Friday, June 29, 2007

Little Detail about Blair Foundation

Scepticism remains about the suitability of Blair's appointment, following the confirmation that he is to be the Quartet's Middle East envoy (Guardian, FT, Independent), and has resulted in German opposition (FT).

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Blair named Quartet's Mideast envoy

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent, and News Agencies

The Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators announced Wednesday that its members had appointed Tony Blair to serve as the group's special envoy.

The Quartet, comprising the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia, issued a statement Wednesday saying the former British prime minister will seek to mobilize international assistance to the Palestinians and develop plans to promote Palestinian economic development.

Blair will also seek international support to address the needs of Palestinian government institutions, focusing as a matter of urgency on the rule of law, said the statement.

Click here to read the full article

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Johnston's captors: the Dagmoush clan

This article from Der Spiegel is the fullest description of the Dagmoush clan of Gaza, who hold BBC correspondant Alan Johnston, which I've seen in the public press. The NCF's own private circulars have given very good detail on the different players within this crime family, the activities of their various internal factions and the relations of these to other groups within the strip. This article, though unfortunately short on specifics about the family's different internal players, is nonetheless worth reading, especially as it prefigures the coming Hamas offensive.
I would also say that it is worth keeping in mind that the current strength of clan structures within Gazan society is not inherent to Palestinian culture. It is rather a phenomenon rooted in the effects of forty years of occupation and the attendant impoverishment and breakdown of legitimate public social structures that have strengthened such affiliations. In the context of traditional village and urban Palestinian life they would have been of quite minor significance.
--posted by Nick Alexandra

It's an open secret in Gaza City that the Dagmoush clan -- called the "Sopranos of Gaza City," an allusion to the US television series -- is holding Johnston. Still, everyone who has something to say about the kidnapping prefers to remain anonymous: The clan's influence is too great for anyone to want to provoke its anger. Still a surprisingly detailed picture emerges from conversations with various sources. What results is the panorama of a strip of land fought over by rival clans -- the setting for dramas whose ruthlessness and brutality remind one of the Montague and Capulet families in Shakespeare's play "Romeo and Juliet."
To read article in full click here

Monday, June 25, 2007

BBC captive in 'bomb vest' video

The kidnappers of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston have released a new video of him in which he is wearing what he says is an explosives vest. In the tape, Mr Johnston says his captors have said they will detonate the vest if force is used to try to free him.
To read full report click here

The release of this video indicates nervousness on the part of the Dogmoush clan, who are holding Johnston. Hamas has made clear its intent to clean up the lawlessness and crime families in Gaza--and the Dogmoush is a priority. In an Observer report, posted below, Abu Obieda, a senior Hamas military commander, indicates that if it were not for BBC's requests, he would free Johnston by force:

Abu Obieda and his Qassam Brigades have other more pressing issues. 'We have a lot of clan violence in Gaza and we are working to stop families from fighting each other over past things,' he said. 'But we also are working very hard for the release of Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist.'
Johnston, who has been held for more than 100 days by a group known as 'the Army of Islam', finds himself caught in a sticky situation. The group is made up of members of the Dogmosh family, which has a long-running blood feud with Hamas. Executive Force and Qassam fighters surround the section of town controlled by the family and negotiations continue. But Abu Obieda said the BBC limited his options. 'I can have Alan Johnston out in two hours, if my men go in and take him by force,' he says. 'But several times, the BBC has called me and asked that I not attack and let the talks continue. So we will negotiate because we want no harm to come to this man.'
To read in full click here

This intent on the part of Hamas was corroborated in an NCF meeting with Dr. Nasser Eddin Al Shaer in Ramallah, then Education Minister in the unity government. Dr. Shaer, one of the three Hamas Ministers in the West Bank, made clear that Hamas regarded the lawlessness, crime families and increasing clan warfare in Gaza to be major problem which they wanted to deal with.
They had planned to stage an operation to free Johnston, he told us, but refrained because of requests from the British government, who feared Johnston would be endangered. The response that the British advocate however, has the consequence of encouraging kidnapping and ransoming, because they are not cracked down on. Dr. Shaer is now imprisoned by the Israelis, who attacked Hamas' elected political leadership shortly after we met with him.
--posted by Nick Alexandra

To watch BBC segment including the video click here

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hamas war chief reveals his plans for Gaza peace

This from Davis who writes: Did you see this (below or here) in the Observer? Interesting to see just how much Hamas hates Dahlan...

