* First Muslim woman appointed to head Israeli hospital department
* America’s Mennonite church refuses to condemn Iran crackdown
* No Iranian diplomats accepted July 4 American invites
* Washington Post slams Obama’s “absolutist position towards Israel” as “a loser”
* Leading Palestinian human rights group: IDF treated us better in the West Bank than the new Palestinian security forces do
* 6 Mousavi supporters reportedly hanged in Iran
This is the second part of a two-part dispatch. The first part, which I suggest you read first, is titled Fatah: “Wailing Wall is ours”; Egyptian cleric cracks the Pepsi code; & other items.
1. Another luxury Palestinian shopping mall opens on the West Bank
2. Israel completes pipeline to the Gaza Strip
3. Haifa Univ. says it will be more careful in future not to invite anti-Semitic speakers
4. Israel Channel Two features mother of Palestinian murderer without mentioning crime
5. First Muslim woman appointed to head Israeli hospital department
6. Gay couples marry on Tel Aviv beach
7. Washington Post slams Obama’s “absolutist position towards Israel” as “a loser”
8. Senior Bush official: Israel is telling the truth, not the State Department
9. Israeli media: “If U.S. pledges are only good for one term, no one will want them in future”
10. Palestinian human rights group: IDF was better in the West Bank than the PA forces
11. UNIFIL finds 20 launch-ready Katyushas
12. As EU breaks ban and meets with Hizbullah, Hizbullah shoots Hariri supporters
13. Capture of “spies” hits Israel
14. America’s Mennonite church refuses to condemn Iran crackdown
15. Iranian militia rounding up injured protestors and removing them from hospitals
16. Reaching out to Iran: No Iranian diplomats accepted July 4 invites
17. Israel now classified as “developed” market
18. Peres visits Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, addresses Muslim leaders
19. Fatwa: Bangladeshi woman brutally whipped
20. “End the spat with Israel” (By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post, June 29, 2009)
21. “Hillary is wrong about the settlements” (By Elliott Abrams, WSJ, June 25, 2009)
22. “Jericho’s Stasi” (By Bassem Eid, Jerusalem Post, June 24, 2009)
[All notes below by Tom Gross]
The items below are designed to cover areas of the Middle East conflict and of Israeli-Palestinian life, that are overlooked by most mainstream media.
ANOTHER LUXURY PALESTINIAN SHOPPING MALL OPENS ON THE WEST BANK
This is the kind of story (from the Israeli paper Ha’aretz) that most Western journalists prefer not to cover. After all, it might spoil the negative image of Israel and undermine the myth of the totally “impoverished” West Bank that they carefully spin for their readers.
“The skies lit up over Jenin last month, and it wasn’t tracer bullets or flash bombs but celebratory fireworks, set off to mark the occasion of the opening of Hirbawi Home Center mall, a new luxury establishment on the city’s outskirts.
“The five-story building is filled with deluxe, foreign-made products seen mostly in the pages of newspaper supplements… The profit forecasts for the project have been so favorable that the owner plans to open four more shops in the West Bank and one in Jordan.
“The next city to enjoy a Hirbawi Home Center is Ramallah, where one is already in partial operation; then Hebron, Tulkarem and Nablus. ‘We believe we can make a very handsome profit. Many people in the occupied territories have money,’ says the chain’s CEO, Ziad Turabi...
“It turns out that quite a few Palestinians consider a plasma screen, a surround sound stereo and comfortable chairs to be fairly essential items. Here, on the fifth floor of the Jenin operation, overlooking the fields separating Israel from Jenin, are the in-demand electric gadgets: enormous plasma TV screens, vacuum cleaners, espresso machines, and the list goes on and on. Turabi points out that some products are only available in Home Center shops. ‘This is an espresso machine that grinds the coffee beans,’ he says. ‘People want more and more of these products. They ask for the finest quality.’”
Tom Gross adds: In 2001-2 Jenin was known as the “capital of terror” after Yasser Arafat’s al-Aqsa brigades sent a wave of suicide bombers out from the town to murder and maim hundreds of Israelis. Since then Israeli security forces have restored order in the town, thereby allowing significant economic development to take place there, and elsewhere in the West Bank. Israel is now slowly handing control over to Fatah forces again.
Smart shopping malls have also opened in the last year or so in the West Bank towns of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus and Hebron. And luxury villas are springing up around Ramallah. Even in Gaza, there are some wealthy neighborhoods.
Most Western journalists and their Palestinian fixers studiously avoid reporting these stories. It might spoil the image of dire poverty they have created for the benefit of world opinion and international donor governments.
The full article in Hebrew and photographs of the Jenin mall can be seen here.
Below: Pictures of the Jenin mall.
