Reports from Cairo that Hamas will join PLO [election planning/monitoring] commission

This is only a preliminary report… and is still Breaking News —

UPDATE: Nabil Shaath told journalists at a pre-Christmas in Bethlehem tonight [Thursday] that “I heard good news, basically, from Cairo … Hamas is willing to accept non-violence, basically, a long-term ‘hudna’, but they do not want us to talk about it very much … What these people in Gaza are really saying is that our right to armed struggle should not be abandoned, and we agree, but we choose not to exercise it”

The real question at stake in today’s meeting in Cairo was: will arrangements finally be made for Hamas to join the PLO, as previously agreed in Cairo in 2005 — and as suggested in a “reconciliation” agreement between Fatah and Hamas in late April, then encoded in a document signed in Cairo in early May?

Apparently, agreement on that has not yet been reached, but a small step has been taken to keep things moving — or to appear to keep things moving — in the right direction.

Today’s meeting of Palestinian political movements and “factions” in Cairo was chaired by Mahmoud Abbas, who is, simultaneously:
(1) Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO], recognized by the UN as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people;
(2) head of the largest Palestinian political movement Fatah, and
(3) … um … well … despite the fact that the mandate ran out either in January 2009 or January 2010, depending on one’s legal view … is still President of the Palestinian Authority set up by agreement under terms of the Oslo Accords [+ subsequent practice] between the PLO and Israel.

Last night, in Cairo, there was a previously-unannounced meeting of Abbas and Hamas’ Politburo Chief Khaled Meshaal.

Until now, the major obstacle to Hamas joining the PLO has been the objection of Fatah.

The problem existed even prior to the mid-June 2007 Hamas military rout [in Ramallah, it was called a “military coup”] of Fatah/PA Preventive Security Forces from Gaza, but that sealed the present division. PA President Mahmoud Abbas immediately responded to this “military coup” with his own “political coup”, dissolving a short-lived [3 months, to be precise] “National Unity” government [negotiated in Mecca by Saudi Arabia] — which was, like the two prior governments formed in the wake of the 2006 elections, led by Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. Hamas reportedly feared an imminent American backed military attack led by Fatah’s Mohammed Dahlan [then a star, now in disgrace].

In the aftermath, Abbas then set up an “Emergency Government”, and named Salam Fayyad as PA Prime Minister. The U.S. and other major donors celebrated with a major “love-in”, praising Fayyad, the American-trained Security Services, and showering Ramallah with donor funding.

Apart from that major rift, the core issue of contention about Hamas joining the PLO: Hamas wanted to have a proportion of seats in the PLO’s Palestine National Council [PNC] similiar to the proportion it won in the 2006 Palestine Legislative Council [PLC] elections = over 60%.

For Fatah, furious that it lost a great deal of ground to Fatah in those 2006 elections, that was, and is, unthinkable.

The most Fatah could agree that Hamas deserves was about 25% maximum.

This is where the new elections come in. Not only has the term expired for the PA President + the PA’s PLC… Fatah is somehow hoping that Hamas will lose any new elections it participates in. This would have the felicitous effect of confirming the correctness of Fatah’s stand [which has prevented Hamas from joining the PLO so far, even if Hamas wanted to]: Fatah firmly believes that Hamas deserves less [preferably, much less] than a majority stake in the PNC.

Basically, the position still is: if Hamas joins the PLO, it will have be on Fatah’s terms, already explained by PLO Chairman [and Fatah leader] Abbas.

As Nabil Shaath said in his remarks to journalists in Bethlehem on Thursday night, if I understood him correctly: Hamas “has to go back to where it was in 2006, apologize to the Palestinian people [for the events of 2007], and abandon all pretense to representing the Palestinian people”…

Does anybody seriously think Hamas is going to apologize for what happened in 2007?

The incremental step announced so far in Cairo — Hamas joining a PLO committee on elections — appears to suggest that some progress in Palestinian reconciliation is being made. [After all, it is something demanded by most Palestinians].

