Archbishop Tutu: For peace, respect rights

South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his non-violent resistance to the Apartheid regime in his country, and chairman of the post-Apartheid Peace and Reconciliation Commission, appealed Friday to Israelis and Palestinians to stop the “cycle of violence” in their region.

“Tutu said he condemned ‘unequivocally the dastardly’ attack Thursday by a Palestinian gunman on a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem that killed eight Israeli students. He also ‘equally vehemently’ condemned the deaths of civilians in the recent Israeli offensive on Gaza … ‘Peace will not come from the barrel of a gun, as we learned in South Africa’, he said. ‘Peace will only come when the inexorable cycle of reprisal provoking counter reprisal, ad nauseam ends. When the inalienable rights of all, Israeli and Palestinian, are recognized and respected’.”

Tutu is chairperson of former South African President Nelson Mandela’s council of 12 world leaders called The Elders, which has announced that it will be dispatching former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former Irish president Mary Robinson to visit Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia from April 13-21. See the AP report here .

Mary Robinson is also a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the second ever appointed by the Organization. It was Kofi Annan who named her, and it was Kofi Annan who tried to restrain her on Chechenya, and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and then let her dangle slowly, slowly in the wind. She was not reappointed, though she wanted to be.

Tutu himself was unable to travel to Beit Hanoun in Gaza last year to investigate the deaths of nine members of a family in their home from what the Israeli government said was accidental malfunctioning IDF artillery fire.

The current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, who has just announced that she will not be accepting a second term in office when her four-year term expires in June, reported to the UN Human Rights Council yesterday that Archbishop Tutu’s mission was cancelled “due to the unwillingness of the Government of Israel to extend the cooperation needed for the mission to travel to Beit Hanoun via Israel”.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Itzhak Levanon, replied in the Human Rights Council meeting that “soon after this utterly biased and one-sided resolution had been
passed, he had a meeting with Reverend Tutu, and personally suggested that he sought [should seek] to fulfill his full mission via countries other than Israel. The resolution did not specify how the fact-finding mission was to reach Beit Hanoun. In the 18 months that had passed since this resolution was adopted, he had remained in contact with Reverend Tutu
on this issue and he had recently received a letter indicating that the Reverend would visit Beit Hanoun by entering through Egypt. It was regretted, however, that the mission delayed activities by a year and a half and in doing so created a negative impression of Israel. It was a fallacy to link the fact that Reverend Tutu had not yet reached Beit
Hanoun with an alleged refusal by Israel to grant visas. What remained was to express again and again Israel’s rejection of biased and one-sided resolutions and to convey the wish of Israel that Reverend Tutu and Professor Chinkin would maintain their pledge to keep an open mind and objectively take into account all stakeholders in the region”.

Archbishop Tutu was also the target of a brief campaign of denunciation last year in the U.S. for unflattering descriptions of Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians. The campaign fizzled out when American Jewish media demonstrated that Tutu did not say the worst of the words that were attributed to him.

More on Rice's visit – and Mission apparently accomplished

This was probably the toughest moment yet in the whole Annapolis process. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice headed for previously-announced talks in the region just as the most ferocious and deadly Israeli military incursion in Gaza in years was abruptly wound up — possibly specifically because of her visit.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiators had angrily announced last weekend that they could not continue talks with their Israeli counterparts under the circumstances.

Palestinian students in their school uniforms left their classrooms in East Jerusalem on Monday, groups of girls, and then groups of boys, to demonstrate on the main Salah ad-Din Street against the Israeli military actions in Gaza — shouting, burning garbage in the street, and throwing stones — as the casualty toll mounted. One Israeli car was attacked, and its windows broken. Israeli police on big and sturdy horses pushed back the groups of school children, and four arrests were made. There were other less polite demonstrations and responses elsewhere in the West Bank, with at least one Palestinian death. And Israel’s Palestinian-Arab citizens also marched in protest in Arab towns in Israel.

For months, Palestinians have been saying with concern, the feeling of a new Intifada is in the air.

Rice arrived at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport by 12:30 pm on Tuesday – after already holding morning meetings in Egypt – and, for the first time, drove straight to Ramallah without talking to Israeli officials first. She arrived at the Muqata’a presidential compound by 1:35 pm.

The main focus of her visit was to get the Palestinian Authority leadership to agree to resume post-Annapolis “core issue” and “final status” talks with Israel.

At a joint Rice-Abbas press conference in Ramallah after their meeting, Rice appeared unusually accommodating and sympathetic. And Abbas appeared firm, even adamant. The Palestinian President said that there would have to be a cease-fire before negotiations resume.

Abbas repeated this position on Wednesday morning – but then reversed his position within hours (CNN called it a U-turn), either in response to a phone call from Rice, as some reports indicate, or in response to threats of a total cut-off of international aid, as other reports speculate, or because he really believes that ‘The peace process is a strategic choice”, as he himself said, believing it is the only way to give the Palestinian people better lives.

At the very least, it was an extremely gracious concession to a visiting guest, and it may yet cost him dearly.

Time Magazine’s Tim McGirk wrote later on his Time Magazine blog page that “It seemed like the most craven of climb-downs”, and he was not alone in this opinion.

What we know for sure now is that the parties have said they intend to resume negotiations.

In the Muqata’a press conference with Rice on Tuesday, the Palestinian President said: “We warned repeatedly that Israel must not insist on its security first (only)”, and said that “Security must be reciprocal for both sides, in the proper social and economic atmosphere”.

Abu Mazen stated with some intensity that: “No one, under any pretext, can justify what the Israeli military did (in recent days) when 120 died, including many children and civilians. We need a comprehensive and reciprocal truce in Gaza and the West Bank, so that 2008 is (can be) the year of peace”. He continued: “We want to work on activating the Fourth Geneva Convention. Security is vital for both parties, and it can only be achieved through a political solution, not military power…”

A Reuters correspondent in the travelling State Department press corps tried to press Abbas to specify what it would take to resume talks with Israel. The answer from Abbas was: “These talks are not a luxury, they are something very important”.

