Internal Palestinian politics and the peace process

Egypt has delivered invitations to Palestinian officials to a summit meeting of all the Palestinian factions for a “comprehensive national dialogue” in Cairo on 9 November. Egypt also sent along a draft plan, called The Palestinian National Project, for ending the political crisis caused by the fighting between Hamas and Fatah.

Details continue to emerge.

The Egyptian draft calls for the creation of a new Palestinian unity government. The Egyptian proposal also says that democracy is the only option for the principle of rotation of authority while respecting law and order and legitimacy, and it says that support for democracy requires political participation of all parties without quotas. Hamas has been asking for a share of seats in the Palestinian National Council that is proportional to the votes that it won in the last Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006, when it beat Fatah in the balloting. The Egyptian proposal suggests a compromise on when to hold national elections, calling for simultaneous elections, but leaving the date open. It also proposes that the election law should be reviewed in accordance with the needs of the interest of the homeland. Fatah apparently wants both presidential and parliamentary elections to be held simultaneously in 2010 – with President Abbas apparently continuing in office until then. But Hamas says that Abbas’s term ends in January 2009, and has repeatedly said that it believes the present Palestinian Legislative Council must continue until the end of its term in January 2010. The Egyptian draft says the security apparatuses should be rebuilt on a professional and national basis away from factionalism, and that only the security apparatuses would be authorized to defend the homeland and the citizens, with “the required Arab assistance that is necessary to fulfill the process of building and reform”. And the Egyptian plan calls for the formation of committees to begin work immediately on all the proposals, saying that there is no restriction on an Arab participation in any of the committees upon the request of the organizations. The plan says the Palestine Liberation Organization should be re-activated according to a March 2005 Cairo agreement, to include all forces and factions. The Egyptian plan also calls for the election of a new Palestinian National Council “in the homeland and abroad, wherever it is possible”.

According to the proposed draft plan, the Palestinian political factions would agree that the management of the political negotiations is a prerogative of the PLO and the president of the PA. The plan says that any agreement resulting from these negotiations has to be presented before the Palestinian National Council for approval — or a referendum should be conducted “anywhere possible”.

This draft agreement seems to leave a lot of loopholes open – and seems to steer the reconciliation talks in the direction of having all the Palestinian parties conform with the Road Map and the desires of the Quartet of Middle East negotiators. Hamas has apparently expressed reservations on a number of items of the draft conciliation proposal. Hamas Spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum told AFP that Hamas would request some changes, but that it would “agree to the draft of the agreement and will not reject it, but there needs to be guarantees that what is agreed upon will be implemented,” Hamas Spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum told AFP. Some points need to be modified and some points need clarification, Barhoum said.

While the Egyptian plan proposes a reform of the Palestinian security forces, the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds reported that Hamas has demanded the banishment of four security leaders who, Hamas says, are acting on a factional basis and who are the executors of a policy of arrests against Hamas leaders in the West Bank. By coincidence, YNet said, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also wants to replace two of them — Tawfik Tirawi, head of the PA General Intelligence Service in the West Bank, who would actually be promoted, and appointed Abbas’ special advisor on security affairs with the rank of minister, and Diab al-Ali, commander of the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. However, YNet added, the PA is concerned the changes would be perceived as capitulation to Hamas.

Ma’an News Agency reported that Tirawi was in fact dismissed on Tuesday. Ramattan says that he was removed due to professional rivalries. But, Ma’an quoted its sources as denying what was published by local and international news websites about Abbas intention to appoint a new chief of national security in West Bank to replace Diab Al-Ali (Abu Al-Fatah).

Then, on Thursday, JPOST correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh wrote that “Fatah officials on Wednesday criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to dismiss Gen. Tawfik Tirawi, commander of the PA’s General Intelligence Service, noting that the timing was particularly ‘problematic’. Abbas summoned Tirawi late Tuesday night to a meeting in the Mukata ‘presidential’ compound and informed him of the decision to fire him. Abbas offered to appoint Tirawi as his ‘adviser’ on security affairs and to promote him to the status of minister. However, Tirawi said shortly after the meeting that he was not interested in the new job and that he plans to travel to the United Kingdom to study English”.