At the same time, the step announced does not yet trespass over the limit suggested by the US, which has said that Hamas must not join any new Palestinian government until it has acceeded to all three conditions set by the Quartet [and by Israel]:
(1) recognition of Israel [Netanyahu has officially set the barrier even higher, at recognition of Israel as a Jewish state];
(2) an end to “terrorism”;
(3) acceptance of all prior PLO agreements and positions.

If there is Hamas participation in a new Palestinian government prior to fulfilling those conditions, the U.S. has threatened a cut off of humanitarian funding to the PA…

Slowing down the arrival of day that decision may have to be taken, while keeping up the appearance of movement and progress towards reconciliation, is one of the main goals shared by the Fatah + Hamas, the two largest Palestinian movements participating in the current exercise.

Meanwhile, there will be a lot of gymnastically-contortionist statements involving circuitous positions of logic that will be advanced to explain all this…

Israel's QME (Qualitative Military Edge) – a ten-year, $30 billion dollar American commitment

Now that George Mitchell has returned to the region (meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu today, tomorrow in Ramallah to speak with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, etc.) we are waiting for some new American move — other than just urging the return to direct talks as soon as possible.

Can it be just coincidence that Andrew J. Shapiro Assistant Secretary [of State?] for Political-Military Affairs made a presentation at the Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington today?

His topic: “The Obama Administration’s Approach to U.S.-Israel Security Cooperation: Preserving Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge”.

He got straight to the point: “our security relationship with Israel is broader, deeper and more intense than ever before. Just last week, President Obama met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and stated that ‘Israel has unique security requirements’. President Obama has ensured that his Administration fully recognizes those requirements, and we have redoubled our commitment to meeting them. Indeed, as Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, one of my primary responsibilities is to preserve Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, or QME”.

Shapiro told his audience that “we’re preserving Israel’s QME through an unprecedented increase in U.S. security assistance,  stepped up security consultations, support for Israel’s new Iron Dome defensive system, and other initiatives. We recognize that today Israel is facing some of the toughest challenges in its history … Israel is a vital ally and a cornerstone of our regional security commitments”.

A special promotional email sent out by the State Department tonight to draw attention to Shapiro’s prepared remarks stated that: Israel is the leading beneficiary of U.S. security assistance funds for military training and equipment.  This year, Congress fully funded the Obama Administration’s $2.775 billion security assistance request for Israel — the largest security assistance request for Israel in U.S. history … The United States has committed for more than 30 years to helping Israel maintain its qualitative military edge – defined in terms of Israel’s ability to counter and defeat credible military threats from any individual state, coalition of states or non-state actors, while sustaining minimal damage or casualties. In 2008, this longstanding policy was written into law, and has since become the cornerstone of the U.S.-Israeli security relationship

In his speech, Shapiro actually counted Iran as a threat twice — once for its nuclear program [note: he did not say nuclear weapons program], and once for posing (as did Syria, he said) a significant conventional challenge.

Hizballah and Hamas, he said, pose “asymmetrical threats”, through indiscriminate rocket fire that targets Israeli population centers, and extensive arms struggling operations “many of which originate in Tehran and Damascus, weaken regional security and disrupt efforts to establish lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors”.

Continue reading Israel's QME (Qualitative Military Edge) – a ten-year, $30 billion dollar American commitment

The US + EU = more than half the Quartet

Food for thought: Today, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, in her remarks to the press after her meeting at the State Department in Washington D.C. with the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton, that: “Together, we have a population of 800 million, a $27 trillion economy, a zone of peace, democracy, development, and respect for human rights and the rule of law which stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea. Our partnership is the foundation for our mutual efforts to advance peace and prosperity worldwide”

Continue reading The US + EU = more than half the Quartet

Interesting reflections on Palestinians, Israel, and America

Here are some interesting excerpts from remarks made in an interview conducted by the Jerusalem Post’s correspondent in the U.S., Shmuel Rosner, with Dr. Stephen P. Cohen, author of the recently-published book “Beyond America’s Grasp – A Century of Failed Diplomacy in The Middle East”

Question (Rosner): You say in your book that “America had never had an adequate understanding of how essential settlement of the Palestinian issue was to the stability of the region”.  Why is it essential…?

