Was Mahmoud Abbas in a hurry to form his new "national consensus" Palestinian government ahead of Sisi's inauguration today?

Here is a screenshot photo of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking into the post-inaugural reception of Egypt’s newly-installed President AbdelFattah Sisi, in Cairo today — the screenshot was Tweeted here:

Hany Rasmy ‏@hany2m — Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, arrives at Ittihadiya palace – pic.twitter.com/Firhbp1a63

President Mahmoud Abbas followed by security + by Saeb Erekat attend Sisi inaugural reception in Cairo
President Mahmoud Abbas followed by security + by Saeb Erekat attend Sisi inaugural reception in Cairo

Samer Al-Atrush @SameralAtrush · Abbas arrives at Ittihadiya with Erekat in tow [n.b. – Erekat is wearing blue shirt, walking behind security men who are behind Abbas…]

Alex Ortiz ‏@azortiz — #Egypt’s presidential palace is crowded with well-wishing Gulf monarchs. Tahrir seems to have a couple hundred #Sisi supporters celebrating.


Sisi’s inauguration comes just a week after Abbas’ ceremony to swear in the new Palestinian government — and it seems that having the new government [later dubbed a government of “national conciliation”] in place by the time of Sisi’s inauguration was a significant consideration in pushing it through.  That it’s also in Hamas’ higher interest — to repair damaged relations with Egypt’s govenment and to reopen Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai — explains why Hamas went along with Abbas’ big push, despite differences and reservations on several points of the arrangements.

Big things are expected to come out of discussions between Abbas and Sisi [and probably some of the Gulf VIPs] during these inauguration festivities in Cairo.– even though Abbas is expected at the Vatican this evening for a joint prayer for peace in the Middle East with Israel’s State President Shimon Peres, at the suggestion and invitation of Pope Francis.

In preparation for these discussions, it is being reported by Al-Quds newspaper in Jerusalem that President Abbas yesterday [Saturday] received Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy and the Secretary-General of the Arab League Nabil elAraby, and held discussion about the region but focussed particularly on the new Palestinian government.

These may have been two separate meetings, because Egypt’s The Daily News is reporting on Abbas’ meeting with Fahmy here

Continue reading Was Mahmoud Abbas in a hurry to form his new "national consensus" Palestinian government ahead of Sisi's inauguration today?

A "top Egyptian official" says President Abbas is requested to reopen presidential HQ in Gaza

A “top Egyptian official” has reportedly told the private Palestinian Ma’an News Agency that Egypt will request President Mahmoud Abbas to re-open Palestinian presidential headquarters in Gaza.  This is reported here

The same report says that Egypt’s President-elect AbdelFattah Sisi [who will be inaugurated in Cairo on Sunday, tomorrow] + Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will also consider opening the Rafah crossing between Egypt’s Sinai and Gaza — as long as the ‘legal’ Palestinian authorities will be ‘directing’ it…

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”.

Nabil ElAraby – new Foreign Minister of the new Egypt

Egyptian diplomat and international law expert Nabil ElAraby has been named the new Foreign Minister of the new Egypt.

He has served at the United Nations, and has been a member of the UN’s International Law Commission, and he also served as a judge on the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

In a very important separate opinion, concurring with the ICJ’s July 2005 Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Construction of a Wall in occupied Palestinian territory, ElAraby wrote:
“What I consider relevant to emphasize is that this special responsibility [of the United Nations for Palestine, as mentioned in the main body of the Advisory Opinion of July 2004] was discharged for five decades without proper regard for the rule of law. The question of Palestine has dominated the work of the United Nations since its inception, yet no organ has ever requested the International Court of Justice to clarify the complex legal aspects of the matters under its purview. Decisions with far-reaching consequences were taken on the basis of political expediency, without due regard for the legal requirements. Even when decisions were adopted, the will to follow through to implementation soon evaporated. Competent United Nations organs, including the General Assembly and the Security Council, have adopted streams of resolutions that have remained wholly or partially unfulfilled. The United Nations special responsibility has its origins in General Assembly resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947, hereafter the Partition Resolution”…

See the post on our sister site, www.un-truth.com, here.

