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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An overhaul in U.S. Mideast Policy?

U.S. Senator John Kerry, who recently visited the region — including post-war Gaza — said to Voice of American recently that inauguration of a new U.S. administrations presents “an extraordinary chance to signal a new regional approach to the Middle East”.

There have been several signals recently, during the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton a few days after Kerry had come through, that the U.S. is, indeed, taking a wider approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a joint press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his Ramallah headquarters, Clinton told journalists that “The Obama Administration will be vigorously engaged in efforts to forge a lasting peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and all of the Arab neighbors”.

In the same press conference, Abbas confirmed in response to a journalist’s question that Clinton had brought a letter (or a message) from U.S. President Obama.  Abbas said the letter contained Obama’s assurances that he is fully committed to the peace process, that the United States supports the Palestinian (National) Authority, and the Road Map — and the Arab Peace initiative (proposing full recognition and normalization of relations with Israel, if Israel fully withdraws from Palestinian lands it occupied in the June 1967 – including East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza).

VOA reported in an analysis piece from Washington today that Kerry said “there has been a tectonic shift in the geopolitics of the Middle East.Kerry says the rise of Iran following the war in Iraq has created an unprecedented willingness among moderate Arab nations to work with Israel.  ‘”To start with we need to fundamentally re-conceptualize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a regional problem that demands a regional solution. The challenges that we face there – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Middle East peace process – form an interconnected web that requires an integrated approach’, he said.

As the VOA noted in the report, two senior U.S. envoys have visited Syria, “the highest level talks between Washington and Damascus since 2005”; President Obama has announced the timetable for withdrawal of American combat forces in Iraq: and Obama has decided to open the door to the possibility of direct engagement with Tehran.

The VOA report can be read in full here.

In a separate news story, VOA reported that “European Union officials will meet Sunday [15 March] with envoys from Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to discuss the situation in the Middle East. The bloc’s Czech presidency said Wednesday that the meeting in Brussels will focus on Egypt’s role in mediating Middle East negotiations. A representative from Jordan will also attend the meeting”. This report can be read in full here.

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.

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 .

PA Minister says there are Jordanian-Palestinian discussions about cooperation in Jerusalem

Palestinian Authority Minister of Information Riyad al-Maliki, who holds also the portfolios of Justice and Foreign Affairs, told members of the Foreign Press Association in Israel on Thursday that he had bilateral talks recently with the Jordanian Foreign Minister, Dr. Salaheddin Bachir (SP?) over two days – “our first official bilateral talks since we each took office, though we’ve met in other different fora, as a result of the positive relationship that exists at all levels in the Jordanian-Palestinian relationship”.

Al-Maliki said: “We want to cooperate bilaterally at all levels – particularly concerning the situation in Jerusalem”. Al-Maliki also mentioned the Israeli excavations around the Western Wall, which are nearby and under Al-Aqsa Mosque.

On the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, al-Maliki said: “We haven’t seen any change in any Israeli attitude. Instead, the number of incursions have increased, and the number of people detained has increased. If there is any change, it is one of considerable regression…We are totally disappointed. So far, we did not conclude any issue or sub-issue. So, here we have a serious problem.

“We are under tremendous pressure by two factors:
(1) from our own people, who are asking why we still believe in the approach of peaceful negotiations. We told them there will be peace dividends, but so far there is not a single one. Our people ask why? We, as the Palestinian leadership, must retain the backing of or own people, and to retain this, we have to deliver something to them.
(2) from the external Arab world. Since 2002, an Arab peace initiative has been on the table, and it was reiterated again in the Riyadh summit last year. Now, the Arab governments are asking how long should this be left on the table. At the last meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers they put tremendous pressure on us. They said our negotiations should be connected to Israel’s beginning to implement its obligations under the Road Map. Our President, Mahmoud Abbas, himself attended the Foreign Ministers’ meeting to convince them to go to the Annapolis Conference, and they agreed on condition that the settlement activities cease. Sixteen Arab countries attended – and settlement activity has only increased. Now, the Arabs are asking to reconsider, re-open, and re-discuss the entire Arab strategy, and our commitment to the Arab strategy for peace.

“On 24 April, our President will meet President Bush and explain to him this bleak picture, and will ask him clearly for American intervention. Then, in the next meeting (in May) in Sharm ash-Sheikh, we will hear a strong demand for real American intervention to salvage what was agreed in Annapolis”.

