Thursday, December 16, 2010

Human Interest Thursday: Struggle in Gaza

One of the things I enjoy doing on this blog is taking a break from taking about large, often-vague matters and focus on the individual stories. The book I am currently reading by Israeli author David Grossman, "Sleeping On a Wire" is perfect at putting a face to the struggle of Palestinians in Israel. I'm just finishing that book up and should have the review up sometime early next week.

Until then, here are two interesting stories illustrating the immense struggles of Gazans:

Palestinian feminist Asma Al-Ghoul is fighting against both the Islamist Hamas government in Gaza and Israeli military's blockade of the Gaza Strip, asserting her desires for freedom as a Palestinian woman. She's also currently writing a novel about the Islamization of Gaza, entitled City of Love and Taboo.

Meanwhile, Nader el Masri has dreams of running the 5,000m race in the London Olympics. He's become a hero for dozens of Gazan school children.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hillary Clinton's new strategy for peace sounds a lot like the old one

Last Friday American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented the failure of the first 18 months of the Obama peace process and explained the new direction the administration intends to take in order to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Clinton's speech was illuminating in that it showed the total lack of vision of the U.S.-mediated process since Obama took office and demonstrated that the administration is still making things up as they go along.

This is not a peace process reset. This is simply a transparent effort to throw up a facade and avoid the media from reporting what has transpired as a total collapse which would bring into question the continued viability of the two-state solution. Make no mistake, what has happened with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is a total collapse that should cause us to question whether U.S.-mediated negotiations can ever result in a final two-state solution.

The U.S. has been pursuing the same peace
process strategy since Hillary Clinton looked
like this. Seriously.
The Obama administration has apparently dropped the peace process on Clinton's desk and George Mitchell is still eyes on the ground, responsible for the actual negotiations. According to Clinton, the new old strategy will consist of the U.S. pursuing indirect negotiations with Mitchell shuttling between them. This is piece for piece exactly what the administration set into motion 18 months ago and which failed to result in any meaningful breakthroughs. The only difference between now and the start of Obama's presidency is that the U.S. will stop pressing Israel over settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, despite the fact that the this was the only smart component of Obama's doomed strategy.

Clinton has promised that, in contrast to the indirect negotiations of 18 months ago, these shuttle talks will focus on substantive issues such as borders, the status of Jeruslaem, refugees, and settlements. This statement begs the question of what the old talks were even focused on. Why was the administration even talking to the parties and attempting to get them to talk if they were not going to bother to focus on issues that actually cause this conflict. The more the administration talks about the "new" strategy the more terribly planned and executed the "old" strategy sounds.

Furthermore, Clinton's assertion that the U.S. will not bother Israel over settlements (despite the fact that the administration and Clinton herself see settlements and their growth as obvious obstacles to peace) is contradictory to her statements that settlements are one of the core issues. According to Clinton the indirect negotiations must include discussions about the ever-expanding settlements but cannot include discussion of stopping them from ever-expanding while the negotiations are going on. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fateh party leaders reject negotiations with Israel without a stop to settlement expansion. Despite Abbas' seemingly hard assertions, his announcement is certainly vague enough to allow him to continue to repeat the mantra ad infinitum while still sending his negotiating team to take part in shuttle negotiations with George Mitchell.

The "new" strategy's lack of focus on Israeli settlements also shows the Obama administration's refusal to acknowledge the errors learned from the Camp David process. In the immediate aftermath of that failure, American negotiator Aaron David Miller lamented that the U.S. had far too often acted as Israel's lawyer instead of an impartial mediator and Israeli and American negotiators had failed to fully appreciate how important stopping settlement growth was to the Palestinians.

To wrap up, the Obama administration has proposed a "new" strategy for Middle East peace that hinges on engaging the two parties in indirect talks with Special Envoy George Mitchell conducting the shuttle diplomacy. Eventually Mitchell hopes to induce the two parties to begin direct negotiations. The U.S. will refrain from pressing the Israelis on settlement expansion, despite the fact that this growth is of critical concern to the Palestinians. Why anyone, including the American administration, thinks this will work is beyond me. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, I have a sneaking suspicion that everyone involved in this plan is insane.

Links:
New York Times, Haaretz

Friday, December 10, 2010

Casual Friday: 2010 Album of the Year

I hinted a few days ago that I had decided to write about my nominations (and winner) for 2010 Album of the Year. The albums that made the final cut were not necessarily released in 2010, but I discovered them this year and are thus 2010 releases to me. I've never reviewed music, nor have I ever even read a review of an album, so I'm winging it here. Of course, that is kind of my point with the Casual Friday posts: to write about things I know little or nothing about. I know what music sounds good to me, though, so that's what I'm going by. (And seriously, isn't that what the pros are doing with reviews anyway?)

First, the nominations for the Holy Land Peace 2010 Album of the Year:

The Black Keys: Brothers (2010)
I love the Black Keys for a number of reason: 1.) they play rough jam-band rock like it's their God-given mission; 2.) they're from Akron, Ohio - not too far from where I grew up; and 3.) They release a new CD featuring great rock and roll just about every year. This year they treated listeners to the slightly more quirky, slightly more pop-inspired album Brothers. It's predominantly full of the great sounding guitar-driven rock tracks that have defined the Black Keys but has a few interesting "pop-ier" songs thrown in for variety, like the single "Tighten Up." The vocals are catchy and the guitars thick and crunchy, like rock and roll should be. Though a couple songs are easily forgettable and you could easily be excused for believing the entire album only had a few 15 minute songs rather than the 13 tracks the album boasts, it's still greater than the sum of its parts. It's a another solid CD by the Black Keys

Best Songs: "She's Long Gone", "Tighten Up", "10 Cent Pistol", "Howlin' For You"

Marcy Playground: Leaving Wonderland in a Fit of Rage (2009)
Yes, you remember right; these are the "Sex and Candy" guys from a decade ago. Their newest album, released last year, was one of my top listened to of this year. That's a testament to not only the variety available on Leaving Wonderland but the strength of just about every one of the dozen songs on the CD. This is a great album for listening to just about anywhere, while doing just about anything, and being in just about any mood. The vocals are strong and the hooks catchy, but there's absolutely no backup vocals at any point. Most of the songs are upbeat acoustic guitar-driven tracks that blend perfectly with the quirky lyrics. Although I very rarely drive, Leaving Wonderland has a semi-permanent presence in my car. It's the perfect driving album.

Best Songs: "I Must Have Been Dreaming", "Good Times", "Gin and Money"

Goo Goo Dolls: Something For the Rest of Us (2010)
The Goo Goo Dolls have been making music together for just about as long as I've been alive, and their sound has changed immensely, from hardcore punk-metal in the late 80s, to grunge rock through the early 90s, mainstream alt rock in the later half of the 90s, and then firmly planted itself in the adult alternative genre. The album itself is enjoyable, though nothing special. Most of the songs are sadly, thoroughly forgettable and despite criticism of their last CD "Let Love In" for being over produced, Something For the Rest of Us doesn't address that short coming. Lead singer Johnny Rzeznik seems to have swung and missed on the catchy hooks he's known for. The music is pretty bland, aside from a few gems like "Say You're Free" and "One Night". It's a far cry from the great music of A Boy Named Goo and the catchy vocals of Dizzy Up the Girl. The band has always been terrific live, but their last couple studio albums seem to be lacking of a little musical passion. If you love the gravel-gargling vocals of bassist Robby Takac (and I certainly do) then "Say You're Free" is the song to check out.

Best Songs: "Home", "Say You're Free", "Soldier"

Kristin Diable: Shelter (2005)
Kristin Diable is an almost unknown singer/songwriter based in New Orleans and her lack of commercial success and widespread musical popularity should be a damn crime. Her (as far as I can tell) first album was Shelter followed in 2009 by Extended Play which is a spectacular CD. I just found out about Shelter this year so that's why I've included it with my 2010 Best Album nominees. Kristin Diable plays great jazz/blues-inspired music with great variety between tracks, thoughtful lyrics, strong soulful vocals, twangy guitars, and a overwhelming upbeat sound. Kristin Diable's voice is top-notch. She avoids the "breathy" quality of far too many female vocalists and belts out the words with passion and force. The album has everything from a slow (and rather forgettable) piano ballad in "Circumstance" to a fast, guitar-heavy rock jam in "Black Plague & Dynamite." Along the way there's the acoustic-driven and mellow "Redemption's Son" and the full of soul "Sister Sadie." Being a fan of Norah Jones, I find Kristin Diable to be an upgrade of Norah, with grit, soul, and a hankering for great guitar riffs.

Best Songs: "Black Plague and Dynamite", "Where Do You Sleep", "Sister Sadie"

So with the nominees in, the award for 2010 Album of the Year, as presented by Holy Land Peace, goes to:


Kristin Diable's Shelter! Yeah, it's kind of a stolen victory considering I'm awarding 2010 Album of the Year to an album that came out in 2005, but that's the liberty you get to take when you write a blog. I'm sure she'll be happy to be featured on a blog that has a picture of the leader of Hamas not far under her.

