Michael Sfard on some consequences of the Palestinian State

Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer who specializes in human rights and military matters, and who is legal adviser for the organization Yesh Din among others, wrote an article published in Haaretz yesterday predicting that if a Palestinian State is admitted into the UN in September (or anytime soon), then “The mechanisms of legal defense that it [Israel] built since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to combat the ‘danger’ of international jurisdiction about its conduct toward millions of people who are under its control” are about to collapse.

The article, published here also says that “Together with the diplomatic ‘tsunami’ that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has forecast, Israel can expect a legal tsunami, which for the first time will claim a price for violating human rights in the occupied territories. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories that Israel conquered in 1967, are not an internal Israeli issue. This is an international conflict in which the international community has a legitimate interest. However, during the years of the occupation the state of Israel has repelled the professional legal mechanisms of the United Nations, that deal with protecting human rights, from discussing its actions there…”.

Sfard’s argument continued: “In the territories Israel refused to apply the various human rights treaties that deal, inter alia, with discrimination against women; rights of the child; racial and other discrimination; and torture. Some of Israel’s most talented advocates were sent to Geneva to claim that these treaties were not binding on Israel beyond the Green Line. Israel considers itself the representative of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, and as such was one of the initiators of the establishment of an international criminal court for war crimes. The height of jurisdictional isolation came when Israel decided not to ratify the court’s statute so as not to grant it authority to investigate and discuss crimes that, allegedly, were/are being carried out by Israeli officers and soldiers. Over the course of 44 years, Israel has succeeded in putting the job of judging its actions in the occupied territories in the hands of [Israel’s own Supreme Court, the] High Court of Justice, which approved almost every policy and practice of the army in the territories, deepening the occupation and making possible massive violations of human rights under its patronage. Israel succeeded in leaving the investigations of its crimes to [Israel’s] military advocates/attorneys who made sure that the policy of investigation would be such that enforcing the rigor of the law on soldiers and officers who had violated it would be a sort of miracle. All of this is about to come to an end”.

He wrote that “The significance of a Palestinian state joining the UN is that, for the first time, it will be the Palestinians who will decide what the international legal framework is that is binding in their territory. After more than 40 years in the wilderness of the occupation, the Palestinians will have the possibility of influencing their fate through legal means”.

This is because, he noted, “the significance of accepting Palestine as a member of the UN is that the new member will be sovereign to sign international treaties, to join international agreements and to receive the jurisdictional authority of international tribunals over what happens in its territory”.

Continue reading Michael Sfard on some consequences of the Palestinian State

Egyptian FM Nabil ElAraby says unity was needed for Palestinian state recognition

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post here about the surprise announcement on Wednesday of a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah [for more information, see our post on our sister blog, here], “Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby said the agreement was aimed at paving the way for the Palestinians to seek UN recognition in September of an independent state on the 1967 lines. ‘Palestinian divisions can’t continue while efforts are being made to ensure recognition of a Palestinian state’, Elaraby said, adding that he planned to visit Ramallah soon for talks with Palestinian Authority officials on this and other matters”.

Nabil ElAraby’s appointment as Egypt’s new post-Mubarak Foreign Minister is one of the most interesting developments in the whole Arab Spring.

