Tzipi takes a stand

“Tzipi”! called out Israel’s Internal (or Public) Security Minister Avi Dichter, greeting Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Thursday afternoon as she breezed into a conference room, surrounded by an unusually relaxed security escort, at Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel – a favorite meeting place of Israel’s conservative elite – where she was scheduled to address an illustrious audience on the Challenges to Homeland Security.

Livni was glowing – confident, radiant, fit, tanned.

At the podium, she joked that when pictures of her and fellow Kadima Party politician Dichter hit the newspapers on Friday, “I can guarantee you that the papers won’t be mentioning homeland security or terror”.

In fact, the headlines were about her open break with Olmert, a bombshell she revealed to a crush of journalists in a corridor outside, just minutes before entering the conference room.

The journalists all immediately rushed off to file reports, without going into a Conference they were sure would be boring. And they missed hearing Livni tell the Homeland Security ministers of many of the main countries in the Western world that Hamas has to be deposed in the Gaza Strip before a Palestinian State is created.

Dichter, who was hosting the “First International Security Forum of Ministers of Interior and Homeland Security” at the Inbal Hotel, indicated elsewhere on Thursday that he would be among those who would run for the party leadership — if and when party primaries are held — to replace scandal-tainted Prime Minster Ehud Olmert.

Olmert himself claims that he will eventually be able to prove that he is innocent. He repeated on Thursday that he did not intend to resign, and added that he felt he is being done an injustice: “Some people think that every investigation requires a resignation. I do not agree”, he said.

Veteran Israeli journalists caution against placing too much credibility in the many leaks now coming from partisan sources close to the police investigation or to the Attorney General’s office. Olmert has survived previous reports of scandal.

But there has never previously been any reaction as significant as the gauntlet thrown down on Wednesday by Labor Party Leader Ehud Barak – Israel’s powerful Defense Minister and himself a former Prime Minister – who called on Olmert to step down “soon”.

Barak said Olmert could handle the matter in a number of ways – including by claiming disability. Olmert revealed last year that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and that he would eventually have to face surgery. But, that surgery was postponed so that Olmert could attend the Annapolis Conference last November, then so that he could host George Bush’s first visit to Israel as U.S. President in mid-January…and Olmert is scheduled to visit Washington again next week. However, Olmert may well soon decide that it is time to step aside (but not necessarily resign) to address his medical concerns.

In that case, Livni would take over as acting Prime Minister.

Livni, just before addressing the conference at the Inbal Hotel on Thursday, willingly entered a narrow – even claustrophobic — space under a stairwell to stand in a prepared spot in front of a poster for the Homeland Security meeting, where a throng of cameramen and photographers had been waiting, to make her first clear comments on the developing crisis.

Apparently referring to Ehud Barak’s statements, Livni told the journalists that “the reality has changed since yesterday … I suspect that Kadima needs to start right away acting for every eventuality, including elections.”

Livni said: “It is impossible to do nothing while Ehud Barak threatens to force early elections…”
YNet later reported that Livni said in an interview that “Kadima must set a date for primary elections as soon as possible. We must determine who will be the party’s candidate for the premiership in order to ease tensions. This has to be done. Things changed following the testimony of (American financier Morris) Talansky”.

Livni’s deliberate and pre-meditated remarks were, as the Israeli media is now reporting, an indication of the extent of the now-open rebellion in Olmert’s own Kadima party. Livni told the journalists that “In this way, we can operate to restore the trust in Kadima”.

Accusations immediately surfaced in the Israeli media of treacherous coordination (particularly coming from Livni’s Kadima rival Shaul Mofaz, Transportation Minister) between Livni and the Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, whose statements on Wednesday set in motion a new dynamic that will almost inevitably lead to early parliamentary elections (earlier, that is, than the next scheduled elections in 2010 – and perhaps even by the end of this year, as Barak has suggested).

But, Barak has denied any coordination, and Livni told the crush of journalists at the Inbal Hotel on Thursday that “The issue isn’t only legal, and the test on what is criminal and what isn’t is not only the personal business of the prime minister. It is related to the values and norms and their influence on the trust of the public. It infuriates me … and I am coming out against the attempt to impose improper norms on politics.”

Minutes later, in the Homeland Security Conference, Livni told the assembled ministers – including U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff – that new trends toward open borders and a world village was fine “when it comes to Coca Cola, but when it comes to Al-Qaeda, it is a threat to the whole world”.

She said that “national conflicts are being changed to religious conflicts … but religious conflicts are unsolvable”.

“There is no just cause for terrorism, but some groups’ agendas are ideological-religious, and they are not fighting to get rights but to deprive others of rights”.

“We are ready to fight for others to put their agendas on the table for discussion”, Livni said, referring here apparently mainly to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – “this is part of democratic values, and I believe deeply in democratic values, but not to spread their own religious agendas”.

She added that “We are working with those who represent the national interests of the Palestinian people, but we need to de-legitimize a Hamas that cannot accept the right of Israel to exist … or accept prior agreements”.

Livni called, at the Homeland Security Conference, for a new “universal code for democratic elections”.

Groups dedicated to armed struggle should have to make a choice before standing for elections about whether or not they will continue on this path — not after elections — “Let them do it before”.

“Before the [2006 Palestinian] elections, I tried to prevent the participation of Hamas”, Livni told the Conference. “According to the Israeli political system, and to our Supreme Court, this should not have happened. It’s the same in Europe (including Spain and Turkey), and it’s part of the new constitutions of Iraq and Afghanistan. The only place in the world that it’s not is in the Palestinian areas”.

In response to the concerns she expressed about Hamas’ participation in the elections, Livni said, she got two answers:”(1) ‘Don’t worry, Hamas will only get 20% of the vote’, and (2) ‘But look at Hizballah in Lebanon – the fact that they have become a part of the political system has made them more moderate’”.

Now, she said, “We can avert a process by which a Palestinian state becomes a failed state or an Islamic state. Part of the solution is to address the situation in Gaza and change the situation on the ground before the creation of a Palestinian state”, Livni said.

In an extremely unusual gesture, Israel’s Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter had invited his Palestinian counterpart, General Abdel-Razak al-Yahya, to attend (but as an observer) the Homeland Security Conference. In an even more unusual gesture, the Inbal Hotel had very prominently displayed the Palestinian flag on the wall of the building, to the immediate right of the Israeli flags hanging over the entrance door, and in parallel with the American flag displayed to the left of the entrance door. The flags of the other ministers participating – Germany, Canada, France, Spain, Poland, Italy – were ranged on either side.

Palestinian taxi drivers in Jerusalem said they were absolutely amazed – they had never seen such a prominent display of a Palestinian flag in West Jerusalem – and not last, but in the first ranking. “Who was there?”, they asked “Was it Mahmoud Abbas?”

No, it was not Abu Mazen, it was supposed to be the Interior Minister, General Abdel-Razak al-Yehya – the man who is working with U.S. Lt. General Dayton and his Israeli counterparts to build a new, reformed, Palestinian police and security force. But even he was not there – and the Homeland Security Conference organizers said they had no idea why the Palestinian Minister had not come.

No one could be reached immediately in Ramallah to explain the Palestinian Minister’s absence, either.

U.S. Homeland Security chief Chertoff told this reporter that he thought the Conference was “very good” – but when asked if he had been expecting to meet with the Palestinian Interior Minister, Chertoff said “I don’t want to get into this with the press”, and hurried off.

Olmert's support crumbles in wake of cash payments revelations to Court

Master politician Ehud Olmert has just now had the rug pulled out from him with the public announcement at a press conference in Jerusalem by Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak, who called for Olmert’s resignation a day after dramatic testimony from an American-Jewish businessman who said he gave Olmert a total of some $150,000 in cash over a fifteen-year period.

There has so far been no “quid pro quo” indicating that Olmert actually promised or was asked to do something specific for the businessman, Morris Talansky, in exchange for this money — something that would be necessary to make it a criminal act. Further testimony is not expected until July. Olmert’s lawyers have said they were confident that they could rebut the businessman’s testimony at that time. But the firm revelation of this conduct, and its unsavory appearance, are enough to have undone Olmert’s position.

While earlier solicitations appear to have been for political campaigns, starting with Olmert’s campaign (Olmert was then a member of the Likud Party) to become mayor of Jerusalem in 1991-92, replacing Teddy Kolleck, the businessman said that Olmert increasingly requested money for his own personal expenses – a $25,000 vacation in Italy, or upgrading of his airlines reservations from business to first class, or his hotel rooms to suites, and so forth – rather than for campaign purposes.
Olmert liked luxury, and to live well, the businessman told the Court on Monday: “I only know that he loved expensive cigars. I know he loved pens, watches. I found it strange,” then shrugged.
Olmert also asked for the money as loans, the businessman testified Monday – but, these “loans” were never repaid, the businessman said.

In advance of the 2003 primaries, the businessman said, Olmert asked him for $72,500 – a sum that the businessman said he paid. It was the last payment he was willing to make, he testified.

