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Palestine

Dr. Saeb Erakat, Chief Palestinian Negotiator, held a press conference on the 23rd August to discuss the Palestinian positions in advance of direct negotiations with Israel, set to begin on September 2 in Washington, DC.

During the press conference, Dr. Erakat highlighted the Middle East Quartet statement as a turning point in the PLO's decision to enter direct negotiations. The statement, given on August 20, 2010, noted the Madrid terms of reference, Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative as a starting point for this new round of negotiations. The PLO considers these principles be the basis for the direct talks.

Dr. Erakat went on to say that any successful peace talks must lead to a sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and a just and agreed solution to the refugee issue, in line with UNGAR 194.

Dr. Erakat stressed the Palestinian commitment to the peace talks, yet mentioned their serious reservations regarding Israel's intentions and commitment to a just and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis. This skepticism, he said, is a result of Israel's continued settlement activities, home demolitions and other illegal practices in the occupied Palestinian territory. Israel's commitment to a negotiated agreement and a two-state solution will be evident on the ground. If new construction tenders are issued (a plan which has already been announced by the Netanyahu government) during the negotiation process, it will be a clear affront to peace and Palestinians will be pushed out of the negotiations process.

Dr. Erakat stated that President Abbas sent a series of letters to President Obama, Lady Ashton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and President Medvedev. In these letters, President Abbas expressed his commitment to peace and demanded that the international community take a strong and unequivocal position regarding Israel's obligation to freeze all settlement activity, without exceptions. President Abbas also reiterated the PLO's position: if settlements, house demolitions and evictions continue, Palestinians will not continue negotiating.

Dr. Erakat also mentioned that even before the direct negotiations have began, Israel has already made their preconditions known a demilitarized Palestinian state, a security buffer in the Jordan River Valley and a Palestinian recognition of a "Jewish" state. Palestinians enter these negotiations, which have been called for alongside Israel, in good faith and without preconditions and ask to have an Israeli partner willing to accept the long-established and internationally-accepted terms of reference of our negotiations.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly delayed his March 23 trip to Moscow following a bombing at bus stop in central Jerusalem that injured as many as 34 people. The bombing follows a series of recent mortar and rocket attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip reaching as far as the outskirts of Ashdod and Beersheba, as well as the March 11 massacre of an Israeli family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

Netanyahu, already facing a political crisis at home in trying to hold his fragile coalition government together, now faces a serious dilemma. There were strong hints that Netanyahu may hold a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow to restart the peace process and avoid becoming entrapped in another military campaign in the Palestinian territories, but that plan is now effectively derailed. Though the precise perpetrators and their backers remain unclear, a Palestinian faction or factions appear to be deliberately escalating the crisis and thus raising the potential for Israel to mount another military operation in the Palestinian territories.

Attacks in Jerusalem, while rare, raise concerns in Israel that a more capable militant presence is building in Fatah-controlled West Bank in addition to Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Even before the Jerusalem bombing, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told Israeli citizens in a March 23 Israel Radio broadcast that "we may have to consider a return" to a second Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. He added, "I say this despite the fact that I know such a thing would, of course, bring the region to a far more combustible situation." The past few years of Palestinian violence against Israel has been mostly characterized by Gaza-based rocket attacks as well as a spate of attacks in 2008 in which militants used bulldozers to plow into both civilian and security targets in Jerusalem. Though various claims and denials were issued for many of the incidents, the perpetrators of these attacks likely deliberately remained unclear.

The names of shadowy groups such as the "al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade-Imad Mughniyah" also began circulating, raising suspicions of a stronger Hezbollah and by extension, Iranian link to Palestinian militancy. (Imad Mughniyah, one of Hezbollah's most notorious commanders, was killed in February 2008 in Damascus.) The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades-Imad Mughniyah group claimed the March 11 West Bank attack, which Hamas denied. Palestinian Islamic Jihad's (PIJ) armed wing, the al-Quds Brigades, has meanwhile claimed responsibility for the recent rocket attacks launched from Gaza that targeted Ashkelon and Sderot. PIJ spokesman Abu Hamad said
March 23 prior to the Jerusalem bus bombing that his group intends to begin targeting cities deep within Israeli territory as it enters a "new phase of the resistance." This is notable, as PIJ, out of all the Palestinian militant groups, has the closest ties to Iran.

The wider regional context is pertinent to the building crisis in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Iran has been pursuing a covert destabilization campaign in the Persian Gulf region to undermine its Sunni Arab rivals, particularly in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis reacted swiftly to the threat with the deployment of troops to Bahrain and are now engaging in a variety of measures to try to suppress Shiite unrest within the kingdom itself. The fear remains, however, that Iran has retained a number of covert assets in the region that it can choose to activate at an opportune time. Iran opening another front in the Levant, using its already well-established links to Hezbollah in Lebanon and its developing links to Hamas and other players in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, remains a distinct possibility and islikely being discussed in the crisis meetings under way in Israel at this time.