Got an album you think I should hear? Leave your recommendations in the comments!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

So who is to blame?

President Barack Obama's peace process seems to have breathed it's last breath, and like always, whenever a peace process falters it's time to assign blame. Playing the blame game with this recent process is actually pretty easy. In 18 months absolutely nothing was accomplished. I've decided to break up the blame into easy-to-compare percentages, which will of course add up to 100% of the blame for failure. You might think my numbers are subjective, but I assure you they are based on strict social science. Let's take a look:

"For once, it's not my fault!" - Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal
The Obama Administration (50% of the total blame for failure)
I alluded a few days ago to the fact that the Obama administration really owns the lion's share of the blame for the fiasco that the peace talks became. Obama's team (including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Special Envoy George Mitchell) lacked any semblance of either a vision for a post-agreement Israel/Palestine or a strategy for conducting productive talks. I still maintain that unless Obama knew he had the time, tools, and strategy to pursue final status negotiations, he should never have started them. It quickly became apparent that he lacked all three as his domestic problems (including the health care bill, constant stalling from Republicans in Congress, and Don't Ask-Don't Tell) began to eat away at any time he had to lend his leadership to the peace process. The attention these other issues demanded also played a role in denying Obama tools to pressure the parties when they stalled or refused to budge from their positions.

The Obama administration sized up Netanyahu after Biden was blind-sided on his visit to Israel by the declaration of additional settlement housing in East Jerusalem and there was even the snub of Netanyahu (as he was left waiting in the White House while Obama had a long, pleasant dinner with his family). Both of these actions initially showed that Obama was willing to get rough with both the Palestinians and Israelis to push them towards peace. He came out swinging by strongly asserting that peace was in the interest of the U.S. and refused to live by the old "we can't want peace more than the Israelis and Palestinians do" mantra of Clinton and G.W. Bush. However, as soon as the tension became apparent in the Israeli and American press Obama backed way off and gave Netanyahu a huge victory, allowing him to dictate the terms of negotiations. When Obama blinked in his game of chicken with Netanyahu the Israeli prime minister knew full well Obama would be unable or unwilling to put pressure on him. By the end of the fiasco, Netanyahu was in such a strong position that he had the Americans begging for a mere 90 days of a partial settlement freeze and Obama offering to pay the Israelis billions for the pleasure of keeping the crashing talks afloat.

This begs the question of why Obama ever decided to launch peace talks (he did very early in his presidency too - just two months in). I hardly think he saw a peace agreement as low-hanging fruit. I think he was more or less probably convinced he needed to pursue Israeli/Palestinian peace by his closest foreign policy advisors or those at the State Department that tend to see negotiations as an end in themselves. If you remember, one of the first foreign policy goals was a historic reset with the Muslim world and the Cairo Speech. How could an American president "reset" relations with the Middle East without pursuing Israeli/Palestinian peace. It was intended as a gesture to help him reach out, but the whole strategy behind it was never really fleshed out (much like the Iraq War under Bush). Good intentions obscured the immense challenges that would accompany the peace process. In a phrase, Obama was "mugged by reality."


The Israelis (35% of the blame)
While the Obama team is mostly the blame, the Israeli administration under Netanyahu does share in this. His constant assertions as to what conditions a future Palestinian state would have to have placed on it (no military, no control over airspace or air waves, and a permanent Israeli presence in the Jordan valley) only gave the Palestinians more reasons to not even sit down with him. The partial settlement freeze was meek but it was the right move. The lack of East Jerusalem's inclusion was a sore spot for the Palestinians and it obviously signaled Israel's unwillingness to talk about the final status of Jerusalem. From most of the Israeli media reports, it was obvious that the Israelis were generally unwilling throughout the 18 lackluster months to discuss any substantive issues and instead wanted to talk endlessly about unhelpful issues that would neither build trust nor get the parties any closer to an agreement. I don't honestly blame the Israelis for not extending the 10-month partial settlement freeze. No progress had been made in talks during those months (partly due to their stalling) and the U.S. lacked a cogent strategy going forward. It seemed like political suicide to keep going along with Obama's all-but-failed peace process any further and Netanyahu did what was best for him politically. How can you blame him? Finally, one thing you can blame Netanyahu for is his constant assertion that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state before any peace negotiations could be completed. It's unhelpful, unnecessary, and was meant to be a stalling tactic with Abbas. Abbas countered this demand by simply reiterating that it was not the place of the Palestinian Authority to comment on the identity of foreign states. Good for him. The PLO and PA recognized Israel long ago and it's senseless and unhelpful for them to recognize Israel specifically as a Jewish state. The U.S. government doesn't formally recognize Israel that way, why ask it of the Palestinians?


The Palestinians (15% of the blame)
The Palestinians, of course, share in the blame. They stalled for months after the start of the partial settlement freeze because it did not include East Jerusalem and there were still concerns over whether any substantive issues would be discussed (no.) I understand their reasoning for stalling, and it makes a decent amount of sense, but in the interest of serious peace negotiations, they should have swallowed their pride and hit the negotiating table months earlier. The early peace process Obama administration was easily the friendliest American administration they'll ever see and they should have shown that they were fully committed. Their stalling didn't win them any benefits for their  Palestinian constituents and rushed Obama's team to try and cram more and more into the few months they had before the freeze expired. Peace takes courage and Abbas showed very little.

And there you have it, my rundown for who's to blame for the failure of the Obama peace process. Apparently the parties are going to move back to U.S. mediated proximity talks. The Israelis, Palestinians, and Obama administration can still redeem themselves, but I find it extraordinarily unlikely that they'll behave themselves, make smart decisions, and be courageous for the sake of peace. The Israelis and Palestinians need to refrain from taking needlessly antagonistic actions towards each other and the Americans need to make a final status proposal and develop a cogent proximity talks strategy. Time will tell...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

With the peace process dead, the Israelis are not even trying to make sense

The Washington Post's article on the Obama administration's decision to give up on an extension of the partial settlement freeze is actually quite good, and it features a number of rather telling (and even humorous) quotes.

"What me? I stopped making sense years ago."
First you have Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat cautioning both the U.S. and Israel about what the total failure of yet another peace process might do to their already waning credibility: "If you cannot have [Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu] stop settlements for a few months, what do you expect to get out of him on Jerusalem or the 1967 borders. I think Mr. Netanyahu knows the consequences for the American administration's credibility in the region.''


Of course by that Erekat knows that lack of progress on Israel/Palestine peace only strengthens Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, all three of who gain notoriety and support by continuously pointing to the conflict to bolster their claims that only militancy can solve the region's problems and that the U.S. is unable to stand up to Israel, regardless of the issue.


Next, you have an extremely bizarre line from an unnamed Israeli official that makes absolutely no sense given the topic we're discussing. It's almost as if he was asked about something entirely different and the Post simply threw his lines into this article: "As we go into this next stage of the peace process, we think the chances of it succeeding are even greater because of the close coordination with the United States.''


What!? That quote doesn't even attempt to make sense. What "next stage of the peace process" is this joker even talking about? And furthermore, how could anyone in their right mind think that the chances of a negotiated two-state solution succeeding are now higher rather than lower after another total peace process failure? I'm not quite sure what this official is even talking about concerning the "close coordination with the United States." From what I've read it sounds like the U.S. pretty much signaled it's intent to extricate itself from this recent round of negotiations, pulled the humiliating offers to the Israelis off the table, and just decided to continue releasing lukewarm statements noting their "concern" over settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.


Of course, because no article on the peace process would be complete without a heavyweight of status quo thinking weighing in, Aaron David Miller was interviewed and one vague, contradictory line to pad out the piece. I've read his exact, "focusing on freezing settlements was always the wrong decision" line close to a half-dozen times now and I still think it's disingenuous given what he's said about the failure of Camp David and how he thinks this mess needs to be worked out. If you'll remember, Miller was the former U.S. negotiator involved with the 2000 Camp David talks that lamented that the U.S. was not a good partial mediator for Middle East peace because it had a tendency to act as Israel's lawyer. He also remarked, perhaps more importantly, that one of the biggest failures of the U.S. and Israeli negotiators during Camp David was their inability to come to terms with just how important an issue continued settlement growth (both in the West Bank and East Jerusalem) was for the Palestinians. They wanted it stopped in no uncertain terms, especially while they were negotiating. But despite Miller's assertions that the settlements are a huge thorn in the Palestinians' side and that the U.S. in the past had failed to realize this, he's back to claiming the Obama administration was boneheaded for trying to get a settlement freeze as a part of the current negotiations.


I might be a bit harsh on Aaron David Miller. When I last saw him (during a panel discussion at the Wilson Center), he seemed pretty much devoid of any hope for a negotiated two-state solution for Israel/Palestine, and instead of being contradictory with his recent statements, perhaps he truly believes that the Obama administration should not have even tried to bring the parties together, regardless of whether or not his focus was on a settlement freeze. I have not actually heard him say that, but maybe it's what he's thinking or muttering privately, but just not yet ready to say publicly.


