Posts Tagged Palestinian Authority

EXCLUSIVE LEAK: Palestinian Authority letter to Netanyahu


After years of refusing to negotiate or meet with the Israelis, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has sent Israelis Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu A LETTER!

PM Netanyahu meets with Saeb Erekat and Majad Faraj 17-Apr-2012.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to achieving peace. This evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with representatives from the Palestinian side who gave him a letter from President Abbas. Within two weeks, a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be given to President Abbas.  Both sides hope that this exchange of letters will help find a way to advance peace.

Against all odds, the letter itself has been leaked to Major Karnage and is reproduced below in its entirety:

Dear Bibi,

I know I haven’t been in touch for a while, but I thought that it may be time to give it another go.

I have to admit, I never got over Olmert — even after he was indicted for corruption and then launched that whole “Gaza incursion” thing. I just… I guess I was so hung up on him that I didn’t give you a chance.

You know, it’s sometimes so hard to accept that someone can change. We used to fight all the time when we were younger. It was just so hard to believe that you were serious when you said you wanted a two-state solution too. And there’s the whole settlement thing of course.

I feel so stupid now, I should have trusted you. I know it couldn’t have been easy to come out like that! I know your dad has always been against the whole idea and you’re the first Likkudnik to take this step. I know how important Lieberman and Yishai are to you, you must have been under so much pressure!

I’ve had to come a long way too, you know. I can see why you would doubt that I had really renounced terror — especially when I’m still putting on parades for released terror convicts and naming schools after suicide bombers. But I’ve grown up, really. All that’s in the past, it’s not worth us sulking like this.

Look, I can’t promise that I can reign-in the other guys, but I have finally realised that I have to do this. I guess we both have to take a leap of faith, but let’s face it, we’re not getting any younger.

Anyway, I’ll understand if you need time to think about it, but please write back. I can’t face not hearing from you for another three years.



Abu Mazen


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Olmert Rebukes J Street at their own Conference

Anyone else who just watched Ehud Olmert addressing J Street saw a great performance from the former Israeli Prime Minister. I have a feeling that it was not quite what the organisers of the conference had envisioned when they organised for him to give the keynote address at their conference.

Olmert did criticise the current Israeli Government (he is from the opposition party after all) and he did laud J Street as a legitimate pro-Israel organisation, but he made a lot of points that run counter to J Street’s narrative and policy platforms.

For instance, he spoke about the Iranian threat to Israel and made it clear that the military option, while a last resort, is on the table in order to prevent a nuclear Iran. Also, after speaking at length about the need to make peace and how the current Israeli Government is not moving towards peace (which I don’t entirely disagree with), he very bluntly stated that Palestinians have responsibilities and they do not always meet those responsibilities — proceeding to detail the generous proposal he made to Mahmoud Abbas and how this was walked away from.

(I will note that he spent a while heaping praise on Abbas and explaining that Abbas does not support terrorism and is a partner for peace. My feeling is that this may be true, but Abbas faces a lot of internal opposition in Fatah.)

Most importantly, he said that he will not ask J Street to go to their government and ask them to pressure the government of Israel. As he said, “is this an American problem?” This is exactly the argument I have been using against J Street’s methodology. Israeli government policy is an Israeli problem, it is not America’s place to pressure them one way or the other and doing so often backfires — creating resentment for America in Israel, winning sympathy for the more extreme elements of Israeli society and generally hardening the Israeli mindset against America’s agenda.

Barukh Binah, the deputy chief of mission at Israel’s Washington embassy, made a similar point when he addressed the conference. I hope (but don’t expect) that J Street’s leaders will take this on board and start re-evaluating their raison d’etre. There are a lot of more productive uses of their time than lobbying Congress.

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Israel: more on Sudanese refugees and West Bank demolitions

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

I’ll end on the positive note. Bad news first then.

