Saturday, January 24, 2015

About buried phosphorus and thuggish diplomacy

In 1974, as a young soldier just inducted into the ranks of the Israel Defense Forces, I was among a group of soldiers whom the platoon sergeant took on a tour of the munitions dump, showing us the different types of ammunition  used by the army. Among other things, he pointed to a pile of wooden boxes which were marked "Exploding Smoke" and said with a sligh wink "In fact, these are phosphorus bombs, but do not write the name explicitly because it might  create international problems." I have to admit that at that moment I did not pay much attention to this; still, it somehow stuck in my memory.

Much later, in 2009, I suddenly remembered the winking sergeant  and his Exploding Smoke. During the Israeli Air Force bombings of Gaza ("Cast Lead Operation") news started to get out of what happened to those on whom such phosphorus bombs happened to fall. Burning phosphorus particles stick to the body, penetrating deeper and deeper inside, causing excruciating pain. Shifa Hospital in central Gaza was crowded with whole families affected by the phosphorus which had fallen on them from the sky, the doctors seeing it happen, often unable to stop it in time. Even phosphorus smoke dissipating in the air can cause severe damage, sometimes death, to those who breath it.

Israeli and international Human Rights organizations made an outcry, and the use of phosphorus in Gaza had a central place in the famous report of the Goldstone Commission. The Government of Israel and the IDF asserted that phosphorus was used only in uninhabited areas (is there any part of the Gaza Strip which is truly uninhabited?). But in the next rounds of Gaza bombings, 2012 and 2014 phosphorus was no longer used. At least this particular horror was spared the inhabitants.

This week, intensive earthworks were going on at the Schneller Compound in Jerusalem, a former military camp on whose site an upscale residential neighborhood is to be erected. Suddenly, severe toxic fumes rose from the ground and spread throughout the whole area. Residents within a hundred meters radius were urgently required to stay indoors and close hermetically all windows. Only after several hours, rescue teams in sealed protective suits managed to locate and neutralize a buried old phosphorus bomb which had been touched by the bulldozers.

The  phosphorus vapors which rose this week from the soil of a quiet Jerusalem neighborhood - as if it is a metaphor for the State of Israel coming this week for the first time under the direct scrutiny of the International Criminal Court in The Hague…

No longer science fiction, no more an apocalyptic forecast of a future when the Palestinians might wield "their "Doomsday Weapon", but a concrete reality. A dry, formal notification by the Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that a preliminary probe had been initiated about the possibility of war crimes having been committed in the Palestinian Territories; that the probe may relate to crimes committed by Israel, by Palestinian organizations, or both; that the probe is not a full-scale investigation, but the information collected might lead to the decision to open a full investigation; that the decision on such a full investigation would be made by the judges of the court, under the prescribed procedures; and that the probe will be conducted in a "fully independent and impartial manner", with no deadline set for its completion. Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, who had been involved in prosecuting war criminals in Rwanda, was included by Time Magazine in its list of “the hundred most influential people in the world”.

The professional echelon at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem recommended
to Prime Minister Netanyahu to make a moderate and measured response and concentrate on discreet behind-the-scenes action, especially since the prosecutors’ probe is preliminary only, and it would take a long time to crystallize into a formal charge-sheet - if at all.

Netanyahu ignored the recommendation and decided on an all-out international campaign, a frontal attack on the Court, its prosecutors and judges – even to the extent of exerting  international efforts to get funding to the International Court cut if it dares to institute proceedings against officers of the "most moral army in the world". Foreign Minister Lieberman, in his usual blunt way, stated that “the court should be dismantled”. Several observers noted that such angry and a bit hysterical reactions had less to do with apprehension of some Israeli officers being actually prosecuted in absentia at some future time, and more with the realization that even this initial probe might be enough to change significantly the international discourse regarding Israel and the Palestinians.

And then, the focus of attention suddenly shifted away from the court halls in the Hague to the skies of war-torn Syria. There, combat helicopters (or by another version, drones) suddenly appeared and launched an accurate barrage on a convoy of senior operatives of Hezbollah – the Lebanese Shi’ite militia which is one of the main supporters of President Bashar Assad and his regime. The Government of Israel refrained from taking formal responsibility for the attack, but Israel’s mass-circulation newspapers were quick to place headlines praising "the accurate action of our forces," and the "liquidation of the Prince of Terror".

Jihad Mughniyah, a young man without much experience or special skills, had gained the position of command over the forces sent by Hezbollah to the Israeli border in the Golan Heights mainly because of being the son of Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah operations chief who was killed in a mysterious  explosion in Damascus eight years ago. Yedioth Ahronoth published on its front page the photo of father and son, Imad and Jihad, with the prominent red captions "liquidated 2008" near the one and "liquidated 2015" next to the other. On the inside pages was the further information, unearthed by some diligent researcher, that also two uncles from the “Mughniyah terrorist family" had been "liquidated" in the past. Also, there was a warning to readers not to be misled by the photographs of Jihad Mughniyeh, in which he looked like a shy schoolboy, but to understand that he had been a dangerous terrorist and it had been well done to rid the world of his presence.

