Monday, April 30, 2007

Meshaal warns of another intifada

Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas' political bureau exiled in Damascus, has warned of another intifada erupting if the West fails to lift its aid blockade and conditions in the West Bank and Gaza don't improve.

This statement comes as the IDF chief of staff has said that an Israeli incursion into Gaza is inevitable.

Olmert further weakened by war report

The much anticipated Winograd report, released today, accuses Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of "severe failure" in exercising judgment, responsibility and caution during the outset of the war.

The report, which is the official assessment of Israel's performance in last summer's Lebanon war, comes from from a government appointed commission with retired judge Eliyahu Winograd as its head.

It comes at a time when Olmert has already been weakened politically by the IDF's lack of success against Hizbollah. The war was unprecedented in the state's short but busy military history, and is widely felt to be an unacceptable humiliation in Israel.

Olmert's future looks uncertain and it is likely to be decided by this report, the public's reaction to it and the political maneuvering which is sure to follow.

There has been as of yet no mutiny within Olmert's Kadima party, though members increasingly view the Prime Minister as a political liability. In advance of the report other parties within the Knesset have been sparring over placing blame on government. Within this climate there is a real possibility that of a no confidence vote within the Knesset. The Likud Knesset faction leader MK Gideon Sa'ar has already called for the government to step down over the affair.

The report is also harshly critical of Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz, the army chief of staff at the time of the war. This could also have effects on the dynamics within the Labor party, of which Peretz is the head.

How the effects of the report will play out as of yet unclear, with a variety of scenario's for Israel's future political landscape possible.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

As Gaza Burns

This is an important background article for those that wish to understand the mess in Gaza. Avi Issacharoff analyzes the power of Palestinian clans in Gaza and their contribution to the lawlessnes:

AS GAZA BURNS By Avi Issacharoff - Haaretz - April 27, 2007
Members of the Abu-Sharah family, one of the most famous clans in the Gaza Strip, marched through the streets of Gaza City on Tuesday, carrying the body of Hassan Abu-Sharah. They took the body straight to the courtyard of the Palestinian parliament. Palestinian policemen tried to prevent the group from entering, but several dozen armed men from the clan easily pushed past them and started shooting in the air. They demanded that the Palestinian Authority arrest Hassan's murderers, although they were aware that the chances of the security forces taking such action were virtually nil. Hassan, 54, had been shot dead two days earlier by members of one of the largest and strongest clans in the city: the Durmush clan.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

The fruition of violence

The fragile coalition government which had held the tensions between Hamas and Fatah in check, seems doomed to dissolve under the intense pressures it faces.
Meanwhile Hamas as ended its self declared truce after Israeli soldiers killed nine Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank earlier in the week. The Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, launching nearly 100 rockets into Israel. No casualties resulted, but the IDF is poised to retaliate and Prime Minister Olmert has ordered what Israeli officials are calling limited military action in Gaza.
Finally, Nadia Hijab examines the factors which have contributed to the current fruition of violence and asks how can the Gaza ceacefire be rescued?
- Posted by Nick Alexandra, Co-Editor

Palestinian Government Shows Strains as Interior Minister Seeks to Quit
By Scott Wilson,Washington Post
April 24, 2007
The first cracks in the Palestinian unity government appeared Monday when the independent interior minister, who has been trying to tame lawlessness in the Gaza Strip, submitted his resignation. Hani al-Qawasmeh, the consensus choice for the post in a power-sharing government that brings together the Islamic Hamas and secular Fatah movements, has told Palestinian officials he is frustrated by a lack of cooperation from Fatah-controlled security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas fighters end Israel truce
BBC Online
24 April 2007
The armed wing of the Palestinian Hamas movement has said it is ending its five-month truce with Israel. Earlier in the day the group launched a sustained barrage of rockets and mortars into Israel, the first such attack since November. The group, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said the attacks were in revenge for recent killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces.

Israel vows response to Gaza fire
BBC Online
April 25, 2007
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ordered what officials called limited military action in Gaza after renewed rocket fire by Palestinian militants.