Answer (Cohen): The Palestinian issue remains a core unsolved problem of the Arab period under colonial control. I do not see Zionism as a colonial movement but I do see that the Arabs not only consider the Palestinian question as the most prominent and important remaining vestige of colonialism but that they also blame Zionism as the core of what helped to create a smooth transition between British colonial policy and the American search for a dominant role in the region … The uniqueness of the Palestinian question is the way that it consistently retains its emotional significance for the Arab masses.  The Arab satellite media have chosen to become the televisor of incidents of violence against Palestinians and of the restriction on their freedom of movement.  These news clips are repeated incessantly.  This emersion [sic – it should probably read “immersion”] of Arab satellite television in imaging Palestinian suffering in almost every newscast puts this issue on the popular mind again and again so that popular consciousness becomes a burden on the regimes.   Public opinions in Middle East countries hold their own regimes responsible for the suffering they see by blaming their own regimes for weakness and for maintaining a strong relationship with the United States even while the U.S. supports Israel and is the essential basis of Israeli continued military control over Palestinian life and military occupation of Palestinian land.  In this way, the Palestinian issue not only maintains the conflict between the Arabs and Israel but also exacerbates tensions between the U.S. and virtually every Arab country … I often say that conflict resolution requires attention, not only to the issues between the conflicting parties, but also to issues within each party.  So, for example, in Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not fully subsume the internal religious conflict within Israel.  However, the Palestinian issue has exacerbated the religious conflict within Israel.  The issues of Jerusalem and land of Israel settlement or withdrawal are treated differently by secular Israelis than they are by religious Israelis…

Question: Do you think that the current administration has better understanding of the centrality of the Palestinian issue … ?

Answer: President Obama shows a more sophisticated understanding of the importance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian question but, his first attempt to bring a major change in the policies of the parties towards solution has failed.  Obama now needs to move away from the exclusive focus on settlements to find a more convincing road to bringing Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate about permanent agreements.  This revised approach needs to emphasize showing Israel how more important strategic goals will be served by negotiating agreements than by maintenance or expansion of settlement activities.  He will have to show the Palestinians that, under his leadership, Israel will negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders and will recognize that Jerusalem is important to Islam, not only to Judaism, and is as essential a component of Palestinian society, economy, politics and identity as it is for Israel … We are in a phase of the history of this conflict in which religion has become critical again.  Obama recognized that in his Cairo speech when he emphasized interfaith respect and understanding.  He has not yet had the freedom of action to have worked in practical ways on this religious dimension.

Question: You want the US to ‘help Israel solve its problem of the occupied territories’. What’s you recipe for achieving such goal?

Answer: … The U.S. has to think more concretely about Israel’s security problem of withdrawing from the West Bank.  There can be no opening to bringing any missiles into the West Bank.  Missiles in the West Bank would be a threat to Israel’s most important commercial airport, and through it, a threat to Israel’s economy.  Missiles in the West Bank could also reach the largest concentrations of Israeli population. It would not be enough to count on the military dominance of the Palestinian authority over Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas. In my view, there would have to be a NATO peace force with teeth, and those teeth would almost certainly have to be American.  The American military and security establishment have to show willingness and preparedness for such a scenario.  In addition to that, the U.S. needs to think through long-term security arrangements for Israel and for the Palestinian state that would become ironclad deterrents to anyone contemplating renewal of hostilities … I emphasize the failure of Palestinian leadership from the early 1920’s in not building an effective civil society, not creating a structure of participatory governance and, most of all, for adopting a policy of  ‘all or nothing’  toward Zionism.  The Palestinians decided under Haj Amin al Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, that any acknowledgment of the Jewish presence in Palestine is too much.  Under his leadership, the Palestinians rejected even the most far-reaching British limitations on Zionism, because those proposals still allowed a measure of legitimacy to the Zionist enterprise”…

This interview can be read in full here

Sahrawi activist returned to Laayoune last night

After voluntarily checking herself into the hospital on Thursday morning, Haidar was allowed to return home to Laayoune in the Western Sahara Thursday evening.