Singer Leonard Cohen will perform in Ramallah on September 26 in the Palestinian city’s Cultural Palace, two days after his concert at the Ramat Gan stadium in Israel.
ISRAEL COMPLETES PIPELINE TO THE GAZA STRIP
Israel has finished construction of a pipeline built to transfer fuel and natural gas from Israel to the Gaza Strip. Since Hamas seized power in 2007, they have constantly attacked Israeli fuel delivery trucks in an attempt to deliberately create a worsening situation in Gaza which they believed they could use to their political advantage. Now Israel has built a pipeline to further its efforts to safely deliver fuel to Gaza, and alleviate the economic situation there.
HAIFA UNIVERSITY SAYS IT WILL BE MORE CAREFUL IN FUTURE NOT TO INVITE ANTI-SEMITIC SPEAKERS
The University of Haifa has said it will think twice in future about allowing inflammatory speakers like Islamic Movement northern branch leader Sheikh Raed Salah to speak on campus, after last week’s Israeli media uproar surrounding Salah’s speech at the university.
Salah, an influential Israeli Arab leader, spoke at an event on campus which Jews were barred from entering. Only Arab students were admitted to the hall.
This resulted in Israeli newspaper headlines such as: “University Of Haifa: No Jews Allowed.”
Salah reportedly made a number of anti-Semitic remarks along with other inflammatory statements, such as “Benjamin Netanyahu is secretly planning to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque and build the third Jewish temple in its place.”
Haifa University Vice President Amos Gaver said: “Despite the legal issues surrounding freedom of speech, I think we also need to think about the issues of preserving the calm on campus. Sheikh Salah came here and gave an aggressive speech, filled with nonsense, and he touched on all the most emotional points, just to stir up the crowd. That is an abuse of freedom of speech, and we won’t allow it on our campus in future.”
However, Gaver dismissed complaints that the university had discriminated against Jewish students who attempted to enter the auditorium during Salah’s talk and were physically prevented by security guards from doing so. “Our intention, by keeping the protesters out of the auditorium, was simply to prevent the situation from getting out of hand,” he said.
Gaver added that he believed Haifa University served as a “fantastic model of coexistence” between Arab and Jewish students.
Many Israeli universities tolerate academics with extreme leftist views. Several of these have effectively called for an end to the state of Israel, and some have even supported acts of violence against Israeli Jews. (Were any university lecturer to defame Palestinians or Muslim Arabs in the way that Israeli Jews are defamed he or she would likely be disciplined.)
ISRAEL CHANNEL TWO FEATURES MOTHER OF PALESTINIAN MURDERER WITHOUT MENTIONING CRIME
It is not only at university campuses where extreme leftist Israelis disseminate misleading information; Israeli media do it too. In the latest of a line of similar examples, Israel Television Channel Two’s evening news last week broadcast a report by its correspondent Suleiman al-Shafi on a Palestinian mother, showing her baking a cake in Gaza in the hope that her son would come home soon.
The woman was portrayed sympathetically leaving the impression that her son was an innocent victim of the conflict, deserving of release as part of any prisoner swap for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
What the TV report neglected to tell viewers, however, was that he was serving multiple life sentences for the murder of Israelis.
FIRST MUSLIM WOMAN APPOINTED TO HEAD ISRAELI HOSPITAL DEPARTMENT
Rambam Medical Center in Haifa has appointed Dr. Suheir Assady, a Muslim woman, to head its new Nephrology department. Dr. Assady is the first Israeli Muslim woman directing a large medical department in an Israeli hospital, and she is one of only very few to have done so in the entire Middle East. In many other countries in the region, women face severe discrimination.
Dr. Assady was born and resides in the northern Israeli town of Nazareth. She studied medicine at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and completed her internship at Hadassah Medical Center. She subsequently worked in Rambam hospital’s Department of Internal Medicine and at various other departments.
GAY COUPLES MARRY ON TEL AVIV BEACH
Thousands marched in the eighth annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem last week. A week earlier, tens of thousands marched in Tel Aviv’s annual gay pride parade and five gay couples were married on Tel Aviv beach. Such openness – in Jerusalem as well as in Tel Aviv – is unimaginable elsewhere in the Middle East.
WASHINGTON POST SLAMS OBAMA’S “ABSOLUTIST POSITION TOWARDS ISRAEL” AS “A LOSER”
Several senior American commentators are bemused by the level of pressure Obama administration officials have been putting on America’s ally Israel, especially since there doesn’t seem to be any corresponding pressure against any other country in the world.
As I mentioned in the previous dispatch, among them is Washington Post Deputy Editorial Page Editor Jackson Diehl – who in the past has been a critic of Israel. In an important piece in the Post (attached in full further down this dispatch), he argues that Obama, along with Hillary Clinton’s State Department, has gone too far.
