Israel urges world to curb criticism of Egypt’s Mubarak (so speaks the real voice of the only democracy in M.E)

Jerusalem seeks to convince its allies that it is in the West’s interest to maintain the stability of the Egyptian regime.

Israel called on the United States and a number of European countries over the weekend to curb their criticism of President Hosni Mubarak to preserve stability in the region.

Jerusalem seeks to convince its allies that it is in the West’s interest to maintain the stability of the Egyptian regime. The diplomatic measures came after statements in Western capitals implying that the United States and European Union supported Mubarak’s ouster.

Israeli officials are keeping a low profile on the events in Egypt, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even ordering cabinet members to avoid commenting publicly on the issue.

Senior Israeli officials, however, said that on Saturday night the Foreign Ministry issued a directive to around a dozen key embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries. The ambassadors were told to stress to their host countries the importance of Egypt’s stability. In a special cable, they were told to get this word out as soon as possible.

EU foreign ministers are to discuss the situation in Egypt at a special session today in Brussels, after which they are expected to issue a statement echoing those issued in recent days by U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Obama called on Mubarak to take “concrete steps” toward democratic reforms and to refrain from violence against peaceful protesters, sentiments echoed in a statement Saturday night by the leaders of Britain, France and Germany.

“The Americans and the Europeans are being pulled along by public opinion and aren’t considering their genuine interests,” one senior Israeli official said. “Even if they are critical of Mubarak they have to make their friends feel that they’re not alone. Jordan and Saudi Arabia see the reactions in the West, how everyone is abandoning Mubarak, and this will have very serious implications.”

Netanyahu announced at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting that the security cabinet will convene Monday to discuss the situation in Egypt.

“The peace between Israel and Egypt has lasted for more than three decades and our objective is to ensure that these relations will continue to exist,” Netanyahu told his ministers. “We are closely monitoring events in Egypt and the region and are making efforts to preserve its security and stability.”

The Foreign Ministry has called on Israelis currently in Egypt to consider returning home and for those planning to visit the country to reconsider. It is telling Israelis who have decided to remain in Egypt to obey government directives.

Ref: Haaretz

Without Egypt, Israel Will Be Left With No Friends in Mideast

Without Egypt’s Mubarak and with relations with Turkey in shambles, Israel will be forced to court new potential allies.

The fading power of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government leaves Israel in a state of strategic distress. Without Mubarak, Israel is left with almost no friends in the Middle East; last year, Israel saw its alliance with Turkey collapse.

From now on, it will be hard for Israel to trust an Egyptian government torn apart by internal strife. Israel’s increasing isolation in the region, coupled with a weakening United States, will force the government to court new potential allies.

Israel’s foreign policy has depended on regional alliances which have provided the country with strategic depth since the 1950s. The country’s first partner was France, which at the time ruled over northern Africa and provided Israel with advanced weaponry and nuclear capabilities.

After Israel’s war against Egypt in 1956, David Ben-Gurion attempted to establish alliances with non-Arab countries in the region, including Iran, Turkey and Ethiopia. The Shah of Iran became a significant ally of Israel, supplying the country with oil and money from weapons purchases. The countries’ militaries and intelligence agencies worked on joint operations against Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rule, which was seen as the main threat against Israel and pro-Western Arab governments.

Israel’s next alliances were forged with Jordan’s King Hussein and Morocco’s King Hassan. These ties were operated in secret, as well as ties with leaders in Lebanon’s Christian community. The late 1970s saw the fall of the Shah of Iran, with an anti-Israel Islamic republic created in his stead.

Around the same time, Egypt and Israel broke their cycle of conflict by signing a peace agreement. Egypt positioned itself on the side of Saudi Arabia, as head of the pro-American camp.

Mubarak inherited the peace agreement after President Anwar Sadat’s assassination. Mubarak was cold in his public relations with Israel, refusing to visit the country except for Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral, which decelerated normalization between the countries.

Relations between the Israel Defense Forces and the Egyptian army were conducted on a low level, with no joint exercises. Egyptian public opinion was openly hostile towards Israel and anti-Semitic terminology was common. Civil relations between the countries were carried out by a handful of government workers and businessmen.