The BBC reported Today that “It now appears that frantic multi-country talks were under way to seek a resolution … [but ] details of how a deal was finally reached were not known … The Spanish foreign ministry said only that it was the result of a co-ordinated effort between Spain, France and the US to persuade Morocco that it would be ‘preferable’ to allow Mrs Haidar back to Western Sahara. A spokesperson told the BBC no conditions were attached and Spain had issued ‘salvoconducto‘ (safe-conduct) documents to make travel possible …The independence activist launched her very public protest after the Moroccan authorities confiscated her passport and denied her entry to Laayoune, in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. She had refused to declare her nationality as Moroccan on an official form – as usual – but this time she was expelled from the territory”.

The Financial Times reported that Morocco relented, after international diplomacy went into high gear. Unfortunately, as so often happens when diplomacy goes into high gear, it was at the expense of a political concession: “Earlier this week, Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, called for accelerated negotiations to help save Ms Haidar’s life. Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, helped broker a deal with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI to allow Ms Haidar’s return. As part of the agreement, both France and Spain – Morocco’s most important European allies – have issued conciliatory official statements recognising the de facto application of Moroccan law in the Western Sahara until the conflict is resolved. Human rights activists believe that western governments are cynically ignoring the legitimate demands of Sahrawis to protect their commercial and strategic interests (which include countering the influence of both China and al-Qaeda in Africa) through their relations with Morocco”.

The FT said that “Carne Ross, a former British diplomat who advises on international affairs and admires Ms Haidar, has blamed Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, for inadvertently encouraging the Moroccan authorities to crack down on Sahrawi activists when she praised the country’s human rights record and its plans for the Western Sahara in an interview before her recent visit to Morocco … Mr Ross, who advises Polisario, said in an e-mailed message to the media on Thursday shortly before Ms Haidar returned home to El Ayoun that her plight was ‘the real price of the EU’s cosying-up to Morocco, including negotiating an enhanced partnership with the EU, and paying Morocco for EU boats illegally to fish the Western Saharan waters’.”

As the FT explained: “Morocco annexed the Western Sahara as Spain abandoned it in 1975, and the territory is sometimes called Africa’s last remaining colony. The Polisario Front, based in neighbouring Algeria, waged a guerrilla war for independence until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire deal that provided for a referendum. But the vote has yet to be held and Morocco says that the most it will grant is autonomy … According to Mr Ross, seven other Sahrawi activists face military trials for treason and could be sentenced to death if found guilty”. This FT story can be read in full here.