No Israeli government of left or right is going to agree to the conditions Obama is demanding, so that Israel can’t even complete the building of a children’s playground or of a medical center in the Jerusalem suburbs. It is doubtful any government in the world would agree to such demands and, as Diehl indicates, (although these words are mine) Obama is demonstrating misguided and clumsy diplomacy in insisting on them instead of concentrating on practical steps that might actually lead to Palestinian statehood.
Diehl says “the Obama administration [needs] to creep away from the corner into which it has painted itself in the Arab-Israeli peace process.” It is making a “mistake,” he says, in taking an “absolutist position” against Israel, which will push Israel beyond what it can deliver and be “a loser” for Obama and for the cause of peace.
The Netanyahu government has already made many concessions, notes Diehl, and yet instead of making some concessions in return, “curiously the administration – led by the State Department – keeps raising the stakes.” Diehl says it would be “foolish” of Obama not to reach some compromise with Israel.
(Diehl’s full piece, which is attached below, is well worth reading.)
SENIOR BUSH OFFICIAL: ISRAEL IS TELLING THE TRUTH, NOT THE STATE DEPT.
In the second full article below, Elliott Abrams, who until six months ago served as Deputy U.S. National Security Advisor, says “Hillary Clinton is wrong about the settlements” and contrary to what the Obama administration is now alleging “The U.S. and Israel reached a clear understanding about natural growth.”
“Despite fervent denials by Obama administration officials, there were indeed agreements between Israel and the United States regarding the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank,” writes Abrams, who was closely involved in the issue from 2001 to 2009.
Indeed the commitments given to Israel by the U.S. were the reason that then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was able to accept the “Roadmap for Peace” between Israel and the Palestinians, and also to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and from some settlements on the West Bank.
As a result of the agreement with Israel, President Bush said “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”
Abrams added that “Bush referred to the 1967 borders – correctly – as merely the lines where the fighting stopped in 1949, and saying that in any realistic peace agreement Israel would be able to negotiate keeping those major settlements.”
Indeed stories in the American press at the time acknowledged these “agreed principles.” (See for example, The New York Times on Aug. 21, 2004.)
Therefore, writes Abrams, statements of the kind made by Hillary Clinton on June 17 that no agreement on settlements existed “are incorrect.”
“Not only were there agreements, but the prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation – the dissolution of his government, the removal of every single Israeli citizen, settlement and military position in Gaza, and the removal of four small settlements in the West Bank. This was the first time Israel had ever removed settlements outside the context of a peace treaty, and it was a major step.”
The U.S. “may be abandoning the deal now, but we cannot rewrite history and make believe it did not exist,” he says.
ISRAELI MEDIA: IF U.S. COMMITMENTS ARE ONLY GOOD FOR ONE PRESIDENT, NO ONE WILL TRUST SUCH PLEDGES IN FUTURE
Almost all the Israeli press continue to be very critical of Obama policies towards Israel.
In an editorial, Israel’s highest circulation paper, Yediot Ahronot, writes: “If it becomes clear, heaven forbid, to Israeli decision-makers that American commitments are only good for the term of the relevant presidential administration, no one will want such pledges any longer.”
Ma’ariv writes: “Obama is pushing the settlement issue in order to proclaim the weakening of Washington-Jerusalem ties, a step which would enhance American influence in the world. Such an analysis – meaning that the Arabs would perceive Israel as no longer enjoying American support, as in the past – conceals seeds of enticement for war, not peace.”
Yisrael Hayom writes: “After six months in power, the picture arises that in the White House sits a man whose vision lies in his desire to reconcile with the bad guys at any price, even at the expense of the good guys. Obama’s conciliatory policy towards Iran has already caused North Korea to smell weakness and has emboldened Pyongyang, which was relatively quiescent during the Bush administration, to thumb its nose at the U.S. and the entire world. While Ahmadinejad is massacring demonstrators, Obama has decided to return his country’s ambassador to Syria, Iran’s prominent ally and main partner in the axis of evil. Six months after assuming office, it is difficult to attribute Obama’s mistakes to inexperience; it seems that this is intentional policy.”
The Jerusalem Post writes: “Barack Obama might want to reflect on how his push for a freeze is being seen among mainstream Israelis – those who want a peace deal. They wonder why there is no withering campaign to pressure Abbas into insisting that a Fatah-Hamas unity government explicitly accept the Quartet’s principles. In its statement issued last Friday, the Quartet told the Palestinians that a peace deal with Israel would require them to end all other claims – implying abandonment of the ‘right of return.’ The Quartet also reiterated that Palestinian unity required Hamas to commit ‘to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations.’ It even demanded the immediate release of Gilad Shalit. Yet, predictably, it was the Quartet’s demand for a freeze on all settlement activity that dominated the news coverage.”