Remember those solar panels in the West Bank that the Palestinian Authority-controlled media said were “circumventing” Israeli policy? Well, Haaretz — i.e. Israeli independent media — has ironically published a far more damning protrayal of what Israel has been doing. Admittedly this comes from Akiva Eldar, a journalist who has been known to make questionable claims on scant evidence (for instance, he recently claimed that Australia’s Jewish community is being turned-off by Israel’s right-wing coalition’s policies, based on an interview with one person, who happens to be a member of a left-wing Israeli organisation).

Nevertheless, Eldar makes a very valid point: the impending demolition of these panels highlights the frankly unjustifiable dichotomy between the way that Palestinians and Israelis are treated in area C. In the excerpt below, Eldar is alluding to the settlement outposts that the Israeli High Court has actually ruled illegally built on private Palestinian land and issued demolition orders as a result. Coalition partners Israel Beitenu are currently in the process of retrospectively legalising these outposts so they are not demolished.

Israel demolishes West Bank villages as Jewish outposts remains untouched – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

It happened last Wednesday. Civil Administration officer Nabil Tafsh arrived at Youssef Awad’s hut accompanied by a bulldozer. Awad told Rabbis for Human Rights representatives summoned to the site that the official informed him he had one minute to leave the hut and remove the sheep from their pen. Two soldiers forcibly removed Awad and, in a flash, the bulldozer flattened his minimal possessions into a pile of rubble.

… Around 1,500 people in 16 communities, that have been in the area since the 19th century, now benefit from energy produced by these installations, which provide lighting and electricity to their modest dairy product business. A few weeks ago, the Israeli administration – the one that arranges to run high-tension lines over their heads to supply illegal outposts – decided to issue work stoppage orders to five installations. The demolition orders expected to follow will darken the homes of 500 people. Children will revert to straining their eyes as they do their homework in the light of oil lamps, and the women will go back to churning butter and cheeses with blistered hands.

…  Civil Administration officials are busy with Palestinians’ wind turbines and goat pens. No wonder, then, they have no time to deal with a few structures that settlers are building on stolen lands. Not just stolen from Palestinian landowners, but also from the Palestinian Authority.

Two days ago, Haaretz published a list of outposts that are moving into agricultural plots in Area B, which is under Palestinian Authority civil control. A petition submitted to the High Court of Justice on Monday by a resident of the northern West Bank village of Amatin, with the assistance of Yesh Din, shows that the name of the Havat Gilad outpost was omitted from the list.

The petition claimed that people from the outpost built two houses on Palestinian land, contrary to the law and the Oslo Accords. The inspectors are in no rush to go back there. The last time, they got out by the skin of their teeth. Regarding this matter as well, there was no comment from the Civil Administration.

And the good news? Well, remember the Sudanese refugees who flee to Israel through the Sinai, dodging Bedoins who kidnap and torture them, as well as Egyptian soldiers who shoot them on sight? Well, the Tel Aviv municipality and local residents have decided that they can’t let them sleep out in the cold any longer once they reach Israel, and have begun building shelters and supplying hot meals to them.

TA city hall builds shelters for homeles… JPost – National News.

The Tel Aviv Municipality and the organization “Lasova” on Monday opened a temporary shelter for the dozens of homeless African migrants sleeping in Lewinsky Park in South Tel Aviv.

The municipality said the two metal and canvass structures will be broken down each morning and reassembled at night until the end of the winter weather.

On Monday evening, around 50 Africans lined up for free soup handed out by missionaries from a local evangelical church, who also handed out bibles in a number of languages. A number of the migrants also milled around the two shelters, each of which included around 40-50 cots covered with thin foam mattresses.

This is definitely encouraging and hopefully signals a shift in the way these African refugees are dealt with. They present a very complicated situation for Israel to deal with, the reasons why are beyond the scope of this post but will hopefully be addressed in future. That said, it could simply be that the Secular and educated Israeli society that lives on the coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa is growing further and further away from the rest of Israeli society.