In an interesting article signed by AHMED T.B., showing artful reporting combining praise and constructive criticism (plus, of course the facts) in an difficult and tendentious atmosphere, posted on the MoroccoBoard website, the author writes: “Morocco’s actions against Haider gave credence to her claims of abuse against the Sahrawi; claims that were partially discredited on account of the fact that she lived in Morocco and was free of her movement and expression. The United States, France, and the Arab governments (minus Algeria,) thus far, bask in a stolid insularity. Could Morocco have handled Haidar’s issue internally? Absolutely yes! She is, after all, Moroccan. The removal of a Moroccan’s citizenship is by Royal decree (there are exceptions and Haidar’s case is not one.) That authority is not delegated to the King’s prosecutor. The Moroccan legal system has established a set procedure to be adhered to. A Moroccan cannot just surrender her passport, and renounce her citizenship, nor should the government deprive a Moroccan of her citizenship without due process. If Aminatou Haidar decided to submit a request to the King to forfeit her Moroccan citizenship, and such request was approved, only then could she be handed over to MINURSO officials for transport to the refugee camps in Tindouf. The Aminatou Haider incident exposes the flaws of Morocco’s policies and the inefficiency of its security posture vis-à-vis its Southern Provinces. Perhaps emboldened by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s expressed commitment to support Morocco’s agenda (after all, Christopher Ross is a career U.S. Foreign Service Officer,) Mohammed VI, in his speech commemorating the 34th anniversary of the “Green March,” delivered a stern message to the Sahrawis signaling that the democratic process afterglow had waned. The King presented the Sahrawi population with an ultimatum a la George W. Bush – ‘you are either patriots or traitors’. The execution of his directives was immediate. Security forces rounded up dozens of activists accusing them of providing material and/or ideological support to the Polisario Front; they reinforced their presence in southern cities and the routes connecting them. If Haider is indeed a subversive member of the Polisario, as Morocco’s Foreign Minister Taeib Fassi-Fihri claimed today in Brussels, the Moroccan authorities should have arrested her, presented their evidence, and tried her. Much like Ahmed Alansari, Brahim Dahane, Yahdih Ettarouzi, Saleh Labihi, Dakja Lashgar, Rachid Sghir and Ali Salem Tamek, all arrested on October 8th in Casablanca, Haider was known to Morocco’s intelligence services since 1987 when she was ‘disappeared’ for four years for joining a local underground pro-polisario support group. After the passing of Hassan II and seizing on the permissiveness of the transitional spirit that characterized Mohammed VI’s political outlook then, Haider overtly campaigned for the independence of ‘Western Sahara’. When riots broke out in El Aayoun in 2005, she was, once again, arrested and detained for seven months. Morocco’s counterintelligence office had an opportunity to launch an offensive intelligence operation to deny Algeria the initiative. Haider and other Sahrawi dissenters could have been recruited as sources considering their tremendous placement and access allowing them to answer some of Morocco’s priority intelligence requirements. Granted that they lacked the motivation to support what they regard as a colonizer, but the Moroccan government should have embraced them, involved them in the political process and provided them with a controlled venue to express their frustrations. From an intelligence perspective, Aminatou Haider is an utter failure. It is clear that Morocco’s strategy, as it stands, is counterintuitive. The King’s rigid approach will greatly compromise Morocco’s long-run political prospect and tax its security forces by driving the opposition underground forcing it to devise a stealth modus operandi and making it suitable for exploitation by foreign intelligence services and terrorist organizations. A calibrated strategy with depth and forethought would seek to foster an environment of debate and a culture of transparency that does not revolve around passionate rallies of mindless patriotism. Instead of threats, the government should bring arguments to the fore. Instead of echoing gauzy statements to cover up its mistakes, it should take responsibility”. This posting can be read in full
here. [Its website says that “Morocco Board News Service is the Moroccan American Community News source for American-North African Affairs. Its content is distributed to Moroccan Americans, to general market media and to a broad range of the general Public. The topics are not usually covered by the English language media. MoroccoBoard reaches a new audience with a new focus. It is a podium for different voices and opinions; it sheds the light on America’s relation with Morocco and North Africa“.]

Abbas: "We are at a crossroads"

“We have made precious sacrifices until our right to establish our state is recognized … We placed ourselves under the sponsorship of the international community, and year after year we have been disappointed”, said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a speech that was billed to journalists as a press conference called on one-and-a-half hours’ notice, Thursday night.

There were rumors all day — and in fact, all week, and even for months — that Abbas (Abu Mazen) would not run again as President, if and when the next Palestinian elections are held.

In his speech Thursday night, in the Muqata’a, the Palestinian presidential headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas told certain political figures and journalists present in the hall, and a worldwide television audience, that he does not intend to be a candidate in those elections.

He said that he has now so informed the (PLO) Executive Committee, and the (Fatah) Central Council — and, that while he appreciates their position (they want him to run), he hopes they will appreciate his position as well.