YNet's Ali Waked being optimistic – while Robert Fisk is outraged

Relying on Palestinian sources, Ali Waked has reported today on YNet — the English-language site of Israel’s largest selling Hebrew newspaper — that “Israel has agreed to hand over additional West Bank areas to the Palestinians as a trust-building measure, Palestinians sources said Sunday morning when referring to US special envoy George Mitchell’s efforts to resume peace talks between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority. The claim has not been confirmed by Israeli officials. Talking to Ynet, a Palestinian source said the offer Israel relayed to Mitchell and to Egypt included a series of relief measures, led by the transfer of Areas C (which are under full Israeli military + administrative control) to the Palestinians and changing their status to areas under full (Area A) or partial (Area B) Palestinian control”.

This is a little bit confusing. Surely the reporter doesn’t mean all of Area C? This is where the Israeli settlements are located, and Israel will not turn them over to the PA, at least not now. Area C, a designation of Palestinian territory where Israel retains full security control according to terms of the Oslo Accords (which divided the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C in the mid-1990s), comprises over 60% of the West Bank.

Some of the West Bank’s prime agricultural land is also Area C — as are most major and many minor roads. Palestinians living in Area C have had great difficulty in getting permits to build (n.b. — except, as I have written many times before on this blog, in the “Seam Zone” of Dahiet al-Bariid on the Israeli side of The Wall, and their permits were obtained from the ar-Ram municipal council, on the Palestinian side of The Wall).

There have been rumors in the regional media for weeks about discussions of possible “upgrading” of at least parts of Area C into Area B (where there is supposed to be joint Israel-Palestinian security control), and of Area B into Area A (where there is supposed to be full Palestinian control, such as the city of Ramallah).

According to today’s YNet report, the Palestinian source said that “The Israelis have expressed their willingness to seriously implement a real ease of restrictions, and not a fictitious one, which would help the Palestinian Authority … We will see how Mitchell’s ideas are accepted by Arab states before we deliver response to the American side,’ he added. The source also said that according to Mitchell’s latest offers, the negotiations between Israel and the PA would resume in stages and on two different levels. According to the source, the parties would first clarify the basic guidelines of the talks on an indirect channel. If the first stage is believed to be a success, it would be followed by negotiations between high-ranking officials. ‘In any case, it must end with a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders’, the source stated. Nonetheless, the PA sources found it difficult to estimate whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas planned to return to the negotiation table, but said that Mitchell’s proposals guaranteed a real examination of the talks’ framework and each party’s need to meet its commitments. ‘The same question remains whether the Israelis are serious or not’, the source said. ‘We don’t want talks about willingness to make far-reaching moves, but actions on the ground – led by a stop to settlements’.” This article by Ali Waked is posted

At the beginning of the month of January, Ali Waked reported in YNet that “The Palestinian sources said senior Egyptian and American officials are scheduled to hold discussions over the course of the next two weeks in hopes that they will give US special Mideast envoy George Mitchell the opportunity to present an agreement on the resumption of peace talks as early as the second half of January. The sources said the negotiations will be based on the ‘Clinton outline’, according to which Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem will be under the sovereignty of the Palestinian Authority, while the Jewish quarters will remain under Israeli rule. According to the sources, a team led by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat had met with Israeli negotiators headed by Netanyahu advisor Attorney Yitzhak Molcho to determine the general guidelines for the peace talks. [n.b. – reports emerged elsewhere during the month that Erekat was meeting Israel’s State President Shimon Peres, informally, on a weekly basis]
One of these guidelines states that the process will result in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and that all of the core issues, including Jerusalem and the status of the Palestinian refugees, would be put on the table. The parties, said the sources, agreed that the 1967 borders would be the basis for any negotiation. The Palestinians said Israel refuses to put a time limit on the negotiations, which they said would be conducted during the temporary settlement construction freeze recently declared by Israel”…

This same article, published on 1 January, also reported that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Mubarak in Cairo earlier this week. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, ‘The two leaders discussed ways to jumpstart the peace process with the Palestinians, as well as the efforts to release kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit’ … During his talks with Mubarak, Netanyahu stated that Israel’s conditions include Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and the demilitarization of a future Palestinian state. The PM stressed that while he does not oppose discussions on the core issues, the refugee issue would not be resolved by Israel and Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s united capital was indisputable. According to his past statements, Netanyahu would agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders without ceding territories that include large settlement blocs or settlements that are deemed vital to Israel’s security”. [n.b. – I am not so sure about how liberally the last sentence should be interpreted…]. This article can be viewed here.

