Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday morning link dump

For the first week in a couple of months I have not posted once on the blog. I've been working on two larger articles so the news summaries and short analysis have fallen victim to the time write and fact-check those articles. However, it's Friday morning and I have several links to relevant and interesting articles that I'm afraid I won't be able to share come Monday. So here it is, your Friday morning link dump (with a little bit of summary and analysis too):

First, there is a new site up defending the Goldstone Report. The site has articles, resources, and a video summary of the Report's findings (narrated by American academic Noam Chomsky himself). The site currently has two chapters of the report on video and it looks like more may be added. It is certainly a valuable resource and perhaps a better way to get people to understand what exactly is in the much-hated report without making them read 600 pages. People love to hate Goldstone, but it certainly does not seem like many have taken the time to read the report before breathing fire at it.

Hagit Ofran at Huffington Post has a great article on how Israeli settler groups in the West Bank scuttled a project to build a hospital for Palestinian children. It includes all of the aspects you might expect of the humiliating occupation of Palestinians and the apartheid-by-permit system that exists in the West Bank: land annexation, Palestinian-owned lands arbitrarily being declared Israeli military zones without warning, settlers squatting on land that does not belong to them, facts on the ground, and the Israeli government endorsement of all of the above. It's horribly disheartening but shows the settler groups for exactly what they are: racists. I am tiring of skirting the issue. Israel's settlement enterprise is a "peculiar institution" built on racism, religious extremism, and ultra-nationalism. I think what irks me most is that the "Infallible Israel" crowd always crows on their talking point about how Palestinians have only built the infrastructure of terror when they should have been building their state. This article speaks so clearly to how that talking point is demonstrably false (and racially tinged itself). Palestinians simply have not been able to build a state because infrastructure is so hard to build in the Occupied Territories. The Israeli government's support to these settler groups demonstrates without a doubt that Israel is not ready to pursue peace. Until they renounce the continued expansion of the settlement enterprise, Israel will always be negotiating in bad faith.

Continuing on the issue of Israeli settlements, my least favorite Congressman, Israel's representative to the U.S. Senate Joseph Lieberman continued to show his total lack of comprehension of the conflict in the Holy Land in an interview he gave to the Jewish Ledger in which he asserted that "community building" (Israeli colonization and annexation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank) is not an obstacle of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Of course it's not, Joe! Why would the Palestinians view the slow annexation of the lands they are trying to build a state on an obstacle to building that very state? Every U.S. administration since the beginning of Israel's occupation of the West Bank in 1967 has refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Every major peace initiative has acknowledged how harmful (and illegal) Israel's settlements are. The Road Map specifically calls for an end to settlement building, and following the failed 2001 Camp David peace talks, Aaron David Miller, hardly a far left Palestinian-sympathizer (he admitted his delegation acted as "Israel's lawyer"), lamented that the talks failed partly because the American and Israeli delegations failed to truly understand how much of an obstacle to peace Israeli settlements were and how important stopping their expansion was to Palestinians. James Baker, Secretary of State to George H.W. Bush even asserted, "Both Democratic and Republican administrations have long endorsed the U.S. policy that settlements are an obstacle to peace." Even Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gets it, as he imposed a farcical settlement "freeze" to attempt to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table that could very well be the end of their hopes for statehood. Joe Liebeman just does not get it. And aside from this, I have trouble trusting anyone who looks at any nation and is so blind as to not be able to find one single small fault. There is so much talk about settlements because the settlements are the single largest issue of contention in the search for peace in the Holy Land. Following closely behind are Palestinian factionalism and the status of East Jerusalem (which itself can be tied to the settlement issue), but the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank and the oppressive infrastructure that accompanies them plagues the Palestinian existence and renders peace elusive.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ayalon vying for title of "Worst Diplomat Ever"

Who would ever have guessed that the extremist settler and human gaffe-machine Avigdor Lieberman would not be the most embarrassing element of the right-wing Netanyahu government? Instead, strangely enough, Lieberman's protege, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has easily become a pariah when it comes to representing his country well and behaving "diplomatically." Ayalon is a "diplomat" in the same way the Jonas Brothers are a rock band. Holding guitars, dancing on state, and singing (badly) does not make you an honest rock band any more than meeting foreign officials while drinking wine makes you a diplomat. It's about the swagger. You've got to behave diplomatically to be a diplomat. Ayalon is an arrogant clown who has had a long leash under Lieberman to go about degrading and disrespecting the 99% of people he meets that do not hold his McCarthyist paranoia and narcissism.