The WaPo article is relatively good, though I'm not sure the writer fully grasps some of the very big issues that  she's got her hands on. In one of the last paragraphs, almost as an afterthought Ms. Zacharia drops the bomb that the Palestinians are seriously considering asking the U.S. to formally recognize the State of Palestine, an act Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay did less than a week ago.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Obama-Clinton-Mitchell Peace Talks are Over

The Obama administration officially gave up on its pursuit to seduce Israel to halt settlements in order to continue the most recent round of stalled peace talk earlier today. The New York Times of course tells its readers that talks between Israel and the Palestinians are "in limbo" when in reality the Obama-Clinton-Mitchell team has simply allowed the curtain to close on yet another long, boring, and useless act of the Israel-Palestine peace process.

"Don't look at me, it's not my fault!"
The State Department (unnamed sources of course) explained that the decision was made based on the fact that, despite the Obama administration's package of bribes intended to sway Netanyahu and his cabinet into extending the settlement "freeze", Bibi has been unable (or unwilling) to sway his cabinet to back the extension. Furthermore, the State sources interviewed by the Times actually got a bit candid and explained that American negotiators do not actually have any confidence that the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to come to an agreement on "core issues" in 90 days before the need would once again arise to sign another blank check over to Israel for the pleasure of sitting with both sides at the same table.

Although the article does refer to "issues" in the plural, State previously indicated that the goal of the 90-day extension was to get an agreement on borders (not including Jerusalem) so that continuous negotiations over settlements so that negotiations over peace could continue would not be needed. Most knowledgeable observers were surprised that, given the lack of progress so far in this round of talks, the Obama administration seriously believed borders could be sufficiently worked out in a mere 90 days. The formal end of Obama's first try at Israel/Palestine peacemaking and his inability to achieve any progress comes at no surprise. Although the Cairo Speech and the appointment of former Senator George Mitchell was cause for some initial hope, three things became immediately clear: 1.) Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was not willing to propose a solution that went further to address Palestinian desires than the meek 2000 Camp David offer because his vision of a Palestinian state included so many conditions on sovereignty and statehood that it made a complete mockery to even refer to what he had in mind for the Palestinians as a "state"; 2.) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, ruling by decree as his term expired nearly two years ago, did not have the political capital or domestic support to continue negotiating without receiving solid improvements on the ground with regard to West Bank closures, settlement expansion, and the blockade of the Gaza Strip; and 3.) President Obama's team, including veteran peacemaker George Mitchell, lacked a clear vision for both how negotiations should go and the outcome of such negotiations. The President's vision for peacemaking involved nothing more than repeating the "two states for two peoples" mantra and asking Israel very politely if they could hold off just a bit on the continued expansion of settlements (though they did not much seem to mind about East Jerusalem settlement expansion).

So what do we call Obama's first Israel/Palestine peace process? Clinton had Camp David and G.W. Bush had Annapolis, but there's no clear consensus on what to call Obama's first (and perhaps last) failed attempt at peace. Should we call it the Mitchell talks, and tarnish the man's good peacemaking name? The talks never really got a good geographic location, so naming it after that is out of the question. In the absence of any other suggestions I submit that we simply call it the Obama peace process. He started it with his appointment of Mitchell and his Cairo speech to "restart" relations with the Muslim world and he ended it with his huge and disgraceful bribe to Israel in an attempted exchange for a paltry 90 days of partial settlement freeze in the West Bank. Obama certainly had plenty else to do, both domestically and in foreign policy, aside from sticking his neck out for the elusive Israel/Palestine peace, but I think if you decide to make a run at the peace process, you have to either make time to really become involved in what's going on, or you have to appoint someone with enough clout and fortitude to knock some heads together and get things done. My opinion is that he initially decided to get involved and put his best foot forward, appointing Mitchell to be his man on the ground, but soon lost interest when it proved that just getting the two parties to talk would be a major headache. After a few months he basically left Mitchell out to dry while Obama became preoccupied with other matters. When the whole process nearly fell apart, he paid lip service to getting things back up and running and told Secretary of State Clinton to become more involved. Of course in the end, none of it mattered because neither Clinton, Mitchell, (and perhaps even Obama) had to guts, political capital, or diplomatic tools to get mean with the Palestinians or Israelis when they held things up and push everyone back on track. Mistakes were made, Netanyahu and Abbas acted petulantly as expected, but this process was Obama's baby and the failure lies predominantly on his shoulders, so I'm henceforth calling this the Obama peace process. The moral here is simple: don't start a peace process in the Holy Land if you don't actually have the time, tools, and vision to see it through to a final agreement.

Tomorrow on the blog I'll answer two other big questions that always accompany a peace talk failure: Who is to blame? and What's next? Don't miss out!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Casual Friday: The Best Defense Edition

Welcome to my first Casual Friday blog post, a post specifically not about Israel/Palestine. I'm hoping to begin to delve a little deeper into other things that interest me in weekly Friday posts, including U.S. domestic politics, DC life, ice hockey, or anything that tickles my fancy come Friday morning. Today's topic: my favorite National Hockey League club the Colorado Avalanche and their recent trades.

Colby Cohen during his days at Boston University (Creative Commons)
The Avs have been facing some pretty serious injury woes this season, with  four men out due to concussions at one point and their two of their three-man top line out (T.J. Galiardi with a broken wrist and Chris Stewart with a broken hand). However, they have been surprisingly successful calling up young minor league players from their American Hockey League affiliate the Lake Erie Monsters. The most impressive call ups have been defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (who has seemingly earned a permanent spot on the Avs' lineup) and forwards Greg Mauldin and Kevin Porter.

To fill some gaps in the offense and to apparently confuse the heck out of Denver hockey fans, Colorado made two trades in the past week. The first sent Colorado prospect defenseman Colby Cohen to the Boston Bruins for fifth-year defenseman Matt Hunwick. The following day Colorado sent veteran defenseman Scott Hannan to the Washington Capitals for speedy winger Tomas Fleischmann.

I actually quite like the Fleischmann-Hannan trade. Injury-plagued, Colorado does need a solid NHL winger with a decent number of games under his belt. His scoring totals have been rather on the low end this year (only 4 goals and 6 assists in 23 games), but a change of locale might just prove to be the swift kick in the pants Fleischmann needs. The Czech winger also fits in nicely with Colorado's fast transition playing style, so it should be interesting to see if he ups his scoring totals or turns out to be a dud. The Denver Post reported this morning that Fleischmann will play tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes and will skate on the Avs' second line with Matt Duchene and David Jones, two quick, explosive players that Fleischmann should be able to work well with.

Now for a bit of criticism: I flat out do not understand the Hunwick-Cohen trade, especially now that Hannan has been sent to Washington. Early on in the season Colorado traded a young prospect forward to Montreal for a big, bad defenseman in Ryan O'Byrne, and it made a great deal of sense because one of the Avs' biggest weaknesses is their size and  toughness, especially their defensemen. Colorado relies, just as they do with forwards, on quick, relatively small offensive-minded defensemen like John-Michael Liles, Kyle Cumiskey, and Kevin Shattenkirk. This is all well and good, but NHL teams need size and muscle on the back end to clear opposing players out from in front of the net, protect their star players, and intimidate the opposition. O'Byrne has been that guy, Foote was (sort-of) before going down with an injury, and Scott Hannan was (sort-of too). I don't have a problem trading Scott Hannan, even though he's a big, tough defenseman. He was originally brought to Colorado (and payed $4 million a year) to be a big, tough, in-your-face and under-your-skin defenseman. He only really satisfied the "big" part with the Avs and I have no problem sending him and his bloated contract to Washington. The problem with the Hunwick-Cohen trade is that Colby Cohen, in the few games he played with Colorado this year before being sent back down to Lake Erie, showed serious potential in becoming the caliber of defenseman Hannan was supposed to be. Matt Hunwick is a quick defenseman, but Colorado is already full to the rafters with quick, smaller d-men. He's frantic with the puck (not in a good way) and despite the fact he's played far more NHL games than Cohen I have a hard time believing he's a better all-around option to have as a defenseman. Cohen is a big, tough guy at 6'3'' and 220 pounds. Hunwick is scrappy, but he's 30 pounds lighter and 3 inches shorter than Cohen. He's kind of a mixture of O'Byrne and Liles, but Colorado already has those guys so their mutant offspring Hunwick is hardly needed in an Avs uniform.

