news on the middle east


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Netanyahu’s Two-State Confusion

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has now seemingly performed two U-turns on the matter of the two-state solution in the space of only a few weeks. He has changed his stance either side of his re-election, leaving confusion over what he actually believes but also providing a further understanding of the cynical way in which he uses the Middle East peace process as a political tool.

With election pressure mounting, Netanyahu changed his stance. In 2009, Netanyahu had outlined his support for a two-state solution, in a speech at Bar-Ilan University, in Israel. He furthered this vision with another speech on the subject to US congress in 2011. Yet, in an interview days before the election, he stated “anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands, is giving attack grounds to radical Islam against the State of Israel”. Now, within days of his re-election, in an interview with NBC, Netanyahu has said, “I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution”.

The first change of heart seems to have been a ploy to win the support of right-wing voters, whilst the second is an attempt to repair Netanyahu’s faltering relationship with the US; both pragmatic political moves rather than ideological shifts. The ease with which he is willing to change his views on the idea of a Palestinian state undermines the whole concept, regardless of what he actually believes. In a peace process where trust is so important, the fickle nature of Netanyahu’s rhetoric to suit his own needs, will leave anyone still hopeful of progress both confused and frustrated. If there is no hope of a Palestinian state somewhere down the line then those looking to the peace process for a solution will increasingly look elsewhere for answers. It is this lack of hope that has driven many Palestinians to arms in the past.

So where does this leave the Middle East peace process? In truth, it has been stagnant for some time. Netanyahu’s recent comments will not disrupt any current initiatives; there is currently nothing to disrupt. His comments do seem to suggest that any likelihood of a Palestinian state being created is non-existent for the foreseeable future. It is a view backed up by Barack Obama. When speaking on prospects for a Palestinian state last week, he professed, “What we can’t do is pretend there’s a possibility for something that’s not there”. There are many who have always doubted whether Netanyahu really believed in the two-state solution and, for them, his comments will have only served to confirm this suspicion. Certainly, they confirm the view that Netanyahu’s re-election is not a positive step towards the creation of a Palestinian state.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Peace Process Amid Elections in Israel

In December 2014, the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for new elections two years ahead of schedule as tensions over the “Jewish state” bill proposing to declare Israel as "the nation state of the Jewish people" threatened to undermine his leadership. Netanyahu and his right wing, hawkish Likud Party does now fight to be re-elected. His biggest opponent is the Zionist Union, a centre-left alliance between Issac Herzog’s Labour Party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah, a part founded in 2012 to present an alternative to voters frustrated by the stalemate in peacemaking.

Prospects of Land-for-Peace

While many international observers and politicians view the peace process as Israel’s most prevalent political issue, there seems to be little demand amongst the Israeli population for peace with the Palestinians and the outcome of the election will thus rather depend on the parties’ economic policies. BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Kevin Connolly, writes that ‘the moribund state of the vexed peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has never felt like a major campaign issue’. However minor in the run-up to the elections, the prospects for a re-instigation of the haltered peace process will depend heavily on the outcome of the election as Netanyahu and his party moves further and further away from traditional peace proposals.

Israel’s current Prime Minister, who six years ago still embraced the concept of the ‘Two-State Solution’, recently used the unstable situation in the Middle East with ISIS continuing to fight in Iraq, Syria and Libya to explain that for his government the idea of a Palestinian state has lost its viability. He argued that a newly founded state would be vulnerable to be taken over and used as a battleground by militant extremists. The New York Times published an article today, March 16th, stating that Netanyahu authorized the construction and extension of the heavily criticised settlement Har Homa in one of the southern neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. It was part of campaign launched to rally support amongst right-wing voters, who oppose a Palestinian state and hence any negotiations aiming at establishing a Palestinian state in exchange for peace. Both settlements and the ownership of Jerusalem remain two of the main obstacles for peace between Israel and its occupied territories.

