Friday, January 29, 2010

Everyone in the Holy Land is wearing jeans today

Yes readers, Friday is finally here and you know what that means: I'll wear jeans to work. This is a very exciting Friday for another reason as well: great articles. It's like the New York Times, Haaretz, CSM, IPS, and even my own mother were trying to cheer up my Friday by publishing or sending great Holy Land articles. As I enjoyed them, I hope you do too:

Yesterday, Hamas asserted that it did not fire rockets at civilians during the Gaza War of Winter '08-'09. The militant group and de facto governing authority of Gaza fired only at military targets and rockets that landed near civilians (killing three Israelis) were simply mistakes, Hamas claimed. Human Rights Watch isn't buying, and asserts that Hamas deliberately targeted civilians during the war - a war crime. Christian Science Monitor published an article yesterday detailing the Hamas effort to show the UN that it is carrying out its investigation of possible war crimes during the Winter War. The UN-imposed deadline for showing a credible internal investigation is underway is February 5, 2010 and the Goldstone Report specifically calls on Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority to carry out these investigations or face possible charges on an international level. Hamas and the PA have announced they plan to carry out investigations and Israel submitted it's response and investigation to the UN today.

Hamas' claim that it only fired on Israeli military units is so blatantly transparent and dishonest that it hardly could be considered a credible investigation. With how rickety their Qassam rockets are, do they really feel they have any level of accurate targeting? The only military target Palestinian groups have even hit in recent memory was an IDF temporary tent barracks in 2007, and the attack wasn't even carried out by Hamas. Since then, Qassam rockets have mainly landed in open fields and Israeli towns close to the Gaza border. Using unguided, unreliable munitions in the way Hamas and other militant organizations in Gaza do certainly precludes the organizations from effectively asserting that they took all necessary precautions to protect civilian lives. Hamas has already proved they do not have any effective targeting mechanism and that they're simply firing Qassams randomly. You can be almost sure that Hamas will put together some sort of "investigation" that it sends to the UN, but it is certain it will absolve itself of any wrongdoing. In short, it will parallel the report Israel sends to the UN. The next stop for these parties should be The Hague.

The Haaretz editorial board calls the "price tag" attacks by violent Israeli settlers on Palestinians what it is - terrorism. The "price tag" policy calls on Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to respond to Israeli government measures unfavorable to the settler movement to attack nearby Palestinians and their property - provoking more violence and straining the Israeli government's ability to effectively carry out such policies in the Occupied Territories. Politically-motivated violence against civilians? That sounds like the textbook definition of terrorism to me.

IPS has an interview with a Hamas member of the defunct Palestinian Legislative Council. It is interesting and I appreciate (always) comments from my readers.

The New York Times is actually covering a troubling string of arrests of non-violent Palestinian protest leaders in the West Bank by the Israeli army. The most recent arrest was Mohammed Khatib, an organizer in Bil'in.

I'll try to provide some commentary on this week's stories this weekend. Perhaps you could spur an article with a comment?

Finally, my parents sent me this YouTube video. Orthodox Jewish reggae - who knew?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mention of Holy Land suspiciously absent from SOTU

President Obama's State of the Union address last night talked briefly of national security, mainly in the context of strengthening ties with Muslim nations and peoples, removing U.S. combat troops from Iraq, and continuing to support the corrupt Afghan government, but did not mention a year of peace process failures in the Holy Land. Most of the speech was spent discussing domestic initiatives - which parallels what I mentioned in an earlier HLP post. 2010 will be a domestic year for the Obama administration.

Not mentioning Israel/Palestine is probably good for the numbers though. What a mess we have in the Holy Land now.

The speech in general was pretty good, I thought. He announced some promising initiatives, but it will be interesting to see if the broken Congress can actually drive his visions into action. Time will tell...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It's Wednesday already and I'm late... there's only going to be some quickly-posted news links. I have some good articles cooking on the back burner and I promise they'll be served up soon. I'm even in the process of picking the first book for the HLP Monthly Book Review. Recommendations? Send 'em my way in the comments or via e-mail up in the contact tab. Here we go, another Wednesday:

Akiva Eldar, Israeli journalist of legend, thinks you might be an idiot.

