Category Archives: Palestine 2003-05

Jimmy and ME

from Forward.com
Former president Jimmy Carter is back with new advice for resolving the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The former president is scheduled to publish a new book on the issue — slated for release on January 20, coinciding with the inauguration of Barack Obama.
The title for Carter’s new book, “We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work,” seemingly suggests a more optimistic tone than that of his previous book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
“I was going to call it, ‘Yes, We Can.’ My wife talked me out of it,” Carter said in jest, during a December 3 discussion in Atlanta.
No details were provided on the content of Carter’s new book, but based on recent remarks by the author, it is clear that his approach toward the Israeli–Palestinian conflict has not changed. According to an Associated Press report, the former president pointed, in the December 3 discussion, to the “persecution of Palestinians” and lack of American active involvement in the Middle East as the main sources for instability in the Muslim world.

Continue reading

Good recent resources on Palestinians and nonviolence

Ten days ago I had the pleasure of attending a book event for Mary E.
King, in connection with the recent publication of her book A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian
Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance
(New York: Nation Books,
2007).  Mary is a long-time friend and colleague, and this book is
a compendious mine of information on its subject. 

Once I decided to write something here about Mary’s book, I thought it
would also be a good idea to discuss with the people who were my
collaborators and co-authors in the International Quaker Working Party
on Israel and Palestine of 2002-2004, to see if we could also put up
onto the web the great
chapter on Nonviolence in our 2004 book
When the Rain Returns:
Toward Justice and
Reconciliation in Palestine and Israel
So I consulted with Tony Bing, who was the principal author of that
chapter and with the 12 other– mainly Quaker– people who were the
other co-authors of the book project; and now, I am happy to be able to do this.
(Sadly, our friend Misty Gerner, who was a wonderful colleague on the
project, passed away in 2006.  So I consulted with her widower and
literary executor, Phil Schrodt, in her place.)

The good news, therefore: You can now access our Nonviolence chapter here in HTML format and here as a Word doc
Please note the licensing conditions at the top there — as well as the
instructions for how you can order a copy of the whole of our book,
which is certainly still worth reading!

… Mary King brought to her book a long engagement in both the
practice and the study of nonviolence.  Back in the early 1960s
she was one of “a tiny handful” of white women from the northern
American states who traveled to the south to work with the Southern
racial eqaulity movement called the “civil rights movement” that was
led by Martin Luther King, Jr..  Her memoir of those days, Freedom Song, later won the Robert
F. Kennedy Memorial Book Award.  Her second book was Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.,
which surveyed not only the nonviolent freedom movements led by those
two men but also half a dozen more recent nonviolent movements for
radical social change.  Along the way she also got a doctorate in
the topic of the role of nonviolence in international relations. 
She has been closely involved in Middle Eastern issues for many years
and has done numerous projects with President Jimmy Carter’s Carter
Center.  Indeed, Carter contributed a short Foreword to Mary’s
latest book.

Reading the book brought back so many memories for me!  The first
intifada, which ran from 1987 through 1993, truly was a time of
enormous social, organizational, and ideological excitement for the
Palestinians of the occupied territories– as it was, too, for those
Israeli sympathizers who were mounting their own nonviolent actions
within Israel, with a view to “Ending the Occupation” and “Bringing the
Troops Home.”  I spent two periods of time in Palestine and Israel
in those years: one visit that lasted two months or so, as I recall it,
in the summer of 1989, and then a shorter visit in 1992. 
Actually, in 1989, I started off doing some research oin the nonviolent
movements on both sides of the Green Line–  work that was
subsequently published in two articles in the short-lived “Wolrd
Monitor” monthly magazine… (I should really look them out and re-read
them.)  But then I became fascinated with the relationship between
the people inside the OPTs who were running and leading their own
intifada there and the PLO leadership that was stuck in distant Tunis;
and I published an article on that topic in the Spring 1990 issue of
the Middle East Journal.

A couple of aspects of Mary’s book are particularly noteworthy. 
One was the way she was able to convey just how widespread and
all-encompassing the mass organizing was that lay at the heart of the
resilience the Palestinians showed in the first intifada.  For
example, she has a whole chapter on “Women at the forefront of
nonviolent struggles” during the intifada, and another on the
“Movements of students, prisoners, and work committees.” 
Actually, a really good complement to these chapters is Joost
Hiltermann’s classic 1993 book Behind the Intifada which
provided a very rich account of the development of the many kinds of
mass organizations in the OPTs in the years before 1987 as well as (as
I recall it) during the early years of the first intifada.

