Netanyahu endorses a Palestinian state ... sort of
Benjamin Netanyahu's long-awaited speech regarding his government's intentions toward his Palestinian neighbors has landed with what can only be described as a thud. From the BBC:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced he will back a Palestinian state - but only if it is completely demilitarised.
He said a Palestinian state must have no army, no control of its air space and no way of smuggling in weapons.
In a landmark speech, weeks after the US president urged him to agree a two-state plan, he said the Palestinians must accept Israel as a Jewish state.
The crux of the speech was Netanyahu's endorsement of what amounts to a rump Palestinian "state-light"... whose only possession would apparently be a flag, presumably of its own design ... From the speech:
"The key condition is that the Palestinians recognise in a clear and public manner that Israel is the state of the Jewish people. The heart of the conflict has always been the Arabs' refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish state.
If we have guarantees on demilitarisation and if the Palestinians recognise Israel as a state of the Jewish people, then we arrive at a solution based on a demilitarised Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Each will have its flag, each will have its anthem. The Palestinian territory will be without arms, will not control airspace, will not be able to have arms."
To which Palestinian leaders basically said ... well, they said this:
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said Netanyahu had created new preconditions and that he seemed intent on setting a unilaterally dictated solution rather than a negotiated peace. "He announced a series of conditions and qualifications that render a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian state impossible," he said.
He noted Netanyahu had not mentioned the Arab Peace Initiative, which first emerged in 2002, under which the Arab states offered Israel full diplomatic recognition in return for a Palestinian state in land Israel captured in 1967 with a capital in East Jerusalem and an agreed solution for refugees. Nor did Netanyahu mention the 2003 US Road Map, which also calls for a Palestinian state and a halt to settlement activity.
Mustafa Barghouti, a moderate Palestinian MP, said Netanyahu had not endorsed the creation of an independent Palestinian state. "He endorsed a ghetto," he said. "He endorsed a state that would be subject to Israeli control. Mr Netanyahu has proven that there is not partner for peace in Israel. His whole speech was about the consolidation of apartheid ... This will not lead to peace."
Not a good start, by any measure. And not winning him any allies on the Israeli left, including writer Akiva Eldar at Ha'aretz, who declared the speech positively neocon:
The prime minister's speech last night returned the Middle East to the days of George W. Bush's "axis of evil." Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a patriarchal, colonialist address in the best neoconservative tradition: The Arabs are the bad guys, or at best ungrateful terrorists; the Jews, of course, are the good guys, rational people who need to raise and care for their children. In the West Bank settlement of Itamar, they're even building a nursery school.
... The prime minister's declaration that Jerusalem will remain he "undivided capital" of Israel - only Israel - slammed the door before the entire Muslim world. And his Hebron is solely the city of the Jewish patriarchs; the Arabs have no such rights at all. The Palestinians can have a state, but only if those foreign invaders show us they know how to eat with a fork and knife. Actually, without a knife.
"The President welcomes the important step forward in Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech. The President is committed to two states, a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestine, in the historic homeland of both peoples. He believes this solution can and must ensure both Israel's security and the fulfillment of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations for a viable state, and he welcomes Prime Minister Netanyahu's endorsement of that goal. The President will continue working with all parties – Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Arab states, and our Quartet partners – to see that they fulfill their obligations and responsibilities necessary to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a comprehensive regional peace."
..paradoxically, it seems that from Israel's point of view the victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is actually preferable. Not only because "better the devil you know," but because the victory of the pro-reform candidate will paste an attractive mask on the face of Iranian nuclear ambitions...
... Ahmadinejad, with his Holocaust denial and his long series of provocations, drew most of the attention, but apparently had less influence on the nuclear program. There are even senior members of the Israeli defense establishment who share the public stance of former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, who claimed that the Iranian president's behavior, perceived in the West as quasi-lunatic, advanced Israel's security interests.
"The Arabs, our adversaries, have succeeded in doing to us what 'Borat' did for Kazakhstan", Ido Aharoni told the Knesset Defense and Security Committee on Tuesday, referring to the 2006 Sacha Baron Cohen film in which Cohen portrayed a Kazakh filmmaker touring the United States.
Aharoni, head of the Brand Israel project, said Arab public relations measures "have created an image [for Israelis] whose connection to reality is very weak." Aharoni's comments mirrored those made by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said "we [Israel] cannot advance successful diplomacy if we don't change the way we are viewed."
Um ... paging Mr. Lieberman... your problem might be two-fold: your policies, your settlements ... and YOU. That's right sir. You ... YOU ... are Israel's Borat.
In 2003 he advocated the drowning of Palestinian prisoners in the Dead Sea and offered to provide buses to take them there. When Jamal Zahalka, an Arab Member of the Knesset, criticised him for making this comment Mr Lieberman threatened his fellow Member of the Knesset by saying, "Let me tell you openly. As far as I'm concerned you're much worse than Arafat and Abu Mazen. If it was up to me you'd be sitting in jail, at best." (Haaretz 08/07/2003)
In May 2004, he said that 90 percent of Israel's 1.2 million Arabs would "have to find a new Arab entity" in which to live beyond Israel's borders. "They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost,". (Institue for Middle East Understanding 12/11/06
He is a staunch opponent of the peace process. He resigned his post and left the Likud party in protest over then-Prime Minister Netanyahu's signing of the U.S.-brokered Wye River Memorandum. (Institue for Middle East Understanding 12/11/06
The Jerusalem Post reported that Lieberman called for the execution of any Arab Members of Knesset who meet with representatives of the Palestinian government, saying, "World War II ended with the Nurenberg trials. The heads of the Nazi regime, along with their collaborators, were executed. I hope this will be the fate of the collaborators in [the Knesset]." (Jerusalem Post 04/05/06)
George Bush's invasion of Iraq, which was supposed to touch off a democratic tide that would sweep across the Middle East, instead contributed to the election Hezbollah MPs in Lebaonon, a Hamas government in Gaza, and a growing extremism in Iran's government. Now, with Obama in office, the opposite may be beginning to take place. Writes the Guardian's Simon Tidsall reports:
Lebanon feels the Obama effect
... It would be fanciful to claim that Obama's bridge-building speech to the Muslim world in Cairo last week, attractive though it was, crucially influenced Lebanese voters. But the calmer, unconfrontational tone adopted by Washington on Middle East issues since George Bush trudged home to Texas appears to have struck a chord in a country that was teetering on the brink of sectarian civil war one year ago.
Pre-election visits by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and Joe Biden, the US vice-president, underscored the importance that Obama attached to the poll. Some resented these interventions as unwarranted interference. But many Lebanese, particularly the nearly 40% of the population that is Christian, seem to have approved of Washington's increased engagement; and to have heard its implicit message that a vote for Hezbollah and its allies would be a backwards step.
That refrain was underscored by exaggerated claims that Hezbollah and its Tehran backers, if further empowered, would turn Lebanon into a second Gaza. And if that was not enough, an eve-of-poll demarche by Boutros Sfeir, spiritual leader of the country's Maronite Christians, may have done the trick. He warned the country was in danger. It was clear from whom he believed the danger emanated.
By giving the nod to Saad Hariri and his 14 March bloc of Sunni Muslim, Druze and Christian parties, which won 71 parliamentary seats against 57 for the opposition, Lebanon has provided Obama with his first significant regional policy success. The result is a setback for Iran, which has sought enhanced influence via Hezbollah. And it confirmed Lebanon's 2005 rejection of Syria as the master manipulator of its affairs, confounding suggestions that Damascus was inching back.
Meanwhile, the results in Lebaonon could have the effect of bringing on the isolation of ... well ... Israel:
In contrast, the rightwing Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu may view the vote with ambivalence. The prospect of the non-ideological Hariri as Lebanon's prime minister, a likely though not yet certain outcome, must be welcome in Tel Aviv. But this dash to moderation robs Israel's favourite contemporary narrative – the inexorable, region-wide advance of an existentially threatening, nuclear armed Iran – of some of its power to alarm.
Meanwhile, in Europe, which has often exhibited a certain coolness toward the Israelis, stories like this one don't help:
Two Israeli officers have testified that troops in the West Bank beat, bound and blindfolded Palestinian civilians as young as 14. The damaging disclosures by two sergeants of the Kfir Brigade include descriptions of abuses they say they witnessed during a search-and-detain operation involving hundreds of troops in Hares village on 26 March. The testimonies have been seen by The Independent and are expected to add fuel to the controversy over recent remarks by Colonel Itai Virob, commander of Kfir Brigade, in which he said violence against detained Palestinians was justified in order to accomplish missions.
Both the soldiers, from the Harub battalion, highlighted the tight tying of the plastic hand restraints placed on detainees. "There are people who think you need to tighten the restraints all the way, until no drop of blood will pass from here to there," one soldier said. "It doesn't take much time until the hands turn blue. There were a lot of people that you know weren't feeling anything."
He said about 150 Palestinians, some as young as 14, were bound, blindfolded and detained at the village school during the operation, which lasted from 3am to 3pm. He was told it was aimed at preventing village youths throwing stones against nearby settler roads. It was clear many of the people detained had done nothing wrong, but they were held to gather intelligence, he said.
Hang on, does Dick Cheney work for the IDF???
Meanwhile, in yet another irony of international current affairs, it seems that a particular form of right wing extremism is making a comeback due to the economic crisis: fascism.
This is a significant moment – the fascists have come in from the cold
A few weeks ago I attended a think-tank lunch held to discuss whether the rise of the left was inevitable in the wake of the banking crisis. After some discussion, Dominic Grieve, the cerebral shadow Justice minister, intervened. "I don't worry about the hard left," he said. "It is the rise of the far right that scares me."
The AP analysis that President Obama's success in remaking U.S. relations with the Muslim world depends largely on Israel sounds right to me. And how Israelis responded to President Obama's historic Cairo speech depends largely on which Israelis you're talking about. On the one hand, you have the hardliners, represented by the writers at the Jerusalem Post (and sometimes it seems, by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who obsessed on Thursday over Obama's failure to use the word "terror" or "terrorism," and over the president's "provocative" comments about settlements -- Wolf really should give a disclaimer about his former work for AIPAC when discussing the Mideast ...) One JPost writer sums up the "problem" with Obama's words, from the right wing Israeli point of view:
... First and foremost was his linkage of the establishment of the State of Israel and the Holocaust.
Thus, according to Obama, Americans recognize that "the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied," an obvious reference not to the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of the Jewish people from its historic homeland, but rather to the Shoa. The continuation of the speech, in which he refers to his visit today to Buchenwald and attacks Holocaust denial, make this linkage absolutely clear.
But besides being historically inaccurate, this false connection strengthens one of the strongest canards of anti-Israel propaganda in the Muslim world; that Europeans guilty of Holocaust crimes established a Jewish state in Palestine at the expense of the local Arab residents to atone for their World War II atrocities.
By ignoring three thousand years of Jewish history, by neglecting to even mention the unbreakable link, started long before the advent of Islam, between the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael, Obama totally failed to deliver what should have been one of his most important messages to the Arab world.
The prime minister ordered the ministers to say nothing, but of course they could not help but invade the studios. Uzi Landau said that a Palestinian state is tantamount to an "Iranian state." Isaac Herzog appeared even more ridiculous when he said that the problem with the settlements is one of "public relations." In essence, both were busy with the same problem: How can we manage to pull the new America's leg as well? Israeli politicians have never before appeared as pathetic, as small as they did Thursday, compared to the bearer of promise in Cairo.
Netanyahu now understands what he already knew before the speech: The moment of political reckoning that he so feared is now rapidly approaching. The thunder he hears in the distance is the sound of the Likud legions and the West Bank settler hordes rolling down the mountains. The light on the horizon is not that of a new day, but of a train coming right at him - a night train from Cairo.
Netanyahu will have to decide over the coming weeks whom he would rather pick a fight with: the powerful U.S. administration, whose president sees himself in an almost messianic role, or his own coalition and members of his party.
If people can't even agree on when and why Jewish people emigrated to what is now Israel, it's hard to see how any consensus can be formed. What's interesting, is that earlier Jewish leaders saw the issue with far more clarity, like this fellow, who said:
“If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been Anti - Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault ? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?”