Beit Hanoun fears Israeli raid
By Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera
April 26, 2007
GAZA - There has been a recent spike in Israeli military raids across the Palestinian territories. Nine Palestinians have died in Israeli raids since last weekend despite a ceasefire between Israel and armed Palestinian factions agreed last November.

How Can the Gaza Ceasefire Be Rescued?
By Nadia Hijab, Institute for Palestinian Studies
Number 15, April 24, 2007
The "low" level of violence between Israel and the Palestinians since the Gaza ceasefire on 26 November 2006 had reached alarming totals even before this weekend's escalation left nine Palestinians dead and led Hamas to end the ceasefire. The Institute's Senior Fellow Nadia Hijab shows how the missed opportunity to extend the Gaza ceasefire to the West Bank and the slow motion nature of negotiations have both helped to undermine diplomatic efforts.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Gaza: a disturbing dispatch from a no-go area

As the BBC's Alan Johnston remains missing after 40 days, the descent into lawlessness in the Palestinian territory has ominous undercurrents.
By Donald Macintyre in Gaza City
Published: 21 April 2007
Foreigners are mainly staying away from Gaza these days. Only a handful of international UN staff are based there now, their movements heavily restricted by the use of armoured convoys and armed Palestinian security escorts.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

At last, peace in the Middle East

NCF member Tony Klug has written this piece which we commend to all of you. Adam Keller writes "There is a curious pattern in this region of both war and peace breaking out when least expected" writes our friend Tony Klug, so maybe one can still hope . . .

Tony Klug - IPCRI - "...the principal parties looked deep into the abyss and stared the point of no return in the face and, with great good sense, they took fright."


Friday, April 20, 2007

More opinions on the Arab Initiative

From a former Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry:


By David Kimche
Jerusalem Post, Opinion (Israel)
April 12, 2007

Vernacular English has some lovely phrases. "Gift of the gab," and "too clever by half" are good examples. How better can one, for instance, describe our prime minister than by saying he has the gift of the gab or that he is too clever by half? His tongue-in-the-cheek offer to meet with moderate Arab leaders in the wake of the Riyadh summit was a typical example of his too-cleverness. "A wonderful spin," he must have thought to himself. "This will get all those well-wishing peaceniks off my back." He must have known that his offer was a nonstarter, that it could be considered only after his acceptance - in principle - of negotiations on the basis of the Arab peace initiative...

Prime Minister Olmert has, it is true, to contend with enormous internal problems. Winograd's sword of Damocles is hanging over his neck. His popularity is at an all-time low. His government is the weakest in Israel's history. Yet his coalition is stable and he might well survive till the end of his term. He can either limp along with only one strong agenda, to survive as prime minister from one day to the next - or he can act as a leader and walk in the footsteps of Ben-Gurion, Begin and Rabin.

The opportunity is there. Olmert can sidestep the Hamas government and pick up the gauntlet that Riyadh presents - negotiations for peace with the Arab world. I have no doubt that the majority of the Israeli public would applaud such a move. His call to meet with the Arab leaders would then take on a completely different connotation. Could it be that our government is afraid to enter into peace negotiations, because of the price tag that is inevitably attached to peace? Have we become afraid of peace?

Jerusalem can either replace Khartoum to become the capital of the word "No" - no to the Arab world, no to the Syrians, no to the Palestinians, no to our own citizens who yearn to see some hope on the horizon for a better future. Or our prime minister can display initiative, courage, and leadership and meet the challenge of Riyadh head-on. Which is it to be, Mr. Olmert?


And a Gulf News editorial:

Gulf News, Editorial
April 17, 2007

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday launched a US-initiated series of meetings aimed at reviving the long dormant peace talks.
However, Olmert says he was not ready to discuss main issues - an absurd position. But it is not surprising. Israel has missed too many opportunities to talk real peace with the Arabs. But it has always chosen to shun peace calls.


A State for all its Citizens?

Two Israeli's address the issue of the state's future as a Jewish and democratic state:


By Yousef Jabareen
Forward, Opinion
April 13, 2007 Issue

This past December, Israeli Arab academics, legal experts and community leaders came together to release 'The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel.' The document, of which I was a co-author, represented the community's views on the legal, political and socioeconomic status that we have held as distinct minority citizens of Israel...