Another notable aspect of Mary’s book is that at many points it
underlines the huge role that was played during the first intifada by
the activist Palestinian intellectuals who were based in occupied East Jerusalem
Back in those days, the “special” status the Israelis acorded to East
Jerusalem by virtue of their claim that it was “part of” Israel meant
that the city’s 150,000 indigenous Palestinian residents had broad
freedoms to travel, both inside Israel and throughout the West Bank;
and even down to Gaza– that their compatriots in the rest of the
occupied territories did not have.  Because of those freedoms, and
because East Jerusalem really still was in so many ways the historic
business, religious, and educational hub of the whole of the West Bank,
as it had been since the nakba
of 1948, the city’s community leaders played a huge role not only in
coordinating but also in leading the actions of the first intifada.

As I have noted several times before, it was only after Oslo that the
Israelis started erecting a ring of steel around East Jerusalem,
cutting it off in any way they could think of from its historic West
Bank hinterland and forcing many aspects of the city’s life to wither
on the vine.  Since Israel was at the same time also building the
fence that started to completely enclose Gaza, the residents of East
Jerusalem then became effectively shut off from that other main
concentration of the “also-occupied” among the Palestinians. 
Thus, since Oslo, the Jerusalem Palestinians have been cast into a
cut-off form of limbo, and their once-proud institutions have been
either suffocated or– as in so many cases– shut down completely by
the occupation authorities, even while the building of Jews-only
settlements and Israeli ministries and other forms of national
institutions has continued apace within every corner of the city…

So there is a particular poignancy to reading Mary’s account of the
crucial and exciting leadership role the Jerusalem Palestinians played
in the first intifada.

Her book is very broad, very detailed, and meticulously
researched.  I might wish, though, that she had taken the story a
couple of steps further and added a couple of chapters about what
happened at the end
of the first intifada, that is, effectively, what happened with the
September 1993 signing of the Oslo Accord and then, hot on its heels,
the “Return” of the PLO leadership from Tunis to the OPTs.  In our
chapter on Nonviolence in When the
Rain Returns
we wrote quite a lot about that, because we judged it to be an important part of the whole long story of
nonviolence activism among the Palestinians.

Regarding what became of the Palestinians’ use of, and attitudes
towards, nonviolence as the intifada ground on and on, we wrote:

  • … As the intifada dragged on
    into its fourth and fifth years with no respite in sight, the
    Palestinians’ use of physical violence mounted–both against the
    Israelis and to try to resolve differences of opinion inside
    Palestinian society.  National unity
    started to erode, as national exhaustion set in.
  • The activists and leaders of the intifada
    had all along resisted the urgings of Israeli and U.S. government officials
    that they negotiate their own future themselves, without involving the
    exiled PLO.  “Only the PLO can represent
    us,” they stated repeatedly.  In 1993, they
    got what they had asked for: Israel did finally conclude
    the Oslo Accords directly with the PLO.   Once
    Arafat and his colleagues “returned” to the occupied territories,
    however, they proved a hugely damaging disappointment for the people
    there.  Long used to the secretive,
    authoritarian ways of an exile-based underground, Arafat almost
    immediately felt threatened by the network of community organizations
    he found in Gaza and the West Bank.  As Raji
    Sourani reminded us in Gaza,
    Arafat then set about
    working to dismantle the very community-based organizations whose
    grassroots activism had brought him back to his homeland.

We also have a whole section there on the debate that raged inside the
Palestinian movement on the question of nonviolence, in the decade
after 1993.

Gaza crisis: Where is the ‘West’?

I have been reading the latest round of upsetting reports (portal here) on the horrendous effects on Gaza’s 1.45 million people of the greatly escalated collective punishment that the US-funded and US-backed Government of Israel has been inflicting on them in recent days.
The fact of this collective punishment is not new. It has been sustained in a systematic and intentional way since 2000, if not before. It saw one noticeable escalation after the Palestinians’ January 2006 parliamentary elections– in what was quite clearly a move to punish the Gaza Palestinians for the choice they made in those elections. It saw a further escalation in the past two weeks– even while President Bush was touring the region expressing promises about the imminent arrival of “independence” for the Palestinians.
Three things are going on between the well-established and well-supported State of Israel and the extremely vulnerable and effectively stateless community of Gaza Palestinians:

    1. The State of Israel’s collective punishment against all the Gaza Palestinians: men, women, and children.
    2. The State of Israel’s pursuit of continued military operations against suspected militants inside Gaza, using its army’s very considerable firepower in a way that has also– and quite predictably– killed and wounded many Palestinian noncombatants. And
    3. The use by Palestinian militants from a number of organizations including, now, Hamas of military operations, generally of a very low-tech variety, and including the launching of primitive– and in practice, almost untargetable– rockets of a low degree of lethality against areas of southern Israel that include both civilian and some military targets.