Coming back to Area C, The Independent’s veteran correspondent in Lebanon, Robert Fisk, was apparently in Israel and the West Bank recently. He published two articles yesterday, fuming about restrictions and conditions for the Palestinians living in Area C — a designation he called a “sinister sobriquet”. [Fisk also argues that the real disaster is in the West Bank, not in Jerusalem — a view which is the inverse of the positions of many Israeli activists…]

In the first, entitled “Why does the US turn a blind eye to Israeli bulldozers? Most of the West Bank is under rule which amounts to apartheid by paper”, Fisk wrote that “This majority of the West Bank – known under the defunct Oslo Agreement’s sinister sobriquet as ‘Area C” – has already fallen under an Israeli rule which amounts to apartheid by paper: a set of Israeli laws which prohibit almost all Palestinian building or village improvements, which shamelessly smash down Palestinian homes for which permits are impossible to obtain, ordering the destruction of even restored Palestinian sewage systems. Israeli colonists have no such problems; which is why 300,000 Israelis now live – in 220 settlements which are all internationally illegal – in the richest and most fertile of the Palestinian occupied lands. When Obama’s elderly envoy George Mitchell headed home in humiliation this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated his departure by planting trees in two of the three largest Israeli colonies around Jerusalem. With these trees at Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim, he said, he was sending ‘a clear message that we are here. We will stay here. We are planning and we are building’. These two huge settlements, along with that of Ariel to the north of Jerusalem, were an ‘indisputable part of Israel forever’. It was Netanyahu’s victory celebration over the upstart American President who had dared to challenge Israel’s power not only in the Middle East but in America itself. And while the world this week listened to Netanyahu in the Holocaust memorial commemoration for the genocide of six million Jews, abusing Iran as the new Nazi Germany – Iran’s loony president supposedly as evil as Hitler – the hopes of a future ‘Palestine’ continued to dribble away. President Ahmadinejad of Iran is no more Adolf Hitler than the Israelis are Nazis. But the ‘threat’ of Iran is distracting the world. So is Tony Blair yesterday, trying to wriggle out of his bloody responsibility for the Iraq disaster. The real catastrophe, however, continues just outside Jerusalem, amid the fields, stony hills and ancient caves of most of the West Bank”. This Robert Fisk article is published here.

In the second of his two articles published yesterday, whose title asserts that “Palestine is slowly dying”, Fisk writes that “A drive along the wild roads of Area C – from the outskirts of Jerusalem to the semi-humid basin of the Jordan valley – runs through dark hills and bare, stony valleys lined with deep, ancient caves, until, further east, lie the fields of the Palestinians and the Jewish settlers’ palm groves – electrified fences round the groves – and the mud or stone huts of Palestinian sheep farmers. This paradise is a double illusion. One group of inhabitants, the Israelis, may remember their history and live in paradise. The smaller group, the Palestinian Arabs, are able to look across these wonderful lands and remember their history – but they are already out of paradise and into limbo. Even the western NGOs working in Area C find their work for Palestinians blocked by the Israelis. This is not just a ‘hitch’ in the ‘peace process’ – whatever that is – but an international scandal. Oxfam, for example, asked the Israelis for a permit to build a 300m2 capacity below-ground reservoir along with 700m of underground 4in pipes for the thousands of Palestinians living around Jiftlik. It was refused. They then gave notice that they intended to construct an above-ground installation of two glass-fibre tanks, an above-ground pipe and booster pump. They were told they would need a permit even though the pipes were above ground – and they were refused a permit. As a last resort, Oxfam is now distributing rooftop water tanks. I came across an even more outrageous example of this apartheid-by-permit in the village of Zbeidat, where the European Union’s humanitarian aid division installed 18 waste water systems to prevent the hamlet’s vile-smelling sewage running through the gardens and across the main road into the fields. The £80,000 system – a series of 40ft shafts regularly flushed out by sewage trucks – was duly installed because the location lay inside Area B, where no planning permission was required. Yet now the aid workers have been told by the Israelis that work ‘must stop’ on six of the 18 shafts – a prelude to their demolition, although already they are already built beside the road – because part of the village stands in Area C. Needless to say, no one – neither Palestinians nor Israelis – knows the exact borderline between B and C. Thus around £20,000 of European money has been thrown away by the Israeli ‘Civil Administration’ [n.b. – despite its name, this is a part of the Israeli military]. But in one way, this storm of permission and non-permission papers is intended to obscure the terrible reality of Area C. Many Israeli activists as well as western NGOs suspect Israel intends to force the Palestinians here to leave their lands and homes and villages and depart into the wretchedness of Areas B and A. B is jointly controlled by Israeli military and civil authorities and Palestinian police, and A by the witless Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas. Thus would the Palestinians be left to argue over a mere 40 per cent of the occupied West Bank – in itself a tiny fraction of the 22 per cent of Mandated Palestine over which the equally useless Yasser Arafat once hoped to rule. Add to this the designation of 18 per cent of Area C as ‘closed military areas’ by the Israelis and add another 3 per cent preposterously designated as a ‘nature reserve’ – it would be interesting to know what kind of animals roam there – and the result is simple: even without demolition orders, Palestinians cannot build in 70 per cent of Area C. Along one road, I discovered a series of large concrete blocks erected by the Israeli army in front of Palestinian shacks. ‘Danger – Firing Area’ was printed on each in Hebrew, Arabic and English. ‘Entrance Forbidden’. What are the Palestinians living here supposed to do?”
This Robert Fisk article can be read in full here.

