Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Give cover to the moderates

This is a draft op-ed by Davis and as such represents his personal opinions, not an NCF position.  I apologise for the problems with formatting.

Though always wary of its sometimes strange and belligerent diplomatic behaviour, I was in favour of, even excited by the prospect of an American invitation to the Syrians to join the Annapolis summit.  Unusually, this was reflected in my taking a clear line on behalf of the Foundation in my MEPPcirculations indicating this preference.  Alas, against expectations, Condoleezza Rice issued said invitation.  The Syrian response was to intimate demands about the issues the conference would have to address before she would join in.  Even this was indulged by some of our members, who readily accepted
that Syria would only be able to attend if the Golan was up for
discussion.  Fine.  

Yet, today Syria offers one of the starkest reminders of its intransigent part in the MEPP.  Once again, she is claiming the Palestinian mantle at the expense of the very Palestinians she pretends to be defending.  Syria is hosting the 'Damascus Conference', which is meant as a counterweight to the Annapolis summit.  The working paper accompanying that meeting states that the fall conference is an attempt to eliminate Palestinian national rights, "which requires wide-scale national and popular movement through historical mechanisms and tasks, led by escalating resistance against Zionist occupation, calling on Arab countries to shoulder their responsibilities, and rejecting normalization with the enemy,". The paper rejects all of the agreements that have been signed with Israel, considering them "invalid and non-binding."  
As an outstanding and widely distributed op-ed on the two conferences by Raghida Dergham for Al-Hayat argues, if the Syrians insist on 'resistance', the address for it is well known, running along Syria's own border as it does and, according to Dergham, could be manned by Syrian Arabs and willing Persians, who would even bring 'untainted' money with them.  No doubt someone, perhaps from Hamas in Gaza or Damascus, will shortly say that 'everyone knows Dergham is a Jew', as one Islamist was recently quoted about Pakistan's Musharaf.  Of course, even if that was the case the point remains salient. 
As for the Palestinians, why not finally let them have a better life?  I have no doubt Hamas is delighted with the Damascus working paper.  But Hamas is readily willing to train 5 year olds to hate.  Those who wish to see the
Palestinians' plight eased as soon as possible should be mortified.  As
Mahmoud Abbas is (a man admittedly on his last legs).  Where have we come
to in the MEPP when Abbas is on the record as having sent senior envoys to Damascus to stop this 'help'? 

But the Syrians are not alone.  Far from it.  The coalition of 'diaspora Palestinian (or 'sympathiser') movements', made up mostly of hard-left activists living in comfort, be it the ISM,PACBI (the Boycott Campaign), and to a large extend the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, has a lot to answer for.  Though I am still trying to get to the bottom of the story regarding the cancellation of the OneVoice concerts for Peace in relation to officialdom, and the sudden withdrawal of Security from Abbas' office, one thing is clear:
This cancellation marks a watershed of the gravest importance.  For the first
time these mostly absolutist movements, on behalf of but with little regard for the Palestinians actually suffering, and incubated mostly in UK and a few US universities, have used the tools of globalisation to successfully scupper the moderate voice on the ground.  All the evidence I have seen points towards the malicious rumours about OneVoice being seeded by PACBI and the ISM and their associates from the UK and US.  They have denied the Palestinians the opportunity - an opportunity that had sold 36000 tickets in Jericho - to let their
leadership know that they want a dignified settlement now.  I will not
detail the slanderous campaign and the realities.  Much of the
information is on OneVoice's founder's blog
  (and the excellent Engage
has a telling summary
regarding PACBI's lies). Suffice to say that those
seeking to empower moderates must redouble their efforts in light of this
setback.  They are waiting and need more cover. 

I deem it fair to say that the vast majority of our membership is against an academic boycott and further considered the NUJ's boycott decision
contemptible.  At our recent Media Council Conference, we could not find
anyone in the room, never mind on the panel, who saw any use or merit in the
decision.  The arguments are tired and the behaviour of the UK academics
spearheading this campaign - in particular during a visit of Israeli academics
aimed at countering their campaign - again spoke volumes about how constructive and relevant to a betterment of Palestinian life their grinding axe really is.  As such I wholeheartedly welcome the British delegation seeking to identify projects for cooperation with Israeli and Palestinian universities. 