On Monday, HLP talked about the new bin Laden message centered on Palestine. Juan Cole thinks it's a fake and offers a compelling argument.

It is apparently a cold day in hell. 54 members of Congress have signed onto a letter asking Barack Obama to pressure Israel to ease the siege on the Gaza Strip. "We ask you to press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of your broader Middle East peace efforts," says the request.

On that same note, there are real consequences (bad ones, really bad ones) to not allowing Gazans to rebuild. Foreign Policy has a good article on the possible Yemenization of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak thinks the lack of clear Israeli borders is more of a threat to Israel than an Iranian nuclear bomb. I second that one, Mr. Barak.

In a new report filed by Captain Obvious we're told that Palestinians still can't go anywhere in the West Bank because of roadblocks and checkpoints.

A close aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reveals the two conditions the PA has for returning to peace talks with the Israelis. Abbas wants a full Israeli settlement freeze, even a temporary one, on both the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the final status talks to be centered around creating a Palestinian state on the 1967 Green Line, giving the Palestinians approximately 22% of historic Palestine. I expected Abbas to have more stringent conditions, but they sound pretty reasonable to me. Maybe Abbas and Ehud Barak could convince Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze everything for a few months and start talking borders.

Phil Weiss reminds us that it is currently all but impossible for Palestinian-Americans to advise American officials or hold high government posts.

That's all for now, I'm off to work and continuing to recruit more bloggers for HLP. Enjoy the Wednesday and don't forget to watch Obama's State of the Union address, there might even be a shout out (albeit a frustrated one) to the Holy Land!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Netanyahu's antics and Obama calls it quits...

Yet again all I find myself with time to do is post links. Soon enough though, I'll get to some substance. I'd like to to a Holy Land monthly book review and a monthly "Peacemakers/Peacebreakers" post detailing the individuals that have done the most/least for peace in the Middle East. That will start soon enough. If anyone has a good book I should read, leave me a comment and perhaps I'll pick it up for a book review. Also, if you'd like to nominate someone for Peacemaker/Peacebreaker of the month, send an e-mail or drop a line in the comments. Thanks, enjoy your Monday; here are the links:

Americans for Peace Now has a good accounting of the Israeli settlement moratorium.
They note that the "freeze-light" has done a decent amount of good, mainly in Israel and for clarifying US policy, but also note several serious liabilities of the project. I think APN paints too rosy a picture of the good things coming from the moratorium and has underestimated just how much this has been a rallying point for settler groups, both moderate and extremist, to work together to force the hand of the Israeli government. Israel hasn't exactly proved that they have a handle on the settlers and can actually enforce policies inside the territories that the settlers don't like. This has the very negative effect, both on Israel and the Palestinians of creating a pseudo-state within a state in the West Bank. Ask the Palestinians or the Lebanese how well that works for them. APN does not take a hard line with it, but HLP will: the Israeli government needs to assert its authority in the West Bank and let settlers know that if the government decides to pursue policies that they don't like, the settlers will not be allowed to counter with violence and threats to overturn those policies. Settlers are Israeli citizens and the state needs to ensure that the rule of law is being upheld in the Wild West Bank.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, master of hilarious verbal juxtapositions, is at it again. Just a few days ago Netanyahu asserted that Israel must have a military presence on the eastern (the Jordanian) border of any future Palestinian state, then lamented the fact that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would not cheerfully reenter negotiations with him. It is crystal clear that the Palestinians do not have any faith in negotiations at this point, especially considering that the state of affairs that Netanyahu has consistently described for the final status agreement is one in which the Palestinians would get almost nothing (not East Jerusalem, not control over their own borders, not an end to Israeli occupation, not an end to settlements, and certainly not the West Bank). The Palestinians, quite frankly, have almost nothing to gain by talking with Netanyahu and his right-wing government. Of course, this could all be a bit of subterfuge by the PM, and perhaps he's leading the Israeli right and settler bloc into a false sense of political security and then he'll leap to his feet as the courageous Israeli peacemaker and sign a fair deal to end the conflict and leave the Palestinians alone in their own state. I would love to believe it, but I just cannot.