Every single harm suffered by noncombatants in this asymmetrical contest is to be deeply regretted. All parties to armed conflict, whether states or non-state actors, are under an international-law obligation to do their utmost to avoid entangling noncombatants in their military contest.
The Israeli paper HaAretz recently noted that 810 Palestinians were killed by the IDF in Gaza in the two years 2006 and 2007, with some 360 of those judged by HaAretz to have been civilians. Meanwhile, in the seven years since 2001 twelve people in Israel have been killed by military actions launched from Gaza. That’s how asymmetrical the military aspect of this contest in. International actors who treat the IHL violations of the two sides as broadly commensurate fail to understand that.
And then, in addition to their very numerous casualties from that military contest, the Palestinians are also suffering the casualties from the collective punishment regime imposed on them by Israel.
So what has been the response to this situation from governments, intergovernmental bodies, and non-governmental organizations in the currently dominant “western” portion of the world?
From the US government: silence.
From the US-based “human-rights” organizations, as far as I can see: silence.
From the EU’s Commissioner for External Relations, Bentita Ferrero-Waldner today, this:

    I condemn the rocket fire into Israel and we fully understand Israel’s need to defend its citizens. I have called for an immediate ceasefire.
    However, the recent decision to close all border crossings into Gaza as well as to stop the provision of fuel will exacerbate an already dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and risks escalating an already difficult situation on the ground…

Notice there that, regarding military actions, she doesn’t even mention Israel’s numerous and extremely damaging military operations against Gaza!
Notice, too, the unsatisfactory nature of the policy prescription she ends with:

    “Neither the blockade nor the recent military strikes are able to prevent the rocket attacks [against Israel.] Only a credible political agreement this year, as foreseen at Annapolis, can turn Palestinians away from violence. That is why we must support Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas in their current efforts.”

I agree with her first sentence there. But note that she then specifies that only the Annapolis-based peace process is capable of “turning the Palestinians away from violence.” But the Gaza Palestinians were in no way represented at Annapolis. Plus– and this an even greater error here– she is assuming that it is only the Palestinians who need to be “turned away from violence”???? That this whole pesky problem in Gaza has arisen because only the Palestinians have this primitive urge to use violence?
I wonder what she calls the things Israel has been doing to the Palestinians? Non-violence?
Here was UN Sec-Gen Ban Ki-Moon’s statement on Friday:

    The Secretary-General appeals urgently for an immediate end to the violence now engulfing Gaza and affecting communities in southern Israel. He repeats his earlier calls for an immediate cessation of Palestinian sniper and rocket attacks into Israel, and for maximum restraint on the part of the Israel Defense Forces. He reminds the parties, once again, of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law and not to endanger civilians.
    Of particular concern today, in addition to the upsurge in violence, is the decision by Israel to close the crossing points in between Gaza and Israel used for the delivery of humanitarian assistance…
    The Secretary-General expresses his deep concern that the hostilities taking place on the ground will undermine the hopes for peace generated by the political process begun at Annapolis.

That statement was, I think, somewhat more balanced and politically realistic than Ms. Ferrero-Waldner’s.
Speical kudos, meanwhile, should go to Oxfam for their continued following of the (anti-)humanitarian effects of Israel’s continued tightening of the blocade on Gaza, including this statement today.
And to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, John Dugard, for this statement from January 18, which rightly foregrounds the effects on Palestinian civilians of Israel’s military actions in Gaza and is worth quoting in its entirety:

    The killing of some forty Palestinians in Gaza in the past week, the targeting of a Government office near a wedding party venue with what must have been foreseen loss of life and injury to many civilians, and the closure of all crossings into Gaza raise very serious questions about Israel’s respect for international law and its commitment to the peace process. Recent action violates the strict prohibition on collective punishment contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention. It also violates one of the basic principles of international humanitarian law that military action must distinguish between military targets and civilian targets. Israel must have known about the wedding party in Gaza near to the interior ministry when it launched missiles at the ministry building. Those responsible for such cowardly action are guilty of serious war crimes and should be prosecuted and punished for their crimes. The United States and other states which attended the Annapolis conference are under both a legal and a moral obligation to compel Israel to cease its actions against Gaza and to restore confidence in the peace process, ensure respect for international law and protect civilian life.

Readers may ask why Dugard did not mention the casualties from the Palestinians’ rocket attacks against Israel. I imagine this is because his mandate is precisely to look at the human rights situation in the occupied territories. Evidently, though, in any broader consideration of the Gaza-Israel military conflict and its effects, the casualties among Israelis should of course be fully noted.
But it is also worth recalling just why the UN felt it needed to appoint a special rapporteur on the situation of the people of the OPTs. That was, I think, precisely because the members of the UN General Assembly recognized the particularly vulnerable situation of people who are still stateless and cannot rely on having any state intervene to protect their interests or even their lives.
Kudos, too, to B’tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and its allies, who have been petitioning the Israeli High Court to issue an interim order requiring Israel to allow the return of the supply of fuel oil to Gaza to its usual level. This request, B’tselem says, “was filed as part of a petition against the sanctions on the Gaza Strip, from October 2007.”
And meantime, let’s not forget the many dimensions of the assault that Palestinians in the West Bank continue to suffer at the hands of the military occupation regime that has ruled over them for 40.5 years now.
AFP reported yesterday that,