Despite all of this, the “cold peace” with Egypt was the most important strategic alliance Israel had in the Middle East. The security provided by the alliance gave Israel the chance to concentrate its forces on the northern front and around the settlements. Starting in 1985, peace with Egypt allowed for Israel to cut its defense budget, which greatly benefited the economy.

Mubarak became president while Israel was governed by Menachim Begin, and has worked with eight different Israeli leaders since then. He had close relations with Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu. In the last two years, despite stagnation in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and worsening relations between Netanyahu and the Arab world, Mubarak has hosted the prime minister both in Cairo and in Sharm el-Sheikh.

The friendship between Mubarak and Netanyahu is based on a mutual fear over Iran’s strengthening and the rising power of Islamists, as well as over the weakening and distancing of the U.S. government with Barack Obama at its head.

Now, with Mubarak struggling over the survival of his government, Israel is left with two strategic allies in the region: Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. These two allies promise to strengthen Israel’s Eastern battlefront and are also working to stop terror attacks and slow down Hamas.

But Israel’s relationship with these two allies is complicated. Joint security exercises are modest and the relationship between the leaders is poor. Jordan’s King Abdullah refuses to meet Netanyahu, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is waging a diplomatic struggle against Israel’s right-wing government. It’s hard to tell how Jordan and the PA could fill the role that Egypt has played for Israel.

In this situation, Israel will be forced to seek out new allies. The natural candidates include Syria, which is striving to exploit Egypt’s weakness to claim a place among the key nations in the region.

The images from Cairo and Tunisia surely send chills down the backs of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his cronies, despite the achievement they achieved with the new Hezbollah-backed Lebanon government. As long as the Arab world is flooded with waves of angry anti-government protests, Assad and Netanyahu will be left to safeguard the old order of the Middle East.
¬

 

Ref: Al Jazeera

An Evaporating Palestine – Negotiating One’s Demise

“For 17 years they [Palestinians] negotiated with the Israeli government during settlement construction … ”

 

– Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 1 October 2010

The United States-brokered peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas are in suspended animation.

Abbas is deciding whether to continue to partake in them despite the expiration of a 10-month moratorium on new Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Although his inclination appears not to do so, he also believes the opinion of Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Libya this Friday is first worth taking.

It is remarkable that those representing the Palestinian people would waiver in the slightest about quitting the talks in the face of ongoing land seizure. If this is not a red line, what is? It suggests a leadership which has not only failed to stand for the basic rights of its people, but a further reminder of Abbas’ illegitimacy as a spokesperson for those rights.

Two incontrovertible, overlooked facts:

The presence of even a single Israeli settler in the occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem is illegal. Articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention, reaffirmed by numerous United Nations resolutions and the principles of the U.N. Charter, prohibit an occupying power from transferring its population into forcibly acquired territory.

Second, Abbas’ presidential term ended on Jan. 9, 2009. In the absence of elections, the Palestine Liberation Organization—of which Abbas’ Fatah faction is the largest party—extended his tenure indefinitely (a move not recognized by Hamas, the decisive winner of the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections). His authority as PA president is therefore in question.

But could Israel find a better “partner” with whom to conduct peace talks than Abbas? His protestations against Israel’s December 2008 onslaught of Gaza were noticeably muted. The PA also endorsed a recent vote by the U.N. Human Rights Council postponing action on the Goldstone Report which alleged Israeli war crimes in the conflict.

Maysa Zorob of the Palestinian rights group Al-Haq characterized the resolution as “a betrayal of victims’ rights” and the PA’s support of shelving it reflective of “a lack of genuine commitment to justice.”

The price of clinging to power and remaining in the good graces of the U.S. State Department has been forsaking Gaza. The Israeli government seized on this, bolstering Abbas’ stature by pretending they had found a trusted negotiating partner—all while the quiet annexation of land continued.

But it is hard to solely blame Abbas. As Netanyahu stated, Israel has mastered the art of entering empty dialogue with Palestinians as new East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements are built.

As the map shows, Palestine is evaporating. It is now just a tangle of checkpoints, roadblocks, barriers and military zones.

Five hundred thousand settlers in 120 West Bank settlements and counting; the expropriation of territory and expulsion of Palestinians is rendering a one-state, two-state or any-state solution moot.