Khaled Abu Toameh also wrote that “Abbas’s decision to fire Tirawi is believed to be linked to the PA president’s desire to patch up his differences with Hamas. On the eve of the decision, Hamas officials said they had requested that Abbas get rid of Palestinian security commanders responsible for the massive crackdown on the movement’s members and institutions in the West Bank. Tirawi, along with several top PA security officials, had been entrusted by the PA leadership in Ramallah with taking precautionary measures to prevent Hamas from extending its control to the West Bank…A senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post that his movement had indeed demanded that Abbas replace Tirawi and other PA security commanders in the West Bank to pave the way for ending the crisis with Fatah. ‘We welcome Abbas’s decision to fire Tirawi, who was responsible for security coordination with the Israelis and who was behind the brutal measures against Hamas [in the West Bank’, the official said. ‘We hope Abbas will take similar measures against all those security chiefs who chose to work with Israel and the Americans against our people’.” The official said his movement was now expecting Abbas to remove Diab al-Ali, commander of the PA’s National ecurity Force in the West Bank, who is also known as a sworn enemy of Hamas. Last month al-Ali raised eyebrows when he threatened that his forces would not hesitate to use force to overthrow the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.

Fatah is very unhappy, according to Khaled Abu Toameh: ” ‘The timing of the decision to fire Tirawi was very bad’, a Fatah official in Ramallah told the Post. ‘It appears as if President Abbas took the decision to appease Hamas’. Another Fatah operative condemned Abbas’s decision as ‘dangerous’, claiming it would deepen divisions inside Fatah. ‘Many people in Fatah are unhappy with the decision’, he said. ‘They believe that Abbas made a huge mistake’. The Fatah official said he did not rule out the possibility that Abbas’s decision was linked to his desire to extend his term in office beyond January 2009. ‘Some are talking about a secret deal between Abbas and Hamas that allows him to remain in power after his term expires next January’, he said. ‘Hamas wants the heads of the security commanders in the West Bank in return for agreeing to the extension of Abbas’s term. This doesn’t look good’. A senior PA official denied the charges, saying the decision had nothing to do with Hamas’s demand for the dismissal of Tirawi and other commanders. The official said that the decision was taken because Tirawi had refused to report to the PA government of Salaam Fayad in the West Bank.
According to the official, the decision was taken in the context of the US-backed efforts to reform the PA security forces by reducing their number. He added that the proposed reforms call for merging Tirawi’s General Intelligence Service with the rival Preventative Security Force and turning them into a single force that reports directly to Fayad’s government”.
This analysis can be read in full in the Jerusalem Post
here

Reflections on life and work of Abie Nathan

Gideon Levy, famous for his “Twilight Zone” stories of the absurd and oppressive cruelty of life for Palestinians under occupation and of the bland Israeli bureaucratic justifications that try to gloss over it all, wrote today in Haaretz: “It was a Saturday afternoon in the late 1980s. We entered The Voice of Peace’s rickety Subaru truck and drove to Gaza to Mahmoud Zahar’s house. Afternoon coffee with the Hamas-nik, just imagine. Imagine that once it was possible to visit Zahar on a Saturday afternoon. Just think  there once was a man here who dreamed of peace … In the footnotes of history, Abie will be remembered as the man from California, the city’s first hamburger joint; as the man who took the peace flight to Cairo and was erroneously reported to have crashed. And of course, as the man from “Twilight Time,” the unforgettable program on the Voice of Peace, with its daily moment of silence – perhaps the last time we heard silence here, not just incessant intolerable noise … Above all, I’ll remember the other days, when you could drive to meet Zahar on a Saturday afternoon, bring him toys for Gaza’s children (in the trunk of the jalopy that kept pulling to the left), and dream of peace. None of this is possible anymore…” The full Gideon Levy reflection on Abie Nathan can be read in Haaretz here .