    The number of Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank excluding annexed Arab east Jerusalem rose by 5.1 percent last year, figures released by the Israeli interior ministry on Sunday showed.
    The Jewish population increased to 282,362 in January this year compared to 268,163 in January 2007 and 253,371 in the first month of 2006.
    The figures exclude a further 200,000 or so settlers in east Jerusalem which Israel annexed following its capture in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

So much for Israel’s obligations under Annapolis and the “Road Map”…

Safieh to step down

Afif Safieh, who has been an articulate and effective representative for the PLO/PA in Washington for the past 18 months, announced yesterday that he has asked Abu Mazen to relieve him of his duties.
In the announcement, Safieh says this is for health reasons. But even a quick reading of the announcement shows that there are probably many other reasons for his request to step down, as well. The full text is given below.
I’ll note that Afif Safieh is himself a staunch son of Jerusalem, so the anguish he expresses over the plight of the Palestinian half of the city is probably very deep and very real.
In 1995, during the height of “Oslo fever” in the west, I traveled to Jerusalem and wrote a multi-part series for Al-Hayat on the tragic situation in the city. Prior to Oslo– and all during the first intifada, 1987-93– East Jerusalem had been a central node of Palestinian political activity. Intellectuals and activists based there could travel with remarkably few restrictions throughout the West Bank and throughout Israel, as well as into Gaza. Shortly after the conclusion of the Oslo Accords and the return of the PLO leadership to Palestine– but to Ramallah, not to Jerusalem– East Jeruslaem became surrounded by a ring of steel checkpoints as the Israelis worked to cut its 160,000 residents off from contact with the West Bank, and vice versa.
During those visits to Al- Quds in the 1990s, I often checked in with Afif’s sister, Diana Safieh, who ran a travel agency on Salahuddin Street and was active in the leadership of the East Jerusalem YWCA. She and her friends there gave me many details of the effect the ring of steel– and the continuous encroachment into East Jerusalem of Israeli settlements, large and small– was having on their lives.
Since then, the ring of checkpoints has been replaced with the even more suffocating Separation Barrier, 30 feet high and punctuated with guard towers, which cuts neighbor from neighbor throughout the Palestinian part of the city and looms like a concentration camp wall over many Palestinian neighborhoods. I can certainly understand where the angst that Safieh expresses about the city comes from. Back in 1995, I heard many similar expressions of anguish from Faisal al-Husseini (God rest his soul) about the degree to which the PLO/PA leadership had neglected Jerusalem’s Palestinians during their pursuit of the chimeric “peace process” of those days.
Here is Safieh’s announcement:

    PLO Mission, Washington, DC
    January 15, 2008
    Subject: Static Diplomacy
    From: PLO Mission – Washington, DC
    Afif Safieh, the Head of the PLO Mission, has returned to Washington from Palestine. While in Ramallah, Safieh attended the meetings with visiting President Bush / met with President Abbas/ with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad/ attended the meetings of the Fatah Council which discussed the situation in Gaza and the preparations for the Fatah Conference before Summer 2008/ visited Bili’in where a heroic protracted non-violent struggle is waged against settlement-building and land-confiscation and met with the entire leadership of the village/ attended the exquisite Daniel Barenboim piano concert in Ramallah where the size of audience again demonstrated Palestinian thirst for a life of normality or the semblance of normality…etc.
    Safieh deplored what he called “Static Diplomacy” in spite of the thousands of hours that are invested in talk about talks, negotiating pre- negotiations and pre- negotiating negotiations. On the ground the situation continues to deteriorate: the inhuman siege of the Gaza Strip and the daily bombardments, the frequent and repeated Israeli military incursions in the urban centers of the West Bank, settlement expansion mainly in and around occupied East Jerusalem and the number of the check-points that was not reduced strangulating the society and suffocating the economy.
    Safieh was distressed by the conditions in East Jerusalem, the future Capital of Palestine, a city politically orphaned by the death of the Faisal Husseni and the illegal closure of The Orient House. Safieh in a meeting with 12 personalities from Jerusalem took a commitment to constantly raise the issue of the necessary reopening of The Orient House as stipulated in the first phase of the Road Map.
    During his stay in Ramallah, Afif Safieh has asked President Abbas to relieve him, soon, during 2008, of his duties in Washington for health reasons. Safieh has suffered in 2006-2007 of a herniated disc and has undergone surgery last May.

More on Palestine-related diplomacy

My ‘Delicious’ tagging system is not working. I found this fascinating article today by my very well-informed old friend Jihad Khazen on the recent Arab Foreign Ministers’ gathering and Condi’s meeti8ng with the ‘Arab Four’ (I hate the word ‘Quartet’ at this point.)
He writes:

    According to my information, the Arab group’s talks with Dr. Rice were confined to the Palestinian Cause. Rice heard once again that all the region’s issues are linked to the fate of this Cause, which is the core of all issues.
    Neither did Rice ask for the amendment of the Arab Peace Initiative, especially the refugees’ right to return, nor did the Arab ministers think of it.

