Strip since Israel’s unilateral “disengagement”  that removed some 8,000 Israeli settlers and the Israeli soldiers protecting them, which was completed by September 2005.

The policy of tightened sanctions was imposed by the Israeli Military in October 2007, and has been in effect, by what looks like not much more than whim, since then, including during and after the three-week IDF military offensive last winter.

And, of course, there is another side to this policy of allowing “humanitarian aid” into Gaza: Haaretz reported yesterday that “Israel Air Force planes struck targets in Gaza early Sunday, wounding seven Palestinians, medical workers said, a few hours after Hamas said militant groups in the coastal strip had agreed to halt cross-border rocket fire. An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said the strikes were in response to a rocket attack Saturday by militants in the Hamas-ruled Strip. He said they had targeted two factories in the central and northern Gaza used to make weapons and a smuggling tunnel under the border with Egypt”… This Haaretz article can be read in full here.

For, we should remember that we are talking about 1.5 million people, at least three-quarters of whom are refugees, who are not where they are by choice, and who are locked into one of the most densely populated places on earth…

The Israeli military and the IDF are just lucky that there has not been a full-blown catastrophe so far… the line is fine, and human lives are fragile…

Leonard Cohen in Ramallah?

Leonard Cohen might not be Michael Jackson, but he has a devoted, even passionate, following in various parts of the world.   Israel is one of those places.

The occupied Palestinian territory is not.

Yet, an announcement has been made that Leonard Cohen will perform in Ramallah in late September — a day after he performs on 24 September in Israel’s Ramat Gan stadium near Tel Aviv, with a seating capacity of 50,000.

Leonard Cohen’s appearance in Ramallah was, in fact, added as an afterthought, in response to the boycott calls for him to avoid performing in Israel.

Instead of cancelling the Israeli show, it was apparently thought that adding a Palestinian one might add some “balance”. But, it might be too late for that.  The situation is too polarized.

Now, both performances — part of Leonard Cohen’s multi-city and nearly year-long World Tour 09, with more mileage and events than Michael Jackson’s 50-concert revival in London — are in question, due to a small but growing international campaign to boycott Israel.

For Palestinians, it would be better if Leonard Cohen didn’t perform in Israel at all, and would only come to Ramallah (or Gaza).  But that’s more on the level of political symbolism, because Leonard Cohen is not at all well known among Palestinians.

Consideration was given to hosting the Leonard Cohen Palestinian concert in the 9,000-seat Feisal Husseini football stadium (upgraded to international standards with EU funding) in ar-Ram, right next to a particularly in-your-face section of The Wall which runs right down the middle of what used to be the main street between Jerusalem and Ramallah.  But, it was apparently then decided that it would be better to have the concert in Ramallah’s Cultural Palace (built with Japanese funding), a smaller and enclosed venue, right next to the hilltop where Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish is buried (and where he gave his final performance on 1 July 2008).

After initial planning, a Palestinian opposition emerged, with objections to hosting Leonard Cohen in Ramallah (that is, if he still intends to perform in Israel).  Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza earlier this year has only intensified the moral outrage on the Palestinian side.

The search for a solution has been put in the hands of Qaddura Fares, one of a group identified as “Young” Fatah leaders, and head of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, “If there were peace”, there would be no problem, Fares indicated in an interview in his Ramallah office last week —  but, he said, “there is no atmosphere for peace” right now.

Qaddura Fares said that his suggestion was that Leonard Cohen should come if he would agree to sing for the release of Palestinian prisoners (there are over 11,000 of them, including several hundred children) — and for the release of the Israeli soldier who is believed to be still held captive somewhere in Gaza, Corporal Gilad Shalit.  “Yes, why not?”, Qaddura Fares said, and smiled.  “All of them are prisoners, and they have the right to be free”.