From the exact opposite end of the Israeli political spectrum, David Bedein [of his own
Israel Resource News Agency] wrote today (message received by email) that “While the Voice of Peace radio stationed gained popularity over the years, it also earned a certain amount of notoriety for a number of years. On Yom Kippur 5734 (1973), when I heard planes overhead and rumors of an impending war on two fronts, I came home from synagogue and listened to the only station that was broadcasting on Yom Kippur — Abie Natan’s ‘Voice of Peace.’ Natan’s message on that Yom Kippur day: ‘Soldiers must refuse [their commanders’] orders, and must not fight. Instead, they should extend a peaceful hand to the attacking Egyptian and Syrian armies.’ Throughout the day, Nathan played the song ALL WE ARE SAYING IS GIVE PEACE A CHANCE, and urged soldiers of the trauimatized nation of Israel not to fight back, and this was the only radio station that was operating. ‘Throw down your guns. Do not fight back. Hug the oncoming Egyptian and Syrian Troops’ was the theme that Nathan played all day , on that loing Yom KIppur, and in those difficult days that followed. The story receives confirmation from The Voice of Peace History, as found in Jim Parkes’ ‘History of Offshore Radio’ (http://www.geocities.com/Broadway/5383/vophisto.html), which writes: ‘During the October war the [Voice of Peace] ship moved to the Suez Canal. While the soldiers listened to the station, they only laughed at requests to lay down their arms’. A few days into the Yom Kippur War, Israeli intelligence closed down Nathan’s transmitter, which operated from the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, owned and operated by Israel hotel magnate Yekutiel X. Federman. A Canadian journalist intern at the Beit Agron Press Center in 1989 who had previously interned with Abie Nathan provided some insight into Nathan’s operation, explaining that the vast majority of the ship’s programming was conducted out of the Dan Hotel. Since the radio station operated without a license, Nathan maintained the myth that THE VOICE OF PEACE was only ‘broadcasting from somehwhere in the Meditarranean’. Abie Nathan, whose voice was silenced by a stroke for the past ten years, will be remembered as the first Israeli to give legitimacy to justify those Israelis who simply did not want to defend the Jewish state in a time of war“.

Abie Nathan, Voice of Peace, dies at age 81 – His chosen epitath: "I tried"

It has been announced in Israel that Abie Nathan has died tonight.