Accusations of subversion against a Palestinian MP in Israel are about resistance to democratic change

Neve Gordon
The Guardian, Comment
Friday April 20, 2007

...In the past few months, Palestinian intellectuals and activists, all of whom are Israeli citizens, have drafted four documents about the state's future. The underlying assumption is that, as long as Israel is defined as a Jewish state, its laws will always fall short of basic democratic principles and the right of all its citizens to full equality.

One document, the "democratic constitution", says Arab citizens should be considered a "homeland minority" with national rights. The idea is to transform Israel into a bilingual and multicultural democracy for all its citizens. Citizenship would no longer be granted automatically to any Jew, but to anyone born within Israel's territory or whose parent or spouse was a citizen, and to anyone persecuted for their political beliefs.

Not long after the document's publication, Israel's second-largest newspaper, Ma'ariv, reported a meeting at which the head of the security agency, Yuval Diskin, warned the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, that the radicalisation of Israel's Arab citizens constituted a "strategic threat to the state's existence". Diskin said: "The proliferation of the visionary documents ... is particularly worrisome, [since] the documents are united by their conception of Israel as a state for all its citizens and not a Jewish state." He concluded: "The separatist and subversive patterns represented by the elites might engender a new direction and mobilise the masses."


Thursday, April 19, 2007

A chink in the aid blockade?

JERUSALEM, April 18 (Reuters) - Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad said in an interview published on Wednesday he was hopeful the United States would ease banking sanctions that have paralysed the Palestinian government for more than a year. Fayyad made the comments to Palestinian daily al-Ayyam after meetings in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior Bush administration officials.


More views on the Arab Initiative

From the BESA center: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The recently revived Saudi initiative is premised on terms permanently unacceptable to Israel. Nevertheless, given current realities, Israel should not reject the initiative out of hand. Israel should take advantage of the initiative in order to transform it into a real opening for direct yet secret negotiations with Saudi Arabia.

The "Saudi initiative," recently revived and pushed to the forefront of Middle East headlines, is not new. It was first raised in March 2002 by the (then) Heir apparent, today King Abdullah b. Abd al-Aziz, of Saudi Arabia. Shortly thereafter, the Arab League adopted the plan as its pan-Arab initiative for peace in the Middle East.

The plan re-proposed today is similar to the original version; it supposedly offers Israel security and normalization in exchange for full withdrawal from "all occupied Arab territories" including the Golan Heights, the western Slopes of the Hermon mountain range (claimed by Hezbollah as the "Shaba farmlands"), the creation of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the "return" of Palestinian refugees.

Simply put, these are terms that Israel cannot accept. Given the current regional and internal Israeli political circumstances, however, Israel should not reject the initiative outright. Israel should take advantage of the tentative and problematic initiative in order to transform it into a real opening for direct negotiations with its Arab neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia.

Political Dynamics

Any serious consideration of the Saudi plan must take into account the political dynamics behind the initiative, both in Israel and in Saudi Arabia.

The Israeli leadership is in trouble. The incumbent Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, failed to receive a 3 per cent margin in public approval ratings. He is hungry for a breakthrough in foreign and security relations in the hopes to improve his image. A new process of public peace diplomacy could provide him with the needed momentum.

The Saudi regime, on the other hand, is more self-confident after brokering a shaky ceasefire and a new division of power among the Palestinian factions. For the Saudi royal family, it is once again time to resort to the Saudi traditional modus operandi: work in secret behind the scenes and announce your success only after it is reached.

This clash of interests between public and secret diplomacies has resulted in the first Israeli mistake concerning the initiative: Israel should not have approached Washington about changes in the scheme. It should have sought and pursued direct and secret talks outside the Middle East (and away from the media) with authorized representatives of the Saudi Kingdom. In such negotiations, Israel could emphasize its common interests with the Saudis while raising its objection to some of the elements of the plan.

