Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dutch action: 'Don't buy Israeli apartheid',

This speaks for itself

Monday, March 29, 2010

Moussa after Arab summit: Arabs are 'fed up', will eventually consider a one state solution

Arab leaders have ended a two day summit in the Libyan city of Sirte yesterday by rejecting all Israeli measures in East Jerusalem and calling on the international community to stop the settlement building there and protect the Al Aqsa mosque compound. Israel’s settlement policy poses 'a dangerous obstacle to a just and comprehensive peace', the final resolution of the Arab League summit read.
There was not, however, consensus – and hence no vote – on whether to withdraw Arab support for US-sponsored indirect talks that have yet to begin and that the Palestine Liberation Organisation is resisting until Israel freezes settlement construction in East Jerusalem.
The Arab League had this month given its backing to the proximity talks, but their start was derailed after an announcement by Israel that it had approved the building of 1,600 new settlement units in East Jerusalem.
Amr Moussa, the league’s secretary general, said at a news conference yesterday after the final session that Arab leaders are 'fed up' with Israel’s policies. Moussa, who said a day earlier that continued Israeli settlement building would end efforts to revive the stalled peace process, reiterated the warning on Sunday. 'Within the next few weeks we have to decide what to do: whether to continue with the negotiations or to completely shift course,' he said. 'Íf we find out that Israel is not leaving an opportunity to build two states, we are investigating the possibility of supporting a one-state solution. But such a decision will ... come after serious investigation and study.' The leaders plan to hold an extraordinary meeting in September to discuss issues it was unable to resolve during the just concluded summit.

A declaration addressing the Arab League's key issues was passed, mandating the establishment of a legal committee to follow up on the "Judaization" of East Jerusalem, home evictions, and attacks against holy sites in the occupied Palestinian territories, with the aim of putting its findings before national and international courts. A political framework was also outlined to tackle Israeli policy in East Jerusalem.

'East Jerusalem is an integral part of the occupied Palestinian lands of 1967. All procedures that are carried out by the Israeli Occupation Authorities are illegal, and do not change the legal status of the city that remains occupied, nor does it impact the political status as the capital of Palestine,' the declaration read. A fund was set up to provide Palestinians living in Jerusalem with US$500 million (Dh1.83 billon) to help them cope in the city in the face of growing poverty.

At the opening session Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also spoke. He condemned Israel's policy of considering the whole of Jerusalem as its united capital. 'This is madness and it does not commit us in any way,'  Erdogan said in a speech to Arab leaders. 'Jerusalem is the apple of the eye of each and every Muslim ... and we cannot at all accept any Israeli violation in Jerusalem or in Muslim sites,' the Turkish premier added.

A decision to withdraw support for the proximity talks, as had been expected, was not forthcoming however. Instead, members chose to defer a vote on the matter. That decision caused some rancour with Syria, which along with Libya was reported to have urged Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO chairman, to abandon the negotiations process altogether and revert to a strategy of armed resistance to Israel’s occupation.Walid Mualem, Syria’s foreign minister, said his country would not be a part of any final declaration since it disagreed with the indirect negotiations.

Also the summit failed to reach a decision about the 2002 'Arab Peace Initiative', which offers Israel full normalization in exchange for a withdrawal to the 1967 'green line' and a just solution of the Palestinian refugee problem. Mr Qadafi, the summit host, Mr Moussa and others had argued before the summit that the Arab countries needed to come up with practical strategies, not rhetoric. The absence of such decisions might further undermine the credibility of the League in the eyes of millions of ordinary Arabs. Moussa in his news conference, also backed away from his opening remarks in which he had proposed to include Iran in regional talks together with equally non-Arab Turkey. After opposition had arisen against better ties with Iran, mainly from Egypt and Saudi-Arabia, Moussa in his news conference only said that 'dialogue remains necessary'. 

Dennis remains a menace

Laura Rozen yesterday wrote an interesting piece on Politico about the debate within the White House staff over Israel. According to her a heated debate is going on and the main protagonists are - surprise? - Dennis Ross on the one hand and the supporters of special envoy George Mitchell at the other.

Ross is an old hand, a man who made his career at the Jewish lobby AIPAC and its think tank Washington Institute of Near East Policy (WINEP). After that he was the roving ambassador and go between at the Oslo- and so called peace processes during the Clinton and Bush administrations. In Obama's crew he got the function of overseeer of America's Iran policy.

As far as the present White House discussions around Obama's policy towards Netanyahu are concerned, Rozen quotes peaople who were present at the deliberations, who tell that Ross constantly pointed out that Netanyahu's room for  manoeuver is limited due to the constraints of his coalition. Also he took the line that putting pressure on Netanyahu would encourage 'the Arabs' to raise their demands. He tried to convince the White House staff that considerations about what Netanyahu's could or could not do was to take precedence, whereas the Mitchell supporters argued that nothing less than  the credibility of the US Middle East policy was at stake. Rozen quotes one official who said that:

“He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu's coalition politics than to U.S. interests,” one U.S. official told POLITICO Saturday. “And he doesn't seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this Administration.”... Ross “was always saying about how far Bibi could go and not go. So by his logic, our objectives and interests were less important than pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi's coalition's red lines.”  
 Other officials who have discussed recent U.S.-Israel tensions with Ross say

he argues that all parties need to keep focus on the big picture, Iran, and the peace process as being part of a wider U.S. effort to bolster an international and regional alliance including Arab nations and Israel to pressure and isolate Iran. This is an argument that presumably has resonance with the Netanyahu government. But at the same time, Arab allies tell Washington that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem inflames their publics and breeds despair and makes it hard for them to work even indirectly and quietly with Israel on Iran.

And a third wonders why Ross, in fact, is still around
 '' one asks the question: why, since his approach in the Oslo years was such an abysmal failure, is he back, peddling the same snake oil?”
 To which I might add: How is it possible that a man who wrote a book - The Missing Peace - which so eloquently illustrated how biased he is in favour of Israel (Norman Finkelstein shredded his approach to pieces) has survived the Bush administration. Ross would probably make a good minister in an Israeli cabinet. Also his AIPAC buddie may be proud of him. But hopefully what he's doing in and around the White House will increasingly become a big, big question mark.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Iraqi elections underline sectarian divisions once more

 (Picture AP)

Some might try to interprete the results of the March 7 selections in Iraq as a sign that democracy is taking root in this country after all it went through, but in reality it is highly questionable whether this is the case. The preliminary results which have been published last Friday (more than two weeks later than was expected), show that voters have voted strictly along the lines of ethnic divisions. The outcome may lead to a process of  forming a government which will not only long and complicated, but which also will underline these divisions once more.   

