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…

Disorder at Gaza banks as Hamas employees protest no pay as Ramallah staff getting salaries

Gaza banks have been closed after disorder broke out at banks and ATM cash machines when the idled staff of the Palestinian Government received salary deposits in their accounts, while those hired by Hamas in Gaza since the “military” and “political” coups in June 2007 received nothing…

This is a huge internal problem, which is not being addressed with the required speed or seriousness.

Meanwhile, external pressure is building for Mahmoud Abbas action to take control of the Hamas security forces in Gaza — another explosive issue, with no indication of planning or preparation yet, either…

EU + UN: institutions of Palestinian state ready

Catherine Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission hosted a regular twice-yearly meeting on 13 April of the donor coordination group [Ad Hoc Liaison Committee or AHLC] for the occupied Palestinian territory in Brussels. The meeting was presided over by Norwegian Foreign Minister Støre in his capacity as chair of the AHLC, and was attended by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad, as well as Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair, and officials from the Israeli Foreign Ministry — and, though we wouldn’t have known it from the AHLC or Blair websites [see instead link below to a Haaretz story], also present was the IDF officer in charge of the Israeli military-administered sanctions on Gaza, Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot [whose title is “Coordinator of {Israeli} Government Activities in the {occupied Palestinian} Territories”, a Defense Ministry unit otherwise known as COGAT, which also controls quite a lot in the West Bank as well as in Gaza].

It was, apparently, the first in a series of donor meetings planned for 2011.

The next planned donor conference is scheduled to be held in Paris in June 2011, to support “the Palestinian national development plan for 2011-2013”.

{The UN describes the AHLC here as “a 12-member committee that serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people. The AHLC is chaired by Norway and cosponsored by the EU and US. In addition, the United Nations participates together with the World Bank (Secretariat) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The AHLC seeks to promote dialogue between donors, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Government of Israel (GoI)”. The Portland Trust, which seems to set the policies that Tony Blair follows, notes here that “The AHLC was established on 1 October 1993 (this is two weeks after the signing of the first of the Oslo Accords) . It serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people. Norway is the chair of the committee, the World Bank acts as secretariat and the EU and US are co-sponsors. The members are: the Palestinian Authority (PA), Government of Israel (GoI), Canada, Egypt, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Japan, Jordan, United Nations (UN), Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia”. It is worth noting that the Portland Trust’s publication, Palestinian Economic Bulletin, is prepared by the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) in Ramallah.}

The Norwegian Chairman reportedly said that “the international donor group in support of the Palestinians (AHLC) welcomed reports that the Palestinian Authority has crossed the threshold for a functioning state in terms of its successful institution building. This was the assessment of the Palestinian Authority’s performance in key sectors studied by the World Bank, the IMF, and the UN. Moreover, according to the IMF, the Palestinian reforms have come so far that not only is the public financial management system ready to support the functions of a state; it has even become a model for other developing countries”. These remarks are posted here.

This report also reported that Støre said: “many donors noted that the lack of political progress leaves the negotiating track out of sync with the far advanced state-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority. This is why all parties concerned must stand firm behind the stated goal of negotiating a framework agreement on permanent status and a subsequent comprehensive peace treaty by the agreed target date in September”.

Continue reading EU + UN: institutions of Palestinian state ready

Nathan Brown on Salam Fayyad's "state-building"

Excerpts (with thanks to Sam Bahour) From Nathan Brown’s new assessment of Salam Fayyad and the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority: “Fayyad has become so indispensible to U.S. diplomacy in particular that there now seems a bizarre knee-jerk reaction to anything bad that happens in Gaza: delivering more money to Ramallah (as happened when the Gaza war concluded in January 2009 or after the Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla in May 2010)…

“Washington tends to make the same mistake over and over in Palestinian politics—searching for (and sometimes finding) a particular individual who has the virtues needed to lead Palestinians in the path the United States wishes at a particular time. In Washington, Fayyad is the indispensible man of the hour, suggesting that once more the U.S. leadership is confusing a useful individual with a sound policy. Nobody I met in Palestine suffers from the same confusion. Even the most earnest officials are frustrated by the political context of their efforts—they see their effectiveness limited by the absence of sovereignty and feel that they are operating in a punishing holding pattern rather participating in an inexorable march toward statehood.

