Monday, March 27, 2006

A wide-ranging personal view from Al-Hayat, with Jihad el Khazen taking in Hamas, Iraq and Syria

Ayoon Wa Azan (The Palestinian Situation: From Difficult to Impossible)

Jihad el Khazen Al-Hayat - 27/03/06//

The Palestinian situation has gone from difficult to impossible, and Hamas' election victory has made it more complex.

Hamas didn't expect to win with a big majority; Fatah didn't expect to be defeated by this same margin. It resulted in seeing Hamas discover that it wasn't prepared to win and rule, while Fatah wasn't prepared to lose and become the opposition.Hamas sough to form a government made up of its leaders, and independents close to the Islamist movement, instead of expanding participation in government to avoid failure or reduce the possibility of failure after Fatah refused to participate in the new Cabinet, to avoid failure, hoping that Hamas would fail and lose support among voters.

The problem is that failure will involve the Palestinians in general, i.e. Hamas, Fatah and all of the other Palestinian factions. On the other side, the acting Israeli prime minister seems, based on Israeli opinion polls, will become a full prime minister next week. The policy of Ehud Olmert, the godfather of the Israeli pullout from Gaza behind Ariel Sharon, is another unilateral withdrawal from part of the West Bank, without negotiations in the absence of a Palestinian partner. Then the Israelis will impose this situation on the Palestinians, the Arabs and Muslims, with US connivance.I reviewed a number ideas with Abdul-Ilah Khatib, Jordan's Foreign minister, and asked his opinion. He said that what the Palestinian people wants from Hamas, Fatah, or any group in power, is an end to the occupation, and before this an improvement in people's daily conditions under the occupation, which have reached a tragic point. The minister said that the two processes are linked and bridges with the international community must be kept intact, since it has a principal role, via negotiations, so that a unilateral situation isn't imposed.

The international community's has a key role to play in helping improve the conditions of Palestinians under occupation. Khatib asked whether it was correct to say, as a Hamas leader did, that the Palestinians can live without international assistance. Khatib also wondered whether this was a useful stance.I asked Khatib about the debate over the Palestine Liberation Organization and its role under a Hamas government. Khatib opted to not discuss internal details that only concern Palestinian officials. However, he did say that all of the Palestinians' agreements with Israel have been with the PLO, including the formation of the Palestinian National Authority, while Hamas' coming to power took place via these agreements.

Personally, I believe that the PLO has become a type of Palestinian folklore, or a kind of heritage. I know that many of the PLO's leaders have passed away and that they were all not-elected. However, the PLO remains, in the eyes of Arab states and the world, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians - this has been the case ever since the Rabat Summit of 1974, and Minister Khatib advises not forgetting what the Palestinians have built over the last 40 years.The PLO was established in 1964 and Fatah has controlled the organization since the June 1967 War. Despite all of the mistakes and sins, I believe that Hamas, more than Fatah, needs the PLO's presence today. My personal and long-standing acquaintance with the Hamas leadership leads me to affirm that it will not recognize Israel. I'm not asking it to. Hamas won in the elections based on a well-known program and if it abandons this program it will have deceived voters. There is also pressure coming from the US, which called on Hamas to recognize Israel as a condition for negotiating with the victorious party.

I hope that you never negotiate, God willing. I understand that the US is tempting Hamas with a solution for the Palestinians, and asking it to pay a price in return: recognizing Israel's right to exist. But as for demanding that Hamas recognize Israel just so that Hamas can negotiate with Israel, I say again, I hope that you never negotiate. I'll add the following: the PLO is a way out for Hamas, since it can recognize and commit to what the PLO has committed itself to, including the recognition of Israel.

The Jordanian Foreign minister is constrained by diplomacy and the responsibility that comes with his post. He doesn't talk like I do and he believes that the basic thing involves protecting Palestinian national unity, which is the responsibility of all. Working to reduce the suffering of the Palestinian people and strive for a solution via negotiation, with the cooperation of the international community, and not by challenging it. Khatib says that the Palestinian situation cannot be allowed to become worse.

I say to Hamas that it won by the same margin as Mahmoud Abbas did in becoming the President of the PNA. The President, according to his constitutional prerogatives, can dismiss the government. To Fatah, I say that Palestinian voters didn't vote for Hamas as much as they voted against Fatah, and against corruption, lack of security, and all other failures and shortcomings.

I telephoned the minister to ask him about the Palestinian situation, but I went on to discuss Iraq; Khatib expressed his hope that the Iraqis succeed in forming a government of national unity, with real authority, because every day is more difficult than the one before. Any delay will further complicate the situation.

The minister warned of the dangers of sectarianism for Iraq and the entire region. He said that no party has an interest in seeing Iraq move toward a sectarian confrontation. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states all want to help Iraq exit its current crisis.Minister Khatib told me that closing the borders with Iraq was only temporary, and for organizational reasons. However, Jordan will remain the gateway for Iraqis to the outside world. There are almost daily Jordanian flights to Baghdad and Irbil; contacts with the leading figures in the Iraqi government are ongoing, and there are official visits taking place.

I told Minister Khatib that from the summer of 2004 to the end of the year I followed the efforts between the Foreign ministers of Jordan and Syria (at the time) after the crisis in these countries' bilateral relations due to the border issue and security violations. The minister declined to go into detail, but I telephoned other officials in Amman who said that the situation was now much worse than before. A former minister told me, "The situation is strange. There is a crisis and Syria is being targeted. However, instead of searching for friends, they are losing people." I'll wait until I visit Damascus, soon, to hear the Syrian point of view on recent events.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Haniyeh calls snap parliamentary vote on new Hamas cabinet

By Arnon Regular, Haaretz Correspndent, and Agencies

Incoming Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Wednesday he was calling a special session of parliament for March 25 to vote on the new Hamas cabinet. The vote had been expected to take place after the March 28 election in Israel.

"Today we agreed with the president that on Saturday the Legislative Council will meet to discuss the government's program and to vote on it," said Mahmoud Zahar, slated to be foreign minister, after consultations with Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas.

The announcement came after the PLO's executive committee demanded that Hamas change its government guidelines to recognize the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Hamas has refused to recognize the PLO, which it does not belong to, as the umbrella group for all Palestinian factions and the Palestinian Authority.

The decision Wednesday by the PLO executive committee was not expected to affect whether Abbas, who is also head of the PLO, would accept the Hamas government.

"We decided that we can't deal with the platform of this government or to accept it, because the platform neglects the main achievement of the Palestinian people, which is the PLO," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a PLO official.

Abed Rabbo said the PLO was also unhappy that the program did not address Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to unilaterally draw Israel's borders by 2010 if a peace deal cannot be reached.

"The Executive Committee does not accept a program that does not recognize the PLO as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, does not accept the [Palestinian] Declaration of Independence and does not clearly reject Israeli unilateral policies," said executive committee member Tayseer Khale.