Most seats, 91 of  the 325 seat parliament, went surprisingly to Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National Movement, (mostly called 'Iraqiyya').  Allawi is a secular Shi'ite and former prominent member of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party who defected in the 70ties. He served as prime minister in 2004-5. In his 'Iraqiyya' Sunnis are strongly represented - Salih Mutlaq, vice-president Tareq Hashimi and former diplomat Pachachi all belong to this colaition. 
Second - with 89 seats, only two less than Allawi - came State of Law, the coalition of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. State of Law (or SLA) is a kind of rainbow coalition, but is dominated by Al-Maliki's Shi'ite Da'awa party. The results show that Maliki won in ethnically and religiously diverse Baghdad and in predominantly Shi'ite southern provinces, while Allawi dominated largely Sunni northern and western regions. 

The third place went with 70 seats to The Iraqi National Alliance (INA), a Shi'ite bloc with close ties to Iran (the most porminent parties in this bloc are the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), the 'Badr' armed wing of ISCI and  the Ahrar-party of Muqtada al-Sadr).
The Kurdish alliance, a union of the two most powerful Kurdish parties, the Pattrottic Union Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party KDP  finished with 43 seats.

The fact that the INA bloc emerged as a strong third party means that Muqtada al-Sadr (picture), INA's strongest man at the moment, is in a strong position to function as kingmaker. Representatives of Maliki's SLA and followers of Sadr travelled to Iran on Friday to meet with Sadr who currently is studying there, according to Reuters, quoting  INA sources. Rumours of a possible merger of SLA and and INA were already going round before the elections. If an actual merger would take place, the two blocs together would come close to the 163 seats needed to form a government.

But attempts to sideline Allawi in the negotiations to form a new government could lead to resentment among the Sunnis, who this time seem to have fully participated in the elections.Sectarian violence exploded after the last parliamentary vote in 2005 as politicians took more than five months to agree a government.
Underscoring Iraq's fragile security and the tensions caused by the March 7 election, two explosions in the town of Khalis, in Iraq's mainly Sunni northern Diyala province, killed at least 42 people and wounded 65 just before the release of the results.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tunisia gives Human Rights Watch a taste of freedom

Tunisian human rights lawyer Muhammad Nouri and Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch at the press conference.

Plainclothes police officers had been following them for days. The hotel suddenly rescinded its offer to rent them a conference room, and then, when they returned to their suite after dinner, they were told it had been flooded.
"Coincidentally, there were no other rooms available in the whole hotel," Sarah Whitson said wryly.
As the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, the dark irony was not lost on Whitson. She was supposed to be holding a press conference in Tunis on the repression of political prisoners in Tunisia, but instead she found herself facing the same political tactics and harassment she and her team had so scrupulously documented.
The press conference Wednesday was to announce the release of a 42-page report titled "A Larger Prison: Repression of Former Political Prisoners in Tunisia." But several days ago the government informed Whitson that the conference would not take place, dismissing the report as "biased."
Authorities sent minders to follow the Human Rights Watch team and called Tunisian journalists to warn them against attending the press conference. When Whitson and her colleagues decided go forward with it from the offices of a prominent human rights lawyer, police physically blocked journalists and lawyers from entering and took down the license plate numbers of their cars. In the end, just one diplomat and three activists were able to attend.

Arab summit may withdraw 2002 Peace Initiative

Terminating the Arab Peace Initiative will be on the Arab League summit's agenda in Libya this weekend, its secretary-general, Amr Moussa, said Wednesday.
Ma´an News reports that Moussa, in a statement released before traveling to Sirte, Libya, said that it was futile to continue dealing with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following recent developments in Jerusalem, and that Israel's ´hardline stance´ would not ´push´ Arab League conveners into ´giving up on Jerusalem´
Withdrawal from the Arab Peace Initiative will be put before conveners, with all members participating this year ´without exception´, Moussa said, adding that ´most countries will be represented by the highest levels of leadership´.
´We have been following recent developments in Palestine and Israeli practice in Jerusalem. The Arab submit will review all facts and developments and we will see what the Arab League summit will yield,´ Moussa said.

The initiative, launched in Beirut in 2002, proposes to normalize relations with Israel, within the context of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state on 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The decision to discuss the initiative's revocation follows a string of announcements by the Israeli government to continue settlement building and expansion in occupied East Jerusalem, including an Israeli-only unit in the flashpoint Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Two state solution is obsolete, according to Benvenisti

Pursuing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a ´waste of time´, That is what
Meron Benvenisti, a Harvard-educated historian who is  known for his study of Israeli building in the occupied territories, on Tuesday said on a news conference.  Reuters reported that  Benvenisti, who has been a Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem in the 70ties, said he expected Israel's occupation of territory would ´continue for a long time´ and that peace talks should focus instead on power sharing in Israel and the West Bank.
´The fight for the two-state solution is obsolete,´ Benvenisti, 76, said. The political split in Palestinian loyalties between the Fatah-dominated West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza, plus Israel's control of 60 percent of West Bank land, made it unlikely a Palestinian state could soon be founded, he said. With Israel seeking to keep large settlement blocs under any deal, Benvenisti said only 40 percent of West Bank land was actually up for discussion, making Palestinian statehood unviable.
Even Western aid to the Palestinians of an annual $2 billion, which is intended to boost the economy, is really perpetuating Israeli control in the West Bank by funding Palestinian adaptation to the fact of occupation, he added. ´We have to change the vocabulary of the conflict,´ Benvenisti said. He called for dropping the two-state paradigm for discussion of a joint ´bi-national regime´.Israelis and Palestinians could share the West Bank and present-day Israel in a federal, power-share format such as that forged in Bosnia in 1996, Benvenisti suggested.
Some Palestinians have embraced the idea of a binational state with Israel as long as they achieve full political rights. But many Israelis fear such a structure could jeopardize the country's future as a Jewish state.
Benvenisti was famously criticized in the early 1980s for predicting Israel's massive construction of settlements then in land Palestinians sought for a state seemed irreversible, and would secure Israeli dominance there for a long time to come.He saw that vision as having borne itself out, citing how the Jewish settler population grew from about 20,000 in 1982 to more than 600,000 now, after a building campaign that he opposed.

Saudis arrest 113 Al-Qaeda suspects

Saudi security forces have arrested 113 Al-Qaeda militants who were planning to carry out terrorist attacks on a number of targets inside the Kingdom including oil installations, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.
Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki said his forces had broken up three cells of Al-Qaeda militants, with one cell consisting of 101 people, and two smaller cells made up of six men each.
“The large cell comprised 47 Saudis and 51 Yemenis, as well as a Somali, a Bangladeshi and an Eritrean,” he said.
The two smaller groups were made up of 11 Saudis and a Yemeni. He said Al-Qaeda planned to carry out new terrorist attacks inside the Kingdom in October, targeting economic facilities and security officers while Saudi military and security forces were busy confronting Yemeni infiltrators in the south of the country.
The large cell was discovered as a result of an investigation launched after suspected Al-Qaeda militants — two of them dressed as women — tried to infiltrate the country in October with explosives. The two were killed in a shootout at the border and a third was arrested.

