Israel Palestinian Storm: UNESCO, UN Recognition of Palestine; Olive Groves And Freedom Wave

The crisis between Israel and Palestine comes into sharper focus.

First, the Olive Branch, as a symbol of peace, harkens back to Ancient Greece.  Olive Trees take nearly thirty years before they can produce fruit.  Thus, giving an olive branch to an opponent symbolizes lasting peace.

Israeli settlers on the Westbank have been cutting down olive groves belonging to Palestinians.  They have ruined 2,600 trees which deprive local farmers of needed income and destroys generations’ old family farms.    Their actions are a systematic assault on the livelihood of Palestinians living on the Westbank and an obvious attempt to drive them off their land thus opening the door for building more controversial settlements.

Second, the Freedom Wave II flotilla of relief ships has departed for the Gaza Strip likely escorted by the Turkish Navy.  The last effort encountered violent opposition by the Israeli military resulting in the death of eight Turkish citizens.   Canada and Ireland have joined this effort along with individuals representing nine other nations.  What will Israel do now?

Third, the long simmering issue of Palestine’s statehood reared its head again.  This past week Palestine gained membership in UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).  France surprisingly voted for admission. “Palestine’s admission to UNESCO has given new credence to its bid for full UN membership” (PNN News).

In response, the United States ordered all funding for UNESCO cut off. That accounts for about 20% of the agency’s total budget.  President Obama had no control over that decision.  Laws passed under Presidents George Bush I and Bill Clinton deny any funding to any UN division that recognizes Palestine’s statehood.   The question is…does that include the UN itself?

The U.S. contributes more to the UN than any other country: 22% of the regular UN budget and 27% of the peacekeeping budget.  Americans donate $2.4 billion per year.

If the same laws apply to the United Nations in general, recognition of Palestine as a state would force the United States to cut all UN funding. This would destroy the organization’s ability to function, totally marginalize the United States as a world leader, or both.  There is a lot at stake here besides admission of one small state.

Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, the Portuguese permanent representative to the UN holds the rotating council presidency for November.  He stated that this week’s meeting of the Security Council Admissions Committee: “…will be the first formal meeting since the Palestinian bid was presented to the UN in September”.   According to Palestine News:  “…this week’s gathering will provide the first opportunity for permanent representatives to formally review the Palestinian bid.”

This committee will discuss the process for admission and determine if Palestine satisfies the UN Charter’s conditions.  The Admission Committee will then report to the Security Council.

With France voting in favor of Palestine’s membership in UNESCO, one would expect France would support statehood in the Security Council.  This further isolates the U.S. position.  Pressure is mounting on America’s decision to veto statehood with each passing day.  It is all coming to a head now.

Taken all together these three elements: destruction of olive groves by Israeli settlers, Freedom Flotilla II, and Palestine Statehood, have the potential for igniting the Middle East.  Evidence of a gathering storm abounds.

( / 09.11.2011)

Israel believes it could carry out strikes on Iran with under 500 civilian fatalities

Israel believes it could carry out strikes on Iran with under 500 civilian fatalities

Ehud Barak raised the prospect of military action with Iran once again as he hinted that splits in the international community over imposing sanctions regarded as crippling enough by Israel could leave the Jewish state with no option but to take matters into its own hands.

The warning came as a report by UN weapons inspectors into Iran’s nuclear activities was made public, concluding that the Islamist regime is closer to building an atom bomb than ever before.

Mr Barak conceded that the price of air strikes against Iran would be high, with Iran retaliating by firing long-range missiles at Israeli cities and encouraging its allies Hizbollah and Hamas to unleash their vast rocket arsenals at the country.

But he insisted that claims of huge destruction in Israel were overblown and that the country could survive the retaliation.

“There is no way to prevent some damage,” he said. “It will not be pleasant. There is no scenario for 50,000 dead, or 5,000 killed – and if everyone stays in their homes, maybe not even 500 dead.”