This latter point is in direct contradiction to some Israeli whisperings and general hasbara to the contrary.
He also writes this:

    Two days ago, the main-story headline of Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth was: ‘New Initiative to Coordinate an Overt Israeli-Saudi Summit’, with efforts exerted by EU Policy Chief Javier Solana and Rice. However, when I read the story, I found that it talked about a possible meeting between the Arab Quartet with Israeli officials. A meeting between officials is not a summit; and it certainly isn’t a Saudi-Israeli summit, if a meeting occurs in the first place. In an article a day before this, US renowned political commentator, Thomas Friedman, called on King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to follow in the footsteps of the late president, Anwar Sadat, and visit Jerusalem.
    I can say that King Abdullah will not visit Jerusalem or deliver a speech in the Knesset, not tomorrow, or even after a thousand years. I also say the same for myself, although I always prefer to speak or write as a historian, not a fortune teller. But I’m sure of my information and my knowledge of King Abdullah and Saudi policy.

Also on the current Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, read this from IPS’s Jim Lobe.
I’ve spent most of today at a meeting on Palestinian affairs at the venerable London foreign-policy think tank, Chatham House. I did tell them this morning that I now see new possibilities for real, constructive political change within the US political firmament. Many of the others there seemed skeptical. But the point Lobe makes in his last para there– namely, that even strongly pro-Israeli American members of the ICG board like Ken Adelman and Steve Solarz have signed on to the recent ICG Board Statement calling for engagement with the new Palestinian government, etc etc– seems strongly to prove my point.
Strikes me that the once firm-seeming ice-cap that the extremist pro-Israeli discourse-suppressors were once able to maintain over all aspects of the political discourse within the US has been melting gratifying fast… So now, the world might see some significant movement in the diplomacy over this long-frozen issue.

The Weissglas “diet”

In a move eerily reminiscent of the Bush administration’s redefinition of “torture” to the point that “anything’s okay so long as the person doesn’t die or suffer permanent organ failure”, Dov Weissglas, the longtime adviser to Israeli premiers is now talking about projecting Israel’s war against Hamas onto the bodies of Palestinian children and other noncombatants.
This, from today’s HaAretz:

    “It’s like a meeting with a dietician. We have to make them much thinner, but not enough to die,” said the prime minister’s adviser Dov Weissglas.

A couple of posts ago, I was getting into a discussion about the quite foreseeable effects of a cutoff of external aid to the OPTs, which I said could lead to actual deaths from starvation.
I still think that. But to even get into that argument, it seems to me, is to set the bar for acceptable human behavior far, far too low. (Like the Bush definition of “torture.”)
After getting into that argument, it became clear to me that we should oppose all attempts to intentionally– in pursuit of a political objective– place any barriers at all on the flourishing of noncombatant persons. Just “not forcing them to starve” is ways too low a bar to hold up.
In a sense, nearly all of the present corpus of international humanitarian law as it has developed since the 1850s aims at separating civilian populations and other noncombatants from the harmful consequences of warfare. Certainly, any deliberate attempt to entangle civilians in a political battle between two political leaderships– in the way that, for example, Shimon Peres did in his disastrous April 1996 military aggression against Lebanon– should be completely rejected and opposed.
This is exactly the same basic principle that underlies the prohibition on terror attacks against civilians… There too the aim is to use the deliberate infliction of harm on civilians to sway the decisions made by political leaders.
In both cases, this deliberate entanglement of civilians in a political/military battle should be completely opposed.
Shimon Peres may claim (as indeed, he did to me in person in March 1998) that he “didn’t intend” to kill the 120-plus old people who were killed by IDF shelling in Qana. Ah yes, but what he and the rest of the Israeli leadership clearly did intend– and we know this because they said it very publicly at the time– was to put such huge pressure on the civilian population of Lebanon that they would rise up and beg their leaders to ‘cry uncle’ to Israel.
And along the way there, in the course of that panic-driven uprooting of one-third of the population of Lebanon (which yes, was enitrely a part of Peres’s plan… he said he wanted them to be forced to go to Beirut), quite predictably old people died and babies and the sick and infirm died, purely because of the uprooting. That was entirely foreseeable, given the record established during tens of previous rounds of IDF-spurred mass uprootings in Lebanon. Then on top of those foreseeable deaths, given the amount of lethal firepower used in the assault, it was not surprising at all that 120 old people ended up getting killed in Qana…
So anyway, as I said, that 1996 attempt to entangle a neighboring population in a hard-fought political battle ended up disastrously for nearly everyone concerned… except Hizbullah, which at that point won nearly all of its long-fought battle for the liberation of South Lebanon from Israeli occupation. (That victory didn’t fully unfold till 2000; but the strategic balance had tipped definitively in April 1996.)
See, here’s the thing about attempts to entangle civilian populations in violence and coercion: they very frequently backfire. I could argue this, certainly, about Peres’s pathetic and very harmful aggression in 1996. I think I could argue it convincingly about the terror campaign that Hamas and others waged against Israel’s civilian population since 1987… In both cases, the fact that the assault comes against civilians stiffens the reolve of civilians. It doesn’t cow them. (Maybe the Hamas leaders realized that. Maybe that’s why they agreed unilaterally to halt their operations against targets inside Israel back in February of last year?)
So where is Israel’s learning curve on this issue? Can’t Israel’s leaders, too, look back at the past (including April 1996 in Lebanon, but a lot of other occasions, too) and realize that this latest attempt to starve the Palestinians into submission is likewise doomed to fail?
That HaAretz piece goes on to say this:

    Some officials suggested separating the Palestinian population, which would continue receiving the aid, and its government. This was also the American administration’s position, it was said at the meeting.

Gosh, can these people really all be that stupid? But no, they’re not! Look at the next paragraph:

    Israeli National Security Council head Giora Eiland questioned whether separating the aid from the PA would be effective at all, since the overwhelming majority of Palestinian workers in the humanitarian organizations are Hamas people.

Exactly. (Readers might want to go back and check point #3 I made in this JWN post, Tuesday.)
… At a broader level, I must say I’m finding it a most enjoyable spectator sport, sitting here and seeing all these Israeli and US officials running round like headless chickens as they try to figure out how to respond to Hamas’s electoral victory. (All except Giora Eiland, that is. A very sensible man.)

Hamas’s diplomatic and leadership strategies unfold

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal arrived in Turkey today, in a very smart move which is the first visit by any Hamas leader to a non-Arab country– one that is majority-Muslim but also a member of NATO and has many links with Israel.
(He’s also been invited to Moscow and may well go there straight from Turkey? Russia is, of course, a member of the so-called ‘Quartert’ that backed but totally failed to implement President Bush’s failed ‘Road Map” to peace, when was it? a century or two ago?– oh no, just in 2002… How time flies, eh?)
Meantime, in what is most likely a carefully planned move, back at present Hamas “home base” in Damascus, Meshaal’s second-in-command, Moussa Abu Marzook has publicly announced the movement’s next move in the current, very complex diplomatic dance. Let me reproduce that AP story, by Albert Aji, almost in full:

    A senior Hamas official called on the United States Thursday to remove the militant Islamic group from Washington’s list of terrorist organizations and to open a dialogue without preconditions.
    Moussa Abu Marzook, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, told The Associated Press the U.S. should deal with Hamas “as it is, and later there could be a dialogue…but there should be no preconditions.”
    “Hamas is not the only side that wants peace. …All the Palestinians want peace because they are the only people whose rights have been encroached upon and who have been expelled from their lands,” Abu Marzouk said.
    Abu Marzouk described as “absolutely unacceptable” Israel’s call for Hamas to start an unconditional dialogue with the Jewish state, saying “Hamas…was chosen by the Palestinian people…this is democracy.”
    … Hamas, which has previously carried out a wave of suicide bombings that killed or wounded hundreds of Israeli’s, has not claimed involvement in any suicide attacks since February 2005.
    The radical organization has hinted at a readiness for a long-term truce or some other accommodation with the Jewish state, short of recognition.
    But the U.S. and the European Union have threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas forms a government without first recognizing Israel and renouncing violence.
    Abu Marzouk, who has been in Egypt, Sudan and Qatar, said Hamas found “all-out support” in the three countries, which back “the choice of the Palestinian people and the budget of the Palestinian Authority as it was in the past.” He did not elaborate.

Actually, I’m, wondering whether AP writer Aji got that quite right, when he wrote, “Abu Marzouk described as ‘absolutely unacceptable’ Israel’s call for Hamas to start an unconditional dialogue with the Jewish state.”
So far as I know, Israel has never called on Hamas to join an “unconditional” dialogue?
And indeed, right now, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and the Defense Ministry itself have been calling for tightening the already stifling movement controls that the IDF/IOF maintains on the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. And the bought-and-paid-for members of the US Congress have of course jumped into the collective-punishment act, voting to cut direct US aid to the Palestinian Authority, “unless Hamas renounces its call to destroy Israel.”
Hamas meanwhile looks looks as though it might be about to enact a winner-takes-all-ish political strategy at home, in the OPTs. They have named their candidates for Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). These are, respectively, university professors Aziz al-Duwaik, from the West Bank, and Ahmed Bahar, from Gaza.
That BBC story linked to there– like several other recent news stories– says that Hamas is likely to nominate one of its own people as prime minister. They say, Ismail Haniya, who headed the group’s national list of candidates in the recent elections.

    Update: Thursday afternoon: Yes, Hamas did apparently just nominate him.