“The two had infiltrated the country through the Yemeni border to carry out terrorist operations,” the spokesman said. Police then arrested seven people who had allegedly helped the two terrorists enter the Kingdom.The foreigners in the cell were said to have entered the country under the cover of seeking work or visiting holy sites in Makkah and Madinah.
The two small cells were operating independent of each other and were said to be linked to the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) group, tasked with targeting oil installations. The ministry spokesman did not say where or when the arrests were made.“The two small cells were in the primary stages of preparing attacks on oil and security installations in the Eastern Province,” he said.
Suicide bombers tried but failed to attack an oil facility at the Abqaiq oil complex in eastern Saudi Arabia in February 2006. The complex is the world’s largest oil- processing facility. Saudi officials said security forces have thwarted several plots inside the Kingdom, rounding up numerous suspected militants and seizing weapons caches and bomb-making equipment, all linked to Al-Qaeda.
Al-Turki said the ministry made the announcement in order to caution Saudis, residents and foreign pilgrims about the criminal plots of the deviant group. “Apart from the support of God, the awareness of citizens about these criminal plans would contribute to foiling these terrorist plans,” Al-Turki said, adding that Saudi security forces would continue to be vigilant to thwart such attempts.Police seized arms and ammunition, 12 hand grenades.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New housing project in E-Jerusalem approved just hours before meeting Netanyahu-Obama

The Shepherd hotel in Sheikh Jarrah, owned by  casino tycoon Irwin Moskowitz. It will be taken down to make place for 20 appartments for Jews, plus  shops and a parking lot. 

Israeli prime minister Netanyahu has met president Obama for the first time since relations were soured by the announcement that 1,600 settler homes were to be built in occupied East Jerusalem. Both men talked for 90 minutes on Tuesday, but the meeting at the White House was overshadowed by the news that more building permits had been issued for the disputed city.  
Hours before the meeting took place, the Jerusalem municipality said on its website that final permission had been granted for the construction of 20 housing units, shops and a carpark at the Shepherd hotel compound in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu's office said the prime minister heard about the media reports of the project's approval half an hour before visiting the white House and did not know about it beforehand.
The Jerusalem municipality said that approving the project was not meant to interfere with Netanyahu's visit and was just an automatic outcome of the burocratic process. 'Once the construction permits have been paid for they are automatically issued,' the city's spokesman said on Israeli public radio. However, when the project was approved in July, Washington demanded it be halted and summoned Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the US, to be reprimanded.

Underlining the tensions between the two allies, the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama was unusually low-key. The media were prevented from taking pictures and there was no news conference held afterwards.
PJ Crowley, the US state department spokesman, told The Associated Press news agency that the US and Israel were engaged in 'give and take' after Washington was angered by the settlement announcment made during a visit by Joe Biden, the US vice-president. 'We are not going to talk about the precise steps both sides have to take. We will continue to discuss those steps privately,' he said.

Nir Chefetz, Netanyahu's spokesman, said that the 'atmosphere was good' at the meeting. He said the two leaders' advisers 'continued discussions on the ideas raised at the meeting' and would hold further talks on Wednesday.

Netanyahu has shown little sign of giving in to US pressure over the settlement issue during his three-day visit.
Earler om Tuesday he said to the Israeli media that 'if the Americans support the unreasonable demands made by the  Palestinians regarding a freeze on settlements in east Jerusalem and  the West Bank, the peace process risks being blocked for a year' Also he said that 'relations between Israel and the United States should not be hostage to differences between the two countries over the peace process with the Palestinians'.
Those remarks came after a defiant speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) on  Monday in which he said that 'Jerusalem is not a settlement'.
Before meeting Obama, Netanyahu received a warm bipartisan welcome at congress. Also there Netanyahu told the legislators that he feared peace talks with Palestinians may be delayed for another year unless Palestinians dropped their demand for a full freeze on Jewish settlement building.'We must not be trapped by an illogical and unreasonable demand,' Netanyahu said during a meeting with congressional leaders, according to his spokesman.

But Nabil Abu Rdainah, an aide to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, told the Reuters news agency: 'Netanyahu's policy is the one that is obstructing the return to negotiations.' We are ready to go back to negotiations if Netanyahu adheres to what came in the statement of the Quartet,' he said. At a meeting in Moscow on Friday, the Quartet of Middle East mediators comprising the UN, the US, the EU and Russia, called on Israel to freeze settlement activity.

The paper Haaretz, in the meantime, wrote about two opinion polls which show that almost half of the Israeli public is in favour of freezing the building programs in Jerusalem. Former politican Yehuda ben Meir of the National Religious Party seemed alarmed by the findings.  'Two surveys published in recent days produced astonishing findings about the public's attitude on construction in Jerusalem,' he wrote, 'findings that should alarm every Jew. In a Haaretz-Dialog poll, 48 percent of the respondents said Israel should continue building in all parts of Jerusalem, even if the price is a rift with the United States, while 41 percent said Israel should stop building in East Jerusalem until the end of negotiations with the Palestinians. Almost identical findings came up in a Mina Tzemach poll, where 46 percent said building in East Jerusalem should be frozen and only 51 percent opposed such a move.'

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Clinton at AIPAC: status quo ME is unsustainable, Netanyahu defiant

These days all eyes are directed towards AIPAC, the American Jewish lobby. Or rather the eyes of everbody  who is either Israeli or American and interested in Middle East politics. AIPAC's annual Policy Conference is indicative of how popular the lobby  is with American policy makers  and gives - since some of the actors are present  - an idea about the current state of affairs.
Well no big surprises there. In the presence of many members of Congress Bibi Netanyahu yesterday gave a speech at the gala, He showed himself  defiant  and without mentioning the recent crisis in the relations after Israel announced the building of another 1600 appartments in East-Jerusalem, he said that 'the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 year ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.'
Netanyahu also said that 'in Jerusalem, my government has maintained the policies of every single Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. .... Everyone knows -- everyone, Americans, Europeans, Israelis certainly, Palestinians -- that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. and terefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.'

One day earlier it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's turn for a speech. She told the conference that the status quo is unsustainable.'For President Obama, for me, and for this entire administration, our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid,' Clinton said. But, 'as Israel’s friend, it is our responsibility to give credit when it is due and to tell the truth when it is needed.'

The status quo is unsustainable for all sides," Clinton said. 'It promises only more violence and unrealized aspirations. Staying on this course means continuing a conflict that carries tragic human costs. Israeli and Palestinian children alike deserve to grow up free from fear and to have the opportunity to live up to their full God-given potential.'

