Salam Fayyad: We are going to work on the Roadmap Phase I

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — who actually lives in a Palestinian suburb that is still within the Jerusalem muncipality, who is reputed to be a technocrat reformer because he previously worked for the International Monetary Fund, and who says that Hamas is “alien” to Palestinian culture — insists, according to today’s Haaretz, that “a Palestinian-American-Israeli commission on implementing the first stage of the road map peace plan will soon begin work … According to Fayad Thursday, the commission will consist of himself, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and U.S. security coordinator Keith Dayton. Israeli officials, however, said that while the creation of such a commission was discussed during last week’s visit by U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, neither its composition nor its powers have been finalized. Israel would apparently prefer the commission not to have the power to make binding decisions on who should do what first”.

Lt. General Keith Dayton has been working on beefing up Palestinian security forces. Rumors that he had shipped large quantities of armaments to Fatah forces in Gaza last spring — to use against Hamas, among others — played a major factor in the Hamas decision to move against Fatah and take control of Gaza in mid-June. Now, Hadley’s back. (He never left, actually, but he was rather invisible for a while, as the implications of what had happened in Gaza were being absorbed, and a certain amount of criticism was levelled at the American attempt to arm one Palestinian group against another.)

Hadley has been a prime mover in the Ramallah decision to deploy hundreds of Palestinian policemen in Nablus. On Friday, 300 Palestinian police were deployed in Nablus, according to the Ma’an Palestinian news agency — which added that “The Palestinian security services are facing a complex situation in Nablus. There are still 37 members of the Palestinian resistance being hunted by Israeli forces within the city”.

Kol Israel Radio reported Friday evening that it is “the first time Palestinian security forces have been allowed to deploy in the West Bank since 2002” — when the IDF reoccupied major West Bank cities, and launched a barely-restrained assault on the Palestinian Presidential headquarters compound, the Muqata’a, in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

In its report, Ma’an noted that “The Israeli daily newspaper Ma’ariv reported that the agreement on the return of hundreds of police and Palestinian security to Nablus had been drawn up a month and a half ago when Fayyad met Barak and asked him for permission to deploy 500 members of the security services to the city. According to Ma’ariv the Palestinian policemen will have jurisdiction in Nablus during the day but this will pass to the Israeli army during the night”.
Continue reading Salam Fayyad: We are going to work on the Roadmap Phase I

Israel could have bombed its own power station to punish Gaza…

Israeli political commentator Nahum Barnea has just written an article, published on Ynet, heaping scorn on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s recent authorization of a phased tightening of sanctions imposed against Gaza due to Hamas’ victory there.

Here are some juicy excerpts: “Something is happening to Ehud Barak in his second term in office. He is so smart in his mind, so ripe and ready and worthier than anyone else, that being smart is no longer good enough for him. Now he’s a smartass too. His latest decision, to cut off the power in Gaza in response to Qassam attacks, is an excellent example of the difference between being smart and being a smartass: There has been plenty of commentary about it, piles of analytical explanations, a series of winks from those in the know, but nobody dares to say openly what everyone is quietly whispering: It’s a dumb decision.

“I would not be using such a blatant term had this decision not revealed a rare combination of flaws. First, it does not punish Qassam launchers, but rather, the Gaza population, and pushes it into the arms of Hamas and terrorism. Secondly, it contradicts any moral or international law norm. Instead of disconnecting Israel from the occupation, at least in matters pertaining to Gaza, it worsens Israel’s image as a cruel occupier. Thirdly, it is incommensurate with the effort to renew dialogue with the Palestinian Authority and with moderate Arab regimes. The foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia, not to mention Mahmoud Abbas, would not be able to quietly sit in Annapolis when Barak is keeping Gaza in darkness.

“Barak did not invent a smart new move.

“The idea to cut off Gaza’s power was raised in the past. It tempted IDF major generals because it did not require an effort or risk on their part. We just cut off the power and that’s it. To their surprise, they discovered that the Israel Electric Company refuses to cooperate: It signed a contract with the Palestinian Authority and it cannot violate it.

“The IDF could have, in line with Joseph Heller’s satirical novel Catch-22, bombed the Israeli power station in Ashkelon [n.b. which supplies nearly 30% of Gaza’s current electricity — that would be one way to ensure a cut-off in Gaza, Barnea is saying], but that idea was rejected as well, for practical reasons. As there was no other choice, the Air Force bombed the transformers inside Gaza [n.b., in late June 2006, after Palestinian militants seized Israeli Corporal Shalit, who is still being held prisoner in Gaza, nearly a year and a half later]. The bombing angered the Americans, who invested money in the Gaza power station. Moreover, this move did not prevent the launching of even one Qassam rocket …
The Nahum Barnea commentary on the new Israeli sanctions being implemented against Gaza is here.

Hamas hasn't handled critics well, member says

One of the striking things about the present Palestinian situation is the strong emotions caused by the Hamas-Fatah rift. The stalwarts of each group are more angry with each other than they are with the Israelis.

If anything, an informal poll run by this author suggests that Fatah loyalists are more impassioned. Let Gaza be submerged by a tsunami, they say — and more. This is disturbingly short-sighted.

