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."
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.
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.
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. ...
The second bombing of a sacred Shiite Mosque in Samarra in 15 months has only escalated the mayhem in that country. The reprisals have been swift and brutal in that ongoing civil war.
In this country, the Democrats have sent the president a letter telling him what he should already know: that the surge has failed -- more to the point, the war itself is a rank failure, with no realistic chance of turning around.
Meanwhile, there are two other wars raging in the Middle East, in Lebanon, where the Fouad Siniora government recently battled Islamic militias in a Palestinian refugee camp, and tensions are high after the murder of an anti-Syrian MP, and in Gaza, where an all out civil war is underway, with President Mahmoud Abbas moving to dissolve the Palestinian government yesterday.
The multi-headed hydra of violence reaching across the region will be the subject of an emergency Arab League meeting tomorrow. The instability is frightening, and worse, it's providing an opportunity for the warmongering neocons to try and push for even more war, against Iran, which is now inexplicably being accused of arming their sworn enemies, the Taliban.
What's needed in the Middle East is credible diplomacy on the part of the United States, which is impossible as long as this country can't bring itself to deal even-handedly with the parties there.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Hamas fighters have seized Fatah's senior field commanders in the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Islamic group announced Friday, while Egyptian police said nearly 100 Fatah officials had crossed into Egypt.
The spokesman, Abu Obeideh, said the group's men arrested the commanders of the National Security organization and the elite Presidential Guard, along with a senior Fatah spokesman, a lawmaker and six other officials.
The men were being interrogated by Hamas, Obeideh said on Hamas TV.
Meanwhile, 97 senior members of Fatah's security and administrative apparatus arrived in the Egyptian port of El-Arish hours after fighters from the militant Hamas group took control of Gaza, an Egyptian security official in El-Arish said.
The retreating Fatah members, who fled aboard a fishing boat, were transferred to camps affiliated to Egypt's security forces, a police official in Cairo confirmed.
Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that Hamas is now in "full control" of the Gaza strip.