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That awkward moment when even your supporters think you’re all idiots (BDS)

A video (below) is being sent around of Norman Finkelstein aggressively criticising what he calls the “Solidarity Movement”, referring to the movement of people who claim “solidarity” with Palestinians. For those of you who aren’t aware, Finkelstein is a crackpot “academic” who is the son of Holocaust survivors, yet he has made a career out of downplaying the significance of the Holocaust by claiming that it was “just another genocide” and creating a conspiracy theory whereby it has been turned into some sort of “industry” to further the goals of a “Jewish elite”. Well I say “career”, he was denied academic tenure and has become pretty marginalised and discredited over the years. For more on this, see Harry’s Place HERE, Will Yakowicz HERE and Armin Rosen HERE.

As you may have guessed, Finkelstein has for a while been a poster-boy for the anti-Israel and antisemitic world. Amongst other things, he has the dubious honour of being named as one of the “good Jews” by John Mearsheimer, when Mearsheimer was distinguishing between the few righteous Jews out there and the rest. This is why his criticism of that very movement is so significant.

Note: contrary to what some have been saying, particularly in pro-Israel circles, Finkelstein was not criticising the BDS movement. In fact, Finkelstein is in favour of BDS and was quite clear about that – what he was criticising is the Solidarity movement in particular, which is the movement behind BDS but is not the same as the tactic of boycotting Israel. That said, I will use them interchangeably below, nuances aside.

Finkelstein’s flaws aside, he makes a very important point in the last five minutes, one that he is in a rare position to actually make first-hand, having been immersed in the BDS movement for years: the claim about BDS being supported by “Palestinian Civil Society” is complete rubbish. BDS is supported by a few hundred NGO’s and Unions based in Ramallah and under the direct control of the Palestinian Authority, most of which don’t seem to actually do anything except support BDS. The idea that this is “Palestinian Civil Society” is a complete propaganda exercise; these groups have no legitimacy at all in making that claim, they are all following the agenda of what amounts to a dictatorial regime.

The other important point that Finkelstein makes is that the Solidarity movement is a small, inward-looking cult whose members constantly reaffirm each other’s viewpoints and think they are duping the rest of the world, when in fact their goals are completely transparent.

For instance, he points out that while the Solidarity movement tries to maintain that it has no stance on whether they support a one or two state solution, it is quite clear that they actually support a one-state solution and Israel is not that state. This is well-documented, but it’s good to hear it from an insider – especially since, as he points out, the BDS architects “think they’re so clever” by arguing for “human rights” and “the return of refugees”.

Finally, he makes a good point about selective use of international law: despite the fact that Israel was recognised as a “Jewish state” under international law, they seek its destruction, and yet they use international law to criticise Israel’s presence in the West Bank etc. I would argue that the pro-settler Israelis demonstrate the same hypocrisy, but the status of the West Bank is far more ambiguous than the recognition of Israel.

Anyway, I did see one response to this amongst the numerous (and pretty amusing) outraged members of the Solidarity movement, so allow me to rebut that quickly:

In Response to Norman Finkelstein Interview «.

Mr. Finkelstein criticized BDS movement of being picky about the law. He says that the law is clear. “It is also correct that Israel is a state,” he said. “If you want to use the law as a weapon to reach the public opinion you cannot be selective about the law.” UN Resolution 273 (III) admission of Israel to membership in the United Nations recalls “its resolutions of 29 November 1947 and 11 December 1948” as the basis of accepting Israel as a state. The membership of the State of Israel in the UN is dependent on their respect to resolution 194 and the right of return. UN Resolution 194 (III) article 11 states that “the refugees wishing to return to their homes…should be permitted to do so”.

This is one of the worst pseudo-legal arguments I’ve read. The funniest part is that it can be completely rebutted just by looking at the words that the author decided to omit between “return to their homes” and “should be permitted” – there was a huge qualifying “and live at peace with their neighbors” there. Kinda disqualified all of the refugees at the time, and it is now no longer “practicable” to let them all return, so there goes that argument.

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If peace is dying, maybe it needs palliative care?

