“Down With Division” Palestine’s Own Spring

By ALAIN GRESH

The images of Palestinians massed at Israel’s borders on 15 May represented a dream for some, and a nightmare for others. On the 63rd anniversary of the declaration of the Jewish state and of the nakba (catastrophe) for the many thousands of Palestinians expelled from their homes, demonstrators from Syria , Lebanon, Jordan and Gaza converged on the promised land. They were only a few thousand but the world wondered what would happen if millions marched peacefully to the borders and walls next time. These refugees – neglected by the PLO since the 1993 Oslo accords despite having inspired the Palestinian awakening of the 1960s – may have decided to take their future into their own hands.

The banners in Ramallah demanded the right of all Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Beirut or Amman to elect a national representative council, and a radical reform of the PLO. This could represent a new stage in the liberation struggle, and Israel’s brutal response on 15 May, killing 14 unarmed Palestinians, shows how worried its leaders are. It is this new aspiration of ordinary Palestinians after the Arab uprisings, overlooked by both Hamas and Fatah, which has pushed the rivals to end their long quarrel and agree an accord, ratified in Cairo on 4 May by representatives of 13 Palestinian factions. It anticipates the formation of a government of technocrats or independents; the liberation of prisoners from both sides held in Gaza and the West Bank; presidential and legislative elections within one year; reform of the PLO; and the merging of the security forces on a strictly professional basis. Priority is given to reconstructing Gaza, which remains under Israeli blockade.

Unsurprisingly, the agreement was quickly rejected by Israel, with its prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, telling Fatah to choose between peace and Hamas. He did not mention that for months Israeli officials had justified their reluctance to agree an accord with Mahmoud Abbas (head of the Palestinian Authority and leader of Fatah) on the grounds that he only represented half the Palestinians. Netanyahu even claimed that Hamas was only the local version of al-Qaida. This intransigence was ratified by President Barack Obama in his speech on 19 May, when he said he understood that these were “profound and legitimate questions for Israel: how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognise your right to exist?” But Obama and Netanyahu are familiar with the wording of the Oslo accords, which they claim to adhere to, that mandate the PLO, not the Palestinian government, to negotiate a final status agreement with Israel. Hamas does not belong to the PLO. The leaders gave no credit to the statements by Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, who has repeated his support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital, and confirmed that, if it came about, Hamas would renounce violence.

The agreement between Fatah and Hamas surprised all observers of the negotiations between them over the years. It is hard to see to what extent it will be put into effect, as many points remain vague and there is still deep mistrust. But it has come about as the result of powerful factors, relating to the Palestinian scene and developments in the region. The refugees, who had been the most noticeable absentees from the last 20 years of negotiations, have now been invited in.

‘Down with division’

Fatah and Hamas have been confronted by the rise of the protest movement in the West Bank and even Gaza. Unlike other Arab countries, the main slogan was not “Down with the government”, but “Down with division”, shouted by many young people. As Jamil Hilal, a social scientist in Ramallah, said: “We have no government and no state, just an authority, and on top of that, the occupation.” Although Fatah and Hamas responded with repression and pressure, they were forced to take notice of popular demands, since they are in a strategic deadlock.

The peace process, on which Fatah has staked everything since 1993, has been dead for years, but it was only with the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, the chief promoter of the supposed negotiations, that Abbas agreed to sign its death warrant: the rise in settlement-building removes any significance from dialogue with Israel. (On the day of Obama’s speech, the Israeli government announced the construction of another 1,550 homes in East Jerusalem).

Hamas, which claims to be the Palestinian “resistance”, has maintained a ceasefire with Israel, which it imposes on other Palestinian factions, if necessary by force. In Gaza, it has to deal with Salafist groups (whom some believe are linked to al-Qaida) that blame Hamas for not fighting the “Zionist enemy”, and for not making society more Islamic. The murder in April of Vittorio Arrigoni, a pro-Palestinian Italian activist based in Gaza, by an extremist group, was a warning. The Israeli blockade and daily problems of ordinary Gazans have eroded Hamas’s influence. Neither Fatah nor Hamas have alternative strategies and they are going through a crisis of legitimacy. Their behaviour in Ramallah and Gaza – authoritarian, corrupt, clientelist – is not so different from the behaviour of other Arab leaders, and is provoking the same revolt.