The man now controlling Gaza City talks exclusively to Mitchell Prothero about his plans
Sunday June 24, 2007 The Observer

At the height of the fighting 10 days ago in Gaza City, the commander of the Hamas militants laying siege to the Palestinian Authority compound received a call from his Fatah counterpart inside. 'He asked if we were going to invade and take the building,' said Abu Obieda, the top Hamas military commander for the Gaza Strip. 'He said if we entered his compound, he would kill himself.'

'Abu Obieda begged him not to commit such a sin,' interjected Abu Khalid, one of his lieutenants. 'He promised him that he and all of his men would be protected if they just surrendered. And finally they did. And all of them are still alive and free in their homes.'


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Beyond Denial

Richard Burden MP, Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, writes to the NCF saying: I just thought you may like to see the attached piece I wrote at the weekend about the situation in Gaza and Quartet policy which is circulating around various places.

To view article click on this link:

Richard Burden: Beyond Denial

Egypt: Monday's summit aims to boost Abbas, isolate Hamas

Egypt said Thursday its call for a summit of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders aims to boost Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as the U.S. ally moved to isolate the Hamas militant group after its takeover of Gaza.
A day after Monday's summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is to hold talks with Saudi King Abdullah, aiming to unify a bloc of Arab nations in support of Abbas and against Hamas.
To read full report click here

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Leaked report of UN special envoy to Middle East

American support for Israel has hindered international efforts to broker a peace deal in the Middle East, according to a hard-hitting confidential report from the outgoing UN Middle East envoy.
To read article about leaked UN report click here

To read full text of leaked 52 page UN report click here

The news of this report, detailing the confidential thoughts and frustrations of the former UN special envoy to the Middle East, is certainly interesting. I'd like to draw attention here to what he had to say about the US approach to Hamas.

The US, he argues, was clearly pushing for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas but Washington misjudged Mr Abbas, who he argues had wanted to co-opt rather than defeat Hamas. Fighting between Fatah and Hamas has intensified in recent months. He quotes an unnamed US official as saying earlier this year: "I like this violence ... It means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas." Since December at least 600 Palestinians have been killed in factional battles.

I found this particularly interesting given a story today in Haaretz in which the US counter's this allegation by blaming Hamas for the internal hostilities.

The United States blamed Hamas Wednesday for the latest round of fighting in the Gaza Strip, accusing the radical Palestinian group of trying to undermine the peace process with Israel.U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the attacks by Hamas against the Palestinian security forces seek to destabilize the Palestinian government and thwart negotiations with Israel.
To read full artice click here

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Elections in Israel

Though they have been eclipsed by the terrible violence unfolding in Gaza, there have been two elections in Israel over the last few days.

First, Ehud Barak deafeated Ami Ayalon Tuesday for the head of the Labor party. It does not look like he will pull out of the coalition and so is likely to replace Peretz as Defense Minister.

Click here to read full report on Barak's election

The second, was Wednesday's election fo the elder statesman Shimon Peres to the largely ceremonial position of President. The implication that makes this more interesting is that Peres will now no longer be on the list of probable contenders to replace Olmert, if he is unable to continue in office after the final Lebanon War report is released in August.

For full article on Shimon Peres, President Elect, click here

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Thousands of Palestinians flee Gaza

Deaths continue in Gaza as a result of continued infighting between rival Palestinian factions, despite Monday's ceasefire. (All papers except Times) Violence, almost daily Israeli air strikes, and the worsening economic situation has forced thousands of Palestinians to flee Gaza. (Telegraph). Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's Gaza home damaged by rocket-propelled grenade fired by Palestinian militants. He was left unharmed.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Deadly escalation in Fatah-Hamas feud

This article, published in The Australian, came in from one of our members, Felix Posen, about the violence in Gaza.