But there is a broader point here.  Again, I think I can claim to accurately discern a majority among our members' opinions, this time that many are very
much uneasy about Tony Blair, in particular regarding his role in the MEPP and
hence even more so his new job.  I never make any secrets about my own
views, and I greatly admire Mr Blair and his,
 in my view accurate, necessary and lonely understanding of current geo-political realities (including his recent speech on Iran).  But we do not have to agree about that in the least.
What I would ask you to consider is the thesis that he first raised whilst formulating his Government's response to 9/11 and the onset of the War on Terror.  I refer in particular to his historic speech to the World Affairs Council and the articlein Foreign Affairs that set out his view about the dynamic we are
witnessing at play in geo-politics today.  The speech invoked an 'arc of moderation', neccessary to counter the 'arc of extremism'.  Do not confuse this with George Bush's Axis of Evil, something senior sources describe as a 'rhetorical bump in the road'.  The arc of extremism exists.  I need not mention regimes, countries, or movements - you all know them and will say so, some openly, some quietly.

Today, the extremists are doing far too well.  And I would add, meeting too much 'understanding'.   The two items above illustrate the dynamic Mr Blair identifies exactly.  And none of us, least of all the Palestinians, can afford to bequeath a world run by extremists to the generations that come after us.  Let us expose them
for what they are.    Only if we can sideline the formidable arc of extremism will the State of Palestine be a reality.  The Syrians and absolutist Palestinian
'supporters' may offer psychologically appealing options, feeding into a well rehearsed historical narrative of pain and grievance or the religious narrative
favoured lately.  But the Syrians and absolutist 'supporters' can wait.  For Palestinians themselves every minute counts.  And Condoleezza Rice is correct in playing up exactly that dynamic, this chance to boost the moderates, in her unrelenting efforts to put together the Annapolis summit.  I dare those 'helping' the Palestinians by taking an absolutist stance - or even those making disparaging comments about the planned US summit - to tell me about a better plan, process, solution.  There are none. It's bad, and nobody will get what they want.  As the legendary Afif Safieh said at one of NCF's conferences in the House of Lords: 'we need a mutually unacceptable solution'.  And then everybody can go swimming in the Mediterranean...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Milk powder, toys and cancer patients . . .

Uri Avnery sends this comment: The cutting of electricity and fuel – further exacerbation of the cruel siege on Gaza. Barak’s decision comes on top of the denial of milkpowder, toys and vital medical treatment . . .


Thursday, October 25, 2007

A bad time for Israeli-Palestinian talks

Rafi Dajani of ATFP sends us this item - A Baltimore Sun opinion by visiting professor of politics at Harvey Mudd College Suheir Daoud urges the delaying of the Mideast fall meeting due to internal Israeli and Palestinian weaknesses and divisions - truth is a delay might help save Abu Mazin who will be destroyed by the almost inevitable failure of the talks. On the other hand, the status quo does nothing to help the world. So sacrificing Abu Mazin and going ahead may be best.

By Suheir Abu Oksa Daoud - In The Baltimore Sun , Opinion - October 24, 2007

While Israeli and Palestinian teams seek to iron out conditions for renewed peace talks in Annapolis this fall, deep divisions among the Palestinian and Israeli political leaderships doom any Middle East peace summit to failure.

Peace talks are usually a good thing. However, now is not the right time for such a summit, because - with a divided Palestinian polity and Israel's leadership in trouble - no progress would be made. It is possible, even likely, that another failure would lead to more frustration and violence, and could serve to embolden extremists on both sides who are opposed to peace.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Four die as Gaza factions clash

Fighting in Gaza between the militant Islamist group Hamas and a clan allied to its political rival Fatah has left four dead, reports say.

At least 20 people were wounded in the battle in Gaza City which erupted when Hamas security forces tried to arrest members of the Heles clan.

Rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine-guns were used in the fighting.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Palestinians Outraged at new land confiscation

The Palestinian Authority's Negotiation Affairs Department in Ramallah sent this note (sent on behalf of the PLO rather than the Palestinian government as is their slightly perverse habit these days - an enthusiastically offered concession to UN / US pressure to freeze out Hamas):

During a meeting today with Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, Dr. Saeb Erekat, Chief Palestinian Negotiator, expressed serious concern over Israel’s latest “highly provocative” confiscation of Palestinian land just outside East Jerusalem, but also expressed hope that the U.S. would secure Israel’s compliance with its Road Map obligation to immediately freeze all settlement activity.

Dr. Erekat was referring to a military order the Israeli army issued on 24 September confiscating 1,128 dunums of Palestinian land for the construction of an “alternate” road for Palestinians linking the southern West Bank with the eastern and northern parts of the West Bank. The road will circumvent the E-1 settlement expansion area, Ma’ale Adumim and neighbouring settlements and large tracts of vacant Palestinian land swallowed by the Adumim Wall. The road will serve to reinforce Israel’s settlement activity in the area and divert Palestinian traffic away from East Jerusalem.