Perhaps most damning, the businessman told the Court that Olmert asked for the money to be given in cash – a way of avoiding banking and reporting controls. On at least one occasion, the businessman paid with his own credit card a $4,700 hotel bill run up by Olmert – which would also not show up on any monitoring of such transactions.

And, Olmert apparently did wrote letters and otherwise intervened on behalf of Talansky’s various business interests, though Talansky testified that he had not specifically asked Olmert specifically to do so.

It is revealing, however, to see the amount of time Olmert was willing to devote to whether or not a hotel would conclude a contract for his patron’s mini-bars, rather than to other more pressing affairs of state.

Olmert has, for example, exhibited a curious, if perhaps overtly political, lack of leadership in significant matters affecting the country – including his non-intervention in emotional calls for revenge and retaliation that threatened an East Jerusalem family, and the country’s ethnic relations, after the attack on a nationalist yeshiva in which 8 students and the apparent assailant were killed.

Talansky said he was only invited to one reception given by the Prime Minister – but never to his home. But, he said he did receive a very nice 70th birthday card, and was also invited, at the last minute, to attend Olmert’s address to the U.S. Congress — and to attend Olmert’s son’s wedding.

In addition, Talansky said, he would visit Olmert during his trips:”Whenever [Olmert’s assistant] Shula told him I was here, no matter what, he would always come out and greet me. A hug, a big hug. He hugged me”.

According to pool reports by members of the Foreign Press Association who were assigned to cover the Court testimony, Talansky said he looked at Olmert as a man who “could accomplish a great deal…as a man who hopefully would build the city (as Mayor of Jerusalem)”, and heal the divisions.
The FPA pool report said that “Talansky talked about how Israel not priority for American Jewry, [about] giving money to hospitals and to concerts and [about] you have to pay people to come like Birthright and they don’t care so much…He appreciated Olmert’s ‘ability to articulate, his ability to reach out to the American people, the largest and richest community of Jews in the world and we are losing them at the fastest rate you can imagine. And that’s why I supported him. That’s why I gave it to him. That’s why I supported the man, that’s why I overlooked frankly and honestly, a lot of things. I overlooked them, maybe I shouldn’t have, but I overlooked them’.”

If Olmert resigns, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is positioned to replace him both as Kadima Party leader and as Prime Minister. Livni has been Israel’s most popular politician in polls over the past year,and has been Deputy Prime Minister for as least as long. Her call on Olmert to resign last year, after initial findings of the Winograd Commission about poor leadership during Israel’s “Second Lebanon War”, was brushed aside at the time with some irritation by Olmert. Her opponents — and some of her supporters — called on her to resign. To keep her busy, Olmert named her to head the Israeli negotiations team after the launch of the Annapolis Process whose aim is to make substantial progress towards the creation of a Palestinian State by the end of U.S. President George Bush’s term of office in January 2009.

If Olmert resigns and Livni takes over, there may not necessarily be early elections, at least not in the immediate future.

However, if he resists this call, defections from the current government will make early elections inevitable, even if Olmert could conceivably patch together a new coalition from various groups including the left wing Meretz party, who just may be persuaded to cooperate if it would otherwise mean a collapse of the current peace negotiations which Meretz supports and wishes would progress even faster.

Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu — who opposes the whole Annapolis Process because it is supposedly stacked against Israel but who is credited with significant modernization of Israel’s economy — will be one of the principal beneficiaries of any call for early elections as a result of the current turmoil in Israeli politics.

It will be interesting to see What Barak himself will do now. It is not clear that he would throw his hat into the ring, at least immediately, if early elections are called. He may well position himself above the coming fray. As is, as Defense Minister, he exercises nearly complete control over all decisions affecting Israel’s security — a position that has been reinforced during Olmert’s term in office as a concession to keep Barak in line. Olmert recently has stated publicly that the Defense Minister effectively rules the occupied West Bank, and this has also given Barak a veto over whether or not Israel implements any part of the Roadmap is implemented — something which is said to be essential for successsful conclusion of the current peace process. Barak may be happy to remain, as he is at the moment, the major power broker in Israeli politics.

Meantime, both Syria and the Palestinian Authority have suggested that they fear Olmert’s troubles will affect the peace processes…

Time is running out …

This is not an endorsement, and I do not agree with everything he writes, but this column by Bradley Burston in his section in Haaretz called “A Special Place in Hell” has some wonderfully compassionate remarks, including:

“…[T]his month, three generations since 1948, since your Nakba, this is what I ask you to consider:

“Your time is running out.

“If you do not begin to act with all of your wisdom in moving toward statehood, you run the risk of becoming the Kurds of the Mediterranean basin, the Native Americans of the Middle East, permanently stateless, eternally denied.

“If you do not begin to rethink the course which the Palestinian national movement has taken, you must begin to consider the idea of a world without a Palestine. The world is beginning to feel more and more comfortable with that possibility, and it is time for you to think hard about the reasons why.

“We in the post-modern West have spent years educating ourselves to believe that all cultures are equally valid – with the possible exception, of course, of our own. We have taken it on faith that to criticize the culture of an indigenous people is obscenely imperialist, paternalist.

“In short, we gave you a pass. And we encouraged you to give yourselves one. In respecting you for your steadfastness, we refrained from calling you on your passivity. In accepting and amplifying your contentions as to Israel’s acts of wrongdoing, we chose not to hold you accountable for your own, or to explain them away as a function of occupation.

“You learned, over time, to hold Israel responsible for the whole of your plight. You learned, over time, to ignore, explain away, blame entirely on Israel, or otherwise deny the ways in which your actions and, in particular, your passivity, have deepened and fostered your misery. You learned to excuse your leaders their corruption, and their policy of foiling Israeli and foreign attempts to improve your conditions. You learned to excuse your Arab brothers their duplicity and their lip service and their exploitation and their cold shoulder and their contempt and their consummate failure to come to your aid.

“In the process, you may have grown accustomed to a definition of time, and of indigenous peoples, that bears re-examination. There is, first of all, this:

“The Jews are an indigenous people here, no less than you.

“The Jews have every right to have a nation here, no less than you.

“The Jews are stubborn and proud and fundamentally fierce as hell, no less than you.

“You have dismissed the Jews as a foreign influence. You have dismissed their history, waved away their blood and sinew tie to Jerusalem, acted as though they have no business here but evil.

“But in the decades you have spent misleading yourself about the true nature of the culture and the origins of the Jews, generation upon generation of Jews has been born here. They are natives. They are not going anywhere. And even the leftists among them are willing to die in defense of staying on this soil…”

The full Bradley Burston column published today, entitled The Palestinians’ Time is Running Out, can be read here .

Palestine Investment Conference ends in Bethlehem – $1.4 billion in deals signed

Khaled al-Nehayan, Chairman of the Bin Zayed group in the U.A.E. said Friday afternoon following the closure of the Palestine Investment Conference in Bethlehem that “It has been a very big sucess for us (from the Emirates) to break this barrier to see the opportunities in Palestine. A similar conference was proposed a year ago, but it was not possible to go ahead because of the situation”.

He was apparently referring to the Hamas rout of Fatah security forces in Gaza, which led to a political coup in Ramallah when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas disbanded the National Unity Government in which Hamas shared power with Fatah.

This year, al-Nehayan said, the Palestinian Authority had done a very good job in making the preparations.

Al-Nehayan co-chaired the final thematic session of the Conference, on the Untapped Potential of East Jerusalem in which speaker after speaker called for more investment in the occupied Palestinian areas of the city.

The Emirates was not the only other Arab country which sent a delegation, al-Nehayan said — but he agreed that the UAE delegation had sent an unusually high-profile team. Why? “Because we believe in the Palestinian cause and whe have to support the Palestinian people — and we also believe there are investment oppourtunites here”, al-Nehayan explained.

France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner showed up, a little late, for the final closing plenary session. He said he had come because France had hosted the December Donor’s Conferece, at which $7.7 billion had been pledged for the Palestinian Authority — and he had promised at the time to be at the Palestine Investment Conference. The title of the Paris Donor Conference had actually included the words “for a Palestinian State”, Kouchner noted — the first time this wording had been included in the title of an international conference, he added.

In addition, Kouchner, France was taking over the Presidency of the European Union in a few weeks for the second half of 2008, and would be hosting an EU summit meeting in Paris in 13 July (a day before the French national day, or Bastille Day), at which the situation in Palestine might figure.

France “reiterates its support to the Palestinian Authority, including in its future dimension as a State”, Kouchner told the Conference.

“This conference is a first step”; Kouchner said, but added that he wished that French enterprises would have had a larger presence in the Bethlehem event. He also said that France should finish the (development) projects it had started in the region.

He referred to the presence of a delegation of Israeli businessmen at the Conferece, but none were actually visible.

“The obstacles to Palestoinian movement and access are still there — they should have been removed”, Kouchner said, “and nothing justifies that the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce in East Jerusalem remains shut. Nothing justifies the settlement expansion, either, which constitutes an obstacle to peace and an obstruction to Palestinian movement”.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told journalists in a closing press conference that $1.4 billion dollars worth of deals which had been previously prepared were signed at the Conference — including the announcemnet by the Palestine Investment Fund about the new telecommunications operations that will start operating at the end of this year”.

