The Palestinians as party people

On Tuesday 29 April, Rice convened a press event in Washington, as the State Department reported in a press release, “to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the strategic importance of U.S. private sector investment in the West Bank. She was joined by leaders of the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership including Chairman Walter Isaacson, Co-chairs Jean Case and Ziad Asali, and USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore. The Partnership is working to support the Palestinian Authority’s upcoming Palestine Investment Conference, which will be hosted by Prime Minister Fayyad on May 21-23, in Bethlehem. The purpose of the conference is to showcase investment opportunities in the Palestinian territories and thereby improve the economic and social living standards through increased investment in the Palestinian economy”.

The State Department press release added that the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership “is developing quick-impact projects to promote job creation in the West Bank; projects include the creation of an Arabic-language call center in East Jerusalem and the establishment of a mechanism to attract foreign investment in the Palestinian private sector. The Partnership is also working to launch five youth development and resource centers in the West Bank”.

Rice said at the Washington press event that, as part of the Annapolis process, “there is also a very strong commitment to do something about the economic prospects for the Palestinian people, a people who are very well educated, many of them, very ambitious, many of them, but where economic opportunity has very often been lacking”.

Rice is also expected to try to rally support for the investment conference while she attends a meeting of donors to the Palestinian Authority, and with the Quartet, in London on 1-2 May.

The website of the Palestine Investment Conference, here , contains a greeting from Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, saying “We are throwing a party, and the whole world is invited. This conference is a chance to show a different face of Palestine: a Palestine conducive to economic growth and international investment. I welcome you to Palestine for a chance to enjoy our hospitality, and to learn first hand that you can do business in Palestine”.

Fayyad’s website greeting also says that this will be the “first high profile investment conference ever held in Palestine”, and that “it promises to be a historic event”. Fayyad added that the conference “will jumpstart a process of integrating Palestine into the global economy”.

“The time has come to invest in Palestine”, Fayyad added. “The international community showed its overwhelming support of the Palestinian economy in Paris last December, and PIC-Palestine intends to continue this process of creating an environment conducive to investment-led growth”.

While the conference is a private sector event, it will have full support from the Palestinian Authority, Fayyad said.

The Israelis have promised to facilitate the entry of investors to attend this conference.

Yossi Sarid on Israel and Apartheid

After all the brouhaha (continuing) of the Carter visit to the Middle East, Yossi Sarid has just written in Haaretz:
“Let’s let old Carter be, so he may let sleeping warriors lie; he will not be back. The contents of his words, however, should not be ignored. ‘Apartheid’, he said, ‘apartheid’ – a dark, scary word coined by Afrikaners and meaning segregation, racial segregation. What does he want from us, that evil man: What do we have to do with apartheid? Does a separation fence constitute separation? Do separate roads for Jewish settlers and Palestinians really separate? Are Palestinian enclaves between Jewish settlements Bantustans? There is no hint of similarity between South Africa and Israel, and only a sick mind could draw such shadowy connections between them. Roadblocks and inspections at every turn; licenses and permits for every little matter; the arbitrary seizure of land; special privileges in water use; cheap, hard labor; forming and uniting families by bureaucratic whim – none of these are apartheid, in any way. They are an incontrovertible security necessity, period.

“The white Afrikaners, too, had reasons for their segregation policy; they, too, felt threatened – a great evil was at their door, and they were frightened, out to defend themselves. Unfortunately, however, all good reasons for apartheid are bad reasons; apartheid always has a reason, and it never has a justification. And what acts like apartheid, is run like apartheid and harasses like apartheid, is not a duck – it is apartheid. Nor does it even solve the problem of fear: Today, everyone knows that all apartheid will inevitably reach its sorry end.

“One essential difference remains between South Africa and Israel: There a small minority dominated a large majority, and here we have almost a tie. But the tiebreaker is already darkening on the horizon. Then the Zionist project will come to an end if we don’t choose to leave the slave house before being visited by a fatal demographic plague.

“It is entirely clear why the word apartheid terrifies us so. What should frighten us, however, is not the description of reality, but reality itself. Even Ehud Olmert has understood at last that continuing the present situation is the end of the Jewish democratic state, as he recently said.

“The Palestinians are unfortunate because they have not produced a Nelson Mandela; the Israelis are unfortunate because they have not produced an F.W. de Klerk”. here .