That would be a quote from David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister. And here are two interesting quotes, from the late Ariel Sharon, on settlements:
“Everybody has to move; run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours. Everything we don't grab will go to them.”
That, my friends, is what Obama is up against.
For a good, objective take on the history of the contested claims to the former mandate of Palestine, try this:
For a less objective take, check out the award winning film "Occupation 101."
Pope Benedict XVI called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian homeland immediately after he arrived in Israel on Monday, a stance that could put him at odds with his hosts on a trip aimed at easing strains between the Vatican and Jews.
The pope also took on the delicate issue of the Holocaust, pledging to "honor the memory" of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide at the start of his five-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Benedict urged Israelis and Palestinians to "explore every possible avenue" to resolve their differences in remarks at the airport after he landed.
Wow. At the airport, no less. Read the text of the pope's remarks here.
Quick takes: unemployment, detainees, and the Obamas take Paris!
The March unemployment figures are as dire as you thought they'd be: 663,000 jobs lost, unemployment at 8.5 percent. As per usual, Wall Street could care less. Meanwhile:
Google also rose before the bell, although its gains were limited as Techcrunch, the website, reported the company may be in talks to buy Twitter, the microblogging service that has become the latest online craze. Google’s shares picked up 0.8 per cent to $365.45.
If the Googs make Twitter as bug-free as Blogger, we're all in big trouble...
Overseas, President and Michelle Obama get the full red carpet treatment as they arrive to a rapturous welcome in Paris, where the president held a town hall and promised a less arrogant America. Meanwhile, were Michelle O and Carla Bruni Sarkozy wearing the same dress in different colors??? You be the judge:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said today that his country will accept one prisoner from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay as a way of demonstrating approval of President Obama's decision to close the facility, adding that "it feels really good to work with a U.S. president who wants to change the world."
One of the t-shirts has a rifle sight aimed at a pregnant Palestinian with the slogan "1 shot, 2 kills," according to a report last month in the Haaretz newspaper.
A spokesman for the military called the shirts "simply tasteless," and said the armed forces' chief educational officer had instructed commanders to ensure soldiers did not create or wear the items and to discipline those who disobeyed.
Haaretz said soldiers graduating from a snipers' course designed the t-shirts with the gun sight on the pregnant woman and printed them privately. The paper described examples of soldiers in other units printing shirts with their own slogans.
This as some Israelis fear a growing isolation of that country from Europe, and potentially, from the Obama administration. Indeed, when it comes to the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel's new ultra-right wing government is quickly becoming the odd man out, with its new foreign minister, Mr. Lieberman, even pissing off Israel's one sem-friend in the region, Egypt.
Israel's new foreign minister dismayed the international community today with a rancorous analysis of the peace process and an announcement that the new government favours aggression rather than concessions to the Palestinians.
In his first speech since taking office, the rightwinger Avigdor Lieberman dismissed the last round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, arguing that Israeli concessions made in a bid to secure peace had all been fruitless.
"Those who want peace should prepare for war and be strong," he said. "There is no country that made concessions like Israel. Since 1967 we gave up territory that is three times the size of Israel. We showed willingness. The Oslo process started back in 1993, and to this day I have not seen that we reached peace."
Speaking to what the Associated Press describes as a roomful of "cringing diplomats", the new foreign minister said Israel was not bound by the Annapolis peace talks. These were initiated in November 2007 to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and involved around 40 countries.
"The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis; nor did [the] Knesset," said Lieberman, promising to honour only the US-initiated "road map" of 2002, which has long been in stalemate amid accusations from both sides.
Lieberman's speech is in stark contrast to remarks made by the incoming prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, who both said the new government would pursue peace on every front. ...
Benjamin Netanyahu is in the final stages of putting together Israel's next government, which will be opposed to a two-state solution. Most importantly, the new prime minister and his Likud Party are firmly against a Palestinian state. The Labor Party, which will be part of the governing coalition and which has been identified with the two-state solution for the past two decades, did not insist that Likud support that policy as a condition for joining the government. Its leader, Ehud Barak, merely asked for and got a vague statement saying that Israel was committed to promoting regional peace. Avigdor Lieberman, who heads Yisrael Beiteinu, the other major party in the ruling coalition, is not likely to push to give the Palestinians a viable state of their own. His main concern is "transferring" the Palestinians out of Israel so that it can be an almost purely Jewish state.
So Israel will continue expanding its settlements in the West Bank. In fact, the Israeli press is reporting that Netanyahu and Lieberman agreed in their negotiations to form a government that Israel would build 3,000 housing units in an area between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim (a huge settlement bloc) known as E-1. Once that is accomplished, Israel will have effectively cut the West Bank in half, making it almost impossible to create a viable Palestinian state. This deal was supposed to be secret, because the United States is opposed to Israel building in the E-1 area.
The Palestinians, of course, will remain locked up in Gaza and a handful of enclaves on the West Bank. In essence, Netanyahu and his two key ministers -- Ehud Barak (Defense) and Avigdor Lieberman (Foreign Affairs) -- are committed to creating a Greater Israel, which will cover all of the territory that was once Mandate Palestine. ...
The author's conclusion is even more tragic:
The Obama administration will surely try to push Netanyahu to change his thinking about a two-state solution and work to give the Palestinians a real state of their own. The Israel lobby, however, will adamantly defend Israel's right to do whatever it wants in the Occupied Territories and make it impossible for the president to put significant pressure on Israel. Netanyahu, like all Israeli leaders, understands this basic fact of life. He knows that he will just have to say a few nice words about the "peace process" and blame the whole thing on the Palestinians, who he believes are a bunch of terrorists anyway, and he will be pretty much free to do whatever he wants in Gaza and the West Bank.
It seems clear to me and to many smart people I know that this story does not have a happy ending. Indeed, it looks like a disastrous ending. Greater Israel cannot be a democratic state, because there will soon be -- if there aren't already -- more Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea than there are Israeli Jews. So, if you give each person one vote, Israel becomes Palestine. That is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever, which leaves two possible outcomes: apartheid and expelling the Palestinians -- and there are more than 5 million of them -- from Greater Israel. Talk about repulsive options. It is worth remembering that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that if there is no two-state solution, Israel will end up in a South Africa-like situation and that will mean the end of the Jewish state. In effect, he is saying that Israel is turning itself into an apartheid state.
...I would appreciate it greatly if Israel's American backers would explain what I am missing here.
The NYT reports, in an amazing feat of understatement, that Israel has an "image problem":
JERUSALEM — Israel, whose founding idea was branded as racism by the United NationsGeneral Assembly in 1975 and which faced an Arab boycott for decades, is no stranger to isolation. But in the weeks since its Gaza war, and as it prepares to inaugurate a hawkish right-wing government, it is facing its worst diplomatic crisis in two decades.
Relations with Turkey, an important Muslim ally, have suffered severely. A group of top international judges and human rights investigators recently called for an inquiry into Israel’s actions in Gaza. “Israel Apartheid Week” drew participants in 54 cities around the world this month, twice the number of last year, according to its organizers. And even in the American Jewish community, albeit in its liberal wing, there is a chill.
On the question of what to do about it, the article reports that Israel's foreign ministry has been given $2 million to launch an international "rebranding campaign," including sending friendly faced artists and cultural groups abroad. How nice. But then there's this:
Of course, for Israel’s critics, including those who firmly support the existence of a Jewish state, the problem is not one of image but of policy. They point to four decades of occupation, the settling of half a million Israeli Jews on land captured in 1967, the economic strangling of Gaza for the past few years and the society’s growing indifference toward the creation of a Palestinian state as reasons Israel has lost favor abroad, and they say that no amount of image buffing will change that.
The issue of a Palestinian state is central to Israel’s reputation abroad, because so many governments and international organizations favor its establishment in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. And while the departing government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert negotiated for such a state, the incoming one of Benjamin Netanyahu says that item is not on its immediate agenda.
Javier Solana, foreign policy chief for the European Union, said in Brussels on Monday that the group would reconsider its relationship with Israel if it did not remain committed to establishing a Palestinian state.
Moreover, Mr. Netanyahu is expected to appoint Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, as his foreign minister. This alone has Israelis and their allies in Europe and the United States worried because of Mr. Lieberman’s views of Israeli Arabs that some have called racist.
What on earth is wrong with Netanyahu? Oh, that's right. It's this:
Netanyahu, like Feiglin, supports a continuation of the occupation and both are adherents of the one-state solution - a "Jewish," occupying and racist state in which two types of people live: Jews, superior, and Arabs, inferior. Neither have any real intention of changing the current state of affairs. Feiglin speaks about a Jewish state, racial purity, and Netanyahu indeed does not dare to utter such things, but the non-solution he proposes - like anyone who opposes a complete end of the occupation - will continue to bolster the status quo, which means a Jewish state, ostensibly, with a huge Arab population living a dog's life.
The Daily Beast posts a scary piece by Reza Aslan. It concludes:
The true threat to peace in the region, and, consequently, to Israel’s future, comes from the prime minister himself, who, as recently as last month, declared his intention to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank in direct violation of the “Road Map to Peace,” put in place by the U.S., the EU, Russia, and the UN. This is the man that Israelis have once again elected to lead their country. A man whose Likud Party platform explicitly rejects the creation of a Palestinian state (“The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan River”), refers to the Occupied Territories by their biblical names “Judea” and “Samaria,” and pledges to continue building settlements in the West Bank, in violation of international law, as “a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.”
Let’s be clear: A political party has just been freely elected in the Middle East whose charter rejects the two-state solution, whose leader refuses to implement previous negotiations, and whose constituency, indeed whose very platform, denies the existence of a sovereign Palestinian entity. One can only assume that, given recent American precedence, this new party will not be allowed to govern. Indeed, we all await the economic blockade that will inevitably be put in place in Israel until the prime minister’s party changes its charter to match international norms.
And guess who Bibi is forming his new government with?
Much has been made about the position that Avigdor Lieberman, the ultra-nationalist leader of the suddenly mainstream Yisrael Beiteinu party, will play in the new Israeli government being formed by Netanyahu. Yet Lieberman is nothing but a professional provocateur—an odious, racist, populist politician who has publicly called for the drowning of Palestinian prisoners, the execution of Palestinian-Israeli parliament members, the bombing of all Palestinian-owned businesses, the obliteration of Gaza “just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II,” and the expulsion of Arab citizens from Israel whom Lieberman deems “disloyal.”
My first introduction to Netanyahu were his frequent appearances on "Nightline" when I was a kid in the 1980s. Even then, he struck me as an extremist, a racist, and an expansionist who wanted nothing less than the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their native lands. With him leading the Israeli government, good luck with the peace process, everybody.
He's got Bibi Netanyahu to deal with, and that's just in Israel. Here at home, one of the big three networks just made a fascinating hire. Per TPMCafe, "the new CBS Vice-President, [is] a right-wing extremist, a supporter of the craziest settlers on the West Bank and all out opponent of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations." The details:
A few weeks back CBS's "60 Minutes" ran a groundbreaking piece by Robert Simon showing that settlements had destroyed the two-state solution. One thing the piece left out is that American extremists have played a crucial role in that destruction by supporting the settlements and quietly undermining the "peace process" (such as it is).
The New York Times recounts just one of the myriad ways the Israeli attack on Gaza has made things worse in the region. This time: the victims are Palestinian patients, whom their government are now refusing to fund into the care of Israeli hospitals.
I just listened to part of Barack Obama's interview on Al Arabiya television tonight (on CNN). My one word reaction: wow. Never, at least not since Jimmy Carter, have I heard an American president speak of respecting the Arab world, and voice so thoughtfully, the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people. Obama made the point that members of his family are Muslim -- something he could never say during the campaign -- and he pledged to do all that he could to advance the interests of both Palestinian and Israeli children.