Nobody in Ramallah asked about the Vanity Fair article — though while the journalists were waiting for the press conference to begin, a colleague from Japan’s NHK television said Rice had been asked about it at a press conference in Cairo this morning, though her answer was not clear. (We later learned, from the U.S. State Department transcript of the Cairo press conference, that Rice said she had not – yet – read the Vanity Fair article which was already being widely circulated on the internet, but she was able to add that all the blame should be put on Hamas.)

The first (pre-approved — by Muqata’a press officials) question in the Ramallah press conference was from a Palestinian reporter who asked: “Can you tell us where negotiations stand now, because nobody sees any results?”

Rice replied: “We’ve been very active the last several days” and went on to add that the present problems can be blamed on Hamas “starting with the illegal coup”. Abbas said nothing.

Several of the minor characters in the Vanity Fair story were present in Rice’s entourage at the Muqata’a in Ramallah today – Elliot Abrams, along with David Welch, as well as Consul in East Jerusalem, Jacob Walles

The Vanity Fair article had reported that the magazine “has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by [Muhammad] Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.) … Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza. Some sources call the scheme ‘Iran-contra 2.0′, recalling that Abrams was convicted (and later pardoned) for withholding information from Congress during the original Iran-contra scandal under President Reagan”…

Ma’an News Agency reported Wednesday that Dahlan denied some of the allegations made in the Vanity Fair story.

The Vanity Fair article also reported that “Some analysts argued that Hamas had a substantial moderate wing that could be strengthened if America coaxed it into the peace process. Notable Israelis—such as Ephraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad intelligence agency—shared this view. But if America paused to consider giving Hamas the benefit of the doubt, the moment was “milliseconds long,” says a senior State Department official. ‘The administration spoke with one voice: “We have to squeeze these guys”. With Hamas’s election victory, the freedom agenda was dead’.”

And, there’s more. The Vanity Fair article also said that “At the end of 2006, Dayton promised an immediate package worth $86.4 million—money that, according to a U.S. document published by Reuters on January 5, 2007, would be used to ‘dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and establish law and order in the West Bank and Gaza’. U.S. officials even told reporters the money would be transferred ‘in the coming days’. The cash never arrived. ‘Nothing was disbursed’, Dahlan says. ‘It was approved and it was in the news. But we received not a single penny’. Any notion that the money could be transferred quickly and easily had died on Capitol Hill, where the payment was blocked by the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. Its members feared that military aid to the Palestinians might end up being turned against Israel. Dahlan did not hesitate to voice his exasperation. ‘I spoke to Condoleezza Rice on several occasions’, he says. ‘I spoke to Dayton, to the consul general, to everyone in the administration I knew. They said, “You have a convincing argument”. We were sitting in Abbas’s office in Ramallah, and I explained the whole thing to Condi. And she said, “Yes, we have to make an effort to do this. There’s no other way”.’? At some of these meetings, Dahlan says, Assistant Secretary Welch and Deputy National-Security Adviser Abrams were also present”…

Just as they were present in Ramallah again on Tuesday.

The theme of Hamas-is-to-blame and Hamas-is-responsible was repeated throughout Rice’s meetings and comments during the trip – only President Abbas refrained from comments in this direction, exhibiting unusual restraint on this topic.

On Wednesday afternoon, Rice told journalists in a press conference in Jerusalem with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that “There are enemies of peace that will always try to hold hostage the Palestinian cause and the future of the Palestinian people for their own state. And Hamas, which in effect, holds the people of Gaza hostage in their hands, is now trying to make the path to a Palestinian state hostage to them. And we cannot permit that to happen”.

Earlier on Wednesday, as the Israeli Security Cabinet was meeting on the situation in Gaza (the Security Cabinet later announced it had decided to continue Israeli military operations against Hamas in Gaza), Rice held a second meeting with Palestinian negotiators (Ahmad Qurei’/Abu Alaa’, and Sa’eb Erekat).

A spokesperson for the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem later confirmed to this reporter that this meeting was indeed held in the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem Consulate – a move with some weighty symbolic significance, as the PA has been insisting on Israel “reopening Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem”.

Palestinian President Abbas, who was not present at the meeting in the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem, said again on Wednesday morning – before his abrupt change of mind – that “The negotiations must be started, but after the truce … Once the truce is achieved, the road will be open for negotiations”. He also said that Rice told him she would send an envoy (Assistant Secretary David Welch) to Egypt, and that “there are real efforts being exerted by Egypt for the truce”.

A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed that Welch went to the airport to head back to Cairo around mid-day Wednesday, even before Rice concluded her private meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

One result announced by Rice, in a press conference with Livni after their meeting, is that Welch would be going to Egypt “to look at the entire situation in the Gaza. We have been working all along with Egypt and with Israel, and indeed with the Palestinian Authority, to deal with the situation that has obtained in Gaza since Hamasillegal takeover there. That means security issues, it means humanitarian issues, it means trying to do something about the tunnels which continue to be a problem”.

There is still no indication of any deal near on the important issue of reopening the Gaza-Egyptian border at Rafah – which was breached to the world’s astonishment in a spectacular break-out by Palestinians from Gaza on 23 January. After a few days’ multi-million dollar shopping spree, the Gazans returned home to life under an otherwise near-total blockade, and subsequently under renewed Israeli attack.

It was Rice herself who had been able to engineer the break-through, in November 2005 – after staying up all night, in Jerusalem, and on her birthday – that resulted in the agreement on movement and access which allowed the Rafah crossing to open with PA personnel, plus the physical presence of European Union monitors and a real-time Israeli security supervision via video camera from the Kerem Shalom some kilometers to the south.

The Israeli Security Cabinet said, rather cryptically, in a statement issued after the conclusion of its meeting on Wednesday morning that the Israeli government would work “To reduce the strengthening of Hamas, including in coordination with – and by – Egypt“.

Earlier in the week, Reuters reported that “Israeli and European officials said one proposal under consideration would seek to open the Rafah border crossing to cargo, expanding on its former role for travellers only. Israeli defence officials said that could be acceptable to the Jewish state as a way of limiting its responsibility for supplying Gaza’s 1.5 million residents. But Egypt opposes any attempt by Israel to shift the burden, Western diplomats said … Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, told reporters in Jerusalem his bloc’s border monitors were ready to return to Rafah after a nearly nine-month absence provided any agreement includes Egypt”.