First Ayalon pulls what in the diplomatic world is now called the "Turkish tower" when he specifically told reporters at a meeting between himself and Turkish ambassador to Israel Oguz Celikkul in Hebrew to make sure they noted that Celikkul was seated lower than himself, "Prince Ayalon," that there was only an Israeli flag on the table, and that he was not smiling. All of this was supposed to be a snub to the Turkish ambassador over a television show produced in Turkey by a private company that portrayed Israeli soldiers in a negative light. Seriously, I think I've seen that show in the U.S. too. It's called the news. But seriously, Ayalon summons the Turkish ambassador, makes him wait outside the room while he talks to reporters for a half hour, and then specifically makes him sit much lower and without a Turkish flag also between them - over a television show? I think a concerned phone call would have sufficed and been a bit more diplomatic. I think the entire point of having diplomats it to convey the concerns of a government to others without angering or disrespecting them. Ayalon failed this basic job miserably, as Turkey threatened (and did for some time) recall its ambassador until Ayalon issued a formal apology, which he half did. To make up for his shortcomings, Israeli President Shimon Peres basically had to publicly slap him on the wrist, described him as "undiplomatic" and condemned the whole stunt. All of this remember, was over a Turkish television program the Israelis had some pretty minor concerns over.

Now Ayalon is showing that if there's going to be an Israel-Palestine Olympics (and there will be, albeit in a future post) and Failing at Diplomacy is going to be an event, he'll be a prime contender. He's to diplomacy what Shaun White is to snowboarding or Lindsey Vonn is to downhill skiing. Yesterday, Danny Ayalon refused to grant an audience to U.S. Representative Bill Delahunt and his congressional delegation who are touring Israel with J-Street, a left-leaning "pro-peace and pro-Israel" lobbying group in the U.S. So this is what our special relationship with Israel really is. We sign the big checks and they threaten our interests in the Middle East while flaunting every single minor request we have of them and refusing to even talk to our elected representatives when they show up in Israel. Ayalon did not only refuse to meet with the delegation, but also went so far as to try and block them from meeting any senior officials in Netanyahu's government. Ayalon also criticized J-Street, who although being zionist, supports a peaceful solution to the conflict and has been critical of Israeli settlements. Here's his McCarthyist paranoia on display, "The thing that troubles me is that they don't present themselves as to what they really are. They should not call themselves pro-Israeli." So J-Street cannot be "pro-Israeli" because they do not share the exact same extremist views that Ayalon himself does? The Israeli government's official statement insisted that they were indeed welcome to speaking with Delahunt but that if he was going to romp around Israel with J-Street, he might as well stay home. I find it immensely troubling that a very moderate, very Zionist American organization is being so boxed out by the Israeli government over some extremely minor policy disagreements. Why not just sit down with the whole delegation to be "diplomatic?" It's an hour of your time. If you'd like, find a way to convey your concern in some respectful way about J-Street's views. McCarthyism certainly is ripe in Israel right now.

So there you have it, Danny Ayalon sucks as a diplomat and sucks as a human being. Also, the Israeli government is suffering from "Red Scare" syndrome and refusing to even sit down with anyone that doesn't closely toe the official Israeli government line (Jerusalem in the ETERNAL CAPITAL OF THE JEWISH STATE OF ISRAEL, settlements don't hinder peace efforts but help them along, the IDF has never fired a shot in anger and is the pristine uncorrupted perfectly moral military force that God would use if he ever returned to Earth, and Israelis are the most peace-loving people to ever exist). If the Foreign Ministry cannot even grant an audience to J-Street (a Zionist lobby group of all people), why should we expect those negotiations with the Palestinians to get anywhere?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The long weekend news roundup

After a long weekend, I'm left (mainly) with various unrelated news articles that although disjointed, were interesting enough to post here. Holy Land Peace is also attempting to fully embrace social networking in all its many forms so more content has been added to the right sidebar of the page, including the blogroll which includes links to many of the best blogs detailing the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a Twitter widget, showing HLP's latest tweets. As for Twitter, it is going to be an experiment and I intend to tweet interesting articles I find during the day that I do not have time to immediately place in a blog post. You can follow Holy Land Peace on Twitter here. I have also added a search bar to the bottom of the left sidebar which allows users to search past posts on the site. Let me know what you think of the new features and if you have any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment or send an e-mail via the "Contact Me" tab at the top of the page. Now, onto the news roundup:

Robert Fisk has certainly been busy recently gracing us with three articles in the past week. He profiles the smugglers operating tunnels, "the lung through which Gaza breathes," and why Egypt's wall has absolutely no chance to stop a population under heavy siege from smuggling in needed goods any way they can. Fisk also, as he so often does, exposes the joint Israeli-Egyptian siege as counterproductive; it hurts Gaza's civilian population (all 1.5 million) and helps Hamas maintain power through high taxation on smuggled goods.