This should mean, Fayyad said, the creation of some 35,000 additional jobs.

Projects for the housing and real estate sector took the “lion’s share” of the contracts signed, for a total of some $530 million dollars.

“We are trying to enhance the capacity of our people to persevere until the inevitable end of occupation”, Fayyad said, “when we will reach our goal of living as a free people in a country of our own. But, until then, we should continue to do all we can to mobilize support for our people”.

East Jerusalem Businessman calls for more investment in Palestinian (East) Jerusalem

The Palestine Investment Conference – planned as a major component of the Annapolis Process – is taking place in Bethlehem from 21 through 23 May.

The American administration — and Quartet Envoy Tony Blair, known as “America´s poodle even when he was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom — apparently still believe that encouraging investment in Palestine on the eve of state-creation would help jump-start the suppressed Palestinian economy and create enthusiasm for potential peace dividends.

But the situation has not developed as expected. The Annapolis Process is nowhere near where it was supposed to be, when the Investment Conference was proposed.

Nor were preparations for the Conference, but they were not too far off. Palestinian security officers and police men and women were liberally deployed in downtown Bethlehem – though many of them were brought in from elsewhere. One policeman apologized for not being able to give directions because, he explained, he was from Jericho. The electricity went off in the Media Center set up in the Jacir Palace Intercontinental Hotel, after the opening press conference, but a generator took over after some seconds, and the electricity was restored after several minutes.

Workers were putting final touches on a new Conference Center in Bethlehem up to the start of the Investment Conference, which had been constructed but left unfinished when economic conditions in the West Bank steadily worsened in the recent period. The Conference Center was built by the vastly-successful Athens-based company started decades ago by Palestinian refugees from Israel´s establishment in 1948, Consolidated Contracting Company (CCC), whose senior officials are participating in this week´s Investment Conference.

Hassan Abu Libdeh, head of the steering committee organized by the Palestinian Authority for the Conference, told journalists in Bethlehem just hours before the Conference´s official opening on Wednesday that he and his team had been given just 80 days to pull it off.

He said that registration was still open, but some 1,200 participants were expected – including, apparently, a large media contingent. Palestinian proposals for projects worth some $2 billion are being presented at the Conference, and a number of deals are ready to be announced on Wednesday and on Thursday, he told journalists.

Despite widespread skepticism, the Palestinian Authority – and a number of other Palestinian citizens – are putting on a brave face and trying to make the Conference a success. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the opening plenary on Wednesday afternoon, along with Sheikh Muhammad Bin Hamdan Al-Nahyan, and Quartet Representative Tony Blair, as well as the U.K. Secretary of State Douglas Alexander, the Swedish Minister of Trade Ewa Bjorling, U.S: Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmit, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Assistance Alexander Saltanov, and the Deputy-Director of the Middle East and Africa Bureau in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Shinsuke Sugiyama, among others.

AP has reported that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad believes the Conference is “our way of asserting our presence …We are doing what we can to change reality”.

AP has also reported that Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour, who lives and works in Ramallah, said: “The common sense way is not to jump through hoops, but to end this occupation and let the private sector develop naturally”.

Bahour, who is also an activist in the Campaign for the Right of Enty/Re-Entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt), a grassroots campaign “for the protection of foreign passport holders residing in/and or visiting the oPt”, In a statement issued by the Campaign, Bahour said that “the threat of being barred from entering the occupied West Bank by Israeli officials is likely to be foremost on everyone´s mind. Those hoping to actually invest in Palestine will be looking for answers regarding who will guarantee unhindered access in the future for themselves, their staff and the suppliers needed for investments to succeed in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) … Contrary to international law, Israel continues to exercise its control over entry and residency in the oPt in an arbitrary, capricious and political manner that seriously harms Palestinian economic, social and cultural life … Investors expecting future access to their investments are unlikely to have the U.S. Administration, the Quartet, and Quartet Special Representative Tony Blair regularly available to negotiate entry visas for themselves or for their staff”.

At the Conference pre-opening press conference, Abu Libdeh said in response to a question from a journalist that the Palestinians have “commitments from the Israelis to issue visas, the necessary multiple-entry visas, for businesspeople who want to invest – and to apply what is in the Oslo Accords”
PA Civil Affairs Ministers Hussein Ash-Sheikh indicated later to journalists that the Israelis have apparently agreed to allow serious investors a temporary one-year residency, leading to possible permanent residency and even the eventual issue of a Palestinian passport for those who invest in Palestine and who also successfully pass a preliminary residency period. Of course, until now, having a Palestinian passport would automatically eliminate the possibility of traveling in and out of the area via Israel´s Ben Gurion international airport – and that the only way in and out of the West Bank would be via the Allenby Bridge, a usually-difficult experience.

In response to another question, Abu Libdeh said that 137 businesspersons applied for permits to come to the Conference from Gaza – and of those, 108 travel permits were actually granted; 105 Gazans have actually managed to get to Bethlehem so far; 6-8 applications were rejected; and no answer was given for the rest. 300 businesspersons of Palestinian origin (mostly living in Jordan and in the UAE) were given entry permits, while only a few – actually, “less than 50” — were refused.

Maan News Agency also reported on Monday that Palestinian civil society organizations “have criticized what they called ´attempts to use the Palestinian people as a bridge … between the Arab world and Israel in the form of normalization´. They were referring to the Palestine Investment Conference to which is scheduled to begin on Wednesday in Bethlehem. The network of Palestinian civil society’s organizations and the federation of Palestinian charities as well as lawmakers Khalida Jarrar from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Mustafa Barghouthi, the secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative signed a joint statement saying: ´Speaking of industrial zones which the Israelis determine their location and legality will only serve the Israeli interests instead of solving the dominant unemployment problem amongst the Palestinians´.” According to the statement, ´the creation of an illusionary notion that there will be a peace agreement which will improve the economic situation´ will only deepen the feeling of frustration amongst the Palestinian people”.

Since the exchange of recognition between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and the launch of the Oslo Process, in 1993, donors – European, American, Japanese, and Arab — have thrown billions of dollars in aid at the Palestinians.

Some of it, aid organizations say privately – and sometimes even publicly — has simply gone down the drain.

This massive influx aid was intended – and was received – as a major incentive to both Palestinians and Israelis to make progress in negotiations. However, as their differences deepened, this money, probably inevitably, became both a carrot and a stick.

Massive Israeli military reprisals have often resulted in the great damage to the donor projects. And then what happened? The donors paid again, the projects were rebuilt in many cases – and then, in some cases, destroyed yet again.

In addition, financial chaos resulted after the American and European decision to withhold money from the Palestinian Authority after Hamas won the majority of parliamentary seats in a January 2006 election.

Donors have simply continued to supply more money – though more selectively, and conditioned on good behavior – investors have taken a very different and perhaps more fiscally prudent approach.
Donors pledged $7.7 billion in aid in December in Paris to the Palestinians over three years, though apparently not all of the pledges have actually been delivered.

Some of this money is apparently going to pay the costs of this Palestinian Investment Conference… Hassan Abu Libdeh, head of the steering committee organized by the Palestinian Authority for the Conference, told journalists in Bethlehem just hours before the official opening on Wednesday that the cost of this event was $3 million – about half of which was being covered by the event sponsors, who include American private companies Cisco, Coca Cola, Marriott, and Booz, Allen, Hamilton, as well as the British Development Agency (DFID), and Intel. The other half of the cost, Abu Libdeh said, is being paid by the Palestinian Authority directly.

Donor aid, of course, is very different, in both its aims and its intentions, from investment – which involves a sharing of both the risks and rewards.

And, one of the main question marks hanging over this Palestine Investment Conference is why, if investors – Palestinian, Arab and other – have not been willing to risk their money in the Palestinian territories for the last 12 years, would they be willing to do so now, when the situation looks grimmer than ever?

Donors pledged $7.7 billion in aid in December in Paris to the Palestinians over three years, though apparently not all of the pledges have actually been delivered – Condoleeza Rice made a recent appeal in the London meeting of donors early in May for promises to be paid up.

An apparently small amount — $1.5 million – will be going to pay the costs of this Palestinian Investment Conference. Abu Libdeh said at the pre-opening press conference on Wednesday that the cost of this event was $3 million – about half of which was being covered by the event sponsors, who include American private companies Cisco, Coca Cola, Marriott, and Booz, Allen, Hamilton, as well as France´s Alcatel, and the British Development Agency (DFID). The other half of the cost, Abu Libdeh said, is being paid by the Palestinian Authority directly – presumably with donor help.

Sami Abu Dayyeh, Managing Director of the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem, was initially sceptical, but finally agreed to participate in the Palestine Investment Conference. Here’s how he explained this turn-around:

Q: Sami, you are scheduled to speak at the Palestine Investment Conference on a panel entitled “Investing in Palestine´s Treasures – A Discussion of Tourism Sector Opportunities”. What are you going to say?

