It's like listening to Marxist student politics…

Gideon Litchfield, the correspondent of The Economist magazine in Jerusalem, posted this on his blog, Fugitive Peace, on 17 June 2008:
“Home after a long day in Ramallah interviewing Fatah people about whether their party can ever get it together. It’s like listening to Marxist student politics (which, after all, is what Fatah started out as). Long rants about local committees, district committees, regional committees, ad hoc committees, sub-committees; the central committee, the higher committee, the revolutionary council; protocols, rules and constitutions; agendas both hidden and explicit; struggle, unity, fawda (chaos) and fitna (strife); the cadres, the party, the movement, and the national interest, which someone is always either pursuing or undermining, and often both at once.” …

The blog can be found here .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments from Blair and Rice in London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israeli offer: 64% of the West Bank + visits to holy sites in Jerusalem?

The Jerusalem Post has picked up a report published in a Arabic-language newspaper published in London yesterday which says that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has offered the Palestinians 64 percent of the West Bank as part of a future peace agreement, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat reported Wednesday. According to the report, Olmert told PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the Palestinians could ‘forget about territory west of the security fence’.” The prime minister also presented Abbas with several offers regarding Jerusalem. One of these would have Israel maintaining control over east Jerusalem and holy sites, but allowing Palestinians to enter those sites”…
The full article is posted here .

The Vanity Fair Article — on a covert U.S. plan to oust Hamas

The first I heard of this article, The Gaza Bombshell, in the current issue of Vanity Fair, was about 36 hours ago, thanks to Angry Arab’s tantalizing multiple postings on his blogspot.

Angry Arab wrote, at the end, summing up: “By the way, I really think that the Vanity Affair’s article on US and Muhammad Dahlan was very important. It reveals a lot about US foreign policy making in the Middle East. But I should add a caveat: it is clearly written with the full cooperation and support of Israeli intelligence sources. In fact, if you read it carefully, the Israelis come across as wise and informed, and the American as bumblers and unwise. Keep that in mind. The side that comes across well in such articles is the side that leaked the most to the writers”… Angry Arab’s discussion of the Vanity Fair article was on Monday, March 03, 2008 here.

This article is extremely embarrassing, both to the U.S., and to the Palestinian Authority.

For background, see one of Palestine-Mandate’s previous posts (on 26 November 2007 – just before many of the interviews that the Vanity Fair’s author conducted in Ramallah and in Gaza and in Cairo) “Rice: And I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, Hamas won?

Yesterday, at a meeting at the Muqata’a Presidential HQ in Ramallah that was scheduled even before Israel’s latest military escalation in Gaza over the last week which resulted in Mahmoud Abbas suspending post-Annapolis negotiations with Israel, most of the cast of characters was present, shockingly. Only Muhammad Dahlan, the still-not-totally-out but discredited Palestinian formerly rising-star “strongman”, was not visible. There was U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — actually accompanied by Elliot Abrams, David Welch, the U.S. Consul in Jerusalem Jacob Walles, and Lt. General Dayton (in a suit) and Lt. Gen Fraser (in an Air Force uniform)! They were all there!

Rice was not asked about the Vanity Fair article in the rather tightly-controlled press conference after her meeting in the Muqata’a — but she had been asked about it by a journalist in Egypt earlier in the day. At that time, Rice replied that she had not read the article — and from what she said, it seemed that she really had not read it…

The Gaza Bombshell is a must-read article, but here is a very brief excerpt by way of intro: The Vanity Fair article states that “Vanity Fair 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 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.) But the secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for American foreign policy under Bush. 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. There are echoes of other past misadventures as well” …