The Guardian newspaper published an article this week by Jack Schenker that argued that even though Egypt was putatively handling reconciliation negotiations between Israel and Hamas for years, “Israel and Washington had no genuine desire to see a unified Palestinian government, and Egypt’s thinking followed suit – until, that is, nationwide protests erupted against the regime in late January, and Suleiman was promoted to vice-president in a failed attempt to shore up Mubarak’s position. Given the country’s internal chaos, few expected his replacement, Murad Muwafi, to devote much energy to the issue of Palestinian factionalism, but in fact Muwafi took the issue seriously – so seriously, in fact, that no fewer than five Israeli delegations were dispatched to his offices in the space of a few weeks in an effort to ward off any unity deal. Muwafi’s stance was shaped partly by the ascendancy of the career diplomat Nabil el-Arabi to the position of foreign minister in Egypt’s interim government. Arabi had a reputation for saying some decidedly undiplomatic things regarding Egypt’s close alliance with Israel under presidents Mubarak and Sadat, and as part of an internal battle to wrest control of some policy issues away from the secret services – where they had drifted under Mubarak – and back under the auspices of the foreign ministry, he began making loud and relatively critical noises about Israel, marking an important shift in rhetoric. ‘It is time to stop managing the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, it’s time to end the conflict” he said earlier this month. Egypt’s foreign minister will now travel to Amman and Ramallah next month to continue promoting the deal and, although few will admit it publicly, both Hamas and Fatah are optimistic that the new Egyptian government will do a better job of resisting Israeli pressure to scupper the agreement than Suleiman and Mubarak would have managed”. This article is published here.

Twenty-four hours after the announcement of the reconciliation agreement, ElAraby said in an interview with Al-Jazeera on Thursday that “The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza will open on a permanent basis within seven to ten days … He said during the interview that steps would be taken in order to alleviate the ‘suffering of the Palestinian people’.” These remarks to Al-Jazeera were published in the Jerusalem Post here.

The Israeli Project (TIP) sent out an email on Friday worrying that “Egypt plans to open its border with Gaza on a permanent basis, allowing in people and goods through Rafah without supervision by Israeli authorities, Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi said Friday”. It cites as its reference a report in Haaretz by correspondent Avi Issacharoff published here — which said that this would be a violation of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, finally hammered out in November 2005, two months after Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “disengagement”, which set up a force of EU monitoring personnel known as EUBAM, who were also under Israeli supervision.

The agreement, however, was barely implemented because of constant Israeli closures of the Rafah crossing [mostly, Israel did this by telling the EUBAM people to stay home].

However, the Israel Project email noted that “Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Menha Barkhoum said details of the Rafah opening were still being hammered out but that ‘We’ll open the crossing point for individuals in a continuous way’.”

Here is a graphic of the Gaza Strip sent along with the email from The Israel Project:
graphic by The Israel Project

The straight line in the lower left-hand corner of the Gaza Strip is the twice-destroyed-by-Israeli-bombing Yasser Arafat International Airport. The Kerem Shalom crossing which Israel has always preferred, despite all Palestinian objections, is just over border at the point where Gaza, the Israeli Negev desert, and the Egyptian Sinai all meet.

It is from Kerem Shalom that the Israeli military and security agencies carried out, by real time closed-circuit TV or video monitoring, their supervision of all activities at the Rafah crossing, including their monitoring of EUBAM…

Under the 2005 Agreement, however, the Rafah crossing has been closed far, far more than it was ever open…

IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit was seized very near Kerem Shalom in a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants in June 2006, shortly after a similar operation by Hizballah along the Israeli-Lebanese border to the north which sparked the summer 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon (which is called, in Israel, the Second Lebanese War).

Shalit has been held in captivity, presumably in Gaza, since then — even during the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009.

UPDATE: There was a report in the London-based Arabic-language Al-Hayat paper on Saturday, picked up by correspondent Avi Issacharoff in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz here, that “Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabri is in Egypt for talks with current Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate Murad Muwafi about abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, London-based Arab daily Al-Hayat reported on Saturday. According to the report, Jabri has been in Egypt for several days, during which he held talks with Muwafi about the stalled negotiations between Israel and the Hamas for Shalit’s release … Negotiations have stalled numerous times. Hamas last year accused Israel of changing its stance over points to which it had already agreed. Hamas sources have said that Israel is delaying the completion of the Shalit deal by refusing to release 50 Hamas officials it holds in its jails. Speaking to Israel Radio, a top Hamas official refused to comment on the report”.