And Netanyahu could not allow his week to go by with just one ironic juxtaposition either. Hours after meeting US enjoy George Mitchell, a man who wrote the book on why settlements threaten the peace process and who has been tirelessly trying to get the two sides into the same room together for the better part of a year, Netanyahu sprinted to the Gush Etzion settlement to attend a tree planting where he asserted that West Bank settlements are and will always be (I'm sure he used 'eternally') a part of the State of Israel. He then again lamented the lack of a peace process with the Palestinians, as if his actions in the West Bank do not provide the Palestinians with more than enough reasons to screen their calls. Now peace process junkies know that it is pretty much set in stone at this point that like it or not, the Israelis will probably end up keeping the large settlement blocs close to the border, though which ones exactly will stay in Israel has never been hammered out. By continuing this kind of constant pandering the settlers and those on the far right and refusing to so much as throw a bone to the Palestinian Authority or Israelis who actually want the peace process to resume, Netanyahu just continues to alienate Abbas and the Palestinians. If he truly wanted a peace process, even without freezing settlements in East Jerusalem he would stop this counterproductive piffle.

[Just a quick aside here - I want to point out that this has become far more of a post than just links, I can feel the Holy Land Peace blog returning to it's former glory!]

It looks like US President Barack Obama will not be throwing much time or effort into the stagnated Israeli-Palestinian peace process in his second year in office. A resurgent Republican party, stagnation on a health insurance reform bill, and no movement on the front to regulate the financial industry have all claimed higher priority than the "intractable" (his words not mine) situation in the Holy Land. Obama's second year will be all domestic in order to boost his favor with voters in time for the midterm elections later this year. Obama signaled this in an interview with Time magazine in which he said his administration had simply set their expectations for Middle East peace too high. He chastised both the Palestinians and Israelis for refusing to make any bold gestures and blamed the domestic situations of both sides as precluding such moves. "I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn't produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high," Obama told Time. That's code for, "I've got bigger fish to fry than attempting to force two of the most stubborn peoples in the world to work out their problems peacefully. See you in 2012." For his part though, Obama did little more to achieve peace than ask, then plead, then whine, before crying that the problem was intractable and that he would have no part in sullying his good name in the Holy Land. Unless of course you consider appointing a veteran peacemaker as special envoy a landmark action. Palestine Monitor is not impressed.

According to Osama bin Laden and his crew in al-Qaeda, however, Obama should probably keep caring about Middle East peace if he wants to break the backs of violent jihadist groups. Glenn Greenwald, Marc Lynch, Matt Yglesias, Phillip Weiss, and Imtiaz Gul provided timely commentary on bin Laden's most recent tape, in which he remarks that attacks against the US will continue as long as Palestinians do not enjoy peace. I'll have more commentary on this later in a post dedicated to the Israel-Qaeda connection. APN has a post recommending what Obama should do in 2010.

That's all for this morning - I'm holding a few other news items back until I find the time to put together decent commentary.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some clubs have rules...

...and they don't like the riffraff. The main issues with Israel joining the international country club called the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development seem to be related to Israel's deregulated drug industry, not its occupation of East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank. Mark my words, hell will freeze over before the OECD seriously considers denying a country's membership over political issues. I do find it interesting, however, that Israeli President Shimon Peres points out that joining the OECD will show Israel's "other face," meaning the one that isn't primarily concerned with occupation and repression. For years I've thought signing a lasting, fair peace agreement with the Palestinians would be exactly what Israel would want for both its economy and international image. Without the occupation, pundits could only talk about Israel as being a regional economic powerhouse, with a strong entrepreneurial economy. Wouldn't it be great if everyone could talk of Israel's successes without trying to awkwardly avoid bringing up the occupation. The Occupation is Israel's stain, but it's certainly not permanent and ending it could bring real, almost immediate benefits to Israel's international role.

