Thursday, January 19, 2006

EU announces more financial aid for Palestinian elections efforts

Note the following two articles sent in by Oded. (Thank you!) The first one states that financial aid will be given to the Palestinians, but if read carefully you will see that the aid is specifically for security measures and for the training of Palestinian customs officers.

The second article tells us that aid is being taken away from the Palestinians due to a withering economy, mismanagement of funds and Palestinian lack of ability to meet agreed benchmarks. I guess the question is whether it will be more or less difficult to meet economic benchmarks with heightened security preventing ease of trade between Israel and Palestine.

Mialy Clark (Iraq co-ordinator)



The European Union announced further financial aid for the Palestinians Monday, days before the January 25 Palestinian parliamentary elections.European Union external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who arrived Monday for a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, signed an agreement for a further 1.4 million euros to help the Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC) with voter registration and polling activities.The additional sum brings the total of EU support to the Palestinian elections to 18.5 million euros.

In a news conference in Ramallah with Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Qidweh, Ferrero-Waldner called the elections a "landmark event".New leaderships in both the Palestinian areas and Israel will be "ready and able to inject new vigour into the peace process," she said."The Gaza Strip is the key to progress," she added, announcing a three million euro aid package to upgrade the Gaza-Egypt border crossing of Rafah.

Half the money is for funding equipment including X-ray machines, metal detectors and computers, the other for training Palestinian customs inspectors.She also announced EU decisions to launch project worth more than 20 million euros to improve infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.Answering a Deutsche Presse-Agentur question on whether the EU would suspend financial aid to the Palestinian Authority if the radical Islamic Hamas movement joined the cabinet after the elections, she said, "We will work with any government that is ready to seek peace by peaceful means." Ferrero-Waldner did not meet Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who was in Kuwait although she was due to meet Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday.

Earlier, EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana said the bloc expected Israel to facilitate electoral operations, including the movement of candidates and officials as well as of local and international observers.The Palestinian Authority must also ensure the security of the electoral operations and safety of voters and candidates, he said. Solana repeated EU demands that all factions participating in the polls, including Hamas, must renounce violence, disarm and recognize Israel's right to exist."Those who want to part of the political process should not engage in armed activities as there is a fundamental contradiction between such activities and building a democratic state," he underlined.

The EU is deploying 237 election observers to "help build confidence in the electoral process and encourage Palestinians to exercise their democratic rights". Israel had originally threatened to ban East Jerusalem Palestinians from taking part in the elections, a threat which led the Palestinian Authority to warn that the poll could be cancelled. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, but Israel, which captured it in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed it shortly afterwards, says East and West Jerusalem form part of its "undivided" capital.

EU suspends 35 million euros in aid to the Palestinian Authority

By Reuters

The European Union has suspended 35 million euros ($42 million) in aid to the Palestinians, citing their lack of budgetary discipline, the EU's commissioner for external relations said on Tuesday.The rare sanction underscored intensified foreign donor scrutiny on the Palestinian Authority since Israel quit the Gaza Strip last year after 38 years of occupation. The impoverished territory is widely seen as a testing ground for statehood.

Visiting the region ahead of Palestinian legislative elections on Jan. 25, the EU commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said half of 70 million euros ($84 million) donated through the World Bank in November has not been released, and that the issue was under discussion. "The biggest donor is the European Commission, and we have not paid because the benchmarks have not been fulfilled," she told reporters. "There has to be a credible finance minister, but there also has to be a budget and the budget should also remain within the limits of what the budget has foreseen," she said.

The Palestinian Authority had no immediate comment. There has been no replacement appointed for Salam Fayyad, who quit as Palestinian finance minister in November to run for parliament. Before resigning, Fayyad predicted aid from a World Bank trust fund would be cut in response to ballooning Palestinian government wage costs.

The trust has paid out at least $230 million to the Palestinians since its founding in 2004 but
the Palestinian economy has withered since the start of an uprising against Israel in the occupied West Bank and Gaza in 2000, hampered by violence and by mismanagement and corruption that discourage donors.

The World Bank has said that reviving the Palestinian economy is crucial to peacemaking. But Ferrero-Waldner, who said European aid to the Palestinians had previously been held up in 2002 and 2003, said such donations could not be unconditional. "We have a long-term commitment with the Palestinian people that we would like to improve their living conditions (but) we are not only pumping money into the Palestinians without asking for very clear benchmarks," she said.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

"Three Fingers, No Fist"

This piece from Yuri is a great scene-setting article on the present chaotic scenario in Israel.
- William

"Three Fingers, No Fist"

by Uri Avnery
Date: 10.1.06
Source: www.gush.shalom-org

A political earthquake before an election is an unusual event, but not unknown. A second earthquake in such a period is already rare. But a third earthquake before an election, a short time after the first two - now, that is really scary.

Well, it has just happened. The nomination of Amir Peretz as leader of the Labor Party had already changed the political landscape of Israel. That is what pushed Ariel Sharon to create the Kadima party, the "Big Bang" that changed the landscape once again. Now, with the collapse of Sharon, the landscape has changed yet again - and this time beyond recognition.

Eighty days before the elections, the competition starts again right from the beginning. What will happen to Kadima? What kind of leader is Ehud Olmert? How will the parties do in the elections? Who will be the next Prime Minister? What kind of coalition will come into being?

Important questions. None of them has a clear answer at this time.

Kadima was born as Sharon's personal party. He was the glue that held together the extreme right-winger Tsachi Hanegbi and the self-declared peacenik Shimon Peres, militarist Shaul Mofaz and former leftist trade union leader Haim Ramon.

The first thought after Sharon's massive stroke was: this is the end of Kadima. Without Sharon, the entire package will fall apart. Only a miserable group of orphans will remain, something like a political refugee camp.