I'm almost concerned that Cohen's trade means that the movers and shakers in Colorado think they've got a tough enough team and if true, I think they're making a huge mistake. The Avs do keep tough guys Cody McCormick and David Koci around, but they're not nearly enough. I have no faith in David Koci's ability to do anything except lose fights and the man was out with a jaw injury for nearly the first two months of the season. What Colorado needs to stay competitive (and avoid injuries) is another tough defenseman like Colby Cohen. They did right by me with bringing O'Byrne to town, but I'm still baffled by their decision to send Cohen to Boston in place of another mediocre defenseman in Matt Hunwick.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Back and better than ever

Well, after a few months of hiatus I am back and better (though you'll be the judge) than ever. I'm going to be adding two regular features to the blog, as well as bringing back the general news and analysis of all things Israel/Palestine peace-related.

The first new feature will be a monthly book review. I have a long backlist of books I've been wanting to read so I'll post the book reports here. I'm shooting now to have the book reports posted the middle of each month, beginning in December. The first book I'll be reviewing is David Grossman's "Sleeping on a Wire: Conversations with Palestinians in Israel." I have a few on my list but if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments and I'll gladly take a look at them.

Secondly, as I'm sure you all know, the Holy Land peace process is a generally frustrating topic. To make it a bit easier to post at least five days a week I'm going to start a "Casual Friday" post where I'll write about a non-Israel/Palestine subject. It could be music, ice hockey, American politics, or just about anything in between. I hope you enjoy a bit of off-topic banter and I'll be starting this Friday. I'm also open to suggestions for the Casual Friday post.

As always, thanks for reading, and I'm looking forward to a Holy Land Peace restart on the blog!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Taking a break for just a little while...

Hello all,

I will be taking a break from blogging about all things Israeli/Palestinian conflict-related to run for my local Advisory Neighborhood Commission in DC! I will be back to blogging here in mid-September but will continue to tweet interesting news stories and analysis on my twitter stream. I invite you to follow me on twitter and visit my new ANC campaign blog!

Josh

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The "Peace Process" facade is crumbling, and it's probably a good thing

Today's top news story is not much of a shocker though I am sure it will make waves in the international press. Reuters is reporting that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will reject direct talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, citing the lack of progress in indirect talks as his reason for refusal.

Indeed, little to no progress has been made in indirect negotiations, which have been ongoing intermittently since Netanyahu first announced a partial slowing of settlement building in the West Bank in November 2009. The "freeze" is set to expire on September 25 and with many of the more conservative members of his government rallying against any extension of the moratorium, Netanyahu will be hard pressed to extend the freeze without noticeable progress toward direct negotiations with the Palestinians.

As Ethan Bronner pointed out several weeks ago, the settlement "freeze" has not had any noticeable effect on building, dozens of Israeli settlements are in violation of the freeze as they continue to build, and Mahmoud Abbas once again seems poised to gain nothing from joining the Israelis and Americans in futile negotiation - further damaging his credibility.

For its part, the Obama administration has warned Mr. Abbas that his failure to accept direct negotiations could lead to the U.S. abandoning it's already laughably tepid opposition to Israeli settlement building, demolitions of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, and the continued Egyptian/Israeli blockade of Gaza.

With midterm elections here in the United States just months away it is unlikely the Obama administration will have the stomach or courage to pressure Israel to extend the current freeze or expand it to include East Jerusalem. Benjamin Netanyahu has also been adamant that Israel will not accept Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem, a major must-have for Palestinian negotiators. Without the possibility of establishing their capital in East Jerusalem, the Palestinians will never negotiate directly, unless there are very real benefits to be gained from the Americans. Those benefits are simply not available from an American administration that, quite frankly, has much bigger fish to fry, both at home and abroad.

Netanyahu has blamed the Palestinians for the current impasse, insisting that they have insisted on unacceptable preconditions: that the negotiations focus on the 1967 lines as a starting point for borders, the extension of the settlement freeze during the course of such negotiations, and that the division of Jerusalem be on the table.

The freeze will expire in just two months and the distance between the two sides is long, with a busy American administration unable to spend precious political capital to close the gap. Even if the Obama administration was able to become more involved to make sure direct negotiations happened it's highly unlikely it would have any measurable effect on the midterm elections. Netanyahu is a master politician, and do not believe for a second he did not at least recognize the timeframe for the settlement freeze expiration would coincide with a tough midterm election.

I am usually hesitant to make predictions on this blog, but I feel fairly confident on this one: No direct negotiations will happen and many Western governments will express their disappointment with the situation, though few will singularly blame Abbas as the Israeli government will hope. The Americans will insure at the very least that indirect negotiations continue even as the settlement freeze expires as a way to save face for both Abbas and Obama and to avoid the perception that the peace process has totally collapsed, which it already did almost 10 years ago. Everything since Camp David has been, sadly, mostly smoke and mirrors.

It's a sad, unavoidable fact that nearly a decade has been wasted.

Palestinians in greater numbers are likely to abandon the two-state solution and begin to advocate for a binational, one-state solution in Israel/Palestine. Only time will tell if that will be any more successful than the two-state peace process has been.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

If Hamas ever tries to sell you anything, it's probably ok to buy it

While Israel negotiates with Hamas behind closed doors in Egypt, the PA openly with Hamas in the Gulf, and the U.S. pretends the militant/political organization does not actually exist, the Better Business Bureau wants you to know that, rockets and past terrorism aside, it is a-OK  to buy that new toaster you've had your eye on from Hamas merchants. According to a short article at Mother Jones, Hamas received an A- rating from the BBB after the owner of a website created to expose the Better Business Bureau registered the militant group as a BBB-accredited business, "providing educational services to troubled youth."

Despite the positive BBB rating, as far as I can tell the Hamas website does not have an online store. I guess you'll just have to continue purchasing your major home appliances from other dubious retailers.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Avigdor Lieberman and I think alike (kind of)

A couple months ago I wrote an article here concerning the distinct possibility that, because of Israel's interest in maintaining control over the West Bank for settlement purposes and the increased desire of many Israelis to disengage from Gaza (for real this time), Hamas could potentially create a truly autonomous, sovereign Palestinian state long before Fateh achieves the same through negotiations with Israel.

Via a story by Ma'an News (via Yedioth Ahronoth), it seems Avigdor Lieberman has taken my article to heart and favors ending Israel's humanitarian responsibility for the Gaza Strip by fully disengaging from the coastal enclave. In closed meetings, Lieberman lamented that the international community has largely not accepted Israel's 2005 withdrawal of settlements and some military units from Gaza as a full disengagement and holds Israel partially responsible for the humanitarian condition of Gazans, due largely in part to the continued air, naval, and land blockade of the territory.

Seeking to legitimize Israel's disengagement, Lieberman indicated that he hopes to engage the de facto Hamas government in Gaza, lift the Israeli siege of the Strip, and seal off the land border between Israel and the enclave, allowing Hamas to autonomously govern the area as a sovereign entity. If this policy is carried out Hamas would create the first Palestinian state, while Fateh in the West Bank would continue to languish under continued Israeli occupation and settlement expansion.

From reading the article, it seems that Lieberman - while professing a desire to fully disengage from Gaza - refuses to end Israel's de facto control over the Gaza Strip. The West Bank settler turned Foreign Minister indicated that Israel would require ships to dock at Cyprus or Greece for inspection before proceeding on to Gaza.

Obviously, Avigdor Lieberman fails to understand that "fully independent" would imply that the governing authority in Gaza (Hamas) would have control over the airspace, territorial waters, and borders of the Gaza Strip. However, the far more insidious matter about this plan is that it is just one of many attempts to undermine the Palestinian national movement and fragment the Palestinian community. One of the worst aspects of the siege of Gaza is that it prevents Palestinians from Gaza from traveling to meet their families, friends, business partners, professors, and doctors in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Lieberman, who denies that a Palestinian people even exist, refuses to acknowledge that the separation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is an accident of history caused by the creation of Israel and subsequent expulsion of Palestinians from many areas coveted by Zionists for a future Israeli state.

Lieberman's plan to fully disengage from Gaza is not about creating conditions for peace or improving the situation for Gazans; it is about fracturing the Palestinian people by permanently separating Gaza from the West Bank in order to build more Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Lieberman knows the Palestinian Authority can be easily co-opted by Israel and the United States into endlessly negotiating (or proximity negotiating) while the settlements expand unabated, but his real concern is pressure caused by incidents such as the assault on the Turkish aid ship that left eight Turks and one Turkish-American dead that may mount on Israel to move honestly toward a two-state solution. Such a solution would undermine Lieberman's settler political base, hurt him personally (as he's heavily invested in the settlement enterprise), and force Israel to give up the option to settle the West Bank lands that he yearns for.