For some reason, Israeli politicians seem to always overlook these benefits when they think of peace negotiations. They're simply consumed with security, and they are unable to see anything else, even how a political deal could disarm a military problem. It's kind of like the laughable quote from an Israeli general a few years after the 1967 war where Israel captured the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, "I would rather have the Sinai and no peace, then peace without the Sinai." It sounds positively mad today, and the general simply could not see around the military problem. It's the same situation today, except with the West Bank. The Israelis believe they need to hold the West Bank to preserve security in Tel Aviv, and cannot begin to imagine that ending the occupation will bring a huge measure of security to Israel.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Post-MLK day links

Happy (belated) MLK day everyone!

The First Annual Holy Land Peace MLK Award goes to:

Abdullah Abu Rahme and Yossi Alpher

Now, some links...

Bitter Lemons is back after what seemed like an extraordinarily long winter break and this week they're asking the question on everyone's lips, "Are peace talks restarting soon?" More importantly, does anyone care?

Haiti has been in a terrible way for years and the U.S. hasn't ponied up more than a few pennies. Finally, more people are highlighting our terrible foreign aid strategy and demanding we take the training wheels of Israel and Egypt by slashing their enormous aid packages. Give it to places that actually need it, please.

The Israeli settlement "freeze" isn't a total washout. It seems the authorities have finally grown a backbone and pushed back against extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank by razing illegal outposts and dismissing IDF soldiers who refuse to stand up to the settlers.

And finally, Israeli and Jordanian scientists have discovered a new species of spider living in the dunes on the southern border between the two countries. The NYT article has a picture and it's rather creepy. Also, good thing we found this thing - it's apparently almost extinct due to habitat destruction.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Because I've only got a moment...

Palestinians, surrounded by walls and gates, will soon have the opportunity to live inside more walls and gates, this time built by Palestinian hands. Rawabi is to be the first entirely planned, non-organic, American-style Palestinian gated community, financed and backed by the American government and the Palestinian authority. Ahmed Moor doesn't like it, but I'm not sure it matters - the entire project rests on Israel's approval of a short access road.

Marc Lynch thinks Gaza is the crucial key to restarting peace talks.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bullets from the Holy Land (news bullets that is)

You may have noticed I'm big on a couple of local news sources in the region, Haaretz (Israeli) and Maan (Palestinian), for their timely news briefs, educated opinion pieces, and the adorable way they continue to lift entire paragraphs verbatim from their counterpart's news articles. The conflict runs deep, ladies and gentlemen, and when the other side is firing rockets/dropping bombs/stealing your land/maiming your children what's a little plagiarism between bitter enemies? This conflict within a conflict might soon see a little bit of escalation, following the Israeli government's decision to get involved. Jared Malsin, US citizen, Yale grad, Birthright alum and English language editor of the Palestinian Maan news network has been detained without charges by the IDF following his return to Israel from vacationing in Europe. Not only did the Israeli authorities grab him, but also his (apparently highly dangerous security threat of a) girlfriend who is a registered volunteer with the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem. I certainly wish him the best, as the network he works for is top notch for reading the news I need.

In other Israeli detention policy news, Palestinian non-violent movement leaders Mohammed Othman and Jamal Juma' were released only a day apart this week. Both men work at the Stop the Wall campaign, a Palestinian NGO that publishes reports and organizes protests against Israel's winding separation wall in the West Bank. Both activists were arrested and imprisoned in Israel for months without charges being filed against them. Abdullah Abu Rahme, a third non-violent movement leader is still imprisoned by the Israeli authorities, facing incitement and arms possession (for displaying spent tear gas canisters fired at his village by the IDF) charges.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thursday Morning News Review

More links and news review. Don't worry, opinion and analysis will resume - perhaps this weekend. I also recently discovered a treasure trove of good blogs and sites that I'll add to the sidebar soon. Without further delay, here are your Thursday morning links:

The New York Times has a spectacular report about an Israeli human rights group that distributed cameras to Gazans in order to expose the lives of Palestinians to the Israeli mainstream. Well worth reading, and easily today's top link. A little cross-cultural understanding goes a long way.

On that note, Palestinian women are also breaking into the field of photojournalism, and causing quite a stir - thanks to Laura for her vigilance on women's issues.

