After several false starts, a truce has been agreed between Israel and Gaza, with both Egypt and the United States playing a significant role in the process. This will be a relief both for those Israelis who have suffered rocket fire from Hamas and from other groups in Gaza and the far greater number of Gazans who have been the deliberate or collateral targets of Israeli firepower. But does the truce offer more than a breathing space? Essentially, the core situation has not changed: Gaza is still subject to a cruel blockade, which means that many products, including building materials, are kept out by Israel and even humanitarian aid convoys from Turkey and other friendly states cannot get through by sea. Israel has made no firm offer to lift that blockade, though at least the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo is more sympathetic to the Gazan’s plight than Hosni Mubarak was. What has received little attention, though, is the amount of protest that has broken out in the Occupied West Bank, causing some Arab commentators to wonder whether a Third Intifada is on the cards. What seems to me to be certain is that until the Israeli government changes its policies and starts the evacuation of the West Bank, rather than continuing to build settlements both there and in East Jerusalem in defiance of International Law, there will be no stability in the region. To my mind, the Arab-Israeli conflict is merely on hold, and probably not for very long.
Posts Tagged ‘West Bank’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st November, 2012
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th February, 2012
Jerusalem is known as the City of Peace, yet for so long over the past two millennia it has been the focus of strife. The three monotheistic religions all claim a crucial stake in Jerusalem’s spiritual heritage and two peoples — Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab — see the city as their natural capital. The ideal solution would be to share the place equitably, of course, but prospects for that look as bleak now as at any time since the 1967 War, when the Arab defeat led to the occupation by Israeli forces of East Jerusalem and the West Bank (and more). Since then, as has been underlined by several speakers at the high-level International Conference on Jerusalem which opened in Doha, Qatar, today, the Israelis have acquired increasing amounts of land in and around Arab East Jerusalem, through purchase, confiscation or other means. The (justified) complaint of the Palestinians is that East Jerusalem has effectively been cut off from the West Bank, by a mixture of illegal Jewish settlements and the so-called Security Wall. And the judification of the city continues apace, as the pressure on Arabs — both Christian and Muslim — to move out grows. The entire Arab world stands in solidarity with the Palestinians in their plight, but as the Emir Of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad, declared bluntly this morning, this has failed to resolve the situation. Israeli violations of International Law are manifold, yet Israel seems to get away with this with impunity. As several speakers today pointed out, so long as the United States continue to give Israel carte blanche it is difficult to see an early solution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), in his contribution, emphasized that there will be no new summit-level negotiations with Israel so long as it keeps on expanding settlements, and if things go on in the same way much longer I fear there will be no viable two-state solution possible. We may already have passed the point of no return. But as Afif Safiah, Palestinian global diplomat, said this afternoon, echoing Gramschi: ‘We need to overcome the pessimism of the mind with the optimism of the will.’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th October, 2011
Chatham House this afternoon hosted a ‘conversation’ with former US Senator George Mitchell and former Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband on the theme ‘The Middle East in the 21st Century’. It was striking that the focus of the discussion was almost entirely about that most 20th Century of questions: the Arab-Israeli conflict and the related ongoing occupation of the Palestinian West Bank. George Mitchell — who was President Obama’s Envoy to the region for a period — believes there will be a two-state solution one day, but stuck to Washington’s line that this can only come about through negotiation. I made the point that so long as settlement expansion continues, in East Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank, there can be no negotiated settlement and indeed a Palestinian state is looking increasingly unviable. The US is the only country that can put sufficient pressure on the Israeli government to halt settlements, but it has shown its unwillingness to back calls for a halt with any action (such as cutting aid to Israel). Moreover, George Mitchell — charming and drily witty as he is — also endorsed the US line on voting against the Palestinian Authority’s current attempt to get statehood recognised at the United Nations. David Miliband, interestingly, said he thought that President Abbas had used brilliant tactics in making this move, in that it thrust the issue of Palestine into the limelight when it was running the risk of being overshadowed by the so-called Arab Spring. David Miliband also wished to see the peace efforts further internationalised, with Arab states having a more direct input and Europe making its voice heard more strongly.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th May, 2011
Every year the Palestinian people mark 15 May — the anniversary of the 1948 founding of the State of Israel — as the Nakba or Catastrophe. This year, there were larger demonstrations than usual, not just in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank but also in the Golan Heights of Syria, bordering the Israeli-occupied zone, and along the border between Lebanon and Israel. At least 15 were reported killed in clashes and many scores more wounded. Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says he has ordered troops to act with restraint, but nothing contradicts the fact that the IDS fired on unarmed protestors. Despite this tragic turn of events, however, there was also a mood of optimism in the Occupied Territories today, both because of the recent agreement between Hamas and Fatah to try to ovecome their differences and form a government of national unity, and because of the Arab Awakening that has been sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. Interestingly, in Cairo, thousands of people turned out to protest in commemmoration of the Nakba outside the Israeli Embassy. Late into the night clashes with security forces continued there. But there is little doubt that with the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt — Israel’s key Arab treaty pertner — is no longer such a friendly neighbour prepared to accept continuing Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th August, 2010
The Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy — one of the sanest Jewish voices in Israel today — is in Britain at the moment to promote his new book The Punishment of Gaza (Verso), an impassioned account of the one of the latest and most grotesque aspects of the prolonged Israeli policy of belligerency and occupation. I met Mr Levy along with a number of other journalists and area specialists for an informal session in London and he is a very impressive performer. He reminded us starkly that Israel has been an occupying power for more than two-thirds of its existence, during which it has invaded and occupied every one of its neighbours: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, as well as so far preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Yet still Israel presents itself as a victim. Most Israelis, Gideon Levy argues, are indifferent to this situation. They live the good life — especially if they are in Tel Aviv — and largely ignore what is going on in the occupied territories. Settlement building continues, despite the fact that the presence of 500,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem now make a two-state solution virtually impossible. The main Israeli political parties are virtually alike and the small liberal ones of yore have died out. Israel is demonstrably an apartheid society, Mr Levy argues, and that situation can only get worse. He is pessimistic that change can come from within Israel itself, particularly after the influx of Russians after the collapse of the Soviet Union, may of whom swell the ranks of the far right and often racist political forces. And as the only voice Israel listens to is Washington’s, the only hope is if the United States puts its foot down. But President Obama, beholden to Congress and the more conservative Jewish lobbying groups — appears incapable of living up to early promise in promoting a just peace. On the gound, new mooted negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are likely to deliver nothing of real substance.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th December, 2009
Tomorrow human rights activists around the world will be commemorating — but certainly not celebrating — the first anniversary of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against the population of Gaza. As was made clear in the report by Judge Richard Goldstone and his UN team, there is sufficient evidence to warrant investigations into both the Israeli Defense Force and Hamas on charges of war crimes. Several senior Israeli politicians amd military leaders are theoretically at risk of being arrested when they traval abroad, though many Western governments have reassured them that they will in fact be safe from prosecution. Just as Israel has consistently violated the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international law — not least by the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank and the systematic judaisation of East Jerusalem — without any effective international sanction. The British government has been shameful in its relative silence, mouthing token protests at settlement activity, for example, without doing anything pratical to bring Israel to heel — including putting pressure on Washington. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu got a noticeably warm welcome from Gordon Brown when he visited 10 Downing Street a while back.
There is only one mainstream British political party, the Liberal Democrats (and only one party leader, Nick Clegg). that can hold its head up high on the Palestinian issue, not only for endorsing the Goldstone Report but also for reminding the British electorate of the ongoing suffering in Gaza as well as in the Occupied Territories. The LibDems have rightly condemned Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli communities and other forms of terror activity. But that does not justify the treatment the Palestinian civilian population is still receiving at the hands of the Israeli Defense Force and some militant Jewish settlers. The most urgent priority now is for Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, so people there can regain some sort of normality in their lives. Nick Clegg made a clear and brave statement about that in an article in The Guardian earlier this week. So, tomorrow mourn for the victims of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, on both sides of the divide. And stand up for the right of the Palestinians to be treated as dignified human beings.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Arab=Israeli conflict, Binyamin Netanyahu, East Jerusalem, Gaza, Geneva Conventions, Goldstone Report, Gordon Brown, Hamas, Israel, Israeli Defense Force, ldfp, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, Operation Cast Lead, Palestine, Palestinians, Richard Goldstone, The Guardian, West Bank | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th September, 2009
The Israeli government has blown a giant raspberry at the UN report into the hostilities in and around Gaza earlier this year, in which an estimated 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died. The 575-page document was put together by a small team headed by the eminent South African judge Richard Goldstone. The Israeli authorities refused to allow the team into Israel or the occupied West Bank to carry out their work, but the investigators did go to Gaza and interviewed Israelis in Geneva (the UN’s European headquarters). Israel’s excuse for not cooperating with the investigation was that it was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council which, Tel Aviv says, is biased against it. To mark the appearance of the report, Israeli embassies round the world put out a strong press release rubbishing it (and Judge Goldstone).
