Thursday, May 31, 2007

Olmert exploring third-party talks with Damascus

By Aluf Benn, Haaretz

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is exploring, via a third party, the possibility of resuming peace talks with Syria. A government source said there was no direct contact between Israeli and Syrian officials, "but a very serious assessment is underway."

What is being assessed is what Israel would get in return for pulling out of the Golan Heights, the nature of future bilateral relations and whether Syria would consider cutting its ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Palestinian terror organizations, Israel's main enemies in the region.

To read full report click here

Democratic optimists gather in Doha

Jane K. sent us this item on a Daily Star (Lebanon) opinion, in which Rami Khouri reports from the 2nd Forum on Democracy and Political Reform in the Arab World on why hope still persists for Arab democracy:

By Rami G. Khouri Daily Star (Lebanon) May 30, 2007
The 2nd Forum on Democracy and Political Reform in the Arab World that I attended this week in Doha, Qatar, is an exercise in hope and determination, despite the lack of practical results to date. The Arab world remains the world's last collectively non-democratic region, having resisted the repeated attempts of Arab democrats, liberals, human rights activists, Islamists and constitutionalists to bring their societies into the growing club of democracies around the world.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Israel prepares for long struggle with Hamas

Senior figures in the Israeli defense establishment have indicated a serious Israeli intention to defeat Hamas rather than coopt or moderate it, in meetings with NCF members during our latest trip to Israel. In the following JTA article Leslie Susser looks at Israel's long term strategy towards Hamas.

Both sides have an interest in continuing the fighting. Hamas wants to embarrass Israel and consolidate its position as the leading force in Palestinian politics. Israel wants to deal Hamas a crippling blow and help elevate the status of the more moderate Fatah movement on the Palestinian street. The hope is that an empowered Fatah, under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, could become a genuine negotiating partner.

In a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signaled Israel's intentions. "There will be no limit in acting against the terror groups and against those who are responsible for the terror. No one is immune," he warned. Indeed, there is no Israeli commitment to stop military pressure on Hamas, even if it stops firing the makeshift rockets.

To read full article click here

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Will Labor leadership upset be the government's demise?

Yesterday (May 28) Amir Peretz was knocked out in the Labor Party leadership elections. On June 12 there will be a run-off between former PM Ehud Barak and former security services chief Ami Ayalon. The big question now is what will the prospects be for Olmert, or for the coalition government without him?

By Aluf Benn, Haaretz

The primaries in Labor are the start of a new season of "Survivor," starring Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The working assumption in the Prime Minister's Bureau is that Labor will stay in the coalition, regardless of who is elected to lead the party. In such a scenario, the coming weeks will be dedicated to political maneuvering, at the end of which a new minister will take over at the Defense Ministry, and the government will continue to function as usual.
To read in full click here

For more details on the vote from BICOM click here

Monday, May 28, 2007

Israel cracks down on Hamas finances

We tell the Govrnment of Israel that they should offer a carrot as well as a stick. This comes in from Rafi Dajani. The arrested Minister of Education is a friend of ours:

By Joshua BrilliantUPI Israel CorrespondentTEL AVIV -- As Palestinian rocket attacks continue, Israel started arresting Hamas officials and began a crackdown on the group's financial institutions. Before dawn Thursday, Israeli troops arrested 33 West Bank Palestinians whom an army spokesman said were "senior members of the Hamas terror organization." They include Education Minister Nasser Eddin al-Sha'er, three members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the mayors of several towns including Nablus, Kalkilya and Tul Karem.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Abbas clings on as Gaza implodes

Agree with it not, this is the analysis from one of our members on the ground in Palestine.

By Carolynne Wheeler and Loveday Morris in Jerusalem,

Sunday Telegraph, 21/05/2007

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is close to losing his grip on power in the Gaza Strip after a week in which 50 people have died in violence between opposing militias.