“Everyone knows that measured and restrained building in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank and Jerusalem] in the coming year will have no influence on the peace map,” Netanyahu said.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, when no map remains. The “measured” and “restrained” qualifiers used to describe robust, relentless settlement activity are typical of the doublespeak employed by Israeli prime ministers.

As Abbas seeks outside opinion, consults Arab foreign ministers and holds cabinet sessions to decide the wisdom of pulling out of talks, Palestine is being whittled away … as the PA whittles away time.

Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.

 

Ref: Counterpunch

 

GAZA FREEDOM FLOTILLA: Brave Israeli Commandos Slaughter Aid Activists at Sea

Even America’s major media can’t duck a crime this grave – attacking and slaughtering up to 20 Gaza Freedom Flotilla activists and injuring dozens more.

New York Times writer Isabel Kershner headlined “At Least 10 Killed as Israel Intercepts Aid Flotilla, saying:

“The Israeli Navy raided a flotilla carrying thousands of tons of supplies for Gaza in international waters on Monday morning….The incident drew widespread international condemnation, with Israeli envoys summoned to explain their country’s actions in several European countries….The killings also coincided with preparations for a planned visit to Washington on Tuesday (June 1) by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Late word is it’s postponed.

Read more at SteveLendmanBlog

NEW WORLD ORDER: US loses global credibility (while Israel get´s more zionistic)

Israel’s open and deliberate refusal to do as the US demands over settlements in East Jerusalem reflects Netanyahu’s fundamental opposition to a two-state solution

Uncomfortable at the spectacle of the Obama administration in an open confrontation with the Israeli government, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman – who represents the interests of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party on Capitol Hill as faithfully as he does those of the health insurance industry – called for a halt. “Let’s cut the family fighting, the family feud,” he said. “It’s unnecessary; it’s destructive of our shared national interest. It’s time to lower voices, to get over the family feud between the US and Israel. It just doesn’t serve anybody’s interests but our enemies’.”

The idea that the US and Israel are “family” with identical national interests is a convenient fiction that Lieberman and his fellow Israel partisans have worked relentlessly to promote – and enforce – in Washington over the past two decades. If the bonds are indeed familial, however, the recent showdown between Washington and the Netanyahu government may be counted as one of those feuds in which truths are uttered in the heat of the moment that call into question the fundamental terms of the relationship. Such truths are never easily swept under the rug once the dispute is settled. The immediate rupture, that is, precludes a simple return to the status quo ante; instead, a renegotiation of the terms of the relationship somehow ends up on the agenda.

Sure, the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government are now working feverishly to find a formula that will allow them to move on from a contretemps that began when the Israelis ambushed Vice-President Joe Biden, announcing plans to build 1,600 new housing units for settlers in occupied East Jerusalem. He was, of course, in Israel to promote the Obama administration’s failing efforts to rehabilitate negotiations toward a two-state peace agreement, a goal regularly spurned by Israel’s continued construction on land occupied in 1967.

Once again, as when Obama demanded a complete settlement freeze from the Netanyahu government in 2009, the Israelis will fend off any demand that they completely reverse their latest construction plans. Instead, they will shamelessly offer to continue their settlement activity on a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” basis, professing rhetorical support for a two-state solution to placate the Americans, even as they systematically erode its prospects on the ground.

There is, as former Secretary of State James Baker has noted, no shortage of chutzpah in this Israeli government. “United States taxpayers are giving Israel roughly $3bn each year, which amounts to something like $1,000 for every Israeli citizen, at a time when our own economy is in bad shape and a lot of Americans would appreciate that kind of helping hand from their own government,” Baker said in a recent interview. “Given that fact, it is not unreasonable to ask the Israeli leadership to respect US policy on settlements” (1).

Sooner or later, the present imbroglio is likely to be fudged over, but make no mistake, it opened Washington up to a renewed discussion of the conventional wisdom of unconditional support for Israel. It also brought into the public arena the way US administrations over the past two decades have enabled that country’s ever-expanding occupation regime and whether such a policy is compatible with US national interests in the Middle East.