They should not have done. The report bends over backwards to be impartial. It slams Gaza’s Hamas rulers – rightly — for the rocket attacks on Israel which did not distinguish between military and vivilian targets, caused terror among Israeli citizens and therefore ‘would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.’ Similarly, the report rebukes Gaza’s security forces for carrying out extraditional executions and the arbitrary arrest, detention and ill-treatment of political opponents. It also calls for the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been in captivity for over three years and who should, the report argues, be released on humanitarian grounds.
Alas, the Israeli government has chosen instead to smart at the stern reproaches the report gives over Israel’s conduct of the Gaza offensive, which it describes as a ‘deliberately disproportionate attack, designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population.’ It says that Israeli troops used Palestinians as human shields — a war crime — and that Israeli forces committed ‘grave breaches of the fourth Geneva Convention, which gave rise to ‘individual criminal responsiblity.’ In other words, individual soldiers could find themselves the subject of prosecuton. Moreover, the Golstone team opined, Israels’ blockade of Gaza in the years before the hostilities amounted to intentional collective punishment. And Israeli actions depriving Gazans of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, as wellas denying their freedom of movement, ‘could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, had been committed.’
These are grave charges, but justified ones. The question now is whether the international community — including Britain and other EU member states — is prepared not just to acknowledge this but to enforce the loigcal consequences — in other words the arrest of certain individuals when they are travelling, and/or appropriate sanctions. In the meantnime, the Israeli propaganda machine is doing everything it can to denigrate Judge Goldstone, a man of immense integrity and experience. The irony is that Richard Goldstone is Jewish and has always considered himself to be a friend of Israel. But this is Israeli government, like its predecessor, has an uncany knack of alienating its friends.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 25th August, 2009
The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will receive his Israeli counterpart, Binyamin Netanyahu, at 10 Downing Street this afternoon. Behind the diplomatic courtesies, some hard truths need to be conveyed, namely that there will never be peace in the Middle East unless the Israeli government changes its policies towards the Palestinians, and that a viable, independent Palestinian state — which is in principle what most people want — is being made impossible by the continuing Israeli colonisation of the West Bank.
Settlements are the key issue at this juncture, as Barack Obama has rightly stressed (though without the necessary threat of sanctions unless something is done about them). President Obama has called for a freeze on new building, which Bibi Netanyahu’s government is blithely ignoring. But a freeze is not enough. A phased process of withdrawal of settlers needs to be started, as happened years ago in Gaza. Zealots who continue to set up illegal ‘outposts’ on Palestinian land need to be prosecuted, not protected. Mr Netanyahu also needs to be reminded forcefully that all of the West Bank settlements are illegal under international law anyway.
Secondly, the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem must stop. Arabs — both Muslims and Christians — are being pushed out of their homes and businesses, by a mixture of persuasion, intimidation and force, including house demolitions. The clear objective is to make Jerusalem as far as possible a Jewish city, the undivided ‘capital’ of the Jewish state of Israel. This is a violation of thousands of years of heritage of a unique town, holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. It should have become an international city after the partition of Palestine and Britain, as the country that held the Mandate for Palestine, has a responsibility to try to ensure that that heritage is not detroyed.