... or at least not since Jimmy Carter: an American president expressing sympathy for the Palestinians, and sorrow for the loss of Palestinian civilian lives. President Obama just did exactly that during his address regarding the selection of George Mitchell as Middle East envoy. Obama has called for an end to rocket fire into Israel, but also for an end to the "suffocating poverty" inflicted on the residents of Gaza. That, in and of itself, is the kind of sea change that comes from having a president who has had real, meaningful contact with the Muslim world, plus an international perspective that includes more than road trips to Mexico to score some blow. (Ahem)
Regarding the conflicts in Asia, he has said that there can be no lasting peace until we "expand the sphere of opportunity" to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It is enough to look at the pictures coming from Shifa Hospital to see how many burned, bleeding and dying children now lie there. History has seen innumerable brutal wars take countless lives.
But the horrifying proportion of this war, a third of the dead being children, has not been seen in recent memory.
God does not show mercy on the children at Gaza's nursery schools, and neither does the Israel Defense Forces. That's how it goes when war is waged in such a densely populated area with a population so blessed with children. About half of Gaza's residents are under 15.
No pilot or soldier went to war to kill children. Not one among them intended to kill children, but it also seems neither did they intend not to kill them. They went to war after the IDF had already killed 952 Palestinian children and adolescents since May 2000.
The public's shocking indifference to these figures is incomprehensible. A thousand propagandists and apologists cannot excuse this criminal killing. One can blame Hamas for the death of children, but no reasonable person in the world will buy these ludicrous, flawed propagandistic goods in light of the pictures and statistics coming from Gaza.
One can say Hamas hides among the civilian population, as if the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv is not located in the heart of a civilian population, as if there are places in Gaza that are not in the heart of a civilian population. One can also claim that Hamas uses children as human shields, as if in the past our own organizations fighting to establish a country did not recruit children.
A significant majority of the children killed in Gaza did not die because they were used as human shields or because they worked for Hamas. They were killed because the IDF bombed, shelled or fired at them, their families or their apartment buildings. That is why the blood of Gaza's children is on our hands, not on Hamas' hands, and we will never be able to escape that responsibility.
He ends with the point that when these children grow up, what they will carry with them is rage, not conciliation. How can peace possibly come of that?
This is what it's come to. The Israelis are now bombing the United Nations. From the Independent UK:
The UN refugee agency says its Gaza headquarters has been struck by Israeli artillery fire and the building is now ablaze.
Spokesman Chris Gunness says the building was hit by what was believed to be three white phosphorous shells. The weapons burn at extremely high temperatures and can set things on fire.
However, witnesses said a nearby building was struck, and the UN building remained intact. It was hard to verify the accounts because the entire area was covered in black smoke.
Gunness says the building had been used as a shelter for hundreds of people fleeing Israel's 20-day offensive in Gaza. It's not clear how many people were there at the time. He says three people were injured.
Meanwhile the Palestinian death toll has topped 1,000, including scores of civilians, which of course, leads to charges that war crimes are being committed (shelling schools was not a good start). And the accusations are coming from inside Israel:
Israel is under suspicion of committing war crimes and should halt the "clear and present danger to the lives and well-being of tens of thousands of civilians" in Gaza, nine of the country's main human rights organisations have declared.
The Israeli organisations have written to the government, armed forces chiefs and the attorney general, condemning the "unprecedented" harm to a civilian population now in "extreme humanitarian distress", the "wanton use of lethal force" and a series of what it says are "blatant violations of the laws of warfare".
These include the fact that, apart from the death toll, with border crossings closed residents are unable to escape the war zone and are living in "fear and terror". The organisations also cited the dire capacity problems of Gaza's hospital system and the failure to evacuate about 600 wounded and chronically ill patients; what they say is prevention by the army of rescue teams reaching isolated areas which have come under intensive attack; and the fact that, with sewage now flowing in many streets, more than half a million people are without clean water and 250,000 residents have been without electricity for 18 days. Another million residents are without power at any one time, the organisations said.
The agencies also said 12 medical personnel had been killed, and another 17 injured, and that there had been 15 separate attacks on medical facilities. Meanwhile, Israel was hitting civilian targets which it defined as military solely because they are defined as "symbols of power" in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Several human rights representatives went out of their way to make clear they were just as vigorous in their condemnation of the killing and injuring of Israeli civilians in militant rocket and mortar attacks. But their letter says the harm inflicted on Gaza's 1.5 million civilian population is "disproportionate" and calls on the government to open corridors to allow residents to escape the fighting and rescue teams to reach the injured.
Asked about the large majority of Israelis the polls show as supporting the warfare in Gaza, the Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard said: "We are witnessing a moral corrosion." Five years ago, when 15 bystanders were killed when a bomb was used to assassinate the Hamas militant leader Saleh Shehadeh, "there had been a very serious debate. Today we're doing it daily and and no one says a word. The [Israel Defence Forces] has stopped expressing regret".
Someone ought to ask the Israeli leadership, and the citizens of that country: what does it profit Israel to terrorize 1.5 million Palestinians and kill thousands? In the end, who will be left to even want to make peace? The Independent also offers these grim, and telling, statistics:
Gaza: The statistics so far
19 Number of days that the conflict has been going on.
2,360 Number of Israeli airstrikes so far.
1,013 Number of Palestinianskilled so far.
670 Number of casualties who are civilians.
225 Number of childcasualties.
69 Number ofwomen casualties.
4,700 Number of Palestinians wounded.
10 Number of Israelisoldiers killed.
4 Number of Israelis killed by friendly fire.
3 Number of Israeli civilians hit by rockets fired from Gaza.
The UK Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown says the British government "utterly" condemns the attack on the UN headquarters in Gaza. Fierce criticism also came from the French foreign ministry
The Shurouq tower block in Gaza City, which houses the offices of the Reuters news agency and several other organisations, is hit by an explosion, injuring a journalist for the Abu Dhabi television channel
Leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council are to meet in Saudi Arabia to discuss the crisis. The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, said the meeting was convened because of what he called Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people
A boat carrying medical supplies to Gaza is surrounded by Israeli warships in international waters off Lebanon's southern coast and forced to return to Cyprus, according to charity Free Gaza
Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip reach 1,028 according to Gaza medical sources. Nearly a third of the dead are said to be children
And this very important point:
Egypt and other key Arab players can do some coaxing and arm-twisting with Hamas, says BBC Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi, but there is little pressure they can bring to bear upon Israel: only the US has that sort of influence.
JERUSALEM — Israel hoped that the war in Gaza would not only cripple Hamas, but eventually strengthen its secular rival, the Palestinian Authority, and even allow it to claw its way back into Gaza.
But with each day, the authority, its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and its leading party, Fatah, seem increasingly beleaguered and marginalized, even in the Palestinian cities of the West Bank, which they control. Protesters accuse Mr. Abbas of not doing enough to stop the carnage in Gaza — indeed, his own police officers have used clubs and tear gas against those same protesters.
The more bombs in Gaza, the more Hamas’s support seems to be growing at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, already considered corrupt and distant from average Palestinians.
“The Palestinian Authority is one of the main losers in this war,” said Ghassan Khatib, an independent Palestinian analyst in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “How can it make gains in a war in which it is one of the casualties?”
Israel is proposing, with the tacit agreement of Egypt and the United States, to place the Palestinian Authority at the heart of an ambitious program to rebuild Gaza, administering reconstruction aid and securing Gaza’s borders. But that plan is already drawing skepticism. Mr. Khatib, for example, called the idea of any Palestinian Authority role in postwar Gaza “silly” and “naïve.”
Perhaps more dispiriting to the ever fewer who believe that any overall settlement is possible now — with peace negotiations suspended and Palestinians divided between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank — is that Israel itself does not really hold out high hopes for a larger postwar role for Fatah. Israel’s proposals seem dutiful, an acknowledgment of a stalemate that not even so ferocious an assault on Hamas can undo.
Israel is to keep up its offensive in the Gaza Strip despite a UN call for an immediate end to nearly two weeks of conflict involving Hamas militants.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the latest firing of rockets into Israel showed the resolution was "unworkable". Hamas has also dismissed the UN's call.
The Security Council resolution demanded a truce, access for aid workers and an end to arms smuggling.
Meanwhile, the UN said its main aid agency would resume operations in Gaza.
And there's this:
Earlier, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said an alleged failure of the Israeli military to help wounded civilians in Gaza - cited by the Red Cross - could constitute a war crime.
On Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said its staff had found four weak and scared children beside their mothers' bodies in houses hit by shelling in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City.
Ms Pillay told the BBC: "The incident the Red Cross describes is very troubling because it has all the elements of what constitutes a war crime.
Death ratio in the conflict so far? 770 Palestinians versus 14 Israelis.
The main humanitarian aid group for the United Nations in Gaza has suspended activities in the Palestinian territory, its chief spokesman said Thursday.
The move comes after a U.N. Relief and Works Agency truck driver was killed and two other people were wounded by an Israeli tank shell near the Erez Crossing, said Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the U.N. agency in Gaza.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli military said it is not aware of the attack but said Hamas militants sometimes have targeted U.N. aid trucks to take food.
The U.N. relief agency will suspend activities until the Israeli military can guarantee the safety of its staff, said the agency's chief spokesman, Chris Gunness, in Jerusalem.
The U.N. agency provides food and relief supplies to about 80 percent of Gaza's 1.5 million people.
... then what is the point of having an "international community," or a United Nations, or an Arab League, for that matter. From the Washington Post (which also runs this photo essay):
JERUSALEM, Jan. 8 -- The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it had found at least 15 bodies and several children -- emaciated but alive -- in a row of shattered houses in the Gaza Strip and accused the Israeli military of preventing ambulances from reaching the site for four days.
Red Cross officials said rescue crews had received specific reports of casualties in the houses and had been trying since Saturday to send ambulances to the area, located in Zaytoun, a neighborhood south of Gaza City. They said the Israeli military did not grant permission until Wednesday afternoon.
In an unusual public statement issued by its Geneva headquarters, the Red Cross called the episode "unacceptable" and said the Israeli military had "failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded."
When rescue workers from the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent arrived at the site, they found 12 corpses lying on mattresses in one home, along with four young children lying next to their dead mothers, the Red Cross said. The children were too weak to stand and were rushed to a hospital, the agency said.
A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces declined to comment early Thursday on the specific allegations made by the Red Cross but said in a statement that the military "has demonstrated its willingness to abort operations to save civilian lives and to risk injury in order to assist innocent civilians."
"Any serious allegations made against the IDF's conduct will need to be investigated properly, once such a complaint is received formally," the statement added.
The Red Cross said its workers evacuated 18 wounded survivors from the houses in donkey carts. They said ambulances could not reach the site because of earthen barriers erected around the neighborhood by the Israeli military. Red Cross officials said that Israeli soldiers posted nearby tried to chase rescue workers away from the site but that the rescuers refused to leave.
"This is a shocking incident," Pierre Wettach, the Red Cross's head of delegation for Israel and the Palestinian territories, said in a statement. "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded."
The Geneva Conventions provide that parties to a conflict "at all times" should "without delay" take "all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick, to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment, to ensure their adequate care, and to search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled." The conventions also say that wounded "shall not willfully be left without medical assistance and care."
Israel has accepted the broad outlines of the French-Egyptian ceasefire proposal, but they want all of the smuggling tunnels into Gaza closed. Coincidentally, since they have instituted a total blockade of Gaza and it's 1.5 million residents since 2007, the tunnels have been the strip's only source of food, besides humanitarian aid, according to the Post. Go figure.
A smart take on the Gaza conflict: both sides are wrong
On the CNN website today, from international human rights lawyer, and "Islamic pacifist," Arsalan Iftikhar ...
Regardless of who's to blame for the origins of the conflict, shame on both Hamas and Israel for their recent violations of international law that have led to a humanitarian inferno in Gaza and southern Israel.
Hamas is to be blamed for its sophomoric provocation of its neighbor's military wrath by firing missiles into southern Israel. Israel also should be condemned for its disproportionately inhumane onslaught in Gaza, which has currently left 555 people dead and 2,750 injured, according to Palestinian medical sources cited by CNN. The United Nations estimates that at least 25 percent of Palestinians killed have been civilians.
Simply put, both sides have committed acts tantamount to "war crimes," and both continue to violate international law repeatedly in this nightmare.
Under international law, the Geneva Conventions prohibit armed reprisals that intentionally inflict "collective punishment" against civilian populations as well as the targeting of nonmilitary targets.
Both Israel (with its military onslaught in Gaza) and Hamas (with its primitive rocket-firing into southern Israel) violate Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, which states: "No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited."