Regardless of if Israel actually puts Lieberman's plan into motion, Palestinians must be allowed to travel unimpeded among East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip in order to access medical care, visit with family members, pursue an education, and build a prosperous economic future. Lieberman's plan should serve as just one more warning to Fateh and Hamas that their current arguments are working toward Israel's advantage and that the longer reconciliation remains elusive, the greater chance Israel has to permanently break the Palestinian community and undermine the national movement. Hamas could actually beat Fateh to a Palestinian state if Israel pursues Lieberman's plan, but it would be disastrous for Palestinians, peace and justice in the region, and the Palestinian national movement.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Short and Sweet, NYT's Ethan Bronner just debunked the settlement freeze

Last time I talked about Ethan Bronner, a reporter covering Israel and Palestine (objectively) who also has a son in the IDF, I generally attempted to sully his name. He's not all bad it turns out:

New York Times Chief Jerusalem Correspondent Ethan Bronner, who is known more for his vague, apologetic language with regard to Israel's settlement enterprise, than his ruthless investigative reporting has a short but damning assessment of Israel's 10-month settlement "freeze," entitled "Despite Settlement Freeze, Buildings Rise."

Bronner does not mince words and calls out Netanyahu for describing the faux freeze as "exceptional." He confirms that in most of the West Bank (not to mention East Jerusalem, which the freeze never was extended to) building has continued as normal if not actually increased due to settler fears about the freeze.

Bronner mentions that 29 settlements are in violation of the freeze, according to the Israeli Defense Ministry. The Ministry, according to Bronner claims that it will increase demolition orders on illegally built structures but that is improbable, considering the Defense Ministry has rarely ever taken such a hard line (what a hard line to take, asking people to obey the laws) with the settlers. Recently, the Defense Ministry has even attempted to retroactively approve settlement outposts illegally built (according to Israeli law, they're all illegal according to international law) on private Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Ethan Bronner also points out that the freeze bizarrely didn't apply to 3000 housing units and that in one particular region (Shomron Regional Council), the planning committee had approved 10 times the amount of construction projects in anticipation of the freeze. These projects have continued unabated through the freeze.

Bronner puts the icing on the cake, goes rogue, and destroys an Israeli talking point by asserting that the pace of building since the freeze is not substantially different from the pace of the last three years (when the Israeli government was actively pursuing a policy of increased settlement activity).

Finally, he warns that unless Netanyahu extends the 10-month settlement "freeze," no actual decline in settlement building in the West Bank will occur. So much for Netanyahu's confidence building measure...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

New York Times and Haaretz do not trust Netanyahu on peace

Following Obama and Netanyahu's recent photo opportunity and meeting at the White House, both the New York Times and Haaretz published editorials indicating that while they viewed the fence-mending meeting as positive, they were hesitant to trust Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority. My personal feelings are the same.

The Times pointed out that at no time during Netanyahu's public remarks in Washington did he mention a Palestinian state or the two-state solution while Haaretz lamented that Netanyahu seemed unable to see the forest through the trees and spoke only about Israel's security concerns regarding withdrawal and his disapproval of Palestinian textbooks (as if that has any real bearing on the real issues at hand here). Both newspapers remarked on Obama's declaration of trust for Netanyahu but were unwilling to do the same. The Times, commenting on Netanyahu's public invitation for Obama to visit Israel (and hopefully Ramallah on that same trip), urged the President to go to Israel and attempt to convince Israelis that a two state solution with their Palestinian neighbors was in the long-term interest of Israel. Haaretz demanded that Netanyahu prove his commitment to peace through deeds rather than words.

The most effective way Mr. Netanyahu can prove his commitment to the peace process and usher in direct negotiations with the Palestinians is to extend and expand the current settlement moratorium. He should soon declare that the freeze will be extended to cover the predetermined length of direct negotiations and vow that as long as these direct negotiations are underway Israel will meet its obligations under the Road Map and freeze settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Expanding the freeze to East Jerusalem will prove that Netanyahu is willing to entertain the Palestinian demand to locate their capital in the city.

Secondly, Netanyahu should publicly announce that his administration is ready and eager to discuss all the core issues of the conflict (borders, water, security, refugees, settlements, and Jerusalem) in direct negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in negotiations mediated by the United States or Middle East Quartet. Such negotiations should have a predetermined start and end date to avoid open-ended talks that benefit Israelis while stalling Palestinian statehood. If Prime Minister Netanyahu is truly as dedicated to peace as he claims he is, he should have no problem taking these simple steps.

For his part, if Netanyahu accedes to these two steps, Abbas should make a public statement mirroring Netanyahu's, which conveys his willingness and dedication to enter into direct negotiations that cover all the core issues with no preconditions or caveats. If the Palestinian leadership becomes unwilling, Obama should not hesitate to pressure them to join direct talks.

There are good reasons why the Times and Haaretz are hesitant to trust Benjamin Netanyahu on peace, but obvious ways to assuage these hesitations exist for the Prime Minister. With the end of the freeze approaching in September, Netanyahu should be proactive and work to usher in direct negotiations prior to this date, just as he promised Obama.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Film screening in DC tomorrow

If you happen to, like me, live in the DC area and are passionate about the conflict in the Holy Land, you may be interested in attending a film screen of "Born in Gaza" at Busboys and Poets at 14th and V St. The screening is sponsored by Palestine Children's Relief Fund so there's sure to be a great crowd for discussion and networking. I'll be there and I hope to meet some of my DC readers as well.

The film is a documentary which chronicles one family's struggle to attain proper medical treatment for their infant son with a heart problem.

And if you're enjoying some food at Busboys, might I recommend the Reuben? It's a homerun. The film begins at 6:00 pm.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

New B'Tselem report condemns Israeli settlement building

Israeli human rights group B'Tselem published a report today which asserts that Israeli settlements and their accompanying infrastructure now sit on 42% of the West Bank. The group also believes that roughly 20% of the settlement areas sit on privately owned Palestinian land seized for the settlement enterprise.

There's some food for thought for Obama as he goes into his meeting with Netanyahu.

(via HuffPost)

Obama to meet Netanyahu in Washington this morning

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet in Washington today for their first meeting since their last cold encounter where Obama left Netanyahu waiting alone with his aides while the U.S. president enjoyed dinner and personal time with his family. The meeting took place just after Netanyahu embarrassed both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden when 1600 housing units were approved for construction in East Jerusalem during Biden's visit to Israel.

Both leaders now will convene again with very clear desires they hope to wrangle from the other. Netanyahu is looking first and foremost for Obama to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to enter direct negotiations with Israel. For his part, Obama is expected to persuade Netanyahu to extend the 10-month settlement "freeze" set to expire in September. Netanyahu will almost certainly claim that he can do no such thing unless he is able to begin negotiating directly with the Palestinian Authority. The Washington Post reports that Obama and Congressional Democrats are also looking for a media opportunity to characterize their candidates and president as sufficiently pro-Israel. Netanyahu is also taking heat at home for the recent rift between his administration and the Obama administration in Washington, and a photo op would certainly benefit him domestically as well.

While not amounting to the direct negotiations Israel seeks, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad recently met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the first high-level meeting between the two administrations in nearly a year. During the meeting Fayyad requested that Israel allow Palestinian security forces greater police access to areas in the West Bank currently under full Israeli military control and for the suspension of the IDF's "hot pursuit" incursions into Palestinian cities and population centers, as Fayyad claims it undermines his government's authority and legitmacy with the Palestinian people in the West Bank.

Following the meeting, Barak asked Netanyahu to provide Obama a clear peace plan, detailing a proposed border and possible security arrangements between Israel and a future Palestinian state. Barak stated,

Israel must pull that bull by the horns [during the meeting with Obama] and present a clear initiative that discusses drawing a border in Israel in a way that settlement blocs along the border will remain in our hands and have a solid Jewish majority for generations, but in a way that will enable the establishment of an independent and demilitarized Palestinian state.

A press conference is expected to take place after the Obama-Netanyahu meeting. I will provide updates as to the outcomes of the meeting soon.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Tom Friedman definitely did not read my last response to him

Updated below

As a general rule I try to avoid Tom Friedman, especially when he writes about Palestinian politics. I vehemently criticized his last love affair with Appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad nearly a year ago and have actually been doing a rather impressive job avoiding his anecdotal, simplistic, and at times bizarrely out of touch columns but his last one, "The Real Palestinian Revolution" did me in. The article created a stir and made ripples across the internet, and like a shark to blood, I was drawn to another messy disaster orchestrated by Mr. Friedman.

Before I begin my criticism in full, I do want to actually say that I agree with what he explicitly advocates here: that Israel should get out and stay out of Palestinian cities in the West Bank. However, my niceties end there.

As my previous Friedman-themed post chronicled, Friedman paints an extraordinarily sunny picture of economic life in the West Bank, of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's ability to build democratic and accountable institutions in the West Bank, and of the feasibility of overcoming Israeli occupation via institution building.

He makes his same old mistakes, using one anecdote of minor successes in the Palestinian Stock Exchange to assert that Fayyad is single-handedly fighting corruption in the Palestinian Authority, building accountable government institutions, and upholding democracy in the West Bank, an assertion that is laughably rosy at best and downright ignorant at worst. Despite the stock market success, a new report warns that poverty in Area C in the West Bank is actually worse than that in the Gaza Strip.