Last but not least, there is the issue of the blockade of Gaza, which must be lifted, on both humanitarian and pragmatic grounds. There then has to be dialogue with Hamas. That won’t be easy, but the mutual loathing and reciprocal violence will never be overcome unless there is some constructive engagement.
Of course, the responsibility for change does not rest entirely on the Israeli side. Far from it. But today Gordon Brown is seeing the Israeli leader, so these points need to be stressed. The next time a Palestinian leader is invited to 10 Downing Street, I will set out some uncomfortable but necessary truths for the Palestinians too.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 20th January, 2009
The United Nations has estimated that it will cost billions of dollars to repair the damage done to Gaza’s infrastructure as a consequence of the three-week Israeli onslaught. UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, is currently visiting the north of the battered Strip to get a personal idea of the challenges of reconstruction. Meanwhile, John Holmes, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, says hundreds of millions of dollars are needed immediately to help the 1.4 million Gazans living in dire conditions. Mr Holmes said that some neighbourhoods have been almost totally destroyed, and many homes have been reduced to rubble. Unexploded ordinance is a big problem, raw sewage is flowing in the streets and people’s food, water and medical needs are immense. A number of UN facilities, not least schools, were also trashed in the Israeli assault.
The big question now is: who should pay to put things right? The Palestinans don’t have the necessary resources. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has promised $1 billion, which is a significant start. And some emergency funds should be available from within the UN budget. The EU will doubtless rally round too, though Europeans would be right to feel aggrieved that facilities their tax money pays for — including in the occupied West Bank – sometimes get pulverised by the Israelis with impunity.
But the big question that few Western politicians have so far dared to ask is: shouldn’t Israel be obliged to pay war reperations? Especially if cases of war crimes are launched against the Israeli Defence Force and the government in Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, perhaps it would be appropriate for the incoming Obama administration in Washington to divert some of the money the US annually gives in aid to Israel to helping rebuild Gaza instead. That would certainly be a more positive contribution to promoting Middle East peace.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 9th January, 2009
When Tony Blair was appointed the Madrid Quartet’s Middle East Envoy 18 months ago, there was a certain amount of incredulity in the Muslim world. Here was the man who had swallowed the mendacious US line on Iraq and taken British troops into a war that was opposed by huge swaths of the British public. I, too, was critical of the decision, but once he was in post (operating out of a comfortable suite in the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem), I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and see what, if anything, he could come up wth.
Well, tonight, in an extensive interview with Gavin Esler on BBC2′s ‘Newsnight’, Blair confirmed my worst suspicions. Commenting on the current Gazan situation, the former Prime Minister made not one word of criticism, let alone condemnation, of the bloody Israeli assault on Gaza. He parroted the line out of Tel Aviv that all the blame should be placed on Hamas’s shoulders, and argued that only Hamas can extricate the people of Gaza from the current situation, essentially by capitulating. Despite being one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace agreement, in which negotiation with the IRA/Sinn Fein was a key element, he rejected even the idea that Western countries should talk to Hamas.
I have no truck for the rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas and other radical Islamic groups based in Gaza. I have consistently denounced them and continue to do so. However, to peddle the Israeli myth that the root of the current crisis is the Hama rockets, as Tony Blair is doing, is an obscene distortion of reality. What about the Israeli blockade, which has been turning the Gaza Strip into what the Vatican has now referred to as a giant concentration camp? And what about the 40 years of illegal occupation of the West Bank and its ongoing settlement by Israelis, in total violation of international law?
The extremely effective Israeli PR machine is yet again trying to portray Israelis as the victims. But this just will not wash. Listen to the UN officials, one after another, being driven in their anguish to state openly that Israeli actions in Gaza — including the bombing of schools and the slaughter of civilians — may now prove to be war crimes.
Tony Blair must know this. He is not stupid or ill-informed. But he is the wrong man for the job as Middle East peace envoy. One of the first things Barack Obama should do when he takes office as US President in a fortnight’s time is to move to get him replaced.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: American Colony Hotel, Barack Obama, Gavin Esler, Gaza, Iraq War, Israel, Jerusalem, Madrid Quartet, Middle East envoy, Newsnight, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Tel Aviv, Tony Blair, West Bank | 5 Comments »