Back in 2006, the foreign policy thinkers John Mearshimer and Stephen Walt provoked a firestorm of ridicule and ad hominem abuse for suggesting in their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy (2), that the goals pursued by the two sides were, in fact, far from identical and often at odds – and that partisans motivated by Israel’s interests lobbied aggressively to skew US foreign policy in their favour. Israel partisans also heaped derision on the suggestion by the Iraq Study Group commissioned by President George W Bush that the US would not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East without first settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Petraeus weighs in

Response to the reiteration of the idea that Israel’s behaviour might be jeopardising US interests has been strikingly muted by comparison. That’s because it came from General David Petraeus, commander of US Central Command (Centcom), which oversees America’s two wars of the moment. He is the most celebrated US military officer of his generation, and a favourite of those most ferocious of Israel partisans, the neocons.

Petraeus told Senators: “The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbours present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in [Centcom’s] AOR [Area of Responsibility].” He added, “The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favouritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaida and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilise support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.” He also stressed that “progress toward resolving the political disputes in the Levant, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict, is a major concern for Centcom.”

Normally, any linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a wave of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world is pooh-poohed by neocons and other Israel partisans. Typically, they will derisively suggest that those who argue for the linkage made by Petraeus are naïve in their belief that al-Qaida would give up its jihad if only Israel and the Palestinians made peace. That, by the way, is a straw-man argument of the first order: the US has done plenty on its own to antagonise the Muslim world, and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would not in itself resolve that antagonism. The point is simply that a fair solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for repairing relations between the US and the citizenry of many Muslim countries.

Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, who has made a profession of trying to negate the difference between anti-Semitism and criticism of (or hostility to) Israel, gamely ventured that “Gen Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the US and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived US favouritism for Israel”. His conclusion: “This linkage is dangerous and counterproductive” (3).

You can hear the pain in Foxman’s admission that “it is that much more of a concern to hear this coming from such a great American patriot and hero”. That Petraeus chose to make his concerns public at the height of a public showdown between Israel and the US, and to do so on Capitol Hill, where legislators seemed uncertain how to respond, signalled the seriousness of the uniformed military in pressing the issue.
The most powerful lobby

Longtime Washington military and intelligence affairs analyst Mark Perry caught the special significance of this at Foreign Policy’s website: “There are important and powerful lobbies in America: the NRA, the American Medical Association, the lawyers – and the Israeli lobby. But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the US military” (4). He noted as well that, in a January Centcom briefing of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, Petraeus had evidently suggested the Palestinian territories – over which Israel continues to exercise sovereign military control – be included under Centcom’s area of responsibility, a prospect that would make Israel’s leadership apoplectic.

It’s not that, as far as we know, Petraeus harbours any particular animus, or affection, for the Jewish state. It’s that, in his institutional role as the commander of hundreds of thousands of US troops stationed across what Washington strategists like to call the “arc of instability”, he is concerned about aggravating hostility towards the United States.

The idea that Washington needs to rein in Israeli expansionism and force a political solution to its conflict with the Palestinians is hardly novel for America’s unsentimental men in uniform. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former US Mideast envoy General Anthony Zinni, both of whom had their formative experiences of the region in the course of massive US military deployments there, were on the same page as Petraeus is today.

Lieutenant General Keith Dayton is the US officer responsible for creating and training the Palestinian Authority security force that has cracked down on West Bank militants and restrained them from attacking Israel over the past few years. He was no less blunt than Petraeus in a speech in Washington last year. He emphasised the premise on which the force was built, and withstood charges from within its own community that it was simply a gendarmerie for Israel: its soldiers believed themselves to be the nucleus of the army of a future Palestinian state. The loyalty of his men, he warned, should not be taken for granted: “There is perhaps a two-year shelf life on being told that you’re creating a state, when you’re not.”

Vice-President Biden, too, was quoted in the Israeli press as having berated Netanyahu – behind closed doors – over his plans for settlement expansion, warning that it would put at risk the lives of American personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Tough-love solution

In public, of course, Biden offered familiar pablum direct from Joe Lieberman’s “family” album: “From my experience, the one precondition for progress [in the Middle East] is that the rest of the world knows this – there is no space between the US and Israel when it comes to security, none. That’s the only time that progress has been made.”

In fact, the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suggests that the reverse is true. The origins of the peace process the Obama administration is now trying so desperately to resuscitate do not lie in the unconditional American support for Israel that has become a third rail in national politics over the past two decades. They lie in the national interest based tough love of the administration of President George HW Bush.