... Further, the legal doctrine of "proportionality" originated in the 1907 Hague Conventions where, according to Lionel Beehner, writing for the Council of Foreign Relations, "a state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered. The response must also be immediate and necessary, refrain from targeting civilians and require only enough force to reinstate the status quo ante."
Israeli columnist Gideon Levy bravely tackled the "proportionality" debate recently in Israel's Haaretz newspaper by writing: "Once again, Israel's violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom. ... What began in Gaza is a war crime and the foolishness of a country."
Levy later cogently added, "In its foolishness, Hamas brought this on itself and on its people, but this does not excuse Israel's overreaction."
Which is to say they issued a sternly worded statement of oblique outrage over the shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza. Take that, Hamas and Israel ... From the BBC:
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an immediate end to fighting in the Gaza Strip during a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York.
Mr Ban criticised both Israel for its bombardment of Gaza and Hamas for firing rockets into Israel.
Well I'll be... With Mr. Bush punting on the issue, it's left to the French and Egyptians to try and force a peace deal:
France and Egypt announced an initiative to stop the fighting in Gaza late Tuesday, hours after Israeli mortar shells exploded near a U.N. school sheltering hundreds of people displaced by the onslaught on Hamas militants. At least 30 Palestinians died, staining streets with blood.
The Egyptian and French presidents didn't release details of their proposal, saying only that it involved an immediate cease-fire to permit humanitarian aid into Gaza and talks to settle the differences between Israel and the Islamic militants of Hamas who rule the small coastal territory.
They said they were awaiting a response from Israel.
Care to guess how Condi Rice responded?
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice weclomed the initiative, but cautioned that no agreement would succeed unless it halted Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and arms smuggling into Gaza.
Meanwhile President-in-waiting Obama had a little bit more to say on the topic than he has:
Earlier in the day, President-elect Barack Obama broke his silence on the crisis, saying that "the loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern for me." He declined to go further, reiterating his stance that the U.S. has only one president at a time.
Neither here nor there, I'd say, but at least it's something.
And what is Israel's explanation for shelling a clearly marked United Nation's elementary school, whose GPS coordinates they were given ... by the U.N.?
Israel's military said its shelling at the school — the deadliest single episode since Israeli ground forces invaded Gaza on Saturday after a week of air bombardment — was a response to mortar fire from within the school and said Hamas militants were using civilians as cover.
Two residents of the area who spoke with The Associated Press by telephone said they saw a small group of militants firing mortar rounds from a street near the school, where 350 people had gathered to get away from the shelling. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Majed Hamdan, an AP photographer, rushed to the scene shortly after the attacks. At the hospital, he said, many children were among the dead.
"I saw women and men — parents — slapping their faces in grief, screaming, some of them collapsed to the floor. They knew their children were dead," he said. "In the morgue, most of the killed appeared to be children. In the hospital, there wasn't enough space for the wounded."
He said there appeared to be marks on the pavement of five separate explosions in area of the school.
An Israeli defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to make the information public, said it appeared the military used 120-mm shells, among the largest mortar rounds.
...U.N. officials demanded an investigation of the shelling. The carnage, which included 55 wounded, added to a surging civilian toll and drew mounting international pressure for Israel to end the offensive against Hamas.
So ... you shell an elementary school where you know civilians are hiding ... so you can kill two low level militants who are firing rockets near by? That strikes me as grossly immoral at worst, and at best, as a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions. Not that anyone will ever do anything about it... So far, Israel has shelled not one, but three United Nations schools, including a girls school where they claimed militants were hiding. There are other interpretations of who's hiding there:
Some 15,000 Palestinians have packed the U.N.'s 23 Gaza schools because their homes were destroyed or to flee the violence. The U.N. provided the Israeli military with GPS coordinates for all of them.
The three mortar shells that crashed down on the perimeter of the U.N. school struck at midafternoon, when many people in the densely populated camp were outside getting some fresh air, thinking an area around a school was safe.
Images recorded by a cameraman from AP Television News showed crowds fleeing the scene, pavements smeared with blood and battered bodies being carried off by medics and bystanders. A youth who limped away was helped along by several others. Sandals lay scattered on the pavement by a pock-marked wall.
"There's nowhere safe in Gaza. Everyone here is terrorized and traumatized," said John Ging, head of Gaza operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
An Israeli military statement said it received intelligence that the dead at the girls school included Hamas operatives, among them members of a rocket-launching squad. It identified two of them as Imad Abu Askar and Hassan Abu Askar.
Two residents who spoke to an AP reporter by phone said the two brothers were known to be low-level Hamas militants. They said a group of militants — one of them said four — were firing mortar shells from near the school. An Israeli shell targeted the men, but missed and they fled, the witnesses said. Then another three shells landed nearby, exploding among civilians, they said, refusing to allow their names to be published because they feared for their safety.
A total of 71 Palestinians were killed Tuesday — with just two confirmed as militants, Gaza health officials said.
Palestinian health ministry officials put the death toll at 595, including 195 civilians, in the eleven days of constant bombardment. The Israeli death toll from rocket fire stands at 11, including three civilians. The Independent has a depressing take on the shelling, and lists the death toll in Gaza as topping 600 in what the paper has labeled a massacre.
The NBC correspondent in the region said the school was clearly marked with the U.N. logo. From the Independent UK:
Two tank shells exploded outside the school, residents said, spraying shrapnel on people inside and outside the building, where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge from fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants.
Reuters journalists filmed bodies scattered on the ground amid pools of blood and torn shoes and clothes. A donkey also lay on the ground in its own blood.
In addition to the dead, several dozen people were wounded, the hospital officials said.
The Israeli military said it was looking into the reports.
Shells landed near a second school in the region also. The U.N. has lodged a protest:
The United Nations said one Israeli air attack struck an elementary school in Gaza City where hundreds of Palestinians had taken shelter, killing three men.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency said Asma Elementary school was clearly marked as a U.N. installation. It said over 400 people had been given shelter at the school when it was hit Monday night.
"Well before the current fighting, UNRWA had given to the Israeli authorities the GPS (global positioning system) co-ordinates of all its installations in Gaza, including Asma Elementary School," the agency said in a news release.
"UNRWA is strongly protesting these killings to the Israeli authorities and is calling for an immediate and impartial investigation," it added.
The residents of Gaza, some 1.5 million people, are now almost completely encircled, by the Israeli military, and by the sea. And many in the small strip of land abutting Egypt are asking, where are the Arab leaders?
Meanwhile ITN reports from the Israeli side of the border, where people are mourning three soldiers killed by friendly fire:
I agree with Zbigniew Brzezinski that the worsening tragedy in Gaza is part of the blur we have been seeing for some time. I put a lot of the blame on Labor Party Leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak who has been itching to manage a war.
But as Brzezinski said, the Israelis and Palestinians have proven unable to rise to a level of strategic, forward-looking maturity to solve this problem and others now need to stabilize the situation, engage in a credible peace negotiation process that involves the other major Arab stakeholders, the US and Europe.
Having the Saudis, Jordanians, Egyptians, Americans, and Europeans impose a solution can't be worse than what we are seeing today.
On "This Week," George Stephanopoulos talked to Israeli President Shimon Perez, and didn't even bother to have a Palestinian spokesman on. He then went straight to Dick Durbin, who voiced the now familiar, bi-partisan U.S. political line fully supporting whatever it is that Israel is doing.
On Meet the Press, David Gregory framed his questions to war correspondent Richard Engel in terms that sound surprisingly similiar to the charges made by Israeli officials (that Hamas would only use a ceasefire to fortify its defenses):
MR. GREGORY: The fear...(technical difficulties)...that since the point of disengagement from Gaza three years ago that Hamas has been able to fortify its defenses, bring in weaponry. All of that could be brought to bear against Israeli forces. How are they responding on their side?
On CNN, Howard Kurtz repeatedly asked, "doesn't Israel have the right to protect its population?" and quizzed CNN's foreign correspondent on whether the media should have given more coverage to the non-lethal rocket attacks against Israel over the last several years, as opposed to whingeing about the civilian casualties in Gaza.
The death toll in Gaza stands at about 470 to 5, Palestinians to Israelis. Go figure.
NEW YORK (Commentary) Israel launched its much-anticipated invasion of Gaza on Saturday. For over a week, U.S. media had provided largely one-sided coverage of the conflict, with little editorializing or commentary arguing against broader Israeli actions.
Most notably, after more than eight days of Israeli bombing and Hamas rocket launching in Gaza, The New York Times had produced exactly one editorial, not a single commentary by any of its columnists, and only two op-eds (one already published elsewhere). The editorial, several days ago, did argue against the wisdom of a ground invasion - - but even though that invasion had become ever more likely all week the paper did not return to this subject.
Amazingly, the paper has kept that silence going in Sunday's paper, with no editorial or columnist comment on the Israeli invasion.
The invasion, to no one's surprise, did begin on Saturday -- so any further criticism will now come too late. As in the past, U.S. media coverage and commentary has overwhelmingly backed the Israeli actions (as it did in the Lebanon war in 2006, which turned into a fiasco).
Have I mentioned today that the U.N. is useless? The U.S. blocked the latest attempted resolution, and the remaining carping strikes me as a waste of breath.
UN General Assembly chief Miguel d'Escoto has criticized the Security Council for its inability to curb Israel's "monstrosity" in Gaza.
D'escoto criticized the UN Security Council for not showing enough tenacity in ending Gazans suffering in the wake of the weeklong Israeli offensive in the coastal strip.
"I think it's a monstrosity; there's no other way to name it," D'escoto said Saturday when asked about the Israeli incursion on Gaza.
The UN Security Council again failed to call for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip due to US intervention. The statement would have called on Israel to end its ground incursion into the region.
"Once again, the world is watching in dismay the dysfunctionality of the Security Council," D'escoto argued.
The two previous UN draft resolutions seeking an end to the violence in the region have been blocked by Washington. The United States has so far vetoed over 40 anti-Israel resolutions at the UN.
Tel Aviv has so far snubbed international calls for a cease-fire and began what it claims to be the "long-lasting" ground invasion of Gaza on Saturday night
In London, at least 10,000 people, many carrying Palestinian flags, marched past Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Downing Street residence to a rally in Trafalgar Square. Outside Downing Street, hundreds of protesters stopped and threw shoes at the gates that block entry to the narrow road.
Shoe-throwing has become a popular gesture of protest and contempt since an Iraqi journalist pelted U.S. President George W. Bush with a pair of brogues in Baghdad last month.
Police estimated the crowd in London at 10,000 to 12,000, but organizers said the number was much higher. The marchers included activist Bianca Jagger, ex-Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox and comedian Alexei Sayle
Other international developments:
Rallies also were held in other British cities - including Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow - and across Europe. Protests in Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and Berlin all drew thousands of people.
In Paris, police said 21,000 marched through the streets, shouting "We are all Palestinians" and "Israel assassin." Later, about 500 of the protesters turned violent, throwing objects at police, burning Israeli flags, overturning and torching cars, and vandalizing several shops, police said. Ten police officers were injured in the clashes and 20 protesters arrested, a Paris police spokeswoman said.
Angry protests continued for a second day in Turkey, where about 5,000 demonstrators shouted "killer Israel" in downtown Ankara.
In The Netherlands, thousands of people marched through Amsterdam, criticizing both the Israeli attacks and the Dutch government's failure to condemn them. One banner declared: "Anne Frank is turning in her grave. Oh Israel!"
More than 4,000 people demonstrated in Duesseldorf, Germany, and some 5,000 in Frankfurt. One group in Duesseldorf held up a doll representing a bleeding baby with the placard "Made in Israel."
In Berlin, more than 7,000 people braved freezing temperatures for a march along the capital's Unter den Linden boulevard.
Another 2,500 demonstrated in Salzburg, Austria, while scores protested peacefully in Madrid outside the Spanish Foreign Ministry.
Hundreds more marched in the Swedish cities of Malmo and Uppsala, while in Oslo, Norway demonstrators marched from the parliament to the Israeli Embassy, calling on Israel to "let Gaza live."