Solana was visiting President Abbas in the Muqata’a on Tuesday just an hour before Rice arrived.

The other result announced is that Lt. General William Fraser, who traveled to the region with Rice’s party and departed with it as well, will be holding what the Americans are calling a “trilateral” – a meeting Fraser will chair with Israelis and Palestinians participating – to review where things stand concerning the “Roadmap obligations” that both Israelis and Palestinians are supposed to fulfill. Rice stressed several times that both sides have a long way to go in this respect.

Rice also indicated, several times, that there needs to be improvement in the lives and situations of Palestinians on the ground.

Fraser’s “trilateral” will be next week, probably Thursday, (and not this week as the Israeli press has reported). A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed that Fraser will be returning in a few day’s time.

Rice told journalists traveling with her on the plane, according to a transcript released by the U.S. State Department, that “the report is to me, and it wasn’t a judgment on Roadmap obligations, it was sort of his first take on what needs to be done”.

It would appear, from Rice’s use of the verb’s tenses, that Fraser’s report has already been written and presented (to her, at least), and the conclusions it draws would then most probably have already been at least mentioned during her visit.

Rice continued, “But I expect that he will clearly talk directly to them [both parties – Israelis and Palestinians] about what needs to be done and ways to get it done. I don’t personally like the term ‘judge’ very much, because it sounds like somebody who sits above and hands down decrees. This is more an iterative effort of working with the parties to see if we can’t really make some group movement on these Roadmap obligations, and that’s how I expect Fraser will carry it out”.

Rice leaves region with mission accomplished

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice left the region Wednesday afternoon for Brussels, with Mission Accomplished. PA President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to resume negotiations with Israel after a suspension due to an Israeli military incursion into Gaza last week that took a very large toll in human life. At last count, some 129 Palestinian deaths have been recorded. Many of them were children.

In a briefing with reporters travelling with her on the plane to a NATO meeting in Brussels, Rice played down the drama of the Palestinian turn-around: “I talked directly with President Abbas. He said he – there was not to be a condition. I mean, there is no conditionality here. It’s obvious that he feels strongly that there needs to be a calmer environment and there needs to be a cessation of violence. I said that all of this will, of course, be greatly improved if the environment is calm. But we’ve been working on this with the Palestinians over the last – really, before I got here, but the last two days pretty intensively to try to come up with a way of going forward that would not just resume negotiations, but make the ground for those negotiations more robust and more resistant to the kind of turbulence that we’re bound to see. This happens every time there is movement toward peace somebody tries to disturb it. And so, yes, I have spent a lot of time with Israelis as well as with the Palestinians about how we could really get moving forward on some of the projects that the Palestinians want to do, that Tony Blair wants to do. I understand the security problems quite well. I’m the one who negotiated the movement and access agreement. I understand that it’s hard. I remember in, I think it was actually in an answer to Helene some time ago, that I said that one of the reasons after ’05 that I really became convinced that without political momentum it was difficult to just make things on the ground work was the experience with movement and access. It’s — the reverse is also true. Without movement on the ground, it’s also hard to make the political negotiations sustainable. That’s why when we constructed Annapolis, it was constructed deliberately with different pillars. So we’ve spent time on that. We’re going to continue to spend time on that. I hope that we can help on some of the impediments that might be there, to get some of the major projects that Tony Blair would like to get moving, moving. And on roadmap obligations, there really is need for improvement on both sides. No one is doing this particularly well. And so I think it’s a good time — I got the first report from General Fraser, who is going about this in a very systematic way and I think it’s now — and he believes it’s now time for a trilateral. But I’m quite aware of the fact that that was important for Abu Mazen as a part of the way to make sure that the ground is really there for the negotiations to go forward”.

Hamas – Israel must be first to cease fire

Here are several interrelated news items of interest today:

The Jerusalem Post reports that “The head of Hamas’s political bureau in Damascus, Khaled Mashaal, rejected a request by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa that Hamas unilaterally stop firing Kassam rockets at Israel, according to a report in the London-based daily Al-Hayat on Wednesday. Arab diplomatic sources told the paper that Moussa had met Mashaal in Damascus a few days ago to propose that Hamas hold its fire. Mashaal, however, reportedly shrugged off the request, insisting that Hamas would only end the rocket fire if Israel reciprocated in accordance with the equation ‘stopping Israeli aggression in return for stopping rocket fire’.” This news item is posted here .

The JPost may, or may not, have picked up this item from Ma’an news agency in Bethlehem: “The exiled head of Hamas’ politburo, Khalid Mash’al, has rejected a proposal by the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Mousa, suggesting that Hamas unilaterally stop firing homemade projectiles at Israeli towns bordering the Gaza Strip, Arab diplomatic sources said on Tuesday. Mash’al insisted that any ceasefire must be bilateral, meaning that Israel should halt its attacks on Gaza in exchange for Hamas halting the launch of the projectiles. Mash’al and Mousa met a few days ago in Damascus. Sources who knew the outcome of the meeting said that Hamas also insisted that Israel should not have any role, physical or electronic, in operating the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. In addition, the sources said, Hamas insists that the European monitors stationed at the crossing should be based in the Egyptian border city of Al-Arish, not in Israel, that Palestinian security forces stationed at the crossing be affiliated to President Mahmoud Abbas, not the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Hamas also wants to have its own checkpoints on the road to the crossing point, and a share of the economic benefits of trade that passes through the crossing. Sources also highlighted that contacts between the Egyptians and Hamas are still ongoing in attempts to hammer out an agreement on several issues that emerged after the breach of the border wall between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Some Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are still detained in Egypt after that incident, and the Egyptian authorities are still upset at Hamas’ behavior after the incident”.
This Ma’an news report is posted here .

The JPost also reported today that “The Security Cabinet was discussing the escalation in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday morning. The ministers were debating various courses of action, military and political, including a large-scale ground operation”. This JPost news is included in a longer story here .