LEADING KADIMA MK: OBAMA IS “PUSHING THE ISRAELI PUBLIC INTO A CORNER”
Member of the Knesset (MK) Otniel Schneller (a leading figure in Israel’s centrist Kadima party, who played an important role in forging peace deals with the Palestinians and Jordan in the 1990s) lashed out against the Obama administration yesterday, saying that American administration officials appeared to be holding beliefs shaped by “far-Left opinions outside of the Israeli consensus.” He said Obama was making a “fatal mistake” and “the most dangerous thing to the peace process is to push the Israeli public into a corner.”
“What does the president of the United States think – that a nuclear Middle East is less dangerous than natural growth in a small settlement? What does the American Jew who voted for Obama think of him now?” asked Schneller.
LEADING PALESTINIAN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP: IDF WAS BETTER IN THE WEST BANK THAN THE NEW PALESTINIAN SECURITY FORCES
Bowing to concerted pressure from Washington and Brussels, Israel last week granted Palestinian security forces greater autonomy in the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Qalqilya, Bethlehem and Jericho. Israel had already dismantled many roadblocks in the West Bank and turned over control in three West Bank cities to Palestinian forces following demands from the U.S. and EU to do so.
However, the so-called international community might want to consider what they are doing and whether Palestinians are really going to be better off. The final article below, by Bassem Eid, the director or the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group based in east Jerusalem, warns that Israeli checkpoints are better than Palestinian Authority ones.
He notes that the PLO (which went on to form the bulk of the Palestinian Authority) was historically “a good friend to the Stasi in East Germany” and even attended Stasi training sessions. Like other Arab security forces trained by the Stasi during the Cold War, says Eid, the Palestinian ones seem to be adopting their methods.
Amazingly, having seen the harsh way the Palestinian security operates in Jericho, Eid asks for “Israelis to put back the checkpoint.”
UNIFIL FINDS 20 LAUNCH-READY KATYUSHAS
In an effort to prevent a flare-up between Hizbullah and Israel, the French and Italian-led UNIFIL force has finally begun entering villages in the area of south Lebanon that it is meant to police in search of Hizbullah weapons caches. (UNIFIL operates under Security Council Resolution 1701, passed following the Hizbullah-Israel War of 2006.)
Last week, in an operation in the eastern sector of southern Lebanon, UNIFIL peacekeepers uncovered 20 Katyusha rockets that were ready for launch. In the past Hizbullah has used such Katyushas to indiscriminately kill and maim Israelis civilians, both Israeli Jews and Arabs.
Israel has repeatedly claimed that UNIFIL has not even attempted to carry out its mandate over the past three years, during which time tens of thousands of Katyusha and other long-range rockets, mostly supplied and paid for by Iran, have been smuggled in from Syria and supplied to Hizbullah.
Were the government of Iran to change significantly, the power of both Hizbullah and Hamas would, in my opinion, likely decline sharply and prospects for Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Lebanese peace would rise dramatically.
AS EUROPEAN UNION BREAKS BAN AND MEETS WITH HIZBULLAH, HIZBULLAH SHOOTS HARIRI SUPPORTERS
Meanwhile, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana broke new diplomatic ground a few days ago when he met with a Hizbullah member of the Lebanese parliament, Hussein Hajj Hassan. The meeting constitutes a sharp contrast with the American policy of not speaking with members of groups listed as terrorist organizations.
Following the meeting, on Sunday Hizbullah allies opened fire in Beirut on supporters of Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. One woman was killed outside her home and at least three people were wounded.
On Saturday Hariri was named by Lebanon’s president as the next prime minister after his pro-Western coalition defeated a Hizbullah-backed alliance in the June 7 election.
Over the past four years, Hariri has faced death threats as he accused Syria of killing his father and other politicians in a campaign of bombings and assassinations in Lebanon.
CAPTURE OF “SPIES” HITS ISRAEL
Two colonels in the Lebanese army have become the latest people to be arrested on charges of spying for Israel. The round-up that began last February has now netted more than 60 suspects. The officers were arraigned by a military court on Monday. Espionage charges are punishable by death in Lebanon. There has been no official reaction from Israel.
In most cases, the suspects are said to have provided Israel with photographs and details of Lebanese and Syrian roads, infrastructure and military movements that Lebanese officials say Israel intends to use when selecting targets for military operations.
When Hizbullah abducted and killed Israeli soldiers on the border on July 12, 2006, Israel responded with waves of airstrikes directed with remarkable accuracy at Hizbullah targets.
Israeli intelligence was so good that Western intelligence officials say that some of it must have come from agents they had on the ground. Those assets may no longer be available, and the Israeli air force may not be able to strike with such devastating accuracy next time around.