(C) www.stratfor.com All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission

 

Stolen from an Op-ed piece in the New York Times. If anyone objects, we'll take it down - can't reachMr Kristoff yet but wanted to bring you his thoughts soonest

Waiting for Gandhi by NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Published: July 9, 2010

Despite being stoned and tear-gassed on this trip, I find a reed of hope here. It's that some Palestinians are dabbling in a strategy of nonviolent resistance that just might be a game-changer.

The organizers hail the methods of Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., recognizing that nonviolent resistance could be a more powerful tool to achieve a Palestinian state than rockets and missiles. Bilin is one of several West Bank villages experimenting with these methods, so I followed protesters here as they marched to the Israeli security fence.

Most of the marchers were Palestinians, but some were also Israeli Jews and foreigners who support the Palestinian cause. They chanted slogans and waved placards as photographers snapped photos. At first the mood was festive and peaceful, and you could glimpse the potential of this approach.

But then a group of Palestinian youths began to throw rocks at Israeli troops. That's the biggest challenge: many Palestinians define "nonviolence" to include stone-throwing.

Read more...  

By George Friedman

Last week's events off the coast of Israel continue to resonate. Turkish-Israeli relations have not quite collapsed since then but are at their lowest level since Israel's founding. U.S.-Israeli tensions have emerged, and European hostility toward Israel continues to intensify. The question has now become whether substantial consequences will follow from the incident. Put differently, the question is whether and how it will be exploited beyond the arena of public opinion.

The most significant threat to Israel would, of course, be military. International criticism is not without significance, but nations do not change direction absent direct threats to their interests. But powers outside the region are unlikely to exert military power against Israel, and even significant economic or political sanctions are unlikely to happen. Apart from the desire of outside powers to limit their involvement, this is rooted in the fact that significant actions are unlikely from inside the region either.

Read more...  

By Matthew Smith

The Israeli raid on the Gaza Aid Flotilla has once more brought Israel into the world headlines for all the wrong reasons. Events rapidly spiralled out of control when protestors aboard the Turkish owned MV Mavi Marmara attacked and disarmed a number of Israeli commandos who had been sent to commandeer the vessel. Whether through panic or being fired upon themselves, Israeli forces opened fire on protesters, resulting in nine dead. Footage of the boarding can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2duPV9MQIc&feature=related The intelligence failure that underestimated the severity of protestors' reaction will have major consequences. Had such a welcome been envisaged for the Israeli commandos, alternative means of subduing the protestors could have been used, avoiding this whole affair.

Read more...  

By Matthew Smith

As the Israeli air forces strikes a cheese factory, rockets hit Israel and tensions rise fast towards possible intensified conflict, the nature of the last Israeli incursion into Palestinian territory bears re-examination

There can be no doubt that the conduct of the Israeli military during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9 was heavy handed. With the seemingly unrestrained use of explosive ordinance and white phosphorous in the Gaza strip, combined with a media blackout and no stated timeframe for its operation, Israel was quickly demonised in the international media. The resulting coverage gave the impression of a malicious Israeli offensive designed to cause as much damage as possible.

Read more...  

By George Friedman

Amid the rhetoric of U.S. President Barack Obama's speech June 4 in Cairo, there was one substantial indication of change, not in the U.S. relationship to the Islamic world but in the U.S. relationship to Israel. This  shift actually emerged prior to the speech, and the speech merely touched on it. But it is not a minor change and it must not be underestimated. It has every opportunity of growing into a major breach between Israel and the United States.

Read more...  

By Chris Kaithayil, Council for Arab British Understanding

The recent revelations in Haartez that soldiers in the Israeli armed forces were taking a lackadaisical approach to generally accepted military rules of engagement caused a furore within Israel and across the world. For a country that prides itself on having 'the most moral army in the world ', the idea that soldiers could shoot at unarmed women and children who posed no threat to them is forcing some degree of introspection in a uniquely militaristic Israeli society.

Read more...  

By Graham Bambrough

The furore over the BBC and Sky's refusal to screen an appeal from the Disasters Emergency Committee for Gaza jerks the issue of how we got here back into the spotlight.

In the Middle East, the past matters. An argument over the rights and wrongs of this operation and the pluses and minuses of another, can easily lead to an impromptu test of one's ability to recite from the history books. So it is with latest round of violence in Gaza that has left an estimated 1,300 Palestinians dead, 412 of them children, and a dozen or so Israelis

Read more...  

Written by Simon Roberts

While Tony Blair, as Middle East envoy, may be finding it difficult to gain direct access to Hamas, Sir Jeremy Greenstock is not. Through his work with the charity Forward Thinking, Sir Jeremy has made direct contact with Hamas and in an interview with BBC Radio Four's Today programme, discusses the merits of open diplomacy.

The whole tenor of the interview is that Hamas and the Palestinian cause is a much misunderstood one. Sir Jeremy cites the fact that Palestinian Muslims are of the Sunni rather than the Shi'ite faction and thus are not beholden to Iran nor do they want to establish a Taliban style government in Gaza.

Read more...  
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