The Popular Resistance Committees yesterday launched between 10 and 12 rockets, causing no damage, but causing Israel to close border crossings into the Gaza Strip. Aid trucks sat idle waiting to deliver much needed goods to besieged Gazans, while the PRC apparently celebrated their ability to appear relevant and cause nearly as much suffering to Gazans as Israel. To give credit where credit is due: Israel showed remarkable restraint for now, distributing fliers warning Gazans to remain 300 feet away from the separation wall and begging residents to provide the IDF with information on smuggling networks between Gaza and Egypt.

Remember what I told you kids yesterday, actions have consequences.

The Viva Palestina international aid convoy has finally made it to Gaza and has been granted 48 hours to distribute aid. 100 trucks and 500 activists crossed into the Strip from Egypt yesterday only hours after violent clashes between Egyptian security forces and Palestinian protesters following a Hamas-led protest against Egypt's attempts to stall and harass the convoy left one Egyptian border officer dead. Shots from both sides of the border fence were heard but the Palestinian gunman/gunmen have not been identified and Hamas has announced it will investigate the killing.

Zvi Bar'el tells us why Egypt decided to go so far to impede the Viva Palestina convoy. Hint: It's all about bullying Hamas for their efforts to keep Egypt from winning international peacemaker props for successfully mediating the Fateh-Hamas dispute. Since Hamas rejected both the reconciliation deal and the Shalit deal (both mediated in part by Cairo), Egypt has built a steel security wall on the Gaza-Egypt border, clamped down on the flow of traffic between Gaza and Egypt, and harassed an international aid convoy destined for the Gaza Strip. Zvi makes the case that Cairo is trying to wrest control over Hamas away from Syria and Iran.

It's not the Grinch, but Orthodox Church officials who are stealing Christmas this year. Perhaps the film adaptation will beat last year's box office smash, "The Occupied Territories Santa Forgot."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wednesday Morning Links

For some reason, activists trying to break the Gaza siege have a hard time understanding that Egypt is in on it too. Nothing like traveling all that way to find out that even those you thought were your friends were also your enemies...

Majida Abu Rahmah, husband of jailed non-violent resistance leader Abdallah Abu Rahmah has written an emotional plea for the international community to speak out against the arrest and arbitrary detention of so many from the Palestinian non-violent movement. An excerpt of his remarks intended to be read at the World Association for Human Rights, where he was to be presented an award is below. The words were prepared just hours before he was arrested:

"I wish I could be with you to share in the joy of our colleagues receiving this year’s prize and to celebrate with you the 20th anniversary of the removal of the Berlin Wall. But the occupation not only robs us of statehood, land, and so often of our lives, it also deprives us of many beautiful moments."

"My mother passed away in a hospital in occupied East Jerusalem, our historic capital, in August but the Israeli occupation refused me a permit to be with her. An Israeli friend held a mobile phone to my mother’s ear so that I could say good bye to her and thank her for all the love she has given me. In the darkness of all these difficulties the occupation imposes on us, the solidarity of justice-seeking people like you all over the world gives us strength."

"Unlike Israel, we have no nuclear weapons, and no army, but we do not want or need those things. With your support and the justice of our cause, we will bring down Israel’s apartheid wall."

Mustapha Barghouti led a protest in support of Palestinians arrested for protesting.

Steve Walt recommends five books on the US-Israel relationship and refuses to shy away from shameless self-promotion.

Remember kids, actions have consequences.

Finally, Gershom Gorenberg says the settlement freeze is a lie.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happy 2010!

Several links to hold you over until Holy Land Peace gets back on track (which I promise to happen soon, there are a few new features I've planned for the blog to make it relevant again).

Think the peace process is depressing? Look on the bright side.

Akiva Eldar asks whether Israel and apartheid South Africa are really all that different. You decide.

Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad continues to emulate Obama by declaring an end to torture in PA jails, and then goes one step further by handing down prison time or demotions to 43 security officers that took part in prisoner abuse. Since 2007, eight prisoners have died in West Bank jails and 15 in those run by Hamas in Gaza.

That's all for now - more to come soon.