The JPost adds, in another story, that “Foreign Ministry spokespeople are refusing requests to appear on Al-Jazeera because of what the ministry deems heavily biased coverage of the situation in the Gaza Strip, a ministry official said Tuesday … To support the argument of an Al-Jazeera bias, one Foreign Ministry official quoted from comments senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar made Monday on Hamas’s television station, Al-Aksa, saying that ‘after I thank God, the Praised and the Almighty, I thank the people of the media… specifically the Al-Aksa and Al-Jazeera stations, and all the stations that showed pictures of the pulse of the Palestinian majority’. ‘Thank you to all those who gave support in presenting the pulse of the Palestinian majority, which says we will resist until the Day of Judgment’, he said … The Foreign Ministry official said these comments only strengthened the ministry’s charges that Al-Jazeera was biased in its coverage, and that the ministry believed the station was cooperating with Hamas, against Fatah. Ministry officials held meetings last week with Al-Jazeera’s representatives in Israel, including its bureau chief Walid al-Omary, to discuss the coverage. The Foreign Ministry has charged that Al-Jazeera was in cahoots with Hamas in broadcasting what Israel believed was a staged candlelight protest that followed a government decision last month to reduce electric and gas supplies to the Gaza Strip. Omary denied Tuesday that his network was providing anything but a factual picture from Gaza, adding that the network took pains to cover both sides. Indeed, he said, his camera crews were attacked by angry Sderot residents when they went to cover the story in that city last week. ‘We are not inciting, not provoking’, he said. ‘We don’t have planes, missiles and artillery, and are not part of the confrontation. We are covering this like all others’. Omary said his network frequently had Israeli officials and spokespeople on the air, and that if the Foreign Ministry did indeed carry on with its boycott, other Israelis and government officials would still be willing to be interviewed. ‘We feel sympathy for the suffering of all’, he said. ‘But if you compare the situation in Israel and inside Gaza, you know what happened – more than 120 people were killed in Gaza, and three Israelis were killed. That’s the situation in the Middle East, we are just delivering the news’.”
This JPost report on the Israeli Foreign Ministry boycott of Al-Jazeera is published here.

The Vanity Fair Article — on a covert U.S. plan to oust Hamas

The first I heard of this article, The Gaza Bombshell, in the current issue of Vanity Fair, was about 36 hours ago, thanks to Angry Arab’s tantalizing multiple postings on his blogspot.

Angry Arab wrote, at the end, summing up: “By the way, I really think that the Vanity Affair’s article on US and Muhammad Dahlan was very important. It reveals a lot about US foreign policy making in the Middle East. But I should add a caveat: it is clearly written with the full cooperation and support of Israeli intelligence sources. In fact, if you read it carefully, the Israelis come across as wise and informed, and the American as bumblers and unwise. Keep that in mind. The side that comes across well in such articles is the side that leaked the most to the writers”… Angry Arab’s discussion of the Vanity Fair article was on Monday, March 03, 2008 here.

This article is extremely embarrassing, both to the U.S., and to the Palestinian Authority.

For background, see one of Palestine-Mandate’s previous posts (on 26 November 2007 – just before many of the interviews that the Vanity Fair’s author conducted in Ramallah and in Gaza and in Cairo) “Rice: And I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, Hamas won?

Yesterday, at a meeting at the Muqata’a Presidential HQ in Ramallah that was scheduled even before Israel’s latest military escalation in Gaza over the last week which resulted in Mahmoud Abbas suspending post-Annapolis negotiations with Israel, most of the cast of characters was present, shockingly. Only Muhammad Dahlan, the still-not-totally-out but discredited Palestinian formerly rising-star “strongman”, was not visible. There was U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — actually accompanied by Elliot Abrams, David Welch, the U.S. Consul in Jerusalem Jacob Walles, and Lt. General Dayton (in a suit) and Lt. Gen Fraser (in an Air Force uniform)! They were all there!

Rice was not asked about the Vanity Fair article in the rather tightly-controlled press conference after her meeting in the Muqata’a — but she had been asked about it by a journalist in Egypt earlier in the day. At that time, Rice replied that she had not read the article — and from what she said, it seemed that she really had not read it…

The Gaza Bombshell is a must-read article, but here is a very brief excerpt by way of intro: The Vanity Fair article states that “Vanity Fair has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.) But the secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for American foreign policy under Bush. Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza. Some sources call the scheme ‘Iran-contra 2.0’, recalling that Abrams was convicted (and later pardoned) for withholding information from Congress during the original Iran-contra scandal under President Reagan. There are echoes of other past misadventures as well” …

Today, one of the Israeli Arab journalists who writes often rather speculative articles for the Jerusalem Post, Khaled Abu Toameh, sketched a useful resume of one aspect of the story: “The report uncovers three different confidential memos that describe the covert plan: One, prepared by US Consul-General in Jerusalem Jake Walles, states how the Bush Administration intended for him to tell Abbas in Ramallah in 2006 to dissolve the Hamas government if it would not recognize Israel, promising the US would back him if he did. ‘We believe that the time has come for you to move quickly and decisively’, the text reads. ‘If Hamas does not agree within the prescribed time, you should make clear your intention to declare a state of emergency and form an emergency government explicitly committed to that platform. If you act along these lines we will support you both materially and politically… We will be there to support you’. The second memo, drawn up by the State Department, asserts that means had to be found to produce an ‘endgame’ by the end of 2007 for Abbas to remove Hamas from power by collapsing the government, and that he must be given the means to strengthen his forces. According to the Vanity Fair report, the third memo, described as a US ‘action plan’ for the PA president, set out a plan by which Abbas would fire his own Fatah-Hamas ‘unity’ government and rely on a security deal between Dahlan and Dayton to strengthen Fatah’s forces. Meanwhile, the magazine said, US officials led by Rice had spent several months begging Arab governments for money in order to supply Fatah’s forces with new weapons from Egypt under a previously undisclosed covert US program – a scheme described by some sources as ‘Iran-Contra 2’. Dahlan goes on the record about these events for the first time, saying that despite pleas from Fatah that they were unprepared for elections, Bush pushed ahead. ‘Everyone was against the elections’, Dahlan is quoted as saying. ‘Everyone except Bush. Bush decided, “I need an election. I want elections in the Palestinian Authority”.’ Following Hamas’s victory, ‘everyone blamed everyone else’, the report quotes an official with the Department of Defense as saying. ‘We sat there in the Pentagon and said, “Who the f*** recommended this?” ‘ ” This report in todays JPost is here.