On the subject of Iran she said: ' let me be very clear: The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons'.
Netanyahu, however, was equally clear on this. 'The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men,' Netanyahu said, after praising the role of Roosevelt and Churchill in World War II, but pointing at their failure to save 6 million Jewish people. 'Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.'

This evening Netanyahu will see Obama who after his health care victory in Congress is, as some point out, a stronger man than before. Some believe that because of this renewed strength, Obama will take a firmer position. Others  expect him to act tactically with an eye on the long run - just as he did with respect to the health care bill - and spare a more muscular showing for the negotiations themselves, when difficult decisions are needed.

I don't believe in either of these hypotheses, although I certainly would love to. I really believe that Obama does not have the guts to withstand AIPAC (whose newly elected chaiman Lee Rosenberg sat on his finance comittee during his election campaign). Obama, however, could, if he wished to do so,  make a fist against Netanyahu with the support of a majority of the American and Jewish public. J Street, the new moderate lobby that 'competes' with AIPAC on Tusday published a survey among American Jews which showed a remarkable amount of support for a strong American role in the peace process, even if that would mean exerting pressure on Israel:

  • American Jews by a four-to-one margin, 82-18 percent, support the United States playing an active role in helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, with 73 percent of American Jews supporting this active role even if it means that the United States were to publicly state its disagreements with both the Israelis and the Arabs.

  • * By a 71-29 percent margin, American Jews support the United States "exerting pressure" on both the Israelis and the Arabs to make the necessary compromises to achieve peace. An earlier J Street poll last March found a similar level of support.

  • A majority of all American Jews, 52-48 percent, still support an active role even if the United States were to publicly state its disagreements with only Israel. (My emphasis).
A survey by Zogby International under Americans of all denominations shows that 81% of all Amerians agree that the Middle East conflict has a negative impact on US interests. Also  40 % of Americans (63% .Democrats, 13% Republicans) think that the US should get tough with Israël in order to stop settlements.       A Rasmussen poll, also taken in March,  went even further and concluded that 49% of American voters thinks that Israel should stop building settelements as part of a peace deal. 
Let'see if it will convince the president.

Britain expels Israeli diplomat over Mabhouh killing in Dubai

The British Foreign Office on Tuesday decided to expel an Israeli diplomat over the use of forged British passports used by the killers of Hamas member Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai in January. The diplomat in question is believed to be the Mossad station manager in London. Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor was summoned to the Foreign Office on Monday and told of the decision.
The Foreign Offfice also took the unusal step to issue a travel advisory to citizens traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories in which it warned not to hand over passports to third parties. Citing 'circumstantial evidence of Israeli involvement in the fraudulent use of British passports,' the Foreign Office warned on its Web site of the 'possibility that your passport details could be captured for improper uses while your passport is out of your control.' The risk applies in particular to passports without biometric security features, the warning on the Web site said.'We recommend that you only hand your passport over to third parties including Israeli officials when absolutely necessary.'
 Foreign secretary David Miliband (picture) said there were 'compelling reasons' to believe Israel was responsible for the forgeries. He called the misuse of British passports 'intolerable.Israel's ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, said he was 'disappointed', but Israel confirmed there would be no tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsion.Mr Prosor said: 'The relationship between Israel and the UK is of mutual importance, hence we are disappointed by the... decision.'
 The foreign secretary said officers from Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) had investigated the matter of the passports. It had concluded the passports used were copied from genuine British passports when handed over for inspection to individuals linked to Israel, either in Israel or in other countries, he said.
'Given that this was a very sophisticated operation, in which high-quality forgeries were made, the government judges it is highly likely that the forgeries were made by a state intelligence service,' he said.'We have concluded that there are compelling reasons to believe Israel was responsible for the misuse of the British passports.'The incident 'represents a profound disregard for the sovereignty of the United Kingdom' he said.
He added that the fact that Israel was a friend added 'insult to injury'.
Expelling a diplomat is a very severe measure in diplomatic terms. It means that Britain is taking the matter very seriously. Miliband on Monday also handed a letter to the Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman in Brussels, in which he demanded assurances from Israel that it in the future will refrain from using this kind of methods.
  At least 12 forged Bristish passport were used in the killing of Hamas-leader Mabhouh together with forgeries of Australian, French and German passports. All in all Dubai singled out 27 idiviuals who had taken part in the murder of Mbhouh. Their identities had been stolen from Israeli's who had immigrated from the countries in question.

Update: The ultra rightist member of Knesset Aryeh Eldad (National Union) gave this comment on the British measure to Sky News: 'I think [the] British are behaving hypocritically and I don't want to offend dogs on this issue, since some dogs are utterly loyal, Who are they to judge us on the war on terror?' He added that Israel's 'natural reaction should be to expel one of the senior diplomats in the British Embassy, maybe the military attache or someone on his level.'
Eldad's party colleague, MK Michael Ben-Ari, also compared the British to dogs and what h said was no less looney. 'The British may be dogs, but they are not loyal to us, but rather to an anti-Semitic system, and Israeli diplomacy partially plays into their hands. This is anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism.'


Friday, March 19, 2010

Netanyahu proposes a policy of 'don't ask, don't tell' concerning building in Jerusalem

Israel is willing to carry out trust-building moves in the West Bank in order to facilitate peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday, Haaretz reports. In a phone call between Netanyahu and Clinton, the Israeli PM reportedly conveyed a detailed list of gestures Jerusalem was willing to perform in order to restart negotiations with the Palestinians.
The Prime Minister's Office stated following the conversation between Netanyahu and Clinton that there was 'a real effort by Israel to aid the U.S. administration in renewing negotiations though trust-building measures with the Palestinian Authority'. The Jerusalem Post adds that special Geworge Mitchell is expected te come to Jerusalem on Sunday.

According to Haaretz the confidence building measures might include the release of Palestinian prisoners, the abolishment of some chepoints and maybe even the transfer of some territory to the authority of the PA. Apparently concrete steps haven't been spelled out yet. Netanyahu, however, is not going to revoke the plans to build another 1600 houses in the Ramat Shlomo neighbourhood  of Jerusalem, as Clinton had asked. According to a blog post by Jackson Diehl of the newspaper Washington Post, who apparently has been chosen to function as the Israel government's mouthpiece in this case, Netanyhu contends that juridically this is impossible and also politically unfeasable, since a majority of poltical parties in Israel backs the expansion of Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem. The suggestion, however,  is that what he can do is to slow the actual building down somewhat by a year or two.. What Netanyahu proposes in general, according to Diehl, is a tactic of 'don't ask, don't tell' as far as building in Jerusalem is concerned. A rather ridiculous sounding proposal, since NGO's like Nir Amim or Peace Now are following the building programs anyway and the press usually publishes what they find out. The question is whether the American government is going to buy this charade. My guess is: it probably will. 

