Palestinian Full Circle

Laila El-Haddad wrote yesterday on her blog, in a post entitled “I was born Palestinian”, that “Last year, my parents were visiting us from Gaza City when Rafah was sealed hermetically. They attempted to fly back to Egypt to wait for the border to open — but were not allowed to board the plane in Washington. ‘Palestinians cannot fly to Egypt now without a visa, new rules’, the airline personnel explained, ‘and no visas can be issued until Rafah is open’, added the Egyptian embassy official. They were in a conundrum, aggravated by the fact that their US entry stamp had reached its six-month limit. Eventually, they got around the issue by obtaining an Egyptian tourist visa, made easier by their old age, which they used to wait in Egypt for one month until Rafah Crossing opened again. I did not want to repeat their ordeal, so I called the embassy this time, which assured me the protocol had changed. Now it was only Palestinian men who were not allowed to fly to or enter Egypt; women were allowed and could get their visa at the Egyptian port of entry. I was given a signed and dated letter (6 April 2009) by the consul to take with me in case I encountered any problems. It read: ‘The Consular Section of the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt hereby confirms that women, who are residents of the Gaza Strip, and who hold passports issued by the Palestinian Authority are required to get their visa to enter Egypt at Egyptian ports and NOT at the various Egyptian consulates in the United States on their way to the Gaza Strip for the purpose of reaching their destination (i.e. Gaza Strip)‘ …”

Two long-haul flights and one seven-hour transit later, we made it. I knew the routine by heart. Upon our arrival, I was quick to hit the bank to buy the $15 visa stamps for my children Yousuf and Noor’s American passports and exchange some dollars into Egyptian pounds. I figured it would help pass the time while the lines got shorter. I then went and filled out my entry cards. An officer came and filled them out with me seeing my hands were full, a daypack on my back, Noor strapped to my chest in a carrier, Yousuf in my hand. We submitted our passports and things seemed to be going smoothly. Just then the officer explained he needed to run something by his superior. ‘You have a Palestinian passport. Rafah crossing is closed’ …

We posted on 10 April about Laila’s ordeal as it was happening, due to her use of Twitter to provide updates to the world, in an earlier post a href=””>here.
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U.S. wants change in Durban anti-racism document

The U.S. has announced that it will not participate in further preparations for a follow-up conference against racism — UNLESS there are changes in the document being prepared for the conference.

You can bet that there will now be more feverish activity around the world to try to change the document in a way that the U.S. will like. If that happens, it might even be possible that Israel would eventually participate …
Continue reading U.S. wants change in Durban anti-racism document

USA blocks UN Security Council call for cease-fire in Gaza – UPDATED

Relying on the Associated Press’ indefatigueable Edith Lederer at UNHQ/NY, we learn that “French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, the council president, said the 15 council members could not agree on a statement in closed discussions held after Israel launched a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip on Saturday. But he said there were ‘strong convergences’ among the members to express concern about the deteriorating situation in Gaza and the need for ‘an immediate, permanent and fully respected cease-fire’. Libyan Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi said the United States during the discussions objected to ‘any outcome’ on the proposed statement. He said efforts were made to compromise on a weaker press statement but there was no consensus. Several other council members, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations were closed, also said the U.S. was responsible for the council’s failure to issue a statement … U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the United States saw no prospect of Hamas abiding by last week’s council call for an immediate end to the violence. Therefore, he said, a new statement ‘would not be adhered to and would have no underpinning for success, (and) would not do credit to the council’ … Asked what kind of resolution would be acceptable to the United States, Wolff said: ‘The important point to focus on here is establishing the understanding of what type of cease-fire we’re talking about and to ensure that it’s lasting, and to ensure that we don’t return to a situation that led to the current situation’ … If it had been approved, the statement would have become part of the council’s official record but would not have the weight of a Security Council resolution, which is legally binding. Though the Security Council took no action on Saturday night, an Arab draft resolution circulated by Libya on Wednesday night that would condemn Israel and halt its military attacks on Gaza remains on the table … [though] the United States has already called it ‘unacceptable’ and “unbalanced” because it doesn’t call for an end to the Hamas rocketing of Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected in New York on Tuesday, along with half a dozen Arab foreign ministers who will be at the UN on Monday, to press for a cease-fire resolution”. The full AP report can be viewed here .