But, Secretary Rice’s remarks in Egypt that she had not (yet) read the Vanity Fair article was not the end of the story. At the U.S. State Department daily briefing back in Washington, there was an extensive exchange between a spokesman and journalists:

“QUESTION: Nick Spicer, Al Jazeera English. I was wondering if you might possibly comment on a Vanity Fair article alleging to lay bare a – I quote it – a covert initiative implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to provoke a Palestinian civil war. I know that’s pretty strong language. Could you react to that, please?

MR. CASEY: Well, I can reprise the lengthy comments that I made this morning. I can also point you to the answer the Secretary gave in Cairo on this this morning. Look, first of all, let’s be clear about what U.S. policy has been and will be. U.S. policy is to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is to support the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority, specifically, working with President Abbas and his cabinet. The U.S. policies in this regard have been transparent and open. They’ve been discussed publicly by the President, the Secretary of State and many others, both in public fora as well as in testimony to Congress. That policy includes, very specifically, a desire to help support, build and enhance Palestinian institutions. We made it very clear when Hamas came to power that we would continue our no-contact policy with Hamas and that we intended to continue to work specifically with those institutions that were under the authority of the president. As you recall, we also had to have a very extensive review of all U.S. aid, not only direct aid but also that provided through NGOs, to make sure that none of that money was going to Hamas so long as Hamas refused to comply with the Quartet principles, meaning requiring it to recognize Israel’s right to exist, to recognize the validity of the very instruments by which government was allowed to form for the Palestinian Authority, also eschewing violence as a matter of policy.

“So all that is prelude and let me just say this: The story alleges that there was some kind of secret plot on the part of the U.S. Government to create a internal conflict within the Palestinians, specifically an armed conflict. That’s absurd. That’s ridiculous. I said this morning that I think Vanity Fair should stick to arty photos of celebrities since clearly, at least in this instance, their efforts at serious journalism leave something lacking. And on that note, how do I really feel? Yeah.

QUESTION: Cancel your subscription.

MR. CASEY: Unfortunately, don’t have one. Anything else? One in the back. Got two. Got one in the back and one in the front.

QUESTION: I hate to be the bad guy.

MR. CASEY: That’s okay. Barry, you’re never the bad guy. We are glad to see you back here.

QUESTION: Thank you. Now, it’s one thing to deny that the U.S. is working to create conflict between the two Palestinian factions. That’s absurd, you say.

MR. CASEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It’s another thing to say, as you also said, U.S. supports Fatah institutions. The military, security, is a Fatah institution. Is the U.S. trying to help Abbas’ people be stronger? And, of course, they use their strength partly in civil conflict with Hamas. Follow me?

MR. CASEY: Barry, our goal —

QUESTION: So it’s not an airtight denial?.

MR. CASEY: Sure, but our goal was, is, and I suspect will continue to be building Palestinian institutions so that when you get, as we hope to get —


MR. CASEY: — to the conclusion of a peace process that establishes a two-state solution, that there are Palestinian institutions that we and the Israelis and others can rely on to be able to implement and carry out the law, carry out the terms of the agreement. And our support isn’t for parties; it’s for the legitimate institutions of the country that are willing to work towards that end. And that’s always been our policy. It’s been open and transparent and above board. The security assistance we provide, as well as humanitarian and others, has been out there for people to see. So arguing that there was some kind of, you know, plot back there, or what my Spanish friends would call a mano negro, is just silly.

QUESTION: That comes down to supporting Fatah since they’re the legitimate group supporting U.S. goals —

MR. CASEY: Well, again, remember where we started this movie. After the election and after the Hamas-led government came to power, the position of the Quartet, including the United States, was very clear: We would not be able to support or engage with that government as long as it refused to acknowledge the basic Quartet principles. We’ve said, and you’ve heard from the Secretary many times, it’s hard for us or anyone else to ask the Israelis to engage with a ‘partner for peace’ who denies that nation’s right to exist, who believes and continues to support the use of terror against it, who denies the fundamental agreements with which they have been established as a government and which refuses to act in any kind of good-faith manner. So again, the policies here are quite clear. But the fact that we and the Quartet thought that the Hamas-led government ought to acknowledge those basic principles in order for us to be able to work with them and have them engage legitimately with the Israelis as a partner for peace is, you know a totally different matter.


MR. CASEY: Charlie.

QUESTION: You know that the Congress prohibits giving lethal aid to the Palestinians, and therefore you couldn’t actually arm Fatah to take on Hamas.

MR. CASEY: Right.

QUESTION: Do you know of any discussions between the Administration and the Saudis that the Saudis would pay the bill to fund the rearming of Fatah?

MR. CASEY: Well, Charlie, I know there has certainly been a lot of discussions with other countries in the region and those discussions are ongoing about how you work to support President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. You know, in terms of the details of who said what to whom over time, I honestly don’t have them. I can’t guarantee you there was never a conversation like that. But you know, the bottom line is an argument that says that the legitimate efforts of the Palestinian Authority president to develop his institutions, including his security institutions, is the cause of or the reason for Hamas violence is one of the worst examples of blaming the victim I can come up with in recent memory.

QUESTION: Tom, I’m not quite sure I follow that.

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, let’s do some more of it.

QUESTION: Let’s try again. You don’t know of any — you don’t know of any specific discussions between the Saudis and the Administration wherein they would what you can’t do legally, which is to arm Fatah?

MR. CASEY: Charlie, I’m not aware of any particular conversations in that regard. I can’t speak for every institution of the U.S. Government. What I can say is we have made it a very open and transparent issue that we wanted to work on behalf of the government of President Abbas and work for him and with him to be able to strengthen the legitimate institutions of the state and work with those institutions that were willing to be a partner for peace. And again, I don’t know how many times this was discussed in public in open settings by the President, the Secretary, by other members of the Administration. And to, you know, call that policy a covert plan is just — sorry, it doesn’t pass the reality test”.