Condi's coming back – it looks like it'll be from 3 to 5 May

The U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack told journalists on Friday that “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to the United Kingdom, Israel, and the West Bank from May 1 to May 5.  In London, she will meet with the Quartet to discuss progress in peace talks since December. She will also participate in the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee to discuss donor efforts and encourage others to follow through on their pledges of assistance to the Palestinian Authority from the December 2007 Paris Donors’ Conference. The Secretary will also participate in a P5+1 meeting on Iran and discuss Kosovo with European colleagues. She will meet separately with UK Foreign Minister Miliband and Quartet Envoy Blair.  In Israel and the West Bank, she will meet with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials to discuss progress made on the ground and in the peace process, the situation in Gaza, and the effort underway to achieve agreement this year on the establishment of a Palestinian state, living side by side with Israel in peace and security“.

PA Minister says there are Jordanian-Palestinian discussions about cooperation in Jerusalem

Palestinian Authority Minister of Information Riyad al-Maliki, who holds also the portfolios of Justice and Foreign Affairs, told members of the Foreign Press Association in Israel on Thursday that he had bilateral talks recently with the Jordanian Foreign Minister, Dr. Salaheddin Bachir (SP?) over two days – “our first official bilateral talks since we each took office, though we’ve met in other different fora, as a result of the positive relationship that exists at all levels in the Jordanian-Palestinian relationship”.

Al-Maliki said: “We want to cooperate bilaterally at all levels – particularly concerning the situation in Jerusalem”. Al-Maliki also mentioned the Israeli excavations around the Western Wall, which are nearby and under Al-Aqsa Mosque.

On the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, al-Maliki said: “We haven’t seen any change in any Israeli attitude. Instead, the number of incursions have increased, and the number of people detained has increased. If there is any change, it is one of considerable regression…We are totally disappointed. So far, we did not conclude any issue or sub-issue. So, here we have a serious problem.

“We are under tremendous pressure by two factors:
(1) from our own people, who are asking why we still believe in the approach of peaceful negotiations. We told them there will be peace dividends, but so far there is not a single one. Our people ask why? We, as the Palestinian leadership, must retain the backing of or own people, and to retain this, we have to deliver something to them.
(2) from the external Arab world. Since 2002, an Arab peace initiative has been on the table, and it was reiterated again in the Riyadh summit last year. Now, the Arab governments are asking how long should this be left on the table. At the last meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers they put tremendous pressure on us. They said our negotiations should be connected to Israel’s beginning to implement its obligations under the Road Map. Our President, Mahmoud Abbas, himself attended the Foreign Ministers’ meeting to convince them to go to the Annapolis Conference, and they agreed on condition that the settlement activities cease. Sixteen Arab countries attended – and settlement activity has only increased. Now, the Arabs are asking to reconsider, re-open, and re-discuss the entire Arab strategy, and our commitment to the Arab strategy for peace.

“On 24 April, our President will meet President Bush and explain to him this bleak picture, and will ask him clearly for American intervention. Then, in the next meeting (in May) in Sharm ash-Sheikh, we will hear a strong demand for real American intervention to salvage what was agreed in Annapolis”.

Al-Maliki said that he expects that U.S. Lt. General William Fraser’s recently completed report (on the actions of each side to comply with Phase I obligations of the Road Map) will soon be submitted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to the members of the Quartet (U.S., E.U., Russia, and the UN), at a meeting in London on 2 May.

The Palestinian Authority Minister added: “If there was any direct positive outcome of Annapolis, it was the agreement on a trilateral security arrangement, which took the job of evaluating progress away from the Israelis, and gave it to the Americans. The Israeli attitude is totally biased toward us in terms of security.”

Now, Al-Maliki said, the Palestinians would like to see a similar third-party monitoring mechanism for the post-Annapolis negotiations: “We want to see a real (American) commitment in terms of time, effort, and high-level intervention, so that Israel will move forward with the negotiations and change its attitude. We need a monitoring mechanism to assess progress in the negotiations by a third party, who will judge whether there is progress or lack of it”.

As Palestinian President Abbas visited Moscow, al-Maliki said in Jerusalem that “the main aim of the (proposed) Moscow conference (in mid-June) is to evaluate what has happened since Annapolis”.

But, Israel is not inclined to support the Moscow conference, and it still insists – as Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said recently in Doha – that “The talks are bilateral only”.

Al-Maliki insisted that all Israel-Gaza crossings should be opened under the management of the Palestinian Authority (and not of Hamas). Regarding the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, al-Maliki said that “We have entrusted Egypt to use its good offices to open Rafah according to the formula that has existed since November 2005.” This is the agreement on movement and access negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice who stayed up all night — and on her birthday — to achieve, after the then-President of the World Bank, James Wolfenson, failed.