Al-Maliki said that he expects that U.S. Lt. General William Fraser’s recently completed report (on the actions of each side to comply with Phase I obligations of the Road Map) will soon be submitted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to the members of the Quartet (U.S., E.U., Russia, and the UN), at a meeting in London on 2 May.

The Palestinian Authority Minister added: “If there was any direct positive outcome of Annapolis, it was the agreement on a trilateral security arrangement, which took the job of evaluating progress away from the Israelis, and gave it to the Americans. The Israeli attitude is totally biased toward us in terms of security.”

Now, Al-Maliki said, the Palestinians would like to see a similar third-party monitoring mechanism for the post-Annapolis negotiations: “We want to see a real (American) commitment in terms of time, effort, and high-level intervention, so that Israel will move forward with the negotiations and change its attitude. We need a monitoring mechanism to assess progress in the negotiations by a third party, who will judge whether there is progress or lack of it”.

As Palestinian President Abbas visited Moscow, al-Maliki said in Jerusalem that “the main aim of the (proposed) Moscow conference (in mid-June) is to evaluate what has happened since Annapolis”.

But, Israel is not inclined to support the Moscow conference, and it still insists – as Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said recently in Doha – that “The talks are bilateral only”.

Al-Maliki insisted that all Israel-Gaza crossings should be opened under the management of the Palestinian Authority (and not of Hamas). Regarding the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, al-Maliki said that “We have entrusted Egypt to use its good offices to open Rafah according to the formula that has existed since November 2005.” This is the agreement on movement and access negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice who stayed up all night — and on her birthday — to achieve, after the then-President of the World Bank, James Wolfenson, failed.

Al-Maliki gave the impression that the main reason the PA was insisting on retaining an unchanged version of this November 2005 agreement on movement and access was that it stipulated that Palestinian Presidential Guards (again, read: not Hamas) would be in charge on the Gazan side of the crossing.

However, the November 2005 agreement on movement and access also has other benefits: it also calls for a transportation link between Gaza and the West Bank; it says that construction of a seaport at Gaza “can commence”; and it notes that the parties agree on “the importance of the airport” in Gaza – which is at the south-eastern corner of the Gaza Strip, very near the Kerem Shalom crossing that Israel has wanted to favor.

At least at Erez crossing there is already a somewhat mysterious Palestinian coordination outpost, in a sort of a trailer with a porch, whose staff say they report to the Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Ministry in Ramallah, and who clearly enjoy reasonable cooperation with the IDF coordination at the Erez Terminal.  Hamas police were noticed observing a fixed distance, as marked by large bolders painted with the word “Police”, and they did not proceed past that point.

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”.

"It's only going to be temporary and things are likely to get worse again"

Here is a probably correct comment from a rueful Palestinian interviewed by The Guardian in Al-Arish, the northern Sinai: ” ‘We were hoping that opening the borders with Egypt would bring us relief’, he said. ‘But it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s only going to be temporary and things are likely to get worse again’.” Comment from an article in The Guardian here.

Egypt reportedly invites Ramallah leaders and Hamas to discuss border

According to CNN, “Arab media was reporting early Saturday local time that Egypt’s government has invited the leaders of Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah group to Egypt to discuss the situation. ‘I and all of my brothers in the Hamas leadership welcome participating in this meeting and will seek to make the dialogue a success’, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told CNN in a telephone interview from Damascus early Saturday. Meshaal said, however, that he has received no official invitation from Egypt and was responding to the reports of the planned invitation. He said he does not know how Fatah will respond. Hamas and Fatah have been involved in a power struggle over creating a unity government that has resulted in violence in Gaza and the West Bank … Hamas leaders have denied participating in bringing down the wall, but voiced support for the action. Palestinians in Gaza have faced difficulty obtaining supplies since Israel sealed its border with Gaza one week ago in an effort to quell rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. That was on top of shortages of such items as cigarettes, cement, chocolate and soda since Israel began restricting the flow of non-humanitarian goods into Gaza after Hamas seized control of the territory in June”. [n.b., There was also a layer of earlier financial and import restrictions imposed by Israel since Hamas won a majority of seats in elections for the legislative council and then formed a PA government in the spring of 2006]

CNN also reported that “It was not immediately clear whether Egypt intends to seal the border or merely regulate the flow“.

This CNN report is here.