The 'Quartet of Middle East negotiators', consisting of the US, Russia, the EU and the United Nations,  has demanded that Israel halt all settlement activity and denounced Israel's plan to build new housing in East Jerusalem. The Quartet's comments came at a news conference in Moscow on Friday, following a meeting by the group. Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, read a joint statement saying that the Quartet 'urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activities'. Also the statement condemned 'the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem'.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Egyptian calls for a democratic constitution

The little dog is an islamist one, but under the circumstances it could as well be an oppostional doggy.(From exhibition 'Cartoons for Peace'  at French Cultural Centre, East Jerusalem).

Egyptian opposition groups and political parties are pressing the government for amendments that would end the single-party ruling in the country. In a statement published on Tuesday, the opposition movement called on the government to scrap the Constitution if necessary in an effort to promote egalitarianism in the political sphere.
The group has also called on laws that restrict freedoms to be revoked, along with the state of emergency that has been maintaind since 1981 and gives the government wide-ranging powers. 'Because of a lack of democracy and mono-rule, Egyptians’ lives are getting worse with the collapse of public services, spread of poverty, unemployment and corruption,' the statement read in highlights published by the country’s leading opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood.

The statement was issued by the Democratic Front Party, the Nasserite Party, the Wafd Party and the Tagamma’a Party, which together hold some 10 seats of Parliament’s 454 total. The Brotherhood, which has 88 seats, did not join the three days of meetings, though it added that it also calls for similar political changes.
The parties called for parliamentary system in which the president acts as a judge between the legislative and executive authorities and has no political party affiliation.
The call from the opposition parties came a few days after the law committee of the Supreme Council for Culture held a seminar under the title The Constitution and the Political Future of Egypt', at Cairo University's law faculty with the participation of a considerable number of legal experts and political scientists. The discussions revealedthat they shared a consensus on the following two points:
1) The current regime and Constitution are defective beyond repair, therefore an alternative political system and new constitution are needed.
2) The alternative political system must be fully democratic, approved by parties across the political spectrum, and must establish a modern civil state based on the principles of citizenship and equality. The new regime must also allow the maximum possible level of political participation and have clear mechanisms to ensure the devolution of power, transparency, and accountability.
The debates showed that the problem isn't the formulation of a new constitution, but rather which political and procedural process will determine who has the power to endorse a final version of the constitution before calling for a popular referendum.
The calls are another sign that Egyptians are for the most part fed up with the political system and with president Mubarak, who leads the ruling National Democratic Party, and who has been in power since 1981. The presidnet who is 81 has has not said if he will run in the next presidential election in 2011. It is widely believed he is grooming his son Gamal for the presidency.

Obama: no crisis with Israel, but a disagreement

The announcemnet of plans to build new houses in East Jerusalem are not helpful for the Middle East peace process, but the recent row over the issue does not amount to a crisis in US-Israeli relations, Barack Obama has said. The president spoke in an interview on the Fox News network on Wednesday. It were his first comments on the recent developments. Obama rejected a suggestion from the interviewer that the Israeli announcement had triggered a 'crisis' in relations and said that in spite of what happened Israel remains 'one of our closest allies'. 'We and the Israeli people have a special bond that's not going to go away,' Obama said. 'But friends are going to disagree sometimes… There is a disagreement in terms of how we can move this peace process forward.'

 Obama added that 'the actions that were taken by the interior minister in Israel weren't helpful to [the peace] process. Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged as much and apologised for it,' he said.'What we need right now is both sides to recognise that it is in their interests to move this peace process forward'. Israelis and Palestinians need to 'take steps to make sure that we can rebuild trust', Obama said, adding that his administration had condemned recent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces in East Jerusalem triggered by the settlement announcement.

Listening to Obama  make one wonder what  - if anything - Israel should to do in order to cause a real crisis. While the president was speaking Secetary of State Hillaryu Clinton took off or Moscow. Officials said before her departure that she continued to await a response from Netanyahu to US complaints over the planned East Jerusalem settlements. 'We're still looking forward to a response. It hasn't happened yet. There hasn't been a call yet,' Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, told reporters.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Clinton tries to defuse tension between US and Israel

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has dismissed the idea that US-Israeli relations are in crisis amid a row over Jewish settlers in Arab East Jerusalem.She said the two nations had a 'close, unshakeable bond' but made clear the US wanted both Israel and the Palestinians to prove their commitment to peace.
The Israeli ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, was quoted by Israeli media on Monday as saying that ties between the US and Israel were at their lowest point since 1975.Asked if that was the case, Mrs Clinton said: 'I don't buy that'. She said Washington had an 'absolute commitment to Israel's security'.But, she added, the US did not always agree with its international allies on everything, and it had expressed its 'dismay and disappointment' to Israel over last week's incident.
Last week, Mrs Clinton called the settlements announcement 'insulting' to the US and, in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, demanded Israel take steps to show its commitment to peace.
The US says it is still awaiting a 'formal' response. Special envoy George Mitchel who had planned to travel to Jerusalem on Tuesday, has  postponed his visit to a yet unknown date.
 Clinton's attempt to diminish the tension between Washington and Jerusalem didn't keep rightist Israelis
 and Israel protagonists to develop an extremely anti-Obama attitude.Haaretz reported that rightists in Jerusalem planned to hang hundreds of posters across the country in which Oama is pictured as an agent of the PLO.

Meanwhile I read on Laura Rozen's blog Politico 
that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) that Vice President Joseph Biden never told Israeli leaders that Israeli settlement activities imperil the lives of U.S. troops. Rozen who is usually very well infomed about what goes on in Washington, got this from ABC's Jack Tapper.
Te source for the remarks Biden supposedly made behind close doors to Netanyahu ('This is going to be dangerous') was the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. Rozen quoted his remarks on her blog (and so did I)  but she was told by an administration official today that it was 'absolutely not accurate'. The Yedioth report was translated by an Israeli news translation service distributed to English-speaking journalists.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

If the Hurva is rebuilt for a second time, the construction of the Third Temple will begin...


 If anyone wonders why Palestinians and Arabs in general are so suspicious of Isareli intentions after the reopening of the 'Hurva synagogue',  it is useful to read the following (from a blog Destination Yisra'el:

 Jewish Expectations that Construction will begin on the Third Temple in the Spring, 2010

According to a centuries-old rabbinical prophecy that appears to be coming true, on March 16, 2010, Israel will begin construction of the Third Temple in Jerusalem. During the 18th century, the Vilna Gaon, a respected rabbinical authority, prophesied that the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem, which was built during his day, would be destroyed and rebuilt twice, and that when the Hurva was completed for the third time, construction on the Third Temple would begin.
The Hurva Synagogue was first destroyed shortly after its initial construction when Muslims demanding the return of loans tore it down. The synagogue was rebuilt a hundred years later and became the most important Jewish house of worship in the Holy Land, only be blown to pieces by Jordanian troops during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

Old Hurva Synagogue.002

Or, if that not convincing enough, this article from Haaretz 30.11.09
If the 18th-century rabbinic authority the Vilna Gaon was right, on March 16, 2010, construction will begin on the third Temple. His projection states that the auspicious day will coincide with the third completion of the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter.
The great day is at hand: On March 15, the reconstructed Hurva Synagogue, considered the most important house of prayer in Jerusalem will be rededicated. It was last destroyed in the War of Independence.