A: Well, I´m going to expose the importance of the Palestinian territory and the future state for the religious market, how important it is, and also to encourage people to invest in the territories that we are directly controlling, because I think tourism will be our main income for the future, and this is something that we have to develop ourselves and invest – not in mega-projects, but small to medium size that we need to control rather than the projects themselves controlling us.

Q: I know that you´ve hesitated about participating in the Conference. Can you tell me why you hesitated, what your objections are, and why you changed your mind?

A: OK, my hesitation actually is not only talking to people – you know, talking to people is not a problem for me. But to present a project that I have in Jerusalem, I´m hesitant to present at that particular Conference for a simple reason: if our own people are not part of this, how could I ask somebody from abroad to be part of it, when all the Palestinians who are here to invest, they are not willing to discuss it or to go through further discussion with me on it? That´s the reason why I was hesitant. But, as a speaker, I´m going to try. I will talk. I will encourage people. I will tell them how good it is. But, with projects I prefer that our own people would have been involved somehow with the project that I have in Jerusalem. It would have made it even better for the people abroad to see that investors from the Palestinian side are also putting money also, over and above my own investment.

Q: Why are the Palestinians not putting money into such investments?

A: That´s a question which is puzzling. It´s a good project. You know, we talk about Jerusalem, and how important Jerusalem is for us in the long run, and yet, where is the money? Where are the investments? I´m not asking for alms or support, I want people to invest in something I´m investing my own time and money in.

Q: The tourism business, as you said, is very sensitive to politics, and group travel fell off when people felt threatened. But have you had other problems doing business here in East Jerusalem?

A: Um, not really. It´s just only lack of infrastructure. Of course, the Israelis are not doing much for East Jerusalem. They have their own agenda. But it´s our, also, duty for us to invest in Jerusalem. This is why, I think, I wouldn´t keep on blaming the Israelis for all the problems of East Jerusalem, even though it´s their policy [which is causing problems]. But there are things that are in our hands, and it´s up to us to develop. The lack of capital on the Arab side is a problem, because even those who had money, they didn´t invest it in Jerusalem, unfortunately, they took it out, because of the taxation system that our people are not aware of, and they are not used to paying taxes, or to pay the high city tax (arnona). All those things are a handicap in our mind. So, it is a problem. And also, too, the Israelis are controlling the permits for building. Only in the last ten years they made it possible for us to think of developing our side. It´s just only the time – the Intifada didn´t help us to do it correctly. The permit for the land, you know, I could have started with the project on the land in 2001. But, of course, with lack of funds, and the situation wasn´t encouraging, I kept on delaying it. But I´m ready now to reinvest – though I don´t want to put all the money by myself. I need a partner who will be willing to invest with me on equity. I don´t want anybody to give me loans. Again, to build a project in Jerusalem, it has to be over 80% paid up cash, and maybe then the rest maybe we can go through bank loans. But I wouldn´t dare to make big loans on a project for Jerusalem, because of the uncertainty of the future, the political risks.

Q: With the talk of dividing Jerusalem and making part of East Jerusalem the capital of a possible future Palestinian state, how do you see this area – Sheikh Jarrah, and Salaheddin Street – positioned?

A: Oh, it´s a gold mine, by all aspects. We are talking about the best location of Jerusalem. All the consulates are around here. It´s very close to Mount Scopus [where the Hebrew University is situated], Mount of Olives. It´s a clean area, it´s not crowded population-wise. So, you are talking about the best location in East Jerusalem, and it should be developed. OK, somehow I agree that it should not be heavily populated, just to keep the place as clean as possible with the least population. But it should be developed, at least, to make projects which will generate income for the rest of East Jerusalem people. Because, if we are to stay in Jerusalem, we have to create jobs. And tourism creates jobs. And this is something that we should all be sensitive towards.

[Sami later said that the Ambassador Hotel and the Ritz Hotel now support about 120-150 families of their employees, while the new project could support a minimum of 100 families, or 150 in extremely good times.]

Q: Do you think that more money should be going to East Jerusalem now than to the West Bank or Gaza?

A: Well, by logic, it should be more money coming to Jerusalem, because it´s the heart, if not the head, the everything, of the future Palestinian state. They talk about it – at least, they give us this impression, even though sometimes I have my doubts, because they never invested, and they´ve never done anything for East Jerusalem, only just branding it, making it a big brand – you know, East Jerusalem, the capital of the future Palestinian state. But, actually, nobody did anything up till now to help the locals to survive. They´ve been giving money here and there, but nothing to create jobs. And for us, it´s the economy that will make us survive, nothing else. We can be nationalist till Kingdom Come, but that will not give us bread on the table.

Q: By “they” you mean the Palestinian Authority?

A: Of course, the Palestinian Authority. It should be the Palestinian Authority, it should be Palestinian investors, it should be anybody who is concerned about Jerusalem. So far, nobody did anything. And this is something that bothers me. As a Palestinian, living in Jerusalem, making my money in Jerusalem, on my own I could do it, you know, and so on. But for the rest of the city, I didn´t see any support, coming from anywhere.

Q: What do you think are the chances for this conference, the prospects – do you know who´s coming. Do you have an optimistic perspective on the outcome?

A: Well, I don´t know. I haven´t been really asking too many questions, who´s coming who will be coming…but I hope that those who are coming will be concerned enough to invest in Jerusalem, whether it is for financial, or for our existence, it is a very important part of our future. Money should be spent in Jerusalem. Money, you know, I mean we take it for granted, Bethlehem, Jericho, Gaza, anywhere else, that we will do something. But the heart should be here. We should start from here and spread out. Maybe that might not be as easy as in the West Bank, but we should try before we complain, we should try. Because this is our heart and this is where we should be starting from.

Q: This conference originated as part of the Annapolis Process, and it was thought that the process would be rather further along than it is right now. Do you think it´s kind of crazy to go ahead with the conference as things stand?

A: I hope it will be worthwhile. From the beginning, I wasn´t encouraging it, to tell you frankly, because I didn´t see the political process going in the right direction. But now that it is happening, we might as well try. Disappointments wouldn´t discourage those who are trying to do something. After all, we have to give them a chance. Maybe, if they will succeed, that will be good for everyone. But, we have to be realistic, and think that no miracles could happen overnight. We have to fight for it.

Q: Today, there was a statement made by Mustafa Barghouti and Khaleda Jarrar, saying that this conference was or would be deceptive, and that it was urging normalization under occupation.

A: Well, we can always complain. We have to fight for it.

Q: Today, there was a statement made by Mustafa Barghouti and Khaleda Jarrar, saying that this conference was or would be deceptive, and that it was urging normalization under occupation.

A: Well, we can always complain. You know, I´m beyond this thing. I don´t think it´s worthwhile to discredit anybody when they´re trying. At least they are trying. But, you know, normalization – what is it for us? We have nothing, nothing, other than big hopes, only, and if we lose hope, believe me the situation will be worse.

Uri Avnery on Israel's upcoming 60th anniversary

Here’s an excerpt from Uri Avnery’s weekly article, which arrived today by email, and which this week focuses on Israel’s upcoming anniversary:

There is no escape from the historic fact: Israel’s Independence Day and the Palestinians’ Naqba (Catastrophe) Day are two sides of the same coin. In 60 years we have not succeeded – and actually have not even tried – to untie this knot by creating another reality.

And so the war goes on.

WITH THE 60th Independence Day approaching, a committee sat down to choose an emblem for the event. The one they came up with looks like something for Coca Cola or the Eurovision song contest.

The real emblem of the state is quite different, and no committee of bureaucrats has had to invent it. It is fixed to the ground and can be seen from afar: The Wall. The Separation Wall.

Separation between whom, between what?

Apparently between Israeli Kfar Sava and neighboring Palestinian Qalqiliyah, between Modi’in Illit and Bil’in. Between the State of Israel (and some more grabbed land) and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. But in reality, between two worlds.

In the fevered imagination of those who believe in the ‘clash of civilizations’, whether George Bush or Osama Bin-Laden – the Wall is the border between the two titans of history, Western civilization and Islamic civilization, two mortal enemies fighting a war of Gog and Magog.

Our Wall has become the front-line between these two worlds.

The wall is not just a structure of concrete and wire. More than anything else, the wall – like every such wall – is an ideological statement, a declaration of intent, a mental reality. The builders declare that they belong, body and soul, to one camp, the Western one, and that on the other side of the wall there begins the opposing world, the enemy, the masses of Arabs and other Muslims.

When was that decided? Who made the decision? How?

102 years ago, Theodor Herzl wrote in his ground-breaking oeuvre, Der Judenstaat, which gave birth to the Zionist movement, a sentence fraught with significance: ‘For Europe we shall constitute there [in Palestine] a sector of the wall against Asia, we shall serve as the vanguard of culture against barbarism’.

Thus, in 22 German words, the world-view of Zionism, and our place in it, was laid down. And now, after a delay of four generations, the physical wall is following the path of the mental one.

The picture is bright and clear: We are essentially a part of Europe (like North America), a part of culture, which is entirely European. On the other side: Asia, a barbaric continent, empty of culture, including the Muslim and Arab world.