Next Fisk talks to a seasoned Israeli negotiator and map expert regarding where he one would best draw the line between Israel and a future Palestinian state. Fisk is certainly not convinced that a "best fit line" even exists and neither am I, but the article is well worth the read.

Third, Fisk writes an article in the style he is best known for. It's gritty, skeptical, dark, and intriguing. Fisk profiles the search for peace in Israel from Ben-Gurion to Gaza in an article that will leave a pit in your stomach.

Akiva Eldar, writing in Haaretz, profiles a day in the life of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who wizzes around the West Bank (apparently in a black Mercedes) overseeing his plan to build an indisputable Palestinian state in the absence of productive peace talks. Yousef Munayyer warns that Fayyad is being prepped to replace Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by Israel and the Americans for his "stubborn" refusal to simply lay down and accept Israeli "peace" offers. Refusing to accept Israeli settlement building that steals Palestinian land, the internationally unrecognized annexation of Jerusalem, and the separation barrier that steals even more Palestinian land is practically a death wish for Palestinian leaders. Munayyer argues that Israel only wants "partners for peace" that will not make a sound when Israel tramples all over any real hope for a Palestinian state in any meaning of the word.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Scandal in the Holy Land!

So, I am no stranger to the fact that despite my best efforts to bring you timely news reports, hard-hitting analysis, and of course a charming writing personality, Holy Land Peace just doesn't bring in the readership of such profound publications as People magazine and Us Weekly. I've checked my daily hits to the site, and although the pageviews and visitors have dramatically increased in the past months and despite the fact that HLP is read in no less than a dozen countries (we're big in South America by the way), Holy Land Peace is just not all that popular. Even the National Enquirer has a greater readership than poor old HLP. But all of that changes today. I did the research. I bought subscriptions to People  and Us and now I know what sells and will make it my aim to make sure that Holy Land Peace brings you what you want: scandal. Yes, that's right, I'm diving into the gutter and wading through the muck to bring you what sells: Sex. Are you getting excited? Well you should be, for there is a sex scandal in the Holy Land.

In what has to be one of the most hilarious news articles on the Holy Land I have ever read, The Independent reports that Rafiq Husseini, a top aide to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was caught on film in the nude attempting to trade his influence for sex with a women off-screen in a hidden camera sting operation. The hidden camera sting was set up by the the former director of a Palestinian governmental anti-corruption unit, Fahmi Shabaneh after a woman had complained to him that Husseini had been attempting to pressure her into engaging in unspeakable acts of lust with him. In the video, casanova Rafiq Husseini, attempting to woo the women into sleeping with him, uses several irresistible pick-up lines including, "Do I turn the light off or do you?" and my personal favorite, "what is the procedure?" as he stands next to the bed in the nude.

The hidden camera footage literally exposing Husseini was passed along to Israeli television and broadcast on an Israeli news program. Husseini's Fateh party, of which Abbas is also a part of responded to the footage by asserting that it would, "not allow anyone to use his position to serve his personal agenda or fantasies," in what is obviously the most hilarious Fateh press release in the organization's 40 year history. Abbas has officially dismissed Husseini and has ordered an investigation into what possible consequences the aide may face.

In a move this commentator has described as part of an effort to address the (apparently) growing unchecked sexual urges of Palestinian government officials, the Palestinian Authority, just two days after the broadcast of Rafiq Husseini's sexploits, confiscated 1 million Chinese-made sexual stimulant pills worth an estimated $20 million. The Palestinian police forces raided the warehouse in collaboration with the PA Ministry of Health and Ministry of Taxes and Customs. The importer had apparently not paid for a license to import medicines. Khalid Seder, Director of the Ministry of Health in the Palestinian city of Hebron/Al-Khalil concluded that the one million confiscated pills could not have been absorbed by the West Bank market of only 4.5 million Palestinians and were probably slated to be sold in neighboring countries like Egypt and Jordan. Seder has apparently not heard of Rafiq Husseini's unquenchable urges. The Palestinian Authority hopes more sexual drug busts like this one will lead to less corruption among government officials hellbent on using what little influence a position in the crippled and corrupt PA affords one.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The ultimate Ethan Bronner - New York Times - IDF - Conflict of Interest post