Just as he did a year ago, Friedman also still fervently believes that as long as the PA builds the institutions of a Palestinian state, Israel will no longer be able to continue the occupation and settlement expansion that defines its relationship with the West Bank, as if the lack of Palestinian democracy was what really motivated Israel to gobble up more Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem for Jewish settlers. I am absolutely sure that Friedman has not seriously considered the prospects that this institution building would have on Israel relinquishing the West Bank and evacuating settlements because even a quick thought experiment would lead one to conclude that far greater issues would continue to prevent Palestinian statehood. Friedman mentions the settlers only in passing, but doesn't once mention anything about the fact that settlements have continue to be expanded, reinforced, and retroactively legalized by the Israeli government even during the settlement "freeze." Friedman strangely seems to imply that the failure of Palestinian institution-building is what has precluded peace in the Holy Land.

True to any good Friedman column, there are a couple of bizarrely ignorant statements. First, Friedman remarks how at home Fayyad is meeting with his constituents without mentioning that Fayyad's entire position is based on authoritarian "emergency decrees" issued by Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas. Fayyad barely won his Legislative Council seat in the most recent Palestinian elections so it's safe to say his true "constituents" are far and few between. According to a recent Palestinian poll, only 31% of Palestinians view Fayyad's government as legitimate.

I think what many observers have found rather apparent is that Salam Fayyad's plans to build institutions are laudable, but his commitment to democracy, reconciliation with Hamas, and ending the PA's culture of corruption are unproven. Less than a month ago his government abruptly canceled planned municipal elections in the West Bank, the PA police still arrest, torture, and murder Hamas affiliates in the Wild West Bank, and Fayyad himself briefly shut down Al-Jazeera in the West Bank following a less than flattering story on Abbas' Fateh party. Friedman just seems so captivated by Fayyad's personality that he's unable to see that his tenure is actually harming Palestinian democracy and civil society. Friedman of course never mentions the canceling of elections or dubious "professionalism" of the security forces.


I do feel as if I'm mostly repeating my previous criticisms of Friedman, but I do want to highlight a spectacular article by Matt Duss about many Western government's and observer's "cult of personality" surrounding Arab and Palestinian leaders. I propose that we redefine Friedman's terrible Fayyadism term to this:

Fayyadism: The tendency of Western governments and journalists to fixate on individual Arab leaders, regardless of their many faults, rather than democratic policies and institutions when discussing best practices for state-building.

Update: I just saw that Nathan Brown has just published an extraordinary article at the Middle East Channel eviscerating Friedman's love affair with Salam Fayyad. It's definitely a must read.

Just a few quotes:

"Fayyad is not building a state. He's holding down the fort until the next crisis."

"Fayyad may be a good person, but finding a good person is not a policy. If he is making mild administrative and fiscal improvements in some areas, this cannot obscure the deeper problem that most Palestinian political institutions are actually in deep trouble and the most important ones are in a state of advanced decay."

"Palestinian democracy has died, and Fayyad could not operate the way he does (and would probably not be prime minister at all) if it were still alive."

Friday Morning Links

So enough about Snoop Dogg. What does he know? Didn't he sing "Gangster's Paradise" or something? Whatever. Here are some links for your Friday morning:

President Barack Obama intends to press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend the 10-month settlement "freeze" he imposed roughly eight months ago. U.S. mediators are continuing to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accept direct negotiations with Netanyahu and are concerned that ending the "freeze" would dissuade Abbas from meeting Netanyahu in person. U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell also recently expressed frustration with the Israeli delegations foot dragging during the ongoing indirect negotiations. The Israeli side has publicly voiced their desire for direct rather than indirect negotiations but have balked at including some of the biggest problem issues (such as Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, and final borders) on the agenda. Netanyahu and Obama will meet in Washington on Tuesday to discuss ongoing issues in the U.S.-mediated peace process.

Haaretz reports that Palestinian businessmen that own and operate tunnels used to smuggle consumer goods into Gaza under the Egyptian border have suspended operations in the tunnels to gauge whether or not the easing of the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip will lead to the availability of cheaper goods arriving legally through Israeli-controlled border crossings. Some tunnels are still operating to bring still-banned goods such as cement, fuel, and cigarettes into the Strip. The AP, in stark contrast to the New York Times actually took some time to interview Gazans and their comments in the article are very insightful.

Finally, because I love bringing human interest peace from the Holy Land: A Team of Palestinian students in Hebron have designed a solar car capable of blazing speeds of just under 20 miles per hour. The battery also holds enough charge to maintain the car's top speed for three to five hours (if your face can withstand the wind whipping by).

That's all the links for today, have a great Friday!

The Education of Snoop Dogg

Every so often the conflict lends itself to an absolutely hilarious "news" article. For your pleasure, I present to you The Education of Snoop Dogg. In actuality, it's a rather interesting human interest peace about a Palestinian American rapper in LA, with Snoop's great one-liner to sum up the occupation:

"Why they building a wall around y’alls people’s shit? That’s fucked up, cuz."

Friday, June 18, 2010

New site, new logo

So, I promise more posts are on the way - I mean it this time.

As part of the new website launch (www.holylandpeace.com - don't forget to reset your bookmarks), I am happy to unveil the new Holy Land Peace Project logo designed by my brother Seth. His other work can be viewed here, so please check it out while you wait for new analysis and news articles here at Holy Land Peace. The logo is the culmination of a nearly year-long creative process which involved various workshops, marketing and branding sessions, many late nights, and no fewer than 16 specially selected focus groups. So without further ado, I present the new Holy Land Peace Project logo! Please take a few moments to let me know what you think!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Movin' on up...

Hello all,

My apologies for the lack of posts in the past month. I'll be starting up regular posting this week, as there is plenty to write about on the Holy Land and the seemingly endless pursuit of peace. As some of you may have noticed, Holy Land Peace has moved up in the world, and now has it's own "grownup" spot on the web at www.holylandpeace.com.

Please reset your bookmarks and drop me a line at josh@holylandpeace.com to share your thoughts or comments!

Obama pledges $400 million aid package for Palestinians

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Washington today for a meeting with President Barack Obama. The American administration promised $400 million in development programs and aid for both the West Bank and Gaza, though the State Department's official statement concerning the aid seemed to indicate it would be used predominately in Gaza. No details as to how the aid would be administered were mentioned, however:


“The president has described the situation in Gaza as unsustainable, and it demands a significant change in strategy. While we work with our partners in the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Egypt, and the international community to put such a strategy in place, these projects represent a down payment on the United States’ commitment to Palestinians in Gaza, who deserve a better life and expanded opportunities, and the chance to take part in building a viable, independent state of Palestine, together with those who live in the West Bank.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Could Hamas beat Fateh to a Palestinian state?

While the government of Israel and Fateh trade barbs over settlement construction, Hamas is sprinting toward creating the first part of the Palestinian state in Gaza. Over the last couple of weeks Hamas and Israel have taken several "unilateral" steps that have not been reported as linked, but which most certainly are. Hamas first announced it had ordered the smaller militant groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad and PFLP to cease firing rockets on Israeli towns and had stepped up policing to curb the launching of rockets. It is no coincidence that, despite several border skirmishes Israel has obliged Hamas' tough approach by allowing first clothes and then wood and aluminum into the Gaza Strip for the first time in over three years. Now, Haaretz reports that Hamas has ordered the shuttering of underground smuggling tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. The tunnels, a desperate lifeline between the 1.5 million Gazans trapped by a joint Egyptian-Israeli siege and the outside world, will be shut only temporarily according to Hamas, as Israel and Egypt investigate a reported threat to kidnap Israelis in the Sinai.

These reports point to the fact that, despite the announced failure of indirect, Egyptian and German-mediated talks to lift the siege of Gaza in exchange for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, negotiations between Hamas and the Israelis are ongoing. Regardless of whether their teams sit in different rooms and Egyptian diplomats run between them, Hamas and Israel are talking and working to improve the situation for their respective peoples in order to bolster the political ground both the Likud-led government and Hamas stand on. Ending the siege on Gaza, allowing Gazans more freedom to fish and farm, and secretly promising not to incinerate Hamas leaders from the air does not cost Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu any political capital, while allowing him to claim he stopped the rocket fire on Israel's southern communities due to his "tough" (more like opportunistic and pragmatic) approach toward Hamas. It is not certain, but if his dealing with Hamas free Shalit, he knows it would be a major victory over his political rivals and allow him more domestic wiggle room to deal with U.S. President Barack Obama. By (secretly) negotiating with Hamas, Netanyahu can reap all of the rewards without taking any of the risks normally associated with talking with Fateh. Obama will never seek to become involved, if he fails not a soul will blame him for an uptick in violence from Gaza (and he'll get to act tough by ordering more air strikes and ground incursions into Gaza), and he doesn't have to take on the settler block or the far-right members of his coalition.

True Israeli-Palestinian peace would certainly be a huge historic victory for any Israeli leader to affix his name to, but so few Israelis actually believe it will happen in the next few years, that Netanyahu may very well believe there's nothing to lose by not seriously pursuing it. If, however, he can bring quiet to Israel's southern front while holding Obama and Fateh at arms length, it would likely be enough of a victory to keep him in power for a while longer than his first round as Prime Minister.