Adnan Asfour, a senior Hamas official from Nablus, said the PLO decision was "unconstitutional" as under Palestinian Basic Law the newly formed government did not require the approval of the PLO.

"The new cabinet of Hamas will only get confidence from the Palestinian Legislative Council," he said.

Meshal: No end to armed resistance

Meanwhile, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said Wednesday that the organization would continue to fight Israel and told the United States that its Middle East policy would fuel terrorism.

"Israel cannot have stability with occupation. It has to choose. This is the message Israel should understand," he told Reuters in an interview in Abu Dhabi.

"Armed resistance is legitimate. All resistance options are open to the Palestinian people and Palestinian factions including Hamas," said Meshal, who is touring Arab and Muslim countries to solicit financial and political support.

He said that he informed Arab leaders that the government his group will head needs $1.75 billion per year to make ends meet and that he was confident that they would help.

Since its victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January, Hamas has been under pressure from the United States, the European Union and Israel to give up violence and recognize Israel or lose crucial financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.

"So long as there is an Israeli occupation in Palestine and so long as U.S. policy is biased, the so-called terrorism that the United States fears will escalate because the mistakes of U.S. foreign policy are pouring oil on fire," Meshal said.

He said his message to U.S. President George W. Bush was "that he should not worsen his mistakes."

Meshal said Middle East peace required Washington to adopt an "even-handed policy that maintains the same distance from all sides" involved in the conflict.

He said Hamas would reject international pressure to recognize Israel until Israel was compelled to change its position on Palestinian rights.

"It is illogical for the victim to be pressed to recognize its murderer and occupier," Meshal said.
"What is required is a fundamental change in the Israeli position."

Meshal said he had secured pledges for financial support during his tour and that Arab countries would agree to beef up allocations to Palestinians in a summit in Sudan next week.

"I believe that the Arab countries will agree in the Khartoum summit the level of [financial] aid they will offer the Palestinian people," he said.

"So far there has been good commitment that needs to be translated into figures... I am sure that Arab and Islamic support will cover a large part of the Palestinians' needs. No matter what Israel does and how much pressure the United States applies, I do not think Arabs and Muslims will cave."

Iran has said it will meet any gap in official funding for a new government once it is formed by Hamas in coming weeks.

But Meshal said the Palestinian people could face a "catastrophe" if fellow Arabs did not also chip in.

Israel has cut off monthly payments of tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

Meshal said Hamas would not be bowed by the pressure.

"We are not isolated. We are a movement that enjoys the confidence of its people and has the capability to meet all its obligations," he said. "We have succeeded in the past and we will succeed in the present and the future, God willing. Those who bet that we will lose are deluded."

PLO committee to reject Hamas gov't

From today's Jerusalem Post

Yasser Abd Rabbo, a member of the PLO executive committee that convened in Ramallah on Wednesday, said that the committee did not intend to approve the Hamas government, since the organization did not recognize the PLO or the Palestinian Authority's basic laws.

He stated that the executive committee would demand that Hamas change its platform. Fatah Chairman Azzam al-Ahmed, who also attended the meeting, reiterated the statement that prime minister elect Ismail Haniyeh must see to it that the Hamas platform be changed before the new government could be approved.

Israel Radio reported that Wednesday's meeting commenced with a moment of silence in memory of former Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin who was killed by Israeli forces in 2004.

Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas planned on departing to Cairo for consultations with Egyptian officials next Sunday.

Meanwhile, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal warned that as long as the occupation continued and as long as the United States supported Israel, then terrorism would only escalate, and Israel would not feel stability.

Mashaal insisted that all forms of resistance, including armed resistance, were legitimate for all Palestinians, including Hamas.

The United Arab Emirates, after a meeting in Abu Dhabi with a Hamas delegation headed by Mashaal, stated that they would continue to fund the Palestinians even after the Hamas government would be inaugurated.

Saudi Arabia made a similar promise during the previous leg of the Hamas delegation's journey.
It was perhaps the Arab pledges that led incoming PA Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek to assert that a Hamas-led Palestinian government could continue to function even without the money that the Quartet threatened to withhold. He said that if the Quartet were in fact to deny the Palestinians money, the results would be severe, though not disastrous.

Razek noted that the Palestinians would accept funding from any source, so long as it wasn't conditioned by any demands.

Second crossing opened to allow relief aid to Gaza

From the AP

Second crossing opened to allow relief aid to Gaza

Israel, under international pressure to alleviate a shortage of staples and relief supplies in the Gaza Strip, Wednesday opened a second crossing - Kerem Shalom - to allow humanitarian aid, mostly food and drugs, from Egypt into Gaza, the Israeli and Palestinian border authorities said.

A total of 180 Egyptian trucks are expected to enter Gaza today. The first one, carrying flower, passed through the crossing at 11:15.IDF officials said that Palestinians would also be able to send exports through the newly opened Kerem Shalom crossing on Wednesday, but the border officials did not immediately confirm this.

On Tuesday, a total of 131 trucks passed through the main Karni crossing into the Strip.The main crossings of the Gaza Strip have been closed for much of this year, causing food shortages in Gaza and great losses to Palestinian merchants and farmers who cannot export their products. The shortages also sparked sharp price hikes for hard-pressed Gazans.

At the urging of the United States, Israel Monday opened the largest crossing, Karni, to allow food into the area, but was not yet allowing cargo to come out of Gaza.Israeli businessmen who distribute textile products manufactured in Gaza have lobbied the government to allow cargo to enter Israel, saying that the closure of the crossings has cost their industry millions of shekels.

Egypt is sending the Palestinians 7,000 tons of food, mostly wheat, rice and sugar through Kerem Shalom, said Salim Abu Safiah, director-general of the Palestinian border authority.

The Israeli side of Kerem Shalom opened Wednesday morning, but the Palestinian side was not expected to be open until noon, and then the Egyptian cargo could enter, the Israeli border authority said. At Karni, 200 trucks were slated Wednesday to pass into Gaza, the authority said.

The United States had pressed Israel to open the crossings during a meeting Sunday of Israeli, Palestinian and American officials. Israel has kept the crossings closed on and off since mid-January over concerns Palestinian militants are planning attacks there.

Al Quaeda in the West Bank

From Haaretz

Last update - 07:50 22/03/2006
West Bank Palestinians charged with Al-Qaida membership for first time
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

Two men from the West Bank became on Tuesday the first Palestinians to be charged with membership in Al-Qaida.

The two 20-year-old Nablus residents, Azzam Abu Al-Ades and Bilal Hafanawi, were charged in a Samaria military court with planning a terror attack and membership in Al-Qaida.

Some two months ago, Israeli intelligence figures said evidence indicated Palestinians from Nablus and Jenin had made contact with groups identified with Al-Qaida and received from them financial support for their operations.