Mr Barak said the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report represents “the final opportunity” for the United Nations Security Council to punish Iran with sanctions of sufficient severity to force Iran into abandoning its nuclear ambitions.

Demanding that the international community finally take action to target Tehran’s vital energy sector, he called for a naval blockade to prevent Iran exploiting oil.

Although such a measure would undoubtedly do serious harm to Iran’s energy-dependent economy, even the United States is said to be concerned about the impact it would have on oil prices at a time of heightened vulnerability for the world economy.

Mr Barak predicted that opposition by Russia and China would make it impossible to achieve consensus in the Security Council for such sanctions, leaving military action increasingly as the only option.

“I don’t think it will be possible to form such a coalition,”
he told Israeli radio.

“As long as no such sanctions have been imposed and proven effective, we continue to recommend to our friends in the world and to ourselves not to take any action off the table.”

Mr Barak’s comments crown a week of increasingly bellicose language in Israel that is widely seen as more an attempt to force the United Nations Security Council into using the toughest possible sanctions against Iran rather than presaging imminent military action.

Even so, his rhetoric will cause alarm, with Russia and even some European states warning against the folly of unilateral Israeli action.

Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said on Tuesday that though concerns remained high about Iran’s nuclear programme, “we have to do everything we can to avoid the irreparable damage that military action would cause”.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, said a military strike on Iran could be a “catastrophe” for the Middle East.

“We should exhale, calm down and continue a constructive discussion of all issues on the Middle East agenda, including the Iranian nuclear program,” said Mr Medvedev, a day after an Asian security summit in St Petersburg that included Iran.

US officials said they hoped the IAEA report would increase leverage for tougher sanctions, rather than short term pressure for air strikes.

The “war camp” in the Israeli cabinet is believed to be in a minority that is championed primarily by Mr Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister.

But many Israeli politicians will agree with the defence minister’s assertion that the IAEA report represents “the last opportunity for coordinated, lethal sanctions that will force Iran to stop”.

Israel believes that Iran is intent on moving the bulk of its nuclear production underground within months, after which it will be harder than ever to launch effective military action.

( / 09.11.2011)

Hezbollah can hit Israeli drones: report

An Israeli Heron unmanned reconnaissance drone
The Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah has reportedly found a way to electronically jam and disable Israeli unmanned reconnaissance drones.

The speculation was raised after a suspected Israeli reconnaissance plane disappeared from the radar screen of the French United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) battalion in south Lebanon, Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star said on Wednesday.

“Information has been circulating for over a year that Hezbollah has been exploring — and may have discovered — a means of jamming the data link between a drone and its ground control base or interfering with the guidance system of drones on pre-programmed flight missions in order to crash them,” it added.

It also went on to state that there is no doubt that capabilities of the resistance movement in top-secret electronic warfare have greatly advanced over the past decade.

However, no confirmation pointing to reports that Hezbollah has acquired the ability to destroy Israeli drones has been issued by the resistance force.

Israel has been using drones for reconnaissance missions over southern Lebanon since the 1982 invasion. In the 2006 war, Israel deployed missile-firing drones for the first time, many of which were responsible for targeting civilian vehicles fleeing south Lebanon and attacking two parked ambulances in Qana during a transfer of injured individuals.

Last month, Lebanon’s Arabic-language newspaper Al Joumhouria reported that Israel is planning to launch its third war against Lebanon.

The report stated that Hezbollah is in a state of alert and fully prepared to counter any Israeli offensive.

( / 09.11.2011)

Thwarted at the U.N., Is Palestinian Leader Abbas Headed Off Into the Sunset?

President Mahmoud Abbas’ attempt to persuade the U.N. Security Council to admit a state of Palestine as a full member of the international body has, all too predictably, hit a wall. The technical U.N. committee to which the issue was referred , not surprisingly, failed to reach a consensus (because there’s no consensus among Council members). Even if a vote was held despite that disagreement, it’s unlikely that the Palestinians would achieve the nine ayes that would prompt the U.S. to kill the measure with a veto. Abbas’ aides have been forced to concede defeat.

