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

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

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

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

Above photo Tweeted by @michelghandour + posted here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in between, he said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funerals for Friday's dead in Egypt pause protests — momentarily

Funerals will be held today [Saturday] for what now looks like scores of dead, killed in protests against the Egyptian government in cities throughout the country on Friday.

The numbers of known casualties is growing exponentially, as hospitals and morgues release bodies to their families for burial.

The numbers are appalling.

The public warnings given yesterday by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then by the White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs — and then by U.S. President Barak Obama himself, following the broadcast of a late-night speech by Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak — make it very clear, at least, that the U.S. will not tolerate any more.

Once the numbers of dead become quite clear, it may well be that the U.S. will already have had to cut away from any further support for Mubarak’s rule.

As’ad AbuKhalil posted this on his Angry Arab blog, late last night (he’s in California): According to a “source wants to stay anonymous but I cant evaluate the credibility of the source: ‘A source from within the Presidential Guard has claimed to my friends in Cairo that the army intends to end the protests on Sunday, by any means necessary even if it meant violence and bloodshed. Junta goons are causing chaos in Cairo to claim an unstable situation which will extend until Saturday. Then under the guise of bringing back order, they will “crush them with any amount of force needed!”. The sources are unsure of the American role but believe the Americans will go with it’.” This is published here.

No way the Americans will go with it — despite the clueless fumbling of the Obama Administration in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and in the days of the Tunisia protests, there is no way, no way at all that they will go along with the number of deaths of protesters in Egypt — who, everybody in the world could see, were unarmed demonstrators — that are being reported today.

BikyaMasr newspaper is reporting here that “According to Al Jazeera English, the army has called on Egyptians not to gather in public, a sign some say could result in widespread violence and mass deaths if the military chooses to enforce such rules … The official death toll continues to mount and has been reported to be at least 60 people across the country, in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. Rumors of widespread protests to begin at 3 pm Cairo time have also been reported”.

UPDATE: The internet is not yet back up in Egypt, two days after it was shut down (see below). BikyaMasr, an English-language paper published in Cairo, said at 2 pm on Saturday, via an exchange of Direct Messages on Twitter, that full internet service has indeed not yet been restored. They indicated they are able to publish online because their reporters are calling in stories to people outside, who are posting for them…

BikyaMasr published a report yesterday on how the media is being targetted in Egypt, here. Journalists have been targetted individually, physically, and their equipment has been confiscated or damaged — in addition to the shut-down of communications services nationwide.

On Friday, the U.S. administration — including Obama himself — went very, very strong only on the supression of the internet and social media and more traditional means of communication as well, calling for the immediate restoration of these services, which the American officials said were human rights linked to the freedom of opinion and expression.

An interesting account, “Egypt leaves the Internet” by James Cowie, was posted on the blog on January 27, 2011, and has been updated. This post reports that “in an action unprecedented in Internet history, the Egyptian government appears to have ordered service providers to shut down all international connections to the Internet. Critical European-Asian fiber-optic routes through Egypt appear to be unaffected for now. But every Egyptian provider, every business, bank, Internet cafe, website, school, embassy, and government office that relied on the big four Egyptian ISPs for their Internet connectivity is now cut off from the rest of the world. Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt, Etisalat Misr, and all their customers and partners are, for the moment, off the air … This is a completely different situation from the modest Internet manipulation that took place in Tunisia, where specific routes were blocked, or Iran, where the Internet stayed up in a rate-limited form designed to make Internet connectivity painfully slow. The Egyptian government’s actions tonight have essentially wiped their country from the global map … This has never happened before …
One of the very few exceptions to this block has been Noor Group (AS20928), which still has 83 out of 83 live routes to its Egyptian customers, with inbound transit from Telecom Italia as usual. Why was Noor Group apparently unaffected by the countrywide takedown order? Unknown at this point, but we observe that the Egyptian Stock Exchange ( is still alive at a Noor address. Its DNS A records indicate that it’s normally reachable at 4 different IP addresses, only one of which belongs to Noor. Internet transit path diversity is a sign of good planning by the Stock Exchange IT staff, and it appears to have paid off in this case. Did the Egyptian government leave Noor standing so that the markets could open next week?
Update (17:30 UTC Friday): The Internet routing situation for Egypt continues to be bleak, with an estimated 93% of Egyptian networks currently unreachable. Renesys saw no significant improvements or changes in Egyptian international Internet routing overnight. We have examined the takedown event more closely, looking at the sequence in which Egyptian service providers removed themselves from the Internet … Our new observation is that this was not an instantaneous event on the front end; each service provider approached the task of shutting down its part of the Egyptian Internet separately.
* Telecom Egypt (AS8452), the national incumbent, starts the process at 22:12:43.
* Raya joins in a minute later, at 22:13:26.
* Link Egypt (AS24863) begins taking themselves down 4 minutes later, at 22:17:10.
* Etisalat Misr (AS32992) goes two minutes later, at 22:19:02
* Internet Egypt (AS5536) goes six minutes later, at 22:25:10.
First impressions: this sequencing looks like people getting phone calls, one at a time, telling them to take themselves off the air. Not an automated system that takes all providers down at once; instead, the incumbent leads and other providers follow meekly one by one until Egypt is silenced”… This can be read in full here.