Al-Ades and Hafanawi met with Al-Qaida operatives in Jordan, arranged for secret e-mail communication, opened a bank account and received 3,000 Jordanian dinars ($4,240) from Al-Qaida to carry out the Jerusalem attack, according to the indictment.

They were arrested at the Allenby Bridge border crossing in December 2005 upon their return from the Hashemite kingdom.

At the time of their arrest, they were in the planning stage of an attack on the French Hill section of Jerusalem that was to involve a suicide bomber and a car bomb.

Al-Ades was recruited into Al-Qaida while studying in Jordan. Hafanawi joined him on his last journey to Jordan.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has also recently said evidence was found indicating Al-Qaida infiltrations into the Gaza Strip. In 2000, a Hamas operative from Gaza, Nabil Ouqal, was tried and convicted for attempting to establish a branch of Al-Qaida in the Strip.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Defiant Hamas packs Cabinet with hardliners

From today's Times (of London)

Stephen Farrell in Gaza City

HAMAS, the militant Palestinian group, has named a government dominated by its own leadership, defying international pressure and confounding hopes that it would moderate its extremist stance.

After other Palestinian factions refused to join a coalition, the victorious Islamist group nominated a Cabinet whose senior members have all been jailed, deported and escaped Israeli assassination. Chief among Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniya’s 24 ministers are Dr Mahmoud al-Zahar, a hardliner, as Foreign Minister, and Said Siyam as Interior Minister. Most others are Hamas, with some pro-Islamist independents and technocrats, one woman and one Christian.

President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to approve them but may try to delay the decision until after the Israeli general election on March 28. However, Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s Defence Minister, said that if President Abbas accepted the line-up he would “officially turn the Palestinian Authority into a terror entity”. Hamas faces a cash crisis, as EU foreign ministers met in Brussels yesterday to consider how to continue providing aid to Palestinians without endorsing what is regarded as a terrorist organisation by the EU and US.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU External Relations Commissioner, gave warning that although Europe agreed to provide an emergency tranche of $78 million (£44 million), it would not “go soft on our principles”, and held out the threat of cutting off funds unless Hamas met certain demands.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said: “We don’t want to punish the Palestinian people for their votes at all. On the other hand the Palestinian people need to say to any Hamas government that democracy involves responsibilities and, above all, a responsibility not to get involved in violence.”

Omar Abdel-Razeq, Hamas’s US-educated candidate for Finance Minister, said that if Western donors cut off funds, Hamas could bridge the gap by better stewardship of the Palestinian budget and seeking alternative funding. However, humanitarian agencies and James Wolfensohn, the international envoy to the Middle East, have said that instability would ensue if the West cut off aid.

Mr Wolfensohn said that since Israel refused to hand over $50 million in monthly VAT and customs revenues, the Palestinian Authority relied on international aid to fill a $120 million monthly gap between revenue and expenditure. David Shearer, head of the UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Jerusalem, said that three things were likely to happen if the authority was starved of funds. Essential services would degrade and authority employees would lose their salaries, with a “dramatic rise in the poverty rate”. The third would be to place thousands of armed authority security forces on to the streets without jobs.

Do the Palestinians really want a state?

A strong view from the Haaretz newspaper's election blog

Do the Palestinians really want a state?

At first blush, the question seems preposterous. The Palestinian people have voiced their acute desire for an independent state since the day, whatever it may have been, that they became the Palestinian people.

In fact, until recently it seemed that nearly the whole world, Eastern and Western Europe, the entirety of Asia and Africa, many of the nations of the Americas - everyone, that is, except for the United States and Israel - wanted there to be an independent Palestine.

In time, even Israel and Washington came around. In a surreal turn, Ariel Sharon, the mantra of whose ashram had long been "Jordan is [the real] Palestine," announced his support in 2003 for the U.S.-sponsored road map peace plan, which provided for, though would fail to deliver, an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

But even as Sharon rammed the road map through the cabinet, the cause of Palestinian statehood was being undermined - by the Palestinians themselves. Of course, the sandbagging of statehood came second nature to Israeli governments.

Predictably, though, the Israelis' efforts, often as not, were hamhanded enough to actually work in favor of statehood. Not so those of the Palestinians. The Palestinians worked against their own cause with a singleminded self-destructiveness worthy of the most hormone-driven of human bombs.

The uprising that was meant to have been the Palestinian war of independence turned into a disaster on the diplomatic as well as the military levels. Though mindful of the media-irresistible David versus Goliath image of the first Intifada, with children armed only with stones standing up to main battle tanks, the Palestinians managed in a matter of months to piss away the world's goodwill.

The immediate resort to firearms, the brutality of such attacks as the sniper-fire murder of a 10-month-old baby, the bare-handed cruelty of the crushing of the skulls of two 14-year-old boys with large stones, the indiscriminate horror of bombs on citry buses, explosives at a Passover seder, whole families erased at a seaside restaurant where Jews and Arabs treated each other not only as equals but as friends - all of it will continue to tarnish the image of Palestinians for years to come.

There was the willingness of Marwan Barghouti and, yes, of Yasser Arafat, to "launder" criminal gangs of gun runners and drug smugglers by grafting them into the Fatah Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

There was the readiness of Al Aqsa members to drop the traditional Fatah distinction between the 1967 border and the territories, their mounting adoption of the Hamas and Jihad view that all of Palestine was one unit, that the term occupation applied to Tel Aviv and Haifa and West Jerusalem as well.

But that was only the beginning. The Intifada also brought to glaring light the depth and breadth of old guard Fatah mismanagement and globe-circling corruption. Yasser Arafat's bedrock unwillingness to root out corruption was as least as alienating to the PA's crucial allies the European Union, as was his unwillingness to take the merest action to fight terrorism.

In fact, if there was one signal obstacle to the cause of actual Palestinian independence, it was none other than Arafat himself, father of Palestine during the first intifada, abortionist of Palestine in the second.

Arafat's shameless and ultimately disastrous lying to his closest allies in Europe and the State Department during the Karine A arms ship affair, his fostering of impossible expectations among Palestinians at home and in exile, his rejection of Israeli peace offers in order to protect those false expectations, his egging-on of shahid candidates, his financing of their handlers, all these completed the campaign of homeland demolition that began long before Camp David in encounters of calibrated violence designed to wring concessions from Israel.

As Arafat stood by, losing his place in history even as he sought to keep his place among the Palestinians, bomb after bomb after bomb distanced Palestinians from the state they nearly had, could already have had, should have had, by the end of the last decade.

The Palestinians, still shrouded in the self-pitying, self-adoring arrogance of the truly humiliated - the same arrogance they so fiercely hate in the Jews - are still busy proving what a victory the Intifada was.

Yet the real proof of the outcome of the Intifada lies in the change in Hamas declarations. For the first time, they have begun to speak of a demand for an Israeli return to the 1967 borders, as opposed to a Jewish withdrawal to the Mediterranean and beyond.If nothing else, the reference to the 1967 borders demonstrates the danger to the Palestinians that the world will come to accept the Sharon-Bush vision of West Bank settlement blocs as part of Israel.