UPDATE: Ma’an News Agency reported this morning that Abbas, who was in Amman on Saturday on his way to New York, has postponed his trip to the United Nations and will return to Ramallah today for a meeting with visiting French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, who was with Abbas in Amman, is being sent to New York to attend the UN Security Council deliberations…

Separately, the U.S. State Department issued a statement in Washington, through spokesperson Sean McCormack, saying: “We are working toward a cease-fire that would not allow a reestablishment of the status quo ante, where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza and to condemn the people of Gaza to a life of misery. It is obvious that that cease-fire should take place as soon as possible, but we need a cease-fire that is durable, sustainable, and not time limited. Hamas has held the people of Gaza hostage ever since their illegal coup against the forces of President Mahmoud Abbas, the legitimate President of the Palestinian people. They have used Gaza as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli cities, and have contributed deeply to a very bad daily life for the Palestinian people in Gaza and to a humanitarian situation that we have all been trying to address. Hamas has made it very difficult for the people of Gaza to have a reasonable life. The United States is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation and the protection of innocents. In this vein, we have expressed our concerns to the Israeli government that any military action needs to be mindful of the potential consequences to civilians”.

Israeli media are prominently reporting that these delays are just maneuvers to allow Israel time to do what it wants to do in Gaza. Haaretz, for example, is reporting that “The international community, headed by the U.S. and Egypt, is giving Israel time to carry out the ground offensive in Gaza, so it will severely damage Hamas’ regime. The rationale behind such a move is that a weakened Hamas would improve the chances of achieving a stable agreement in Gaza once the fighting subsides. And so there is a degree of foot-dragging in the diplomatic efforts to reach a cease-fire. The most visible sign of this was the decision to postpone the United Nations Security Council discussion on Gaza planned for Monday. France postponed the discussion to Wednesday, to ensure that it would be held after French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to the region … During her visit to France on Thursday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had requested that the discussion be postponed”.

The same Haaretz report adds that “In its efforts to formulate a draft for an agreement with Hamas in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, the designated team of Israeli officials is aiming to bring about the restoration of the cease-fire with Hamas, which expired on December 19, in addition to steps to curb Hamas’ arms-smuggling through the border with Egypt. The officials, all of them from the Prime Minister’s Office, the defense establishment and the Foreign Ministry, are not seeking to introduce international enforcement bodies, but rather the introduction of an upgraded border control system on the Egyptian side of the border. The U.S. administration supports such a move, and is expected to assist the Egyptians in stepping up their efforts to control the border. Currently, Israeli officials are trying to find a work program that would not infringe on Egyptian sovereignty, which is why Israeli diplomats are pessimistic about the prospect of stationing an international force in the Sinai Peninsula.
According to sources in the U.S., President George W. Bush has intercepted an initiative by his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice and her British counterpart, Secretary of State David Miliband, to formulate a cease-fire draft. One source said Bush instructed the State Department to refrain from action in the matter. To date, the U.S. has refrained from sending any envoys or delegates to the region. According to officials, the U.S. and Israel are cooperating diplomatically on the issue
Egypt’s unexpected support for Israel in the conflict with Hamas has, according to Israeli diplomats, been a pleasant surprise for Jerusalem”. This report can be read in full here .

But, the AP report cited above said that “Egypt’s U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said it was regrettable that one permanent council member — a clear reference to the U.S. — refused to accept any statement at a time when ‘the aggression is escalating and more people are dying and the military attack on the ground is at its full scale’.”