Thursday, May 23, 2013

This is apparently John Kerry's "delighted" face.

The Guardian has an article about Secretary of State John Kerry's West Bank trip today that includes this great picture of John Kerry:

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...with the following (un)intentionally hilarious caption:

"John Kerry shows delight at his shawarma sandwich in Ramallah."

Here's the link.

Kerry visited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today to discuss a potential reopening of peace talks between Israel and Palestine. He took a break from the meetings to enjoy some classic Palestinian food: shawarma, knafeh, and Arabic coffee at a local spot in Al-Bireh (near Ramallah).

Here's a shot of him diving into a sticky bite of knafeh:

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(Is it possible to look dignified while standing, eating, and holding the plate?)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Scratch that last post

A scant two days after Israel's under-the-radar halt on new settlement construction approvals was revealed in newspaper around the globe, the freeze has apparently thawed as Israel announced the approval of 296 housing units to be built in the West Bank settlement of Beit El.

Beit El, with a population just over 5500, overlooks the Palestinian de facto capital of Ramallah and sits above the Jalazone refugee camp.

The Civil Administration, Israel's governing body for many issues related to Israeli settlers and settlement in the West Bank, confirmed that the nearly 300 units approved in Beit El are related to the promised compensation for 30 settler families who were evacuated from the tiny Ulpana outpost nine months ago.

The Ulpana outpost was built by Jewish settler's without the Israeli government's permission, one of several dozen outposts Israel considers "illegal" (though all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal by the UN and under international law). The Ulpana outpost was justified by its founders in an Israeli court by a land deed that ended up being a blatant forgery - even indicating that the land was purchased from a seven year-old Palestinian child.

An Israeli court ordered the homes in Ulpana demolished because they were built on Palestinian-owned land. After delay, the order that was carried out in the summer of 2012. The 30 families living in Ulpana at the time of the order were promised resettlement in the larger Beit El settlement, which Peace Now and the 2006 Sasson Report found was itself built primarily on seized private Palestinian lands.

The sudden end to the new approval freeze indicates how politically untenable Netanyahu views angering the settlers or their allies is, especially given the upcoming reformation in the Knesset following January's elections - a supposed rebuke of Netanyahu.

Update: Looking back at a Guardian article from around the time Ulpana was evacuated, it appears Netanyahu actually promised these 300 units in Beit El in July 2012. The approvals for the specific buildings have just now cleared the Civil Administration.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Israel hasn't approved new settlement construction since Obama's March visit

Settlement approvals have been halted, but construction
on the ground continues.

Peace Now reports an interesting and positive fact today: since President Obama's visit to Israel in March, Israel has not announced any new settlement construction. While previously approved construction continues unabated in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, this new restraint may be indicative of Israeli support for Secretary of State John Kerry's recent push to initiate a new round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Peace Now does caution that construction on the ground continues at the same pace as prior to Obama's visit and the Israeli parliamentary elections in January due to a "ramping up" of approvals prior to the election.

This news, coupled with the recent announcement by the Arab League that they'd accept land swaps as part of the Arab Peace Initiative, indicate that background work is being done, most likely by Kerry and U.S. State Department Staff, to set the groundwork for new direct negotiations. China's apparent interest in becoming more involved in peace negotiations may be providing the impulse for the Obama administration and Secretary Kerry to get both Israel and the Palestinians, as well as other regional and international stakeholders, to agree to a U.S.-led framework for new negotiations. It's unlikely U.S. diplomats and negotiators are keen on China asserting a greater role in the peace process.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Google "Recognizes" Palestine

The big peace process news today is that Google has officially made the decision to "recognize" Palestine, replacing their references to Palestinian Territories with the UN-approved "Palestine" label.

The world's largest online advertising company addressed the change with a statement:

"We're changing the name 'Palestinian Territories' to 'Palestine' across our products. We consult a number of sources and authorities when naming countries."

A Google spokesman went on to say that the company uses the UN and several other international organizations when making decisions on country names, indicating that the UN General Assembly's vote to.recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state played no small role in the decision.

I don't see this as a major turning point in the peace process or in international recognition of a Palestinian state, and Google's decision certainly doesn't bring any pressure to bear on Israel to work more seriously towards decolonizing the West Bank. However, Google is a monstrous and highly influential company. Formally recognizing Palestine from a business standpoint is likely to have a positive effect in normalizing the Palestinian people as members of the community of nations. These small efforts to normalize Palestine and Palestinians should not be underestimated. Small victories such as this one will help to build the slow social, cultural, and perhaps political acceptance of the need for a Palestinian state and improve how Americans view the Palestinian people.

With so little positive news coming out of the conflict, it's nice to have a small story such as this one to start the weekend.