OK, this is terrifying – Israeli drones apparently fire missiles in Gaza

This is a terrifying article, reported by the AP this morning:
“Palestinians say they know when an Israeli drone is in the air: Cell phones stop working, TV reception falters and they can hear a distant buzzing. They also know what’s likely to come next — a devastating explosion on the ground. Palestinians say Israel’s pilotless planes have been a major weapon in its latest offensive in Gaza, which has killed nearly 120 people since last week …
The use of drones is shrouded in secrecy, and Israeli defense officials refuse to comment publicly on whether they are being used in airstrikes in Gaza. However, Israeli officers in private conversations have confirmed use of the weapons. Wary Gaza militants using binoculars are on constant lookout for drones. When one is sighted overhead, the militants report via walkie-talkie to their comrades, warning them to turn off their cell phones and remove the batteries for fear the Israeli technology will trace their whereabouts. A militant from the southern Gaza Strip who belongs to the Islamic Jihad group said drones were mostly used to target individuals, and not structures. He said they often hovered at much higher altitudes than manned aircraft and their missiles were frequently more destructive, leaving deep gashes where they landed. The militant said the drones usually targeted slow-moving targets, like people walking, or cars slowing down to avoid potholes in a road. ‘It looks like it makes small circles in the sky, but before it’s about to fire a missile, it slows down’, the militant said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared being identified by Israel. ‘It’s not like any other plane. You don’t see the missile leaving, it’s very quiet’ …

” ‘Our experience is that the drone missile is successful in hitting its targets, and it’s deadly’, said Dr. Mahmoud Assali, a Palestinian physician who works in the emergency room of a northern Gaza Strip hospital that has often treated Palestinian gunmen hit by Israeli drones. ‘The drone has a zone of around 15 meters (50 feet) where it decimates everything. It targets people and leaves them in pieces’, Assali said … Jaber Wishah, deputy director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, said his group has received reports about drones firing missiles for more than three years. ‘The kind of missile — from the shrapnel we’ve gathered — appears to be small’, Wishah said. ‘But do we have documentation, photographs of a drone? We don’t’.”

This AP story adds: “Damian Kemp, an aviation desk editor at Jane’s Defence Weekly, said Israel is probably the first country in the world to use unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, for both surveillance and to fire missiles. Israel is a world leader in the field and ‘capable of doing everything from the very small to the very large’, he said … Israel has long been considered the world leader in drone technology and proudly exhibits its products at international air shows. But it maintains its drones are for surveillance purposes, and refuses to confirm using them in airstrikes. Doron Suslik, a top official at the Israel Aerospace Industries, which manufactures drones, said the company has customers from all over the world, including Switzerland, France and India, with annual sales of $500 million to $600 million. He refused to divulge the drone’s military capabilities, citing his clients’ desire for confidentiality. Government and army officials also refused to comment on the drone’s firing capabilities”. This AP story is published here.

UN Rights Officials: Talk to Hamas + Stop the Violence

This came by email from Geneva this evening: “The United Nations Special Rapportur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, John Dugard, issued the following statement today — “The present situation in Gaza and neighbouring Israel cannot be allowed to continue. Palestinian rockets fired into Israel violate the rules of international humanitarian law and terrorize Israelis. Israel’s excessive and disproportionate response has likewise been unlawful in terms of international humanitarian law. The failure to distinguish between civilian and military targets violates one of the most fundamental rules of humanitarian law. Collective punishment and the terrorization of an occupied people are also unlawful. It is imperative that every effort be made to bring the violence to an end. This can be done only by negotiation and mediation. The United Nations is the obvious body to initiate such talks between Hamas in Gaza, the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. At present the United Nations is restrained by the United States, the European Union and Israel from speaking to Hamas and this has left it powerless to fulfill its principal duty of maintaining international peace. The Secretary-General of the United Nations must find the courage to overcome this obstacle and initiate meaningful talks between all parties. Without this the cycle of violence is doomed to continue”.

Also, from Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour issued this statement today: “The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour expressed alarm Monday about the violence that has been taking place in Gaza and Israel over the past few days. While recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself, Arbour condemned the Israeli Defence Force’s disproportionate use of force. The High Commissioner called for an impartial investigation into the reported killing of dozens of civilians, including children, in the IDF operation. Arbour also strongly condemned the rocket attacks by Palestinian militants against Israeli civilian targets. ‘These attacks are in clear violation of international humanitarian law’, she said, ‘and those responsible must be held to account‘. Arbour stressed that Israel, as the occupying power, bears a particular responsibility under international human rights and humanitarian law to protect the civilian population and civilian installations in Gaza. She called on the government of Israel to conduct impartial investigations into the killings of civilians, make the findings public and hold any perpetrators accountable. She also reiterated her earlier warning that collective punishment is prohibited under international law. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the international community to step up pressure on both sides to uphold their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, and to ensure that failure to do so is dealt with appropriately.

Uri Avnery — talking sense on Hamas

Uri Avnery sent this article today:

“WE ISRAELIS live in a world of ghosts and monsters. We do not conduct a war against living persons and real organizations, but against devils and demons which are out to destroy us. It is a war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness, between absolute good and absolute evil. That’s how it looks to us, and that’s how it looks to the other side, too.

Let’s try to bring this war down from virtual spheres to the solid ground of reality. There can be no reasonable policy, nor even rational discussion, if we do not escape from the realm of horrors and nightmares.

After the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections, Gush Shalom said that we must speak with them. Here are some of the questions that were showered on me from all sides:

–  Do you like Hamas?

Not at all. I have very strong secular convictions. I oppose any ideology that mixes politics with religion – whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian, in Israel, the Arab world or America.

That does not prevent me from speaking with Hamas people, as I have spoken with other people with whom I don’t agree. It has not prevented me from being a guest at their homes, to exchange views with them and to try to understand them. Some of them I liked, some I did not.

–  It is said that Hamas was created by Israel. Is that true?