Thanks to the Intifada, Palestine is shrinking before the Palestinians' very eyes. The Palestinian West Bank is getting smaller and smaller, and the world is showing no interest, let alone outrage. In inheriting Gaza, the Palestinians gained one of the world's largest reservoirs of social ills. In throwing off Gaza, the vast majority of Israelis, while sympathizing with the pain of the displaced settlers, felt a distinct sense of relief.

Today, the question of whether the Palestinians can take the steps necessary to maintain a state - that is to say, whether they really do want a state, rather than just the flag they already have and the representative at the United Nations they already have, and the righteous indignation that they have in spades - remains an open question.

If they would rather demand the right of return until the end of time, rather than accepting some formula that amounts to a lesser gain, and with it, a Palestinian state, then the question is answered.

If they would rather insist on the right to violent resistance against Israel - allying themselves in the minds of others, if not in their own, with terrorist movements that bedevil civilized countries worldwide - rather than a renunciation of armed struggle and entrance into the community of nations, then we have their answer.

If they insist on a one-state solution, then it is a one-state solution that they will get, and that state will be Israel.

Today the question of what the Palestinians really want, and whether what they really want at this point is a state, is being asked more and more. Their comrades on the far-left may still believe the Palestinians to be the most oppressed, most deserving, most horrendously sinned-against people on earth. But the far-left, like the far-right, much prefers cartoons to complex realities.

For the rest of us, the question remains open. The question of what the Palestinians really want is asked perhaos most frequently on the Israeli left, which the Intifada succeeding in dismantling. It is being asked by the Palestinians' traditional allies in the EU and in the State Department, whom the Intifada succeeded in alienating, and whom sudden terror at home has profoundly affected. Do the Palestinians really want a state? What they have told us in deed and in word is "Yes, but on our own terms." They either mean that or they don't.

If they do, I'll wager that they'll have themselves some form of a state by somewhere around 2028. Forty years bumbling and blustering and procrastinating their way through the wilderness.

My guess is that they're smarter than that, though. They'll do as Lenny Bruce once bitterly quipped: "Be a man - sell out."

They'll do what we do. Lie to themselves, swallow the compromises they can't disguise with feints of word and gesture. I wish them luck. They're going to need a lot more of it than they've had 'til now.

Islam's resistance movement and the Middle East

Article by Georges Corm from Le Monde March edition.

‘The Middle East cauldron will scald us all’

Islam’s resistance movement

An adviser to Israel’s prime minister, summing up its strategy after the Hamas election win, said the Palestinians should be ‘put on a diet but not starved to death’. They will be punished for practising democracy, and both the United States and the European Union endorse that punishment. Western double-talk about democracy and justice has provoked outrage in Muslim countries and encouraged resistance to foreign intervention.

By Georges Corm

Although the world’s political observers were surprised by the landslide victory of Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January, it should have been foreseen as inevitable given the disregard for international law and human rights in the Palestinian territories that have been occupied by Israel since 1967.

The inhabitants of East Timor have wrested independence from Indonesia, and Bosnia and Kosovo have benefited from major international action to protect their peoples and grant autonomy as a prelude to independence. Meanwhile the Palestinians have seen what is left of their territory consumed by expanding settlements, and the illegal construction of the wall that is turning the West Bank into a huge collective prison (1). Gaza was evacuated ceremoniously by its 8,000 settlers and the Israeli army, but security has still not been restored: every day Israeli air strikes cause more civilian casualties.

No one dares invoke the peace process launched in Madrid in October 1991 or the Oslo accords in 1993 between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel. Yet it is claimed that a peace process still exists, although it is now no more than that faded United States road map, endorsed by the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. Claims that the Hamas election victory meant the end of any peace process seemed shocking, since in fact “the peace process” has no real, external existence.

Hamas was bound to win the election outright. The Palestinian Authority (PA) had long since thrown away all its advantages, making every possible concession to Israel and the international community that supports Israel: the PA had recognised Israel without reciprocal recognition of the Palestinian right to statehood, declared the PLO charter no longer valid, renounced armed resistance to the occupation, and de facto accepted the settlements and their further expansion.
Israeli intransigence left the PLO at a dead end. The intifada resumed in September 2000, leading to reoccupation of most of the West Bank and Gaza by the Israeli army and destruction of most of the PA’s infrastructure, which had been substantially funded by the EU. Living standards fell drastically as military checkpoints made the movement of Palestinians increasingly difficult within the meagre territory left to them.

With the Palestinians abandoned to their fate, the PLO bureaucracy sank into inefficiency and corruption, denounced by all western governments, which blamed the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat. He was in political, and often physical, quarantine in his Ramallah headquarters. Hamas continued the armed struggle through suicide bombings in the heart of Israel’s cities, provoking harsh reprisals that caused many civilian casualties, especially in Gaza. Israel, the US and the EU constantly pressed Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen, who was elected PA president after Arafat’s death) to subdue Hamas, by force if necessary. Tension between Fatah and Hamas ran high, and the PA imprisoned Hamas activists.

Nevertheless, the Palestinians have so far managed to avoid the civil war that Israel would like to happen, since it would end all armed resistance.

Israel encouraged the growth of Hamas in the 1980s to counter the secular Palestinian resistance movement. Over the following years Hamas gained much practical experience, military and social. Its task was helped by the failure of the Oslo accords and the bankruptcy of the PLO’s unreciprocated policy of compromise, which secured neither independence nor an end to Israeli settlements. Hamas, using its financial resources for social welfare and armed resistance against the occupying forces, gained popularity as the policies and conduct of the PLO’s old guard led to worsening poverty and oppression (2).

The victory of the Lebanese Hizbullah resistance over the Israeli army, which withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000 after 22 years of occupation, and with no gains, confirmed the view held by Hamas and by much of Palestinian and Arab public opinion that armed struggle was the only effective means to end Israeli occupation.

The Israeli leadership and its western supporters could have understood that a confined and oppressed population would admire and extensively support Hamas resistance fighters, rather than hold Hamas responsible for Israeli reprisals. Victory for Hamas only surprised those commentators who believe in the anti-terror rhetoric so prevalent in western media and diplomacy, which conceals the realities and the suffering, and accuses those who draw attention to them of sympathy with terrorism.

The fantasy comes true

There had been a similar, though worse, situation in occupied southern Lebanon. Media in the west had described the local militia that was mobilised by Israel as “defenders of the independence” of Lebanon against terrorists - Palestinians, then the Lebanese Hizbullah (on the US government list of terrorist organisations). In September 2004 the strongly worded Security Council Resolution 1559 called for the disarmament of Hizbullah.

Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon was never completed: it still violates Lebanese air, sea and land space almost daily, holds many former Lebanese resistance fighters in its prisons, and prevents the Beirut government from exploiting its water resources in the south. Despite this, the US and the UN consider Hizbullah to be both responsible for the destabilisation of Lebanon and a threat to Israel’s security (3); they often accuse it of helping Hamas. As with Palestine, the international community has developed a doctrine about Lebanon that takes no account of local realities and only increases tension.

The international community was surprised in June 2005 when the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president of Iran, defeating by a large majority Hashemi Rafsanjani, who symbolised the corruption rife in Iran, but was seen as a moderate in international affairs. The West was blind to the real situation. During the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, who was a convinced advocate of dialogue between civilisations, US policy-makers had continued to isolate Tehran politically and economically, and had named it a part of the axis of evil, along with Iraq and North Korea. North Korea has disappeared from US and European concerns, but Iran is more than ever in the line of fire. The US is using the excuse of Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory statements on Israel (which should indeed be condemned) to increase international pressure on Iran to force it to abandon the development of nuclear technology.

The US and France, taking advantage of the UN resolution on Lebanon and the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, are increasing pressure on Syria and Iran. The Lebanese Hizbullah has been described as an extension of the Syrian-Iranian rejection front opposed to western policy in the region. But the constant denunciation of Iran and Hizbullah, and pressure on the Syrian regime, can only foster anti-western rhetoric in the Arab and Muslim world and play into the hands of political Islam, moderate, radical or jihadist.

The speeches of President George Bush complete the dismal picture. With the pretext of the development of terrorism in Iraq after the US invasion, as well as the 9/11 attacks and the Madrid and London bombings for which Islamist groups have claimed responsibility, Bush repeatedly denounces Osama bin Laden’s aim to restore an Islamic caliphate as a plan to enslave the civilised world (4).

The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, has produced a paper on reform of the UN in which he claims that the only military and political danger facing the world is transnational terrorism, with its aim of acquiring weapons of mass destruction (5). That is an unqualified, unlimited endorsement of US doctrine, which identifies terrorism, necessarily Islamic, as the enemy of humanity.

The war-of-civilisations theorists must be thrilled, since major decision-makers in international politics have not only adopted their ideology but are helping to make their direst fantasies come true - the civilised Judeo-Christian world is confronted by multiple Islamic enemies, with powerful Chinese and Russian allies; they use terrorism and, in the near future, will use weapons of mass destruction supplied by rogue states.

Jihadist movements - which were born and encouraged during the cold war, when they were sent as cannon fodder against the Soviet army in Afghanistan, the Balkans and the Caucasus - never dreamed of being given such publicity by the president of the greatest world power, and by the UN. They believe that the West has been savage and unjust in dealings with Islam and Muslims. And things seem to be going well for the jihadists, since the US army and other troops supporting it are bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, both ideal battlegrounds for the struggle that the jihadists see as between “Judeo-Christian forces of evil” and “Islamic forces of good”, defending the integrity of Muslim society against foreign invaders.

The continuing injustices against the Palestinians, and the condemnation and fear aroused by the Hamas victory, strengthen the Islamists; as do the threats of an Israeli blockade to starve the Palestinian population, the existence of the extraterritorial prison in Guantánamo and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by the US army at Abu Ghraib.

It is not surprising that 80 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were elected to the Egyptian parliament in November and December 2005, confirming an Islamist upsurge throughout the Arab world. If free elections were held in Syria tomorrow, the same thing would happen. Despite the US occupation, or because of it, the Iraqi elections marginalised liberal and secular groups to the benefit of religious conservatives, both Sunni and Shia.

From out of this stifling background came a sudden eruption of outrage at cartoons in a Danish publication insulting the prophet Muhammad and holding him indirectly responsible for terrorist attacks. The resultant violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world gave vent to frustration and feelings of injustice. Unable to liberate Palestine or the Golan Heights, or ease the West’s grip on the Arab and Muslim world (especially Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Palestine), the crowds released their anger against the diplomatic missions of those countries in which the cartoons had been published.

The Islamist upsurge is actually an expression of nationalist demands long absent from the secular discourse of the decolonisation period, and different from third-world militancy, which has collapsed over the past 30 years (6). Will Islamism swell to an unstoppable torrent? That is the fear of the secular Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in a recent interview in Le Monde: “If there were free elections throughout the Arab-Muslim world, the Islamists would win everywhere. It’s as simple as that. The Arab-Muslim world lives with a deep feeling of injustice for which it holds the West responsible. And the West responds with a form of imperial fundamentalism that only strengthens that feeling” (7).

The cauldron bubbles

We may be on the verge of major upheavals. Given the blindness of western politicians and the stupidity of Arab leaders, the only common sense question is whether the present explosive situation can last much longer without a more serious incident igniting it.

Is it possible that the West can continue to ignore the cruel reality and absurdity of the situation in the Middle East? The Palestinians continue to be the victims of occupation, construction of the separation wall and the expansion of West Bank settlement, 38 years after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. A democratic country, the US, has invaded two sovereign states in reprisal for an act of violence committed on US territory. The West and the UN believe that terrorism is enough to explain such diverse movements and events as resistance to occupation, attacks in New York, Madrid and London, and a long series of bombings in Muslim Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Pakistan since 1995.

Thirty years ago conventional police procedures ended the era’s terrorism in industrialised countries (the Red Brigades in Italy, the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany, Action Directe in France, the Red Army in Japan); now armies are deployed internationally, encouraging young candidates for martyrdom to take violent action against illegal occupation by infidels. Western countries, plus Israel, India, Pakistan (Muslim, but an ally of the US), and even North Korea, are allowed weapons of mass destruction, but there is an outcry whenever an Arab or Muslim country attempts nuclear capability.

It is considered bad taste to reflect on what creates a geopolitical breeding ground for jihadists, or to show sympathy for the Palestinians and indignation at their fate. The EU is becoming more closely aligned with Israel and the US, and their anti-terrorism rhetoric.

Of course, Arab governments also bear much responsibility; they ignore public opinion in their own countries, yield to every US demand without getting in return any just settlement of the Palestinian question, or even-handed treatment of Israel and Arab countries on disarmament issues. Arrogant interference by the US government in the internal affairs of Middle Eastern countries (8), without any reaction from Arab foreign ministries, affronts the dignity of peoples who felt European colonisation offended their honour and now feel that their religion has been offended by those cartoons.

It would be better for regional stability if submissive Arab governments resisted US pressure. Their own peoples would respect them more, and it would be possible to hold free elections without Islamist movements sweeping the board.

US and Israeli policy counts on the weariness of Arab public opinion and a split between those who want to continue resistance and those who want to speed up submission in the hope of achieving peace in the region. Peace, in theory, would lead to the fall of dictatorships, the emergence of states governed by law, and economic prosperity. The divide in Arab public opinion has deepened since the invasion of Iraq and the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559, which called for disarmament of Hizbullah and the Palestinian camps in Lebanon.
Once again, Lebanon is the place where the contradictions in the Arab world, aggravated by the geopolitical situation, are most evident. The region is experiencing a resurgence of the cold war, but this time without the Soviet Union as a partner.