In a recent profile by Brian Bethune, “rockstar doctor” David Agus argued that the medical world has been fighting cancer the wrong way. Rather than looking for the “cure” for cancer, he believes that the best outcome for patients would be to concentrate on “managing” cancer – prolonging life and reducing the effects of its symptoms.

The end of illness? – Health –

We need to admit our mistakes and radically reorient ourselves, Agus says. In chorus with a growing number of chronic disease specialists, Agus thinks it’s time to forget the lessons erroneously drawn from the victorious war against infectious diseases, time to realize chronic illness is different. It is not discrete parts that can be targeted with drugs or surgery like a colony of alien bacteria, but the whole system. Cancer is a verb, he repeatedly and strikingly stresses: the body of a leukemia patient is “cancering.”

And with most types of cancer, we are scarcely likely to win a war, not if victory is defined as a complete cure. But if we look at the body as a system, with a few simple lifestyle changes, plus new technologies already in the pipeline, three inexpensive medicines, and a change in the way we store and share medical information, we can achieve a different sort of victory: prevention, delay, control. The end of cancer, the end of all illness, Agus says, is in sight.

(Note: my doctor friend tells me that Agus’ opinion is not quite as controversial or groundbreaking as Bethune made it out to be.)

On a tangentially related note (bear with me for a second), Ari Shavit wrote an op-ed in Haaretz last week, making a compelling case for the fact that we will not see an Israeli/Palestinian peace deal for at least a decade.

A new peace is needed – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

Now the old peace is dead. Really dead. The Islamic revolution in Egypt has removed the southern anchor of that promised peace. The murderous oppression in Syria has neutralized its northern guarantor, and the gradually warming relationship between Fatah and Hamas eliminates its central axis.

Anyone who observes the reality that has emerged around us now understands what was not fully understood a year ago: That the Arab awakening has killed the diplomatic process. In the coming years, no moderate Arab leader will have enough legitimacy or power to sign a peace agreement with Israel. What we’ve yearned for since 1967 and what we believed in since 1993 simply isn’t going to happen. Not now, and not in this decade.

Even aside from the many points Shavit raised, a peace deal is not going to happen any time soon. The Palestinian leadership seems irreparably divided and even Hamas seems to be fracturing. A divided people, some of whom are still committed to violence, cannot make peace or even have a state. Political science 101: a state requires monopoly on use of force. The Palestinians do not have that.

Shavit’s solution is what he calls a “new peace”:

… a peace that won’t be imminent, but gradual. A peace that won’t be final, but partial. A peace that will not necessarily be based on signed agreements. A peace that will learn lessons from the death the old peace and will adapt itself to a new, stormy, historic reality.

This new peace won’t be the peace of our dreams. It won’t be the peace that puts an end to the conflict. It will not even be a peace that ends the occupation.

But perhaps this new, modest peace will enable us to forge a path through the storm, to manage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and somewhat abate it.

Walter Russel Mead expands on this idea:

Pulling the Plug on the Peace Process? | Via Meadia.

The US and other outside powers have almost always been more enthusiastic about the peace process than either the Israelis or the Palestinians.  Israelis aren’t sure they can trust the Palestinians to keep the peace once they have returned all the land and recognized a new state; the Palestinians don’t want to make the concessions (like giving up the ‘right of return’) that peace requires. We end up bribing and cajoling both sides to take part in a process that in many ways serves our interests more than it does theirs.

… To argue against sinking more and more political capital into this increasingly quixotic quest was to be “against peace.” But in fact, it is those who push deeply unrealistic solutions to real problems who raise expectations, fail fantastically, stoke discontent and cynicism, and prevent progress on the ground. Shavit’s prescription for a more modest and realistic approach is part of the answer.

But we need to do more. Newt Gingrich and others to the contrary, the Palestinians are a real people. Palestinian nationalism may not be hundreds of years old; indeed it was formed in part by the experiences of Palestinians in the Arab-Israeli conflict — including the cynical use and abandonment of the Palestinians by other Arabs. The Palestinians are a fact and their feelings matter.