In Athens, Greece - the scene of violent demonstrations by anarchist youths over the past month - a few of the 5,000 protesters threw stones and petrol bombs at police outside the Israeli Embassy. Riot police retaliated with tear gas and stun grenades.
In Cyprus, demonstrators pelted riot police with rocks, sticks, shoes and oranges near the Israeli Embassy in Nicosia. A peaceful protest by about 2,000 people turned violent when some protesters tried to break through a line of police blocking the road leading to the embassy. The demonstrators eventually dispersed.
UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- The UN Security Council convened a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing conflict in Gaza, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and representatives of various countries calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians.
"There must be an immediate ceasefire that is fully respected by all parties," Ban said at the meeting.
"This must create new conditions on the ground that ensure at last that crossings into Gaza will be reopened; that rocket attacks and weapons smuggling will end; and that we will pursue political dialogue, and only political dialogue, to reunite Gaza with the West Bank; and that the root cause of this suffering, the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace, is ended.
"Even as this crisis rages, let us never forget the underlying issue: there must be an end to occupation, an end to conflict, and the creation of a Palestinian State," he said. "Let us not lose sight of our goal -- two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region.
"The conflict must end, and it must end once and for all," Ban said.
Meanwhile, you've got to wonder where the Arab League has gone to. All we have so far is a statement from Gaza's immediate neighbor:
The Egyptian ambassador, in his letter to the Council president, said the Arab countries want the Security Council "to adopt an enforceable and binding resolution that would ensure an immediate ceasefire, cessation of the Israeli military aggression, lifting of the blockade, and the provision of international protection to the Palestinian people."
George Bush today blamed the continuing violence in Gaza on Hamas terrorism and offered no criticism of Israel in his first comments since Israeli air strikes began a week ago.
The US president condemned Hamas's campaign of rocket attacks on Israel as an "act of terror" and said no peace deal would be acceptable unless the flow of smuggled weapons to terrorist groups was monitored and stopped.
"This recent outburst of violence was instigated by Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group supported by Iran and Syria that calls for Israel's destruction," he said.
Bush said Hamas ended the latest ceasefire on 19 December and "soon unleashed a barrage of rockets and mortars that deliberately targeted innocent Israelis, an act of terror that is opposed by the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people, President [Mahmoud] Abbas".
I wouldn't expect much from the useless U.N., or the equally useless Quartet. The U.S. position is far too unilateral for anything to come of so-called "diplomacy." Meanwhile, the human tragedy mounts in Gaza, where the only way out for the civilian population is the sea. More than 460 Palestinians have died so far (plus 4 Israelis -- a kill ratio of 100 to 1,) including a dozen civilians, six chldren among them, who were killed leaving a bombed mosque.
It's hard to come by in the media. Glenn Greenwald reads TNR's Marty Peretz and politicians on both sides of the aisle the riot act. The most egregious examples:
... any minimally decent human being -- even those who view the world through the most blindingly pro-Israeli lens possible, the ones who justify anything and everything Israel does, and who discuss these events with a bottomless emphasis on the primitive (though dangerous) rockets lobbed by Hamas into Southern Israel but without even mentioning the ongoing four-decades brutal occupation or the recent, grotesquely inhumane blockade of Gaza -- would find the slaughter of scores of innocent Palestinians to be a horrible and deeply lamentable event.
But not The New Republic's Marty Peretz. Here is his uniquely despicable view of the events of the last couple of days:
So at 11:30 on Saturday morning, according to both the Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz, as well as the New York Times, 50 fighter jets and attack helicopters demolished some 40 to 50 sites in just about three minutes, maybe five. Message: do not fuck with the Jews.
"Do not fuck with the Jews." And what of the several hundred Palestinian dead -- including numerous children -- and many hundreds more seriously wounded?
Israeli intelligence reported 225 people dead, mostly Hamas military leaders with some functionaries, besides, and perhaps 400 wounded. The Palestinians announced 300 dead, probably as a reflex in order to begin their whining about disproportionate Israeli acts of war. And 600 wounded.
Objections to the Israeli attack are just "whining." Those are the words of a psychopath.
Indeed. I cancelled my "New Republic" subscription years ago, along with a letter stating my outrage at the magazine's cavalier treatment of the Palestinian people, whom the magazine generally describes in Likudnik terms, as "cockroaches." American policy toward Israel is shamefully one-sided. I'm not exactly optimistic that that will change much going forward, given the attacks Obama was subjected to during the campaign regarding his Israel bona fides. But there is always hope. The Democrats should listen to Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski once in a while. It's time for Ameican foreign policy to reflect a decent respect for the humanity of both sides, including the millions of Palestinian refugees who are, after all, under decades of occupation and the denial not just of their humanity, but currently, of food, water and medicine.
UPDATE: From the moderate Jewish American community, angst over Peretz's thugism, and anxiety over the Gaza war. And the pro-peace organization J Street sounds off.
Thousands of demonstrators are expected to converge on central London tomorrow to demand a ceasefire in Gaza amid growing international anger over Israel's week-long bombardment.
The singer Annie Lennox, the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, comedian Alexei Sayle, Palestinian solidarity groups, Muslim organisations, the Stop the War Coalition and several MPs are among those backing the midday march from Embankment to Trafalgar Square.
Since Israeli air strikes started there have been daily protests outside the Israeli embassy in Kensington, west London, where large numbers have forced the closure of nearby streets. A rally was held outside the Egyptian embassy in Mayfair /today to call for the opening of the Gaza-Egypt border, allowing the delivery of more humanitarian supplies.
Other supporters of /tommorrow's mass protest include the former model Bianca Jagger, Tony Benn, the musician Brian Eno, Respect Party MP George Galloway, Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, Labour MP Jermy Corbyn and the socialist activist Tariq Ali.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of the rally, Jagger appealed to the US president-elect, Barack Obama, to "ask for the immediate cessation of the bombardment of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip."
Ken Livingstone condemned the "Israeli kill ratio of 100 to one" as "obscene". The UK government's response so far had been completely inadequate, he said. "The only time a British government was even-handed [in the Middle East] was Edward Heath in 1973 ... when he refused to let arms shipments through to Israel." ...
With the exception of the Americans, who continue to pursue a lopsided, "whatever Israel wants" policy in the region, the world is speaking loudly. More than 400 Palestinians have died, thus far. It's time for Israel to stop.
Morning doh! Scarborough gets home schooled on Israeli-Palestinian history
I love watching egomaniacal windbag Joe Scarborough get checked. Today's contestant: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Mika's dad, on the subject of Israel and the Palestinians, and who is to blame for the ongoing violence. The money quote:
You know, you have such a stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on that it's almost embarrassing to listen to you.
What is significant is that Brzezinski essentially issued a challenge to Obama and his team to re-engage seriously -- to go back to what was achieved at the Taba negotiations just before the Bush administration aborted the entire project.
The most important thing that Brzezinski said to Scarborough was (paraphrased from memory...but watch the video above):
Taba. It's spelled T. . .A. . .B. . .A. Go look it up. You might learn something.
As word of the mounting death toll (375 Palestinians, 4 Israelis) and Gaza humanitarian crisis spread worldwide, news that a ship carrying medical supplies for Palestinians in Gaza, called the Dignity, was set to arrive spread around the Web. I remember hearing about the ship for the first time yesterday. Well this morning, CNN's Carl Penhaul, who was aboard the ship (as was former U.S. Congresswoman from Georgia, Cynthia McKinney...) confirmed accounts by the ship's captain that they were, in his estimation, deliberately rammed by an Israeli military vessel that observed the ship for nearly an hour, and which Penhaul said must have seen it because the Dignity had "full lights on."
Penhall reported that the Dignity's captain was not contacted by the Israeli ship until after the boat was rammed, and began taking on water. The ship re-routed to Lebanon, after the Captain was told in no uncertain terms that the Israeli ship would open fire if the Dignity continued. Penhall reported that the Israeli military on board the warship accused the Dignity of "being involved in terror operations." Scary stuff, and possibly a violation of maritime law. From the Guardian:
Activists trying to bring aid to Gaza today claimed their boat had been rammed by Israeli gunboats in a "criminal attack" in international waters.
The Free Gaza Movement said its vessel, the Dignity, was intercepted by several Israeli vessels as it was heading to the Gaza Strip, which has been under Israeli aerial bombardment since Saturday.
One gunboat rammed the Dignity on the port bow side, causing heavy damage, although no one was hurt, the group said.
"[The Dignity] is taking on water and appears to have engine problems," the movement said on its website. "When attacked, the Dignity was clearly in international waters, 90 miles off the coast of Gaza.
"The gunboats also fired their machine guns into the water in an attempt to stop the mercy ship from getting to Gaza.
The Guardian also reports that Israeli officials are characterizing the ramming accidental:
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, told Reuters there had been no shooting, although two ships made "physical contact".
Palmor said the boat had failed to respond to Israeli naval radio contact and an Israeli vessel "clashed with the ship". He said nobody was hurt and the Israeli ship escorted the aid boat back to Cypriot territorial waters.
Israel declared the coastal territory a closed military zone after it launched air attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza on Saturday in response to Hamas firing rockets into Israel. Israel said the Free Gaza movement boat would not be permitted to dock in the Gaza Strip.
In a radio message, the Israelis accused the Gibraltar-registered Dignity of being involved in terrorist activity, the ship's captain said. The Dignity was carrying 16 passengers, including physicians from Britain, Germany and Cyprus and several human rights activists, including former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney.
The patrol boat rammed the Dignity after pursuing the vessel for about 30 minutes before the collision. Crew members said they believe the Dignity was intentionally struck, which Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor called "absurd."
Meanwhile, from Xinhua (a Chinese daily,) comes an account of the ship's arrival in Tyre, and a very different explanation of the ramming, which officially is being called "accidental"...
BEIRUT, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) -- The "Free Gaza" ship, "Dignity", rammed by an Israeli patrol vessel on waters near Gaza early Tuesday, arrived at Tyre port in south Lebanon in the afternoon, al-Jazeera TV reported.
The ship reaching the Lebanese water was escorted with a Lebanese navy boat and boats of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
... Lebanese President Michel Suleiman gave orders to the Lebanese navy to escort the boat loaded with supplies to Gaza Strip, after it was rammed by Israeli gunboats.
... Sixteen people including rights activists, doctors and Journalists, along with a crew from al-Jazeera TV boarded the ship at Larnaca port in Cyprus late afternoon Monday, from where they made "Symbolic" attempt to cross the border into Gaza.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman appeared on al-Jazeera saying that its navy prevented the ship because it is full of Journalists and it is "an act of provocation and propaganda."
"This is a propaganda message which we refuse," the spokesman said.
So who was on board the ship (besides Penhall?) From a site called "Ten Percent," dateline yesterday:
The Dignity has left Cyprus & should arrive in Gaza tomorrow around 10am (local). Check the website for updates, www.freegaza.org Israel has declared Gaza a ‘closed military zone’, making sure no one can witness the atrocities. Our boat is going to challenge that closure.
The passenger list is below and includes Cynthia McKinney, a journalist from CNN and three physicians who will stay in Gaza to assist the overworked doctors there. We will also be sending out the list of medicines on board.
(UK) Denis Healey, Captain Captain of the Dignity, Denis has been involved with boats for 45 years, beginning with small fishing boats in Portsmouth. He learned to sail while atschool and has been part of the sea ever since. He’s a certified yachtmaster and has also worked on heavy marine equipment from yachts to large dredgers. This is his fourth trip to Gaza.
(Greece) Giorgios Klontzas, Relief Captain Cpt. Klontzas is an experienced sailor and human rights activist. This will be his fourth trip to Gaza.
(Greece) Nikolas Bolos, First Mate Nikolas is a chemical engineer and human rights activist. He has served as a crewmember on several Free Gaza voyages, including the first one in August.
(Jordan) Othman Abu Falah Othman is a senior producer with Al-Jazeera Television. He will remain in Gaza to report on the ongoing military onslaught.
(USA) Cynthia McKinney Cynthia is a former U.S. Congresswoman from Georgia, and the 2008 Green Party presidential candidate. She is traveling to Gaza to assess the ongoing conflict.
(Australia) Renee Bowyer Renee is a schoolteacher and human rights activist. She will remain in Gaza to do human rights monitoring and reporting.