Today, one of the Israeli Arab journalists who writes often rather speculative articles for the Jerusalem Post, Khaled Abu Toameh, sketched a useful resume of one aspect of the story: “The report uncovers three different confidential memos that describe the covert plan: One, prepared by US Consul-General in Jerusalem Jake Walles, states how the Bush Administration intended for him to tell Abbas in Ramallah in 2006 to dissolve the Hamas government if it would not recognize Israel, promising the US would back him if he did. ‘We believe that the time has come for you to move quickly and decisively’, the text reads. ‘If Hamas does not agree within the prescribed time, you should make clear your intention to declare a state of emergency and form an emergency government explicitly committed to that platform. If you act along these lines we will support you both materially and politically… We will be there to support you’. The second memo, drawn up by the State Department, asserts that means had to be found to produce an ‘endgame’ by the end of 2007 for Abbas to remove Hamas from power by collapsing the government, and that he must be given the means to strengthen his forces. According to the Vanity Fair report, the third memo, described as a US ‘action plan’ for the PA president, set out a plan by which Abbas would fire his own Fatah-Hamas ‘unity’ government and rely on a security deal between Dahlan and Dayton to strengthen Fatah’s forces. Meanwhile, the magazine said, US officials led by Rice had spent several months begging Arab governments for money in order to supply Fatah’s forces with new weapons from Egypt under a previously undisclosed covert US program – a scheme described by some sources as ‘Iran-Contra 2’. Dahlan goes on the record about these events for the first time, saying that despite pleas from Fatah that they were unprepared for elections, Bush pushed ahead. ‘Everyone was against the elections’, Dahlan is quoted as saying. ‘Everyone except Bush. Bush decided, “I need an election. I want elections in the Palestinian Authority”.’ Following Hamas’s victory, ‘everyone blamed everyone else’, the report quotes an official with the Department of Defense as saying. ‘We sat there in the Pentagon and said, “Who the f*** recommended this?” ‘ ” This report in todays JPost is here.

But, Secretary Rice’s remarks in Egypt that she had not (yet) read the Vanity Fair article was not the end of the story. At the U.S. State Department daily briefing back in Washington, there was an extensive exchange between a spokesman and journalists:

“QUESTION: Nick Spicer, Al Jazeera English. I was wondering if you might possibly comment on a Vanity Fair article alleging to lay bare a – I quote it – a covert initiative implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to provoke a Palestinian civil war. I know that’s pretty strong language. Could you react to that, please?

MR. CASEY: Well, I can reprise the lengthy comments that I made this morning. I can also point you to the answer the Secretary gave in Cairo on this this morning. Look, first of all, let’s be clear about what U.S. policy has been and will be. U.S. policy is to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is to support the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority, specifically, working with President Abbas and his cabinet. The U.S. policies in this regard have been transparent and open. They’ve been discussed publicly by the President, the Secretary of State and many others, both in public fora as well as in testimony to Congress. That policy includes, very specifically, a desire to help support, build and enhance Palestinian institutions. We made it very clear when Hamas came to power that we would continue our no-contact policy with Hamas and that we intended to continue to work specifically with those institutions that were under the authority of the president. As you recall, we also had to have a very extensive review of all U.S. aid, not only direct aid but also that provided through NGOs, to make sure that none of that money was going to Hamas so long as Hamas refused to comply with the Quartet principles, meaning requiring it to recognize Israel’s right to exist, to recognize the validity of the very instruments by which government was allowed to form for the Palestinian Authority, also eschewing violence as a matter of policy.

“So all that is prelude and let me just say this: The story alleges that there was some kind of secret plot on the part of the U.S. Government to create a internal conflict within the Palestinians, specifically an armed conflict. That’s absurd. That’s ridiculous. I said this morning that I think Vanity Fair should stick to arty photos of celebrities since clearly, at least in this instance, their efforts at serious journalism leave something lacking. And on that note, how do I really feel? Yeah.

QUESTION: Cancel your subscription.

MR. CASEY: Unfortunately, don’t have one. Anything else? One in the back. Got two. Got one in the back and one in the front.

QUESTION: I hate to be the bad guy.

MR. CASEY: That’s okay. Barry, you’re never the bad guy. We are glad to see you back here.

QUESTION: Thank you. Now, it’s one thing to deny that the U.S. is working to create conflict between the two Palestinian factions. That’s absurd, you say.

MR. CASEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It’s another thing to say, as you also said, U.S. supports Fatah institutions. The military, security, is a Fatah institution. Is the U.S. trying to help Abbas’ people be stronger? And, of course, they use their strength partly in civil conflict with Hamas. Follow me?

MR. CASEY: Barry, our goal —

QUESTION: So it’s not an airtight denial?.