His Gaza residence has come under attack, his Fatah forces are taking heavy casualties from militant organisation Hamas, and Palestinian government officials deem it too dangerous for him to visit the war-torn territory. His own officials have warned him that he is at risk of assassination.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

What Policy for Britain in the Middle East?

The following is a draft article by William Morris - comments and suggestions please.

The great YMCA building in Jerusalem, built by an American with Scottish funding a century ago to be a celebration of hope for Arab and Jew has a motto carved in stone in its chapel wall. It reads:

In essentials unity,
In non-essentials, liberty,
In all thine charity.

Words to build a peace worth dying for.

But now we see blood on blood for nothing as Arab fights Arab in Gaza and as the enduring Arab conflict with the Jewish people celebrates the forty years since the June '67 war and the near 60 years since a resurgent Jewish state was forged in the Middle East back in 1948.

Meanwhile, to cap it all, the West has its own blood spattered war with the Arabs in Iraq.

And we ask what British policy should be?

The British once understood the Middle East. That clearly is no longer the case. They do not even understand their key Mid East ally, Israel.

Israel is about to lose its premier, Mr Ehud Olmert. He should hang on until August and the publication of the full unexpurgated version of the report on the Lebanon war. And with regard to the summer 2006 war with Hezbollah, let's not mince words. Many in the Arab World view this as a war with Lebanon in so much as Hezbollah is Lebanon's dominant political force and is intrinsically Lebanese. And quite astonishingly this was a war which Israel lost. They may pretend differently in the corridors of power but every Israeli knows, in their heart of hearts, what the truth is. Two sides can lose a war. Both the marginalised current government of Lebanon and the State of Israel. The victor was Hezbollah. Note importantly that Britain and America compounded Israel's strategic mistake by resisting calls for an early cease-fire. And today Hezbollah has over 15 unspent rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv (the CIA estimate) and perhaps as many as 200 (the Iranian boast). The number is irrelevant. No one will now bomb Iran, the nation that has become the most powerful of the triumvirate of Mid East superpowers, the other two being Israel and Turkey.

But what nation represents the key to a safer world? Not Iraq, not Iran, not Palestine, and certainly not Turkey. Not Japan, not the Europe, not even the USA, and certainly not Britain.

No, it is Israel. It always was and always will be. We can all lie safer in our beds from Baghdad to Brighton if there is peace between Israel and the Arab World.

Should we see the coalition collapse in Israel in August, the ensuing general election will bring Mr Bibi Netanyahu to power. You want the nuances go and read Haaretz. I am giving you the broad brush strokes as explained to me by that wily old fox Ari Rath, the former Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post.

As Ari tells it, we may see a softer Bibi Netanyahu. Bibi the peacemaker. Bibi is after all ever the pragmatist. He lost the leadership twice through being too hard line. Once against Barak in that period when Israel had directly elected premier. Barak got 1,900,000 votes against Bibi's 1,400,000. Then he lost out again a couple of years back. Remember the Likud internal elections when he challenged Sharon's insistence on a Palestinian state? To cut a long story short, Sharon set up Khadima whilst in the same breath pulling out of Gaza. Sharon then fell into a coma but in the ensuing general election Netanyahu was almost slaughtered (reduced to twelve seats, the smallest ever faction of the Likud).

So we may see a softer Netanyahu, if we get Netanyahu that is.

The coalition that now governs Israel is scarred witless at the prospect of a snap general election. They want to hold on 'till 2008 to give themselves time to pull a rabbit out of the hat and thus gain electoral credibility. So they are casting around for a substitute premier once Olmert goes, as in all likelihood he will have to in August after the final Winograd report.

All the sensible money was on Foreign Minister Tzipi Leevni until she made a fool of herself by telling Olmert that he should resign and in the next breath announcing that she would stay and serve with him as Prime Minister when he then refused to resign. It is hard to know who will win through given today's Israel but, and this is a tip from me, watch Meir Shitrit if you are a betting man and want to put money on an outsider.