COULD IT have been different? Could we have become a part of the region? Could we have become a kind of cultural Switzerland, an independent island between East and West, bridging and mediating between the two?

The history of this country has seen dozens of invasions. They can be divided into two main categories.

There were the invaders who came from the West, such as the Philistines, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, Napoleon and the British. Such an invasion establishes a bridgehead, and its mental outlook is that of a bridgehead. The region beyond is hostile territory, its inhabitants enemies who have to be oppressed or destroyed. In the end, all of these invaders were expelled.

And there were the invaders who came from the East, such as the Emorites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians and the Arabs. They conquered the land and became part of it, influenced its culture and were influenced by it, and in the end struck roots.

The ancient Israelites were of the second category. Even if there is some doubt about the Exodus from Egypt as described in the Books of Moses, or the Conquest of Canaan as described in the Book of Joshua, it is reasonable to assume that they were tribes that came in from the desert and infiltrated between the fortified Canaanite towns, which they could not conquer, as indeed described in Judges 1.

The Zionists, on the other hand, were of the first category. They brought with them the world-view of a bridgehead, a vanguard of Europe. This world-view gave birth to the Wall as a national symbol. It has to be changed entirely.

ONE OF our national peculiarities is a form of discussion where all the participants, whether from the Left or from the Right, use the clinching argument: ‘If we don’t do this and this, the state will cease to exist!’ Can one imagine such an argument in France, Britain or the USA?

This is a symptom of ‘Crusader’ anxiety. Even though the Crusaders stayed in this country for almost 200 years and produced eight generations of ‘natives’, they were never really sure of their continued existence here.

I am not worried about the existence of the State of Israel. It will exist as long as states exist. The question is: What kind of state will it be?

A state of permanent war, the terror of its neighbors, where violence pervades all spheres of life, where the rich flourish and the poor live in misery; a state that will be deserted by the best of its children?

Or a state that lives in peace with its neighbors, to their mutual benefit; a modern society with equal rights for all its citizens and without poverty; a state that invests its resources in science and culture, industry and the environment; where future generations will want to live; a source of pride for all its citizens?

That can be our objective for the next 60 years”.

Comments from Blair and Rice in London

Here are comments made by Quartet Envoy Tony Blair and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice after the Quartet meeting in London on 1 May:

SECRETARY RICE: … there is often skepticism right up until it actually shows that there is a breakthrough. And that’s what you work for, and you work for it every day. But I’m not surprised that people worry that it won’t happen yet again. But if you simply sit and think, well, it won’t happen yet again, then you won’t put in the work every day, every hour, to give the parties a chance to make it work. And this is hard work and it’s labor-intensive and it’s time-consuming, but I believe that they do have a chance to get an agreement by the end of the year. And that’s what we’re going to work for every day.

I think the role that we have assumed and that is most useful to play is to be supportive of what is essentially a bilateral process between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And while this is led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Mr. Abu Ala on the Palestinian side, I think you would be perhaps even surprised at the numbers of people that they each have working on this. They actually do have teams of experts who are working on the various aspects of it. Now, the foreign powers – or others can play a role of support. I, myself, sat with the parties and will continue to do that. I think it helps – if we can see if there are emerging new areas of convergence to try to point them out. But we can’t substitute for the parties. This is ultimately going to have to be an agreement between Palestinians and Israelis, supported by their regional neighbors and supported by the international community. And I think that’s how this is going to proceed.

MR. BLAIR: Over these past few months, we’ve been working on a series of proposals for the improvement of conditions on the West Bank in particular. And those have been about both economic projects, lifting the access and movement restrictions, making sure that ordinary Palestinians on the West Bank get a chance at a better life.

I hope over these next few weeks that we will get the definitive responses on a whole category of these issues that we’ve been discussing. And one thing I think is very clear at the moment, obviously, a lot of focus naturally will come on to Gaza, and that’s another matter to discuss. But in relation to the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority have been making real efforts, the donor community have been giving real support. If we were able to get this package of measures agreed with Israel and with the Palestinian Authority and implemented, then I think it would mark a significant change in the conditions to people from the West Bank.

So the next few weeks are very crucial in this. And on the West Bank the economy is actually growing. The decline in the economy that happened in 2006 was reversed during the course of 2007. There is some economic growth happening now in the West Bank, but there could be much more if we got Palestinian Authority, the donor community, and Israel doing everything that is possible to do, consistent with security to improve the situation there. And those measures will focus obviously on the issues to do with the occupation, but it will also focus on Palestinian security capability, since both of those things are important. So, we will see.

MR. BLAIR: I think it’s because people look at the situation and they look at, for example, what is happening in Gaza and they look at all the challenges in it and they say how on earth can it be put together. And my response is very simple to this. First of all, we have no option but to carry on working on this. It is, in my view, the single most important thing that we can do to bring about a different atmosphere in that whole region, never mind to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.

Secondly, it’s really important to come back — one of the questions at the opening of your colleagues asked earlier — to understand how this can work and indeed, the only way it can work. There is a political process of negotiation and the parties are discussing the issues. And they’re doing it very sensibly, not with a great public fanfare. They are actually getting down and looking at the issues that lie between them on the final status negotiations. But they need to be supported by what is actually happening on the ground. And the reason for that is that if you’re a Palestinian leader or an Israeli leader, you want to say to people, here is a possibility of lasting peace, there’s got to be some echo of that plea with what’s happening on the ground. And here is the difficulty that we are working on and focusing on day in and day out to get this done. Yes, we need to lift the occupation. But this is (inaudible) lifting the occupation. Because the occupation is the problem of the Palestinians, but the Israelis also have a security problem and we have to deal with both aspects of this. In other words, what we have to do is to find a way of lifting progressively the occupation, as we provide the proper security capability so that the Palestinians can look after not just their own security but do so in a way that is safe and secure for their Israeli neighbor.

Now, that is what this whole issue is about. And the reason why I remain in the end not merely determined but also believe that we can achieve the breakthrough that we want is that there is a purpose now, both on improving the Palestinian security capability and on getting the economic and social development going, making sure that together those things fit on the West Bank in a way that allows us progressively to change the circumstances in which people live, and then to have a political negotiation that is supported by the reality of people’s lives.

And in respect to Gaza, I just want to say one thing. Everybody knows that the situation in Gaza is terrible. But as the Quartet statement makes clear, there is a different and better way through that, which is for the terror attacks and the rocket attacks and the smuggling of weapons to stop, for the action therefore by Israel also to stop, and for a progressive lifting of the restrictions and the opening of the border.

Now, we’ve got to find a way through both the situation in Gaza and the situation in the West Bank. We can do it. If we do do it, then this political negotiation, in my view, can move forward and move forward better and faster than people think at the present time but it requires an enormous amount of effort.

And one final thing I want to say to you is this, that from the American side and the European side, and the other members of the Quartet, there is a focus on this and that a determination to get something done that has not been present for a significant period of time. I pay very much tribute to what Condi Rice has been doing in the region and with the parties. You know, we are not giving up on this. We are going to carry on working on this day in and day out to try and make sure that it happens.

SECRETARY RICE: We’ve been working very closely with Tony Blair and his mission. Both General Fraser who oversees the Roadmap implementation and General Jones who has been working on – to coordinate American efforts more broadly on some of this, has been working very closely with Tony Blair. And the reason is that it is very difficult to do this in a kind of macro way or a general way. It comes down to really very specific issues. That issue of that checkpoint or that roadblock that is preventing that kind of economic activity in that town. And it gets that specific. And I think what we do have now is a much more effective way of both looking at where real improvements can be made and in checking to make sure that the parties are making the improvements that they have undertaken to make. Thus, for instance, on the 50 roadblocks that were — the Israelis promised to remove, we now have quite a bit of detail of what effect that had. And that then can be shared with the Israelis because it’s a much more labor-intensive and very specific process than I think one could imagine. And I want to thank very much our Quartet Representative because he’s put in place a process with our help that allows us to really begin to look at where we can make some changes that would then have not just an effect on the lives of Palestinians in that particular village, but really on the broader Palestinian economy.

QUESTION: Secretary of State, many in the Middle East, the majority of (inaudible) believe that such meeting (inaudible) in Annapolis. This whole meeting would be – situation (inaudible) financial and to do with investment. Now, the fact is it’s a problem with occupation because if you are in occupation, everything there will stop. There is no point in investing in territories under occupation. In the past, the EU, United States and everyone have invested (inaudible) in trying to build institution. And so Israel have destroyed everything. So what we need is a commitment that this occupation will end. And they feel that. Such meeting is just a matter of buying time until future election and (inaudible). So how far can you pass a message to the people in the Middle East. There is some seriousness and something can be achieved before the end of 2008?

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. In fact, the logic of the Annapolis process is precisely that it is important proceed on all tracks at the same time. If you remember, the Roadmap at one time had a kind of sequentiality to it. You had to finish phase one, which had to do with improvements on the ground, had to do with security, had to do with various movement and access issues. And at the end, in phase three, they were going to begin a process of negotiating for a political settlement and an end to the occupation and an end to the conflict. And what Annapolis did was to say that that will not work; these must move in parallel. Because it is precisely the point that you need to have a political settlement, an end to the occupation, and an end to the conflict in order to fully realize the potential for both Israelis and Palestinians.