Al-Maliki gave the impression that the main reason the PA was insisting on retaining an unchanged version of this November 2005 agreement on movement and access was that it stipulated that Palestinian Presidential Guards (again, read: not Hamas) would be in charge on the Gazan side of the crossing.

However, the November 2005 agreement on movement and access also has other benefits: it also calls for a transportation link between Gaza and the West Bank; it says that construction of a seaport at Gaza “can commence”; and it notes that the parties agree on “the importance of the airport” in Gaza – which is at the south-eastern corner of the Gaza Strip, very near the Kerem Shalom crossing that Israel has wanted to favor.

At least at Erez crossing there is already a somewhat mysterious Palestinian coordination outpost, in a sort of a trailer with a porch, whose staff say they report to the Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Ministry in Ramallah, and who clearly enjoy reasonable cooperation with the IDF coordination at the Erez Terminal.  Hamas police were noticed observing a fixed distance, as marked by large bolders painted with the word “Police”, and they did not proceed past that point.

Mahmoud Zahar, Hamas hardline leader, lauds Jimmy Carter in WPost OpEd

Hamas’ reputedly hardline leader in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, has written an OpEd piece that was published today in the Washington Post. Here are some excerpts — Mahmoud Zahar, in his own words:

“President Jimmy Carter’s sensible plan to visit the Hamas leadership this week brings honesty and pragmatism to the Middle East while underscoring the fact that American policy has reached its dead end.

“Palestinians are fighting a total war waged on us by a nation that mobilizes against our people with every means at its disposal — from its high-tech military to its economic stranglehold, from its falsified history to its judiciary that ‘legalizes’ the infrastructure of apartheid. Resistance remains our only option. Sixty-five years ago, the courageous Jews of the Warsaw ghetto rose in defense of their people. We Gazans, living in the world’s largest open-air prison, can do no less.

“The U.S.-Israeli alliance has sought to negate the results of the January 2006 elections, when the Palestinian people handed our party a mandate to rule. Hundreds of independent monitors, Carter among them, declared this the fairest election ever held in the Arab Middle East.

“Now, finally, we have the welcome tonic of Carter saying what any independent, uncorrupted thinker should conclude: that no ‘peace plan’, ‘road map’ or ‘legacy’ can succeed unless we are sitting at the negotiating table and without any preconditions.

“Israel’s escalation of violence since the staged Annapolis ‘peace conference’ in November has been consistent with its policy of illegal, often deadly collective punishment — in violation of international conventions.

“Only three months ago I buried my son Hussam, who studied finance at college and wanted to be an accountant; he was killed by an Israeli airstrike. In 2003, I buried Khaled — my first-born — after an Israeli F-16 targeting me wounded my daughter and my wife and flattened the apartment building where we lived, injuring and killing many of our neighbors. Last year, my son-in-law was killed.

Our movement fights on because we cannot allow the foundational crime at the core of the Jewish state — the violent expulsion from our lands and villages that made us refugees — to slip out of world consciousness, forgotten or negotiated away.  Judaism — which gave so much to human culture in the contributions of its ancient lawgivers and modern proponents of tikkun olam — has corrupted itself in the detour into Zionism, nationalism and apartheid.

“A ‘peace process’ with Palestinians cannot take even its first tiny step until Israel first withdraws to the borders of 1967; dismantles all settlements; removes all soldiers from Gaza and the West Bank; repudiates its illegal annexation of Jerusalem; releases all prisoners; and ends its blockade of our international borders, our coastline and our airspace permanently. This would provide the starting point for just negotiations and would lay the groundwork for the return of millions of refugees. Given what we have lost, it is the only basis by which we can start to be whole again”.

The whole OpEd article can be read here .

Israeli offer: 64% of the West Bank + visits to holy sites in Jerusalem?

The Jerusalem Post has picked up a report published in a Arabic-language newspaper published in London yesterday which says that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has offered the Palestinians 64 percent of the West Bank as part of a future peace agreement, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat reported Wednesday. According to the report, Olmert told PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the Palestinians could ‘forget about territory west of the security fence’.” The prime minister also presented Abbas with several offers regarding Jerusalem. One of these would have Israel maintaining control over east Jerusalem and holy sites, but allowing Palestinians to enter those sites”…
The full article is posted here .

Livni talks about peace talks

Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said at an International Conference on “Democracy, Development and Free Trade” in Doha, Qatar that “According to the understanding of our new regional challenges, Israel left the Gaza Strip, dismantled all settlements, and gave an opportunity for Palestinian self rule, as a first step on the path towards a Palestinian state.  For this reason, we launched the Annapolis process, to reach a peace greement [implementation of which is subject to the Road Map].