The time may not be ripe for a peace agreement, and conditions may be too adverse for a meaningful peace process to survive. But there is much to be done to reduce the suffering on both sides that the unresolved conflict entails. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians remains an important American interest; preparing the foundations for a peace that offers both peoples a road to a more secure, prosperous and dignified future comports with our values as well as our interests.

Keeping the old peace process on life support looks less and less like the best way to promote that enduring interest. It’s time to rethink our approach from the ground up.

As usual, Mead hit the nail on the head. Did you see the link to the Agus part at the beginning?

The idea behind the “peace process” has always been to “cure” the conflict. Whatever plan was invented – the Oslo Accords, the Roadmap etc – was always premised on bringing the two sides together, negotiating and voilà! Peace. Hoever, despite 20 years of intermittent “peace talks”, The Israeli/Palestinian conflict has not gone anywhere.

Maybe it shouldn’t be treated as an infection, but a cancer. This is, to a large extent, what has been happening already in the West Bank. Security cooperation keeps the violence down and builds the Palestinians’ ability to self-govern, water cooperation improves the water shortage issue, Fayyad fights corruption and builds infrastructure and peace becomes a tiny bit closer.

If both sides were forced to stop challenging each other to make “bold concessions” and became obliged to make smaller gestures, a lot would have to change. Israel would no longer worry about ripping up settlements and displacing hundreds of thousands, but the Israelis would need to disincentivise living in settlements and start relocating citizens elsewhere. The Palestinian Authority would have to stop blaming Israel for everything, start cleaning up its ranks, allow free debate and public scrutiny of its institutions and, most importantly, end the incitement to violence of its population.

Well, maybe that’s too much to hope for, but it shouldn’t have to be (that’s what really needs to happen). Either way, in the long run all of these initiatives to magically create a resolution overnight seem to do more harm than good. Maybe its time to stop talking about peace tomorrow and start talking about improving the situation for everyone.

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Dead Sea’s bid can’t float: it’s no wonder

Ok, I’ll admit that this post is here mostly because I wanted an excuse to use that headline, but this seemingly mundane news actually has an interesting lesson. Three separate bids by Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority all failed to secure the Dead Sea a place in the final list of natural wonders:

Dead Sea’s bid as a new wonder is dead | JTA – Jewish & Israel News.

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Dead Sea was frustrated in its bid to become one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

Though it was running in the top 14 finalists on the last day of voting, it was not enough to make it onto the final list.

… Israel sank more than $2 million intp a global public relations campaign to win the contest. According to figures released by the Government Advertising Bureau, some 285,000 people visited the Dead Sea website this month, and at least 1.1 million have visited since the start of the campaign.

Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, who all abut the sea, ran separate campaigns. The lack of regional cooperation is being seen as one reason that the site did not break into the top seven.

What was going on there? Well: Israel and Jordan are technically at peace but being seen as cooperating with Israel in any way is still political suicide in the Arab world (even if your country is actually very hostile to Israel – read: Saudi Arabia); the Jordanians and the PLO have not exactly been on speaking terms ever since that whole Black September thing; and the Israelis and the Palestinian leaders are unable to even be in the same room as each other these days, let alone coordinate a multimillion-dollar campaign for a shared natural asset.

In a way it’s lucky though, since the Dead Sea isn’t doing too well these days and there may not be much of it left in the next few decades, as this picture below shows. All of those beautiful skin products are draining this “natural wonder”.


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Shalit is free but what is the real story?

Emotionally and symbolically, exchanging Gilad Shalit for 1027 Palestinian prisoners had a lot of value – mostly because of intense campaigning over the past few years. In the broader picture, however, the deal was of very little consequence. That said, the end of a 5-year impasse in negotiations must have come for a reason. So what was really going on when Hamas made the deal with Israel? Well, as Karin Laub and Ibrahim Barzak point out, the Egyptian mediation in brokering the deal was perhaps the most important and overlooked part of the story:

Gilad Shalit Deal Questions Complex Regional Ties.

The swap, mediated by Egypt, has strengthened Hamas’ bond with the regional powerhouse next door and removed a major irritant from its fraught relationship with Israel.