Counting – Al-Arakib destroyed again this morning for 9th (or is it 10th?) time

The “unrecognized” Bedouin village of Al-Arakib (Al-Araqib) in the northern Negev, inhabited by Bedouin Arabic-speaking citizens of Israel, was bulldozed and destroyed again this morning.  It is being reported as the 9th demolition since this summer.

The stated purpose of the demolition is to make way for the planting, by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), of a large forest in the Negev.

Each time so far, residents have “rebuilt”, making tents and flimsy shelters with what remained from each previous demolition, and have pursued their protests with the support of Israeli activists.

The Jerusalem-based Alternative Information Center (AIC) has reported this morning that “A large number of Israeli security and special forces arrived at El Arakib at approximately 9.00 this morning and completely demolished the village. And unlike in previous demolitions, the Israeli authorities are currently clearing away all the debris from this morning’s demolition, leaving the villagers with nothing … bulldozers from the Jewish National Fund remain on the villager’s land, even though the demolitions are completed”.  This news is reported here.

The AIC also reported that “On 1 September 2010, the Bedouin residents of the ‘unrecognized’ villages in Israel wrote an unprecedented appeal to US President Barak Obama, requesting his assistance in calling on Israel to recognize the Bedouin traditional ownership of land and to stop demolishing their homes – fundamental rights of all human beings”.

The report adds that the villagers have already begun to rebuild, again.

UPDATE: The AIC has updated its report with this information; “When the families of El Araqib tried to resist, the Israeli authorities shot tear gas and rubber coated bullets. Five children between the ages of 16-17 were injured. The families of El Araqib claim that today’s demolition and plowing are in preparation for the Jewish Arbor Day holiday of Tu Bishvat this coming Thursday (20 January), on which hundreds of people are expected to come by invitation of the JNF to plant trees in the area”…

BACKGROUND: In late August, Haaretz published a lengthy article looking into the background of Al-Arakib, which is posted here, which we previously wrote about here.

The Haaretz story reports that “The driving force behind the suit to reclaim the Bedouin lands is Nuri el-Okbi. He is a 68-year-old garage mechanic who was educated in Kibbutz Evron, studied auto mechanics and worked in two kibbutzim in the Negev, Shoval and Lahav, before opening a garage of his own in Lod. At the end of the 1970s, when he, like many of his Bedouin friends, realized that submissive cooperation with the state would not be productive and that there was no chance his claims to land would be honored, he established the Association for the Support and Protection of Bedouin Rights. He has since worked by various means, some of them quite creative, to stir attention and compel the state to address the protracted dispute over Bedouin lands in the Negev … [el-Okbi said that] the state is creating a false impression and frightening the Israelis [i.e., Israeli Jews] into believing that the Bedouin are trying to seize control of the whole Negev. ‘If the state will one day have to expropriate land for true public purposes, it can always do so, and justifiably. For example, a section of my land was taken for a road that connects Lehavim to Eshel Hanasi, and I did not ask the state for anything and did not interfere with the building of the road. But I will not agree to dispossession for its own sake and for nationalist reasons’ … According to El-Okbi, a tribal court that was recognized by the state operated in his father’s house, a stone structure whose ruins still exist. But the state was unimpressed by El-Okbi’s documents, and in the fall of 1951 informed the tribe that its land was being requisitioned by the army for six months. They were evacuated eastward, to the Hora area, near Be’er Sheva. The same story is told by many Bedouin in the Negev. Since then, nothing has happened. Everyone who tried to return to his land was removed from it and accused of trespassing. In the 1970s, the state encouraged the Bedouin to submit claims for their lands to the land regulation unit in the Justice Ministry. Members of the Al-Okbi tribe, like others, submitted claims – which have since been gathering dust in interdepartmental filing cabinets. ‘We were expelled by deceit from our land, under the auspices of the military government’, El-Okbi says. ‘That is theft. We are citizens of the State of Israel, inhabitants of this country for generations’. Since then, the members of the Al-Okbi tribe and other Bedouin have been living in a state of suspended animation. The state has amended most of the Turkish and British laws and adapted them to its needs, but in the case of the Bedouin and their lands, one Israeli government after another has effectively decided to do nothing, or at most to set up a committee, which is the same as doing nothing, but looks better’. In 2005, Nuri el-Okbi asked the land regulator to register his land in his name. In response, the state sued him for invading mawat land [n.b. – uncultivated wasteland] and expropriated areas. The land regulator referred the resulting legal entanglement to the Be’er Sheva District Court … Four years ago, El-Okbi established a one-person settlement on his land. With the aid of human rights activists in the Negev he erected a tent, moved in and made it his headquarters for managing his affairs and the wider Bedouin issues. Every few weeks, a large number of police arrive at his hill with heavy machinery, destroy the tent, remove him from the site by force and take him into detention. When he is released, he returns to the hill and erects a new tent. In February of this year he was arrested for an entire week. ‘The incarceration was intolerable … People are treated like animals. I was brought to court, charged with 40 criminal counts of invasion, uprooting trees and violations of an order. I was released on bail, conditionally, and ordered to stay away from Arakib. I must now stay with my brothers, near Shoket Junction [north of Be’er Sheva], the place to which we were taken in 1951’ …
The claimants, headed by Nuri el-Okbi, are represented by attorney Michael Sfard. ‘I took this case’, Sfard explains, ‘because it is a classic case of the state using its overwhelming force, based on 150-year-old Ottoman laws which it interprets creatively, in order to justify dispossession and infringe the few rights of a weakened, trampled, discriminated community’.”