And so it is nonetheless important not to forget that the improvements on the ground, the improvements in the daily lives of the Palestinians and the ability of the Palestinian Authority to deliver for its people will certainly improve the capability of that leadership to deliver a political agreement with Israel and improvements in the lives of the Palestinians, improvements in the capability of the Palestinian Authority, will improve the atmosphere between Israelis and Palestinians, so that Israelis can make the difficult choices. So these are completely interlinked. This is not the old idea of let’s just work on the economic side and we’ll get to the politics later. It is a need to do them in parallel and to do them together. And the commitment that the parties are showing to trying very hard to realize what they hoped for, which is to have the agreement by the end of 2008, is a commitment to all of those aspects. But we must not underestimate the importance to the Palestinian Authority and to the Palestinian people of providing the resources so that they can lay the foundation for their new state, so that they can provide for people, so that they can provide economic benefits, in anticipation of an end to the occupation and an end to the conflict.

Quartet Statement in London

Here are some excerpts from the statement issued today by the Quartet (USA, Russian Federation, EU, and United Nations):

“The Quartet expressed its strong support for ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and encouraged the parties to make every effort to realize the shared goal of an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of 2008. Commending the parties for their continuous and intensive negotiations, the Quartet emphasized the urgent need for progress and called on the international community to remain constructively engaged in support of negotiations with the goal of the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and an end to the conflict.

The Quartet emphasized the importance of visible progress on the ground to build confidence and create an atmosphere supportive of negotiations.

While taking note of some positive steps, including the removal of some roadblocks and an outpost by Israel, and improved security performance by the Palestinian Authority, the Quartet noted that much more remained to be done to improve the situation on the ground in order to change the conditions of life in the West Bank and to keep the political process on track.

In this context, the Quartet expressed its support for Quartet Representative Tony Blair, and underscored the urgent need for progress and close donor coordination. It also expressed its strong backing for the planned Bethlehem Conference on Private Sector Investment in May as well as the parties’ agreement to improve security and economic conditions in Jenin, which can offer a model for important progress on the ground.

Noting the particular importance of justice sector reform, the Quartet looked forward to the meeting that will take place in Berlin in June to promote and coordinate donor assistance in this area.

The Quartet called upon both sides to fulfill their obligations under the Roadmap. It also called on both sides to refrain from any steps that undermine confidence or could prejudice the outcome of negotiations. In this context, the Quartet expressed its deep concern at continuing settlement activity and called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity including natural growth, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001.

It called on the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its commitments to fight terrorism and to accelerate steps to rebuild and refocus its security apparatus. It urged Israel and the PA to increase cooperation in that respect and to facilitate the delivery of security assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

The Quartet condemned continuing rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel, including against Sderot and Ashkelon, as well as the terrorist attacks at a seminary in Jerusalem on March 6. The Quartet also expressed deep concern at Palestinian civilian casualties, including the recent death of a mother and four of her children in Gaza. It called for an end to all violence and terror and urged all parties to take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of affected civilians in accordance with international law.

Noting its deep concern over humanitarian conditions in Gaza, the Quartet called for continued emergency and humanitarian assistance and the provision of essential services to Gaza without obstruction The Quartet expressed its continuing concern over the closure of major Gaza crossing points given the impact on the Palestinian economy and daily life. The Quartet condemned the terrorist attack on Nahal Oz fuel terminal on April 9, and noted that such attacks on the Gaza crossings interfere with the supply of essential services and undermine the interests of the Palestinian people. Principals strongly encouraged Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Egypt to work together to formulate a new approach on Gaza that would provide security to all Gazans, end all acts of terror, provide for the controlled and sustained opening of the Gaza crossings for humanitarian reasons and commercial flows, support the legitimate Palestinian Authority government, and work towards conditions that would permit implementation of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.

Looking forward to a productive meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, the Quartet encouraged all parties to do their part to support Palestinian institutional capacity building and economic development. The Quartet called for all donors to follow through on pledges made at the December 2007 Paris Donors’ Conference. Underlining the crucial role of Arab states in support of the peace process, and the importance of the Arab League peace initiative, the Quartet encouraged the Arab states to fulfill both their political and financial roles in support of the Annapolis process.

The Quartet also discussed the proposal for an international meeting in Moscow to lend continued support to the parties in their negotiations and efforts on the ground.

The Quartet authorized its envoys to continue to work to facilitate the achievement of all of these goals.

The Quartet reaffirmed its commitment to a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on UNSCRs 242, 338, 1397 and 1515.

Israelis are playing chess with themselves — letting Hamas wait

Haaretz reported that Egypt expects Israel to implement Gaza truce: “Egypt is expecting Israel to accept and implement the cease-fire proposal agreed on by the Palestinian factions, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit’s bureau chief said Wednesday. Meanwhile, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman is expected to arrive in Israel shortly [UPDATE – It was later announced that Suleiman’s visit would be after Israel has its 60th anniversary celebrations this week] to receive Israel’s official response to the Egyptian cease-fire proposal, Palestinian sources in Cairo said. Speaking by phone to Haaretz from Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Ministry bureau chief Hossam Zaki, who is also the Egyptian ministry’s spokesman, said: ‘The Israelis are giving themselves plenty of time to think and evaluate … Israel can contribute by accepting the Egyptian effort and the tahadiya [calm]’ … The Egyptian effort to reach an agreement with the Palestinian factions bore fruit on Tuesday. After separate talks between the Egyptians and the representatives of each faction, the factions announced they were ready to accept the Egyptian formulation for a cease-fire. Israel, however, objects to the formulation for a number of reasons. Israel is
concerned that Hamas will use the calm to increase its military strength. In addressing this concern, Zaki said ‘Egypt does not control the Gaza Strip but is only a neighbor. Egypt is in contact with those responsible for the Strip’. Zaki also said it was Egypt’s responsibility to act sincerely in order to prevent any violation of an agreement or understanding to which Egypt is a party … The official Egyptian news agency MENA reported that all 12 Palestinian factions whose representatives were in Cairo had accepted the Egyptian proposal. Egypt was not able to get the factions to themselves declare a united position on the agreement, as it had hoped. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also spoke Wednesday about the agreement with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Israeli sources said they were awaiting official confirmation of the agreement. ‘Meanwhile, they are playing chess with themselves’, a security source said”.
This article can be read in full in Haaretz here .

Salah Ta'amri – Senior Fatah Leader – Governor of Bethlehem

As part of the Annapolis process, a big investment conference is to be held later this month. It was clearly expected that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were to be well advanced by this stage – but they are not. So, the conference will be taking place in a surreal landscape, where there are daily – and nightly – incursions into Bethlehem by Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli security services, almost always ending with arrests, sometimes with deaths. Bethlehem’s governor, the legendary Fatah commander Salah Ta’amri, this is like a scene from a Chekov play, yet, he says, the conference should go on.

Yet, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is now making a major push to boost attendance at this Palestine Investment Conference, and announced that she will be sending a delegation co-headed by private U.S. investors including Palestinian Americans, and a senior U.S. State Department Official.

But, a recent World Bank paper destined for donor nations meeting in London this week said that “While the PA (Palestinian Authority) has moved ahead with its economic reforms, albeit slowly, there has been little progress on relaxing movement and access constraints”. The report said that the impact of these restrictions, including hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank, “cannot be overestimated”, Reuters reported. So, the $7.7 billion pledged by donors in December may not have the intended effect, without major change.

In this interview, Ta’amri reflects on the upcoming investment conference, on the current situation, and on the past and the near future.


Question: How are preparations going for the Palestine Investment Conference that will be held in Bethlehem from 21-23 May?

Answer: Many people have their doubts about the conference, because of the closure, because of the Israeli measures, because of the lack of mobility for the Palestinians, because of The Wall. So, many Palestinians have their doubts about the possibilities of success of such a conference.

I believe it’s good to have this conference. I think it reflects support for the Palestinian people, political support. There is, there could be an opportunity for some investors, Palestinian investors. But the least I expect from this conference is, as I said to the local committee for the conference in Bethlehem yesterday, we’ll assume that two families want their son and daughter to get married in Bethlehem, and they booked every room in every hotel in Bethlehem. That is good.

Of course, we don’t have very high expectations from such a conference, again, not because there are no fields for investment – in fact, there are many fields for investment – but because of the Israeli measures. Even you as a reporter have difficulties in movement. That makes you imagine the difficulties Palestinians go through, whenever they move from one town to another.

So, I hope the conference will convene. I hope some cooperation between non-Palestinian investors and Palestinian investors takes place. Most of the guests or the investors who are coming from abroad, most of them are Palestinians, living abroad, and some Arabs, whether from the Gulf or from the States, or Latin America, or Europe. I think that is good. I think that is good. It is badly needed at this time of duress.

Q: Do you know who is coming?