‘‘Israel continues to confiscate Palestinian land and expand settlements at the same time that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are meeting to draft an agreement addressing core issues for ending the conflict between them,’’ said Dr. Erekat. “This is quite simply unacceptable to Palestinians and should be unacceptable to the rest of the world.”

Monday, October 15, 2007

Gaza Report Out

Justin Alexander, a key member of this Foundation, has just published his very comprehgensive Gaza report. We strongly recommend you look at it. Poor Gaza has a tough time of it and needs all the attention it can get:

This report examines the immediate and desperate situation in Gaza through a "human security" lens. Much is known about the parameters of the political endgame of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but little is being done to examine and minimise the current unbearable human suffering in Gaza. This study seeks to redress this balance by offering a new insight and a detailed account of the day to day security breaches and the root causes of violence. Uniquely, it offers ways to improve the security situation based on both the particularities of the area and international law and conventions that govern such situations.

To download and read the full report click here

Friday, October 12, 2007

Statement on Middle East meeting

Nicolas Pelham of Crisis Group sends this statement, saying: 'Please find below a statement on the proposed Middle East meeting in Annapolis signed by both U.S. Republicans and Democrats which Crisis Group helped facilitate. It appeals for a conference which is substantive, inclusive and relevant to the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians.'

“Because failure risks devastating consequences, it is critically important that the Middle East peace conference succeed.”

The following letter on the Middle East peace conference scheduled for Annapolis, Maryland in late November, was addressed by its signatories to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The statement is a joint initiative of the U.S./Middle East Project, Inc., the International Crisis Group, and the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace conference announced by President Bush and scheduled for November presents a genuine opportunity for progress toward a two-state solution. The Middle East remains mired in its worst crisis in years, and a positive outcome of the conference could play a critical role in stemming the rising tide of instability and violence. Because failure risks devastating consequences in the region and beyond, it is critically important that the conference succeed.

Bearing in mind the lessons of the last attempt at Camp David seven years ago at dealing with the fundamental political issues that divide the two sides, we believe that in order to be successful, the outcome of the conference must be substantive, inclusive and relevant to the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians:

The international conference should deal with the substance of a permanent peace: Because a comprehensive peace accord is unattainable by November, the conference should focus on the endgame and endorse the contours of a permanent peace, which in turn should be enshrined in a Security Council resolution. Israeli and Palestinian leaders should strive to reach such an agreement. If they cannot, the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and UN Secretary General)—under whose aegis the conference ought to be held— should put forward its own outline, based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the Clinton parameters of 2000, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the 2003 Roadmap. It should reflect the following:

• Two states, based on the lines of June 4, 1967, with minor, reciprocal, and agreed-upon modifications as expressed in a 1:1 land swap;

• Jerusalem as home to two capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods falling under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty;

• Special arrangements for the Old City, providing each side control of its respective holy places and unimpeded access by each community to them;

• A solution to the refugee problem that is consistent with the two-state solution, addresses the Palestinian refugees’ deep sense of injustice as well as provides them with meaningful financial compensation and resettlement assistance;

• Security mechanisms that address Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty.

The conference should not be a one-time affair. It should set in motion credible and sustained permanent status negotiations under international supervision and with a timetable for their completion, so that both a two-state solution and the Arab peace initiative’s full potential (normal, peaceful relations between Israel and all Arab states) can be realized.

The international conference should be inclusive:

• In order to enhance Israel’s confidence in the process, Arab states that currently do not enjoy diplomatic relations with Israel should attend the conference.

• We commend the administration for its decision to invite Syria to the conference; it should be followed by genuine engagement.

A breakthrough on this track could profoundly alter the regional landscape. At a minimum, the conference should launch Israeli-Syrian talks under international auspices.

• As to Hamas, we believe that a genuine dialogue with the organization is far preferable to its isolation; it could be conducted, for example, by the UN and Quartet Middle East envoys. Promoting a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza would be a good starting point.

The international conference should produce results relevant to the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians: Too often in the past, progress has been stymied by the gap between lofty political statements and dire realities on the ground. The conference therefore should also result in agreement on concrete steps to improve living conditions and security, including a mutual and comprehensive cease-fire in the West Bank and Gaza, an exchange of prisoners, prevention of weapons smuggling, cracking down on militias, greater Palestinian freedom of movement, the removal of unjustified checkpoints, dismantling of Israeli outposts, and other tangible measures to accelerate the process of ending the occupation.