“Peace talks are taking place with the pragmatic Palestinians, who recognize Israel’s right to exist, who seek to realize their national rights but choose the path of peace over terrorism. With such partners, who support the Two State Solution, peace can be attained. The conflict is solvable. There is no hope for peace with the extremists, who reject the two-state solution, refuse to even recognize the existence of Israel and choose the path of violence … We recognize the fact that the Palestinian people have legitimate rights and aspirations. We have no interest in ruling their lives. Israel is committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, as a nation state for the Palestinian people and a peaceful neighbor to Israel. Equally, the people of Israel are entitled to those same rights. There is no place for terrorism, and no justification for terrorism. Just as a Palestinian State is an Israeli interest, so Israeli security must be a Palestinian interest.

“Israel is deeply engaged in a peace process. The attainment of peace is an Israeli strategic objective, and it is clear that it entails further territorial concessions. Stagnation is not our policy. We have no interest in wasting time, or establishing facts on the ground that will impede the creation of a Palestinian state.

As the Israeli chief negotiator, the responsibility lies heavy on my shoulders, as this concerns our future. The talks are based on trust, and some principles:
• The talks are bilateral only.
• Everything is on the table, yet nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
• We do not share information with the media, or the public. There is a price that we pay. Lack of information leads to an incorrect image that nothing is happening. But the right thing to do is to continue to work seriously and discretely.
• Any future agreement is subject to full implementation of the first stage of the road map, for we cannot afford an additional terror state in our region. We are in need of a legitimate Palestinian government, like the one in the West Bank, which has effective control of both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

“This is evidently clear with the violent takeover by the Hamas of the Gaza Strip. Although Israel fully withdrew all its forces from the Gaza Strip, dismantled all settlements and allowed for self Palestinian rule in this territory, instead of coexistence, we have received terror in return.

“Gaza is not just an Israeli problem. It has become an obstacle to the formation of a Palestinian state.

“In parallel to the negotiations, we must make changes on the ground. We must advance on the issue of security for Israel (terror attacks continue), and capacity building and economic promotion for the Palestinians.

“We have also decided not to allow the daily frustrations to stop the talks. Although It is not easy for Israel to negotiate peace in days of terror, and not easy for the Palestinians while Israel acts against terror in Gaza. But we must continue – for stopping the talks serves the interests of those who do not want peace”.

The full text of Livni’s statement can be found here .

Olmert to IDF: "Think of the Palestinians suffering at the checkpoints"

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported today that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has called on IDF commanders in the West Bank to understand that the roadblocks are causing suffering to the Palestinians, whose needs should be appreciated to avoid a worsening of relations between the two peoples. Olmert made these comments during a closed-door meeting with brigade commanders of Central Command. ‘Take all the Palestinians who were stripped at the roadblocks, only because there was concern that some of them were terrorists. Take all those who stand at the roadblocks where there is concern that a car bomb will pass through’, Olmert said. ‘This can become a boiling pot that can explode and cause terrible burns, and it can also be something else, which only depends on your understanding and abilities to conduct yourselves with wisdom and determination’.” The Haaretz article can be read in full here.

The visit by Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the Israel Defense Force’s Central Command was on Tuesday.

An information note distributed later by his office said that “The visit focused on the Central Command’s southern sector, especially the city of Hebron”.

The information note said that in his remarks to the officers and soldiers he met, Olmert “emphasized the need to ease restrictions – by as much as possible – on the lives of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria in order to help advance the peace process”.

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Mark Regev, explained in a phone interview with this journalist on Wednesday morning that “there has been an on-going discussion for the past weeks at the highest levels of the Israeli government” about achieving the right balance between two “conflicting goals”, which are the desire to provide the greatest possible access for Palestinian civilians, while at the same time protecting Israel’s civilians.

Regev emphasized that the discussion was within the Israeli government.

Asked if the Prime Minister was trying to push the Defense Ministry toward a bit more flexibility, Regev replied that “It’s not a matter of someone being right and someone being wrong”.

“The idea that you can take down most roadblocks is not serious”, Regev said, but “we are willing to take a calculated risk”.