But that is really not certain at all. True, if someone joined this project only because he adores Sharon or needs a Big Father, he may now want to return to his former home. But if someone has already found a new home in Kadima, he will remain.

Who? First of all, the opportunists who have no chance of snatching a Knesset seat any other way.

But not only they. True, Kadima has no real program, no ideology. But its fuzzy sentiments and vague ideas can serve as a surrogate for a program. Many people entertain a hazy longing for peace - not peace with clear-cut contours, with a clear price, based on a compromise with the Palestinians, but a kind of abstract "peace". This goes together with the slogan that one cannot trust the Arabs, that with Arabs you cannot make peace. This basic racism, perhaps a natural result of 120 years of war and conflict, expresses itself also in the feeling that the Jewishness of Israel should be reinforced and that Jewish traditions should be preserved, a vague, but nonetheless powerful sentiment.

Altogether this is a popular mixture, common to a significant proportion of the Israeli-Jewish public. It can serve as a convenient alternative to the explicit policies of the Left and the Right - all the more so since the public has become deeply suspicious of programs, ideologies and everything that looks like a miracle cure. The slogan could be: the vaguer, the better.

Until now, the Kadima people had put their trust in Sharon, believing that he would know what to do when the time came. They were sure that he had solutions - even if they did not know what they were - indeed, without wanting to know. They knew that he knew, and that was enough. Now this opaqueness can turn out to be an advantage in itself. A party that has no clear answer to anything can attract everyone.

Certainly, the party called Forwards will go backwards. It will not reach the 42 seats promised to Sharon by the opinion polls. But how many then? One can only guess, and no guess is worth much. My own guess: not less than 15, not more than 30.

One has to face the fact that Sharon is leaving the political arena empty of outstanding personalities and charismatic leaders. For better or worse, Israel will now be a normal Western-style country, with normal political parties headed by normal politicians.

And no politician is more normal than Ehud Olmert; the quintessential politician, who has never been anything but a politician, a politician pure and simple.

He is not a Great Father. Neither a glorious general nor a great thinker. He has no charisma, no vision, no exceptional integrity. At the start of his career, he soon betrayed several of those who favored him. But he is shrewd, smart, sober, ambitious and glib on TV, a politician, without grandstanding and poses.

He landed in his present position by sheer accident. The title "Deputy Prime Minister" was given him as a consolation prize, because Sharon could not satisfy his craving for the powerful Finance Ministry, which had already been promised to Netanyahu. As compensation, Sharon conferred on Olmert a title that was quite meaningless, because it meant only that Olmert would chair cabinet meetings on the rare occasions when Sharon was abroad.

Now, suddenly, the empty title turns out to be an excellent springboard. Automatic procedures have turned Olmert into Sharon's temporary successor, and in politics, as is well known, nothing is more permanent than the temporary. The first to occupy a position has a huge advantage over all challengers.

One can trust Olmert not to do foolish things. His ego will not lead him into a hole, as frequently happens to Netanyahu. He is also much more experienced and devious than Amir Peretz.

If he maintains a steady hand until the elections, he has a chance to become the next prime minister.

Israeli politics now resemble the three fingers of a hand: Likud, Kadima and Labor. Three fingers instead of a fist.

It is quite possible that on election day, the three will get almost identical results - something around 25 seats each. If one of them does better than the others, its leader will probably be called upon to form the next government.

While the three are practically equal, Kadima has an advantage, since it occupies the place in the middle. When three lie in a bed, the one in the middle is always covered. In such a case, Olmert will be able to form a coalition either with Likud or with Labor. He will have no ideological qualms - he can be a leftist or a rightist, as required.

The situation presents a challenge to Amir Peretz. Since his nomination, his campaign has not left the ground. The massive figure of Sharon left no space for any contenders. Sharon had the initiative, with the media dancing around him. Now, with Olmert, Peretz has a much greater chance - provided he does not appear to be a second Olmert. Vagueness is good for Olmert, it is bad for Peretz.

Peretz has chosen the slogan "The Time Has Come!" A vague slogan that says nothing. He must move ahead, demonstrate leadership, present daring initiatives, capture the imagination, prove that he is capable of bringing about a revolution both in matters of peace and social affairs. It is hard to win, easy to fail. Now it's up to him.

And all this, of course, is also true for Netanyahu on the other side.

After the third earthquake, these elections are good for democracy. For the first time in years, the public is faced with three clear options, represented by three parties with three leaders:

- On the right there is Likud under Netanyahu, championing the continuation of the occupation and the enlargement of the settlements, placing territory above peace.

- In the middle, Kadima under Ehud Olmert, will try to continue the ways of Sharon: annex territories and fix new borders for Israel unilaterally, adding some meaningless gestures spiced with vague slogans about peace.

- On the left, Labor under Amir Peretz will call for practical negotiations with the Palestinians, aimed at bringing an end to the conflict.

If these alternatives are clear-cut, and if the candidates do not try to obscure the differences between them, these elections can be really democratic, offering the public a real choice.

Voters will have to make the choice themselves, instead of leaving their fate in the hands of the Great Father.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Welcome to the NCF MEPP Blogsite

In keeping with The Next Century Foundation's drive to make use of the new media channels that exist in the world today, here is our blogsite for the Working Group on the Middle East Peace Process. In addition to the MEPP e-mail circulations, this blog will contain posts that may be of interest to our members and allow us to engage you in more feedback and debate, something that the issues with which this working group deals never fail to attract. Please visit again in the coming days, as more content will appear online shortly and thereafter be continually updated.

Davis Lewin
Coordinator NCFMEPP Working Group