Of utmost importance, if the conference is to have any credibility, it must coincide with a freeze in Israeli settlement expansion. It is impossible to conduct a serious discussion on ending the occupation while settlement construction proceeds apace. Efforts also should focus on alleviating the situation in Gaza and allowing the resumption of its economic life.

These three elements are closely interconnected; one cannot occur in the absence of the others. Unless the conference yields substantive results on permanent status, neither side will have the motivation or public support to take difficult steps on the ground. If Syria or Hamas is ostracized, prospects that they will play a spoiler role increase dramatically. This could take the shape of escalating violence from the West Bank or from Gaza, either of which would overwhelm any political achievement, increase the political cost of compromises for both sides and negate Israel’s willingness or capacity to relax security restrictions. By the same token, a comprehensive cease-fire or prisoner exchange is not possible without Hamas’s cooperation. And unless both sides see concrete improvements in their lives, political agreements are likely to be dismissed as mere rhetoric, further undercutting support for a two-state solution.

The fact that the parties and the international community appear—after a long, costly seven-year hiatus—to be thinking of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is welcome news. Because the stakes are so important, it is crucial to get it right. That means having the ambition as well as the courage to chart new ground and take bold steps.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter
Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman and Co-chair of the Iraq Study Group
Carla Hills, former U.S. Trade Representative under President George H.W. Bush
Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, former Senator
Thomas R. Pickering, former Under-Secretary of State
Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor to President Gerald Ford and President George H.W. Bush
Theodore C. Sorensen, former Special Counsel and Adviser to President John F. Kennedy
Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve System

Friday, October 05, 2007

Israeli sources: Mideast peace conference date set for November 26

By Barak Ravid, Avi Issacharoff and Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondents

Israeli sources say November 26 is the date set for the U.S.-led Mideast peace conference to be held in Annapolis. The U.S. has yet to confirm the date.

The joint statement to be formulated by Israel and the Palestinian Authority ahead of the regional meeting in Annapolis next month may include references to the core issues of the final-status agreement. However, such references would be non-committal, and the statement will deal only with issues that enjoy clear agreement.

Israeli officials said the statement would be "significant enough but general enough to avoid a blow-up and a crisis."

Full Article

Monday, October 01, 2007

Assad sets conference conditions

Note that the BBC's Louisa Brooke correctly pointed out to me that the comments that led the news services to declare that Syria would be invited came with caveats.  Secretary Rice was answering a question, noting many behavioural concerns that may be cited to decline a Syrian presence at the conference.  Having said that, her own comments were the most conciliatory uttered yet.  If the US had wanted to make clear Syria wasn't coming, they could have (and would have by now).  Yet, Bashar's own caveats seem inappropriate.  Don't make him grovel. But the unimpressive gentleman with the excellent English should not dare to squander this opportunity for his country.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said his government will not attend a Middle East peace conference unless Syria's concerns are addressed.

President Assad told the BBC that this meant primarily the return of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967.

Mr Assad said no opportunity for peace should be squandered, but he saw little of the substance needed for success in US plans for a conference in November.

The talks are intended to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The US had said it would invite Syria, but only as a member of an Arab League committee dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

'Comprehensive peace'

In his BBC interview, Mr Assad stressed that Syria still needed more clarification about the conference before it took its decision whether to attend or not.

"So far we didn't have the invitation and we didn't have any clarification about anything," he said.

"If they don't talk about the Syrian occupied territory, no, there's no way for Syria to go there.

"It should be about comprehensive peace, and Syria is part of this comprehensive peace. Without that, we shouldn't go, we wouldn't go.

Full Article

Teams to Take Up Issues of Palestinian Statehood

Two Sides Would Prepare for U.S.-Backed Talks; Israel Cites 'Momentum to Progress'

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 11, 2007; A14

JERUSALEM, Sept. 10 -- Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed Monday to form negotiating teams that would begin resolving issues central to the creation of a Palestinian state in advance of a U.S.-sponsored peace conference proposed for later this year.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the working groups would "begin talking about the hard-core issues," a reference to the final borders of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the claim by Palestinian refugees that they have a right to return to homes in Israel.

Israeli officials said the teams were being created to reach the goal of a two-state solution.

"This is very significant," Erekat said. "It is not something we have had since 2000," a reference to the U.S.-backed peace process that collapsed in January 2001.

The announcement followed a meeting here Monday between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Both men are under pressure from the Bush administration to devise a working agenda for the proposed conference, which will probably be held in Washington.