(Ireland) Caoimhe Butterly Caoimhe is a reknowned human rights activist and Gaza Coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement. She will be remaining in Gaza to do human rights monitoring, assist with relief efforts, and work on project development with Free Gaza.
(Cyprus) Ekaterini Christodulou Ekaterini is a well-known and respected freelance journalist in Cyprus. She is traveling to Gaza to report on the conflict.
(Sudan) Sami El-Haj Sami is a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, and head of the human rights section at Al-Jazeera Television. He will remain in Gaza to report on the ongoing military onslaught.
(UK) Dr. David Halpin Dr. Halpin is an experienced orthopaedic surgeon, medical professor, and ship’s captain. He has organized humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza on several occasions with the Dove and Dolphin. He is traveling to Gaza to volunteer in hospitals and clinics.
(Germany) Dr. Mohamed Issa Dr. Issa is a pediatric surgeon from Germany. He is traveling to Gaza to volunteer in hospitals and clinics.
(Cyprus) Dr. Elena Theoharous, MP Dr. Theoharous is a surgeon and a Member of the Cypriot Parliament. She is traveling to Gaza to assess the ongoing conflict, assist with humanitarian relief efforts, and volunteer in hospitals.
(UK/Tunisia) Fathi Jaouadi Fathi is a television producer and human rights activist. He will remain in Gaza to do human rights monitoring and reporting.
(Cyprus) Martha Paisi Martha is a senior research fellow and experienced human rights activist. She is traveling to Gaza to do human rights work and to assist with humanitarian relief efforts.
(UK) Karl Penhaul Karl Penhaul is a video correspondent for CNN, based out of Bogotá, Colombia. Appointed to this position in February 2004, he covers breaking news around the world utilizing CNN’s new laptop-based ‘Digital Newsgathering’ system. He is traveling to Gaza to report on the ongoing conflict.
(Iraq) Thaer Shaker Thaer is a cameraman with Al-Jazeera television. He will remain in Gaza to report on the ongoing military onslaught.
One wonders whether the Israeli government and security forces would have had access to the same information about what appears to be a very public, very high profile operation, and why, if they did, they would invite the public relations nightmare of possibly sinking a ship full of journalists, schoolteachers and human rights activists.
Israel's defence Minister, Ehud Barak, warned yesterday that his country was engaged in "a war to the bitter end" with Hamas as a third day of fierce bombing brought the estimated Gaza death toll to 320. Two Israelis were killed in retaliatory rocket barrages last night as Hamas struck deep inside Israeli territory.
Mr Barak's declaration to the Knesset – the Israeli parliament – came as Israel continued its comprehensive bombardment of Hamas targets after overnight aerial attacks that devastated large parts of the Interior Ministry and the Islamic University.
Meanwhile, the usual international tiff is on over who is at fault, with the Bush administration blaming Hamas, and European leaders criticizing Israel:
Amid signs of increased international restiveness about the Palestinian death toll, Mr Barak insisted that "we have nothing against Gaza residents" but added: "We are engaged in an all-out war against Hamas and its proxies. This operation will expand and deepen as much as needed."
As Israel launched a further 20 air attacks and declared Israeli communities to the border area a "closed military zone" for the first time, Gaza militants continued to fire more than 70 rockets and mortars at southern Israel. One killed an Israeli in Ashdod – 18 miles away from Gaza – for the first time. Another Israeli was killed in the border kibbutz of Nahal Oz. After the earlier death of an Israeli Arab construction worker in a rocket attack in Ashkelon, the total of Israeli deaths since the Israeli bombardment began on Saturday is now four.
As the international outcry mounted over the scale of the Israeli crackdown, the Prime Minister's spokesman issued a robust statement, saying Gordon Brown had been "appalled" by the continuing violence in Gaza. The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, spoke of the "unacceptable" loss of human life. European foreign ministers scheduled an emergency meeting in Paris today.
But as President George Bush continued to blame Hamas for the worst violence in Gaza in living memory, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, criticised Israel's "excessive" force and urged the international community to do more. "I think regional and international partners have not done enough. They should do more," Mr Ban said, in a rare departure from the diplomatic norm. "They should use all possible means to end the violence and encourage political dialogue, emphasising peaceful ways of resolving differences."
... Moussa Abu Marzouk, the Damascus-based deputy head of Hamas's political bureau, ruled out a truce in current conditions. He said: "We are going to defend ourselves, defend our people and defend our land." He laid down as conditions for a ceasefire: "Stop all kinds of aggression, open all (crossings), stop all the violence against the people in the West Bank."
In Israel, there's a bit of sneering at what many assume will be condemnation of their side, and a free ride for the Palestinians:
Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular are by nature experts at displays of suffering; the only thing they do all their lives is demonstrate their distress. This time, in the past week, they outdid themselves. The production was truly perfect and succeeded in deceiving the entire world: the way they turned out the lights at one precise moment and sent the children to cry bitterly in front of the cameras, the way they organized long lines for bread and water - miraculous timing and orchestration.
... Gaza's unemployment rate is unknown. Perhaps 60 percent and perhaps 80 percent, what difference does it make, 20 percent more or less. When there is no demand and no money to purchase things, it's better that there is no supply and nothing to buy. There is no envy at least. If the welfare agencies are supporting 900,000 needy people, let them support another 100,000 or 200,000 - the difference means nothing to them.
The Gaza Strip is therefore the perfect place for punishment measures - these steps don't make things better or worse, they only make you tougher, like everything that kills gradually rather than immediately. Gaza is a dream laboratory for experiments on human beings, to discover the precise point when a dependent person transfers from one situation to another - when does he keep up the struggle and when does he stop and become acclimated? Or when is the horse's breaking point - when does it only continue to lose weight and when does it flop and breathe its last?
In this spirit we also have to understand the prime minister's words at a meeting of the Kadima Knesset faction two days ago. He doesn't care, he said, if the kerosene runs out in Gaza, and as far as he is concerned, let them walk. Ehud Olmert did not intend to sound cruel, he only wanted to sound determined.
Meanwhile The Washington Note has a bit of badly needed context from Mustafa Barghouthi, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative:
Palestine's Guernica and the Myths of Israeli Victimhood
The Israeli campaign of 'death from above' began around 11 am, on Saturday morning, the 27th of December, and stretched straight through the night into this morning. The massacre continues Sunday as I write these words.
The bloodiest single day in Palestine since the War of 1967 is far from over following on Israel's promised that this is 'only the beginning' of their campaign of state terror. At least 290 people have been murdered thus far, but the body count continues to rise at a dramatic pace as more mutilated bodies are pulled from the rubble, previous victims succumb to their wounds and new casualties are created by the minute.
What has and is occurring is nothing short of a war crime, yet the Israeli public relations machine is in full-swing, churning out lies by the minute.
Once and for all it is time to expose the myths that they have created.
1. Israelis have claimed to have ended the occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2005.
While Israel has indeed removed the settlements from the tiny coastal Strip, they have in no way ended the occupation. They remained in control of the borders, the airspace and the waterways of Gaza, and have carried out frequent raids and targeted assassinations since the disengagement.
Furthermore, since 2006 Israel has imposed a comprehensive siege on the Strip. For over two years, Gazans have lived on the edge of starvation and without the most basic necessities of human life, such as cooking or heating oil and basic medications. This siege has already caused a humanitarian catastrophe which has only been exacerbated by the dramatic increase in Israeli military aggression. ...
The clamour for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza is growing in intensity even as Israel's determination to press home its attack on Hamas grows more dogged. The unfolding result of this fatal divergence is both an escalating humanitarian disaster and a diplomatic debacle for the "international community" that tasked itself with bringing peace to Israel-Palestine.
The formidable capacity of Israel's leaders for ignoring international opinion is nothing new. But if they calculated, before launching the Gaza operation, that they would face only limited external opposition, they have been proven largely correct. The past few days have exposed just how little leverage foreign governments and organisations are able, or are willing, to bring to bear.
As always, the US wields the most clout. But as with Israel's ill-fated 2006 invasion of Lebanon, the Bush administration is sitting on its hands. US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, whose endless shuttle diplomacy this year is now confirmed in its utter futility, did not even mention Israel's military assault in her first official statement on the situation.
Rice's exact words were: "The US strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza. The ceasefire should be restored immediately. The US calls on all concerned to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza."
Barack Obama's aides, in explaining the US president-elect's silence, are meanwhile sticking to their mantra that the US only has one president at a time. But as the carnage and the outrage mount, this hands-off stance begins to look less like tact and more like a sign of a man who, confronted by a raw conflict that has defeated many more experienced statesmen before him, lacks new ideas.
Um ... Rev? Sit down for a second. We need to have a talk. ... It's about your role in public life "on behalf of Black America." See, not that we don't appreciate the whole "keep hope alive" thing, which was really cool when those of us in our 30s were kids ... but ... well ... we won't be needing your services anymore. In short: we've decided to "move in a different direction," and have elected to replace "up with hope" with just ... well, hope, plus a belief in ourselves and in this country's ability to rise to the occasion. For that, we won't be needing you. We've got Barack now, and a whole crop of new leaders who plan to change this country for the better, without the baby mama drama.
Oh, and on the whole "Israel" thing? We really don't need to hear from you on that anymore either. You just don't know enough about it, and your credibility on the subject is, how shall we say ... compromised. Besides, all you're doing by making stupid comments about things you know nothing about (such as, Barack Obama's Middle East policy...) is getting that weird old guy's blood up. You're embarrassing your son (again) ... and you're potentially screwing with Florida (which Barack is winning at the moment.) The Obama campaign very quickly set the record straight about you: that you're basically a Lone Ranger barking at the campaign from the outside, but let's not make them have to do it again, shall we? Hey, here's an idea: why not just pretend that whenever you're speaking? Your mike is ALWAYS hot. And then don't talk. Just don't talk ... at all.
So, that's it. And since you're not an adviser to Obama's campaign anyway, it's not like we're firing you or anything. Maybe you could ... I don't know ... take a vacation! I hear Greece is lovely this time of year ... Oh, I know! South Africa! That's far away ... I mean, enjoyable! Anyway, see ya, Rev, and thanks for the memories (except for the bloody shirt thing and the baby mama drama ... those memories we could do without.)
Just kidding. Really, I know how much you're hurting. So, let's get to it!
Barack Obama is in Jerusalem this morning where the Guardian reports he has promised to restart the Mideast peace process if elected U.S. president. But his day started with meeting his Bizarro World namesake:
Obama was speaking today as he began a series of meetings during his visit to Israel and the West Bank. His hectic schedule started this morning with breakfast shared with the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak.
Barack meeting Barak. Okay, moving on...
He also met the opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, and visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, before seeing President Shimon Peres.
"I will share some of my ideas. The most important idea for me to reaffirm is the historic and special relationship between the United States and Israel - one that cannot be broken," Obama said after landing at Ben Gurion airport last night.
If elected, he said, he would continue to regard Israel as a valued ally. "That policy is not going to change," he said. "What I think can change is the ability of the United States government and a United States president to be actively engaged with the peace process, and to be concerned with and to recognise the legitimate difficulties that the Palestinian people are experiencing."
Obama said he would work to bring the two sides together "starting from the minute I am sworn into office". But he cautioned that it was "unrealistic to expect that a US president alone can suddenly snap his fingers and bring about peace".
In the afternoon he is expected to make the short drive from Jerusalem to the West Bank area of Ramallah for talks with Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad – the Palestinian president and prime minister - before returning to Jerusalem to meet Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister.
He is then scheduled to fly by helicopter to the southern Israeli town of Sderot — the target of many Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza — before returning to Jerusalem to meet Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister.
Both men were in Jerusalem this week and will discuss the degree to which Obama can keep the Middle East peace process at the top of his in-tray if he becomes president, a concern that preoccupies Blair in his role as envoy for the region. Brown's reluctance to make political capital out of the Obama visit has frustrated some Labour activists who hoped the visit would prompt a debate inside the party about lessons to be learned from Obama's success in creating a mass movement of activists.
As one cabinet member admitted: "It is telling that whilst Obama is trying to tear down the traditional walls of the Democratic convention, and open it up to ordinary Americans, Labour's 200 most senior activists will be meeting in private this weekend to decide Labour's policy platform."