Jeff Halper: "Dismantling the 'Matrix of Control' "

Here are excerpts from the new article just published by Jeff Halper, “Dismantling the ‘Matrix of Control’ “. Halper, the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, originally published his “Matrix of Control” in the year 2000:

    “Almost a decade ago I wrote an article describing Israel’s “matrix of control” over the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It consisted then of three interlocking systems: military administration of much of the West Bank and incessant army and air force intrusions elsewhere; a skein of “facts on the ground,” notably settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, but also bypass roads connecting the settlements to Israel proper; and administrative measures like house demolitions and deportations. I argued in 2000 that unless this matrix was dismantled, the occupation would not be ended and a two-state solution could not be achieved. Since then the occupation has grown immeasurably stronger and more entrenched.

    Indeed, the matrix has reconfigured the country to such an extent that today it seems impossible to detach a truly sovereign and viable Palestinian state from an Israel that has expanded all the way to the Jordan River. Anyone familiar with Israel’s “facts on the ground,” perhaps first and foremost the settlers, would reach the conclusion that, in fact, the matrix cannot be taken apart in a piecemeal fashion, leaving a few settlements here, a road there and an Israel “greater” Jerusalem in the middle. The matrix has become far too intricate. Dismantling it piece by piece, with Israel stalling by arguing for the security function of each “fact on the ground,” would be a frustrating series of confrontations that would eventually exhaust itself. The only way to a genuine two-state solution and not a cosmetic form of apartheid is to cut the Gordian knot. The international community, led by the United States, must tell Israel that the occupation must be ended entirely. Israel must leave every inch of the Occupied Territories. Period. And now, at this critical juncture, as the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian impasse disappears under the weight of Israeli settlements, there is a great imponderable: Is President Barack Obama genuinely serious about reaching such a solution or is he merely going through the motions familiar from previous administrations?

    Since the Cairo speech, however, fundamental doubts about US efforts have resurfaced. The only demand made by Obama upon Israel has been for a settlement “freeze,” a welcome symbolic gesture, to be sure, yet irrelevant to any peace process. Israel has enough settlement-cities in strategic “blocs” that it could in fact freeze all construction without compromising its control over the West Bank and “greater” Jerusalem, the Arab areas to the north, south and east of the city where Israel has planted its flag. Focusing on this one issue — which, months later, is still being haggled over — has provided Israel with a smokescreen behind which it can actively and freely pursue more significant and urgent construction that, when completed, will truly render the occupation irreversible. It is rushing to complete the separation barrier, which is already being presented as the new border, replacing the “Green Line,” the pre-June 1967 boundary to which Israel is supposed to withdraw, by the terms of UN Security Council resolutions, but on which even the most ardent two-staters have long since given up. Israel is demolishing homes, expelling Palestinian residents and permitting Jewish settlement throughout East Jerusalem, measurably advancing the “judaization” of the city. It is confiscating vast tracts of land in the West Bank and “greater” Jerusalem and pouring bypass road asphalt at a feverish pace so as to permanently redraw the map. It is laying track on Palestinian land for a light-rail line connecting the West Bank settlement-city of Pisgat Ze’ev to Israel. It is drying up the main agricultural areas of the West Bank, forcing thousands of people off their lands, while instituting visa restrictions that either keep visiting Palestinians and internationals out of the country altogether, or limit their movement to the truncated Palestinian enclaves of the West Bank.