As for Hamas' motivations to dance with Netanyahu, there are many. The seemingly random, unproductive violence against Israel by rocket fire no longer impresses either Gazans or the larger Palestinian community. Especially while loving in a world without basic building materials, the constituency that Hamas finds itself ruling wants a competent government, the ability to safely move around the Gaza Strip (and perhaps even to the outside world), and the staples of human life (food, water, electricity, and clothing) readily available at a price they can actually afford. Hamas after the Gaza War in December 2008 had begun meandering down the path of corruption and authoritarianism that plagued Fateh for decades and eventually led to its defeat by Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian elections. If Hamas could improve the lives of Palestinian in Gaza (and the movement does not need to contend with undermining influences to its authority like settlement expansion and Israeli checkpoints inside its territory), it could score a major victory against Fateh, proving that it can do more than carry the torch of Palestinian violent resistance. Hamas is taking a play out of Salam Fayyad's book and attempting to rally Palestinians around the movement by providing Gazans with concrete improvements to their daily lives.

Because the occupation of the West Bank is so pervasive and so entrenched in Israeli society, Hamas may be able to overcome the siege and take the first steps of creating a truly Palestinian state. The siege is certainly easier to overcome than an entrenched occupation and expanding settlements. With the PA gaining support in the Obama administration and the Fayyad Plan playing sweet music to Europe's ears, the Israeli government may believe now is the time to undermine Fateh and elevate Hamas in the Palestinian community.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Smart, experienced observers of the Middle East are talking, and AIPAC isn't going to like it.

Since the Netanyahu-Biden fiasco in Jerusalem, a steady stream of smart, experienced individuals have weighed in on settlements, U.S. interests in the Middle East, the lagging peace process, and the history of the conflict, and it almost seems as if many have been emboldened to criticize elements of Israeli policy (such as settlement construction in East Jerusalem and Israeli policies toward the country's Arab minority) that were previously beyond the pale. From the notion that U.S. security and national interests would be positively affected by Israeli-Palestinian peace and an even-handed approach to the conflict (forwarded by General David Petraeus in testimony before Congress) to the wild idea that continued Israeli settlement growth in the Occupied Territories is a real threat to peace and undermines moderate Palestinian leaders - journalists, diplomats, pundits, and scholars have found a relatively accommodating space with which to criticize what many perceive is a lack of serious peacemaking on the Israeli side. Open dialogue, of course, is a great thing, and something I believe will eventually foment a peaceful resolution to this seemingly endless conflict.

When respected military leaders and other government officials make these statements, it sends the pro-settlements, pro-occupation, pro-Israel-at-the-expense-of-peace crowd into a quick, downward spiral of awkward retorts and antiquated arguments. From claims of anti-semitism made against several of the newly emboldened commentators to AIPAC's tacit understanding that they were standing with Benjamin Netanyahu against Barack Obama, this intellectual community is increasingly becoming viewed as diminished, blatantly one-sided, and standing up for Israel to the point that they seem to view not only Palestinian statehood, but Barack Obama and the very notion of peace in the region as enemies of Israel.

Yesterday, I attended an event at the Wilson Center featuring a panel of five former American ambassadors discussing the Obama administration and Arab-Israeli peace. The panel was moderated by former U.S. negotiator Aaron David Miller. The panelists were experienced, engaging, and all well-spoken:

  • Edward Gnehm - Former U.S. Ambassador to Jordan
  • Theodore Kattouf - Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria
  • Dan Kurtzer - Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt
  • Jacob Walles - Former Consul General in Jerusalem
  • Frank Wisner - Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt
While the panelists held various view on a variety of issues, there were several ideas that held broad, almost "common sense", consensus. On these issues there was no debate among the panelists and it seemed that they posited the ideas in a way that they were not making a provocative point but summarizing a common sense notion for the slower members of the audience. Here is what I gathered were Ambassador-level common sense notions about Israeli-Palestinian peace:
  • Continued Israeli settlement building (not just expansion but building) is a major obstacle to the peace process and undermines the U.S. role as a mediator in the region.
  • Petraeus was absolutely right: American security interests are threatened by the lack of progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace.
  • The Obama administration has rightfully placed great focus on peacemaking, appointing George Mitchell on his first full day in office and reaching out to the Arab world with his Cairo speech. However, after 15 months the administration has not really laid out a clear U.S. policy on Israeli-Palestinian peace and this is hampering his efforts
  • Picking a fight with Netanyahu over settlements was right, but it should have been placed in a more comprehensive context and backed by clear elements of American policy.
  • There is no "good time" for peace in the Middle East, but it must be pursued relentlessly because the time left for the two-state solution is quickly running out as extremists on both sides gain power.
  • The U.S. should engage a broad coalition of partners for peacemaking, including Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey, while finding a better way to utilize the Middle East Quartet (Russia, the EU, UN, and U.S.)
  • Israeli-Syrian peace is easier to achieve and should not be forgotten about in the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
  • The Palestinians are weak and divided, both politically and geographically, but in the absence of peace, the Ramallah-based government of Salam Fayyad and Mahmoud Abbas is the best the Palestinians will ever have.
  • The Obama administration needs to take a closer look at the Arab Peace Proposal and perhaps even make it a part of a comprehensive peace policy.
  • The Arab and Israeli "streets" want peace.
  • Iran is gaining influence as long as there is no Arab-Israeli peace. A comprehensive peace policy should be placed in the context of weaning Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah off of Iran and bringing them into a more moderate Arab fold.
I was very surprised at how much of a consensus there was on so many issues, ranging from the Palestinian domestic situation to Obama's policy (or lack thereof) regarding the peace process. This new consensus (which I have a sneaking suspicion has existed for a decade or more, but is just now beginning to see the light of public conversation is frighteningly clear for the AIPAC crowd, as was demonstrated by a disgruntled audience member who, when allowed time for a question, accused Aaron David Miller of constructing a blatantly anti-Israel panel because he did not include an Israeli panelist. The gentleman had no substance or real pointed question about any of the points the panelists had made, but instead simply yelled "bias" to discredit the entire event. Miller, very patiently, his frustration apparent explained that the entire point of the panel was to bring former American ambassadors together to discuss the U.S. role in conflict mediation.

Dan Kurtzer also made several very interesting points concerning the U.S.-Israel relationship and expressed his concern that the current Israeli government had not done its homework on the American President and electorate, pointing out that the American Jewish community, despite the dust-up between the two countries, still fervently supports the president by a margin of 3 to 1 and that opinion polls are showing American frustration with settlements and support for Obama's policy. He reminded the audience that Netanyahu's first Prime Minister gig ended in 1999 when he was unable to effectively understand and deal with President Clinton's policies toward Israel. Ambassador Kurtzer described effectively dealing with the U.S. as the "third rail" of Israeli politics, and insisted that leaders who are unable to play nicely with Washington often lose Israeli domestic support very quickly.

Jacob Walles commended the Fayyad Plan and the Palestinian Authority's new concern for domestic security, curbing corruption, and stimulating economic growth. He described Fayyad's leadership as a "practical approach to improve the lives of Palestinians." Mr. Walles also lauded the Obama administration's attempt to get indirect negotiations off the ground, describing them as the "low-risk option" that could help lead to direct talks.

Finally, Palestinian non-violent resistance (and even the village of Bil'in) received a generous shout-out when more than one of the panelists brought up the issue of the growing Palestinian non-violent movement. Ambassador Kattouf described the Israeli military's decision to clamp down on non-violent protests and their organizers as an attempt to stop this kind of resistance and vigorously defend the moral high ground to international audiences. He compared this clamping down to the Israeli government's deportation of the "Palestinian Gandhi" Mubarak Awad, and explained that non-violence, especially popular non-violent resistance, "makes the government of Israel uncomfortable."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Robert Fisk calls this "Apartheid by Permit"

From Haaretz:

"A new military order aimed at preventing infiltration will come into force this week, enabling the deportation of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank, or their indictment on charges carrying prison terms of up to seven years. When the order comes into effect, tens of thousands of Palestinians will automatically become criminal offenders liable to be severely punished.

According to the provisions, 'a person is presumed to be an infiltrator if he is present in the area without a document or permit which attest to his lawful presence in the area without reasonable justification.' Such documentation, it says, must be 'issued by the commander of IDF forces in the Judea and Samaria area or someone acting on his behalf.'

The order's language is both general and ambiguous, stipulating that the term infiltrator will also be applied to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, citizens of countries with which Israel has friendly ties (such as the United States) and Israeli citizens, whether Arab or Jewish. All this depends on the judgment of Israel Defense Forces commanders in the field.

The order stipulates that if a commander discovers that an infiltrator has recently entered a given area, he "may order his deportation before 72 hours elapse from the time he is served the written deportation order, provided the infiltrator is deported to the country or area from whence he infiltrated."