A great deal of ink has been spilled over the revelation that New York Times Jerusalem correspondent Ethan Bronner's son has joined the Israel Defense Forces. Bronner's son will serve for approximately the next 18 months, spending roughly 12 of those in training. The issue was first reported by the website Electronic Intifada, who raised concerns that a correspondent covering a conflict who has a son serving in the military of one of the parties may find his partiality compromised due to the potential conflict of interest. I posted on this issue once before, but wanted to more thoroughly flesh out my opinion of the situation and point my readers in the direction of some other great commentary on journalistic integrity as it relates to the Ethan Bronner story. What first began as an issue revealed by Electronic Intifada made its way through the usual Israel-Palestine blogs where it apparently caused enough of a stir to force the New York Times, Haaretz, and even ABC News to cover the crisis - for journalists love when other journalists make news, especially if it is (potentially) scandalous. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has described Bronner's situation as posing an unacceptable conflict of interest if he is continued to be allowed to report on the Israeli military.

The first official statement from the Times came in the form of an opinion piece by Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt, who filled in some of the blanks as far as what the paper new and when it new it. Ethan Bronner did inform his editors, including executive editor Bill Keller, that his son had joined the IDF, though the editors at the Times, what they themselves refer to as the "gold standard of journalism" saw no cause for concern that having a familial connection to the Israeli military might pose a conflict of interest. Keller went so far in his support of Bronner by pretty much announcing that he'd follow him to hell and back if need by by declaring that even if Israel launched a new war in Gaza and Bronner's son was on the front lines, he would still not reassign him. I find this sort of blanket denial that conflict of interests do occur during the course of a journalist's career incredulous, especially coming from an executive editor like Keller. If having a son fighting on the front lines of a war you are covering does not pose a serious conflict of interest, I am not sure I understand what does. The Times, who condemned Peter Galbraith so quickly for his undisclosed financial ties to Kurdish oil fields, seems to believe that as long as potential conflicts are all disclosed, no conflict of interest can ever occur.

Public Editor Clark Hoyt, who interviewed two academics in the field of journalism (one who thought Bronner should be reassigned and the other who thought the paper should simply disclose his son's service), disagreed with Keller. Hoyt ends his piece by airing his conclusion of what to do about the situation:

But, stepping back, this is what I see: The Times sent a reporter overseas to provide disinterested coverage of one of the world's most intense and potentially explosive conflicts, and now his son has taken up arms for one side. Even the most sympathetic reader could reasonably wonder how that would affect the father, especially if shooting broke out.

I have enormous respect for Bronner and his work, and he has done nothing wrong. But this is not about punishment; it is simply a difficult reality. I would find a plum assignment for him somewhere else, at least for the duration of his son’s service in the I.D.F.

I think Hoyt's analysis of the situation is solid and compelling. He was thorough, did his research, and rendered his verdict based on the hard facts of the situation. Executive Editor Bill Keller's response was just the opposite; it's dismissive, arrogant, stubborn, and trite. He stands by the Times decisions to not disclose (until it was disclosed for them) Bronner's potential conflict and to not reassign him. Keller explains several situations where a conflict of interest would be present: a business reporter owns stock in a company he covers, a reporter's wife serves on the defense team of a trial he's covering, or a political reporter's husband is running for office in a race she's reporting on. All of these are indeed conflicts of interest because they compromise the ability of a reporter to be truly fair and detached, but by Keller's logic how could Ethan Bronner's situation not pose a problem for a human reporter to forget that his son serves in the military whose actions he covers daily in the context of a conflict between two sides. Bronner is only human, and he would certainly experience the anxiety and fears any loving father would when his son takes up arms in a bloody conflict that could lead to him being in extremely dangerous situations. How could he be expected to be meticulously even-handed when interviewing Hamas affiliates who support the capture or killing of Israeli soldiers such as his son? When the military his son serves in is accused of wrongdoing, war crimes no less, how can he be expected to cast aside all emotion and expose the potentially criminal acts that his son may have been associated with? The short answer is he cannot.

Keller continues his dismissal, blaming partisan hacks for questioning the Times and asserting that if Bronner was anything other than an emotionless, thoroughly fair, and detached human-robot cyborg he would never have been hired by the Times. The most disgusting part of his piece is this:

My point is not that Ethan’s family connections to Israel are irrelevant. They are significant, and both he and his editors should be alert for the possibility that they would compromise his work. How those connections affect his innermost feelings about the country and its conflicts, I don’t know. I suspect they supply a measure of sophistication about Israel and its adversaries that someone with no connections would lack. I suspect they make him even more tuned-in to the sensitivities of readers on both sides, and more careful to go the extra mile in the interest of fairness.