Shared Interests

It is self-evident that Saudi Arabia is motivated by its desire to counteract the potential Iranian nuclear threat. Any new weapon in the Persian Gulf constitutes a major challenge to this pro-American regime which controls about a quarter of the world's proven oil reserves. Israel also shares this concern about Tehran's ambitions. For all intensive purposes, Israel is the lynchpin holding the current Middle East together. Moreover, Israel is still the strongest country among the pro-US countries of the region. Their existence depends to a large degree on the continued existence of a strong Israel.

Dealing with Iran is not the only issue on which Israel and Saudi Arabia have shared interests. Both are trying to avoid the emergence of a radical Shi'ite regime in the wake of the future withdrawal of the coalition forces in Iraq. Creating such a regime not only would enhance Iranian interests in the region but would destabilize the current status-quo among all Middle Eastern countries. The first potential victims of such a new regime would be the smaller countries of the lower Gulf; Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. These countries comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council – a body under strong Saudi influence and a stabilizing pro-US player in that area. Israel stands to lose dramatically if these regimes are hurt in any way since most of them engage in open relations with the Jewish state.

Israeli-Saudi concerns are not limited to the Iranian and Iraqi arenas. Both are dissatisfied with recent Egyptian diplomacy. The failure of the Egyptian efforts to bridge the differences between the Palestinian factions (as opposed to the Saudi success in that field which brought about the creation of the new Palestinian government) has revived Saudi claims for a leadership position among the moderate Arab countries.

Self-assured, quiet and realistic Saudi diplomacy is precisely what Israel needs, especially at a time when Egypt seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Egypt's ability to be a broker in Israel-Arab relations has deteriorated significantly in Israeli eyes. Egypt continues to allow large quantities of arms to be smuggled from Sinai into Gaza. Just this month, Egypt revived old and dubious allegations about the alleged killing of Egyptian POW's by Israeli troops during the 1967 war. In this atmosphere, Saudi Arabia has gained even more traction as a quiet and reliable partner for Israel.

The Israeli-Saudi meeting of interests does not necessarily mean that Israel should accept the Saudi initiative. It is no accident that Riyadh floated its initiative again at a time of great flux in the Israeli political system and in the aftermath of a war that dangerously eroded Israeli deterrence. Moreover, the "right" of return would gut the very essence of a Jewish and Zionist state by flooding it with refugees. Arab insistence on the "right" of return within the initiative raises significant questions about the sincerity and intentions of its proponents.

And thus, the initiative as it stands now cannot serve as a basis for peace negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. However, it can and must serve as a starting point for a confidential Israeli-Saudi dialogue on ways to advance their common interests in this volatile region.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Viability of a Two State Solution

The Palestinian economy held up

Bypass road for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank

Posted with preamble by Nick Alexandra
THE SAUDI peace plan, currently the only framework attracting attention, tries to give new impetus to regional diplomacy around a two state solution. This plan relies on the assumption that a Palestinian state, most of the details of which still need to be worked out, could be viable.

There are however, a host of impediments, including the severe strictures to freedom of movement which have sunk the Palestinian economy into disarray. The wall and the large number of checkpoints within the West Bank make conducting business extremely
costly, slow and difficult. These conditions, constructed in the name of protecting Israeli Jews at any cost, stand in stark contrast to the situation for settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The settlements, which continue to proliferate in the West bank, are linked to Israel by a system of bypass roads that further damage the integrity of the proposed Palestinian state.

As Israel continues stamping these 'facts on the ground'--which not only immiserate Palestinians and suppress the economy, but imperil any possible Palestinian state--the future success of any talks becomes increasingly illusory.

Restrictions Harm Palestinian Industry
The Associated Press
Monday, April 16, 2007; 3:32 AM

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian industry is "bound to fail" unless Israel lifts tight restrictions on trade and movement of people and goods in the Palestinian territories, a World Bank study said Monday...

The Israeli measures have severed the flow of people and goods between the West Bank and Gaza. The West Bank is carved up by Israel's separation barrier and a network of checkpoints that make travel and trade even within the territory difficult. Gaza producers have to export through Israel.