The Arab awakening

The upheaval in the region has also led to compromise. Fatah has lost its chief ally, Mubarak. Demonstrations in Syria, and their violent repression, have weakened a regime that is an essential support of Hamas, and has sheltered its external leaders since their expulsion from Jordan. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of Sunni Islam’s most popular preachers, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood (from which Hamas emerged), strongly condemned Bashar al-Assad’s government on 25 March and said the Ba’ath Party could no longer run Syria. Meanwhile, despite pressure from Damascus, Hamas has been careful not to rush to defend the Syrian regime.

Another regional shift troubles Hamas’s leaders. The repression of the democratic uprising in Bahrain and the violence of the anti-Shia campaign by the Gulf states – led by Saudi Arabia – have increased tensions between the Arab world and Iran. Hamas is partly funded by businessmen in the Gulf who are not keen on its association with Iran. Hence its interest in making up with Egypt, a Sunni power; this has been made easier by the political orientation of the Cairo regime after the overthrow of Mubarak.

Without going so far as to break with the US, or question the peace treaty with Israel, Egypt is ending its subservience to Israeli and US interests. Mubarak opposed unity between Fatah and Hamas because he feared the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He considered Gaza a security problem and took part in its blockade, and he led Arab defiance against Iran. While the Muslim Brotherhood prepare to take part in September’s elections, and perhaps even in the next government, these fears are now out of place, since the democratic climate in Egypt allows people to express their solidarity with the Palestinians, as the government is well aware.

Egypt’s foreign minister has said the Rafah border crossing will be opened, and has described the Israeli blockade of Gaza as shameful. The chief of staff, Sami Anan, has given Israel a warning on his Facebook page: “The Israeli government must show restraint when it discusses peace talks. It must refrain from intervening in the internal matters of Palestine”. As the former Egyptian ambassador to Syria, Mahmoud Shukri, said: “Mubarak was always taking sides with the US, but the new way of thinking is entirely different. We would like to make a model of democracy for the region, and we are ensuring that Egypt has its own influence”. The effect of this has been a thaw in relations with Iran, and both Tehran and Damascus have welcomed the Fatah-Hamas accord.

What hope for US intervention?

Obama’s latest speech, two years after he addressed the Muslim world in Cairo, was in response to the new situation in the region, and the failure of his mediation in the Palestinian conflict, confirmed by the resignation of US Special Envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell. Obama wanted to show that the US was on “the right side of history” at a time of regional turmoil. He announced that the US wanted to combine its interests and values; for example he denounced the repression by the government in Bahrain, where the US Fifth Fleet is based, but stayed silent about Saudi Arabia, which has assisted it.

Introducing him, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “America’s leadership is more essential than ever”. Robert Dreyfuss of the US weekly The Nation asked whether anyone in the region was still listening to the US. After describing Pakistan and Afghanistan’s defiance of the US, he wrote: “Iran, despite onerous sanctions and repeated threats of US military action, has not only refused to compromise over its nuclear programme, but Tehran is supporting anti-American movements in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and the Gulf states. Iraq, whose very government is the creation of the US invasion in 2003, has all but shut the door on a continued US military presence there, and its leadership touts its new alliance with Iran. Saudi Arabia, where anti-American sentiment has been growing for a decade, is seething over US policy in the region, and Riyadh is reaching out to Beijing, Moscow and other powers, despite its overwhelming dependence on weapons and security assistance from Washington.” Saudi Arabia has also expressed its displeasure at the way Obama dropped Mubarak and criticised the repression in Bahrain.

Netanyahu resisted calls to halt settlement building and rejected any return to the June 1967 borders, or even using those borders as a basis for negotiations, as suggested by Obama. When they met at the White House on 20 May, Netanyahu lectured Obama on history and geopolitics with the arrogance of someone who knows he can’t lose. Despite the media coverage about their differences the Israeli prime minister told his aides: “I went in with certain concerns. I came out encouraged”. Obama hailed their excellent relations, the only inviolable principle in the region, but also the major obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state. Obama announced in September 2010 that it would be created by 2011 (his predecessor, George W Bush, had promised it by 2005, then 2008).

With 17 months to go before the US presidential election, the chances of Obama realising his aim are slim. What is certain is that this September, when the UN Assembly meets to decide whether to recognise a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, the US will oppose it, as they have opposed any pressure on Israel, which has for years violated every UN resolution, including those voted by the US.