    ‘Quiet’, behind-the-scenes diplomacy is surely taking place, but the few details that have emerged are far from reassuring. The State Department has mocked as “fiction” a ten-point document given to the Arab press by Fatah figure Hasan Khreisheh that promises an “international presence” in parts of the West Bank and US backing for a Palestinian state by 2011. The component of this alleged plan that seems more likely is that the US wants a partial freeze on settlement activity from Israel in exchange for a pledge from Washington to push for more stringent sanctions upon Iran for its nuclear research. On August 25, the Guardian quoted ‘an official close to the negotiations’ saying: ‘The message is: Iran is an existential threat to Israel; settlements are not’.

    Why, then, leave these massive settlements intact? The argument is that their residents would object to the point of a civil war in Israel. This is patent nonsense. True, these settlement blocs contain 85 percent of Israelis living in the Occupied Territories, but these are not the ideological settlers who claim the entire Land of Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Instead, they are “normal” Israelis who have been attracted to the settlements by high-quality, affordable housing. They would have no objection to resettling inside Israel on the condition that their living standards do not fall, while the Israeli economy, assisted by international donors, would have no problem footing the bill for this population, about 200,000 in number. Settlements in ‘greater’ Jerusalem, housing another 190,000 Israeli Jews, present no problem whatsoever. Residents are free to stay where they are in a shared and integrated Jerusalem.

    As for the “ideological” settlers of the West Bank, only about 40,000 in number (out of almost six million Jews altogether), they can easily be relocated inside Israel, just as were their counterparts in Gaza. Their relocation will be a test of international assertiveness, of course, because the settlers are able to mobilize the support of the right-wing parties in Israel. Since Israel can make no cogent argument as to the security necessity of these tiny settlements, however, internal opposition will simply have to be overruled; the international community cannot allow such frivolous ideological matters to destabilize the entire global system. If the legitimate concerns of the Israeli public over its security are addressed by the international community, which they can be, there is no compelling reason why Israel should not return to the pre-June 1967 border. In fact, if the Gaza episode indicates anything, it is that the Israeli public is willing to remove settlements if it is convinced that doing so will enhance its security. Reminding Israelis that leaving every inch of the Occupied Territories will still leave them sovereign over a full 78 percent of the country — not a bad deal for what will soon become a minority Jewish population — should seal the deal.

    The Obama platform, should it see the light of day, will probably also adopt the Israeli position that Palestinian refugees can only be repatriated to the Palestinian state itself, not to their former homes inside Israel. This plank would place a weighty economic burden on that tiny prospective state, since the refugees are, by and large, a traumatized and impoverished population with minimal education and professional skills. Add to that another significant fact: Some 60 percent of the Palestinian population is under the age of 18. A Palestinian state without the ability to employ its people and offer a future to its youth is simply a prison-state.

    Now the need for a viable Palestinian state is recognized and embodied in the ‘road map’, the peace initiative propagated by President George W. Bush in 2003, and will probably be acknowledged in a plan from Obama as well. Despite its limited size, a RAND Corporation study concluded that such a state is possible, but only if it controls its territory, borders, resources and movement of people and goods. Israel must be made to understand that while it will remain the hegemonic power in the region, its own long-term security depends upon the economic wellbeing of its Palestinian neighbors.

    Eighty percent of the Palestinians are refugees, and half of the Palestinians still live in refugee camps within and around their homeland. Any sustainable peace is dependent upon the just resolution of the refugee issue. Technically, resolving the refugee issue is not especially difficult. The Palestinian negotiators, backed up by the Arab League, have agreed to a “package,” to be mutually agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinians, involving a combination of repatriation in Israel and the Palestinian state, resettlement elsewhere and compensation.

    The “package” must contain, however, two other elements, without which the issue will not be resolved and reconciliation cannot take place. First, Israel must acknowledge the refugees’ right of return; a resolution of the issue cannot depend solely on humanitarian gestures. And Israel must acknowledge its responsibility for driving the refugees from their country. Just as Jews expected Germany to accept responsibility for what it did in the Holocaust (and Israelis criticized the Pope during his summer 2009 visit for not apologizing enough), just as China and South Korea will not close the book on World War II until Japan acknowledges its war crimes, so, too, will the refugee issue continue to fester and frustrate attempts to bring peace to the region until Israel admits its role and asks forgiveness. Genuine peacemaking cannot be confined to technical solutions alone; it must also deal with the wounds caused by the conflict.

    But the Palestinians, exhausted and suffering as they may be, possess a trump card of their own. They are the gatekeepers. Until the majority of Palestinians, and not merely political leaders, declare that the conflict is over, the conflict is not over. Until most Palestinians believe it is time to normalize relations with Israel, there will be no normalization. Israel cannot “win” — though it believes it can, which is why it presses ahead to complete the matrix and foreclose the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. The failure of yet another peace initiative will only galvanize international efforts to achieve justice for the Palestinians…”

Jeff Halper first posted this article on ZNet, here.