Restoring free movement and access is a precondition for a viable Palestinian economy, the report said, recommending that Israel lift most of the restrictions imposed in recent years.


Haaretz Editorial on the Arab Initiative

Another response to the recent Saudi peace initiative:

It's impossible to exaggerate the importance of the Arab initiative and the direct Arab appeal to Israel. A continuation of the initiative accepted in Beirut in 2002 that defines the parameters by which full peace and normalization between Israel and the Arab states will be established - the current process is one of implementation, one that at least makes an active attempt to persuade, rather than just to declare intentions.

For the first time, Arab states are offering their services as mediators, not just with respect to local issues that stem from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, they have adopted a comprehensive approach that confronts regional interests and is prepared to adopt Israel as part of the solution, not just as part of the problem. This is the same approach that Israel has hoped for since its establishment - and perhaps the time has now come to realize it.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Olmert's a Right Winger

Well I guess that's right - Olmert is a right winger. Had nobody seen this before? He's always been just about as right wing as Attilah the Hun - even years back - even when he was Mayor of Jerusalem:

In Haaretz, an opinion by Gideon Levy takes the Olmert government to task for revealing itself not as a centrist government, but as one of the most right-wing governments in the history of Israel.

WHOSE GOVERNMENT IS THIS? By Gideon Levy. Haaretz, Opinion (Israel) April 16, 2007
A call should be made to the Consumers Council: This is a case of wholesale fraud. In the sea of thieves, embezzlers and crooks around us, this is the largest deceit of all. The majority of Israeli citizens voted for a centrist government, perhaps even a bit left of center, and received one of the most extreme right-wing governments in the history of Israel.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Uncertain and Upsetting News about Alan Johnston

Although it has yet to be verified...

BBC: A Palestinian group calling itself the Al Tawhid Al Jihad brigade has issued a claim that it has killed BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston...

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat repeated a call for those holding Mr Johnston to free him. "Such despicable acts of abducting foreign journalists and others continue, the only (thing) that this is doing is destroying us as Palestinians, destroying the just cause of the Palestinian people," he told reporters.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Oxfam calls for end to Palestinian blockade

Ian Black, Middle East editor
Friday April 13, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are suffering "devastating" humanitarian consequences as incomes plummet, debts mount and essential services face meltdown, Oxfam says in a report that calls for an immediate end to the international financial blockade of the Hamas-led government.

With poverty up by 30% in 2006 and previously unknown levels of factional violence on the streets, the Palestinian territories - occupied by Israel in the 1967 war - risk becoming "a failed state" if the punitive measures are not lifted, the charity warns.


Restarting Israeli-Syrian Negotiations

International Crisis Group: Middle East Report N°63
10 April 2007


Abruptly interrupted in 2000, Israeli-Syrian negotiations seem only a distant possibility but a renewal is urgent and would have a real chance of success. The obstacles appear daunting, including a weak Israeli government and a U.S. administration intent on isolating Syria. However, Syria’s President Bashar repeatedly has stated his desire to resume talks, and in recent conversations with Crisis Group in Damascus, senior officials have clarified these could take place without any precondition – thereby removing what had been a principal hindrance. Peace negotiations between Israel and Syria would profoundly alter the regional atmosphere; a peace deal between them would fundamentally transform it. This opportunity may not last long and should not be wasted...


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Broadcasters Unite for BBC Reporter

Palestinian media workers have held several protests demanding the release of Alan Johnston [AFP]

There has been a widespread show of solidarity--ranging from fellow international and Palestinian reporters to four fiercely competitive international news networks--for the Alan Johnston, the BBC's Gaza correspondant, abducted on month ago today.

AN INTERNATIONAL day of action is taking place to appeal for the release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who has been abducted in Gaza. The BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN and Sky simultaneously broadcast a special live programme on Thursday to appeal for the reporter's release and to raise awareness of his work. The programme was aired from the West Bank town of Ramallah at 1330 GMT and anchored by Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East editor. The broadcast included live reports from Al Jazeera, CNN, and Sky. It is exactly one month since Johnston was seized by masked armed men.