Massive protests of students and unions in Egypt against perceived encroachment of Al-Aqsa

Students at Mansoura University burn an Israeli flag. (picture Alsayed Albaz, Al-Masri al-Youm)

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police broke out in and around Jerusalem on Tuesday after the re-opening and dedication of the Hurva synagogue 300 meters from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and the announcement on Sunday that Israel is to build another 1600 appartments in Arab East-Jerusalem. Jerusalem wasn' t the only place where protests took place, however. The Egyptian newspaper Al-Masri al-Youm reported that thousands of students from the Muslim Brotherhood gathered at 18 universities across Egypt yesterday to protest Israeli encroachment on Al-Aqsa mosque and the inclusion of the Ibrahimi and Bilal mosques in a list of Israeli heritage sites. Students burned the Israeli flag and chanted angry slogans against Israel, accusing the country of attempting to Judaize Al-Aqsa.
Cairo University students began their protests two days ago with a sit-in, and then took to the campus where they were surrounded by security forces. Clashes broke out when security forces attempted to stop protesters from the Faculty of Engineering from joining other students in front of Cairo University's main gate.
At Ain Shams University, security forces prevented protesting students from entering the campus, triggering friction with security forces and forcing the students to continue their protest off campus.
At Al-Azhar University, around 3000 students staged protests against Israeli raids.
In total, more than 30,000 students protested at universities across Egypt. The universities of Tanta, Al-Azhar (Tanta Branch), Zagazig, Mansoura, Fayoum, Beni Suef, Alexandria and Minya were all shaken by protests against Israel.
Members from the inter-syndicate coordination committee in Alexandria also organized protests in front of the Supreme Court of Justice. Members from the pharmacists, teachers and lawyers syndicates, the Teachers Without a Syndicate Movement, Kefaya, the Ghad Party, and the Karama party joined in the protests.
Dozens of lawyers protested in front of the Lawyers Syndicate headquarters in Cairo to express their rejection of Israeli violations of Al-Aqsa. The protesters called for relations with Israel to be severed and its ambassador ejected. The protesters also urged Arab governments to stand up to Israeli assaults on Al-Aqsa.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fouad Zakariyya 1927 - 2010

On the blog The Arabist of Issander al-Amrani  I read that Fouad Zakariyya died a few days ago. Amrani also has a picture of him. Zakariyya, Egyptian philospher who at the time I was a correspondent in Cairo, taught philosophy at the university of Kuwayt, was really a name in Egypt. Many a time I used quotes from Op ed articles he wote in Egyptian newspapers as an illustration of how discussions among intellectuals in Egypt went.
One of the main caracteristicsof Zakariyya was that he was an ardent supporter of  secularism. Not that he was anti-Islamic, but he saw islam as a strictly personal thing. Secularism, as he saw it was a precondition for the modernization of Arabic societies. Western modernism, in several respects and domains like human rights, personal freedoms etc. , was necessary to do away with the lack of education and cultural dynamics in the Arab world. And what he meant by secularism was a system by which islam was separated from the public domain, much like the French system after the revolution, whereby the state was strictly 'laïc'. The other thing that made him special was his great style, which made him an excellent esayyist.
Amrani notes that the only one of his books  that, as far as he knows, was translated was Myth and Reality in the Contemporary Islamist Movement  and that it was one of the best books about the subject he ever read. I didn't know that one, but bought once in Cairo, another, translated into French 'Les arabes à l'heure du choix'. It is about the necessity to do away with islamism and choose for 'laïcité'. His translator, begins his preface of this small pladoyer for a radical transformation to modernity' with a quote from Zakariyya 'L'islam n'est rien d'autre qu'en  font les musulmans',  Islam is no more than what the moslims make of it'.
I choose a short quote in order to illustrate his way of thinking and the nice way he used to make his case. On page 130 he points at the fact that Arab critics of so called orientalism mostly  measure with double standards. He quotes an essay by a certain Zakkaria Hashim in which Hashim praises the fact that the Dutch orientalist Dozy knew to appreciate the way Spanish intellectuals in the 'Golden Age of Islam' in Spain stopped writing in Latin and started to use the Arabic of the victorious Arabs in stead.
And then he writes:
Au nom de quel methode peut on d'un coté applaudir l'ínfluence de la culture arabe sur l'Occident, et condamner de l'autre celle des idées occidentales sur les recherches des Arabes d'aujourd'hui? Soit l'influence d''une culture sur une autre est une bonne chose, soit c'est une mauvaise chose, mais on ne peut pas user de critères opposés pour juger d'un même phénomène. A ce jeu, un chrétien d'Espagne aurait fort bien pu qualifier l'influence arabe d'invasion culturelle et accuser les 'sages Espagnols' d'être tombés dans le piège du 'colonialisme' arabe et d'avoir laissé leur identité se fondre dans la civilisation arabe.   
(In the name of what method is it possible to applaud the influence of the Arab culture on the West at teh one hand and to condemn the influence of the West on the research of  contemporary Arabs at another. Either the influence of one culture on another one is a good thing, or it is a bad thing, but one cannot use opposing criterions in order to weigh one and the same phenomenon. In that way a Spanish Christian could well have qualified the Arab influence as a cultural invasion and have accused the Spanish sages of having fallen into the pitfall of 'colonialism' and having let their identity get awash in the Arab civilisation.)

Tension in Jerusalem towards dangerous level

Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyhu said on Monday, that his government in no way will halt building in Jerusalem. Netanyhu spoke on a meeting of his party, the Likud, and in a speech to the Knesset to welcome Brazilian president Ignacio Luis da Silva. Netanyahu did not cite the diplomatic row with the USA.
"For the past 40 years, no Israeli government ever limited construction in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem," he said in his Knesset speech. Netanyahu called on the Palestinians not to place new preconditions on the revival of the talks and added that what he called Jewish neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem would remain "part of the state of Israel" in any future peace agreement.

PLO Executive Committee member Ahmad Qrei'a held a press conference in Abu Dis on Monday partly a a reaction to Netanyahu during which he warned that a third intifada might be on its way if 'Israeli practices in East Jerusalem continue. 'If matters remain at this level, regardless of whether we take the decision or not, it [an intifada] is coming. If Israel continues these practices, it is coming.'  An intifada, he said, does not start because of one decision but rather is the result of  'oppression, injustice, aggression and tyranny.' Qrei'a, who also heads the Jerusalem affairs department in the PLO, said Israeli policy is aimed at severing Jerusalem from negotiations and fully annexing the city to Israel.