The Jerusalem Post reported taht “Abie Nathan, the pilot, entrepreneur, peace activist and founder of the groundbreaking ‘Voice of Peace’ radio station, died Wednesday at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital, the hospital said in a statement. He was 81. Nathan burst onto the world of Middle East diplomacy in 1966 with a dramatic solo flight to Egypt in a rattletrap single-engine plane, more than a decade before Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty. Although he failed in his initial bid to talk peace with the Egyptians, his daredevil escapade won the affection of many Israelis and launched a long and often eccentric one-man crusade to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. Over time, he earned a reputation as a maverick peace activist who often took diplomacy into his own hands. He was called a crackpot and a prophet. But many admired the daring of the former Israeli air force fighter pilot as he pounded on Egypt’s doors, sailed his pirate radio ship into hostile Middle East waters or risked his life on hunger strikes for peace. Former Meretz chairman Yossi Sarid said Nathan paved the way for Israel’s peace movement. ‘He was ahead of his time, and he did everything himself’, he said. Abraham Jacob Nathan was born April 29, 1927 in Iran, educated in India, and served in the Royal Air Force as a fighter pilot, before joining the Jewish immigrant influx into newborn Israel in 1948. A short, dark man, he flew for El Al and ran an art gallery and restaurant that became the center of Tel Aviv’s bohemian life. His American-style diner even helped pioneer the hamburger in Israel. Convinced that people power could succeed where the diplomats had failed, he ran for parliament in 1965 on a promise to fly his private plane to Cairo and talk peace with then Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser. ‘Someone has to do something’, he would say, in the soft lilt that revealed his Indian background. ‘We are getting nowhere with the politicians’. The voters rejected him, but he flew his private plane ‘Shalom One’ to Port Said anyway. Egyptian authorities treated him courteously and sent him home. Israel disapproved of his unauthorized border crossing but took no action … In 1967, he flew to Egypt again and was turned away without seeing Nasser. Israel jailed him for 40 days. After two more fruitless flights on commercial airlines, Nathan changed his tactics, buying a 188-foot, 570-ton freighter that was partially funded by John Lennon. He anchored it off the coast of Tel Aviv and turned it into a pirate radio station, ‘The Voice of Peace’, with a mix of pop songs and peace messages. ‘Shalom, salaam and peace to all our listeners’, Nathan declared in his maiden broadcast in 1973. ‘The Peace Ship is a project of the people. We hope through this station we will help relieve the pain and heal the wounds of many years of suffering of the people of the Middle East’. Over the next 20 years, ‘The Voice of Peace’ became especially popular among youth. It was the only radio station in the Middle East that broadcast music from the world’s “Top 40″ charts and used English as its primary language, yet offered both Israeli and Arabic news … In the 1970s, Nathan went on repeated hunger strikes to try to force Israel to make concessions for peace with Egypt and talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization. He saw the first wish come true when Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979. But it would be years before Israel would reverse a law making meetings with the PLO a crime. Nathan broke the law several times by meeting with PLO leader Yasser Arafat, whom he later referred to as his ‘brother’. In 1989 he was jailed for 122 days, with a one-year suspended sentence if he repeated the offense. He did, and was charged again. It was a measure of the public affection he commanded that during a prison furlough, he was honored with a banquet attended by the cream of the Israeli establishment.
In January 1993, with a more moderate government in power, parliament repealed the law banning contact with the PLO, and Nathan immediately flew to Tunis seeking a fresh meeting with Arafat, this time legally. Eight months later, Israel and the PLO signed an interim peace agreement, and Nathan celebrated with symbolism: He sank the Voice of Peace ship”… In a 1996 interview with The Associated Press, Nathan said that during one of his prison hunger strikes, he was certain he was going to die. He bought a grave and a tombstone. When asked what he would want written on the stone, he replied ‘Nissiti’, the Hebrew word for ‘I tried’…”

The full notice of Abie Nathan’s death can be read on the Jerusalem Post website here.

The Hamas-Israel truce.

According to the Associated Press here :

• The truce takes effect at 6 a.m. Thursday (11 p.m. EDT Wednesday).

• All Gaza-Israel violence stops. After three days, Israel eases its blockade on Gaza, allowing more vital supplies in.

• A week later, Israel further eases restrictions at cargo crossings.

• In the final stage, talks are conducted about opening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt and a prisoner exchange to free Corporal. Gilad Schalit, held by Hamas-affiliated groups for two years.

Meron Benvenisti: Cease-fire between Israel and Gaza will make Gaza the Palestinian State

From an article written by Meron Benvenisti and published in Haaretz:

“[P]paradoxically the right, which strives to destroy Hamas, needs to support the cease-fire and the establishment of Hamas control in Gaza. And the left, which supports a single state led by Fatah, needs to object to the establishment of a separate government in Gaza.

“The cease-fire accompanied by an agreement on the crossings, and in particular the opening of the Rafah crossing, will help Hamas to cement its control over Gaza. They will establish their own organization, which will grow and spread and become permanent – and distance themselves from the government in the West Bank. It seems that the cease-fire, even if it is fragile, will mark a point of no return in the splitting off of the Gaza Palestinians into a separate authority.

“It is possible to pretend that the main battle is against Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel. It is also possible to blame Israel, whose consistent policies led to the detachment of Gaza and the Hamas takeover. It is also possible to claim that the split between the West Bank and Gaza is structural and the Palestinians of the West Bank always feared being flooded by Gazans, and that is why they never protested too loudly against the nonimplementation of the safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank.

“Whether we give Israel credit for a sophisticated strategy that produced results, or whether we call the result a coincidence, it is clear that the additional split in the Palestinian people serves long-term Israeli interests.

“The isolation of a million and a half Gazans allows indirect, outside control. This could be replaced – after a long period of violence and blockade – by a policy of nonintervention, and even indirect aid for economic development, as a way to divert human resources from violence to constructive channels.