The point being, the coalition will go to all this effort to buy time to save themselves from Bibi. What rabbit is big enough to climb out of the hat and punch Bibi out of the ring? You've got it. Peace with the Arabs in some dramatic shape or form (some sort of accommodation with Palestine included). There really is nothing else.

Everyone, including Olmert, in Israel's beleaguered coalition is mouthing the word peace in hushed whispers behind closed doors. Like a shoal of pouting goldfish behind plate glass, you can't hear them clearly but they mean it. When Olmert goes the current rush for peace will become a stampede. Will it succeed? Maybe not but the opportunity is there.

Given which, will the USA stand in Israel's way? No. Absolutely not. America has a lame duck president emasculated by his defeat in Iraq. You want such a man should stand against Israel? Forget it.

So where does Britain's interest lie? Simple. Stand firm with Israel's remoulded coalition. Forget Olmert and Bibi. One is the past and one is the distant future. Help the peacemakers of tomorrow. 2008 is a lifetime away. Let the incoming Tory government play with Bibi after the next UK general election. Meanwhile our new British Premier, Mr Gordon Brown, must ally himself closely with the new leader of Israel - the new coalition leader. That leader may be current Housing Minister Meir Shitrit, or current Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, or current Foreign Minister Tzipi Leevni. Even old Shimon Peres is a possibility despite his public protestations to the contrary. But there are no other contenders. Britain, if she helps and supports the eventual winner, and does so effectively, can become the oil in the ill-meshing cogs of the ensuing peace process. Britain can do no greater service to the Arab World.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

GAZA - The mess grows worse

The NCF delegation was due to enter Gaza tomorrow morning but we have 11 dead in Gaza internecine fighting today alone and Ahmed Yousef's office has phoned to say wait a while. So we remain cautious. Meanwhile, Mr Dahlan has refused to allow his personal militia to be subsumed in a national force thus precipitating the current crisis and the resignation of the Palestinian Interior Minister.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Give the Arab Peace Initiative a Chance

Rafi Dajani sends this piece from the New York Times in which Lebanese PM Siniora promotes the Arab peace Initiative. The Arabs are really keen on this Saudi plan.

ALMOST a year has passed since Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon, time enough to draw lessons from the conflict and reflect on its consequences.

Last week, Israel’s Winograd Commission published an interim report scrutinizing Israel’s conduct during what it called the country’s most recent military “campaign.” But the report failed to draw the most essential lesson from the July war and the wars that preceded it: military action does not give the people of Israel security. On the contrary, it compromises it. The only way for the people of Israel and the Arab world to achieve stability and security is through a comprehensive peace settlement to the overarching Arab-Israeli conflict.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Israelis plan more homes on occupied land

· Jerusalem council wants three new settlements
· Palestinians say move will sabotage two-state aim

Conal Urquhart in Tel Aviv
Friday May 11, 2007
The Guardian

Jerusalem's city council plans to build three new Jewish settlements on land it occupied in 1967, in contravention of international law, it was announced yesterday. The estates will be built on land that has been earmarked for a future Palestinian state, close to Bethlehem and Ramallah.

International law forbids construction on land acquired by war, but since 1967 Israel has built homes for around 500,000 Israelis in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Livni, Mubarak agree Arab League delegation to visit Israel on Saudi plan

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak agreed during a meeting Thursday in Cairo that a team of Arab League representatives will visit Israel in the coming weeks for talks on the details of the Arab peace initiative, first drafted by Saudi Arabia in 2002, and reaffirmed by the Arab League in March.

Click here to read article in full

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Qatar gives $ 22 million for Palestinian teachers

These days elaborate mechanisms have to be initiated to providefunding by indirect means to the Palestinian Authority.

Agence France-Presse - 08 May, 2007
The Gulf state of Qatar gave 22 million dollars to the Arab League on Monday so that teachers in the Palestinian territories can be paid, a League representative said.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Israel and Conflict

Rafi of ATFP draws the following article to our attention: A Financial Times (UK) editorial urges the international community to get seriously involved in promoting the Arab Peace Initiative in the absence of the absence of political forces in Israel able to respond positively to it currently.