There was some confusion when it came out that among the twelve killed in the bombing were also an Iranian general and some of his officers. Official Israel responded with a number of conflicting voices: one unnamed “Israeli military source” apologetically told Reuters that Israel did not know about the presence of an Iranian general in the convoy. Another unnamed source contradicted this a few hours later and reiterated the version that Israel “does not accept any responsibility” for the attack in Syria.

"Would Iran and Hezbollah accept meekly such a blow?" wondered  the commentators. "A helicopter attack is a method which leaves clear Israeli fingerprints, it is not a bomb planted by somebody somewhere to which you can plausibly disclaim responsibility. This is poking a finger in the eye of Hezbollah, they can’t afford not to respond" wrote Alon Ben-David in  "Ma'ariv".

Indeed, there were angry protests in Beirut and Tehran, and threats were made of "dire and painful retaliation". The northern region of Israel was placed under an alert higher than at any time since 2006, tanks were stationed  along the Lebanese border,  as were the Iron Dome anti-missile missiles. Deep in the Mediterranean waters Israeli navy missile boats were stationed to defend against a possible attack on the Israeli natural gas rigs, and Defense Minister Ya’alon made dire threats against “anyone who dares to violate Israeli sovereignty” (sic!). And the tension continues. “Someone threw a match into a powder keg and is now waiting to see whether it will explode or not. This is a dangerous exercise in practical chemistry conducted on the eve of the final exam: The elections in Israel" wrote veteran commentator Alex Fishman.

While the alert in the north reached its peak, a violent incident took place in Tel Aviv – a young Palestinian stabbed and wounded passengers  in an Israeli bus, and an eighth-grader has become the hero of the hour for throwing his satchel at the stabber. However, this probably did not come from Hezbollah; rather, it was one more of the Palestinians fed up  with the ongoing occupation, taking a private initiative. As he told in police investigation, what the young knife-man sought to avenge was the deadly bombings of Gaza – which Palestinians remember very well, though Israelis have managed to forget them at record speed. The northern powder keg of which Fishman wrote had not yet exploded. The retaliation, when it comes, might be at an unpredictable place and time chosen by Hezbollah and its Iranian partners.

An immediate Hezbollah revenge could have ensured the victory of Netanyahu in the March general elections: a missile barrage from Lebanon on Israeli cities, which would have required a powerful response by the Israeli Air Force and initiated an open-ended military operation ("Operation Protective Stiff Cloud"?) which would have continued to escalate until shortly before the election date - and during all that time, opposition leaders Herzog and
Livni would have been constrained to express patriotic support for the government and avoid all criticism and propaganda. Alas, up to this moment Hezbollah did not deliver the goods. Even so, our Prime Minister did apparently make some electoral modest gain from the winds of war blowing this week.  Weekend polls indicated an increase in the Likud Party’s showing, not very big but enough to close the gap which separated the ruling party from its Labor Party rival, the two now running neck and neck.

The electoral aspects of the attack in Syria have already been discussed quite a bit. Not so much attention was given to the fact that among those killed in the attack was the officer in charge of the Hezbollah force fighting against the Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL) – which makes him a de-facto ally of the US, even if figuring on its list of terrorists.

Coincidentally or not, just this week was published an interesting strategic assessment by Israel Ziv - formerly an IDF general and now heading a company which provides "security advice and military training for security forces in Latin America and Africa".  Ziv stated unequivocally that "For Israel, ISIS is the lesser evil. The existence of the ISIS State breaks up the dangerous Shiite territorial continuity from Tehran to Beirut which Iran had spent great efforts to build up. It is preferable for us to have there a sword-wielding  force moving about in converted vans, rather than a nuclear power stationing  missiles at our borders. Moreover, the ideological priorities of ISIS are first of all to fight the Shiites and other minorities, rather than dealing with ‘The Zionists'. In this respect they have many years of 'work' laid out for them before having time and energy for us "(Yediot Aharonot, January 19, 2015).

As we know, the approach of President Obama is quite different. Obama regards ISIS as a threat serious enough to warrant the reversal of the planned  American departure from Iraq, a threat justifying and necessitating the launching of an air campaign and even the forming of a de-facto alliance with Iran and Iran’s allies, waging war on ISIS on their own account. In that context, Obama seeks to reach in the near future an agreement with Iran on the nuclear issue - an agreement which would ensure that Iran does not actually build a nuclear bomb, but which would not necessarily require Iran to completely dismantle all its nuclear capabilities.

In the eyes of Prime Minister Netanyahu, such an agreement between the US and Iran would be very bad and dangerous. After for a while keeping a low profile on the Iranian issue, Netanyahu took it up again in full swing, with the encouragement of his Republicans partners who now control Capitol Hill. On the agenda of the Republicans – and of Netanyahu - is a proposal to impose further sanctions on Iran. As Mossad chief Tamir Pardo stated to US Senators (though later forced to publish a denial), such new sanctions would lead to the collapse of negotiations between Iran and the West. Which, it clearly seems, is precisely Netanyhau’s purpose…

Through his close associate Ron Dermer - Israeli Ambassador to the United States, who is in practice mainly Netanyahu’s ambassador to the Republican Party - Netanyahu arranged to get himself invited to Washington and address a joint session of Congress. The date set: March 3, just two weeks before elections in Israel. It would be a first-rate electioneering broadcast: the Prime Minister of Israel, speaking impeccable English to the American legislators, who get up on their feet and give him a standing ovation (AIPAC will take care of their all clapping in unison) with everything broadcast live on Israeli TV. And in this speech Netanyahu would presumably concentrate on the Iranian Threat and  spur Congress to impose more sanctions – even (and especially) contrary to the clearly expressed wishes of the President of the United States.