The issue has been taken up most strongly by David Lammy, the young black MP for Tottenham and a friend of Obama from black alumni dinners at Harvard University. Lammy has been increasingly blunt about the inability of the British political class to draw in new faces or use new methods such as open primaries. In a recent Fabian lecture, he said: "I think it's wrong to describe New Labour as a movement. I don't think that it could be described as a movement that filtered down to ordinary people on the ground."
Lammy, and other party thinkers such as Sunder Katwala, the Fabian general secretary, argue: "Obama is showing the political messages and methods of the 1990s now look very tired and out of date." Lammy warns that managerial language has alienated people and left the public disorientated. "For many people, the good things that we are doing sound more like a list of bullet points, rather than a mission to change society. So they switch off, or worse, become alienated from a party that looks like it has become part of the establishment."
Katwala claims Obama, by contrast, has led a revolution in political mobilisation. Above all, he claims Obama has set out an inspirational vision of a good, and equal society, using a language of hope Labour seems to have forgotten in the daily blizzard of micro-initiatives.
Ugh. I can just see poor Gordon in front of thousands of Brits in his prim, brown suit, sounding dribbly... don't do it, brother!
Last but not least, the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland offers some helpful commentary about Obama, Israel and the Palestinians:
The less lurid reality is that Obama is a down-the-line US Democrat - and firm support for Israel comes with that territory. On that simple metric, there will be no change. But that does not leave him indistinguishable from McCain. On the contrary, clear differences are there (chiefly on talking to Iran) - and most point in a direction that should be welcomed by those who yearn for Middle East peace.
First, Obama will today show a basic respect for the Palestinians that somehow eluded his Republican opponent: the Democrat will visit Ramallah, which McCain skipped when he came to the region in March. Second, Obama is honest enough to admit that the Israel-Palestine conflict does at least contribute to instability in the region, while McCain sees no source of trouble except "radical Islamic terrorism".
Above all, Obama promises to do, once more, the work that a US administration alone can do - engaging hands-on, directly and every day, in shepherding the two sides through negotiations and towards peace. Bill Clinton toiled in this way until his last hours in office; Bush, by contrast, steered well clear of the whole messy business until last autumn, when he panicked that he might have no other legacy to point to. Obama has faulted both Clinton and Bush for getting stuck in too late. Yesterday, in Amman, he vowed to roll up his sleeves, "from the minute I'm sworn into office".
But Obama is sending a signal more powerful than mere words. Accompanying him on this trip is Dennis Ross, the veteran mediator who served both Clinton and Bush's father. Ross has his critics, but no one doubts his knowledge or experience. "I see him as the diplomatic equivalent of Michael Jordan working the Middle East," says David Makovsky, a colleague of Ross's at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which is neutral in all elections. "He has the skill and the finesse."
With Ross at his side, Obama is signalling that we should forget the myth-making: an Obama presidency will be about active, engaged diplomacy, between Israelis and Palestinians, between Israel and Syria, and beyond. And if anyone doubts that this is what the world desperately needs after the past seven and a half years, then they haven't been paying attention.
Iranian television shows the test firing of a Shahab 3 missile. Source: New York Times
Iran tests new long range missiles that can reach Tel Aviv, not to mention U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Isn't that the kind of thing that got the Bushies to the table with North Korea? Just sayin...
(BBC) Iran has test-fired nine missiles, including a new version of the Shahab-3, which is capable of reaching its main regional enemy Israel.
The Shahab-3, with a range of 2,000km (1,240 miles), was armed with a conventional warhead, state media said. Iran has tested the missile before, but the latest launch comes amid rising tensions with the US and Israel over the country's nuclear programme.
The early morning launch at a remote desert site sent oil prices climbing. White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe called on Iran to "refrain from further missile tests if they truly seek to gain the trust of the world".
Two other types of missile with shorter ranges were also fired as part of the Great Prophet III war games being staged by Iran's military.
PARIS — One day after threatening to strike Tel Aviv and United States interests if attacked, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were reported on Wednesday to have test-fired nine missiles, including one which the government in Tehran says has the range to reach Israel.
State-run media said the missiles were long- and medium-range weapons, among them a new version of the Shahab-3, which Tehran maintains is able to hit targets 1,250 miles away from its firing position. Parts of western Iran are within 650 miles of Tel Aviv.
The reported tests coincide with increasingly tense negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program, which Iran says is for civilian purposes but which many Western governments suspect is aimed at building nuclear weapons. At the same time, United States and British warships have been conducting naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf — apparently within range of the launching site of the missiles tested on Wednesday. Israel insisted it did not want war with Iran.
“Israel has no desire for conflict or hostilities with Iran,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said. “But the Iranian nuclear program and the Iranian ballistic missile program must be of grave concern to the entire international community.”
The missile tests drew a sharp response from the United States. Gordon D. Johndroe, the deputy White House press secretary, said in a statement at the Group of 8 meeting in Japan that Iran’s development of ballistic missiles was a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
“The Iranian regime only furthers the isolation of the Iranian people from the international community when it engages in this sort of activity,” Mr. Johndroe said.
He urged Iran to “refrain from further missile tests if they truly seek to gain the trust of the world. The Iranians should stop the development of ballistic missiles which could be used as a delivery vehicle for a potential nuclear weapon immediately.”
The tests appear to be a reaction to Israel's "dress rehearsals" last month for an attack on ... somebody ... which coincide with increased diplomacy by Israel with enemies like Hezbollah and Hamas, which some Mideast analysts see as a way to soften the blow in the Arab world should the Jewish state attack Iran.
The news drew quick reactions from the U.S. presidential candidates:
... "Working with our European and regional allies is the best way to meet the threat posed by Iran, not unilateral concessions that undermine multilateral diplomacy," McCain said in a statement.
Obama has been criticized by Republicans for being too eager to engage enemies of the U.S. in talks. Asked how he would respond to the missile tests if he were president, Obama said he would confer with his national security team to find out whether "this indicates any new capabilities on Iran's part."
"At this point, the report is unclear, it's still early," Obama said on "The Early Show" on CBS. "What this underscores is the need for ... a clear policy that is putting the burden on Iran to change behavior. And frankly, we just have not been able to do that the last several years, partly because we're not engaged in direct diplomacy."
Obama said he continued to favor an incentive package that is aimed at getting Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions.
McCain said Iran's missile tests "demonstrate again the dangers it poses to its neighbors and to the wider region, especially Israel."
"Ballistic missile testing coupled with Iran's continued refusal to cease its nuclear activities should unite the international community in efforts to counter Iran's dangerous ambitions," McCain said.
Obama, while calling Iran a threat, criticized the Bush administration for using bellicose language against the Iranian government while increasing exports to the country.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that U.S. exports to Iran grew more than tenfold under President Bush in spite of his criticism of its government as a sponsor of terrorism and warnings against any efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.
"It's that kind of mixed signal that has led to the kind of situation that we're in right now," Obama said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
More on Bush's checkbook diplomacy, from Newsweek:
(WASHINGTON) Nuclear weapons? No way. But there are plenty of items on Iran's shopping list the United States is more than happy to supply: cigarettes, brassieres, bull semen and more.
U.S. exports to Iran grew more than tenfold during President Bush's years in office even as he accused it of nuclear ambitions and sponsoring terrorists. America sent more cigarettes to Iran — at least $158 million worth under Bush — than any other product.
Other surprising shipments during the Bush administration: fur clothing, sculptures, perfume, musical instruments and military apparel. Top states shipping goods to Iran include California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of seven years of U.S. governmenttrade data.
Despite increasingly tough rhetoric toward Iran, which Bush has called part of an "axis of evil," U.S. trade in a range of goods survives on-again, off-again sanctions originally imposed nearly three decades ago. The rules allow sales of agricultural commodities, medicine and a few other categories of goods. The exemptions are designed to help Iranian families even as the United States pressures Iran's leaders.
"I understand that these exports have increased. However, we believe that they are increasing to a segment of the population that we want to reach out to, we want to know and understand that the U.S. government, the U.S. people want to be friends with them, want to work with them to integrate them into the world economy and become partners in the future," Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, said Tuesday when asked by reporters about AP's findings.
So ... we want them to get hooked on our cigarettes and be our friends before we ... blow them away...? And remember, while we're increasing exports to Iran (and don't think Dick Cheney's Halliburton isn't still doing business there, too...) we're also conducting covert operations which may be designed to provoke Iran into a war...
The Guardian drills deeper into the candidate reactions, and finds Barack Obama talking tough diplomacy (he also gets the headline, while Mac gets the mid-article crumbs...) and McCain sealing himself into the Bush glass coffin once again with a call for a halo of missile defense over Europe:
"Iran is a great threat. We have to make sure we are working with our allies to apply tightened pressure on Iran," the Illinois senator said.
Iran demonstrated its military force with the test-flight of nine long and medium-range missiles in the strategic Strait of Hormouz, through which 40% of the world's oil passes.
Tehran said the exercise was in retaliation to threats from the US and Israel over its disputed nuclear projects, which it claims are civilian.
Obama said if he were to be elected president, he would combine more direct diplomacy with the threat of much tougher economic sanctions.
"I think what this underscores is the need for us to create a kind of policy that is putting the burden on Iran to change behaviour, and frankly we just have not been able to do that over the last several years," Obama said.
He cited reports that US exports to Iran have increased under George Bush, even as the administration has toughened its rhetoric.
Earlier, the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said the "war games" justified America's defence plans with bases in eastern Europe. She said the tests were "evidence that the missile threat is not an imaginary one."
"Those who say there is no Iranian missile threat against which we should build a missile defence system perhaps ought to talk to the Iranians about their claims."
Her comments were backed by the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain. He said the tests "demonstrate the need for effective missile defence now and in the future, and this includes missile defence in Europe as is planned with the Czech Republic and Poland". These plans are strongly opposed by Russia.
Gunmen attacked a police guard post this morning outside the heavily fortified U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, killing three Turkish police officers in what Ambassador Ross Wilson called "an obvious act of terrorism."
Three of the assailants were shot to death during the gun battle, authorities said, and a fourth person was taken into custody a short time later, according to Turkey's Dogan News Agency.
No Americans or consular employees were injured.
"This was an attack on the American diplomatic establishment here," Wilson said in an appearance before reporters in Ankara, the Turkish capital. " . . . Our countries will stand together and confront this, as we have in the past."
Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler also labeled the incident a terrorist attack. Gul referred to the slain police officers as martyrs and said Turkey "will fight against those who masterminded such acts and the mentality behind it till the end."
Remember the Lying Guy on Saturday Night Live? The White House is channeling him with a pathetic denial on Bush's un-American remarks in Israel:
"We did not anticipate that it would be taken that way, because its kind of hard to take it that way when you look at the actual words. ... There was some anticipation that someone might say you know its an expression of rebuke to former President Carter for having met with Hamas. that was something that was anticipated but no one wrote about it or raised it."
Yeah, Ed Gillespie ... Jimmy Carter ... that's the ticket...
Joe Biden makes it plain regarding President Bush's un-American conduct in Israel:
Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), piling on to Democratic complaints about President Bush’s speech in Israel today:
“This is bullshit, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset ... and make this kind of ridiculous statement.”
Speaking before the Knesset, Bush said that “some people” believe the United States “should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along."
"We have heard this foolish delusion before," Bush said. "As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
Democrats have interpreted the comments as an attack on Sen. Barack Obama, and Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the president was out of line.
“He is the guy who has weakened us,” he said. “He has increased the number of terrorists in the world. It is his policies that have produced this vulnerability that the U.S. has. It’s his [own] intelligence community [that] has pointed this out, not me.”
Biden noted that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested that the United States ought to find a way to talk more with its enemies.
"If he thinks this is appeasement, is he going to come back and fire his own cabinet?” Biden asked. “Is he going to fire Condi Rice?”