“[A]fter examining Palestinian institutional development on the ground, I see only spotty signs of progress—and there are also profoundly worrying signs of regression as well. Those who cite Fayyad’s success at building institution rarely cite a single institution that has been built. Instead they refer generally to improvements in ‘security’ and ‘rule of law’. (On security, they tend to concentrate on daily policing—where there has been improvement—and overlook the far more checkered record of the intelligence and security services.)  There is a reason for this vagueness. There simply have been few institutions built in Ramallah since the first Fayyad cabinet was formed in 2007. Instead, the focus has been on breathing life and regularizing institutions that were built in previous periods.

“There is no separation of powers; instead there is an increasing concentration of authority in the executive branch. There is no legislative branch. Court orders have ignored; judges have bowed out of some sensitive political issues; and the independence of the judiciary is hardly guaranteed.

“The fact remains, of course, that a campaign for “security” is often synonymous with the attempt to suppress Hamas. And as a result other problems—political interference, illegal detentions—do not seem to have been addressed. Or, rather, they have been addressed—by a decision at senior levels (the security service heads and perhaps the president himself) that the struggle against Hamas takes priority over the law…

This report and analysis by Nathan Brown can be read in full here.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister rebuffs UN concern on East Jerusalem and Gaza

Concerns expressed by the UN’s high-level Special Representative for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, about recent and possible future evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and about the continuing blockade against Gaza, were rebuffed in a meeting on Sunday with Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

UN Special Envoy Robert Serry and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon - 9 Aug 2009

UN Special Coordinator Robert Serry to the left, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on the right, photo by Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

In a press summary sent to journalists by email, the Israeli Foreign Ministry reported that “The Deputy Foreign Minister emphasized that Jerusalem is an extremely important and sensitive issue not just for Israel, but for the Jewish people as a whole. Ayalon stressed that Jerusalem remains the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel and as such Israeli law is applicable there. There is a consensus view on this issue, not just in Israel but around the Jewish world. The Deputy Foreign Minister reemphasized the important humanitarian steps that Israel has taken in Judea and Samaria towards the Palestinian population there. ‘We would like to further alleviate the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and at the same time it is important that the international community will increase the pressure on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit’ Ayalon told Serry during the meeting”.

In other words, Serry received a resounding rebuff.

On the 2nd of August, the day two families of Palestinian refugees were evicted from their homes by Israeli Border Police at gunpoint and replaced by Jewish settlers, Serry issued a statement saying that “today’s totally unacceptable actions by Israel… to allow settlers to take possession of these properties.” And, he said, the evictions violated the International Quartet’s calls for Israel to “refrain from provocative acts in East Jerusalem.”

Archbishop emeritus Tutu: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is THE problem

As we also reported strong>here on our other blog, South Africa’s Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu has said at a literary conference in England that it was urgent to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “If we don’t solve that problem, you can give up on all other problems. You can give up on nuclear disarmament, you can give up on ever winning a war against terror, you can give it up. You can give up any hope of our faiths ever working clearly amicably and in a friendly way together. This, this, this is THE problem, and it is in our hands”. The full report was posted on The Guardian website here.

The latest debate: Do the Palestinians (in the West Bank at least) really want a state?

The latest issue takes the “Two-State vs One State” solution even further. It is a debate that has so far taken place mostly among a few intellectuals, puzzled at some of what would otherwise appear as truly incompetent behavior of the Palestinian Authority, and the apparent near-collapse of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Now, it has been seized upon — largely for its lurid appeal (it’s sensational, runs against official positions, appears to be based on deep insights, and, it sells) to propagandists — by some of the Israeli and pro-Israeli media crowd.

Do Palestinians (at least those in the West Bank) really want a State?