MR. CASEY: Sure, but our goal was, is, and I suspect will continue to be building Palestinian institutions so that when you get, as we hope to get —

QUESTION: Right.

MR. CASEY: — to the conclusion of a peace process that establishes a two-state solution, that there are Palestinian institutions that we and the Israelis and others can rely on to be able to implement and carry out the law, carry out the terms of the agreement. And our support isn’t for parties; it’s for the legitimate institutions of the country that are willing to work towards that end. And that’s always been our policy. It’s been open and transparent and above board. The security assistance we provide, as well as humanitarian and others, has been out there for people to see. So arguing that there was some kind of, you know, plot back there, or what my Spanish friends would call a mano negro, is just silly.

QUESTION: That comes down to supporting Fatah since they’re the legitimate group supporting U.S. goals —

MR. CASEY: Well, again, remember where we started this movie. After the election and after the Hamas-led government came to power, the position of the Quartet, including the United States, was very clear: We would not be able to support or engage with that government as long as it refused to acknowledge the basic Quartet principles. We’ve said, and you’ve heard from the Secretary many times, it’s hard for us or anyone else to ask the Israelis to engage with a ‘partner for peace’ who denies that nation’s right to exist, who believes and continues to support the use of terror against it, who denies the fundamental agreements with which they have been established as a government and which refuses to act in any kind of good-faith manner. So again, the policies here are quite clear. But the fact that we and the Quartet thought that the Hamas-led government ought to acknowledge those basic principles in order for us to be able to work with them and have them engage legitimately with the Israelis as a partner for peace is, you know a totally different matter.

QUESTION: Tom.

MR. CASEY: Charlie.

QUESTION: You know that the Congress prohibits giving lethal aid to the Palestinians, and therefore you couldn’t actually arm Fatah to take on Hamas.

MR. CASEY: Right.

QUESTION: Do you know of any discussions between the Administration and the Saudis that the Saudis would pay the bill to fund the rearming of Fatah?

MR. CASEY: Well, Charlie, I know there has certainly been a lot of discussions with other countries in the region and those discussions are ongoing about how you work to support President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. You know, in terms of the details of who said what to whom over time, I honestly don’t have them. I can’t guarantee you there was never a conversation like that. But you know, the bottom line is an argument that says that the legitimate efforts of the Palestinian Authority president to develop his institutions, including his security institutions, is the cause of or the reason for Hamas violence is one of the worst examples of blaming the victim I can come up with in recent memory.

QUESTION: Tom, I’m not quite sure I follow that.

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, let’s do some more of it.

QUESTION: Let’s try again. You don’t know of any — you don’t know of any specific discussions between the Saudis and the Administration wherein they would what you can’t do legally, which is to arm Fatah?

MR. CASEY: Charlie, I’m not aware of any particular conversations in that regard. I can’t speak for every institution of the U.S. Government. What I can say is we have made it a very open and transparent issue that we wanted to work on behalf of the government of President Abbas and work for him and with him to be able to strengthen the legitimate institutions of the state and work with those institutions that were willing to be a partner for peace. And again, I don’t know how many times this was discussed in public in open settings by the President, the Secretary, by other members of the Administration. And to, you know, call that policy a covert plan is just — sorry, it doesn’t pass the reality test”.