“This is not a tactic or a maneuver”, Abbas said. “There are other steps I will take in time”, he added, without further explanation.

UPDATE: Angry Arab (As’ad AbuKhalil) picked up on his blog today this interesting comment from an article by Tony Karon in Time magazine: ” ‘This is political theater’, says Amman-based Palestinian analyst Mouin Rabani. ‘The Palestinian Central Election Committee is expected to conclude that the election Abbas called for in January can’t be held, because Hamas won’t allow them to go ahead in Gaza, and Israel won’t allow them to go ahead in East Jerusalem … So what he did today was announce that he won’t be a candidate in an election he knows is not going to happen”
… This article can be read in full here.

On 24 October, in what was regarded as (and later admitted to be) a kind of manoeuver (or pressure, on Hamas, for concessions in reconciliation talks), Abbas — who heads the premier and largest Palestinian movement, Fatah — launched launched the necessary three-month election preparation process, and declared that Palestinian presidential and legislative council elections would take place on 24 January 2010.

In his speech tonight, Abbas said he has been “surprised by the biased position that the U.S. showed to Israel” …

He then added that the present situation “pushes me to address the Israeli government and people, and to say … that peace is more important than any governmental coalition”.

Abbas listed a series of points that he said were basic to any solution, including that: UN resolutions should be implemented; the Palestinian state should be established inside the borders that existed prior to 4 June 1967; East Jerusalem would be its capital; there should be a just solution to the Palestinian refugee question; there is no legitimacy for keeping Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory; security arrangements should be reached concerning the borders between the two states; Palestinians should have access to water resources according to international law, and the right to control national resources that are either on, above, and under its soil; all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails should be released.

Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour, who lives in the West Bank town of Ramallah-Al Bireh, has just written here that “If Palestinians are beginning to sound like a broken record in calling for their inalienable rights to be respected, then so be it. I prefer that the Palestinians remain transfixed on resolving their plight using international law rather than falling for Israel’s trap of either living in the law of the jungle or as inferiors in a flawed and illegal political settlement which will only prolong the conflict”.

“I greet the families of our martyrs, and our prisoners”, Abbas said in his speech on Thursday. “The time has come for these peoples to be free, and to end the occupation… it is time to declare our independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders”.

Then, as he finished reading his prepared text (with punctual glances at the assembled audience), Abbas stood up and said: “Yella” (“Let’s go”). and walked out of the room.

He was wearing a nice quality silk (presidential) tie, in a subdued red pattern with blue.

And, several Presidential advisers — Nabil Abu Rudaineh, Nabil Shaath, Mohammed Shtayyah — all suggested to journalists, after Abbas’ speech, that there might just be a remote possibility that he could still change his mind, if something happened …

“Today he revealed the depth of his discouragement, frustration and anger, after five years of doing his best — and after the retreat of the President of the U.S. from his previous positions”, Nabil Shaath told journalists. “Today he is telling us he will not nominate himself — he already told the PLO Executive Committee and the Fatah Central Committee, who unanimously objected”, Shaath said. He added: “The man has not resigned. He is only saying he will not run again”.

Mohammed Shtayyah indicated, in an interview with Al-Jazeera television, after the Abbas speech in the Muqata’a, that one of the main factors in the decision had been that “America, the biggest supporter of the peace process, pulled back its position”. Another factor was the massive wave of criticism following the Palestinian leadership’s initial agreement, at the beginning of October, to postpone consideration in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva of the Goldstone report on the Gaza war until next March. Nevertheless, Shtayyah said, “he is the only candidate for us”. Abbas has “sent the ball back to the international community”, Shtayyah added, “and they must do something if they want Abu Mazen. For, if he’s not running for election, peace will lose”.

After an initially promising start, the Obama administration seems unable to understand how it should stand on principle in the Middle East. It also does not seem to get that it pushed the Palestinian leadership too far, while at the same time it more or less swallowed the Israeli position whole, in one gulp, and then tried to sell to the Palestinians yet another Israeli proposal that would limit, but not stop, settlement construction.