…The swap helped boost Egypts stature as a regional power against competitors Iran and Turkey. In the final phase of the negotiations, Hamas showed flexibility to ensure success, in part to avoid alienating Egypt, analysts said. Hamas made sure that Schalits first interview, after emerging from captivity, was given to Egyptian television, apparently to highlight Egypts role.

So the deal confirms not only that Egypt is getting closer to Hamas, but that it is ramping-up its meddling in Palestinian affairs. That means a lot – Mubarak was very insular, but Egypt has historically been a powerhouse. The new rulers are obviously keen to assert themselves.

Egypt’s next goal is to push for a unity deal between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah movement, said an official with knowledge of those efforts. Having rival Palestinian governments – Abbas’ in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza – endangers the region, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

Abbas and Mashaal are to meet in coming days in Cairo to try to break the impasse that has held up a reconciliation agreement reached in the spring. Skeptics say a breakthrough is unlikely because of deep ideological differences and because each side wants to safeguard achievements in the territory it controls.

Martin Indyk, hoever, doesn’t think that Egypt deserves so much credit. By his reckoning, the story is really happening in Damascus as Hamas is looking around the Arab world for a new city to base themselves in.

A Shift in Israel-Hamas Relations? – Council on Foreign Relations.

The negotiations were conducted by the same Egyptian intelligence services that conducted negotiations in Mubarak’s time, so there has really been no change in that regard. What’s changed is that Hamas was more willing to do the deal and make concessions this summer than they were previously. The key to understanding why they became more flexible lies not in the Egyptian revolution but in the Syrian revolt.

Hamas’ external leadership has been based in Damascus, where they are under the direct influence of Iran and Syria. The Iranians have had no interest in any deal that would lower the flames of Arab-Israeli conflict, because it is that conflict which enables them to spread their influence into the Arab hotbed, right up to the borders of Israel. Therefore, in the past they pressed Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the external Hamas based in Damascus, not to do the prisoner deal with Israel. Much to the frustration of Egyptian and German mediators, they were unable to pull this deal off at critical junctures because of Iran telling Meshaal not to do the deal.

But the real tragedy of the deal? As Indyk points out, it has strengthened Hamas and those who support violent resistance while weakening any Palestinian support for negotiations.

 The deal’s human dimension can’t be dismissed, because it was what drove the deal. And Israel’s desire to save one soldier’s life is what led to this lopsidedness. The broader political implications aren’t positive. Hamas has long argued that its approach–violence, terrorism, kidnapping, hostage-taking–is the most effective way of retaining Palestinian rights, whether that’s getting prisoners released, getting settlements evacuated, or getting territory liberated. That narrative has been vindicated by this deal.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who is Hamas’ political opponent, was unable to achieve a major prisoner swap like this, which included the release of many terrorists with a good deal of blood on their hands. Abu Mazen has been unable to achieve through negotiations the evacuation of Jewish settlements from the West Bank or the liberation of Palestinian prisoners. So those who reject compromise and peacemaking with Israel and talk violence and terrorism are the ones who have been strengthened.

The message from the swap is simple: terrorism works. Israelis were ok with that because of their emotional investment in Shalit, but this is not something that anyone should lose sight of.

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Lemons: the secret ingredient?

Thomas Friedman reckons he has a recipe for peace all figured out – just re-word the Palestinian’s UN stehood bid to sound more like Obama’s policy and all will be well.

What to Do With Lemons –

How about a different approach?

If the Palestinians want to take this whole problem back to where it started — the U.N. — I say let’s do it. But let’s think much bigger and with more imagination.

On Nov. 29, 1947, the U.N. passed General Assembly Resolution 181, partitioning Palestine into two homes for two peoples — described as “Independent Arab and Jewish States.” This is important. That is exactly how Resolution 181 described the desired outcome of partition: an “Arab” state next to a “Jewish” state.

