Monday, February 8, 2010

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.

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