The Washington Post reported here that “Abbas got into political trouble at home when he succumbed to U.S. pressure to delay UN consideration of a report [the Goldstone report] accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza; he later reversed himself. When Clinton met him Saturday and pressed him to accept the limited Israeli settlement plan as a basis for talks, he refused. Hours later, Clinton met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and pronounced the Israeli offer ‘unprecedented’ — sparking Arab outrage, which she spent the next several days trying to dampen”.

Time magazine commented that “Netanyahu was offering a partial freeze, not including new settlements in East Jerusalem, the desired capital of a future Palestinian state. This was a nonstarter for the Palestinians, but it had the holographic glow of a step forward. It was an ‘unprecedented’ offer, Netanyahu trumpeted … It was a tough moment for Clinton, playing second fiddle at the Bibi-does-Gandhi show. President Barack Obama had softened his language on the settlements a few weeks earlier: instead of a total freeze, he had talked about Israeli ‘restraint’ in settlement-building. And now Clinton seemed to cement the Administration’s retreat, agreeing that Netanyahu’s proposal was, indeed, ‘unprecedented’, even though the U.S. still favored a total freeze. The most important thing, she added, was for the parties to get to the table as quickly as possible. The onus was back on the Palestinians — and the Palestinians quickly expressed outrage … clearly, Clinton had been too bullish on Netanyahu’s proposal (which had been negotiated over months with Middle East envoy George Mitchell and was seen, privately, by the Americans as real progress) … [and] her performance in Jerusalem indicates that she needs a few lessons in Middle East Haggling 101 … At home, she has often seemed tentative and deferential. In a conversation with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates aired by CNN in early October, Clinton’s cautious formality took a backseat to Gates’ brisk, humorous confidence on policy issues. Abroad, she seems far more confident, at times to the point of recklessness, as in Jerusalem”. This commentary can be read in full here.

The Associated Press reported that “After Abbas’ speech Thursday, [U.S. Secretary of State Hilary] Clinton praised his leadership in working toward the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel. She ignored a question about whether she would try to persuade Abbas to stay on and said: ‘I look forward to working with President Abbas in any new capacity to help achieve this goal’.” here.

Reuters later reported, here, that Abbas “offered” to quit over stalled peace process, and added that “his phrasing did appear to leave some room for a change of heart”. The Reuters report also said that Abbas appeared “visibly tense” — and in the room it was obvious that there was a lot of adrenalin flowing in his veins — but on camera, this did not really come across. And, though he spoke briskly, Abbas did not use fighting words.

Right after the speech, there were very small numbers of Fatah demonstrators assembled in Ramallah’s central Manara Square (circle) after the Abbas speech, and urging him to withdraw his decision not to run…

Iran pledges to cooperate fully and immediately with IAEA – Obama says this must be within two weeks

After talks in Genthod, in the Geneva countryside today, the AP reported, “senior EU envoy Javier Solana said Iran had pledged to open its newly revealed uranium enrichment plant to International Atomic Energy Agency inspection soon … Solana said Iran had pledged to ‘cooperate fully and immediately with the IAEA’, and said he expected Tehran to invite agency inspectors looking for signs of covert nuclear weapons activity to visit ‘in the next couple of weeks’. At the United Nations, the Iranian Foreign Minister confirmed the plant would be opened to inspectors. ‘The letter from the IAEA to the Islamic Republic of Iran, in response to the information we have provided in this respect, and with regard to the new facilities that are under construction, indicate the fact that the agency has appreciated Iran’s move and dialogue for arranging a visit by the IAEA official is under way’, Manouchehr Mottaki said”. The AP report can be read in full here.