Israel did not ‘create’ Hamas, but it certainly helped it along in its initial stages.

During the first 20 years of the occupation, the Israeli leadership saw the PLO as its chief enemy. That’s why it favored Palestinian organizations that, it was thought, could undermine the PLO. One example of this was Ariel Sharon’s ludicrous attempt to set up Arab “village leagues” that would act as agents of the occupation.

The Israeli intelligence community, which in the last 60 years has failed almost every time in forecasting events in the Arab world, also failed this time. They believed that the emergence of an Islamic organization would weaken the secular PLO. While the military administration of the occupied territories was throwing into prison any Palestinian who engaged in political activity – even for peace – it did not touch the religious activists. The mosque was the only place where Palestinians could get together and plan political action.

This policy was, of course, based on a complete misunderstanding of Islam and Palestinian reality.

Hamas was officially founded immediately after the outbreak of the first intifada at the end of 1987. The Israeli Security Service (known as Shabak or Shin Bet) handled it with kid gloves. Only a year later did it arrest the founder, Sheik Ahmad Yassin.

It is ironic that the Israeli leadership is now supporting the PLO in the hope of undermining Hamas. There is no better evidence for the stupidity of our “experts” as far as Arab matters are concerned, stemming from both arrogance and contempt. Hamas is far more dangerous to Israel than the PLO ever was.

–  Did the Hamas election victory show that Islam was on the rise among the Palestinian people?

Not necessarily. The Palestinian people did not become more religious overnight.

True, there is a slow process of Islamization throughout the region, from Turkey to Yemen and from Morocco to Iraq. It is the reaction of the young Arab generation to the failure of secular nationalism to solve their national and social problems. But this did not cause the earthquake in Palestinian society.

–  If so, why did Hamas win?

There were several reasons. The main one was the growing conviction of the Palestinians that they would never get anything from the Israelis by non-violent means. After the murder of Yassir Arafat, many Palestinians believed that if they elected Mahmoud Abbas as the new president, he would get from Israel and the US the things they would not give Arafat. They found out that the opposite was happening: No real negotiations, while the settlements were getting larger every day.

They told themselves:  if peaceful means don’t work, there is no alternative to violent means. And if there be war, there are no braver warriors than Hamas.

Also: the corruption in the higher Fatah echelons had reached such dimensions, that the majority of Palestinians were disgusted. As long as Arafat was alive, the corruption was somehow tolerated, because everybody knew that Arafat himself was honest, and his towering importance for the national struggle overrode the shortcomings of his administration. After Arafat, tolerating the corruption became impossible. Hamas, on the other hand, was considered clean, and its leaders incorrupt. The social and educational Hamas institutions, mainly financed by Saudi Arabia, were widely respected.

The splits within Fatah also helped the Hamas candidates.

Hamas, of course, had not taken part in previous elections, but it was generally assumed – even by Hamas people themselves – that they represented only about 15-25 percent of the electorate.

–   Can one reasonably expect the Palestinians to overthrow Hamas themselves?

As long as the occupation goes on, there is no chance of that. An Israeli general said this week that if the Israeli army stopped operating in the West Bank, Hamas would replace Abbas there too.

The administration of Mahmoud Abbas stands on feet of clay – American and Israeli feet. If the Palestinians finally lose what confidence they still have in Abbas, his power would crumble.

– But how can one reach a settlement with an organization that declares that it will never recognize Israel and whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state?

All this matter of ‘recognition’ is nonsense, a pretext for avoiding a dialogue. We do not need ‘recognition’ from anybody. When the United States started a dialogue with Vietnam, it did not demand to be recognized as an Anglo-Saxon, Christian and capitalist state.

If A signs an agreement with B, it means that A recognizes B. All the rest is hogwash.

And in the same matter: The fuss over the Hamas charter is reminiscent of the ruckus about the PLO charter, in its time. That was a quite unimportant document, which was used by our representatives for years as an excuse to refuse to talk with the PLO. Heaven and earth were moved to compel the PLO to annul it. Who remembers that today? The acts of today and tomorrow are important, the papers of yesterday are not.

–  What should we speak with Hamas about?

First of all, about a cease-fire. When a wound is bleeding, the blood loss must be stemmed before the wound itself can be treated.

Hamas has many times proposed a cease-fire, Tahidiyeh (‘Quiet’) in Arabic. This would mean a stop to all hostilities: Qassams and Grad rockets and mortar shells from Hamas and the other organizations, ‘targeted liquidations’, military incursions and starvation from Israel.

The negotiations should be conducted by the Egyptians, particularly since they would have to open the border between the Gaza Strip and Sinai. Gaza must get back its freedom of communication with the world by land, sea and air,

If Hamas demands the extension of the cease-fire to the West Bank, too, this should also be discussed. That would necessitate a Hamas-Fatah-Israel trialogue.

–  Won’t Hamas exploit the cease-fire to arm itself?

Certainly. And so will Israel. Perhaps we shall succeed, at long last, in finding a defense against short-range rockets.

–  If the cease-fire holds, what will be the next step?

An armistice, or Hudnah in Arabic.

Hamas would have a problem in signing a formal agreement with Israel, because Palestine is a Waqf – a religious endowment. (That arose, at the time, for political reasons. When Caliph Omar conquered Palestine, he was afraid that his generals would divide the country among themselves, as they had already done in Syria. So he declared it to be the property of Allah. This resembles the attitude of our own religious people, who maintain that it is a sin to give away any part of the country, because God has expressly promised it to us.)

Hudnah is an alternative to peace. It is a concept deeply embedded in the Islamic tradition. The prophet Muhammad himself agreed a Hudnah with the rulers of Mecca, with whom he was at war after his flight from Mecca to Medina. (By the way, before the Hudnah expired, the inhabitants of Mecca adopted Islam and the prophet entered the town peacefully.) Since it has a religious sanction, its violation by Muslim believers is impossible.

A Hudnah can last for dozens of years and be extended without limit. A long Hudnah is in practice peace, if the relations between the two parties create a reality of peace.

– So a formal peace is impossible?