Now, one writer in the Jerusalem Post (he’s Shmuel Rosner, based in Washington), has written — reviewing articles written in recent months — that the question of the moment is: “Do Palestinians really want a state”. And the answer, he wrote, is this: “In sum, two years ago, an open question, more recently, no, no and no“.

Rosner then went on to mock a comment by Ed Abington, former US Consul General in Jerusalem and former adviser to the Palestinian Authority, who, Rosner wrote: ” has commented yesterday on my link to these new articles with this sarcastic massage: “I’m sure Kaplan and Grygiel are right; most Palestinians would prefer to live under Israeli occupation forever than accept responsibility for running their own affairs. Duh“.

Yes, Duh. Because the Palestinians do want a state. The question for them is, what kind? And, of course, there is no real debate on the Palestinian political scene that might illuminate the issues on there side — they are too busy looking over their shoulders, worrying about what their enemies and rivals would say. So, instead of hashing out the issues amongst themselves, the Palestinians are just developing their critique of Israel.

There have been no real intellectual advances, of course.

Continue reading The latest debate: Do the Palestinians (in the West Bank at least) really want a state?

A Last Chance for a Two-State Israel-Palestine Agreement – a "naive and myopic initiative"

In mid-January, as was reported on UN-Truth, here, “Former U.S. National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, were among the ten authors of a newly-revealed letter handed to Barack Obama just before his inauguration, urging the new president-elect to change policy and make contact with Hamas … The group is preparing to meet this weekend to decide when to release a report outlining a proposed US agenda for talks aimed at bringing all Palestinian factions into the Mid-east peace process, according to Henry Siegman, the president of the US/Middle East Project, who brought the former officials together and said the White House promised the group an opportunity to make its case in person to Obama … The Boston Globe reported that ‘Siegman and Scowcroft said the letter urged Obama to formulate a clear American position on how the peace talks should proceed and what the specific goals should be. “The main gist is that you need to push hard on the Palestinian peace proces”, Scowcroft said in an interview. “Don’t move it to end of your agenda and say you have too much to do. And the US needs to have a position, not just hold their coats while they sit down”. Along with Scowcroft, Volcker, and Brzezinski, who was national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, signatories included former House International Relations Committee chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat; former United Nations ambassador Thomas Pickering from the first Bush administration; former World Bank president James Wolfensohn; former US trade representative in the Ford administration Carla Hills; Theodore Sorensen, former special counsel to President John F. Kennedy; and former Republican senators Chuck Hagel and Nancy Kassebaum Baker”.

Now, apparently, the report — containing “recommendations for U.S. Middle East peacemaking” — has been released. Entitled “A Last Chance for a Two-State Israel-Palestine Agreement”, it can be read in full here].

Continue reading A Last Chance for a Two-State Israel-Palestine Agreement – a "naive and myopic initiative"

Seymour Hersh hopes for peace in the Middle East…

In the latest issue of The New Yorker, dated 6 April, Seymour Hersh writes:
“Obama’s Middle East strategy is still under review in the State Department and the National Security Council. The Administration has been distracted by the economic crisis, and impeded by the large number of key foreign- and domestic-policy positions yet to be filled. Obama’s appointment of former Senator George Mitchell as his special envoy for Middle East diplomacy, on January 22nd, won widespread praise, but Mitchell has yet to visit Syria. Diplomatic contacts with Damascus were expanded in late February, and informal exchanges with Syria have already taken place. According to involved diplomats, the Administration’s tone was one of dialogue and respect—and not a series of demands. For negotiations to begin, the Syrians understood that Washington would no longer insist that Syria shut down the Hamas liaison office in Damascus and oust its political leader, Khaled Meshal. Syria, instead, will be asked to play a moderating role with the Hamas leadership, and urge a peaceful resolution of Hamas’s ongoing disputes with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Syrians were also told that the Obama Administration was reëvaluating the extent of Syria’s control over Hezbollah. (The White House did not respond to requests for comment.)