There is still a rejection front in the Middle East, with the Tehran-Damascus axis at its centre. It is made up of a wide range of political movements all claiming allegiance to Islam. The cartoon affair strengthened the Islamic camp by uniting Shia and Sunni groups in joint rejection of western policy. Islamic movements skilfully use religious language to focus nationalist demands in Iran and the Arab world, demands that have been long abandoned by most secular intellectuals after the rout of Nasserism and the powerlessness of such Arab nationalist movements as the Ba’ath.

In this new cold war, the US and EU do all they can to strengthen the democrats who advocate political reform in the Arab and Muslim world, the end of resistance to globalisation and US superpower, and priority for the fight against terrorism (without distinguishing between resistance to foreign occupation and violent action against western and Arab or Muslim capitals). Seminars and conferences on political reform, transparency and governance follow each other, sometimes sponsored by Arab governments in a show of good faith (9). Their aim is to mobilise the Arab intelligentsia in favour of peace and democracy and put pressure on Arab regimes. But the limits of such action were revealed by the Iranian, Egyptian and Palestinian elections.
Present western policy faithfully reproduces 19th-century European policy. This proposed the modernisation and democratisation of the Ottoman empire and the Persian monarchy, but only as a cover for colonial ambitions and for the dismemberment of those declining entities. Those colonial ambitions brought the Balkan cauldron to the boil, thus precipitating the first world war, which led to the second.

At the beginning of the 21st century, it seems increasingly likely that it will be the Middle East cauldron that will bubble over and scald us all.

Georges Corm is the author of ‘La Question religieuse au XXIe siècle’ (La Découverte, Paris, 2006) and ‘Le Proche-Orient éclaté, 1956-2006’ (Gallimard, Paris, 2005)
(1) The International Court of Justice in The Hague on 9 July 2004 severely condemned all Israeli practice in the occupied territories on grounds of international law. No action has been taken in support of that opinion. See Willy Jackson, “Israel: verdict on the wall”, Le Monde diplomatique, English language edition, November 2004.
(2) See Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, “Palestine loses the initiative”, Le Monde diplomatique, English language edition, January 2006.
(3) See “Lebanon: a cedar ready to fall”, Le Monde diplomatique, English language edition, April 2005 and Alain Gresh, “Lebanon: an illusion of unity”, Le Monde diplomatique, English language edition, June 2005.
(4) See his speech to the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington in October 2005 and comments on it, especially “Doing the 9/11 time warp again”, International Herald Tribune, Paris, 8-9 October 2005.
(5) See In Larger Freedom. Towards Development Security and Human Rights for All, UN General Assembly Document A/59/2005, 21 March 2005.
(6) See my book La question religieuse au XXIè siècle: Géopolitique et crise de la post-modernité, La Découverte, Paris, 2006.
(7) Le Monde, 12 February 2006.
(8) See President Bush’s description of Ariel Sharon as a “man of peace”. Jack Straw, the British foreign minister, on an official visit to Beirut, called on the Lebanese to pray for Sharon, forgetting about the massacres at Sabra and Shatila and the victims of the Israel invasion in 1982 led by Sharon.
(9) In 2004 there were five solemn declarations on reform in the Arab world: the Sana’a document of 10 January, the German foreign minister’s speech of 2 February, the US document of 13 February that served as basis for the plan of action for Middle East reform drawn up at the G8 summit in June, the British foreign minister’s speech of 1 March, and the Alexandria document of 13 March.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Palestinian perspective

This post is from William

I feel ashamed of the way my country has behaved which I regard as a betrayal of Palestine. The events in Jericho are profoundly disturbing. Of themselves they are no worse than many ordeals Palestine and the Palestinians have had to endure. But the behaviour of the British in dishonouring the agreement they had with the Palestinian Authority is unconscienable.
Perhaps therefore, it is out of a sense of collective guilt that I post this comment received today from one of our young Palestinian members resident in the West Bank, Nisreen - known to many of you. These words are hers:

i believe the only thing that can be saved in this conflict is human degnity, excuse my idealistic vision for this world, but i no longer believe that the conflict can be solved in a two state solution, there can only be one state solution to this conflict. A state that put on its first agenda equality and dignity for all of its citizens regardless of their religion or ideology. In other words, state for all of its citizens. Israel and its government destroyed every option and a possibility for a two states solution. But i guess there is no harm in having a secular state for all of its citizens regardless of their religion. Anyway, i am not following very much with the political news of the region, the only thing that the peace process gave to the Palestinians and forced it on them is a legitimization of the occupation, that is the only meaning for the phrase 'peace process' means nowadays: Legitimization of the occupation, and since as an individual Palestinian i believe this is not that what Palestinians agreed and wanted to achive through peace process, we wanted to see an end to the occupation, what we got was the opposite and not only that, we got the whole world putting pressure on us to accept the new name given to the presence of occupation on our land, something that we will never do. So in fact sorry to tell you that, but i see the whole process as a waste of time, unless it brings a true and complete end of the Israeli occupation from all of our lands and not only spots that they chose to evacuate while still controling our lives, confiscating our lands, destroying every aspect of our wellbeing, i do not want to disappoint you william with all of this, but in fact, the minute that Israeli occupation forces placed the first block of their 9 cement wall on our land, this meant that there is no meaning for all of this political process, they never halted attacking every aspect of our life. and in fact, they are doing everything within their hands to destroy any form of any political process, so why should us Palestinians pay for their crimes. There is no state solution to the conflict, without having a just solution, and even the compromised 'Just' solution that our leadership agreed to, it was killed by the Israeli polices in the occupied territories. There will be no solution to the conflict without ending the occupation. And since Israel is determined to continue its presence and occupation over our lands, and destroying any two states solutions, so the only option left is a one state solution, because definitly we will not accept a 'Ghetto ' state supervised by Israel.

This is when it comes to the situation in Palestine, not following up with the news, since it is so sad to see, but yes the future is bright, now we are dreaming of a one secular state for all of its citizens, let Israel continue to live in its dream of occupation, wars and destruction, while we continue our dream of having a state that got respect to human degnity and for all of its citizens regardless of their religion. . . surely the world can be normal, not like the sick minded people we see every day, and surely there are alot out there that i still want to do in my life. . .

Hamas and Antisemitism

This is the first post of a number I plan to write under my own name to flag up issues regarding antisemitism. It can be an extremely contentious subject, but anyone involved in the MEPP needs to take it into account. I for one, am massively concerned, both at the occurence and type of antisemitism in today's world and the often problematic discourse as regards the topic.

Let me be very clear here. The topic is a difficult and emotive one. For me personally, for example, even the way one writes the term has meaning. Antisemitism, rather than anti-Semitism. and from there it get's wildly complicated. But these are not the intricate musings on some technical aviation enthusiast blog. This stuff kills.