Then, for some reason, U.S. President Barack Obama decided to talk somewhat tough, according to a report published in the Jerusalem Post: “Now that Iran has agreed to open its newly disclosed nuclear enrichment facility to international inspectors, it ‘must grant unfettered access’ to those inspectors within two weeks, Obama said. ‘Talk is no substitute for action’, Obama said at the White House after talks ended earlier in the day in Switzerland. ‘Our patience is not unlimited’. Obama said that if Iran follows through with concrete steps ‘there is a path to a better relationship’ with the United States and the international community. He said that Iran’s promise during the talks to transfer some of its low-enriched uranium to another country for processing is an example of such a step. The uranium would be used in a medical-research reactor”. This JPost report can be read in full here.

U.S. Joins the UN Human Rights Council

After not being elected — for the first time in its history — to membership for the final sessions of the now-replaced UN Human Rights Commission (HRC), and sullenly sitting out the opening sessions of the HRC’s successor (the new but not-much-improved UN Human Rights Council), the U.S. did stand for elections has now joined the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The U.S. has supported Israel’s criticisms that the new Human Rights Council has spent too much time on Israel (and not enough time on other places where human rights are also being violated. The former Special Rapporteur on abuses in the occupied Palestinian territory for the Human Rights Council, John Dugard, has just written an article stating that “President Obama’s recent speech to the Muslim World failed to address allegations that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza”.

Continue reading U.S. Joins the UN Human Rights Council

Blogger deported back to U.S. after trying to go home to Gaza via Egypt

Blogger Laila Haddad, perhaps better known as Yousuf’s (and now Noor’s) Mom, has returned to the United States after being deported from Cairo Airport with her two young children while trying to return home to Gaza via Egypt (eventually, the Rafah crossing).

She was detained in Cairo Airport, then deported to the U.S. (where her visa had expired, she said) apparently via the U.K., and has kept people informed about her five-day ordeal via Twitter, here.
Continue reading Blogger deported back to U.S. after trying to go home to Gaza via Egypt

UNSG BAN Ki-Moon – is there a critical mass of disenchantment?

A vigilant friend and colleague in Geneva has sent this translation by UNRIC’s Desk Officer for Spain of
the article that appeared in El Pais on Sunday, saying “the translation is not perfect but tells you what John Carlin [and Spain’s prominent newspaper El Pais! says about Ban Ki-moon:.


“The UN Secretary-General has remained absent from the great international conflicts and has blurred the role of the Organization. The United Nations therefore misses the opportunity to rebuild itself from the Iraq dump now that the upcoming changes in Washington come up.

El Pais, 07/09/2008
By John Carlin

“During a meeting with Palestinian leaders in East Jerusalem last year, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, began expressing his satisfaction ‘for being in Israel’.

While the Palestinians who were present showed astonishment, making efforts to repress their indignation, one of Ban’s advisers whispered him that calling the occupied territory where they were “Israel” was not the most diplomatic thing he could do, given the attendants. Ban agreed, continued and finished his remarks with a smile and a happy “it has been a great pleasure to be in Israel’.

The confusion that Ban caused that day among the Palestinians has extended today, 20 months after he took over the post of Secretary-General, to the majority of the member States of the UN. On the eve of 63rd Session of the General Assembly that will begin in New York on the 16th of this month, a yearly ceremony in which Heads of Government of the entire world meet, there is an increasing perception that it would not be advisable that Ban, in the past the Foreign Minister of his country, South Korea, be renewed in his present five-year mandate when it concludes. The usual thing to do would be to continue in the post that some have described as a ‘Lay Pope’. But the impression that ‘the glass is half empty’ increases, a former top UN official points out.

“He adds that (Ban) is not the right man to preserve the independence and the legitimacy of the United Nations at a time in which it suffers from increasing paralysis, although there is a slight opportunity –before the imminent change of Government in United States- to be able to rise from the remains of the war of Iraq and the animosity of the President George W. Bush, as the moral and political force of Human Rights and Peace, as it was intended to be when it was founded at the end WWII. Continue reading UNSG BAN Ki-Moon – is there a critical mass of disenchantment?