I am not sure how wise a winner-takes-all-ish strategy is for them. (Hamas did, after all, get only 44% of the vote, so need to continue to show the Palestinian people that they will be acting in an inclusive and statesmanlike way rather than from triumphalism?) But anyway, Fateh has been quite adamant since the elections that it would not participate in a Hamas-led national unity government… And Fateh PA President Abbas might well have riled the Hamasniks when he steam-rollered a “clever” little constitutional-court resolution through the lame-duck PLC last week.
I wouldn’t have expected Hamas to nominate a Fathawi for PM, but earlier there was talk they would support a non-Hamas indpendent. Anyway, we’ll see who their nominee is, soon enough. I guess the PLC will hold its first session on Saturday. Most likely, given Mofaz’s recommendation to the Israeli cabinet re border-closings, this will be by videolink between Ramallah and Gaza. The Israelis did release one elected MP yesterday– a Hamasnik– but 13 other elected members of PLC, mincluding Marwan Barghouthi, remain in Israeli custody. Will they be able to participate via videolink, too, I wonder?
I guess when the PLC gets seated, it needs the Speaker and Deputy Speaker almost immediately. Then they have a further two weeks to name the PM. I think that is formally done by the President (Abbas). But obviously, if he names someone whom Hamas fails to support in the PLC, then the PLC wouldn’t even confirm the nomination, so they do all need to work together on this…
Gosh, isn’t it going to be an interesting time there in the next couple of weeks?
(Btw, if you’re interested in what’s been happening to the once-vaunted Fateh “Young Guard” sinc the Jan. 25 election, there’s a fairly interesting report on this issue here, from the “Arab Reform Bulletin.” It’s by Ben Fishman and Mohammad Yaghi, who write, “If the elites within Fatah were divided before the election, they are even more so in its aftermath and have yet to devise a strategy for moving forward… For Fatah to compete effectively with Hamas and lead Palestinian politics once again, it would need to develop a mechanism for handling disputes internally and find honest, respected, and popular leaders. Whether Fatah’s young guard can regroup and tackle these challenges depends entirely on its ability to solve the organizational and personal rivalries that became painfully evident during the electoral process. The very survival of secular Palestinian nationalism may hinge on whether such a transformation occurs.”
You can read my Dec. 30 musing on this latter question, here.)

Is there an anti-Hamas plot?

Steve Erlanger has an important
piece

in today’s NYT about joint US-Israeli governmental plotting to overthrow
the new leadership that was recently freely elected by voters in (still-occupied)
Palestine.

We should all be quite clear that this heinous, anti-democratic plotting
should be halted immediately.

Here’s Erlanger’s lead:

The United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize
the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail
and elections will be called again, according to Israeli officials and Western
diplomats.

The intention is to starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international
connections to the point where, some months from now, its president, Mahmoud
Abbas, is compelled to call a new election. The hope is that Palestinians
will be so unhappy with life under Hamas that they will return to office a
reformed and chastened Fatah movement.

Erlanger quotes Israeli Foreign Ministry flack Mark Regev as denying the
existence of any such plan.  (What’s the guy going to say, anyway?)

So “the plan”– as described to the well-connected Erlanger by, let’s repeat,
more than one Israeli official and more than one Western (ok, make that American)
diplomat– is to impoverish the Palestinians even more, and squeeze them even
more through Israel’s existing systems of movement controls, to the point
where either Hamas ‘cries uncle’ and bows to Israel’s demands that it ” recognize
Israel’s right to exist, forswear violence and accept previous Palestinian-Israeli
agreements” — or, a new revivified Fateh will come along, riding on a wave
of popular discontent with the general impoverishment, demand a new election,
and sweep back to victory…

I can’t even begin to tell you on how many points this totally ignorant
and idiotic “plan” is doomed to fail.  (Okay, shortly I’ll start to
enumerate them.)  But first, just reflect for a moment on the sheer,
colonial-style chutzpah of these plotters!

Re ignorance, I see that up at the top of the story Erlanger writes:

The officials also argue that a close look at the election results
shows that Hamas won a smaller mandate than previously understood.

Like, duh!!!  I was writing in the CSM
here,

on January 31, that despite its huge majority in terms of seats, Hamas had
only gotten 44% of the actual popular vote…  And I had written about
that even earlier, on JWN.  But it takes these “officials” this long
to suddenly “understand” this?

Also, Hamas got 44% of the vote in a strong turnout of– was it around 75%
of eligible voters?  (= 33% of eligible voters who voted for them.) And
George W. Bush won in 2004 with just over 50% of a turnout of 60% (= 30%
of eligible voters.)  In both cases, the electoral system used allowed
the frontrunner to virtually “take all”.

If we live in a “rule of law world” where there is a single rule for everyone,
is the US saying that it’s okay to “take down” Hamas because it won support
from only a minority of eligible voters….  And therefore, it should
be equally legitimate to do this in the US, too? Right?