Qurei' also mentioned the rededication of a synagogue (the Hurva synagoge in the Jewish Quarter) on Tuesday, 300 meters away from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.He called it a 'dangerous program' intent on 'judaizing Jerusalem and falsify history'.Moreover, Qrei'a spoke of unprecedented aggression and provocation faced by Palestinians, citing a recent leaflet distributed by right-wing Jewish groups calling on non-Jews to leave Jerusalem, as well as rumors of an Israeli take over of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Tuesday.'  Jerusalem is exposed to an unprecedented danger which targets its land, people, holy sites, heritage and history,' Qrei'a said, adding that determining the fate of the city is paramount, without which a comprehensive solution cannot be attained.

Several Palestinians were injured, along with an Israeli soldier after witnesses reported hearing heavy gunfire at the Atara checkpoint, near Ramallah, following its closure on Monday. Later reports confirmed that dozens of Birzeit University Students students participated in a march against the Israeli attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and threw stones at soldiers. An Israeli military spokesman said Israeli forces were responding with "riot dispersal mechanisms" against Palestinians in the area. Ten students were injured including three with live bullets, medics at the Ramallah Government Hospital said. One young man was hit in the jaw, and doctors said his condition was stable, while other injuries were described as light to moderate. An Israeli spokesman said there was no live fire, though rubber coated metal bullets are considered part of the Israeli "dispersal" arsenal.
 Banners for the rededicationb of the Hurva synagogue,  fixed on stones of  the former ruins.

Personal status courts in the West Bank and Jerusalem will strike Monday and Tuesday in protest over the rededication of the Hurva Synagogue, officials announced. The ceremonies at the synagogue, 330 meters away from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, have been called a “provocation” in the wake of an Israeli raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the declaration of two Palestinian sites (the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron and the tombe of Rachel in Bethlehem) as 'Israeli heritage sites' on 21 February.

'The synagogue is not located near the Temple Mount compound,' an Israeli government news release replied to the accusations. The statement also highlighted the history of the synagogue, destroyed during the 1948 war and reconstructed in 2005. The statement did not comment on the timing of the rededication. A correction was later issued by the office, "Correction: The name of the Hurva (ruins) Synagogue was acquired in 1721 after the original, unfinished building was destroyed in a riot, not in 1948 following the Jordanian destruction.'
The Palestinian Higher Judicial Council, headed by Supreme Judge Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi, released a statement calling on 'Palestinian people everywhere, especially those who live in Jerusalem and in other cities inside Israel, ' to head to Jerusalem to protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque from Ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups,
Haaretz adds that police and border police forces will continue their special deployment, with 2,500 officers spread across the Old City, East Jerusalem and adjacent villages. Entry of Palestinians to the Mount will be limited for the fourth day in a row, with only Israeli Muslim men older than 50 and women allowed to enter the compound to pray. No visitors or tourists will be allowed.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Biden's embarrassment was not the whole story, US top military are worried as well

Vice president Joe Biden's anger at the announcement of the building of 1600 new appartments in Arab East-Jerusalem which coincided with his visit to Israel (see my former post) was not the whole story. Nor the fact that  Secretary of State Hillray Clinton called Israël's behavior 'insulting', or that Netanyahu on Sunday apologized 
On the Foreign Policy Mideast blog Mark Perry describes how, already much earlier the American top military leader were extremely worried about the possible consequences of a US administration that was percieved as too weak to stand up against Israeli provocations and unable to direct peace negotiations in a desirable way:   

On January 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief JCS Chairman Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM's mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) "too old, too slow...and too late."

The January Mullen briefing was unprecedented. No previous CENTCOM commander had  ever expressed himself on what is essentially a political issue; which is why the briefers were careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus's instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders. "Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling," a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing says. "America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding."

The Mullen briefing and Petraeus's request hit the White House like a bombshell. While Petraeus's request that CENTCOM be expanded to include the Palestinians was denied ("it was dead on arrival," a Pentagon officer confirms), the Obama Administration decided it would redouble its efforts - pressing Israel once again on the settlements issue, sending Mitchell on a visit to a number of Arab capitals and dispatching Mullen for a carefully arranged meeting with Chief of the Israeli General Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi. While the American press speculated that Mullen's trip focused on Iran, the JCS Chairman actually carried a blunt, and tough, message on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: that Israel had  to see its conflict with the Palestinians "in a larger, regional, context" - as having a direct impact on America's status in the region. Certainly, it was thought, Israel would get the message.
Israel didn't.........
The whole article is worth reading. Pictures: (top) general David Petraeus, (down) admiral Mike Mullen 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Biden to Netanyahu: 'This is getting dangerous for us'

Joe Biden's visit to Israel started with smiles. Biden had come to Israel in order to give a boost to the talks between Israel and the PA, the so called peace process, and to discuss Iran (to tell Israel 'to cool it' as Al-Jazeera English put it). But then there were the announcements - first of the building of 112 additional units in the settlement of Betar Illit -  and on Tuesday of another 1600 homes in Arab East-Jerusalem.
In front of the camera's Biden managed to remain friendly, but behind cloosed doors he acted differently. Here's what Shimon Shiffer wrote about it in Yedioth Ahronot, as quoted by Laura Rozen on her blog:
While standing in front of the cameras, the U.S. vice president made an effort to smile at Binyamin Netanyahu even after having learned on Tuesday that the Interior Ministry had approved plans to build 1,600 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. But in closed conversations, Joe Biden took an entirely different tone. ...
People who heard what Biden said were stunned. “This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden castigated his interlocutors. “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”
The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.
 Biden has always been a staunch supporter of Israel. Will the way they affronted him have consequences? Will Obama draw conclusions from it? I doubt it. Any reaction would be much too late anyway.   .