Grounded in a realist reading of American national interests across the Middle East – at a moment when a military campaign to eject Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces from Kuwait had put hundreds of thousands of US troops on the ground there – the first Bush administration recognised the need to balance Israel’s reasonable interests with those of its Arab neighbours. That’s why, in 1991, it dragged Israel’s hawkish Likud government under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to the Madrid conference, and so broke Israel’s “security” taboo on direct engagement with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The Bush administration also made it clear that there would be immediate and painful consequences for Israel if it continued building settlements on land conquered in the war of 1967, construction which the US was then willing to term not only “unhelpful” – the preferred euphemism of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and now Barack Obama – but illegal. Under the direction of Bush family consigliere and Secretary of State Jim Baker, Washington threatened to withdraw $10bn in loan guarantees if Israeli colonisation of Palestinian territory continued. In the resulting political crisis, Israelis – mindful of their dependency on US support – voted Shamir out of office and chose Yitzhak Rabin as prime minister.

Rabin has been rightly lionised as a leader who took a courageous decision to change course in the face of bitter domestic opposition. To understand how Israel started down the path of peace, however, it’s necessary to clean the Vaseline off the lens of history and quiet the string section.

Only three years earlier, Rabin had ordered Israeli troops to use baseball bats to break the limbs of stone-throwing teenagers in hopes of stopping the Palestinian intifada. He certainly did not embrace the Oslo peace process with the PLO out of some moral epiphany. He changed course thanks to a cold-blooded assessment of Israel’s strategic position at the time.

The United States then had a growing stake in creating a regional Pax Americana that required Arab support. Given the end of the cold war, Israel’s value as an ally was diminishing, while its expansionist policies, antagonising Arab public opinion and making it more difficult for vulnerable regional governments to ally with Israel’s enabler, were increasingly a liability for Washington.

Rabin had reason to believe that US support for Israel at the expense of its neighbours would prove neither unconditional nor eternal. At the same time, the PLO had been weakened by years of Israeli military attacks and by a disastrous diplomatic blunder – it had aligned itself with Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war. It was a fortuitous moment, he concluded, to press for a political solution with the Palestinians on favourable terms, by trading the West Bank and Gaza for peace.
Where are the consequences?

Rabin acted because the consequences of maintaining the status quo seemed increasingly unpleasant, which takes nothing away from his courage in doing so. The same could be said for South Africa’s last white president, FW de Klerk. He opted to negotiate an end to apartheid with Nelson Mandela’s ANC because the collapse of the Soviet Union had removed the most persuasive rationale the US and other western powers had for backing his white-rule regime. Similarly, it’s unlikely that the Soviet political system would have put Mikhail Gorbachev in power if the KGB hadn’t determined that far-reaching changes were necessary to prevent Moscow from being eclipsed as a superpower, thanks to western economic and technological advances.

If US pressure and the spectre of isolation and opprobrium pushed Israel onto the path of a two-state solution, the easing of that pressure and the creation of the “familial” notion of US-Israel ties have coincided with a steady movement away from completing the peace process. Even at the height of the Oslo era, coddled by Clinton, the Israelis kept on expanding the settlements that jeopardised geographic prospects for Palestinian statehood.

The Israeli opposition, led by Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu, sought to prove Rabin wrong. They were convinced that American support could be maintained without conceding Palestinian statehood – by making constant end runs around the Oval Office and appealing directly to Capitol Hill and US public opinion.

Sharon and Netanyahu were vindicated in spades when the suicide-terror strategy taken up by the second Palestinian intifada and the attacks of 9/11 led George W Bush’s administration to re-conceptualise the world on the basis of its Global War on Terror. This, in turn, led Washington’s political class to accept Israel not as just another ally in that war, but as a model for how to conduct it.

In the Bush years, the peace process and the two-state solution became a hollow catechism that could be mouthed by Israeli leaders (and their supporters in Washington), while getting on with the task of smashing the Palestinian national movement and expanding settlements. In real terms, the peace process – the series of reciprocal moves designed to build confidence for concluding final status talks and implementing a two-state solution – died when Ariel Sharon came to power in February 2001.
Grand guignol

Even his 2005 withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza was never conceived in terms of a peace process; it wasn’t even negotiated or coordinated with the Palestinian Authority. Sharon, in fact, imagined his unilateral withdrawal as a substitute for a peace agreement. It was designed, as Sharon’s top aide Dov Weissglass so memorably explained, as a dose of “formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians”.