While the future of the peace process remains unclear independent of the outcome of tomorrow’s election, recent events and developments indicate that in case of a Likud success the prospects for peace look dire.

Arab Israeli Vote

While Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank do not have the right to vote, the Arab population in Israel, the descendants of those who in 1948-49 remained on the territory, which became Israel, makes up 15% of the electorate and will thus influence the outcome of the election. Traditionally, most of the Arab population’s votes were divided amongst three Arab parties. For this election, however, the Arab parties joined forces with its leader Ayman Odeh stating that their number one objective is to end the current premiership of Netanyahu. If the Arab list is successful – recent polls indicated that they are able to win between 13 and 15 seats in the Knesset – the prospects to revive the peace process are likely to increase as they promised to emphasize the issue and aim to enshrine it again on Israel’s national agenda.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mona Al-Ghussein talks Gaza

Here's Mona Ghussein on the English Hour. I was fairly pleased with the broadcast when I did it, though you may think differently. Let me know:

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Frustration in Gaza

On the 26th of August last year, Israel and Gaza agreed to a ceasefire deal, with the help of Egypt’s President al-Sisi, that would see fishing restrictions gradually lifted and an end of the blockade of border crossings into Gaza. The deal saw the end to 50 days of fighting that claimed the lives of well over 2000 people, the vast majority of which were Palestinians. For the optimists it appeared, given the concessions made by Israel, to provide the stepping stone towards a potential peace deal. Yet frustration seems to be growing in Gaza and there are signs that the ceasefire deal is at real risk.

There have been strains on the ceasefire deal since its inception in late August: in September Gaza fishermen were reportedly fired on by the Israeli navy despite claiming to have been within the allotted 6 mile fishing limit and in December rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza, to which Israel responded with airstrikes. Perhaps most importantly though, in Gaza the conditions of the deal are not perceived to have been upheld by Israel. The opening of border crossings was a necessity to obtain the materials needed to reconstruct the many homes in Gaza destroyed during the conflict. Whilst Israel has provided building materials through the border – around 400 trucks a day pass through for this purpose - the borders are heavily monitored. The view from Palestine is epitomised by Palestinian journalist Hai al-Masri, who writes that “the siege and closure of the crossings have become worse than at any other time”. With thousands of people in Gaza still homeless and living in tents, tensions are simmering as a result.

The division between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority is also playing a part in this. Last month, for example, Hamas set up a makeshift outpost and patrolled at the Palestinian Authority’s checkpoint; Israel responded by only allowing Gazans with humanitarian emergencies through the border. The strain in Gaza certainly seems to be increasing. Militants have reportedly conducted several attacks against Hamas, including blowing up the car of a Hamas security official on January 20th. So, although Hamas themselves seem inclined to honour the ceasefire for the moment – they have been attempting to prevent the rocket fire into Israel in December, the pressure on them and Gazan people is mounting. Ceasefires between the two sides have been historically precarious and have been consistently broken. This factor, along with the internal disputes in Gaza and the fact that the borders are seemingly no more open than before, mean the threat to this current deal is rising.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Disparity between health levels in Palestine and Israel

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Prevalence of disease

According to the Global Burden of Disease study carried out between 1990 and 2013 there exist gross disparities between the health of Palestinians and Israelis (Humanosphere August 2014). The biggest discrepancies found were in cardio and circulatory disease prevalence and neonatal issues - five times as much in Palestine and diabetes and endocrine diseases which are twice as prevalent amongst Palestinians as Israelis. Although the disparity between child deaths among the two populations has been diminishing over time, the rate among Palestinian children is still 5 times as much as among Israeli children in 2013 with maternal mortality double the rate in Palestine.  There is also a significant difference between the numbers of mental health suffers in Palestinian territories versus in Israel – figures that Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) associates with a high prevalence of anxiety among Palestinians under the continuous mistreatment by IDF forces.