He indicated that Leonard Cohen’s agents/promoters have “accepted the idea”.  There is also a proposal, he said, that Amnesty International should somehow be involved. There are still a lot of problems, Qaddura Fares noted.  “A lot of intellectuals and artists have refused to come to Israel because of the boycott call.  And so, for the Boycott Forum, we would be making an obstacle for their progress if Leonard Cohen comes to Tel Aviv and Ramallah”.

He said that “if Leonard Cohen comes “just for summer, and for love, maybe it would be a mistake.  But, Israel has been dealing with out prisoners as if they were killers and terrorists, and if Leonard Cohen comes to sing for their release, then maybe it will recognize that they are freedom fighters.  Maybe if he comes for such a sensitive issue, it will be useful for Palestinians and for Israelis”.

Qaddura Fares noted that a group of Palestinian intellectuals asked to meet him to discuss the issue, and he agreed.  “They tried to convince me it’s a mistake to bring Leonard Cohen.  They promised they would bring famous singers who would visit only Palestine and not Israel”. Why hadn’t these Palestinian intellectuals brought these singers before?  Qaddura Fares replied that he had asked them the same question.  He recounted that he told them: “Every Monday I go to the Red Cross and sit with the mothers and wives of the prisoners — between 20 and 50 women come every week.  But never did I see these intellectuals there.  And, I said to them, “What’s the problem if we invite Leonard Cohen.  We can continue our discussion”.

But, Qaddoura Fares said, he would leave the decision up to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club — and that he wanted “a collective decision”, meaning near unanimity, or at least no opposition.  Then, he said, “I can organize Fatah and other groups to support the invitation”.

The decision is imminent, Qaddoura Fares said.

Continue reading Leonard Cohen in Ramallah?

Israel deports all but two Free Gaza activists captured at sea

Almost a week after they were confronted by Israeli naval vessels and towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod, the Free Gaza Movement indicates that its activists captured at sea on board a boat flying a Greek flag and sailing from Cyprus to Gaza were “accused of entering Israel illegally”, but that all charges were dropped.

The activists refused to sign any documents in order to be able to leave Israel, they said on Twitter.

Former U.S. Presidential Candidate for the Green Party, and a former Democratic congresswoman who served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, Cynthia McKinney is arriving back to the US on Monday afternoon via New York City. She wrote that ” The Israeli authorities have tried to get us to confess that we committed a crime… I am now known as prisoner number 88794 (in Israel’s Ramle prison). How can I be in prison for collecting crayons [for] kids?”

She will apparently be accompanied by the other Americans detained at sea on board the Free Gaza boat, Spirit of Humanity.

21 activists set sail from Cyprus a week ago on a ship laden with humanitarian aid.

Do a search for Free Gaza on this site to see our other posts on this story.

Continue reading Israel deports all but two Free Gaza activists captured at sea

Cyprus and the Free Gaza movement

The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that “The Cypriot Embassy in Tel Aviv issued a statement following the incident, saying ‘The Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Israel would like to inform that the “Spirit of Humanity” boat, sponsored by the Free Gaza Movement, that attempted in the early hours today to reach Gaza was given permission by the competent Authorities of the Republic of Cyprus to sail off the port of Larnaca in Cyprus on the basis of its declaration that its intended destination was the port of Port Said in Egypt’.” This JPost report is posted here .

A Cypriot diplomat in the region said that “They signed and they said they were going to Port Said. With that destination, they were covered by international law all the way”.

Of course, the Free Gaza activists always said publicly that their destination was Gaza, and they were determined to go to Gaza.