The Israeli human rights organization GISHA, which has led a sustained challenge in the Israeli court system to the Israeli military-administered sanctions against Gaza, commented Friday that “Since Israel closed Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters and all but closed Erez Crossing to Palestinians, Rafah Crossing has become the gateway to the outside world for 1.5 million Palestinian residents of Gaza. Crossing via Erez (on the border between Gaza and Israel) is limited to ‘extraordinary humanitarian cases, especially urgent medical cases’, preventing Palestinians from traveling between Gaza and the West Bank.   Rafah was closed following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006 and remained mostly closed until June 2010, when Egypt opened it in the wake of the flotilla incident. Between June 2010 and January 2011, 19,000 people per month on average crossed Rafah in both directions, 47% of the number of people who crossed monthly in the first half of 2006.   Today, passage through Rafah is limited to holders of foreign citizenship or residence, holders of visas (including students studying abroad) and those seeking medical attention or study in Egypt. Crossing for Palestinians is limited to those listed in the Israeli-controlled population registry. Since the regime change in Egypt, the number of people permitted to leave Gaza via Rafah has been limited to 300 per day. The crossing is currently open five days per week. Since the 2005 ‘disengagement’, goods have not been permitted to pass via Rafah, except for humanitarian assistance which Egypt occasionally permits through Rafah“.

GISHA’s Executive Director. Attorney Sari Bashi added, in the response to news that Egypt will open the Rafah crossing, that “Gisha expresses hope that Egypt will expand the ability of Gaza residents to travel abroad via Rafah Crossing, which has become Gaza’s gateway to the world, in light of Israel’s closure of Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters and restrictions on travel via Erez Crossing.  Gisha notes the need also to permit passage of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, recognized by Israel as a single territorial unit whose integrity is the basis for a two-state solution.   Gisha notes that since June 2007, Israel has prevented Gaza residents from transferring goods for sale to Israel or the West Bank, as part of a policy to separate Gaza from the West Bank. Security concerns cannot explain the ban, as Gaza residents are permitted to sell limited quantities of agricultural products to Europe – via Israel and Israeli security checks. Gaza, Israel and the West Bank are part of a single customs envelope, in which free trade is to take place and in which customs regulations are to be uniform.  Any arrangement for permitting goods to cross via Rafah should consider the need to maintain the unity of the Palestinian economy, existing in Gaza and the West Bank”.

UPDATE TWO: Haaretz reported on Saturday here that “Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces General Sami Anan warned Israel against interfering with Egypt’s plan to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, saying it was not a matter of Israel’s concern, [Israeli] Army Radio reported on Saturday”.

According to a report in Ahramonine, Anan did this on his Facebook page. Ahram online reported: “Israel does not have the right to interfere in Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah border crossing, says Sami Annan, the chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces. ‘Israel does not have the right to interfere in Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah border. This is an Egyptian-Palestinian issue’, wrote Anan on his Facebook page. Anan also thanked the Egyptian intelligence for the role it played in the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas”. This is posted here.

UPDATE THREE: The Wall Street Journal (online) has reported here that Israel is vexed by these Egyptian moves: “Israeli officials said they were seeking to clarify Mr. Al Araby’s remarks with Egypt. Mindful of the instability, government officials have been reluctant to openly criticize the new government”…

The WSJ report noted that “In January 2008, tens of thousands of Palestinians broke down the border fence at Rafah and crossed into Egypt to buy goods kept out by the Israeli siege, but Egypt eventually resealed the border”,  but that “In recent years, Egypt and Israel have cooperated to fight the tunnel trade.  And at the end of 2009, Egypt even began building an underground wall [ n.b.- with U.S. help] to block the subterranean commerce.   Egypt has kept the border closed out of concern that an open border could saddle Cairo with responsibility for security in Gaza … Last year Cairo lengthened the hours of the border crossing in response to international pressure after Israel’s deadly interception of a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists”.

But, as GISHA complained, the extended opening hours were not nearly enough.

Bashi later told Time Magazine’s Karl Vick “If Egypt wanted to be more generous, they’d go back to what the situation was in 2005 and 2006”. Vick noted that “In those years, any Palestinian with an Israeli-approved ID could come and go through Rafah. But, Bashi says, ‘we don’t know what the Egyptians have in mind’.” This is posted here.