Amira Hass on the violence of The Occupation

“There is no Israeli whose presence in the West Bank is neutral. Civilian or armed, soldier or woman settler, resident of a quality-of-life settlement or a nearby outpost, MahsomWatch activist or guest at a settlement, Bezek worker or client at a Palestinian garage. All of them, all of us, are in this Palestinian territory, in the West Bank, because our state occupied it in 1967. The presence of every Israeli in the West Bank is based on a regime of privilege that developed out of that primary act of occupation. We have the privilege of hiking in Palestinian areas to our heart’s content, of buying subsidized housing for Jews only on the lands of Bethlehem, of raising cherries and grapes in the wadis of Hebron, of quarrying on the mountain slopes, of driving on roads whose land was expropriated from the indigenous inhabitants for public use. The Palestinians, in contrast to us, not only are not allowed to move from Hebron to Tel Aviv, because they like the sea, for example; they are not even allowed to visit the lands and homes their family owned before 1948, nor are they allowed to tour Galilee and visit relatives. The regime of travel permits that has been in place since 1991 deprives all Palestinians of the right to freedom of movement in Israel while the system of roadblocks limits their movement in their own territories. The right to travel the land is a basic human right, and like any right, when it is not universal, it is a mutilated right, that is, it becomes a privilege. That is a fact, even if most Israelis repress or ignore it. Our presence in the Palestinian territories, which is based on military and political superiority, is therefore violent and arrogant by its very nature, even when it is expressed in pleasant ways, like cultivating gardens in settlements or taking a pre-Shabbat hike. How do the Palestinians deal with this violence and arrogance? Some take up arms and hope to kill Israelis. However, most choose other ways, civilian and not military, to deal with our non-neutral presence, with the daily violence that is at the basis of every occupying regime. But let us not fool ourselves: most understand those who take up arms. Therefore when the prime minister of the Ramallah government, Salam Fayyad, expressed his sorrow over the killing of two young armed hikers from Kiryat Arba last Friday, he managed to anger his public. ‘Any death is unnecessary’ he was quoted in Haaretz as saying. These are wise and humane words. If those who are angry at him listened carefully, they would have heard him teaching the Israelis that the death of every Palestinian is also unnecessary. It is not his responsibility that Prime Minster Ehud Olmert did not express sorrow that Israeli soldiers killed Khaldiya Hamdan, a 51-year-old Gaza woman returning from Mecca via the Erez crossing. But Fayyad did not make do with an expression of regret. According to the Palestinian daily Al Quds he said, ‘the military action was carried out on Palestinian land’ and that the authority must ‘meet its security obligations’. Haaretz reported that Fayyad said the authority had already arrested suspects and was cooperating with the Israeli security forces. Now the Shin Bet claims that the two individuals in custody (who gave themselves up) are connected to the Palestinian security services (which the Palestinians deny). Fayyad suited his response to Israeli and American expectations from the Palestinian Authority. Despite the fact that the Israel Defense Forces is the sole sovereign over the West Bank, the PA is expected to protect Israeli citizens; that is, to act as a sub-contractor for the IDF and the Shin Bet. But Fayyad cannot meet these expectations, because they completely contradict the harshness of the basic experience of every Palestinian he is said to represent – which is the violence of our presence”.

This piece by Amira Hass in Haaretz is posted here.

Nir Rosen on Israel and the Palestinians

The journalist Nir Rosen, in an interview (“Iraq Doesn’t Exist Anymore”) published in counterpunch.org on 1 December 2007, said: “Hamas won democratic elections that were widely recognized as free and fair; that is, as free and as fair as you can expect when Israel and America are backing one side while trying to shackle the other. Israel and the US never accepted the election results. That’s because Hamas refuses to capitulate. Also, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood which is active in Egypt and Jordan and both those countries fear an example of a Muslim brothers in government, and they fear an example of a movement successfully defying the Americans and Israelis, so they backed Fatah. Everyone fears that these Islamic groups will become a successful model of resistance to American imperialism and hegemony. The regional dictators are especially afraid of these groups, so they work with the Americans to keep the pressure on their political rivals. Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah collaborates with the US and Israel to undermine Hamas and force the government to collapse. Although they have failed so far; the US and Israel continue to support the same Fatah gangs that attempted the coup to oust Hamas. The plan backfired, and Hamas gunmen managed to drive Fatah out of Gaza after a number of violent skirmishes. Israel should stop secretly supporting Fatah and adopt the ‘One State’ solution. It should grant Palestinians and other non-Jews equal rights, abandon Zionism, allow Palestinian refugees to return, compensate them, and dismantle the settlements. If Israel doesn’t voluntarily adopt the One State solution and work for a peaceful transition, (like South Africa) then eventually it will be face expulsion by the non Jewish majority in Greater Palestine, just like the French colonists in Algeria.This is not a question of being ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ Israel; that’s irrelevant when predicting the future, and for any rational observer of the region it’s clear that Israel is not a viable state in the Middle East as long as it is Zionist”.

Nir Rosen’s book on postwar Iraq, In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq, was published by Free Press in 2006.

The interview that this excerpt was taken from is here.