It is not a topic for which one can find a good lead-in. I will aim to foster, over a number of posts on the topic, a debate about certain issues surrounding it.

One point of note: These posts, any writings on antisemitism in fact, should not be taken as an exclusive matter. I am painfully aware of any number of other hatreds in the world, some extremely relevant in today's geopolitical climate, others no less pressing. But I cannot accept a rebuttal of my concerns about antisemitism on that basis. They are all different and they all matter. To the enquiring Jewish mind, whilst all hatred appears pressing, antisemitism naturally is of primary importance. And I am priviliged to share some of my concerns with you.

Mostly hatred is interchangeable. Though in certain aspects antisemitism is unique, an insult against a muslim/black/hindu/chinese/whatever person, should leave the Jewish observer without a doubt that it could be directed against Jews next time. Again, there is much subtelty and complexity to be navigated, but once I have flagged up my initial concerns, I will broaden the debate - with an eventual view to more concrete steps NCF can take to help the situation, not only as regards antisemitism.

For the first post, however, I will leave you with a simple excerpt from an article in the 'New Yorker' magazine entitled 'The Democracy Game' by David Remnick(Feb 27 edition)

Unfortunately it is not availiable online, but I will attempt to source it in electronic format if at all possible. You'll have to make do with my summary here, in fact, I shall only focus on the issue I seek to point to.

The article, or part thereof, centres on the Rajoub brothers. The story of the Fatah / Hamas brothers has of course been told many times. Further, I expect given the fact that I am lucky enough to be allowed to write to a specialist audience, some of you may know Jibril Rajoub as a result of diplomatic activity. However, let it be stated, that the article presents Sheikh Nayef (Jibril's brother) as the 'typical' face of Hamas, likely to dominate the next Palestinian legislature. I now quote:

"Hamas has not executed any suicide bombings in the past few months, but the Israelis do not take the lull to reflect a nascent desire for compromise. [Sheikh Nayef says:]'The conflict with Israel is not a matter of Ideology. All the Israeli slogans -the chosen people, the promised land - the basis of their state is religious. But these are religious legends, false stories. God did not give them this land as if Israelis, Jews are preffered above all other peoples on earth and all other peoples were meant to serve them.' The Sheikh went on, 'Two hundred years ago in Europe, they were conservative people, but now the fashion world, the media - it's controlled by jews. And their people are sexually open. Freud, a Jew, was the one who destroyed morals, and Marx destroyed divine ideologies. If it is not all Jews, well, they were a big part of this. And now it is the Jewish lobby in the United States that is setting policy in the world and causing the United States to wage war all over the world."

I trust that the informed reader, who knows a little about the history of Zionsim, will immediately be able to offer a debunking and mitigating discussion on the complicated nature of the relationship between Zionism and Judaism. As for the second part of the accusations, I think he said it all. And don't tell me that this is 'one voice'. Those that are - out of admirable motivation no doubt - keen to work with Hamas for peace and understanding often claim that a statement - any statement - Hamas makes represents the actual speaker only. I am in no doubt here, that the Sheikh is not alone in his viewpoint, that he did not come up with it himself, and that whoever explained the world for him in this way has done so for many others. Wake up and smell the Hummus, I mean Hamas!

All comments greatly appreciated.

A War of Religions? God Forbid!

Uri Avnery sounds a warning that ought to be amplified...

FOR YEARS I have been haunted by a nightmare: that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would change from a national to a religious confrontation.
A national conflict, terrible as it may be, is soluble. The last two centuries have seen many national wars, and almost all of them ended in a territorial compromise. Such conflicts are basically logical, and can be terminated in a rational way.
Not so religious conflicts. When all sides are bound by divine commandments, the attainment of a compromise becomes far more difficult.
Religious Jews believe that God promised them all of the holy land. Thus, giving away any of it to "foreigners" is an unforgivable sin. In the eyes of Muslim believers, the whole country is a Waqf (religious trust), and it is therefore absolutely forbidden to surrender any part of it to unbelievers. (When the Caliph Omar conquered Palestine some 1400 years ago, he declared it a Waqf. His motive was quite practical: to prevent his generals from dividing the land between themselves, as was their wont.)
By the way, the evangelical fundamentalists who dominate Washington at this time also see the Holy Land as a religious property, to which the Jews must return in order to make possible the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Is a compromise between these forces possible? Certainly yes, but it is much more difficult. A devout Muslim is allowed to declare a Hudna (armistice) for a hundred years and more, without condemning his soul to hell. Ariel Sharon, who began the evacuation of settlers, spoke about "long-range temporary arrangements". In politics, "temporary" measures have a tendency to become permanent.
But wisdom, sophistication and a lot of patience are needed to reach a resolution of the conflict in these circumstances.
On the day Arafat died, many Israelis were angry with me for saying (in a Haaretz interview) that we shall yet long for this secular leader, who was both willing and able to make peace with us. I said that his elimination removes the last obstacle to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Palestine and the entire Arab world.
One did not need to be a prophet to see that.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

There will be a major update to the official NCF posts on this blog in the coming days. In the meantime, below, as the first of a series of posts under my own name, is a response to a recent piece regarding Israel published in the Guardian, which I had circulated previously. I have also posted some of the comments I have received in response. Thanks for these, they are always appreciated.

Dear all,

I am writing to you in regard to an article by Paul Oestreicher, one of the chaplains at my (Sussex) university, which appeared in the Guardian on 20/02/06. Frankly, I consider the piece, and its central claims, to be grossly mistaken if not outright offensive. So much so that I felt the need to write – the list is blind copied as is best practice, but most of those on it will find the issue of some interest. For your reference, I have copied the piece below, but I am keen for you to review the reply I had sent to the Guardian. Joseph Harker (who amongst other things edits their response column) wrote that he considered the points I raise highly interesting, but felt that the relationship – simply being a student at Sussex – was not enough to publish, as the column is meant for people who have directly been written about. The letters page editor was adamant that the reply was at least a hundred words too long, and wanted to edit it, but the subject at hand is highly delicate, and I did not feel comfortable putting my name to something which they may have cut considerably. Needless to say, I ask you to excuse my intrusion into your day, it is rare that I send unsolicited mail, but given that I am currently studying at Sussex, and that I am deeply upset by Mr Oestreicher’s comments in a national paper widely read amongst you, I trust you understand. Please let me know any comments you yourselves may have, and – having never met Mr Oestreicher personally, I have of course included him as a recipient of this e-mail, and it goes without saying that this is solely an attack on his views as regards the matters he has discussed in the article.


Davis Lewin


Please scroll down to read the original piece and the reply or click here to go straight to the reply (this link does not work on the blog).