The order also allows for criminal proceedings against suspected infiltrators that could produce sentences of up to seven years. Individuals able to prove that they entered the West Bank legally but without permission to remain there will also be tried, on charges carrying a maximum sentence of three years. (According to current Israeli law, illegal residents typically receive one-year sentences.)

The new provision also allow the IDF commander in the area to require that the infiltrator pay for the cost of his own detention, custody and expulsion, up to a total of NIS 7,500.


The IDF Spokesman's Office said in response, 'The amendments to the order on preventing infiltration, signed by GOC Central Command, were issued as part of a series of manifests, orders and appointments in Judea and Samaria, in Hebrew and Arabic as required, and will be posted in the offices of the Civil Administration and military courts' defense attorneys in Judea and Samaria. The IDF is ready to implement the order, which is not intended to apply to Israelis, but to illegal sojourners in Judea and Samaria.'"

The Haaretz Editorial Board calls this order, "a step too far": 

"This would be a grave and dangerous move, unprecedented during the Israeli occupation. For years, Israel has used a heavy hand against the Palestinian population registry, trampling basic human rights such as the freedom to move one's residence within the occupied territories. Many Palestinians' lives have thus been made very difficult because they have been cut off from their previous places of residence without being able to return or legally register their new addresses. The right of all Palestinians to choose where to live in the West Bank or Gaza marks a very low threshold for defining their human rights."

The BBC, Guardian, and even the New York Times have picked up the story, focusing on a group of 10 Israeli human rights groups that have spoken out vehemently against the order.

The orders … are worded so broadly such as theoretically allowing the military to empty the West Bank of almost all its Palestinian inhabitants," said the 10 rights groups, which include Ha-Moked, B'Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Rabbis for Human Rights. Until now the vast majority of Palestinians in the West Bank have not been required to hold a permit just to be present in their homes, the groups say.
"The military will be able to prosecute and deport any Palestinian defined as an infiltrator in stark contradiction to the Geneva conventions," they said. The law broadens the definition of an "infiltrator" and could allow Israel to transfer some Palestinians from the West Bank to Gaza, or to deport foreign passport holders married to West Bank Palestinians, or to deport Israelis or foreigners living in the West Bank. The groups said tens of thousands of Palestinians were in those categories.

Israel effectively controls the Palestinian population register and since 2000, apart from once in 2007, the Israeli authorities have frozen applications for renewal of visitor permits for foreign nationals, or applications to grant permanent status in the occupied territories. As a result, many Palestinians live in the West Bank without formal status and are now vulnerable under the new orders. The human rights groups wrote to the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, today asking him to delay or revoke the orders, which they said were "unlawful and allow extreme and arbitrary injury to a vast number of people".

The order, of course, makes no mention of the 500,000 "illegal sojourners" (more commonly known at Israeli settlers) that have "infiltrated" the West Bank.

And that, my friends, is apartheid by permit.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

About those Palestinian Christians: Responses

Some responses I received in regard to my previous post on the general lack of American Christian awareness or concern for Palestine's Christian community:

"This is not an issue, specifically speaking to this post, of land and nationalism...as you state. This is an issue of incompetent leadership when it comes to religious freedom on BOTH sides of the conflict."

"Your post is a very fair critique of what seems to be the 'default' American Christian view on Israel (in much the same way that the Republican party, frustratingly, is a default 'Christian' position). It does seem like many Christians (and to be fair, many Americans) don't take the time to think carefully about this issue."

"I think there is a growing concern for Palestinian Christians among Christian college students and Christians in academia, but unfortunately I don't know how widespread among Christians in general that sentiment will become."

Again, I want to make clear that I am not advocating that American Christian congregations or organizations completely drop their support for Israel and instead adopt a more "pro-Palestinian" slant. However, I have always found it strange that when Christian groups talk about Israel and the Holy Land (and I am of the persuasion that the vast majority of them never actually do), they generally are very supportive of Israel's position regarding settlements, East Jerusalem, and security. In the same way, I believe American Christians do not have a real solid understanding of Palestine's Christian communities or the way the policies some Christian Zionist organizations advocate hurt Palestinian Christians, both in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. I'm not calling for American Christians to abandon Israel, but I would like to see them gain a greater understanding of the Palestinian Christian narrative. As the conflict endures, Christians (in Israel, the U.S., and Palestine) suffer. A greater sense of this could cause American Christian groups to become more active in advocating for a peaceful solution to the conflict, and perhaps more moderate views on Jerusalem. There are many Christian groups that actively work in the Holy Land doing just that, but I think American Christians are a community in the U.S. that secular peace activists often overlook, instead of engaging them to advocate for peace.

I think it would be a great idea to take the Holy Land Christian narrative on a traveling tour of American churches to bring them into the "pro-peace" rather than "pro-Palestinian/Israel" folds.


One final thing: I would like to see Jerusalem's Old City turned over to an international agency (like the UN) and allow that organization to administer the city's affairs. I have always found it odd that more American Christians are not very vocal about their support for such a settlement.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Don't forget about those Palestinian Christians

Updated below

One thing that has always surprised me about Evangelical Christian support for Zionism and Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank is that Christian Zionists seem to have absolutely no regard for their Christian Palestinian brothers both in the West Bank and inside Israel. Israel loves to frame the struggle as one between Western Judeo-Christian civilization and extremist Islam, but this completely ignores the large minorities of Palestinian Christians, especially in the West Bank. I'm not telling Christians who to back, but I still find it strange that you very rarely find Christian groups criticizing Israel for the way the country has blatantly stolen land from and built walls dividing the predominantly Christian city of Bethlehem. It's as if the American Christian community turns it head rather than see what is right in front of them: Israel's occupation of Palestine hurts both Muslims and their Christian brothers. I in no way want to be like the neo-cons that scream and cry about how American Jews should always vote Republican because the GOP is stronger on just letting Israel have what it wants to take, but I would like to see more visibility from mainstream media outlets on the plight of Palestinian Christians. That would really help correctly characterize the conflict as about more than just religion - it's about land and nationalism.

Anyway, I just think it would be nice if American Christian groups that totally support Israel's settlement enterprise and occupation were better educated on how those policies affect Palestine's Christian communities. Bassim Khoury at Foreign Policy is trying to do just that.

Update:

As if on cue, IPS just published an article entitled: "Palestinian Christians Barred From Jerusalem for Easter." 

Friday, April 2, 2010

Will the real Mr. Palestine please stand up?

I know I was rather critical of Salam Fayyad back when Tom Friedman was coining the term "Fayyadism" (my criticism of Friedman remains undiminished), but I have to admit, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a statesman. He, of course, does not possess an unblemished record, but his August 2009 plan to create a Palestinian state in 24 months (just as Obama's term winds down) is looking like a serious winner. The Quartet (EU, US, Russia, and the UN) have signed on in support and the Prime Minister's plan was comprehensive, unyielding in its criticism of the shortcomings of Palestinian Authority institutions, and much needed. He laid out explicitly what each ministry was expected to do to achieve the goals outlined in the plan. While I still acknowledge he and Mustafa Barghouti (the man I previously named Mr. Palestine) have never shown that they have vast electoral support, the Fayyad Plan, complete with its rigid deadline and attempt to get buy-in from major world powers, has the potential to actually provide the political pressure needed to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Last I remember, Israeli ministers were huffing and puffing and declaring the Fayyad Plan was a "unilateral move" meant to upend peace prospects. Those ministers, of course, are the same ones that have been huffing and puffing and screaming for limitless Jewish settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Haaretz sat down with Mr. Fayyad, who provides us with some great soundbites:

"The time for this baby to be born will come and we estimate it will come around 2011. That is our vision, and a reflection of our will to exercise our right to live in freedom and dignity in the country we are born, alongside the State of Israel in complete harmony,"

"[We and the Israelis] have universally shared values; peace will be made between equals, not between masters and slaves." 

"No one should be expected to stand for injustice, not least the Palestinians, who have endured long decades of occupation. Is it not what Gandhi stood for, what Martin Luther King stood for?"


"The settlers have a tremendous pull on the Israeli government. It's pure self-righteousness: the exclusion of the possibility that someone out there might have a slightly different opinion - in an indignant way and often times in a violent way."

"Related to the Zionist ethos, fine, Israel is a biblical country, there are lots of hilltops, lots of vacant space, why don't they use that, and let us get on with it?" 


On Israeli construction in East Jerusalem:
"At some point somebody has to stand up and assume responsibility for what's going on. Isn't that what is expected of us Palestinians? We need to lift each other up, not drag each other down. You need a full understanding of where the other side is coming from. I maintain that we have that, we understand that these are completely different, diametrically opposed narratives. I don't expect, ever, for our narrative to be accepted by Israel, but likewise, for Netanyahu to say that the Israeli historical narrative is basis for a just settlement, is expecting too much."

The man is nothing if not well-spoken, but he's got substance as well, and lots of it.