Continue reading Cyprus and the Free Gaza movement

Free Gaza ship boarded by Israeli forces about 24 miles offshore Gaza, towed to Israeli port of Ashdod, passengers taken by Israeli immigration authorities

The IDF announced this afternoon that “an Israeli Navy force intercepted, boarded, and took control of the cargo boat ‘Arion’ [renamed by the Free Gaza movement for this voyage the “Spirit of Humanity”] which was bearing the flag of Greece and was illegally attempting to enter the Gaza Strip/Gazan Coastal Waters”

Yes, the formal Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — announced on 3-4 January as the IDF began the ground phase of Operation Cast Lead against Gaza — is still in force, the IDF announcement confirmed: “Yesterday evening, the Israeli Navy contacted the boat while at sea, clarifying that it would not be permitted to enter Gazan coastal waters because of security risks in the area and the existing naval blockade. [But] Disregarding all warnings made, the cargo boat entered Gazan coastal waters. As a result of the actions taken by the boat crew, an Israeli Navy force intercepted, boarded, and took control of the boat, directing it towards Ashdod, Israel. No shots were fired during the boarding of the boat. The boat crew will be handed over to the appropriate authorities. Humanitarian goods found on board the boat will be transferred to the Gaza Strip, subject to authorization. The IDF Spokesperson Unit would like to emphasize that any organization or country that wishes to transfer humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, can legally do so via the established crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip with prior coordination”.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that the passengers and crew on board will be “checked by the immigration authorities”, then released.

AP reported that “The ship arrived at Ashdod port after nightfall”. It added that “The ship was flying a Greek flag, but no Greek citizens were aboard. The Greek government issued a statement saying it sent a message to Israel demanding that it release the ship, crew and passengers. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel was planning to free the crew and passengers. ‘Nobody wants to keep them here’, he said. ‘They will be released as soon as they are checked.” This AP report can be read in full here.

Agence France Presse £(AFP£) reported that “After the navy boarded the converted ferry it towed the vessel toward the nearby Israeli port of Ashdod, the spokesman said, adding that the activists on board would be handed over to authorities … Greece quickly protested the seizing of the Greek-flagged vessel, saying ‘we remonstrated with the Israeli side and asked for the ship, the crew and the passengers to be released immediately’, foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said in a statement. ‘As we have said in the past, all legal activity by non-governmental organisations must enjoy freedom’, he said … On December 30, shortly after the Gaza war erupted, an Israeli navy vessel collided with a Free Gaza boat, almost sinking it, in what activists called a ‘deliberate ramming’. Earlier on Tuesday, the Free Gaza movement said that Israeli warships had surrounded the Spirit of Humanity and threatened to open fire if it did not turn around. At one point, the Israelis jammed the boat’s instruments, blocking their GPS, radar and navigation systems ‘in direct violation of international maritime law’, the group said. The Israeli foreign ministry said the boat’s owners had lied before departure from Cyprus about the vessel’s destination, saying it was bound for Port Said in Egypt. The ministry also said that under the 1993 autonomy accords struck with the Palestinians, Gaza’s territorial waters, like its land borders, were Israel’s responsibility”. The AFP report can be read in full here.

The latest Twitter message from the Free Gaza movement, sent about 730 PM Jerusalem time, said: “Spoke to Shlomo Dror who likes to scream. He insisted that Israel has right to inspect cargo even though Cyprus already inspected”.

Earlier Twitter messages said that the Free Gaza group was “Waiting to hear from attorneys about kidnapped passengers. Boat going to Ashdod … Boat towed. Passengers turned over to immigration, ironic since we don’t WANT to be in Israel.”

Before that, a Twitter message read: “They’re about to come on board, they’re about to come on board. Then the line went dead … They are 24 miles away from Gaza”.

The Green Party in the United States has released a statement quoting Cynthia McKinney, the Green Party’s 2008 candidate for President of the United States assaying that “This is an putrageous violation of international law against us. Our boat was not in Israeli waters, and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip … President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that’s exactly what we tried to do. We’re asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey.” The Green Party added that “Ms. McKinney had earlier sent appeals to President Obama and the State
Department for assurances of protection for the relief mission. The Spirit of Humanity was sailing in international waters when it was seized”.

Five days ago (on 25 June), Cynthia McKinney posted a Twitter message that can be found in the chain here saying that “The Cyprus Port Authority has just noticed us that they will destroy the boats (for our safety, of course) to prevent us from sailing”.