AMERICA’S MENNONITE CHURCH REFUSES TO CONDEMN IRAN CRACKDOWN
The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in the United States – which time and again has lambasted Israel – is refusing to condemn the brutal crackdown by Iranian security forces of unarmed demonstrators.
The Mennonite church sponsored two gala dinners with Iranian President Ahmadinejad when he visited New York in 2007 and 2008, and also led an interfaith pilgrimage to Tehran during which Christian leaders lavished praise on Ahmadinejad.
After visiting Tehran in February 2007, the MCC claimed it had been a moderating force on Ahmadinejad but four days later Ahmadinejad visited Sudan, where he said “Zionists are the true manifestation of Satan” and responsible for all the troubles of Sudan.
IRANIAN MILITIA ROUNDING UP INJURED PROTESTORS AND REMOVING THEM FROM HOSPITALS
More than 2,000 Iranians have been arrested and hundreds more have disappeared since the regime decided to crush dissent following disputed elections, the International Federation for Human Rights reported Sunday. Prominent Iranian actors, actresses, writers and singers are believed to have been seized during last weekend, accused of supporting the demonstrators. Several opposition bloggers have fallen silent, having been detained. Judging by the regime’s past record, many are probably now being tortured and some are likely to die of their injuries or “disappear”.
CNN reported on Monday that Iranians wounded during protests are being seized at hospitals by members of the feared Basij militia, and taken to undisclosed locations.
REACHING OUT TO IRAN: NO IRANIAN DIPLOMATS ACCEPTED JULY 4 INVITES
U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly has said that to his knowledge not a single Iranian diplomat has accepted invitations that were sent out worldwide to July 4 events at U.S. embassies.
ISRAEL NOW CLASSIFIED AS “DEVELOPED” MARKET
In a highly significant development for Israel, MSCI (Morgan Stanley Capital International) Barra Inc. has raised Israel’s rating from an “emerging market” to a “developed market.” Israel had previously rated 14th largest on the “emerging” list, with a stock-market value of $134.5 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Recently, the Tel Aviv stock exchange has outperformed all but 3 of the 23 markets MSCI classified as “developed.” According to The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Israel will rank 18th out of 24 on the “developed” list. The shift in classification will enable Israel to attract large amounts of foreign investments not previously available to it.
PERES VISITS AZERBAIJAN AND KAZAKHSTAN, ADDRESSES MUSLIM LEADERS
Israel is continuing to strengthen and expand its strategic, political and economic ties with Muslim countries in central Asia. Following the announcement last month that an Israeli embassy would be opened in Turkmenistan, Israeli President Shimon Peres is this week making the first official Israeli state visit to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Peres is being accompanied by a host of Israeli government and trade officials and representatives from Israeli water technology, agriculture, communications and medical technology companies.
Azerbaijan is of key importance to Israel, in that the Jewish state gets 20 percent of its oil from the former Soviet republic. And possibilities are being investigated for Israel to also buy big quantities of Azerbaijani natural gas.
For the Azerbaijanis, interest centers on the possibility of cooperation in medical research and various high-tech fields, and of importing Israeli agricultural products.
Both countries are also share concerns about threats to them from regional giant Iran.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev invited Peres to be the keynote speaker at an inter-religious conference today with hundreds of Muslim leaders and religious figures from the Middle East and around the world – including the Qatar Emir, the chief rabbis of Israel, a cardinal who leads interfaith issues in the Vatican, an Anglican bishop and representatives of other Protestant denominations worldwide – in attendance.
Iran has recalled its ambassador to Azerbaijan in protest at Peres’s visit, and the Iranian representatives staged a walkout during Peres’s address at the interfaith conference in Astana, Kazakhstan this morning.
During the visit, Peres called Kazakhstan “a land without a drop of anti-Semitism” (as opposed to the grossly unfair stereotype of the country presented in the movie “Borat”.)
FATWA: BANGLADESHI WOMAN BRUTALLY WHIPPED
The Bangladesh Daily Star reported yesterday:
A widow was whipped 202 times and a man 101 times following a fatwa by a religious leader for their alleged involvement in “anti-social activity” in a village in southeastern Bangladesh, prompting local protests and action by the police.
Piara Begum, a widow of 40, and Mamun Miah, 25, were whipped before hundreds of people at Khaiyar in Comilla district Saturday night. The woman fell unconscious and was rushed to hospital. Doctors said she was critically injured and needed to be given intensive treatment. Miah was whipped 101 times.
Islamists in Somalia’s capital punished four men accused of shop-lifting by cutting off a hand and a foot in front of hundreds of onlookers. The punishments are the latest sign that a strict form of sharia law is spreading in Somalia. The Western-backed government is trying to survive an Islamist onslaught.