Most of the international community supports the principle of Palestinian statehood on the 1967 lines — even the U.S. government supports it, although Abbas would be ill-advised to hold his breath waiting, as he has done for two decades, for Washington to deliver that outcome. And even many of those countries that continue — at Washington’s insistence — to mouth the mantra
that the only way to get there is in talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu don’t believe that Israel will voluntarily yield to the international consensus on terms for a two-state solution. But it’s naive to imagine that governments cast their votes at the U.N. on the basis of  moral choices; more often than not,  U.N. votes  reflect the balance of power. As long as the U.S. was willing to campaign aggressively against them (it was, with Netanyahu marveling that President Obama “deserved a medal” for his speech scolding the Palestinians) and other key players saw no compelling reason to engage in a sustained diplomatic confrontation with Washington on the issue (none did), predicting the outcome didn’t exactly require clairvoyant powers.

France’s position is instructive: President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose mistrust of Netanyahu is now a matter of public record,  warned that France would have to abstain at the Security Council, but promised support for a Palestinian move in the General Assembly to upgrade their status to that of observer state. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel who has twice clashed publicly with the Israeli leader over his settlement policy (and voted against the U.S. last February’s Security Council condemnation of ongoing settlements) also  made clear from the get-go that it would vote against admitting Palestine as a U.N. member state.

The subtext here is simple: A Palestinian state would be recognized on territory currently under Israeli occupation, which isn’t going to end as a result of a U.N. vote. But once the Security Council recognized Palestine as a member state, it would be obliged to act against the occupation of the territory of one member state by another. And that’s a responsibility even some of the Security Council members sympathetic to the Palestinians are not willing to take on. And absent any crisis situation that forces them to address it, they’d sooner pass — even if they know that their alternative of revived talks under the “Quartet” auspices is a hollow one in which neither side has any faith.

Sarkozy offered Abbas the alternative of strengthening the Palestinian position by going to the General Assembly, but Abbas demurred, insisting that it was all or nothing. The unmistakable answer to that question, is nothing.

As I wrote at the time

“Despite all the buildup, next week’s ‘showdown’ in New York could turn out to be a damp squib if the Palestinians approach the Security Council and, as is likely, get no immediate answer. On the other hand, getting an overwhelming majority of the General Assembly to recognize the contours of a Palestinian state as being based on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, would strengthen the Palestinians’ hand in future negotiations with Israel, even if the Assembly cannot confer full U.N. membership. That would provide a significant counterbalance to the advantages the Israelis enjoy by having peace talks exclusively mediated by Washington, where Israel’s overwhelming advantage in domestic political support effectively precludes even-handedness.

“[Instead] Abbas is taking the largely symbolic route of applying for full membership, knowing that the outcome will be unfavorable but not having availed himself of an opportunity to expand Palestinian’ leverage in a battle to end the
occupation. Indeed… the Security Council route is almost certain to leave the status quo untouched. Abbas will go back to his people and tell them he won a moral victory; Netanyahu will tell Israelis that he, in fact, was the moral
victor, and reality on the ground in the West Bank will remain entirely unchanged.”

No matter, says Abbas aide Saeeb Erekat in the face of defeat, “if we fail we can try again and again and again.” That’s a blunt admission that Abbas and his circle lack a Plan B, or a serious strategy to challenge the occupation. They can keep trying the same thing “again and again and again”, but their own people will have stopped taking them seriously even before the international powers do.

Abbas’ long-term strategy had been, essentially, to rely on the U.S. to deliver a solution based on the 1967 borders. But two decades of disappointment, and a U.S. domestic political climate in which the Palestinians exist only to the extent that they pose a security threat to Israel, has shattered Abbas’ continued faith in Washington. That’s what took him to the U.N. over strenuous U.S. objections.  But appealing to the U.N. was never, in itself, going to change the reality of the occupation on the ground, even if it could be potentially reinforce a broader strategy to muster leverage against a status quo that currently has no down-side for the Israelis.