Fifth anniversary of the International Court of Justice opinion on The Wall – the first attempt at legal clarification, according to Egypt's Judge Al-Araby

From the separate opinion of Justice Nabil el-Araby of Egypt, in the International Court of Justice’s opinion on The Legality of the Construction of A Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, on 9 July 2004, who argued that the UN has a special responsibility for Palestine:
“What I consider relevant to emphasize is that this special responsibility was discharged for five decades without proper regard for the rule of law. The question of Palestine has dominated the work of the United Nations since its inception, yet no organ has ever requested the International Court of Justice to clarify the complex legal aspects of the matters under its purview. Decisions with far-reaching consequences were taken on the basis of political expediency, without due regard for the legal requirements. Even when decisions were adopted, the will to follow through to implementation soon evaporated. Competent United Nations organs, including the General Assembly and the Security Council, have adopted streams of resolutions that remain wholly or partially unfulfilled. The United Nations special responsibility has its origin in General Assembly
resolution 118 (II) of 29 November 1947 (hereafter, the Partition Resolution). Proposals to seek advisory opinions prior to the adoption of the Partition Resolution were considered on many occasions in the competent subsidiary bodies but no request was ever adopted … The Sub-Committee in its report, some two weeks before the vote on the Partition Resolution, recognized that: ‘A refusal to submit this question for the opinion of the International Court of Justice would amount to a confession that the General Assembly is determined to make recommendations in a certain direction, not because those recommendations are in accord with the principles of international justice and fairness, but because the majority of the representatives desire to settle the problem in a certain manner, irrespective of what the merits of the question or the legal obligations of the parties might be. Such an attitude will not serve to enhance the prestige of the United Nations. . . .”  The clear and well-reasoned arguments calling for clarification and elucidation of the legal issues fell on deaf ears. The rush to vote proceeded without clarifying the legal aspects. In this context, it is relevant to recall that the Partition Resolution fully endorsed referral of “any dispute relating to the application or interpretation” ‘ of its provisions to the International Court of Justice. The referral “shall be . . . at the request of either party. Needless to say, this avenue was also never followed. Thus, the request by the General Assembly for an advisory opinion, as contained in resolution 10114, represents the first time ever that the International Court of Justice has been consulted by a United Nations organ with respect to any aspect regarding Palestine”.

Justice el-Araby’s opinion, part of the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion on The Wall,  can be read in full here.

Obama speech in Cairo on Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable"

Without comment (it is everywhere) here is the section of Obama’s big-deal, well-rolled-out, historic speech in Cairo on Thursday 4 June in which he speaks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Obama speech in Cairo 4 June 09 - Official White House photo by Pete Souza

Photos are official White House photos from Flikr photo stream – this one is by Pete Souza

“The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

“America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

“Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

“On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

Obama speaks in Cairo on 4 June 09 - Official White House photo by Chuck Kennedy

Photos are official White House photos from Flikr photo stream – this one is by Chuck Kennedy

“For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

Obama speaking in Cairo on 4 June 09 - Official White House photo by Chuck Kennedy

Photos are official White House photos from Flikr photo stream – this one is by Chuck Kennedy

That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them – and all of us – to live up to our responsibilities.

“Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

“Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Obama finishes speech in Cairo on 4 June 2009 - Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Photos are official White House photos from Flikr photo stream – this one is by Pete Souza

“Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

“Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel’s legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

“America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

“Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer”…

Hilary Clinton: the search for Israeli-Palestinian peace is "never-ending". Bernard Kouchner: France is "very anxious about the situation of the people of Gaza".

Here are excerpts from remarks made by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton and visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner after their meeting in Washington on Thursday 5 February

Clinton: “We will continue to coordinate closely in the Middle East and cooperate on Gaza, humanitarian aid, and the never-ending pursuit of a just and secure peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians”.

Kouchner: the talks were “mainly on Middle East”

Then Kouchner (but not Clinton), mentioned Gaza:
“[W]e are really very anxious about the situation of the people of Gaza, and we were in agreement together with Madame Secretary of State to make pressure on both side to open the crossing. The Gaza people, they need so-called humanitarian assistance. And we’ll do it together another time, even if this is difficult, because we are facing – all of us – the electoral process in Israel and the idea – very important idea of Abu Mazen, the president of the PLO, the Palestinian Authority, to set up – to try to set up a government of national unity. And we are, of course, supporting Abu Mazen, and we must strengthen him, but it will take some time. Meanwhile, we must access to the people – we must accede to the people – sorry. For the rest, we were at complete agreement to support the Egyptian initiative, and you know that some talks are now – have been developed in Cairo in between the Hamas delegation, the PLO delegation, and we are waiting for the result of that with a very great support to the Egyptian. And there is a meeting in the – I think the – yes, the 2nd [n.b. I think he must have said 22nd] day of February [or maybe he meant the 2nd of March?], yes, in Cairo, and I hope we’ll get better support to Gaza people before this date

In response to a question about Hamas from a journalist:
Kouchner: “Hmm. (Laughter.) Okay. Well, Hamas, you know, we said several times we have no official talk with Hamas. It is, for the time being, impossible. Why? Of course, we have indirect talk in supporting the Egyptian initiative. We were obliged to go through – I mean, the Turks, and the Norwegian people, the Russian, et cetera. And of course, the Egyptian, mainly the Egyptian, because they are talking to Hamas. Why aren’t we talking officially to Hamas? Because they are not part of the peace process. And we’ll certainly talk to them when they would start to talk to the Palestinian themself, to PLO, and certainly, when they would accept the peace process, the signatures of PLO on the Israeli-Palestinian documents and mainly the Arab initiative of peace. That’s the answer. But certainly, this is part — and Tony Blair was right in saying so. In Gaza, if you are not setting up a sort of common task force to get access to the people or this government of national unity, it will be difficult, I know – we know that.

Clinton: “And I would only add that our conditions respecting Hamas are very clear: We will not in any way negotiate with or recognize Hamas until they renounce violence, recognize Israel, and agree to abide by, as the foreign minister said, the prior agreements entered into by the PLO and the Palestinian Authority” …

Next! George Mitchell coming to update his listening

George Mitchell has been here before. He wrote a report in 2001 on the causes of the Second Intifada (which broke out at the end of September 2000, following the failed Camp David talks, then a provocative visit by Ariel Sharon to what Jews call the Temple Mount (but what Muslims know as the Haram as-Sharif).

He is now the envoy of the new U.S. President Barak Obama, and he is now in the region. His mission: to listen. He will meet Egypt’s President Husni Mubarak on Wednesday, then travel to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. On Thursday he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Muqata’a Presidential Palace — a former British governor’s building, and prison — in Ramallah. (After that, Mitchell will go to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, then to Paris and London).

Obama’s first phone call to a foreign leader — on Wednesday, the day after his inauguration — was to President Abbas in Ramallah. Obama told Abbas that he would be engaged in the search for a peaceful solution to the long-standing conflict here. Obama then called Israeli leaders, and the heads of state in neighboring Jordan and Egypt. Obama named Mitchell as special envoy a day later. At the time, obama said Mitchell’s mission would be “to engage vigorously and consistently in order for us to achieve genuine progress … progress that is concrete”.

Last Friday, three days after his inauguration, Obama urged Israel to open Gaza border crossings to aid and commerce. “Now we must extend a hand of opportunity to those who seek peace — as part of a lasting ceasefire, Gaza’s border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce … [And] Relief efforts must be able to reach innocent Palestinians who depend on them”, Obama said. He also called for a border monitoring regime involving the Palestinian Authority and the international community. At the same time, he added, Hamas must however stop firing rockets into Israeli territory.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Robert Wood told journalists Monday that “Special envoy Mitchell will work to consolidate the cease-fire in Gaza, establish an effective anti-smuggling and interdiction regime to prevent the rearming of Hamas, facilitate the re-opening of border crossings, and development of an effective response to the immediate humanitarian needs of the Palestinians in Gaza and eventual reconstruction and re-invigorate the peace process”.