I attach three articles below.
-- Tom Gross
WASHINGTON POST: OBAMA’S “ABSOLUTIST POSITION IS A LOSER”
End the spat with Israel
By Jackson Diehl
The Washington Post
June 29, 2009
The upheaval in Iran offers the Obama administration a host of fresh foreign policy opportunities. Not the least of them is a chance to creep away from the corner into which it has painted itself in the Arab-Israeli peace process.
President Obama began with a broad strategy of simultaneously pressing Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states to take concrete steps toward peace. By the time Iranians took to the streets, it had allowed that broad front to be narrowed to a single point: a standoff with the Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu over whether “natural growth” would be allowed in Jewish settlements outside Israel’s 1967 borders.
Pressuring Israel made sense, at first. The administration correctly understood that Netanyahu, a right-winger who took office with the clear intention of indefinitely postponing any Israeli-Palestinian settlement, needed to feel some public heat from Washington to change his position – and that the show of muscle would add credibility to the administration’s demands that Arab leaders offer their own gestures. But, starting with a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in May, the administration made the mistake of insisting that an Israeli settlement “freeze” – a term the past three administrations agreed to define loosely – must mean a total stop to all construction in the West Bank and even East Jerusalem.
This absolutist position is a loser for three reasons. First, it has allowed Palestinian and Arab leaders to withhold the steps they were asked for; they claim to be waiting for the settlement “freeze” even as they quietly savor a rare public battle between Israel and the United States. Second, the administration’s objective – whatever its merits – is unobtainable. No Israeli government has ever agreed to an unconditional freeze, and no coalition could be assembled from the current parliament to impose one.
Finally, the extraction of a freeze from Netanyahu is, as a practical matter, unnecessary. While further settlement expansion needs to be curbed, both the Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have gone along with previous U.S.-Israeli deals by which construction was to be limited to inside the periphery of settlements near Israel – since everyone knows those areas will be annexed to Israel in a final settlement. Before the 2007 Annapolis peace conference organized by the Bush administration, Saudi Arabia and other Arab participants agreed to what one former senior official called “the Google Earth test”; if the settlements did not visibly expand, that was good enough.
Netanyahu, whose poor relations with Washington contributed to his ouster from office during a previous stint as prime minister, has been relatively quick to come around. In recent weeks he has delivered a speech in which he agreed for the first time to Palestinian statehood. In the West Bank Israel is removing military roadblocks, turning four more towns over to Palestinian security forces and taking the first steps to remove settlements it deems illegal. Meanwhile, government envoys – led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who will be in Washington today – have been offering various compromise formulas.
Curiously, though, the administration – led by the State Department – keeps raising the stakes. Clinton went out of her way on June 17 to disavow any agreements between the second Bush administration and Israel over “natural growth” in some settlements. In a press briefing last Monday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly responded to a question by saying the administration opposed new construction in all areas “across the [green] line” in Jerusalem – a definition that would prohibit Israeli building in such areas as the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
The result of such posturing is that the administration now faces a choice between a protracted confrontation with Israel – an odd adventure given the pressing challenges from Iran and in Iraq, not to mention the disarray of the Palestinian camp – or a compromise, which might make Obama look weak and provide Arab states further cause to refuse cooperation. The White House, I’m told, still hopes Netanyahu will accept a construction moratorium, with a time limit and perhaps a waiver for some buildings under construction. But at this point some damage is probably unavoidable: If Barak and Middle East envoy George J. Mitchell agree on any formula short of that spelled out by Clinton and her spokesman, Arab media will trumpet it as an Obama cave-in.
The best course nevertheless lies in striking a quick deal with the left-leaning Barak this week under cover of the tumult in Tehran. The administration could then return to doing what it intended to do all along: press Palestinians as well as Israelis, friendly Arab governments and not-so-friendly Iranian clients such as Syria to take tangible steps toward a regional settlement. Such movement would be the perfect complement to the cause of change in Iran; how foolish it would be to squander it over a handful of Israeli apartment houses.
“WE CANNOT REWRITE HISTORY AND MAKE BELIEVE IT DID NOT EXIST”
Hillary is wrong about the settlements
The U.S. and Israel reached a clear understanding about natural growth.
By Elliott Abrams
The Wall Street Journal
June 25, 2009
Despite fervent denials by Obama administration officials, there were indeed agreements between Israel and the United States regarding the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. As the Obama administration has made the settlements issue a major bone of contention between Israel and the U.S., it is necessary that we review the recent history.