But the US runs the risk of being isolated, for the agreement between Hamas and Fatah, the creation of a single Palestinian government and Israel’s intransigence have created a more favourable context for Abbas’s demands. And it seems several European countries have decided to support the resolution. Washington could, once again, impose its veto. But a massive vote in favour by the General Assembly would at least allow the Palestinian state (not just the PLO) to be granted observer status at the UN and join UN organisations such as Unesco and the FAO, and put the issue of the occupation of a state (and not just “territories”) before international opinion and justice. A small step forward, but a step all the same.

Alain Gresh is vice president of Le Monde diplomatique and heads its Middle East/Muslim world department.

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Video of lethal Israeli prison raid provokes little concern in Israel

Forward, Nathan Jeffay: “Scant Response to Video of a Violent Israeli Prison Night Search”

In Dead of Night: Israel Channel 2 aired footage in early April that the government had tried to keep secret of a post-midnight raid by Prison Service guards on sleeping Palestinian inmates at Ketziot Prison. The raid sparked a violent clash in which one prisoner died.

Israel Channel 2 aired footage in early April that the government had tried to keep secret of a post-midnight raid by Prison Service guards on sleeping Palestinian inmates at Ketziot Prison. The raid sparked a violent clash in which one prisoner died.

Tel Aviv — In the video, there was screaming, cursing and shooting that left one prisoner dead. But when, in early April, Israelis were given a fly-on-the-wall view of one of the most violent nights in the history of their prison service, other media outlets met it with a collective shrug. Continue reading

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Democracy Now gatekeepers bury dancing Israeli movers and bogus art students

The below article was published on February 9, 2007, but we have just now became aware of it and feel it deserves a larger audience.

We had been acutely aware of the Israeli spying aspects described below and that both the mainstream media and Democracy Now had failed to cover them. It’s interesting to see, as the analysis below reveals, that when Democracy Now finally mentioned these, it did so in a way to minimize the impact and the facts.

On the contrary, the excellent Washington Report on Middle East Affairs had an article about this early on by editor Richard Curtiss. The Washington Report has been published since 1982 and is one of the two best print publications for information on Israel-Palestine in the U.S.. The other is AMEU’s The Link. Yet, Amy Goodman has never had editors from either publication on her program. As a result, many activists around the country don’t even know they exist. She has similarly ignored If Americans Knew, whose founder Alison Weir has been writing and speaking about Israel-Palestine for 11 years. (See related article.)

And when activists, despite Democracy Now’s omission, do learn about the Washington Report, they are sometimes told by similar left gatekeepers that the magazine is “conservative.” In reality, it is non-doctrinaire, its editors and writers are committed humanitarians, and it consistently publishes extremely strong journalism both on Israel-Palestine and on the Israel Lobby. We suspect that is why it is being “disappeared” by the left gatekeepers who so long kept Palestine out of progressive activism that Jeffrey Blankfort exposes so well. For example, he describes: 

If there is one event that exposed their influence over of the movement, it is what occurred in the streets of New York on June 12, 1982, when 800,000 people gathered in front of the United Nations to call for a ban on nuclear weapons. Six days earlier, on June 6th, Israel had launched a devastating invasion of Lebanon. Its goal was to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization, then based in that country. Eighty thousand soldiers, backed by massive bombing from the air and from the sea were creating a level of death and destruction that dwarfed what Iraq would later do in Kuwait. Within a year there would be 20,000 Palestinians and Lebanese dead and tens of thousands more wounded.

And what was the response that day in New York? In recognition of the suffering then taking place in his homeland, a Lebanese man was allowed to sit on the stage, but he would not be introduced; not allowed to say a word. Nor was the subject mentioned by any of the speakers. Israel and its lobby couldn’t have asked for anything more.

[The person largely responsible for this was Leslie Cagan, who similarly minimized discussion of Palestine in the post-9/11 antiwar movement. Cagan now, oddly, has a paid position with the US Boat to Gaza.]

Winter Patriot Continue reading

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Israel Police’s Facebook page rife with racist comments, calls for violence

Ha’aretz – The Israeli police’s official Facebook page faces criticism after allowing a stream of offensive and racist comments to be published on its page. The police say they regularly delete inappropriate comments, and have deleted over 1,500 responses during the past three weeks.