Reporters having connections and using those connections to get a better story is certainly not wrong, but it's almost as if this man, the executive editor of the New York Times, doesn't understand the point of a conflict of interest. In such situations, because a reporter is only human, he simply cannot be expected nor relied upon to provide detached, evenhanded coverage. In the same way a judge must excuse himself from presiding over a case of a loved one, a reporter must respect his readers enough to know that he is simply not the man for the job. Even if he stays determined to go the extra mile for fairness, he is still human and to ask a father to cast aside the emotions felt for a son in combat is unfair in itself. Pointing out that up to this point Bronner's reporting has been meticulously evenhanded (as Keller does) is completely irrelevant. His past work does not matter because his son was not in the military of one of the major actors.

Keller also burns the straw man when he points out that his paper receives angry letters all the time for sending Jewish reporters to report on Israel. I have no problem with that, as religion and nationality (Bronner is Jewish, his wife is Israeli, as is the Times other Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner) do not pose the sort of conflict of interest that having a son serving in the military of one of the parties of the Israel-Palestine conflict does. Would the times allow a Palestinian reporter with a son in Hamas' military wing to report on Hamas militant activities? Of course not, because that's an obvious conflict. But why then, is the IDF different? I have no problem with Bronner reporting on Palestinian elections, reconciliation attempts, Israeli politics, or the peace process. However, he should excuse himself from reporting on any stories that involve, in any sense, the Israel Defense Forces. This would be the honorable thing to do, and the responsible thing for the New York Times to demand from him.

Once even a tiny amount of friction was found at the paper, both Haaretz and ABC News covered the situation, though neither added much to the fray. ABC News simply asserted that the Times had failed to disclose the potential conflict to their readers.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mitchell banks his first Middle East victory

Updated Below

U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell will finally be able to celebrate his first victory after nearly a year without progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Mr. Mitchell has convinced the Israelis and Palestinians to enter into indirect low-level negotiations, the first peace talks since direct talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were scuttled during the Gaza War of December 2008. George Mitchell, who first proposed the idea of indirect talks during a visit to the region two weeks ago, will mediate the talks between delegations led by Saeb Erekat on the Palestinian side and Yitzhak Molcho on the Israeli side. The talks are scheduled to begin February 20, according to Palestinian sources, and are intended to map out the positions of both parties and set an agenda for higher level, direct talks. The Israelis and Palestinians disagree on how long the indirect talks should last, however, with Netanyahu advocating for 3-4 weeks of indirect talks following by direct negotiations and the Palestinians seeking to limit shuttle diplomacy to 3-4 months.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki insists that the indirect talks should first discuss the issue of the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state before progressing onto the issues of water, security, and Jerusalem.

Indirect talks may be exactly what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict calls for at the moment, as they provide both sides with opportunities to mitigate domestic political risks while providing a venue for engagement on issues related to the peace process. Mitchell, who will be mediating the negotiations, has a great deal of experience with this kind of shuttle diplomacy in Northern Ireland, where he worked tirelessly to bring about a peace agreement. This arrangement also allows Netanyahu to deflect some of the criticism that has come to Israel from the Gaza War and the subsequent Goldstone report. Netanyahu gets to brandish his image as a peacemaker willing to make the hard decisions necessary for peace and Abbas is able to do the same. Moreoever, indirect talks allow Abbas to comply with European and American desires and pressure to see the peace process restarted without opening himself up to sharp criticism for backing down on his demand for a three-month complete settlement freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. While I am not so naive as to suggest that the announcement of indirect talks between the parties will inevitably yield a sequence of events that eventually brings about a just solution to the conflict, there is reason to be hopeful that this will allow Netanyahu, Abbas, and Mitchell to understand more concretely the stances and red lines of the parties involved.

To be sure, both the Israelis and Palestinians are right now mapping out ways to end the talks and cast blame on the other. However, this will be George Mitchell's moment in the spotlight. He now has the opportunity to let his negotiating skills shine by keeping both parties focused, minimizing the ability of one side or the other to back out prematurely, and reiterating the world's desire for a peaceful solution to this conflict. A great challenge is ahead for the old sage, but this is the eve of the Winter Olympics - and as the gold medal champion U.S. Olympic Hockey Coach Herb Brooks said, "Great moments are born from great opportunity."