In the spring of 2003, U.S. officials (including me) held wide-ranging discussions with then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. The “Roadmap for Peace” between Israel and the Palestinians had been written. President George W. Bush had endorsed Palestinian statehood, but only if the Palestinians eliminated terror. He had broken with Yasser Arafat, but Arafat still ruled in the Palestinian territories. Israel had defeated the intifada, so what was next?
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, President George W. Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Jordan’s King Abdullah, June 4, 2003.
We asked Mr. Sharon about freezing the West Bank settlements. I recall him asking, by way of reply, what did that mean for the settlers? They live there, he said, they serve in elite army units, and they marry. Should he tell them to have no more children, or move?
We discussed some approaches: Could he agree there would be no additional settlements? New construction only inside settlements, without expanding them physically? Could he agree there would be no additional land taken for settlements?
As we talked several principles emerged. The father of the settlements now agreed that limits must be placed on the settlements; more fundamentally, the old foe of the Palestinians could – under certain conditions – now agree to Palestinian statehood.
In June 2003, Mr. Sharon stood alongside Mr. Bush, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas at Aqaba, Jordan, and endorsed Palestinian statehood publicly: “It is in Israel’s interest not to govern the Palestinians but for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state. A democratic Palestinian state fully at peace with Israel will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state.” At the end of that year he announced his intention to pull out of the Gaza Strip.
The U.S. government supported all this, but asked Mr. Sharon for two more things. First, that he remove some West Bank settlements; we wanted Israel to show that removing them was not impossible. Second, we wanted him to pull out of Gaza totally – including every single settlement and the “Philadelphi Strip” separating Gaza from Egypt, even though holding on to this strip would have prevented the smuggling of weapons to Hamas that was feared and has now come to pass. Mr. Sharon agreed on both counts.
These decisions were political dynamite, as Mr. Sharon had long predicted to us. In May 2004, his Likud Party rejected his plan in a referendum, handing him a resounding political defeat. In June, the Cabinet approved the withdrawal from Gaza, but only after Mr. Sharon fired two ministers and allowed two others to resign. His majority in the Knesset was now shaky.
After completing the Gaza withdrawal in August 2005, he called in November for a dissolution of the Knesset and for early elections. He also said he would leave Likud to form a new centrist party. The political and personal strain was very great. Four weeks later he suffered the first of two strokes that have left him in a coma.
Throughout, the Bush administration gave Mr. Sharon full support for his actions against terror and on final status issues. On April 14, 2004, Mr. Bush handed Mr. Sharon a letter saying that there would be no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. Instead, the president said, “a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.”
On the major settlement blocs, Mr. Bush said, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” Several previous administrations had declared all Israeli settlements beyond the “1967 borders” to be illegal. Here Mr. Bush dropped such language, referring to the 1967 borders – correctly – as merely the lines where the fighting stopped in 1949, and saying that in any realistic peace agreement Israel would be able to negotiate keeping those major settlements.
On settlements we also agreed on principles that would permit some continuing growth. Mr. Sharon stated these clearly in a major policy speech in December 2003: “Israel will meet all its obligations with regard to construction in the settlements. There will be no construction beyond the existing construction line, no expropriation of land for construction, no special economic incentives and no construction of new settlements.”
Ariel Sharon did not invent those four principles. They emerged from discussions with American officials and were discussed by Messrs. Sharon and Bush at their Aqaba meeting in June 2003.
They were not secret, either. Four days after the president’s letter, Mr. Sharon’s Chief of Staff Dov Weissglas wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that “I wish to reconfirm the following understanding, which had been reached between us: 1. Restrictions on settlement growth: within the agreed principles of settlement activities, an effort will be made in the next few days to have a better definition of the construction line of settlements in Judea & Samaria.”
Stories in the press also made it clear that there were indeed “agreed principles.” On Aug. 21, 2004 the New York Times reported that “the Bush administration . . . now supports construction of new apartments in areas already built up in some settlements, as long as the expansion does not extend outward.”
In recent weeks, American officials have denied that any agreement on settlements existed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated on June 17 that “in looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility.”
These statements are incorrect. Not only were there agreements, but the prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation – the dissolution of his government, the removal of every single Israeli citizen, settlement and military position in Gaza, and the removal of four small settlements in the West Bank. This was the first time Israel had ever removed settlements outside the context of a peace treaty, and it was a major step.
It is true that there was no U.S.-Israel “memorandum of understanding,” which is presumably what Mrs. Clinton means when she suggests that the “official record of the administration” contains none. But she would do well to consult documents like the Weissglas letter, or the notes of the Aqaba meeting, before suggesting that there was no meeting of the minds.
Mrs. Clinton also said there were no “enforceable” agreements. This is a strange phrase. How exactly would Israel enforce any agreement against an American decision to renege on it? Take it to the International Court in The Hague?