This may be terrifically unfair, from a Palestinian point of view, but as former U.S. Mideast negotiator Robert Malley and Hassan Agha, a former adviser to the Palestinian leadership, warned Palestinian leaders earlier this year, “history is not in the habit of
rewarding good behavior; it is a struggle, not a beauty contest.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict only gets any attention when it’s in a state of crisis, and as soon as the immediate crisis is deferred — as happened with the UN membership bid in September — it’s routinely ignored.  The U.S. has essentially put the Palestinians on notice that when they annoy Israel, particularly in an election year, they shouldn’t expect any help from Washington. That message was underlined last week when the Palestinians won recognition as a member of UNESCO, the UN cultural body, prompting
the U.S. to withdraw its funding
for the organization.

It’s not clear whether Abbas will now follow Sarkozy’s suggestion and take matters to the General Assembly, although you wouldn’t want to bet on it. Abbas may well see his U.N. speech, hailed by Palestinians for telling their story before the world and demanding justice, as a kind of political swan-song. It was reported this week that he plans to get Hamas to agree to the holding of new elections next May — elections in which he reportedly told his Fatah faction that he would not be a candidate.

Of course, Abbas has threatened to retire a number of times in the past, usually to get the attention of the U.S. and Israel who know that any replacement is unlikely to be remotely as pliable as Abbas is. But the outcome of the U.N. bid, and the broader collapse of his strategy, offers a lot more reason to believe him, this time.

Abbas appeared to acknowledge, even in his U.N. speech, that in order to achieve their goals, Palestinians would have to create leverage that makes the status quo uncomfortable for the Israelis. He effectively called for  an international campaign — on the lines of the anti-apartheid sanctions movement in the 1980s that helped end minority rule in South Africa — to pressure Israel
to end its occupation. And he encouraged mass non-violent protest action.

But that’s not a campaign Abbas — a lifelong diplomat rather than an insurrectionist — is going to lead. Nor is his Palestinian Authority set up to challenge the occupation: It is by far the West Bank’s largest employer and the first line of Israel’s security — Abbas’ security forces do far more to protect Israel from Palestinian wrath than to protect Palestinians from Israeli soldiers
and settlers. The Palestinian Authority is a key pillar of the status quo rather than a vehicle for challenging it.

Whether or not Abbas bows out, now, it will be left to others — within his own Fatah movement, within the rival Hamas organization (and perhaps, also, its more extreme, Iran-backed rivals in Islamic Jihad) and among the many thousands of Palestinians who align themselves with neither movement — to define the next chapter of the struggle for Palestinian rights.

Some are already getting busy. Next week, on November 15, a group of Palestinian activists from the non-violent protest movement that holds weekly demonstrations against Israel’s “separation wall” in West Bank villages will launch a campaign of “Freedom Rides”, a civil disobedience tactic of trying to board buses in the West Bank that they say are effectively (if not legally) reserved for Israeli settlers. It’s clearly a deliberate strategy to evoke the tactics, slogans and imagery of the U.S. Civil Rights movement to challenge the occupation — and it could well provoke a violent response from settlers or soldiers. It may be a small action, but chances are there will be many more in a situation on the ground that threatens to unravel as the PA likely  faces a
growing internal crisis of legitimacy in the absence of progress towards statehood,  militant settlers are itching for a fight,  and younger Palestinians look to  challenge the status quo  in the spirit of the Arab Spring which — to international acclaim — lionized non-violent mass protest as the new grammar of Arab political self-expression.

The Israeli-Palestinian clash at the U.N. may have fizzled, but on the ground in the West Bank it may be just starting to heat up.