“A senior White House official confirmed that the Obama transition team had been informed in advance of Carter’s trip to Syria, and that Carter met with Obama shortly before the Inauguration. The two men—Obama was accompanied only by David Axelrod, the President’s senior adviser, who helped arrange the meeting; and Carter by his wife, Rosalynn—discussed the Middle East for an hour. Carter declined to discuss his meeting with Obama, but he did write in an e-mail that he hoped the new President “would pursue a wide-ranging dialogue as soon as possible with the Assad government.” An understanding between Washington and Damascus, he said, “could set the stage for successful Israeli-Syrian talks.”

“The Obama transition team also helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration. According to the former senior intelligence official, who has access to sensitive information, ‘Cheney began getting messages from the Israelis about pressure from Obama’ when he was President-elect. Cheney, who worked closely with the Israeli leadership in the lead-up to the Gaza war, portrayed Obama to the Israelis as a ‘pro-Palestinian’, who would not support their efforts (and, in private, disparaged Obama, referring to him at one point as someone who would ‘never make it in the major leagues’). But the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of ‘smart bombs’ and other high-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel. “It was Jones”—retired Marine General James Jones, at the time designated to be the President’s national-security adviser—’who came up with the solution and told Obama, “You just can’t tell the Israelis to get out”.’ (General Jones said that he could not verify this account; Cheney’s office declined to comment.)

“One issue that may be a casualty of an Obama rapprochement with Syria is human rights. Syrians are still being jailed for speaking out against the policies of their government. Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, said that Assad ‘has been offering fig leafs to the Americans for a long time and thinks if he makes nice in Lebanon and with Hamas and Hezbollah he will no longer be an outcast. We believe that no amount of diplomatic success will solve his internal problems’. The authorities, Whitson said, are ‘going after ordinary Syrians—like people chatting in cafés. Everyone is looking over their shoulder’.”

“Assad, in his interview with me, acknowledged, ‘We do not say that we are a democratic country. We do not say that we are perfect, but we are moving forward’. And he focussed on what he had to offer. He said that he had a message for Obama: Syria, as a secular state, and the United States faced a common enemy in Al Qaeda and Islamic extremism. The Bush White House, he said, had viewed the fundamentalists as groups ‘that you should go and chase, and then you will accomplish your mission, as Bush says. It is not that simple. How do you deal with a state of mind? You can deal with it in many different ways—except for the army’. Speaking of Obama, he said in his e-mail, ‘We are happy that he has said that diplomacy—and not war—is the means of conducting international policy’.

“Assad’s goal in seeking to engage with America and Israel is clearly more far-reaching than merely to regain the Golan Heights. His ultimate aim appears to be to persuade Obama to abandon the Bush Administration’s strategy of aligning America with the so-called ‘moderate’ Arab Sunni states—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan—in a coördinated front against Shiite Iran, Shiite Hezbollah, and Hamas.

“ ‘Of course, the Iranians are nervous about the talks, because they don’t fully trust the Syrians’, Itamar Rabinovich said. ‘But the Assad family does not believe in taking chances—they’re very hard bargainers. They will try to get what they want without breaking fully from Iran, and they will tell us and Washington, “It’s to your advantage not to isolate Iran”.’ Rabinovich added, ‘Both Israel and the United States will insist on a change in Syria’s relationship with Iran. This can only be worked out—or not—in head-to-head talks’.

“The White House has tough diplomatic choices to make in the next few months. Assad has told the Obama Administration that his nation can ease the American withdrawal in Iraq. Syria also can help the U.S. engage with Iran, and the Iranians, in turn, could become an ally in neighboring Afghanistan, as the Obama Administration struggles to deal with the Taliban threat and its deepening involvement in that country—and to maintain its long-standing commitment to the well-being of Israel. Each of these scenarios has potential downsides. Resolving all of them will be formidable, and will involve sophisticated and intelligent diplomacy—the kind of diplomacy that disappeared during the past eight years, and that the Obama team has to prove it possesses”.
This Seymour Hersh article can be read in full in The New Yorker here.