Regardless of what Mrs. Clinton has said, there was a bargained-for exchange. Mr. Sharon was determined to break the deadlock, withdraw from Gaza, remove settlements – and confront his former allies on Israel’s right by abandoning the “Greater Israel” position to endorse Palestinian statehood and limits on settlement growth. He asked for our support and got it, including the agreement that we would not demand a total settlement freeze.
For reasons that remain unclear, the Obama administration has decided to abandon the understandings about settlements reached by the previous administration with the Israeli government. We may be abandoning the deal now, but we cannot rewrite history and make believe it did not exist.
PALESTINIAN HUMAN RIGHTS MONITORING GROUP DIRECTOR: ISRAELI CHECKPOINTS BETTER THAN PA SECURITY ALTERNATIVE
By Bassem Eid
The Jerusalem Post
June 24, 2009
Between 1950 and 1989 in East Germany, the Stasi persecuted individuals, journalists and intellectuals who were suspected of operating against the regime. The majority of the methods focused on eavesdropping, spying, operating agents (with one agent for every 66 people), stalking and torture. The Stasi also spied on school children, high-school students and ordinary civilians to learn about their relations with West Germany. I can assume that the Stasi didn’t receive training from the same Dayton that trains the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank.
However, it is very possible that Lt.-Gen. Keith W. Dayton, the US security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, is interested in the Stasi’s methods, its success in gathering information and recruiting citizens. The PLO had been a good friend to the Stasi. I dare to assume the PLO even operated concurrent training sessions in East Germany, and accordingly later introduced and employed these methods in Arab countries where it was based.
I’D LIKE to divulge some of the methods the agents of the Palestinian security forces use in Jericho, where I live. For instance, many taxi drivers have become agents. When in Jericho, there is no need to give the driver the address of the person you want to visit; the name is enough. While dropping off someone at a certain address, the driver contacts his operator and report driving person A or B to C’s location. Vegetable merchants and farmers have also become agents to protect their own personal interests (working on lots without permission, continuing to drive a taxi without a license, etc.). These people are forced to pay the “cheap” price of becoming an agent to secure their narrow personal interests.
A decade ago, on my first visit to Egypt, the citizens of Cairo warned me about the shoe polishers in the street, who are also in the employ of the Egyptian Security Agency. I believe that is the only thing Jericho lacks today: shoe polishers. There are several high-ranking officers who have between four and six bodyguards each. Those bodyguards act aggressively and violently, as if they constituted the government itself. Embarrassingly, in my eyes, the rule of law doesn’t apply to them, but vice versa.
Once, I ran into an interrogator while driving and didn’t notice I had been asked to pull over. He requested that I follow him to the station. My interrogator claimed to have known me for several years, after seeing me in a show on Israeli television in 1995, where I presented a harsh criticism of the Palestinian Authority. I asked him how old he had been then, and he answered 11. His vindictive behavior gave me the feeling that he has been pursuing me ever since. I decided to infuriate him even further: when he asked if I was proud to be a Palestinian, I answered “No.”
THE MAIN problem with such agents, all of whom have adopted the name Abu al-Abed, is that they’re the lowest form of humanity. They intimidate the common people through curses and beatings. Not satisfied with that, they spread rumors about everything they hear or see.
Jericho lives with this reality daily. Each morning you hear about the girls who ran away from their West Bank homes to Jericho, traditionally considered a city of refuge, only to have the Security Agency look for them – or about girls who stayed in X’s house and now the Security Agency has found them. Agents and bodyguards will often mention that they haven’t receive their salaries, subtly suggesting the need for a quick bribe.
When Israel removed the checkpoint at the southern entrance to Jericho, the Palestinian Security Agency started to work harder and began to despise the local people even more. It claims that Israel has given them too much work by removing the checkpoint. I, as a Palestinian, in consideration of the Palestinian Security Agency’s need to take some tasks off its shoulders, request that Israelis put back the checkpoint. But of course that is left to the judgment of Ehud Barak and not me.
After saying good-bye to one friend I met in the streets of Jericho, another would arrive and warn me that the first was under “a question mark,” meaning he was apparently a security agent. Events of this sort bring me back to the 1970s, several years after the beginning of the occupation, when people in the streets of Palestine feared each other.
I would like to suggest that Gen. Dayton not just train agents in the use of weapons, beating and torture (eight prisoners have been tortured to death in Palestinian prisons so far this year: five in Gaza, three in the West Bank), but also train them how to behave among their own people. However, I don’t believe that ranks high on Dayton’s list of priorities.
Whenever someone is beaten or tortured, the justification given is that the person either “opposed the peace process” or “belonged to Hamas.”
At the end of the day, people return to their routines and shut their eyes to the reality around them.
(The writer is the founder and director or the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group based in east Jerusalem.)