( / 09.11.2011)

Is the Muslim Brotherhood Bribing Voters in Egypt?

Essam El Erian, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, speaks during a news conference in Cairo on April 30, 2011

Free meat, subsidized vegetables, and sweets for children are the Muslim Brotherhood’s bribes for votes from Egypt’s poor. This charm offensive by Egypt’s most organized political force was in full force during last weekend’s religious celebrations. During sermons on Eid al-Adha, Brotherhood representatives conveyed the message that voting for Islamist parties was synonymous with being an upright Muslim. This flawed appeal for support—as it is perfectly coherent to be a pious Muslim and vote for a secular party—was supplemented by pro-Brotherhood clerics’ anti-Western messages, documented in this report on the website of state-run newspaper Al-Ahram.

None of this is particularly surprising. Hamas in Gaza has used social services to secure the sympathy of Palestinians, Hezbollah does so in Lebanon, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has used welfare support for more than three decades as a means of recruiting new supporters and legitimizing its continued presence in communities across Egypt. Where the state failed, the Muslim Brotherhood entered with charity work, building low-cost hospitals, supporting orphans and widows, and running vocational training programs.

This noble support for Egypt’s poor, however, smacks of bribery and corruption when used at election time to gain votes, undercut political opposition, and portray the Muslim Brotherhood as God’s good soldiers against the secular and liberal Egyptians. For as long as such practices continue, Egypt’s elections will not be fair and free—they will have been manipulated from the outset.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership repeatedly claims a commitment to fairness and transparency. Will it cease these political operations in order to ensure that Egyptian elections are conducted on a level playing field? I doubt it.

Mosques in Egypt are not solely the preserve of Islamists. Egyptians of all hues build, maintain, and help fund places of religious worship. If mosques become places of political campaigning, then Islamists and Salafists cannot monopolize this public space. All Egyptian political parties have a right to present their arguments and policy positions and to do so with legal protection and scrutiny. Those regulating elections in Egypt have a duty to ensure that the current unfair advantage of Islamist and Salafists is corrected as a matter of urgency. If this imbalance continues, other political parties will have every right to claim foul play after the election, legitimately contest the outcome, and question its validity

( / 09.11.2011)

In 3 separate attacks, Israeli settlers torch cars; kill Palestinian with car; shoot gas at family

Three separate settler attacks on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning resulted in one Palestinian dead and three injured in different parts of the West Bank.

Israeli settlers invade Artas village under military guard (archive photo from dawany)

On Tuesday evening, a Palestinian man identified as Abdul Muttaleb Hakim was rammed by an Israeli settler in a car, killing him instantly. The settler left the scene without being identified, and Israeli police called to the scene made no effort to identify the perpetrator.

In a separate incident on Wednesday just before dawn, a group of Israeli settlers set fire to parked Palestinian cars near Hebron, in the southern West Bank.

According to local sources, three cars belonging to Habes Husein Baragheeth, Suheil Muhammad Hussein Baragheeth, and his brother Yousef, were completely destroyed by the fires. Anti-Palestinian graffiti was found spraypainted on walls next to the torched cars.

The graffiti read ‘price tag’, which is a frequently-used term by Israeli settlers who say they wish to extract a ‘price tag’ from the Palestinian population who are living on land that the settlers want to take over.

And in another attack by Israeli settlers on Wednesday morning, a group of settlers from Etzion settlement near Bethlehem fired tear gas on a family of Palestinians in Artas village. A ten-year child was among those attacked, and he was transferred to a hospital in Beit Jala after being rendered unconscious from breathing in the gas.

The family attacked by the tear gas were relatives of Jamal Jaber Asaad, who was abducted along with his wife and sister Monday and charged with ’trespassing’ on their family’s ancestral land. The Asaad family’s land has become a flashpoint for certain settlers in the Etzion bloc of settlements, who want to expand their settlement further onto the land of the village of Artas.