Here are some of the comments Haaretz found on the Facebook page: “We’re leading the Arabushes around by the nose;” “With God’s help let this be the first one killed today and not the last;” “They have to be sprayed like cockroaches;” “Every stinking SOB Muslim who dies is a holiday for me.”

These comments and many others were published by registered surfers, who are identified by their name and picture – and were not deleted by the police. A spokesperson for the police says that if they missed the offensive quotes, this was due to human error.

The official Israel Police page is considered a lively Facebook page, with more than 43,000 friends. The police use it for reporting various topics, from traffic jams to security incidents.

However, in many reports concerning security issues, the discussion on the page degenerates into curses, manifestations of racism, incitement to violence and more.

The violent rhetoric of the Israeli surfer may not come as a shock, but what does surprise is the police response: The force is in charge of enforcing the law and protecting the public, but many of the comments continue to adorn the page for a long time. Continue reading

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Mitchell reportedly resigned over Dennis Ross’s “extreme bias” toward Israel, Ross working against US interests

Ma’an – A political adviser to the late president Yasser Arafat issued a statement Tuesday, alleging that US Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell resigned because of the “extreme bias” of his deputy Dennis Ross.

Bassam Abu Shareef said Ross obstructed all US initiatives aiming to achieve progress in the peace process, and blamed the deputy’s bias for Mitchell’s resignation Saturday.

Abu Shareef said senior American officials informed him that Mitchell viewed the appointment of Ross a step to obstruct the peace process. He added that Mitchell believed Ross was working against US interests.

The official paraphrased comments he said were made by Mitchell during a meeting, where he asked: “How can Dennis Ross assist in the peace process when he refuses to meet with the Palestinians, when he despises their leadership and hates their president?”

Abu Shareef also said Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “rejects peace,” and would have no part of a Palestinian state with Hamas in its leadership.

“This means they are opening war on Palestinians and their nation,” he added.

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Bloomberg declares May Birthright Israel month in N.Y., group plans to reach half of all young Jewish Americans

JTA — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has declared May Birthright Israel month. [No mention was made of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 non-Jewish men, women, and children.]

Bloomberg will issue a formal proclamation at an event Wednesday evening in New York City set to be attended by more than 1,000 alumni of the free Israel trip for Jews aged 18 to 26.

The Taglit-Birthright Israel organization said May will feature events in cities across North America for trip alumni, special Birthright Shabbat celebrations at more than 100 synagogues, visits to communities by Israeli soldiers who participated in Birthright Israel trips and special donor functions.

The organization this month plans to publicize its goal of increasing participation from 30,000 a year to 51,000 a year by 2013, or one of every two young Jewish adults.

In January, the government of Israel announced that it would contribute $100 million to Taglit-Birthright Israel over the next three years. Birthright also plans to increase its fundraising this year by $10 million to $58.6 million, and then add another $20 million next year in order reach its participant goal for 2013.

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JTA: Republican Jewish Coalition blasts Ron Paul

JTA: “Republican Jews express concern about Paul candidacy”– The Republican Jewish Coalition blasted U.S. Rep. Ron Paul before he announced his third bid for the presidency.

“As Americans who are committed to a strong and vigorous foreign policy, we are deeply concerned about the prospective presidential campaign of Congressman Ron Paul,” the RJC’s executive director, Matt Brooks, said in a May 12 statement about the Texas lawmaker. “While Rep. Paul plans to run as a Republican, his views and past record place him far outside of the Republican mainstream.”

Paul launched his campaign for the Republican nomination on Friday. Like his son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Paul has advocated cutting $3 billion in annual defense assistance to Israel, as well as to deny funding to its Arab neighbors.

In 2008, Paul mounted an insurgent campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and built a passionate base of support with his libertarian views and denunciations of American foreign policy. He was not a serious contender, however, in the primaries.

Paul had run as the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate in 1988.

“His candidacy, as we’ve seen in his past presidential campaigns, will appeal to a very narrow constituency in the U.S. electorate,” Brooks said. [In reality, Paul draws from across the political spectrum.] “Throughout his public service, Paul has espoused a dangerous isolationist vision for the U.S. and our role in the world. He has been a virulent and harsh critic of Israel during his tenure in Congress.”

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