Yoel Marcus, writing in Haaretz, says if Netanyahu really wants peace he'll have to lose his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, kick Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu out of his coalition, and invite Kadima to join him. That position sounds rational to me.

Snowy Monday news roundup

With over two feet of snow still lingering here in DC (and more to come tomorrow) the city is at a standstill and I'm at home from work catching up on the Holy Land news. Yesterday, a combination of Super Bown Sunday (of which I did not watch a single down) and the Snowpocalypse led to a local theater offering $10 front row tickets to Richard II. Even in Shakespearean drama, I could not escape the Holy Land. In the final act of the play, the newly-crowned King Henry IV finds his cousin's blood on his hands and exclaims, "I'll make a voyage to the Holy Land, To wash this blood off from my guilty hand." What does one do, I wondered, when yours sins are committed in the Holy Land? Perhaps the conflict continues because the protagonists feel they can so easily wash away their sins. Here's your Monday news roundup from Israel-Palestine:

The Independent notes that the Gaza Zoo, home to an emaciated lion and a mule painted with hair dye stripes to look like a zebra, is up for sale due to the owner's inability to feed and maintain the animals in the war-torn, besieged Gaza Strip. The animals still alive after the Gaza War (many starved due to the owner's inability to safely get to the open air zoo) are fairing even worse than the Palestinians in Gaza who also live their lives trapped in a cage.

Palestinian geographer, settlement expert, and member of the Palestinian negotiating teams at Oslo and Taba Khalil Tufakji has been banned by Israel from leaving the country for six months. The Israeli government, rather than giving Mr. Tufakji a solid reason why he is being held hostage in Israel, simply cited "security concerns." Mr. Tufakji, head cartographer of the Arab Studies Society, often lectures in Israel and abroad on Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We learned from the Jared Malsin case (where an American Jewish reporter for a Palestinian news agency was barred from entering the country due to the fact that he wrote articles critical of Israeli policies) that those who are critical of Israel can be refused entry into the country for "security concerns." However, apparently the policy goes both ways. Foreigners cannot get in if they criticize Israeli policies and Palestinians cannot leave. In all seriousness, given Tufakji's connections to the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, this may be an Israeli effort to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to negotiations. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu really does want negotiations to start, if only to bolster his image as a committed peacemaker ready to make the hard decisions necessary for a two state solution. The Israelis have a massive chest of tools to exert pressure on the Palestinian Authority to get them to bend the way the Israelis want. If only the Palestinians had some way to do the same to the Israelis, we might find ourselves with a deal.

Nabil Sha'ath, a Fateh central committee member who recently visited members of the de facto Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, has announced that a deal has been struck between the two factions that would allow Fateh to reopen its party headquarters in Gaza City. Hamas has also agreed to release Fateh political detainees in its custody provided that the Palestinian Authority in the eases its recent hounding of Hamas affiliates in the West Bank. This may be an early confidence building measure intended to pave the way for a Palestinian reconciliation agreement between Fateh and Hamas. The two parties hope to sign an initial political agreement before the Arab summit next month.

Finally, the Washington Post reports that the Palestinian Authority is planning to hold municipal elections in the West Bank on July 17. The elections, if held, will be the first Palestinian elections since 2006, which Hamas won. Despite the announcement by the PA that Hamas candidates will be allowed to run for office, Hamas leaders have decided not to field candidates leading to a contest with little voter turnout and Fateh victories-by-default in nearly every race. This seems to be a temporary move by Abbas in order to force the ball into Hamas' court on the reconciliation agreement. If Fateh and Hamas are able to sign an agreement before the elections, it is likely they will be postponed and expanded to include offices in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian Legislative Council. If no agreement is signed, Abbas is signaling he intends to rule semi-democratically without the participation of Hamas.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

"Who dare paint the results?"

The virtuoso pens yet another provocative and enlightening piece.

Fisk's visit to an Israeli art museum in West Jerusalem shows the metamorphosis of the Arab in Israeli eyes, from Mandate Palestine to Cast Lead.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hamas sheds crocodile tears for Israeli civilians killed during Gaza war

Haaretz has the scoop.

Lacking the technology to properly aim your weapons is not an excuse for killing civilians. This goes for the Israeli report too: you can't blame 900 civilian deaths on mistakes, "technological limitations," or "collateral damage."

Hamas is learning from Western armies, it seems, at least when it comes to skirting responsibility for killing civilians.