The WSJ article quoted an Israeli official as saying: “In the past, despite the effort of the government of Egypt to prevent it happening, Hamas was able to build in Gaza a formidable military terrorist machine”…

According to the WSJ report, a senior Israeli official said on Friday: “We are troubled by recent developments in Egypt … These developments can affect Israel’s national security at a strategic level”.

P.J. Crowley: U.S. is in no position to stop UN General Assembly recognition of Palestinian State

P.J. Crowley, former State Department spokesperson who recently resigned after criticizing detention conditions for Private Bradley Manning, accused of leaking classified U.S. military and cables to Wikileaks, has just spoken to Salon.com about his Twitter activity. The interview is posted here.

Here is what he said concerning expected Palestinian moves to seek UN recognition of their state:

Question: Jumping over to Israeli-Palestine, the Palestinian Authority is now talking about going to the U.N. in September, either through the Security Council or the General Assembly, and seeking recognition as an independent state. News reports suggest that the Obama administration has tried to dissuade them, but it seems like they’re going forward. How do you think the [U.S.] administration would handle that move if the Palestinians do try to do this?

P.J. Crowley: Well if the Palestinians go to the United Nations General Assembly in September to seek some kind of recognition, the United States is in no position to stop it. We don’t have a veto in the General Assembly. The real question is, will it make any difference? And the answer is no. The administration has long held that this move would be not productive and probably counterproductive for the Palestinian cause. That has been our advice to the Palestinians publicly and privately, and I don’t see that changing. There’s still time to try to get a direct negotiation restarted, but there’s little evidence that there’s the kind of productive dynamic between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu that would give a lot of hope. There are speeches coming up — the prime minister is coming to the United States to talk to Congress. Secretary Clinton has indicated the president may give an address on the situation sometime soon, but the real problem is not a [lack of] desire by the United States to push this forward, the problem really is the lack of any rapport between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority that would give you any hope of progress.

Question: Even if President Obama gives a speech, are you expecting to see any sort of major initiative from the administration on this, or do you think they’re in a holding pattern?

P.J. Crowley: My personal view is that Prime Minister Netanyahu, recognizing that a Palestinian move at the U.N. in September would put Israel in a difficult political situation, has to be the first to try to change perceptions of where things are now. He may try to do that in his upcoming address in the United States. A lot of people are pointing to his speech here, but if he’s actually going to put on the table a dramatic move, he would do that before his own people, not before the American people. I personally don’t see any immediate prospect for a breakthrough.

Two Israeli proposals for peace in one month – neither from the Government

UPDATE: Well, it is happening, but maybe not quite as expected. For some participants, who are members of the older or traditional Israeli elite, this was a “baptism” in activism. Haaretz reported here that the announcers were heckled, disrupted — and then, probably for the first time, they got no support from the police: “Leading left-wing cultural leaders, including several Israel Prize laureates, were verbally accosted on Thursday during a rally in support of an independent Palestinian state. The rally, taking place outside Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall, was reportedly disrupted by right-wing activists equipped with bullhorns, who called out: ‘leftist professors, it will all blow up in your face’, ‘Kahane was right’ [?], and ‘traitors’. Rally organizers and participants, who included 17 Israel Prize laureates, said present police forces did not separate rally goers from objectors, as they usually do during right-wing events. The speech by Israel Prize winning actress Hanna Maron was disrupted several times by right-wing counter-protesters, who yelled out ‘fifth column’. Disruptions reportedly continued even after attempts by organizers to quell the anti-rally sentiment by mentioning Maron lost her leg during a 1970 terror attack on an El-Al flight”…

The “police forces did not separate rally goers from objectors” …

YNet reported that some of the right-wing counter-protesters even called the demonstrators “Jewish Nazis” — and “some even cried ‘You forgot about the children who were slaughtered in Itamar’.” This is reported here.

The YNet report added that “The organizers of the event are a number of artists and academicians who have recently published petitions warning of the rise of ‘fascism’ in the Israeli government”.