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Fatah leader now based in the West Bank capital city of Ramallah, also seems obsessed with punishing Hamas and putting it in its place. Late last week, he signed a money-laundering decree which he indicated would target Hamas. At the same moment, the Israeli Defense Minister was putting into place the final arrangments for tightening the isolation and siege of Hamas-run Gaza, supposedly in retaliation for Qassam rocket and mortar attacks on Israel. [note: could Abbas not also have signed a Presidential decree banning the Qassam and mortar attacks?]

Hamas says it acknowledges Abbas as President of the Palestinian Authority, and has called for talks with Ramallah. But Abbas clenches his teeth and refuses. No, not until they apologize, he says, for their miltary rout of Fatah in Gaza in mid-June. Not until Hamas reverses the effects of its acts, Abbas insists.

Hamas leaders seem particularly incensed by the lack of respect afforded them by Abbas. He did not respect the results of the Palestinian elections in which they took the majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, they say. Abbas, they believe, did not respect the Hamas ministers appointed to two governments that followed those elections — one government formed in the spring of 2006, and a “National Unity” government formed after Saudi Mediation in Mecca in the spring of 2007.

Hamas leaders do not say so much (though the rank and file do), but they believe, that Abbas is working in tandem with Israel and the U.S. Administration to marginalize and punish them. There is evidence to think so.

What Hamas really wants to resolve this crisis, apparently, is a proportion of seats in the Palestine Liberation Organization’s National Council (PNC), identical to the proportion of seats they won in the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Continue reading Hamas hasn't handled critics well, member says

Gaza official appeals to Israelis

Israel’s Ynet news is this afternoon publishing a commentary signed by Maher Najer, deputy director of Gaza’s water company. It is interesting that it was published — and that it was published here. The Gazan official is clearly trying, though he seems both exhausted and exasperated, to reach out to Israeli public opinion.

Here are large excerpts from his article:

“The Israeli government decided, according to reports, to use the supply of water and fuel and the transfer of goods as a legitimate tool for sanctions against Gaza’s civilian population, and in the same breath declared that it would ‘refrain from creating a humanitarian crisis’. However, limiting the supply of electricity and fuel would hurt first and foremost medical devices, refrigerated food, and other essential elements.

“The Israeli government’s decision to cut the supply of electricity and fuel would also hurt the water supply, because Gaza’s pumping stations, just like sanitation systems, are operated by electricity. However, there would be nothing new about this; Israel is already undermining Gaza’s water infrastructure, and the Strip is already seeing the emergence of a severe water crisis, whose implications could bring about a humanitarian and environmental disaster in Gaza and outside of it as a result of the pollution of sea water and beaches in Israel as well and the possible spread of disease.

“In recent months, Israel is not allowing the transfer of spare parts and equipments for Gaza’s water infrastructure. The stocks of spare parts are running out, and some pumps no longer have any spare parts at all. The absence of major infrastructure and equipment components would lead to the collapse of the water and sanitation systems, and such collapse would certainly cause floods and the leakage of sewage into the sea and drinking water.

“Israeli officials claim that when it comes to humanitarian issues, Gaza’s needs are addressed. The truth is far from it. Safe access to clean water is a basic humanitarian right, which is apparently absent in the minds of Israeli decision-makers. Polluted water and a lack of hygiene constitute the 10th leading cause of the death in the world.

“Most of the 1.5 million of men, women, and children who reside in the ‘hostile territory’ of Gaza do not plot any malicious acts against Israel and are not a party to the firing of Qassam rockets. Most of us aspire for normalcy and peaceful life with our neighbors, who would do well to remind their government that undermining the water supply can be just the same as playing with fire”.
The Gazan official’s commentary for Ynet news is posted here.

Palestinians report several Israeli attacks on Gaza –and more Qassam attacks on Israel

The two independent Palestinian news agencies, Ramattan and Ma’an, are both reporting an upsurge in Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Ramattan is reporting that “Witnesses told RNA that Israeli bulldozers has destroyed on Monday the pipelines that provide Gaza with fuel at al-Montar (Karni) crossing, east of Gaza. The witnesses said that in Israeli bulldozer uprooted the network of the fuel tubes in the crossing”. The Ramattan report on the destruction of fuel pipelines at the Karni crossing from Israel to Gaza is here.

Ma’an has a report on multiple Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) attacks, with a number of casualties — including, so far, three Palestinian deaths and 11 injured, and one IDF death: “…Israeli forces invaded the Gaza Strip in several places Monday morning … Israeli forces killed one Palestinian fighter, twenty-two-year old Ahmad Abu Tahun, affiliated with Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades, near Sufa border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday morning. Israeli sources said two soldiers from the Golani Brigade were injured in a battle with Palestinian fighters south of Sufa crossing. The soldiers were evacuated to Soroka hospital in Beersheba. Ma’an later learned that one injured soldier died of his wounds.” Ma’an also reported IDF attacks with casualties in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza strip, including the death of one disabled Palestinian. And, Ma’an reported that “Earlier, two Al-Qassam Brigades fighters were injured while attempting to block an advancing Israeli unit in a village near the city of Khan Younis. The Al-Qassam Brigades said they lobbed an explosive device and seven mortar shells at the invading forces. Israeli forces also invaded the city of Dier Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, seizing five Palestinians over 24 hours…”

Ma’an additional reported that “Palestinian resistance groups struck Israeli targets in response to Israel’s renewed incursions. The military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, the An-Nasser Salah Addin Brigades said they launched a homemade projectile at the Israeli border town of Sderot, near the Gaza Strip. The An-Nasser Brigades also claimed to have fired two mortar shells at the Israeli military base at Kisufim”.
The Ma’an report on Monday’s attacks in Gaza is here.