Israel's nonsensical policy in Area C is nothing but spiteful

Fair Policy, Fair Discussion has an interview with Oxfam's West Bank director including more info on Israel's absolutely brutal policy on Palestinian construction in Area C.

I buried EI's Bronner story

I must admit, when Electronic Intifada broke the story two weeks ago that New York Times Jerusalem Correspondent Ethan Bronner's son was in the IDF, I cast it aside as speculation. Low and behold, EI certainly proved itself a competent investigative outfit on this one. Bronner confirmed that his son had joined the IDF five weeks ago during a lecture at Vassar College. A few months ago the Times published a scathing criticism of Peter Galbraith, a long-time contributor who had been writing op-eds for the paper on Iraq and other Middle Eastern matters for years. As it turned out, many of Galbraith's articles called for greater Kurdish autonomy and Galbraith just happened to have a big stake in some oil fields in Kurdish territory. Had the ideas of Galbraith's pieces become reality, he stood to make a great deal of money, compromising his journalistic integrity because he had failed to disclose he had financial interests in the subject he was writing about. But with a son in the IDF, and the Israeli military playing such a prominent role in the conflict (which Bronner's work in Jerusalem nearly always relates to) can we expect Ethan Bronner to be unwaveringly objective? The Times has failed to address the possible conflict of interest in any meaningful way, though their code of ethics does point out that family activity in the area a journalist is covering may be a conflict of interest. I think at the very least Bronner and the Times have a responsibility to publicly disclose to their readers that the correspondent has close family ties to the Israeli military as it is clear the IDF will be a frequent protagonist of any Jerusalem correspondent's daily coverage. As it stands now, I don't think Bronner or the Times have addressed the issue in a manner befitting a respectable news organization. If the Times specifically says it is a conflict of interest for a reporter to write on a election in which the reporter's spouse is running, I think they must at the very least address a possible conflict of interest of a correspondent reporting on the actions of a military in which his son serves. Some are calling for Bronner's resignation. I am not in this camp, though I do think public disclosure of the connection is necessary to provide the Times' readership with all the information they need.

This question is tough and one I will certainly revisit: Is having a son in the military that one covers a conflict of interest that would compromise the integrity of the reporter?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mustafa Barghouti nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

If you've been a reader for any real time here at HLP, you know I have a soft spot in my heart for Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committees and a Palestinian Legislative Council member. I am very pleased to announce that the good doctor has been nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to build stronger democratic institutions and leadership in the Palestinian non-violent movement. A few weeks ago I outlined why he is the real "Mr. Palestine."

The new BitterLemons is out. This week's edition discusses the possibility of land swaps in any final status agreement.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Idiot Italian PM

Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister, rampant womanizer, and poor statuette-catcher, revealed during a visit to Israel that his greatest desire, "is to bring Israel into membership in the European Union."

On what grounds, Mr. PM? That Israelis are generally white and acceptably European? The Turks can't come in because they're not European, but Israel is certainly ok. Talk about opening a can of worms...

Update on Israeli military discipline

Good morning readers,

Yesterday I wrote a rather confusing entry concerning the Israeli response to the Goldstone report that asserted that two IDF commanders had been disciplined for firing white phosphorous on a UN compound in Gaza during the Winter War. I then posted an update pretty much as I was running out the door to catch the bus which was inaccurate and confusing. As it turns out, the IDF did confirm that two commanders had been disciplined (both kept their rank and posts as I blogged yesterday), but were not disciplined for firing white phosphorous. Instead they were disciplined for directing artillery fire toward a populated area. In short, the IDF disciplined two commanders but denies it was in connection to white phosphorous use. Just to be sure, no one has been held accountable for this undeniably criminal use of white phosphorous. What has not been pointed out about this picture is that the white vehicle near the right of the picture is a Palestinian Red Crescent Ambulance and the man in the orange vest running toward the camera at the right is a Palestinian paramedic. The Washington Post and New York Times both ran stories yesterday, apparently both eager to absolve Israel of war crimes allegations because they disciplined two poor saps in connection with a brutal and unnecessary war that claimed the lives of over 900 civilians. The IDF still claims that white phosphorous was only used in unpopulated areas in line with international law, though with how heavily populated (1.5 million Palestinians living in a 140 square mile area) the Gaza Strip is and given that the IDF was operating in urban environments its almost unimaginable that white phosphorous could be used in a way that would not place large numbers of civilians in extreme danger. Palestinian and European doctors reported treating nearly 100 patients with deep chemical burns consistent with white phosphorous. Israel's punishment of the two commanders really begs the question that with 900 civilians dead and international pressure mounting for Israel to carry out credible investigations, why were these two commanders singled out for discipline? What did they really do that warranted them being the only two members of the entire Israeli military worthy of punishment and international shame? Apparently Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak really does not like these two. Maybe they made passes at his daughter or something...