BBC reporter well respected in Gaza
By Ayman Mohyeldin in Gaza

Reactions to the incident in Gaza have ranged from sharp criticism of the government to disgust over the abduction. Alan Johnston's pictures and posters are hard to miss on the streets of Gaza.


Forget Pelosi. What about Syria?

This item by Robert Malley of the ICG was sent to us by Rafi Dajani of ATFP. Isolate Syria and engage Iran or vice-versa? The Bush government can't make up its mind. Certainly their disaray is handing the Democrats a foreign policy gift. Meanwhile Israel has a golden opportunity to go for a Syrian peace but does the Prime Minister have the courage to take the risky leap into the abys? I doubt it. Olmert's main concern is survival.

UNDERTAKING HER first major diplomatic foray, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got an earful. As she met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, she came under immediate, stinging attack. The White House condemned her encounter as counterproductive, asserting that it undermined U.S. policy aimed at marginalizing a so-called pariah regime.

The charge is, on its face, absurd. The European Union's top diplomatic envoy just visited Syria. Assad attended the recent Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Republican and Democratic officials have been traveling to Damascus for months. The Syrian regime is no more isolated in the world than the Bush administration is embraced by it. But the fuss about Pelosi's perfectly legitimate visit obscured a far more intriguing question: What should be done about Syria?


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

An op-ed piece on Jerusalem

Afif sent this item which explains the Arab position on the Jerusalem excavations

Excavations threaten mosque
Omar Ahmad
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Imagine if Iran decided to build a museum on the site of a 1,000-year-old Jewish cemetery, or if the Egyptian government threatened to destroy an ancient Jewish temple. Both scenarios would likely be met with outrage. Members of Congress might make indignant speeches decrying anti-Semitism. They might even threaten to tighten the spigot on aid to Egypt. They would be right to protest such acts.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reactions and Analysis of the Saudi peace proposal

As it becomes apparent what the reaction of key participants to the renewed Saudi peace proposal will be and exchanges unfold out of the impetus it may have offered, we intend to post different analysis in the upcoming period of how this may develop. Here is one.

Israel Doesn't Want Peace

By Gideon Levy
Ha'aretz April 10 2007

The moment of truth has arrived, and it has to be said: Israel does not want peace. The arsenal of excuses has run out, and the chorus of Israeli rejection already rings hollow. Until recently, it was still possible to accept the Israeli refrain that "there is no partner" for peace and that "the time isn't right" to deal with our enemies. Today, the new reality before our eyes leaves no room for doubt and the tired refrain that "Israel supports peace" has been left shattered.


Developements on Predicted Passover Bombing

PA police deny Shin Bet claims of Hamas plans for major attack
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent
Palestinian Authority police officials on Tuesday denied Shin Bet claims that a terrorist from Hamas had managed to infiltrate Tel Aviv from the West Bank city of Qalqilyah last month in a car laden with about 100 kilograms of explosives.


Hamas planned major Tel Aviv Passover bombing

By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

The Shin Bet announced Tuesday morning that in late March it broke up a Hamas cell in the West Bank city of Qalqilyah that had planned to detonate a car bomb in Tel Aviv during Pesach, apparently at the time of the seder, on the holiday's first night.

According to the details released by the security service, the driver, a suicide bomber, had managed to cross into Israel in a vehicle laden with about 100 kilograms of explosives. However, once he reached Tel Aviv, and for reasons that are still unclear, he changed his mind and returned to Qalqilyah.

Nineteen members in the cell have been arrested by the security forces. No names of the suspects were released for publication.

But the Shin Bet said the would-be suicide bomber, a member of a Hamas cell in Qalqilyah cell, managed to enter Israel because he holds an Israeli identity card. Although a resident of Qalqilyah, he is married to an Israeli Arab from Taibeh - and received residency status as part of the program of reuniting families. The vehicle he was driving had Israeli license plates, and had collected intelligence on possible targets for an attack.