Despite mounting Arab exasperation, the Bush administration put no pressure on Israel to bring the peace process to a conclusion, limiting itself to the Grand Guignol of the “Annapolis process”. With all external compulsion to conclude a peace agreement removed, domestic political pressure in Israel not surprisingly collapsed as well. The Palestinians were now largely locked behind the vast separation wall that winds through the West Bank and the siege lines of Gaza. Their plight is once again invisible to Israelis, only 40% of whom, when asked by pollsters, even express an interest in seeing the peace process restarted. Only around 20% believe that such a move would bring any results.

“Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights,” wrote Israeli political commentator Gideon Levy in Haaretz on 18 March. “Israel does not truly intend to pursue peace, because life here seems to be good even without it. The continuation of the occupation doesn’t just endanger Israel’s future, it also poses the greatest risk to world peace, serving as a pretext for Israel’s most dangerous enemies. No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent and condescending Israel of today.”

The Obama administration can’t be under any illusions on this score. And they are being forced to confront it by another kind of pressure. The bills are coming due for Bush’s War-on-Terror adventurism. Those responsible for maintaining the US imperium in the Muslim world are now raising warning flags that the price to be paid for continuing to indulge Israel in evading its obligation to offer a fair settlement to the Palestinians could be high – and, worse than that, unnecessary.

Israel’s leaders, and its voters, have amply demonstrated that they will not voluntarily relinquish control of the Palestinian territories as long as there are no real consequences for maintaining the status quo. Sure, you can tell them that the status quo is untenable, but the whole history of Israel from the 1920s onward has been about transforming the impossible into the inevitable by changing the facts on the ground. Building settlements on occupied territory in violation of international law after 1967 seemed untenable at the time; today, the US government says Israel will keep most of those major settlement blocs in any two-state solution. It is precisely in line with this sort of improvisational logic that Sharon calculated he could hold on to the settlements of the West Bank if he gave up the settlements of Gaza; the same logic allows Netanyahu to say the words “two states for two peoples” while always winking at his base that he has no intention of allowing it to happen.

A peace process that requires Israel and the Palestinians to reach a bilateral consensus on the distribution of land and power under the prodding of US matchmakers is a non-starter – and therefore unlikely to lead to a goal which is of increasing urgency in America’s national interest. Arguably, it’s increasingly important even for the Israelis, since the status quo has already eroded prospects for a two-state solution to the point where both sides may be consigned to an even longer and more bitter conflict.

Hence the necessity of correcting Vice-President Biden: progress in the Middle East will not come until the US changes Israel’s cost-benefit analysis for maintaining the status quo. The only Israeli leader capable of accepting the parameters of a two-state peace with the Palestinians, which are already widely known, is one who can convincingly demonstrate to his electorate that the alternatives are worse. Right now, without real pressure, without real cost, with nothing but words, there is simply no downside to the status quo for Israel. Until there is, things are unlikely to change, no matter the peril to US troops throughout the Middle East.

Ref: Le Monde

GAZA: Israel strikes Gaza again and AGAIN…

The Israel Defense Forces launched air strikes early Friday against targets in the Gaza Strip, hours after a Qassam rocket fired from the Strip hit south of Ashkelon. Three targets in Gaza City were destroyed in the bombings, witnesses and Hamas sources reported.

The Qassam exploded just south of Ashkelon on Thursday, causing no casualties or damage. The rocket fire came at the heels of a barrage of mortar shells earlier in the day, with Gaza militants firing at least 10 shells into Israel, and an anti-tank missile being fired at Israel Defense Forces troops patrolling the border with Gaza.

No one was hurt in any of the incidents.

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Earlier Thursday, the Israel Air Force dropped thousands of warning leaflets over Gaza, warning Gaza residents to stay away from the border with Israel and to avoid involvement in smuggling, Ma’an news agency reported.

One of the leaflets featured a map, and warns Gazans that anyone within 300 meters of the security fence is endangering himself.