Erlanger also has this quote from “a senior Western diplomat” (= journo-speak
for the local US ambassador):

“The point is to put this choice on Hamas’s shoulders… If
they make the wrong choice, all the options lead in a bad direction.”

Okay, let’s just move beyond the fact that this plan is wrong, arrogant,
extremely coercive, actually and quite predictably  lethal to a number
of its targets, anti-democratic, and colonialistic….  Here’s why it
won’t work:

Continue reading

A museum of WHAT?

I’ve been working so hard on my Africa book that I had missed all the reports that the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center has started building a Museum of “Tolerance” on the site of a Muslim cemetery in West Jerusalem.
The Independent’s Donald Macintyre reported Friday that

    Skeletons are being removed from the site of an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem to make way for a $150m (£86m) “museum of tolerance” being built for the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
    Palestinians have launched a legal battle to stop the work at what was the city’s main Muslim cemetery. The work is to prepare for the construction of a museum which seeks the promotion of “unity and respect among Jews and between people of all faiths”.

This Reuters report in HaAretz says:

    A petition to halt construction of the museum had been presented to the Supreme Court….
    The discovery of human remains during construction in Israel is highly sensitive, particularly to Jews and Muslims who have strict rules for burial of the dead.
    A spokesman for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights group behind the Museum of Tolerance, said… “The land wasn’t a cemetery when we got it from city hall and the government and we are waiting to know the (court’s) decision.”
    Muslim leaders say the parking lot on which the museum is planned is above remnants of a Muslim cemetery on land owned by the Muslim Waqf, a religious trust, and confiscated by Israel.
    California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled a cornerstone of the museum in 2004. The $150 million facility will promote “the vital need for tolerance in Israel and around the globe,” the Wiesenthal Center said on its Web site.

Gershon Baskin, the admirable Israeli who is co-director of the Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) issued a statement today that said:

    the issue is not a legal one. It is an issue of tolerance, sensibilities, morality, and mutual respect.
    Imagine the outrage if the Palestinians were building a Museum of Tolerance (or anything else) on what was once a Jewish Cemetery. Would it matter to anyone if the cemetery was not active and in use since 1948 or that it was being done “legally”?
    This project has no right to exist if it creates the outrage of the millions of Muslims in this shared land and of the hundreds of thousands of them in the Holy City. The issue is now before the High Court in Israel, but it is not a legal issue. A Jewish moral voice must be sounded loud that will resonate throughout the Land against this outrageous blindness. The Chief Rabbis of Israel must speak out against the desecration of this Muslim Cemetery. All of the citizens of Jerusalem should raise their voice against this project. Jews, Muslims and Christians alike should respect each others’ sacred spaces – without this there can never be peace in this Holy City or in this Holy Land.
    We call on the Government of Israel to stop this madness – who could ever imagine a Museum of Tolerance built on such bad foundations?!

Well said!
In addition to appealing to the Israeli government, I believe those of us here in the US should make our voices on this issue heard by the Wiesenthal Center itself– contact details here.
I must admit, as I come to the end of my work on the Africa book, I am looking at the issue of public memorial spaces and museums– how and when they help to build a greater sense of shared humanity, and how and when they are used (as they quite frequently are) for quite contrary purposes. Reading these news accounts sent a shiver down my spine.
To have construction workers lifting Muslim bodies out of an ancient Jerusalem cemetery, quite without any permission from the Muslim Waqf (religious trust) authorities concerned– and to do so in the name of “tolerance”?? This almost beggars belief.

Graham Fuller on Hamas

The very sensible and well-informed long-time CIA analyst Graham Fuller has an excellent new paper out on Hamas, here
His bottom line:

    Washington must abandon the fantasy that it can get “moderate” Palestinians to crush Hamas and proceed to accept what are unsatisfactory peace terms offered by Likud. The much-reviled Arafat could not do so, nor could Mahmud Abbas, the “moderate,” both of whom were exquisitely aware that Hamas represents the views of a large number of Palestinians who cannot be excluded or suppressed. The Western search for a “Palestinian Quisling” in effect, based on a one-sided reading of the problem, is doomed to failure. The West will have to engage in a much more measured and balanced approach with Hamas if any prospect of political progress is to take place.
    In the end the Israeli occupation remains the central problem, from which all other problems—despair, rage, and terrorism—flow. We must start by treating the core of the problem and not its symptoms. If the trajectory of other democratically-based Islamist parties is any indicator, there are reasonable hopes that Hamas, given the chance, will continue its evolution towards hard-headed pragmatism, even while not yielding its bargaining cards for free in advance.
    Can we assume wisdom and patience on the part of the United States, Israel and the Palestinians in this next stage? If it is forthcoming, Hamas just might offer a surprise—the most legitimate Palestinian force to eventually reach a de facto settlement with Israel.