Interestingly, a week ago, on Saturday 20 October — while the Israeli Defense Ministry was preparing plans for a phased program of escalating sanctions against Gaza if Qassam attacks continued — Maan reported that “Israeli forces completely demolished the main electricity transformer in the northern Gaza Strip on Friday evening. Local residents of northern Gaza reported spending Friday night completely immersed in darkness after the destruction of the transformer which supplies power to the area. Eyewitnesses stated that an Israeli tank launched a shell towards the transformer located near the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun … The area of Beit Lahiya was also subjected to Israeli gunfire and has had a suspension of electricity”. The Ma’an report of a 20th October attack on the main electricity transformer in the northern Gaza strip is posted her.

Israel cuts Gaza fuel

Israel has apparently not yet implemented phased sanctions against Gaza in retaliation for Qassam rocket attacks against Israel… but fuel supplies to Gaza have reportedly been stopped.

The Israeli High Court of Justice will rule next week on petitions submitted by a number of Israeli human rights groups seeking to stop an Israeli cut-off of vitally needed supplies, such as the fuel on which the Gaza power plant operates since a June 2006 Israeli air strike destroyed all the plant’s generators.

But, the Israeli military has closed the Sufa crossing through which the fuel is delivered from Israel to Gaza. So, one way or another, the fuel is cut off.

A separate decision to cut-off direct Israeli suspension of electricity supplies to Gaza is still pending, according to Israeli officials.

See Israel starts phased Gaza sanctions here.

One Palestinian critique

Ghassan Khatib, who runs the Jerusalem Media Communications Center, and who writes a weekly editorial for his Bitterlemons weekly analysis round-up, has just written this week that “Current negotiations are characterized by secrecy, at least on the Palestinian side, thus precluding the input of the public and official decision-making bodies; they have taken place without agreed-upon and declared terms of reference, again leaving the Palestinian side at the mercy of the imbalance of power between the two sides; and, finally, the makeup of the Palestinian delegation, which was apparently influenced by the US, is more or less the same as that for the Oslo talks”.

Khatib has served as the Palestinian Authority Minister of Labor under Yasser Arafat, and as Minister of Planning under Mahmoud Abbas.

“Meanwhile, in the last meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state disappointed the Palestinian side in three ways. First, Rice appeared to place greater importance on internal Israeli dynamics in her expectations of the language and content of any document to come out of the Annapolis meeting. Second, she brought nothing by way of progress in ending Israel’s negative practices in the occupied territories, including a possible relaxation of the Israeli closure regime, an end to settlement expansion or any significant prisoner release. Finally, she also brought no commitment from Israel to a timetable for negotiations …

“Rice left the Palestinian leadership and peace camp in a disadvantaged position vis-a-vis the camp led by Hamas even before the Annapolis meeting has started. This is unfortunate, especially since it is less than two years since Hamas overwhelmingly won Palestinian elections, particularly as a result of the collapse of the peace process and the failure of the peace camp in Palestine to deliver on its promises to the public of a negotiated peaceful end to the conflict.

“If the Annapolis meeting is not itself going to mark progress toward a political settlement that includes an end to the occupation, then it should at least mark the resumption of bilateral negotiations. In this case, there has to be a clear and intensive effort to reduce public expectations both in Israel and Palestine and avoid the exaggerated importance currently attached to this meeting.

“Furthermore, the Arab world is advised to restrict its representation at Annapolis to those countries that already have relations with Israel, i.e., Egypt and Jordan. Attendance by countries such as Saudi Arabia and Syria would mark a diplomatic victory for Israel. Such a victory cannot come for free. If there is to be no end to settlement expansion, no easing of restrictions on movement in occupied territory and no clear commitment to negotiate an end to the conflict at Annapolis, there is no need to grant Israel any diplomatic victory in this way”.- Published 22/10/2007 here .

Start with the Palestine Mandate

… if you want to understand Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Almost every complicated and intricate position can be traced back to what happened in the First World War and its aftermath. Facts that are being created on the ground now are continuation of strategies and ambitions that were forged in the early days of British conquest and administration in Palestine and Transjordan (and French conquest and administration of neighboring Syria and Lebanon).

The League of Nations, created by the victorious allied powers after World War I, and the United Nations, its successor organization created after World War II, took decisions that are now despised, reviled, misunderstood, cast aside as “ancient history” — yet which form the basis of what Palestinians call “international legitimacy”.

This blog will attempt to understand what is happening in the light of what did happen — and to report on the Middle East peace process.