How about firing himself? After all, Bush is the man who turned to the Iranians after 9/11 for cooperation against our mutual enemy, al-Qaida, in neighboring Afghanistan. Bush then "appeased" al-Qaida itself, by pulling American troops out of the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia (whom he constantly appeases, even though they produced 15 of the 19 hijackers who flew planes into our buildings on 9/11, and their money funds global terrorism...) giving in to one of Osama bin Laden's chief complaints. Gates and Rice have indeed advocated talking to the Iranians, and worse, Bush's Iraq policy has done more to benefit Iran than a decade of its own war with Iraq ever could. Bush has made Iran the preeminent power in the Gulf region, and by driving up oil prices, his war has enriched the Mullahs to no end.
So congratulations Mr. Bush, you're our Appeaser in Chief.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Bush's remarks were "beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation" at the celebration of Israel's 60th anniversary.
Referring to Sen. John McCain, Pelosi said: "I would hope that any serious person that aspires to lead the country, would disassociate themselves from those comments.”
As Pelosi was speaking, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel issued a statement in which he said: "The tradition has always been that when a U.S. president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water's edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?”
Speaking of the "promise of God" for a "homeland for the chosen people" in Israel, Bush told the Israeli parliament after a visit to the Roman-era Jewish fortress at Masada: "Masada shall never fall again, and America will always stand with you."
He predicted the defeat of Islamist enemies Hamas, Hezbollah and al Qaeda in a "battle of good and evil". ...
... Of the Palestinians, half of whom were pushed into exile to make way for the Jewish state, Bush said that, looking ahead another 60 years in the future, "the Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved".
"SLAP IN THE FACE"
The president's language in Israel has dismayed Palestinians looking for the U.S. superpower to mediate in their negotiations with Israel. Islamist Hamas, which spurns such talks, said Bush sounded "like a priest or a rabbi" and had delivered a "slap in the face" to those Palestinians who placed their hopes in him.
... In a speech marking what Palestinians call the "Nakba", or catastrophe, when some 700,000 Arabs fled or were forced from their homes during Israel's foundation, President Mahmoud Abbas said: "Isn't it time for Israel to respond to the call of a just and comprehensive peace and achieve historic reconciliation between the two peoples on this sacred and tortured land?"
But Palestinian political analyst Ali Jarbawi said Bush's rhetoric showed Washington was not being an honest broker: "He is not talking about a two-state solution. He is talking about a state of leftovers for the Palestinians," Jarbawi said.
George W. Bush and the politicization of absolutely everything
Never in American history have we seen a sitting U.S. president go onto foreign soil and knee-cap a fellow American ... a sitting U.S. Senator, who could follow him into the presidency, at that. Then again, we've never had a president quite like George W. Bush. Speaking before Israel's Knesset today, Bush, having arrived in Israel this week to the tune of rocket fire, took a nakedly political swipe at Senator Barack Obama, essentially comparing his fellow American to an appeaser of Hitler:
JERUSALEM (CNN) – In a particularly sharp blast from halfway around the world, President Bush suggested Thursday that Sen. Barack Obama and other Democrats are in favor of "appeasement" of terrorists in the same way U.S. leaders appeased Nazis in the run-up to World War II.
"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," said Bush, in what White House aides privately acknowledged was a reference to calls by Obama and other Democrats for the U.S. president to sit down for talks with leaders like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"We have heard this foolish delusion before," Bush said in remarks to the Israeli Knesset. "As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American Senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
Full transcript here. Obama's communication team wasted no time firing back:
“Obviously this is an unprecedented political attack on foreign soil,” Obama Communications Director Robert Gibbs told CNN’s John Roberts on American Morning Thursday, adding that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had been quoted Wednesday making remarks about dialogue with Iran that were similar to the Illinois senator's.
“Let's not confuse precondition with preparation,” said Gibbs of any talks with Iran. “Obviously these meetings would be full of preparation. But we're not going to sit down and engage Iran, unless or until they give up their nuclear weapons program.
“It is unfortunate that an American president would fly halfway across the world and make a political attack instead of honoring the tremendous accomplishment and achievement of the 60th anniversary of the birth of Israel,” he added.
Obama's camp also released a statement, amplifying the point:
It is "sad" that Bush would use Israel's 60th anniversary "to launch a false political attack. George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists."
Meanwhile, the White House issues a rather flimsy denial that Bush's comments were directed at Obama:
"It is not," press secretary Dana Perino told reporters in Israel. "I would think that all of you who cover these issues and have for a long time have known that there are many who have suggested these types of negotiations with people that the president, President Bush, thinks that we should not talk to. I understand when you're running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you. That is not always true. And it is not true in this case."
No thank you note yet from the McCain campaign for his buddy George's "help" with the Jewish vote. No reaction, either, from Reagan's ongoing dialogue with the Soviets or Nixon's visit to China.
The International Herald Tribune does a story you wouldn't see in the U.S.; a wrenching piece on the plight of Israeli Arabs, dispossessed of their land and villages, prohibited from settling on captured lands that remain undeveloped, waiting for Jewish owners who might emigrate to the country someday, and yet remaining in Israel because they have no place else to go, and no confidence in what might someday emerge as the new Palestinian state next door. Here's a clip:
... One recent warm afternoon, Jamal Abdulhadi Mahameed drove past kibbutz fields of wheat and watermelon, up a dirt road surrounded by pine trees and cactus, and climbed the worn remains of a set of stairs, declaring in the open air: "This was my house. This is where I was born."
He said what he most wanted now, at age 69, was to leave the crowded town next door, come back to this piece of uncultivated land with the pomegranate bushes planted by his father and work it, as generations have before him. He has gone to court to get it.
Mahameed is no revolutionary and, by nearly any measure, a solid and successful citizen. His children include a doctor, two lawyers and an engineer. Yet, as an Arab, his quest for a return to his land challenges longstanding Israeli policy.
"We are prohibited from using our own land," Mahameed said as he stood in the former village of Lajoun, now a mix of overgrown scrub and pine trees surrounded by the fields of Kibbutz Megiddo. "They want to keep it available for Jews. My daughter makes no distinction between Jewish and Arab patients. Why should the state treat me differently?"
The answer has to do with the very essence of Zionism - the movement of Jewish rebirth and control over the land where Jewish statehood first flourished 2,000 years ago.
"Land is presence," remarked Clinton Bailey, an Israeli scholar who has focused on Bedouin culture. "If you want to be present here you have to have land. The country is not that big. What you cede to Arabs can no longer be used for Jews who may still want to come. Israel is here as a haven for them." ...
Discrimination against Arab citizens, both inside Israel and in the occupied territories, which Desmond Tutu and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter have variously described as Israeli Apartheid, is one of Israel's dirty little secrets, one that's much better known in Europe than the U.S. In many ways, Palestinians inside Israel are that country's African-Americans, pre-1970...
The Washington Post reports that the Bush administration may have cut a secret deal to allow Israel to expand the settlements on the West Bank that it isn't supposed to be expanding:
A letter that President Bush personally delivered to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon four years ago has emerged as a significant obstacle to the president's efforts to forge a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians during his last year in office.
Ehud Olmert, the current Israeli prime minister, said this week that Bush's letter gave the Jewish state permission to expand the West Bank settlements that it hopes to retain in a final peace deal, even though Bush's peace plan officially calls for a freeze of Israeli settlements across Palestinian territories on the West Bank. In an interview this week, Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weissglas, said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reaffirmed this understanding in a secret agreement reached between Israel and the United States in the spring of 2005, just before Israel withdrew from Gaza.
U.S. officials say no such agreement exists, and in recent months Rice has publicly criticized even settlement expansion on the outskirts of Jerusalem, which Israel does not officially count as settlements. But as peace negotiations have stepped up in recent months, so has the pace of settlement construction, infuriating Palestinian officials, and Washington has taken no punitive action against Israel for its settlement efforts.
Israeli officials say they have clear guidance from Bush administration officials to continue building settlements, as long as it meets carefully negotiated criteria, even though those understandings appear to contradict U.S. policy.
Many experts say new settlement construction undermines the political standing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas -- who is to meet with Bush today at the White House -- and adds to Palestinian cynicism about the peace process. Palestinians view the settlements as an Israeli effort to claim Palestinian lands, and in a meeting yesterday with Rice, Abbas said settlement construction was "one of the greatest obstacles" to a peace deal.
U.S. and Israeli officials privately argue that Israel has greatly restricted settlement growth outside the settlements it hopes to retain in a peace deal with the Palestinians, and Olmert has said Israel has stopped building new settlements and confiscating Palestinian lands.
Housing starts -- not counting the Jerusalem settlements -- have declined 33 percent since 2003, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics. But officials say it is politically damaging for Olmert to admit that, so instead he publicly emphasizes that he is adding to the settlements, which now house about 450,000 Israelis.
"It was clear from day one to Abbas, Rice and Bush that construction would continue in population concentrations -- the areas mentioned in Bush's 2004 letter," Olmert declared in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, published Sunday. "I say this again today: Beitar Illit will be built, Gush Etzion will be built; there will be construction in Pisgat Ze'ev and in the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem," referring to new settlement expansion plans. "It's clear that these areas will remain under Israeli control in any future settlement."
In a key sentence in Bush's 2004 letter, the president stated, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."
In a companion letter to "reconfirm" U.S.-Israeli understandings, Weissglas wrote Rice that restrictions on the growth of settlements would be made "within the agreed principles of settlement activities," which would include "a better definition of the construction line of settlements" on the West Bank. A joint U.S.-Israeli team would "jointly define the construction line of each of the settlements."
Weissglas said that the letter built upon a prior understanding between then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, which would allow Israel to build up settlements within existing construction lines. But Powell denied that. "I never agreed to it," he said in an e-mail. ...
George W. Bush didn't stick around long enough to find out if his girlfriend Secretary of State's lil' old peace initiative got off the ground. But he did stay at the (laughs here) Bush administration Middle East peace summit in Anapolis long enough to butcher the names of the two men he theoretically hopes to bring together.
And you've got to love the part at the end where Ehud Olmert (that's "OHL-mert" for you White House phonetic spellers) instructs the Prez that if they would just step out from behind the podium, (you shmuck...) the cameras could actually capture the photo op for which they came -- featuring the American, Palestinian and Israeli leaders shaking hands ... an op btw that seems somehow to have had a lot more resonance during previous administrations... you know, back in the days when presidents spent more than three hours working on this stuff.
T minus thirty minutes to the three martini lunch ...
All jokes aside, I said back in 2000 that perhaps the only up-side to a Bush presidency might be a solution to the Mideast conflict, which I've always believed would be more likely to come with the help of a Republican president than a Democratic one, given their wider latitude to get tough with the Israelis. That was true with Bush's father, who for all his faults, wasn't afraid to take a hard line with the Likudniks, particularly given all the money he and his family make with the Arab world... ahem ...
Well, fool me once. Bush Jr. has turned out to be a dud in that regard, possessed with a zeal to nestle into the pockets of the Likud that is unlike anything this side of a neocon (or Pat Robertson). And whether or not George actually succeeds in bringing on the Armageddon (that'll show dad who's a failure!) it seems more likely than not that he will fail to create a Mideastern counterbalance to the legacy killing adventure in Iraq.
Of course, stranger things have happened, and hell, they have set a convenient deadline that would make peace a lovely parting gift for the Worst President Ever...
Condoleezza Rice used to be a Democrat. She even aided Gary Hart back in the day, though you're unlikely to get her to admit it today... but with her current boss fading into the dustbin of history, and likely taking her reputation down the chute with him, Condi appears to be going for one final kick -- she's talking to former presidents Clinton and Carter, and to her friend, Madeleine Albright, whose lefty dad taught Condi in Denver, to try and scrounge up the deal for Palestinian statehood that eluded the former presidents, the hardline Israelis, and the late Yasser Arafat.
And you know what? As much of a disappointment as Dr. Rice has been for this country -- her stewardship as National Security Advisor was abysmal, and she has been a lackluster secretary of state -- not to mention her failure to give her boss, the president, good, forceful advice on how to deal with Russia, about which she is supposedly and expert ... despite all of that, I'm rooting for her. Not for her sake, and defnitely not for the Bushies ... but for the people of Palestine and Israel alike, their respective governments notwithstanding.
Let's hope that for once, Condi gets one right.
Related: here's a good backgrounder on the conflict, including a discussion of the little known real roadblock to peace between the Palestinians and Israelis: water.