“The accessibility to the outside world, by land and sea, and an efficient and uncorrupt government are likely to turn that piece of land into the Palestinian state.

“The other Palestinian canton, whose area is getting smaller and smaller due to the spread of the settlements, now has 2 million people and is considered the heartland of the Palestinian people. But it is quickly turning into an adjunct of Israel for all practical purposes, and it is experiencing political processes similar to those experienced by Israeli Arabs since 1948.

“These processes will be exposed when the Palestinian Authority falls apart on its own, once the Gaza cease-fire gives it a fatal blow.

“This is the system of divide and conquer that will enable Israeli control over the long term. Its cornerstone is the isolation of Gaza…”

Benvenisti’s full analysis can be read in Haaretz here .

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 .

More on Rice's visit – and Mission apparently accomplished

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just as they were present in Ramallah again on Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reuters on Rice visit next week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dangerous legal precedent

Israel’s High Court of Justice (Supreme Court) has upheld the Israeli military’s decision to tighten fuel cuts — and to inaugurate graduated electricity cuts — to the Gaza strip, in a ruling handed down on Wednesday.

The new and deeper sanctions are to start on 7 February, the military informed the Court through the state attorney on Sunday.

The electricity that Israel’s Electric Company sells to Gaza will be reduced by 5% on three direct-feed lines that have been specially fitted with a sort of dimmer that allows controlled reductions in supply.

The military had originally proposed cutting supply on four out of the ten Israel Electric Company lines that cross between Israel and Gaza.

In a plan presented a few months ago, the military also proposed to continue reducing the electricity on these lines by an additional 5% at periodic intervals, until there is a stop to attacks by Qassam rockets and other projectiles from Gaza on Israeli territory.

The Palestinian Authority has a contract to buy 120 MW of electricity daily from the Israel Electric Company, but in recent months the supply has often been somewhat less.

In statements to the Court, the military has admitted factual errors, mistakes and “local error” which resulted in cuts of directly-supplied Israeli electricity despite the Courts previous request to hold off until it reached a decision.  There have also been recent “technical problems” on some of the lines.

The military also told the Court on Sunday that it believes 2.2 million liters of industrial diesel fuel per week is enough for Gaza’s power plant.

However, with that amount, the power plant can only operate two turbines at partial loads, generating only between 45-55 MW of electricity per day.  And, without replenishment of the plants reserves, a shortfall on any one day could mean that the power plant would again have to shut down, as it did on 20 January for two days.

Meanwhile, because of the electricity shortfall, and the lack of ordinary diesel fuel to operate back-up and stand-by generators, 40 million liters of sewage a day have been emptied directly into the Mediterranean Sea, to avoid catastrophic flooding that could endanger human lives in Gaza.

A group of ten Israel and Palestinian human rights groups petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice on 28 October to block the fuel cuts and the proposed electricity cuts on the grounds that they target and indiscriminately punish Gaza’s civilian population for acts committed by Palestinian fighters.

Sari Bashi, director of the human rights organization Gisha, which has taken a leading role in the petitioning, said that the court had been informed that Gaza currently has an electricity deficit of 24%, and rolling blackouts across the Strip are as long as 12 hours per day in some areas. The electricity shortage has increased the dependence on diesel-powered generators – just as Israel cut diesel supplies. The clean water supply has fallen by 30% to some areas in Gaza, and hospitals have reduced services and denied care to non-urgent cases.

The Court’s ruling on Wednesday was handed down just hours before the release of the final version of the Winograd Committee’s evaluation of Israel’s Second War in Lebanon (12 July -14 August 2006), and it is getting somewhat lost in the overall media coverage of the report, despite the shared assumptions.

The Winograd Committee report said in its conclusions that “Israel cannot survive in this region, and cannot live in it in peace or at least non-war, unless people in Israel itself and in its surroundings believe that Israel has the political and military leadership, military capabilities, and social robustness that will allow her to deter those of its neighbors who wish to harm her, and to prevent them – if necessary through the use of military force – from achieving their goal”.