A: So far, we haven’t verified the list. Over 350 guests are coming, so far. So far.

Q: Will it just be a conference of businessmen, or will there be political officials as well?

A: No, it’s business.

Q: And, are there specific investment opportunities that will be offered to them?

A: Yes, I think there are investments [investment proposals] for about $1.8 billion, almost $2 billion dollars.

Q: Are these Tony Blair’s proposals, these investment proposals?

A: No, the proposals came from the private sector, mainly the private sector, mainly the private sector. So far, in Bethlehem itself we have two major investment areas – cloth making and stone factories, and the handcrafts for Christmas. And, of course, tourism is the main investment when we talk about Bethlehem. But, although it will be convened in Bethlehem, it’s for the whole of Palestine.

Q: Do you have a breakdown?

A: No, it all depends. It depends on how things go during the conference, who connects with whom. It all depends also on the PR work of every investor. We’ll help them comment. They will know about every investor, whether those who came from abroad, or the local investors, they will know about each other, they can connect, they can plan together. But it’s mainly the private sector.

Q: Have you had contact with the Palestinians who are coming abroad for this meeting?

A: Yes, of course.

Q: Why would they come now, if they haven’t been willing to invest before?

A. To tell you the truth, many of them were very enthusiastic to come over the past 12 years and invest here, especially in Bethlehem 2000. But, the deterioration in the political situation made them refrain, and many of them had to leave. Again, it’s the Israeli measures, it’s the political situation that reflects itself on the economy, the lack of progress on the political track, all those are elements that hinder and sabotage any plans for major investment in Palestine.

Q: Are there going to be any guarantees for these investments, risk guarantees?

A: Well, I have no idea. With all honesty, regarding the Palestinians yes, if you talk about the law, yes, investments are guaranteed, are protected by the law. But, again, the freedom of mobility is not in the hands of the Authority, it’s in the hands of the Israelis. The borders are in the hands of the Israelis. So, we cannot give guarantees of freedom of mobility. It’s in the hands of the Israelis. And even the progress at the political level, it’s in the hands of the Israelis.

Q: Even the special measures that are being adopted for this conference, to facilitate the passage of the guests – do you thing they’ll be sufficient to make people comfortable, are they going to be driven around in buses, escorted by Israeli military jeeps with flashing lights? Are they going to have to take everything out of their suitcases when they come across Allenby Bridge?

A: Well, it all depends on the Israelis, I told you. I have no idea. They say they will make it easy, etc., the same way they said about roadblocks. They said they removed many roadblocks. In fact, from what we see in Bethlehem, no roadblocks were removed. We still are delayed at the main roadblock on the back road (Wadi Nar) between Bethlehem and Ramallah. And we see roadblocks everywhere around Bethlehem. And The Wall is still creeping on. So, they promised to make things easy – that’s what Dr. Abu Libdeh told me. But so far we haven’t seen any changes on the ground.

Q: Did they tell you what specific measures they were going to use to make things easy?
Did they make anything clear?

A: So far, no. I don’t have contacts with the Israelis, so I depend on what my colleagues tell me.

Q: Even for this conference, you don’t have contacts with them?

A: No. I don’t have contacts with them.

Q: Is it your choice?

A: It happened that way. In the past I had contacts with them. When I was in a prison camp, I was the main negotiator; I had contacts with them when I negotiated the departure of the deportees from the Church of the Nativity. I met with many Israeli officials when I was in the Legislative Council, at their request. But as a Governor, no, I don’t have contacts with them. There is a liaison officer (on the Palestinian side) who’s in charge of contacts with them.

Q: Is it a satisfactory arrangement, do you think?

A: Well, I mean, as long as it is implemented, it will be satisfactory, I think. But, will it be implemented or not? We have to wait and see.

Q: When Tony Blair stayed overnight in Bethlehem, he was actually right by The Wall, by the main checkpoint – just in case. But, that same night, there were Israeli arrests of citizens…

A: Oh, the incursions are every night. Every day there are Israeli incursions in Bethlehem.

Q: It’s actually a little bit bizarre, because the hotel people and everybody involved in the tourism sector is ecstatic that all the rooms in Bethlehem are actually full now and have been, and yet at the same time these incursions are going on now while the tourists are – what, ignoring them? I don’t understand…

A: [Laughing]. It is the surreal theater. It’s one of Chekov’s plays. We Palestinians are used to working / walking on a tightrope.

Q: Is it something you think the tourists should just be ignoring?

A: Sometimes, we have to. Or else we’ll go bananas. At some point, you need to ignore the occupation. Just ignore them, as if they are non-existent! If we don’t do that, we will not move forward, we will not even leave our homes. We will not even leave our bedrooms, even. We breathe danger. We drink in danger. We walk in danger, surrounded by danger. We plan for our future when there is a siege or a blockade, or a curfew – we have to do so. We have to ignore them. And we do.


Q: How do you feel about the present state of negotiations?

A: I did not negotiate, so I don’t know. But, from the statements of both sides, I don’t see any progress. They say there is no progress. So…

Q: They also say, oh, it’s secret, we’re not telling the journalists, and we’re not making it public – but there’s really progress behind closed doors.

A: Well, I’m not a journalist. I’m one of the leading figures in the Authority, and in Fateh, and the PLO, and I know there is no progress. They speak about reaching an agreement before the end of President Bush’s term, but I don’t see how, I don’t see how.

Q: What is the President [Abbas] doing, then?

A: He is doing the impossible, trying to make a breakthrough in the situation. He cannot, he doesn’t have the luxury of giving in to despair. I think he will give it some time before he stops to reassess the situation and take a stand, whether to go on or to say goodbye to negotiations or to go to the international community and ask them to come and take over. Things are not moving anywhere.

Q: Is President Abbas making the decisions himself, or is there, does he have a group of close advisers…

A: No, we have the Council of the PLO, the Central and the National Council of the PLO. He has the advisers. He has Fateh with all the hierarchies of Fatah. So, no, he doesn’t work in isolation.

Q: So, even in the negotiations, every decision he will have to take …

A: Of course, he cannot take decisions by himself. Abu Alaa’ is a member of the Central Committee of Fatah, and he was the speaker of the Legislative Council, he is the main figure in the Fatah organization and mobilization, and he is the chief negotiator. So there’s a group of very intelligent, very capable, people with the President.


Q: Why did you not meet Jimmy Carter when he was here? Why didn’t he come to Bethlehem?

A: [Laughing] Maybe he’s not a believer, to come to the Church of the Nativity. I don’t know. You’d better ask him. He didn’t come to Bethlehem…maybe he doesn’t go to Church. Does he? I thought he was religious. I think he’s religious. I like him. I think I met him during the first elections, when I ran for the Legislative Council…no, it was his daughter who came to Bethlehem. I like Carter. He represents the American people the way the American people think themselves to be, which they are not.

Q: What did you make of his meetings with Hamas?

A: Well, that was his own business, I mean. He’s free to meet with whoever he wants to meet with. And his intentions were good, and the man should be judged by his intentions and motives, and his intentions were good and honorable.

Q: Do you have any word of what happening in Cairo in the negotiations among the Palestinian factions and Egypt about a cease-fire?

A: To tell you the truth, I didn’t pay it much attention.

Q: Do you think it’s hopeless?

A. Not hopeless, I think it’s sometimes it’s … there are so many words but no deeds, and many of the statements do not reflect genuine thinking or genuine intentions. I mean, to say that we need, to reach a truce is very important. It will help our people in Gaza, it will ease up things for them. It’s unfair to make our people in Gaza go through what they are going through. And, if the Egyptians manage to reach an agreement of reconciliation between Hamas and the Israelis, that would be good…The situation in Gaza is tragic, and it will explode sooner or later.

Q: It may explode sooner – the situation with the fuel is terrible…

A: The fuel and everything. You know, everybody in the world is complaining about the increase in prices of bread, wheat, fuel, etc., without being under siege. So, you can imagine how things are in Gaza.

Q: Hamas, according to Reuters, is asking the Association of Petroleum station owners to release the fuel stored in Nahal Oz, but they are refusing because the quantities are not sufficient, and it gives them security problems at their gas stations that nobody protects them from. And, in Ramallah, Mojahad Salama said yesterday that Hamas took fuel from the Palestinian Authority depot…it’s completely chaotic.

A: Yeah, well, Hamas is politically-motivated in Gaza, and I don’t think it’s in their interest to allow fuel to come into Gaza. I think they are mobilizing the people in Gaza.
[Interruption for a phone call]

I’m reflecting my own views. I think this dialog between Fatah and Hamas, and between others and Hamas, I think it’s a dialog between the deaf. I believe the practical solution is elections. If Hamas wins again, that means this is the will of our people. Let them take over. Fatah can turn into the opposition. I hope in the next elections, the result would be more balanced, not like the one which Hamas won by a large majority. Hamas didn’t really … Hamas spoke about reform more than they spoke about resistance. Many Fatah people went for Hamas in the elections, as if they are taking revenge at themselves, at Fatah, at the Authority. They wanted reform. It’s not true that they adopted Hamas’s strategy of suicide bombings, and escalation in the military field. In brief, in my view, the last elections reflected the mood of the Palestinian people at a certain moment, and not the will of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people were in a certain mood, they elected Hamas, now I hope it’s different. We need a more balanced Legislative Council.