So why don’t we just update Resolution 181 and take it through the more prestigious Security Council? It could be a simple new U.N. resolution: “This body reaffirms that the area of historic Palestine should be divided into two homes for two peoples — a Palestinian Arab state and a Jewish state. The dividing line should be based on the 1967 borders — with mutually agreed border adjustments and security arrangements for both sides. This body recognizes the Palestinian state as a member of the General Assembly and urges both sides to enter into negotiations to resolve all the other outstanding issues.” Very simple.

Each side would get something vital provided it gives the other what it wants. The Palestinians would gain recognition of statehood and U.N. membership, within provisional boundaries, with Israel and America voting in favor. And the Israelis would get formal U.N. recognition as a Jewish state — with the Palestinians and Arabs voting in favor.

Moreover, the Palestinians would get negotiations based on the 1967 borders and Israel would get a U.N.-U.S. assurance that the final border would be shaped in negotiations between the parties, with land swaps, so theoretically the 5 percent of the West Bank where 80 percent of the settlers live could be traded for parts of pre-1967 Israel.

Both sides would have the framework for resuming negotiations they can live with. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel told the U.S. Congress that he was prepared for a two-state solution and painful compromises, but wants Israel accepted as a Jewish state with defensible borders. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has insisted that the 1967 border be the basis for any negotiations, and he wants to negotiate with Israel as a sovereign equal.

Meanwhile, the U.S., rather than being isolated in a corner with Israel, can get credit for restarting talks — without remaining stuck on the settlements issue.

And then we could all hold hands and sip lemonade under a rainbow, right? I feel like this could be less a magic ingredient and more a columnist losing his grasp on reality…

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Saudi beheadings, Pakistani journalists and trouble in (Paradise) Palestine

So there hasn’t been a post here since last Friday. I could point out that this has actually been an extremely quiet week so far as the Middle East is concerned, however it’s not like nothing has happened and to be honest, I’ve just been quite lax in posting anything (unless you follow my Twitter feed, which is available to the right of the screen –>).

So, I have decided to do a round-up of some of the interesting articles/developments that I’ve seen over the past few days.

Firstly, there was this news item on beheadings in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia – Group Condemns Increase in Beheadings –

Amnesty International on Friday condemned what it said was a sharp rise in beheadings in Saudi Arabia and urged the authorities there to halt executions.

I believe that Saudi officials later announced that the sharp rise would be followed by a sudden drop…and then possibly a loud “thud”.*

Meanwhile, there was this very disturbing account, by Umar Cheema in the New York Times on Pakistan’s suppression of journalists. He describes the murder of a friend of his, then recounts his own experience of being abducted and tortured by the authorities for merely writing truths that they did not want to hear. He, however, was fortunate enough to survive the ordeal.

Pakistani Journalists, Dying to Tell the Story –

WE have buried another journalist. Syed Saleem Shahzad, an investigative reporter for Asia Times Online, has paid the ultimate price for telling truths that the authorities didn’t want people to hear. He disappeared a few days after writing an article alleging that Al Qaeda elements had penetrated Pakistan’s navy and that a military crackdown on them had precipitated the May 22 terrorist attack on a Karachi naval base. His death has left Pakistani journalists shaken and filled with despair.

…When my attackers came, impersonating policemen arresting me on a fabricated charge of murder, I felt helpless. My mouth muzzled and hands cuffed, I couldn’t inform anybody of my whereabouts, not even the friends I’d dropped off just 15 minutes before. My cellphone was taken away and switched off. Despite the many threats I’d received, I never expected this to happen to me.

We all know that these kinds of things go on in too many countries, but reading the stories still shocks me every time. Although, as someone pointed out to me recently, when you really have to be worried is when you are no longer shocked.

There was also this little story by Bangladeshi journalist Mohshin Habib on the absurd fact that his country does not permit its citizens to travel to Israel.