Loud and persistent accusations that concerns about these cuts of vital supplies to Gaza are merely part of a manipulated propaganda war against Israel are causing even greater media reticence than usual.

According to an analysis by Gisha of the state’s presentation in Court on Sunday, “They argued that the fuel cuts are economic sanctions taken against Gaza as part of ‘economic warfare’, which was described as a life-saving alternative to a large-scale ground operation. They argued that Gaza is no longer occupied, but that even if it were, only minimal obligations are owed to its civilian population, obligations which they characterized as the duty to avoid a humanitarian crisis or to permit the fulfillment of minimal humanitarian needs. They argued that they were permitting enough fuel and electricity to provide for humanitarian needs, and that it was up to the leadership in Gaza to prioritize its distribution to give preference to humanitarian needs. They argued that they were monitoring the humanitarian situation in Gaza to make sure that basic needs were being met, and that the Defense Minister had broad discretion to wage a battle against militants in the way he saw fit”.

After Wednesday’s ruling, Gisha and Adalah said in a joint statement that: “This decision sets a dangerous legal precedent that allows Israel to continue to violate the rights of Palestinians in Gaza and deprive them of basic humanitarian needs, in violation of international law.

Bashi said after the ruling that ‘This is an unprecedented decision authorizing collective punishment in its most blatant form. The court ruling relies on unsubstantiated declarations by the military and ignores the indisputable and well-documented evidence of harm to civilians caused by the fuel and electricity cuts…”

Hassan Jabareen, Director of Adalah, said that: “According to the Supreme Court’s decision, it is permitted to harm Palestinian civilians and create a humanitarian crisis for political reasons. This constitutes a war crime under international criminal law”.

Sunday’s hearing in Jerusalem was conducted almost as if the dramatic events of the last week at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt had not happened.

Lawyers from Gisha and Adalah appeared in their black robes and argued earnestly about why Israel should not impose collective punishments on 1.5 million people in Gaza.

The equally black-robed state attorney was far more relaxed.  At his side, IDF Colonel Nir Press, the head at Erez crossing of the Office of (Israeli) Coordination of Government Affairs, testified that Qassams, being fired day after day from Gaza at the Israeli city of Sderot, and a missile fired recently at Ashkelon, justified the military policy.

In his testimony, Colonel Press told the court that “the Palestinian media and Hamas leadership were distorting the facts in order to create an impression of crisis”.

The three sitting judges expressed impatience with both sides — but issued an interim order, Gisha legal adviser Kenneth Mann said after the hearing adjourned, telling the state to bring all its evidence to the court in the form of affadavits with precise information, such as who were the people who said the situation inside Gaza was ok, and which equipment was being fixed, and where.

Mann said that the judges appeared to believe that there was no humanitarian crisis if there were no physical injuries and casualties

“Gazans sitting in the cold and the dark for 12 hours or more at a time is not a humanitarian crisis for them”, he said.  And what about the sewage flooding? “The judges think the Gazans can just clean it up”, he replied.
Hassan Jabareen of Adalah said after the hearing that the arguments presented by the state and the military in court “contradicts our affadavits” which contain clear and documented figures.
Fatmeh ‘Ajou of Adalah said that “the state tried to avoid the fact that they can’t refute our explanations.  They used shallow arguments, such as ‘the situation is not as the petitioners are saying’. The Court is now avoiding the fact that for the last three months civilians were used as objects, despite all the public statements [by Israeli military and government officials] about the punitive purposes of such sanctions. The whole treatment of Gaza is that there is a legal vacuum”.

‘Ajou added that the judges “didn’t want us to respond to the state argument that the opening of the crossing at Rafah meant that Israel no longer had responsibility for Gaza. Judge Beinisch told us ‘No, they are not claiming that yet, they might reconsider their legal argument”.

Bashi said after the hearing that “We let the judges know that the state violated the request” for the appearance at the hearing of two Gaza professionals who are co-petitioners in the case, and who could have explained the technical details concerning the Gaza power plant and Gaza’s electricity-distributing company.