In other Holy Land news, the Tristan Anderson investigation was closed with no indictments. Tristan Anderson was shot in the face with a tear gas canister during a protest against Israel's separation wall in the West Bank. Anderson, an American citizen, suffered massive brain damage, spent months in a coma, and now is only able to communicate with basic sounds. WaPo tried yesterday to bolster its credibility by reporting on the story, but instead published a laughably bad article. WaPo reports (inaccurately) that the scalding hot tear gas canister (a type which are fired from underbarrel launchers of assault rifles) was not fired but thrown nearly 200 feet. WaPo also maligns ISM with the anonymous claims of "Israeli military officials." ISM has a press room but WaPo made no effort to get a statement from them. I have been to similar protests as the one Tristan was at and have seen first-hand how these protests turn violent. The IDF escalates these protests in a way that is extraordinarily dangerous to themselves and the protesters. It is not about safety, it's about asserting dominance and total authority over nearly every action of Palestinians and their allies. 50% of the time Palestinian teens begin throwing stones and the other half of the time the Israelis fire salvos of rubber bullets and tear gas first. The Israelis do not fire the tear gas in a manner to break up the protest and stop stones from being thrown, they shoot haphazardly and endanger the lives of everyone involved. On several occasions I witnessed the IDF firing rubber bullets and tear gas at Palestinians fleeing the scene and returning to their homes. There is a way to break up a protest that has become violent without massively escalating the situation and the Israelis have apparently not found it. They put themselves and others in the kind of danger that resulted in Tristan Anderson's condition.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Goldstone's February 5 deadline approaching

Israel and Hamas, accused of war crimes in the Goldstone Report, have until February 5 to show they have begun credible investigations into alleged human rights abuses during the Winter War on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 or face possible trials at the International Criminal Court. The Palestinian Authority has already submitted its report to the UN, though the contents of that report have not been published. Hamas has not finished its report but has promised it will submit one by the deadline. Israel last week submitted its response to the UN resolution, though the response does not respond in detail to the allegations it is facing, but is simply an assertion that Israeli justice system is "reliable and independent. The report admits that two Israeli officers were "punished" (they kept their commands and ranks) for "exceeding their authority in a manner that jeopardized the lives of others" for commanding their troops to fire white phosphorous shells at a UN compound sheltering 700 Gazans and most of the UN's food stores in the Gaza Strip. 900 civilians are dead and it is apparently the fault of just two men, who will be "punished" accordingly but who will be allowed to retain their commands (one of the commanders gets to move to a cushier job doing the same things he enjoys doing to Gazans to West Bank Palestinians. (UPDATE: The IDF is now denying that the two officers were disciplined in relation to the firing of white phosphorous at the UN compound.) There is also no civilian control of oversight of the Israeli military - as the Israeli government and IDF have ruled out a civilian Israeli judicial review of allegations of wrongdoing because obviously any authoritarian controlled military organization is certainly able to independently and credibly investigate its faults in war. Just to prove my point: I took a trip to the National Archives yesterday where they have a very informative exhibit on minority discrimination and racism that American soldiers faced in World War II - the military flatly refused promotions, commendations, and pensions to thousands of minority soldiers for decades until the feds finally stepped up and forced their hand - many received what was owed to them for decades posthumously.

The Israeli government also decided that it has not done enough to encourage illegal settlers to become even more violent toward Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, and to refuse to follow the laws of Israel when they simply do not like them. By a vote of 51-9 in the Knesset, Israel pardoned and expunged the records of 400 violent Gazan settlers that attacked Palestinians and Israeli soldiers with oil, garbage, acid, and stones during the 2005 Gaza disengagement. Remember the hierarchy of Israeli law: International Law, Palestinian Law, Israeli-Arab Law, Israeli Jewish Law, and Settler Law at the very top.

Finally, Robert Fisk, the man who wrote the book on the Modern Middle East Conflict, has a spectacular expose on Israel's administration of Area C lands in the West Bank. Reference the hierarchy of Israeli law above if you're having trouble comprehending the madness that is Israeli policy in the West Bank.

Fisk is always a man that can capture the essence of political policies with perfect phrasing: ethnic cleansing via bureaucracy and apartheid-by-permit are his golden nuggets of clarity in this one.