Q: Are the next elections going to be for the next president, or for the Legislative Council?

A: Both, it should be for both, at the same time. I don’t think there would be a break-through in the relations, a positive breakthrough in the relations between Fatah and Hamas before the elections.

Q: Will Mahmoud Abbas run again?

A: I don’t really know. That’s premature to tell.

Q: His term was supposed to end in 2009, at the beginning of 2009, and now there are reports that he either has already, or is considering, extending it by one year, until 2010…

A. That’s new. It could be. I am reflecting my own views. My own view, my own conviction: this is a dialog between the deaf. My own conviction: we need to drag ourselves without losing hope until we reach the time of the elections, new elections.

Q: What was interesting in Jimmy Carter’s summary of his trip was that he said he added to the agreements he got from Hamas a statement saying they would accept a peace deal that was approved by an elected government, as an alternative to ratification through a referendum. His OpEd in the New York Times this week seemed to suggest that Hamas meant even a new elected government, not going back to the now-disbanded National Unity Government.

A: Well, no government can be elected. Governments are not elected, governments are appointed. It is the Legislative Council that is elected. Anyway, I believe any agreement with Israel needs the people’s support. And, I don’t think Hamas accepts that; they don’t want that. Anyway, the situation is complex. It is in Israel’s favor. This split between Gaza and the West Bank is in Israel’s favor. Hamas will not give up their power in Gaza. It seems that it is true, they want to represent an Islamic model for the world. I hope that will not be the case. Hamas turned its back to our heritage, national heritage. That was a big mistake.

Q: What part of the national heritage did they turn their back on?

A: We are Palestinian Arabs. We are a national movement who did not become part of any regional alliance. We were not part of these conflicts, we were the mediators. And it was one of Arafat’s merits that he did not take sides, he was a mediator. He was a mediator between Algiers and Morocco, between Libya and Egypt, between at some point Syria and Iraq, and at some time between Iraq and Iran, between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. But Hamas launched us into the middle of a regional conflict, andsided with Iran. That means we lost our ability to be mediators. That means our issue was brought back to square number one. And they turned their back to all the agreement which were endorsed by the international community. It was not easy for us to be accepted by the international community. I remember the time when we were boycotted, even as students. And to become members of the United Nations, and to attend the General Assembly in the United Nations, to have more countries recognizing the PLO than Israel – that didn’t come without a price, that didn’t come without hard work on our part. Hamas can’t turn its back on this, and Hamas should build on what we have achieved.


Q: What about the plans for the Fatah Seventh General Conference?

A: Sixth, you mean. I hope it will come soon.

Q: What’s the problem? It was supposed to have been held already…

A: Yeah, because we have to bring thousands of cadres in one place from all over the world, from Australia to Canada, from India to China to Europe to Africa, from everywhere we have to bring our central cadres.

Q: Where will it be held, then?

A: Well, that is to be decided. It’s not easy. In the past we convened in Syria…yes, and it was not easy. It needs protection. I mean, you have all the leading cadres in one place. That is not easy. That is dangerous.

Q: What do you think is the safe place to hold it?

A: We need to look for the safe formula. Then, the safe place.

Q: Is it being held up though, more for political disagreements about who will succeed whom, who will be elected, this reported disputed between the Old Guard and the Young…

A: That could be in the minds of some people. I belong to the Old Guard. But I want the conference convened. I’m keen to see younger leaders taking over. But that doesn’t mean every Old Guard has the same way of thinking. Nor every Young Guard has the same way of thinking. You will find different people with different views, with different motives. But on the whole, I think it will be convened. We had a very important conference in Bethlehem less than a month ago, when the district elected their own leading body. Something like 1,500 members convened. And it was free elections. They elected from the smallest framework to the largest, at the level of the district.

Q: Was there any change in the composition of the bodies?

A: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Q: In what direction?

A: The old leading body, none of them came to the new leading body. Nobody came. And there are more women, which is good. There is a deeper representation of the community than before.

Q: Meaning?

A: I mean, the people from the villages could win, as well as people from the refugee camps, from Christians as well as from Muslims, which was good. And it was absolutely free, no intervention.

Q: And do these newly-elected younger members all have similar views, or are they very different from each other, and will have to find a common ground …

A: They are different. They are different. They are different from each other, they are different from [us]… Every generation has its own language. It applies to you, it applies to us, it applies to humanity. Every generation has its own language. Our generation had its own language. We loved poetry. We loved music. This generation, they talk computers. They breath computers, internet, etc. So it’s different, absolutely. They are different. Their minds are colder than our minds. We are more emotional. Our generation is more emotional than the new generation. We are more on the side of romanticism than the new generation. To us, 1 + 1 = 11. To them, , 1 + 1 = 2. Sometimes I feel that is the difference.

Q: In this new group that’s been elected, is there any difference between those who stayed here, and those who were on the outside and came back with Arafat?

A: No, I don’t think so. The only difference is in the collective memory. That’s all.
It is the collective memory that is different, that’s why it should be one of our objects to unify the memory, to create bridges between the collective memories of the Palestinians in the diaspora. The collective memory of Lebanon is different from the collective memory of the West Bank. The West Bank is different from Gaza, different from Syria, from Kuwait, etc. That’s the only difference – the collective memory.

Q: How do you think bridges can be built between these collective memories? Really, people here don’t know what you when through outside, they don’t know.

A: Well, by time they will know. By time, it will become part of our heritage.

Q: Do you have any regrets?

A: [Pause] Well, not deep regrets. I regret I smoked for 35 years.

Q: Have you stopped?

A: Oh, yes, six years ago. On small things, I have my own regrets, on small things. But not on major things in my life.

Q: And in terms of the movement, the Fatah movement, the Palestinian movement?

A: No, no, no, I have no regrets. I joined it when I was a kid, and I have no regrets. But on minor things, yes, I have regrets.


Q: Can I ask one last question? I know it’s a difficult one, and I’ve lost friends because of discussions of this very issue. But, when the matter was raised, before the Annapolis Conference, about the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the Palestinian reaction was so negative. I don’t understand…

A: Because it’s not a Jewish state, because there are non-Jews in it. And they are not a small minority.

Q: But for the people who feel insecure…

A: We are not going to respond to the Jewish paranoia. Every time they are paranoid about something, we have to cut our noses to please them. If they are paranoid, they’d better do something about it.

Q: But it doesn’t cost anything…

A: No, it does, to us it does.

Q: It doesn’t mean that the refugees can’t return. It doesn’t mean that the Arab citizens of Israel will be expelled…

A: Well, they cannot even talk about return.

Q. But if they feel deeply insecure about this …

A. That’s not our problem! No. That doesn’t show any kind of recognition of the Palestinian people’s rights by the Israelis. I mean, first of all, we pay the price for a crime that was not ours. We did not invent Nazism. Nazism was the invention of Europe, Christian Europe. And if Nazism won, we would have been second on the list to be uprooted, and terminated. We paid the price, the international community paid the price, not only the Jews. And that was not our invention. It was a European invention. Why should we pay the price for that?

Q: Because now, you have to live with them.

A: Yes, because we have to live with them, they have to accept the fact that, no, Israel is not a Jewish state, because when you say a Jewish state, that means tomorrow, yeah, go out! Leave! You will recognize us as a Jewish state, we do not want non-Jews amongst us.

Q: Maybe it doesn’t mean that …

A: Maybe it does.

Q: Can’t you ask for guarantees? Even international guarantees?

A: Well, we are not going to get any guarantees better than the guarantees – the mother and the four kids who were killed a couple of days ago, and the many Palestinian children who were killed, and the 12,000 prisoners who are in jail. No, I think the Israelis should deal with their paranoia, I think the world should also deal with their sensitivity and cowardice when it comes to Israel. Why should Israel get away with whatever they do?

We don’t hate the Jews. We hate occupation. It’s not my mistake, it’s not my fault that the occupiers are Jewish. We hate occupation. The minute they become non-occupiers, then we are not going to hate them. So, I believe this is a very sensitive issue to the Palestinians. We have our own insecurities. And this year we are celebrating 60 years of Nakbah. It started yesterday, and I don’t think Palestinians will forget their country, will forget their villages, the 380 villages which were uprooted, and disappeared from the face of the earth, for somebody coming from Poland living there.

They have the right to be afraid, they have the right…[No]. Their security lies in their positive and peaceful coexistence with us.

The saying goes: “We are doomed to be together”. We can turn it into: We are blessed to live together. It all depends on how do we educate ourselves, how do we accept each other.

But, coexistence as occupier and under occupation, like slaves and masters, it doesn’t go, it doesn’t work. Living under occupation is a form of slavery. And we cannot be, we don’t accept to be slaves forever. It’s whether we become free or not free. There’s no half-way between slavery and non-slavery.

To us, peace means freedom.