Abraham Rabinovich, Jerusalem
June 12, 2007

VIOLENCE in the Gaza Strip threatened to spiral out of control yesterday after a Fatah member was thrown handcuffed from the roof of a 15-storey building, the highest in Gaza, and gunmen opened fire on the home of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas.

To read full article click here

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Carrots and Sticks

This Jerusalem Post opinion piece by David Kimche heavily features NCF's Secretary General William Morris. Asked to put himself in Olmert's shoes, William weighs in with some thoughts on how Israel might best respond to the situation in Gaza.

History has shown us that military might is not, on its own, an answer to the sort of situation that exists in Gaza. The French sent their mighty army into Algeria to quell the insurrection there, and were thrown out. The Americans sent their mighty army into Vietnam, and were thrown out. And even here, in what was then Palestine, the British heaved a great sigh of relief with their targeted killing of Avraham Stern after capturing him, only to be confronted by Yitzhak Shamir, who led Lehi, the so-called Stern Gang, into even more audacious attacks on them. Faced with the determination of the Jewish community, the mighty British army, like the French and the Americans in later years, was forced to leave.

SO WHAT are we supposed to do? Sit tight and do nothing while the Kassams continue to endanger the lives of our citizens in the South? I put this question a few days ago to William Morris, the president of the Next Century Foundation, a group based in London that has been discreetly involved in Middle Eastern conflict resolution, with an emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The foundation has some very interesting members on both sides of the divide, including at least one former Likud minister. William Morris himself is an extraordinary man, a British political missionary completely devoted to converting our region to the religion of peace.

"What would you do about Gaza if you were in the shoes of our prime minister," I asked him.

"Heaven forbid," he replied, laughing.

Morris has been to Gaza many times. He has met with virtually the entire Hamas political leadership, and is one of the few foreigners who know them well enough to be able to engage in ideological arguments with them.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Six Day War remembered

Palestinians rallied at the Hawara checkpoint on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus [AFP]
On the fortieth anniversary of the Six Day War, the momentus changes in the Middle East that this event brought about are being commemorated and contested. On our recent NCF trip to Jerusalem we had the opportunity to observe the Israeli celebrations of forty years of 'united Jerusalem'--marked according to the Jewish calender. Today, Israeli peace activists along with Palestinians have demonstrated in the West Bank, calling for an end to the occupation.

Palestinians and Israelis are demonstrating in the West Bank to mark the anniversary of the start of the 1967 Middle East war and to demand an immediate end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian land. And in East Jerusalem on Tuesday, Israeli police shut down a Palestinian conference to mark 40 years since Israel captured the sector of the city.

To read full article click here

In Hebron, Peace Now demonstrators called for the removal of the settlers

Wisdom of waiting

It is forty years to the day since the Six Day War. Lord Stone called for this anniversary to herald a "Six Day Peace". For the Arab World the '67 war resonates as a catastophe. For the Jewish World it is a victory. Some on the right in Israel draw lessons from 1967 that they attempt to apply in 2007. Felix sends the following item:

Lessons of Six Day War still applicable in face of ongoing rocket attacks By Michael Oren Yediot Ahronot May 20, 2007
The Palestinians are resorting to terrorism to attack Israel, Syria is threatening to embark on a war, hostile elements exploit southern Lebanon as a base for launching attacks on Israel - and the world condemns any Israeli attempt to defend ourselves through revenge attacks. This scenario is very familiar to us through our daily existence, but it also describes the situation Israel found itself in 40 years ago, during the process that led to the Six-Day War's outbreak. Then as now, Fatah members carried out terror attacks from the West Bank, while other Palestinian groups emerged from southern Lebanon with the aim of hitting Israeli targets. Syria, which at the time was also controlled by the Baath party, frequently called for war to liberate "occupied Arab land."


Monday, June 04, 2007

UAE gives Palestinians 80 million dollars

Agence France-Presse - 03 June, 2007
The United Arab Emirates on Saturday transferred 80 million dollars (60 million euros) in financial aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, president Mahmud Abbas's office said.