Dr. Rafiq Maliha, project manager of the Gaza Power Plant, and Engineer Nedal Toman, project manager of GEDCO, were informed that they would be given permits to participate in the Supreme Court hearing on Sunday. They arrived at the Erez terminal at 7 am.  But, they said, they were not actually given the permits until the court session started at 10 am.

Despite their best efforts, and a frantic taxi ride from the Gaza border to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, the two Gazans arrived about 20 minutes after the hearing was concluded by the judges, who decided not to wait for their arrival.

Toman has explained in several sworn affidavits presented to the Court that it is impossible to redirect electricity in Gaza.   But, in Sunday’s hearing, the state attorney told the Court  – without the benefit of Toman’s presence for any questioning on this precise point – that some unnamed “Palestinians” had told the military that it could in fact be done, and humanitarian damage avoided.

So, the Court has decided to be convinced by the state and military assurances that it is not the intention to cause humanitarian damage in Gaza.  If there is damage anyway, it would be accidental and unintended – and therefore within the realm of legality.

The judge’s ruling noted the assurances given by Colonel Peres that the humanitarian situation in Gaza was being monitored – apparently through the military’s “regular contact with Palestinian officials and international organizations who maintain humanitarian needs in Gaza”.  And, the judges suggested, any future concerns should be addressed directly “to the military officials in charge of monitoring the humanitarian situation in Gaza”.

Throughout the process, Gisha said in a post-ruling analysis, they were cut off every time they tried to argue that Gaza was still under occupation: “The judges curtailed argument on the question of what law is applicable, pressing the petitioners to address only the factual question of whether the reduction in supply of fuel and electricity planned by the military could in fact cause a humanitarian crisis”.

Gisha said that was reflected in Wednesdays ruling by the panel of judges, headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish, who “instead adopted, without comment, the ‘minimum humanitarian standard’ proffered by the state, saying ‘in light of the conclusions we have reached as outlined below, and considering the state’s declaration concerning its commitment to fulfill the essential humanitarian needs in the Gaza Strip, we did not see fit, at this stage, to address the principled legal questions raised by the parties before us’.”  But, Gisha believes, this “is a conclusion devoid of law”.

In an excerpt from the ruling translated from Hebrew by Gisha, the judges wrote:
“we note that since September 2005 Israel no longer has effective control over what takes place within the territory of the Gaza Strip. The military government that previously existed in that territory was abolished by decision of the government, and Israeli soldiers are not present in that area on an ongoing basis and do not direct what goes on there. Under these circumstances, the State of Israel bears no general obligation to concern itself with the welfare of the residents of the Strip or to maintain public order within the Gaza Strip, according to the international law of occupation. Israel also has no effective ability, in its current status, to instill order and manage civilian life in Gaza. Under the current circumstances, the primary obligations borne by the State of Israel with regards to the residents of the Gaza Strip are derived from the state of armed conflict that prevails between it and the Hamas organization which controls the Gaza Strip; its obligations also stem from the degree of control that the State of Israel has over the border crossings between it and the Gaza Strip; and also from the situation that was created between the State of Israel and the Gaza Strip territory due to years of Israeli military control in the area, as a result of which the Gaza Strip is at this time almost totally dependent on Israel for its supply of electricity”.

This, Gisha said, “is a dramatic departure from the court’s precedent applying the laws of occupation to Gaza and the West Bank”.

Meanwhile, this ruling also keeps pressure on Hamas, as PA President Mahmoud Abbas is in Egypt to discuss the breach in the border at Rafah.  Abbas says he will not talk to Hamas until they give back Gaza.  And Abbas says he wants to go back to the exact same November 2005 agreement that previously governed the Rafah crossing – an agreement  brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who has recently seemed more flexible than Abbas on what to do about the Rafah crossing now.

On the 25th of January, the U.S. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told journalists that “We are confident that the Egyptians are capable of handling their own sovereign responsibilities along the border…From our perspective, it’s up to the Egyptians to determine how they would like to proceed. They’re a sovereign nation and this is their border with Gaza and ultimately it’s their responsibility”.