What if I want to visit Israel? :: Weekly Blitz

It is my dream, since long time to visit the State of Israel. But is there any way to fulfill my dream? It has different reasons for me to get high concentration to visit this extra ordinary country. One of the reasons is, mankind always look to break the barrier as said ‘Adam’ was provoked by ‘Eve’ to have that very fruit which was forbidden by the Lord or the God or the Allah, whoever it is. Sadly enough, being a Bangladeshi, I am banned to visit this beautiful, historic land of ancient history. According to Bangladesh passport, no citizen is allowed to visit Israel. It is written prominently in each of the Bangladeshi passports, ‘ALL COUNTRIES OF THE WORLD EXCEPT ISRAEL’!

Finally, I thought that I would cover the Palestinian unity agreement a little. I had previously written about how Fatah’s capitulation to Hamas in preventing Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad from staying in the new unity government would pretty much destroy all of the recent progress that has been made in the West Bank. That’s why I was very happy to see that this may not, in fact, be the case:

Fayyad nominated by Fatah to head Palestinian unity government – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

The Fatah movement nominated Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to head a transitional Palestinian government Saturday as part of a unity deal with their rivals in the Islamic militant group Hamas.

The nomination of the economist could ease Western concerns over the reconciliation deal, which offers Hamas an equal say in the administration that will govern until elections next year.

However, Hamas then came out strongly against the idea.

Bardawil: Hamas will not accept Fayyad as premier or minister

We do not comment on such media leaks, but it is a sure thing that we will not accept Fayyad as premier or minister. Four years of siege, arrest and torture of Hamas cadres, were linked to Fayyad, who is also responsible for the debts that accumulated on the Palestinian people.

Would the fragile unity deal split over Fayyad? To be honest, I’m quite hopeful that this will happen. Not because I think a united Palestine is a bad thing (I don’t), but because I do not want to see anything containing Hamas be given any power ever.

*I’m sorry if I offended any victims of beheading, this is a serious issue really. 

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Well…so much for that unilateral statehood idea

In his original Middle East speech, Obama spoke-out against this idea that the Palestinian Authority would unilaterally declare a state in September and be accepted into the UN, affirming that a negotiated settlement is the only way to find a peace deal. I completely support this position – declaring a state without solving the key issues (borders, refugees, security and Jerusalem) would probably just result in another war.

Well, it seems as if the President of the UN General Assembly has put that little doozy to bed. Unlucky Abu Mazen.

‘Palestinian state bid at UN can’… JPost – Diplomacy & Politics

The Palestinians cannot circumvent the UN Security Council to avoid a likely US veto if they try to join the United Nations as a sovereign state later this year, a top UN official said on Friday.

But the official made clear a US veto would not put the issue of Palestinian statehood and UN membership to rest.

And almost symultaneously, the G8 released a statement to a similar effect. Pay particular attention to the lines in bold.

Renewed commitment for freedom and democracy – French Presidency of the G-8.

67. We are convinced that the historic changes throughout the region make the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through negotiations more important, not less. Aspirations of the peoples in the region need to be heeded including that of the Palestinians for a viable and sovereign State and that of Israelis for security and regional integration. The time to resume the Peace Process is now.

a. Negotiations are the only way toward a comprehensive and lasting resolution to the conflict. The framework for these negotiations is well known. We urge both parties to return to substantive talks with a view to concluding a framework agreement on all final status issues. To that effect, we express our strong support for the vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace outlined by President Obama on May 19, 2011.

b. We appreciate the efforts and the progress made by the Palestinian Authority and the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad as they are building a viable State as recently commended by the IMF, the World Bank and the ad hoc liaison Committee.

c. We look forward to the prospect of the second donors’ conference for Palestine in Paris, also in view of the resumption of negotiations.

d. We call on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to abide by existing co-operation agreements and to abstain from unilateral measures that could hamper progress and further reforms. We call for the easing of the situation in Gaza.

e. We demand the unconditional release of the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit without delay.

Why is this particularly significant? The G8 includes the US, UK, France and Russia – four out of the five permanent Security Council powers (excluding China), who all have veto power. This puts the Palestinian chances of unilateral statehood at slim to nil. Ah well, back to the negotiating table?

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