There is a solution for this, too. Hamas has declared in the past that it does not object to Abbas conducting peace negotiations, on condition that the agreement reached is put to a plebiscite. If the Palestinian people confirm it, Hamas declared that it will accept the people’s decision.

– Why would Hamas accept it?

Like every Palestinian political force, Hamas aspires to power in the Palestinian state that will be set up along the 1967 borders. For that it needs to enjoy the confidence of the majority. There is no doubt whatsoever that the vast majority of the Palestinian people want a state of their own and peace. Hamas knows this well. It will do nothing that would push the majority of the people away.

– And what is the place of Abbas in all this?

He should be pressured to come to an agreement with Hamas, along the lines of the earlier agreement concluded in Mecca. We believe that Israel has a clear interest in negotiating with a Palestinian government that includes the two big movements, so that the agreement reached would be accepted by almost all sections of the Palestinian people.

–  Is time working for us?

For many years, Gush Shalom was telling the Israeli public: let’s make peace with the secular leadership of Yasser Arafat, because otherwise the national conflict will turn into a religious conflict. Unfortunately, this prophecy, too, has come true…

Reuters on Rice visit next week

Reuters wrote yesterday about the upcoming visit of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to the region that: “Three months ago, Israelis and Palestinians pledged at a peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, that they would seek a deal by the end of the Bush administration in January 2009. The window is fast narrowing and diplomats and experts note talk has become more vague, with suggestions of only a framework agreement by year-end, or a so-called ‘shelf agreement’ that could be dusted off by the next president. But a senior U.S. official said it was too soon to write off prospects of a deal and Rice’s goal on this trip would be to keep talks moving between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and pro-Western Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas … Rice is expected to lean on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to concede to Abbas’s demand to ease checkpoints in the West Bank and give Abbas’s forces more responsibility. But officials said she would make clear U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself … Rice’s first stop is due to be Cairo on Tuesday where she wants answers over how Egypt will secure its border with Gaza after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians breached it last month to buy goods unavailable due to an Israeli blockade This Reuters report is here.

There have been some hints, just slight ones, that there might be some light between Rice’s position and Israel’s, concerning the re-opening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, but that is not totally clear.

It was Rice herself who stayed up all night in November 2005 — it was even her birthday, she said — to get an agreement on opening this crossing, following Israel’s unilateral September 2005 “Disengagement” from Gaza. The formula had Palestinians running the show on their side of the crossing — but under Israeli real-time “supervision” via video link from some control booth near the Kerem Shalom crossing, perhaps some 15-20 minutes real travel time away.

Now, of course, there is a Palestinian split — and Hamas in Gaza wants to be a part of this deal. The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, particularly President Mahmoud Abbas, objects, though Hamas says it would not mind some sort of “power-sharing” arrangement. What Hamas objects to is any Israeli role in a re-opened Rafah.

Egypt’s Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, who has been very involved — and who would have to sign on to any revised deal — just cancelled a proposed trip to Israel next week to discuss this, and the release of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was seized from near the Kerem Shalom crossing in June 2006, and who is still being held somewhere in Gaza. Israeli officials told Israeli newspapers that they believed Suleiman had cancelled his trip because of all the build-up toward an all-out Israeli re-invasion of Gaza.

Suleiman will, however, participate in a meeting with Rice in Egypt (Tuesday?)…

While the U.S. is firmly condemnatory of the Palestinian “projectile” attacks (Qassams, Katyushas, and mortars), they have also been warning Israel to consider carefully the consequences of its actions, and to keep the humanitarian situation in Gaza in mind.

I wonder if, perhaps, Rice herself might cancel her visit to Jerusalem (and Ramallah), if the present Israeli-Gaza fighting continues and escalates.

Helena Cobban comments

In her blog, Just World News, Helena Cobban takes an overview of the Gaza situation, writing:

“Haaretz’s Amos Harel describes the ‘dizzying’ pace of events between Israel and Gaza in the past week:

On Sunday, the media were busy with the IDF’s intensive preparations for the possibility that Hamas would march thousands of Gazan Palestinians into Israel. Furloughs were canceled, units were sent forward from training bases and senior commanders stayed in the field to supervise the preparations. By Monday, it became clear that Hamas had chosen to avoid a confrontation. Only a few thousand people attended the rally in Gaza and only a few dozen bothered showing up at the Erez crossing. Hamas made up for its disappointment with the poor turnout by firing rockets at Sderot, injuring Yossi Haimov, 10, in an incident that was chillingly televised. On Wednesday, the IDF and the Shin Bet security service killed five Hamas activists who had returned to the Gaza Strip from training in Iran and Syria. Hamas retaliated with almost 50 rockets, one of which killed Roni Yihye at Sapir College, adjacent to Sderot. Ashkelon was also hit‘.

“… But as Harel notes, the options of what this ‘decisive’ thing might be run from the radically de-escalatory (move into negotiating a ceasefire with Hamas) to the radically escalatory (a big ground operation into Gaza accompanied by, as Vilnai wants, some elements of ‘Shoah’.)

Condi Rice is to be in Israel next week. Will she be promoting the cause of escalation or de-escalation? Up until now, she and the Bush administration have favored or perhaps even pushed for just about every escalatory move the Israeli government has ever made against its neighbors. But it would be great if this time around she could take a calm look round and see the dangers for all involved in the region– who now certainly include the US– if she gives the nod to an escalation against Gaza.

“Finally, I can’t stop this post before commenting on the horror and the complete inappropriateness of deputy minister Vilnai using the term ‘Shoah’ to refer to what he was threatening in Gaza. He later backtracked some and said all he meant was ‘a disaster’ (which is bad enough, especially if threatened against a highly populated territory in which non-combatants far outnumber combatants. But in Israel, is the term ‘Shoah’ commonly used to refer to relatively banal events? I thought it was used, like the term capital-H Holocaust in English, to refer to a single, extremely horrific episode of evil”. Helena’s thoughts are posted today here.

It seems that Vilna’i said exactly what he said. Israelis understand it exactly the same way as everybody else does. Of course all these threats are horrible and disgraceful. I would only ask Helena: is a disaster a relatively banal event?