ISRAEL AND CONFLICT Financial Times May 2, 2007
The commission investigating the conduct of Israel's 34-day war against Hizbollah last summer has told Israelis and the world what many of them already knew: that the political and military leadership performed incompetently and recklessly, and that, by over-reaching, it gave a damaging public exhibition of the limits to Israel's otherwise overwhelming might.
That is a strategic disaster for which Ehud Olmert, now the most unpopular prime minister in Israeli history, will eventually pay a heavy political price. But probably not yet.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Winograd report mainly provokes Arab disdain

By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star staff
Thursday, May 03, 2007

A combination of vindication, disdain, and renewed concerns about Israeli militarism are the dominant reactions in the Arab world to the preliminary report of the Winograd Commission released Monday in Israel...

The Arab sense of vindication stems from the feeling that Israel performed poorly in the war, and failed to achieve its primary strategic objectives: smashing Hizbullah, removing the armed Lebanese resistance movement from the South of Lebanon, returning the two abducted Israeli soldiers in Hizbullah's hands, reaffirming Israel's deterrence posture with respect to the Arab world and Iran, and ensuring that all wars with the Arabs are fought in Arab lands, not in Israel...

Disdain permeates many Arab reactions to the Winograd report, for two reasons. The first is the long history of Israeli commissions of inquiry that create much political noise and dust and censure top officials, without altering Israeli militarization and colonization when dealing with Arabs...

Arabs see Kadima as an apt symbol of the combined approaches of Labor and Likud, both of which have pursued virtually identical policies toward the Arabs: colonizing and expropriating Arab lands, using massive military overkill to resolve political differences, jailing or killing thousands of Palestinians, wounding tens of thousands of others, institutionalizing Apartheid-like segregation between Israeli occupiers and Palestinians, strengthening the movement to "Judaize" Jerusalem and diminish its Christian and Muslim character, and refusing to seriously consider any negotiated compromise on the core Palestinian refugee issue which forms the heart of the conflict in Arab eyes.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Daniel Levy on the Winograd report

Five for fighting
By Daniel Levy
Guardian, Comment is free
April 30, 2007

Five lessons can be learned from today's report on Israel's war with Lebanon. In the interest of avoiding another conflict, we should take them to heart.

First, the report is mainly about better wars, not fewer wars. Israel's elected leadership and its military have the duty to protect and defend the Israeli public...

The report does point out that Israel's military preparedness has suffered as a result of its ongoing role in the Palestinian territories: while the country's military is very practiced in occupation, it is ill-prepared for challenging, mobile warfare....One could only hope that, among the myriad lessons Israel will be learning, the most obvious one will not be lost: end the occupation.

The report, to its credit (and from what I've read so far, it is a serious document), does also question the limited use made of diplomatic and political efforts before and during the war, and the lack of a planned exit strategy.


The Abandonment

Rafi of ATFP sent us this item. You will remember Aaron Miller, the author, as the visionary "Seeds of Peace" boss. He writes depressingly of the failure of Bush to support Israelis and Palestinians. The word on the street in Washington is that Bush will remain a lame duck on peace process issues but he will buy into anything initiated by allies such as Britain or Japan. The Washington Post opinion by Aaron Miller analyzes how uniquely ill-positioned to manage the Arab-Israeli conflict the U.S. is, despite the issue being more critical to U.S. national interests and security than it ever has been:

THE ABANDONMENT By Aaron David Miller - Washington Post, Opinion - April 29, 2007
For almost seven years, the Bush administration has hung a"Closed for the Season" sign on serious Arab-Israeli diplomacy. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent Middle East mission has shown that the administration is now finally open forArab-Israeli business. But the Rice initiative is almost certainly way too little, way too late.