Israel's policies are feeding the cancer of anti-semitism

It is a lie that to reject Zionism as it is practised today is to be the inheritor of
Hitler's racism

Paul OestreicherMonday February 20, 2006The Guardian

The chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, is right. His reaction to the Anglican synod's call for sanctions against Israel is understandable. Hatred of Judaism - now commonly called anti-semitism - is a virus that has infected Christendom for two millennia. It continues to stalk the world despite its most virulent outbreak in Nazi Germany. It should not be left untreated. For too many it remains the unlearned lesson of the Holocaust. It should haunt decent Christians for generations to come.

The German pope knows that particularly well and is on the battle lines against it. On this issue, nothing divides him from the Archbishop of Canterbury and most other church leaders. If, as some now think, today's Jews are the Muslims - hatred transferred - that simply means there is a battle to maintain our common humanity on more than one front. All collective hatreds poison the body politic.
I say this as the child of a German Jewish-born father who escaped in time. His mother did not. I say it as a half-Jewish German child chased around a British playground in the second world war and taunted with "he's not just a German, he's a Jew". A double insult. But I say this too as a Christian priest who shares the historic guilt of all the churches. All Christians share a bloody inheritance.
If I feel all that in my guts and know it in my head, I cannot stand by and watch the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - one of the world's most dangerous outbreaks of collective hatred - as a dispassionate onlooker. I cannot listen calmly when an Iranian president talks of wiping out Israel. Jewish fears go deep. They are not irrational. But I cannot listen calmly either when a great many citizens of Israel think and speak of Palestinians in the way a great many Germans thought and spoke about Jews when I was one of them and had to flee.
If the Christian in me has good reason to be ashamed, so now does the Jew in me. I passionately believe that Israel has the right, and its people have the right, to live in peace and in secure borders. But I know too that modern Israel was born in terror and made possible in its present Zionist form by killing and a measure of ethnic cleansing. That is history. Tell me of a nation with an innocent history. But the Zionism at the heart of Israeli politics is about the present and the future. It makes me fear for the soul of Israel today and the survival of its children tomorrow.
The Israel characterised by the words of Golda Meir that "there was no such thing as Palestinians ... they did not exist" is an Israel that is inevitably surrounded by enemies and that can only survive militarily and economically as a client state of the world's only superpower, for now. Nor can its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East last for ever. Peace cannot be made by building a wall on Palestinian land that makes the life of the miserably conquered more miserable still. A Palestinian bantustan will be a source of unrest and violence for ever.
I say all this despairing of the Israel I love. Its people are my people. The Palestinians are my neighbours. I wish they had stronger and better leaders. I wish their despairing young people had not been driven to violence. Just as I understand Jewish fears, I understand their despair. Only an Israel that understands that too can change it. And there are Jews in Israel and in the diaspora who know it. Most of them, out of a fear of being thought disloyal, are afraid to say what they know to be true. The state of Israel has become a cruel occupying power. Occupations, when they are resisted, are never benevolent. They morally corrupt the occupier. The brave body of Israeli conscientious objectors are the true inheritors of the prophets of Israel. They are the true patriots. What nation has ever loved its prophets?
But the main objective of my writing today, is to nail the lie that to reject Zionism as it practised today is in effect to be anti-semitic, to be an inheritor of Hitler's racism. That argument, with the Holocaust in the background, is nothing other than moral blackmail. It is highly effective. It condemns many to silence who fear to be thought anti-semitic. They are often the very opposite. They are often people whose heart bleeds at Israel's betrayal of its true heritage.
I began with the recognition that the cancer of anti-semitism has not been cured. Tragically, Israel's policies feed it - and when world Jewry defends Israeli policies right or wrong, then anger turns not only against Israel, but against all Jews. I wish it were mere rhetoric to say that Israeli politics today make a holocaust the day after tomorrow credible. If the whole Muslim world hates Israel, that is no idle speculation. To count on Arab disunity and Muslim sectarian conflict and a permanent American shield is no recipe for long-term security.
There are Israelis who know all that, and there are Jews around the world who know it. In Britain, Jews for Justice for Palestinians organises to give Jewishness a human face. Tell them they are anti-semites and they will laugh bitterly, for the charge hurts deeply and is a lie. Prophets such as Uri Avnery give all this eloquent expression, but are heard by only a few. The media are afraid of a lobby that is quite prepared to do them serious damage.
Yes, of course, there are many who express their solidarity with the Palestinian people. Some are Christians. They deserve respect. If, whether wisely or not, they call for sanctions, that does not make them Jew-haters - not in theory and not in practice. My concern, however, is to express solidarity with the Israel that is not represented by its leaders or popular opinion. Once, in the days of Hitler, there was another Germany represented by those in concentration camps alongside Jews and Gypsies, the martyrs who are celebrated today. There is such an Israel too. Its voices are still free to speak, though often reviled and misunderstood. That Israel has my solidarity, as all Jews have my love and prayers.
· Paul Oestreicher was a member of the Church of England's general synod and director of the Centre for International Reconciliation, Coventry Cathedral; he is now a chaplain at the University of Sussex


Dear Madame / Sir,

I regret that our Chief Rabbi’s assertion has proved correct. Already Paul Oestreicher is wreaking havoc with my communal relations. Though aware of his excellent reputation at our university, I am deeply troubled and actually very hurt by the column Mr Oestreicher chose to write. Despite this, let me attempt to dispassionately examine his arguments: As so many people do, he attempts to give force to his opinion by cloaking them in a ‘semi-jewish’ status, through sentimental association with the suffering of his grandmother. He is a prominent member of the Church of England. Say no more. Actually, do: According to him this Jew ‘within’ him is ashamed. He is not Jewish. So the Jew is ashamed. Ashamed of the fact that Israel is comparable, albeit conditionally, to the Nazis in Mr Oestreicher’s opinion. About the fact that the only good Jew is one who is a member of the ‘Jews for Justice for the Palestinians’ – the only group apparently brave enough to stand up to the ‘Jewish Lobby’. And of course, Israel is at fault for fuelling anti-semitism, particularly when all Jews across the world – world Jewry – (apart from JFJFP?) defend her policies right or wrong, as we inevitably do. Sound simplistic? It get’s better: The media are afraid of us!!! Tell that to the Guardian.
To address what Mr Oestreicher claims as the reason for his column: nobody but the modern anti-semites themselves are saying that for Jews to criticise Zionism is equal with ‘Hitlerite’ anti-semitism. You should visit the Israeli Parliament, or the World Jewish Congress sometime. Trust me, we argue. Passionately and fiercely against those policies we consider terrible, and for those we want implemented. It’s just that when people like Mr Oestreicher start talking to us in big polemic, simplistic phrases, making an unjustified comparison with our greatest enemies, claiming, in effect, that we bring it upon ourselves – even though our situation is so very complex – and then claim to be one of us - and therefore ok, well, then we must wonder if they are really the friends they have always claimed to be. What a disappointment.

Davis Lewin
Ugrad, University of Sussex