There were found to be many poverty-related and conflict-related afflictions with diarrhoea and infectious diseases much higher (up to 5 times) among the Palestinians as well as low rates of nutrition (5 times as much among Palestinians) which along-side poor housing and low incomes exacerbate the rate of avoidable illnesses. This has contributed to a greater scale of early death with general life expectancy (outside of conflict) around 5 years less among Palestinians that Israelis, 75 to 81, respectively – and an over 65 population of 3.2% in Palestine and 10.5 in Israel (World fact book). 

Further details and a breakdown can be found at

Health provision and access

The general health level among Israelis is on average more comparable to Europe, currently higher than in Italy or Spain (Humanopsphere, August 2014), with health spending currently at USD$ 2,071 per capita  or 7.7% of GDP similar to that of Luxembourg (World fact book) with universal health care in place since 1995. Conversely Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are provided health care through UN agencies, specifically UNWRA and humanitarian organisations such as MSF and the ICRC – but these can cost and do have some notable conditions.  The WHO estimated that 58% of the health sector in Gaza was damaged during Operation Protective Edge with specific medical concerns arising such as the increase of water-borne diseases as a result of over-crowding in shelters; complications for casualty patients including through lack of water and electricity and a decline of physical and mental health from the extended emergency period without improvements to access to health or the overall living conditions in Gaza (WHO 21st August 2014).

Health facilities and provision in Israel do not seem to be greatly affected, if at all, by hostilities and conflict while facilities in Palestine are currently also suffering from shortages in drugs – 28% of essential medicines were at zero stock and 16% at very low with anaesthesia and sutures at only 54% of that required – according to the Pharmacy director general in Gaza (WHO, 2014). The medical journal The Lancet found that poor families in Palestine had little access to medical treatment in Israel – made worse by the barrier erected by Israel within the West Bank and with Gaza – and that a fifth of access requests were either denied or delayed by the Israeli authorities.  Within Israel too, Israeli Arabs were found to experience health services differently.  Here economic factors were found to play less of a role than exclusionary policies towards non-Jews were found to be the cause with lower rates of insurance cover for Arabs (Chernichovsky and Anson, 2005) and subsequent fewer referrals to consultants for non-Hebrew speakers. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Imad Karam from Gaza

This interview was recorded before the Gaza War. However, it is still relevant. It is with filmmaker Dr Imad Karam of Initiatives for Change:

To support our Gaza appeal for families that have lost their breadwinner click on the button below:

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Friday, August 15, 2014

In Memoriam - Ali Abu Afash

It is with the deepest, profoundest sadness that The Next Century Foundation has to report the death yesterday of Ali Abu Afash, a close friend and NCF member and volunteer.

Ali passed away on Wednesday 13th of August in an explosion in Beit Lahiya, north of Gaza. The cause of the explosion, a piece of ordinance from the recent fighting that detonated. AP Journalist Simone Camilli, three others were also killed in the blast. Another four were injured.

Ali Abu Afash was a core member of the Gaza Centre for Media Freedom, an organisation that contributes to the development of Palestinian journalists in Gaza through training and development and the provision of financial and logistical aid.

A huge personality, Ali touched all of those that he met. Ali spent his time training young journalists and campaigning on the plight of journalists in Gaza. During the recent bombardment of Gaza he worked tirelessly assisting journalists in their coverage of the conflict.

Always happy, welcoming and optimistic, whatever the situation, the tight-knit journalistic community in Gaza will be mourning a huge loss.

Ali 36, is survived by his wife and two daughters, ages 5 and 6.

Loved by all, Ali Abu Afash, one of the world's most wonderful and gentle men, will be sorely missed.

This dear man, Ali Abu Afash, was the fifteenth journalist to be killed in the current round of fighting. God grant that there will be no more.
The Next Century Foundation has been raising money for Gaza Centre for Media Freedom and the families of journalists killed. If you would like to contribute please donate here

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