"The picture that emerges in interrogations of the members of the cell clearly signals that the Hamas organization in Qalqilyah has shifted from the stage of 'force building' to the operational stage and the carrying out of attacks, including suicide attacks inside Israel. According to information, they continue to work on planning and execution of significant attacks, including ones in the immediate future," the Shin Bet announcement read.

This latest incident has further boosted the evidence that Hamas has resumed its terrorist activities following a long hiatus that began with the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip last November.

Egypt recently arrested a Hamas suicide bomber who was trying to cross from the Gaza Strip into Israel through Sinai.

Hamas militants were also involved in a number of sniper attacks targeting Israelis driving close to the fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip. In one of the attacks, an Israel Electric Corporation employee was moderately wounded.

The man believed to be behind the attacks is Ahmed Jabari, the head of the military wing of Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, who opposed the establishment of the unity government between his party and Fatah. Jabari is particularly dissatisfied with the fact that he and his men are not being awarded the positions of power they believe they deserve.

The degree to which Jabari and the Qalqilyah-based cell are linked is unclear. During the past two years, most of the Hamas cells operating in Samaria had followed orders originating in the Gaza Strip.

Would-be bomber returns to Qalqilyah
After the terrorist returned to Qalqilyah, he left the vehicle in the backyard of a home. Arrests of suspects began shortly after his return, and then the vehicle exploded. There were no casualties as a result of the explosion.

The Shin Bet has described the explosion as a "work accident," a euphemism for a technical malfunction.

The Qalqilyah cell is the largest Hamas grouping to have been exposed in the West Bank in recent years. The last time a Qalqilyah-based Hamas cell carried out an attack in Israel, 21 teenagers were killed in a blast at the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv, in June 2001.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Word from Gaza

Sami Abdel Shafi has forwarded this article which, he says, 'addresses the issue of Alan Johnston and attempts to rationalize it in the bigger picture of how it feels on the inside.'

Hopeless in Gaza by Sami Abdel Shafi
Israel must reach a compromise that will ensure a peaceful future and the wellbeing of Israelis, Palestinians and dear friends such as Alan Johnston.

It is genuinely difficult, impossible in fact, to even imagine that one is free in Gaza, for Israel's military policies continue to forbid Palestinian movement. It is truly strange, though, that we are freer than our great friend, British journalist Alan Johnston of the BBC, who resides in Gaza and has been missing since his abduction at gunpoint on March 12 in the city.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Missed opportunity for peace

Afif sends this item. The assessment of our Washington meeting this past week (which Afif attended) was rather different from that by Mr Novak (below). Our conclusion was that though Bush would initiate nothing himself, he would buy in to anything initiated by one of his allies (UK / Israel / Japan etc.):

JERUSALEM -- An overriding melancholy here this Holy Week follows Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's mission to Jerusalem last week. To Arabs and Jews seeking meaningful peace negotiations, it confirmed that no progress toward a two-state solution is likely for the remainder of George W. Bush's presidency.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected Rice's offer to participate in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for a permanent peace treaty. The word in the Olmert government is that the prime minister's reluctance even to begin talks at this time is fully shared by Bush. Rice is sincere in her desire for peace, but she can accomplish nothing important without the full support of her chief.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Perhaps in the Next Government

The wonderful Tamar Herman has issued her latest report. Will be interesting to see the way this Arab initiative goes. Exciting - and even a smidge hopeful:

Even before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert referred positively to the decisions taken at the Riyadh conference on the basis of the Arab peace proposal, about half the Jewish Israeli public had thought the proposal could at least serve as a basis for negotiations on a regional peace agreement. The other half thought the proposal should be rejected out of hand.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Petition asks kidnappers to free BBC man

The Alan Johnston kidnapping in Gaza is arousing all sorts of ire - God knows Gaza is a lot safer than Iraq all the same. Anyway, Hoda Husseini of our media council is calling on us to do something so we will try - providing our efforts do not step on the toes of anything the BBC is doing already.

Alan Johnston was due to leave Gaza this week after three years as the BBC's resident correspondent. Instead he is preparing for his fourth week in captivity, the longest-held western kidnap victim in the Gaza Strip.