Akiva Eldar wrote in another article in Haaretz today that “In the past, there have been cases in which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had promised PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the number of roadblocks would be reduced, however data from OCHA, B’tselem and Machsom Watch suggested that the numbers have not decreased – only increased. In closed sessions held these past few days with Israeli officials, American diplomats assigned to the implementation of the road map expressed their dissatisfaction at the lack of change in Israel’s policy restricting the movement of Palestinians. Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office would not comment, referring Haaretz to the IDF Spokesman. ‘According to the decision of the political leadership, the IDF lifted on Tuesday, April 1, 50 dirt obstacles and one roadblock, in an effort to improve the lives of Palestinians. In addition, the Central Command has evaluated the situation along with officials from the Civil Administration, and other measures have been agreed upon, including the lifting of 10 other roadblocks, which were lifted on Thursday, April 3. The IDF will continue assessing the situation and exploring the possibility for improving the lives of the Palestinians, while dealing with the terrorist organizations that are trying to strike in Israel’s rear and in the area,” the IDF Spokesman said”.

Akiva Eldar’s article is published here .

Checkpoints – continued

“One freedom I had taken for granted was to move freely to school and work.  Israeli military checkpoints litter the roads throughout the West Bank, and if you live 15 miles away from school or work, chances are you will have to go through at least two or three of them.  Exiting your vehicle, you are herded to a barb-wired waiting zone, all under the cold gaze of an Israeli soldier and his or her automatic weapon.  Needless to say, this was terrifying for someone who is not comfortable around guns.  If you’re lucky, your American passport will get you off the hook, or maybe one of the young Israeli soldiers will think you’re cute and let you pass without interrogation.  But for most Palestinians, the checkpoints are a daily humiliation, a reminder of the military occupation under which they live.  These checkpoints are one of the few exchanges that Israelis and Palestinians share, a phenomenon that goes to the root of the problem in the conflict.  This brief interaction leaves the Palestinians viewing the Israelis as nothing more than military monsters, and leaves the Israeli soldiers suspecting each Palestinian of being a potential suicide bomber.  There is a wall, both figuratively and literally, between the Israelis and their Palestinian neighbours, and this prevents both sides from understanding the other whom they consider the enemy”…

From an essay, In their shoes, by Pauline Lewis: Common Ground News Service – Middle East, 03 – 09 April 2008

What is this?

Haaretz has reported that the Israeli Knesset passed a law on Monday imposing “A penalty of three years’ imprisonment … on Israeli vehicle-owners who take their vehicles to mechanics in the West Bank … The new law, presented by Likud MK Moshe Kahlon, prohibits Israeli-registered vehicles from being repaired by mechanics in territories under Palestinian Authority control, including those that are towed there by another vehicle. The law will empower police officers to confiscate any vehicle in violation of it, as well as the vehicle license from its owner, and the vehicle that towed it to the Palestinian territories. Police statistics show that around 50 Israeli vehicles are dismantled by mechanics in Palestinian territories each day after accidents, and their parts are then transferred to Israeli mechanics or used-car dealerships. The police will advise vehicle-owners of the new law through an advertising campaign as well as by placing signs at checkpoints at the entry points to the territories [this is something new — will the signs be in Hebrew only?] The law will initially be implemented for two years and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is currently discussing its extension for another two with the Transport Ministry and the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee”. This story can be read in full on Haaretz’s website here .

YNet explained a bit more on its website: “MK Gilad Erdan (Likud), chairman of the Economics Committee, who presented the proposal at the Knesset plenum, said that ‘the bill is aimed at preventing the transfer of vehicles from Israel into the Palestinian territories. Data presented to the Economics Committee by police representatives revealed that spare parts of vehicles used for repair in the PA’s garages usually come from cars stolen in Israel. Moreover, the data also reveal that a significant part of the vehicles repaired in the PA territories were found to be severely flawed and had to be taken off the roads. In other words, the “repaired” cars in fact constituted an immediate safety risk for their users’. According to Erdan, the new law would hurt the incentive to steal cars in Israel and would also break off any possible linkage between the chop shops and terror elements. MK Kahlon said following the vote, ‘This law will significantly reduce the car thefts in Israel. A large part of the vehicles stolen in Israel are dismantled in the territories, and their parts are installed in vehicles repaired in the PA’s garages’.” This YNet article can be read in full here .

It has already been an offense for several years for someone in Israel to transport someone with a West Bank ID. The penalty is “severe”, as they say in Israel (“harsh” and “severe” are two very serious words here…) The car will be confiscated, the driver will have to pay at least a 5,000 NIS (New Israel Shekel) fine, and could also be sentenced to jail. It has affected cab drivers, including cab drivers with an East Jerusalem ID who unwittingly were driving with their wives, who had West Bank IDs. This law means that you cannot drive anyone in your car, a friend or anyone, without checking and clarifying exactly what kind of ID he or she has.