Wood indicated that Mitchell will be accompanied by an inter-agency team of Middle East specialists, and will start with an effort to shore up the current Gaza truce. But, Mitchell will not have contacts with Hamas, Wood said.

UPDATE: Ahmad Yousef, a top aide to Ismail Haniyah, received visiting journalists in Gaza in the garden of his house near the border with Egypt, said that “We would like him [Mitchell] to listen to us and to the Hamas vision, what Hamas expects from this American administration … We expect fairness and objectivity and even-handedness when they handle this conflict”, according to the Financial Times. The Christian Science Monitor, whose correspondent said that Yousef was a foreign policy adviser to Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh, reported that he said in the same briefing to visiting journalists: “The Americans and Europeans were mistaken to boycott Hamas from the start … I expected Obama to say that he will go and talk to everybody … We’d like to see America as impartial, not just seeing Hamas as a terrorist group … The people chose Hamas [in January 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council], and America and the rest of the world should respect that”.

Yousef was repeating a position staked out by Khalid Mash’al, head of Hamas’ political bureau, in a televised speech from Damascus last Wednesday, when he called the international community to deal with Hamas. “For three years they have been trying to get rid of us, including through a blockade. Now it is time to start talking to Hamas, a force whose legitimacy was reinforced in the recent war,” he said. This was reported by Ma’an News Agency here.

Continue reading Next! George Mitchell coming to update his listening

"Why should anyone not believe that Israel is controlling U.S. foreign policy as it relates to the Middle East?"

Here it is — word for word: State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack being grilled by journalists (mostly AP’s Matthew Lee, it seems) on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s remarks yesterday that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was “shamed” after he called her boss, U.S. President George Bush, to make sure she would not vote in favor of the adoption of UN SC Resolution 1860 last Thursday:

QUESTION: Yeah. Given Prime Minister Olmert’s comments yesterday, why should – why should anyone still – or why should anyone not believe that Israel is controlling U.S. foreign policy as it relates to the Middle East?

MR. MCCORMACK: I did see the reports of his comments, and let me just start off by saying I don’t know the context of the comments. I don’t know if they are reported accurately. I don’t know if the Israeli Government would say, yes, that is an accurate quote.

What I can tell you is that the quotes as reported are wholly inaccurate as to describing the situation – just 100 percent, totally, completely not true. And I can – you know, I can vouch for that, having been up there at the United Nations the entire time, witnessed Secretary Rice’s deliberations with her advisors. I knew about the phone calls that she was doing and I can tell you a couple things.

One, very early on in the process, as far back as Wednesday, the Secretary decided that we were – we, the United States, weren’t going to be put in a position of vetoing a resolution, made the decision to support going forward with a resolution. At that point, there was a debate whether or not we were going to try to get a presidential statement or a resolution. We decided that point – at that point that we were going to go for a resolution and we weren’t going to be – if we could get one that was agreeable to all the members of the Security Council, we weren’t going to be in a position to veto it.

Second, that afternoon, all that afternoon, Thursday afternoon, Secretary Rice’s recommendation and inclination the entire time was to abstain, for the reasons that she described both during the Security Council session and subsequently in interviews. So I can tell you with 100 percent assurance that her intention was 100 percent to recommend abstention. She, of course, consulted with Steve Hadley at the White House as well as with the President. I’ll let the White House describe any interactions between the President and Prime Minister Olmert. But – so this idea that somehow she was turned around on this issue is 100 percent, completely untrue.

QUESTION: How could the prime minister of Israel get such a – you know, how – he certainly is under the impression that he singlehandedly prevented the United States from voting for this resolution. Why would he – why would –

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt – Matt, I –

QUESTION: How could he –

MR. MCCORMACK: You would have – you’d – Matt, I can’t tell you. You would have to –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: And again, I can’t – you know, I can’t posit and vouch for the – whether those remarks are accurate.
Continue reading "Why should anyone not believe that Israel is controlling U.S. foreign policy as it relates to the Middle East?"