Israel closes West Bank and blocks entry Al Aqsa

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered on Friday the army to seal off the West Bank for 48 hours until midnight on Saturday, an army spokesman said.
Also restrictions were in place for worshipping in the Aqsa mosque.
Police began preventing worshipers under the age of 50 from entering the mosque for prayer, while those who were allowed to access had their IDs checked and held with police until they finished and left, the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights said.
The moves come after violent clashes at the site during last week's Muslim prayers (picture) and fresh tensions over Israeli plans to build 1,600 homes for Jewish settlers in mostly Arab east Jerusalem.The army said some medical and religious workers, teachers, journalists and others would be exempted from the West Bank closure.
Since the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000, Israel has usually sealed off the West Bank ahead of major holidays, saying the move is necessary to prevent attacks, but only rarely on other occasions.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Settlers in Sheikh Jarrah sing praise of killer Goldstein

 As a counterweight to those who are happy with the fact that 5000 people turned up at the last demonstration against the evictions of Palestinian families from their houses in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Jerusalem, it is somewhat sobering up (to say the least) that Ynet has got hold of a video in which  settlers  who now live in Sheikh Jarrah sang the praise of Baruch Goldstein (picture) at a party they held during the Purim festival. For those who don't know who Goldstein was: he was a settler from the colony Kiryat Arab near Hebron. In 1994, during Ramadhan,  he dressed in military uniform, took a gun, walked into the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron and sprayed the praying crowd with bullets. He killed 29 people and wounded some 270, before he himself  was struck by a fire extinguisher and killed.

This is the song the settlers sang in Sheikh Jarrah. Watch and shiver.  

Tantawi, sheikh al-Azhar, dies at 81

Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, sheikh al-Azhar, the highest muslim functionary of Egypt, died Wednesday of a heart attack when he was boarding a flight on his way back from Saudi-Arabia to Egypt. He was 81. Tantawi was appointed mufti of Egypt in 1986. In 1996 he was promoted to sheikh-al-Azhar and imam of the Azhar mosque.
The Sheikh al-Azhar used to be the most important and influential dignitary of Sunni Muslim world, but lost much of this influence after under Gamal Abdel Nasser the religous sector was 'nationalized' and the sheikh became a state functionary.,
Consequently, Tantawi became a man who had to foillow the lead of the state. One of the fatwa's that may be remembered in this respect was the recent fatwa in which he condoned the construction of the underground wall between Egypt and Gaza, on the ground that ths smuggle 'of drugs' constituted a danger for Egypt. In some other respects Tantawi was quite modern. In the late 80ties he okayed organ transplants and even gender operations if there appeared to be a medical justification.  .

Abbas cancels 'proximity talks' with Israeli's

On Sunday 112 units in Betar Illit, on Tuesday 1600 in occupied Jerusalem. Anybody surprised that the talks are aborted before they began?

(Reuters) - Arab League chief Amr Moussa said on Wednesday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had told him he would not enter indirect talks with Israel, only days after the Palestinian side had agreed to the contacts.
The about-turn puts on hold U.S. efforts to bring together Israel and the Palestinians in so-called proximity talks. The proposed talks, the Palestinian chief negotiator said this week, were a "last chance" to keep the Middle East peace process alive.
The decision came after Israel announced on Tuesday it would erect 1,600 settler homes in an area of the occupied West Bank it annexed to Jerusalem. Abbas had only agreed to the talks on condition that Israel imposed a Jewish settlement freeze.
"The Palestinian president decided he will not enter into those negotiations now ... the Palestinian side is not ready to negotiate under the present circumstances," Moussa told a news conference following an urgent meeting of Arab delegates at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo.
Also Joe Biden, the US vice-president was not amused that the announcement about the 1600 new houses of the Jerusalem Planning Committee coincided with his visit to Israel, which among other things was meant to promote the peace talks. Biden was 90 minutes late at a dinner that Netanyahu was offering him in his honour. In diplomatic language that was a clear expression of his anger.

Iran hits world record with number of journalists in jail

More than 100 dissidents and journalists faced vague antistate accusations during a mass judicial proceeding in August. (AP)
More than 100 dissidents and journalists faced vague antistate accusations during a mass judicial proceeding in August. (AP)
The number of journalists in jail rose in February as a relentless media crackdown continues in Iran. Authorities are now holding at least 52 journalists in prison, a third of all those in jail around the world, according to the latest monthly survey by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
"Iran is entering a state of permanent media repression, a situation that is not only appalling but also untenable," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "The Iranian government will eventually lose the war against information, but we are saddened every day that our colleagues are paying such a terrible price."
Twelve journalists were imprisoned in February alone, although seven were released. The January census recorded 47 in jail. CPJ has joined forces with leading press freedom organizations from around the world in a campaign to win the release of journalists jailed in Iran. An online petition that will be sent to Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei later this month is available on the site.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Peace talks restart against background of more building in Betar and damning news from CBS about the so called 'building freeze'

Children playing in the settlement Betar Illit. In the background the Arab village Nahhalin. (Photo AP)

Proximity 'peacetalks' have started Monday between Israel and the Palestinians. US special envoy Mitchell will shuttle between a Palestinian delegation and an Israeli one. As if he intended to ridicule the talks even before they had begun, Israeli  Defense minister Ehud Barak gave permission on the same day for the building of an additional 112 homes in the settlement Betar Illit near Bethlehem, in spite of a 10 month moratorium on building in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians were  understandably quite angry, the US reacted very low key. Barak, as a justification for his green light, invoked the magical word 'security'. It appears that there is a 'gap' of about 40 meters between two rows of houses in the settlement. (And yes, that sounds alarming indeed. A gap of 40 meters!!)
On Tuesday also vice-president Joe Biden landed in Israel. It appears that his visit will be focused on bilateral matters. Al Jazeera suggests that it is mainly about Iran and that Biden wants the Israelis 'to cool it' with their demands for tough sanctions and threats to attack.
In the meantime: Anyone who had any illusions left that there would be any chance that the 'peace talks' will reach a serious stage, should take a look at the following news from the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel about building on the occupied West Bank. The news appeared in the Jerusalem Post:  

 The number of housing starts in the settlements rose in the fourth quarter of 2009, precisely when the government-ordered freeze on such activity should have pushed the numbers down.Work was begun on 593 Jewish West Bank homes from October through December, a 73.3-percent jump over the first three months of 2009, when ground was broken on 342 homes, according to numbers released this week by the Central Bureau of Statistics.The numbers continued to rise in the fourth quarter, even though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the cabinet imposed a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction that took effect on November 29, which should have prevented any housing starts in December, and thus kept the fourth quarter tally down.
Since the  moratorium was put in place, inspectors from the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria have gone to all the settlements to monitor and ensure compliance. In some places they were initially met with stiff resistance by settlers who tried to block their entry by closing the community gates or by rallying in the middle of the road.
Last month, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i said 29 settlements were in violation of the freeze.The civil administration and the IDF have handed demolition notices in cases of illegal construction and have threatened to demolish such work sites.But to date, they have destroyed construction at only three sites where work was ongoing in violation of the freeze.

According to the terms of the moratorium, work was halted on all homes that lacked a foundation. But work was allowed to continue on 3,000 homes that did have foundations in place.
According to the CBS, the number of homes completed in the settlements also rose in 2009, to 2,077 homes, a 29.7% hike  (my emphasis, TP) from the 1,601 West Bank Jewish homes that were finished in 2008. In 2007, 1,747 homes were finished and in 2006, 2,167 homes were completed.