The Jerusalem Post later reported here that the right-wing crowd nearly drowned out the people making the Declaration of Independence from Occupation, and hurled “insults”, as “shoving matches broke out”. The JPost report said that “The demonstration had a largely volatile edge to it, but was eventually dispersed shortly after 3 p.m. without any injuries or arrests made”.

These Israelis who stood behind the Declaration of Independence against the Occupation took a public stand today — and they stood up for it (so far, at least).

Here is what we posted earlier:

(1) In just over an hour, it is scheduled to happen … in the middle of the Passover week vacation and celebrations in Israel, a group of eminent Israelis from the mainstream of public life in the country are going to issue a call from Tel Aviv declaring the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land (and lives) that began with the June 1967 war.

On Thursday, the right-wing [meaning, in the Israeli political spectrum, pro-occupation and pro-settlement] Israel National News reported here that “Radical left professors and others are accused of siding with the enemy in planning a ceremony at which they will ‘declare’ a Palestinian state”.

Not exactly…

Haaretz reported Wednesday here that “Dozens of public figures will stage a protest on Thursday at 2 p.m. in front of Independence Hall on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, where David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s statehood in May of 1948” …

The people behind this Declaration are from the traditional elite of Israel…

Continue reading Two Israeli proposals for peace in one month – neither from the Government

EU + UN: institutions of Palestinian state ready

Catherine Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission hosted a regular twice-yearly meeting on 13 April of the donor coordination group [Ad Hoc Liaison Committee or AHLC] for the occupied Palestinian territory in Brussels. The meeting was presided over by Norwegian Foreign Minister Støre in his capacity as chair of the AHLC, and was attended by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad, as well as Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair, and officials from the Israeli Foreign Ministry — and, though we wouldn’t have known it from the AHLC or Blair websites [see instead link below to a Haaretz story], also present was the IDF officer in charge of the Israeli military-administered sanctions on Gaza, Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot [whose title is “Coordinator of {Israeli} Government Activities in the {occupied Palestinian} Territories”, a Defense Ministry unit otherwise known as COGAT, which also controls quite a lot in the West Bank as well as in Gaza].

It was, apparently, the first in a series of donor meetings planned for 2011.

The next planned donor conference is scheduled to be held in Paris in June 2011, to support “the Palestinian national development plan for 2011-2013”.

{The UN describes the AHLC here as “a 12-member committee that serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people. The AHLC is chaired by Norway and cosponsored by the EU and US. In addition, the United Nations participates together with the World Bank (Secretariat) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The AHLC seeks to promote dialogue between donors, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Government of Israel (GoI)”. The Portland Trust, which seems to set the policies that Tony Blair follows, notes here that “The AHLC was established on 1 October 1993 (this is two weeks after the signing of the first of the Oslo Accords) . It serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people. Norway is the chair of the committee, the World Bank acts as secretariat and the EU and US are co-sponsors. The members are: the Palestinian Authority (PA), Government of Israel (GoI), Canada, Egypt, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Japan, Jordan, United Nations (UN), Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia”. It is worth noting that the Portland Trust’s publication, Palestinian Economic Bulletin, is prepared by the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) in Ramallah.}

The Norwegian Chairman reportedly said that “the international donor group in support of the Palestinians (AHLC) welcomed reports that the Palestinian Authority has crossed the threshold for a functioning state in terms of its successful institution building. This was the assessment of the Palestinian Authority’s performance in key sectors studied by the World Bank, the IMF, and the UN. Moreover, according to the IMF, the Palestinian reforms have come so far that not only is the public financial management system ready to support the functions of a state; it has even become a model for other developing countries”. These remarks are posted here.

This report also reported that Støre said: “many donors noted that the lack of political progress leaves the negotiating track out of sync with the far advanced state-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority. This is why all parties concerned must stand firm behind the stated goal of negotiating a framework agreement on permanent status and a subsequent comprehensive peace treaty by the agreed target date in September”.

Continue reading EU + UN: institutions of Palestinian state ready