Another leaflet urged Gazans not to sit idly by as smugglers put them and their communities in harm’s way. It included a phone number and e-mail address for anyone willing to provide information about the smuggling tunnels.

The warnings came after six mortar shells exploded in the northwestern Negev, three others struck near the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza, while another exploded in the coastal strip.

The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) claimed responsibility Thursday for the mortar fire.

The Defense Ministry on Thursday closed the Kerem Shalom crossing until further notice. Dozens of aid trucks that were prepared to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza were waiting at the crossing Thursday morning, Israel Radio reported.

On Wednesday, GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant warned Negev residents that the quiet Israel has recently expereinced along the Gaza border may only be temporary, adding that the IDF was prepared to face tensions should they arise.

Galant also urged civilians in the Negev to “prepare themselves for another round of fighting.”

“It is important that we fully appreciate the value of this calm period for the residents of the area,” he said. “The quietness allows the development of the regional infrastructure, agriculture and economical prosperity.”

Hamas had said it was cracking down on militant groups firing at Israel from the Gaza Strip, but communities in the Negev have been hit with rockets numerous times in the year since the IDF embarked on Operation Cast Lead.

Just last week, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) claimed responsibility for firing two Russian-made Grad missiles from Gaza at southern Israel.

The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) also claimed responsibility for firing four mortar shells at Israeli army vehicles near the border the week before.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened following those strikes that Israel would respond to every single rocket by Gaza militants.

Ref; Haaretz

Israel hits Gaza for second time in 24 hours after mortar barrage

VIDEO: UN human rights council backs Gaza war crimes report

UN human rights council backs Gaza war crimes report

A vote to endorse a highly critical report (pdf) on the Gaza war passed at the UN human rights council in Geneva today, despite opposition from the US and Israel.

The council approved a resolution endorsing the report, which was written by the South African judge Richard Goldstone and accused Israel and the Islamist group Hamas of war crimes during the Gaza war.

It said the report should go to the UN general assembly for consideration. The resolution condemned “the recent Israeli violations of human rights in occupied east Jerusalem”, referring to recent demolitions of Palestinian houses and excavation work near the Haram al-Sharif, also known as the Temple Mount.

The vote passed with 25 votes in favour, six against and 11 abstentions.

The US said the report was “flawed” and voted against. US diplomat Douglas Griffiths told the council Washington was disappointed by the vote.

Britain and France did not take part in the vote, having unsuccessfully argued for more time to reach an agreed resolution.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are among the 47 nations with seats on the human rights council, but both had worked hard to influence the outcome of the vote. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, wanted the council to reject the Goldstone report.

“Israel’s only real crime is that it does not have an automatic majority in the UN,” he said yesterday. “We hope that all responsible countries will … vote against that decision, which aids and encourages terror and strikes at peace.”

Douglas Griffiths, the US delegate at the council, said yesterday that Washington wanted Israel to carry out its own investigations. It was important, he said, to “be mindful of the larger context of ongoing efforts to restart permanent status negotiations that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state”.

Under intense US pressure, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, initially dropped his efforts to secure a vote endorsing the report. Instead he decided to put off the vote for another six months. But that was greeted with such an outcry among Palestinians that Abbas quickly backtracked and called for a special session of the human rights council to hold a vote.

The Israeli website Ynet News today quoted him as saying that the vote helped provide “leverage for protecting the Palestinians against Israel”.

Israel’s foreign ministry is expected to issue a statement later today condemning the vote. Officials have said it was “unjust and biased and does not contribute to the peace process”, according to the broadcaster al-Jazeera.

Goldstone’s report accused both sides of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity and said there may even be individual criminal responsibility over the killing of civilians. Around 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in the three-week war.

Goldstone’s recommendations were that the human rights council should endorse his findings and then pass his report to the UN security council, the general assembly and the prosecutor of the international criminal court. He said both Israel and Hamas should be given six months to conduct their own “appropriate investigations that are independent and in conformity with international standards”. If either side failed to investigate properly, he said, the security council should pass the case on to the prosecutor of the international criminal court.

Hamas looks unlikely to investigate its actions during the war and Netanyahu has already insisted he will not allow any Israelis to face war crimes trials. The US would almost certainly veto any decision critical of Israel if the issue reached a vote in the security council.

Ref: guardian