In September, the Israeli government issued tear gas and other weapons to Israeli settlers living illegally throughout the West Bank, and authorized the settlers to use the weapons against the indigenous Palestinian population. This was in anticipation of expected violence from Palestinians after the United Nations considered the issue of Palestinian statehood. Although there was no Palestinian violence, the settlers were allowed to keep the weapons, which are now stockpiled in settlements all over the West Bank.

( / 09.11.2011)

Global week of action against Israel’s wall in the West Bank

Since the beginning stages of Israel’s implementation and continued construction of its illegal wall in the occupied West Bank nearly ten years ago — and compounded with the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) ruling in 2004 that the wall is in violation of several international laws — activists on the ground in Palestine and in numerous countries around the world have engaged in sustained and creative protest.

The Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign/Stop the Wall (STW) has organized a global week of action against Israel’s wall and its policies of apartheid and settler-colonialism in Palestine, which begins today and runs through 16 November.

Activist groups, boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) committees, student coalitions and grassroots organizations from 18 countries on five continents have signed on to officially participate in the global week of action.

In Palestine, STW has organized three separate demonstrations in addition to the regular, weekly Friday actions against the wall in different villages.

From their website:

13 November: Demonstration in the southern West Bank village of Tarqumiya — The demonstration takes place to commemorate the massacre of the people of al Sammou, south of Hebron. Exactly 45 years ago, on November 13 1966 Israeli forces raided this village, destroyed 125 houses, the village clinic and school as well as 15 houses in a neighboring village. 18 people were killed and 54 wounded.

15 November: Demonstration in Qalandiya — Qalandiya has become the flashpoint of confrontation, a symbol of the Palestinian determination not to accept the isolation of Jerusalem and the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian capital.

20 November: Demonstration in northern West Bank city of Tulkarem — Tulkarem, its refugee camps and surrounding villages are heavily impacted by the Wall and its checkpoints. People from the northern parts of the northern part of the West Bank will gather to demonstrate their determination to continue resistance against the Apartheid Wall and the Israeli project of enclosing them in enclaves and Bantustans.

Global solidarity events

A sampling of international events — culled from the official list on the STW website — include:

– Belgium, 10 November: In Brussels, Intal [a Belgian global solidarity group] will organize a conference and debate in support of the Palestinian call for a comprehensive and mandatory military embargo on Israel by highlighting the fact that Belgium sells weapons to Israel. This conference will have as a goal to inform our members and their friends about the weapons business between Belgium and Israel

– Netherlands: Activities are planned in Utrecht and Amsterdam … Signatures will be collected for a so-called citizens initiative asking for a debate in parliament on the ICJ ruling. From the needed 40,000 signatures the last 3,000 will be collected that week plus the following weeks of the year

– Spain/Basque country, 10 November: A conference in Bilbao about Israel’s wall

– England, 12 November: Wall around the Monument in Newcastle City Centre. A human wall where each person represents a fact about the apartheid wall. Distribution of fact sheets on the wall, Israeli apartheid, human rights abuses, and BDS nearby. BDS pledge cards will be distributed to the public.

– Argentina, 16 November: The FEARAB youth group in Buenos Aires have launched a call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel in Argentina, and the signatures of the persons who support the initiative will be announced publicly  as the week of global action closes

– Canada, 10 November: An evening with writer and photo journalist Jon Elmer, coordinated by Students Against Israeli Apartheid in Toronto

– United States: Huge awareness-raising campaign tool kits for various action ideas by US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

– South Korea, 12 November: A performance to educate the public on the wall and its effects on Palestinians

Radio Intifada

Several organizations throughout Latin America, including Argentina and Mexico, are participating in the week of action. Radio Intifada, a Spanish-language radio project of STW, has also produced three 30-minute segments that are available for free download and syndication on local independent radio stations interested in broadcasting news and analysis on Israeli policies and the grassroots actions to challenge them.

( / 09.11.2011)