As has already been reported extensively, Netanyahu did not bother to give the White House or the State Department any hint of his intentions to get to Washington and blatantly interfere in the American political power struggle. And as has been made clear unmistakeably, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are truly furious at Netanyahu. Unnamed US officials told Ha’aretz: “We thought we’ve seen everything, but Bibi managed to surprise even us. There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price to pay”. Today's headlines in the press published the announcement of President Obama that he will not meet with Netanyahu during this visit to Washington -  nor will Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry or any other member of the administration.

Is this enough to make Netanyahu pay a real price? Quite doubtful. The Prime Minister may regard a public cold shoulder from Obama as a tolerable and even negligible price to pay, as long as Obama continues to give support to Netanyahu's policies where it really counts, for example in the UN Security Council. In the near future, however, Obama might be given an opportunity to exact from Netanyahu a real price: Palestinians are considering resuming their application to the Security Council, whose composition has changed since the failed vote in December. And perhaps it is just barely possible that the American vote will also change, this time?

Bibi King Kong at Capitol Hill (Haaretz, Biderman)

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Paris effect that wasn’t

[The following was originally written in Dutch by Beate Zilversmidt for the website of the Amsterdam-based “Other Jewish Voice”]

Two news items on the same day:

- Jewish ultra-orthodox school closed in Amsterdam, as in Bruxelles and Antwerpen.

- In a Channel-10 opinion poll the Herzog/Livni Labor Party up and with 26 seats leading; leaving  the Likud behind at 24.

That in Amsterdam a Jewish school was closed for security reasons - it struck me painfully. But in the  Israeli news, it was not more than a side note. It was the week after the Paris upheaval.

We in Israel did expect things would have an impact on our elections. That was also what Netanyahu thought when he rushed to Paris calling upon the Jews in France to turn their back to France and make aliya. If that is what the French knew he would do, then they had reason not to want him there, at such a sensitive occasion. Representatives of French Jewry themselves complained, feeling undermined at the very moment that they have asked  for better protection, in France.

But, Netanyahu was speaking over their heads to the Israeli electorate. And if the polls would have shown this week Netanyahu's Likud going up, we would not have been surprised. We would have told ourselves: it is the Paris effect; it will pass. That the opposite happened, that may indicate that Bibi's  fear mongering and world unfriendliness don't bring Israelis anymore to flock behind him. And that in such a week the chances of Herzog go up - if this is proof of an undercurrent coming more and more to the surface, then we may really look forward to a change in the political balance of power.

Here a ray of hope during Europe’s dark hour?

Friday, January 2, 2015

From Nigeria, via New York, to the checkpoint

Source photo 1:, photo 2: +972

Once again, the new year rolled in across the globe. As always, the celebrations in New York’s Times Square, the crystal ball and excited countdown were broadcast live all across the global village. Ahmad Bdeir from the village of Farun on the West Bank will not see this new year. The last day of 2014 was also the last day of his life. 

Until that day, the 39-year old Bdeir was among Palestinians considered relatively lucky, having gotten a permit to work in Israel. This meant that he did not have to skulk across the border and resort to the help of sometimes shady people-smugglers, nor hide from Israeli police on the lookout for “illegal infiltrators”.  On the other hand, it meant that he had to get up very early every morning, to make it through a very overcrowded checkpoint and get in time to the construction site where he derived the livelihood of his family.

Inspection procedures at the checkpoint - called al-Tayba by Palestinians and Sha’ar Efrayim by official Israeli designation -  typically take hours. First, every person must pass through metal turnstiles, one at a time. Past the revolving gates, there are metal detectors and inspection stations to go through. Waiting to proceed, Palestinians are often crowded into metal pens inside the checkpoint, unable to leave or enter. 

The whole process is controlled by Israeli soldiers in hidden posts. The soldiers – usually, 18- or 19-year-old conscripts are completely invisible and unapproachable, in order to prevent any chance of their being attacked. The workers can only hear their voices amplified over the loudspeakers – and complaints at the overcrowding and agonizing slow pace usually go unheard and unheeded. 

Ahmad Bdeir had gone through this process every morning, like about 15,000 others. In one such early morning hour, on December 31, he suffocated. It took several moments for the other tightly packed workers around him to notice what had happened, and much longer for them to get the attention of the unseen soldiers in control. By the time medical teams got to the spot, they could do little more than confirm his death.

Just one day before all this happened, the International Community - as manifested at the spacious and comfortable halls of the United Nations Headquarters in New York - turned down the request of the Palestinians to be free of Israeli soldiers controlling their lives. They had asked for the fiftieth year of Israeli occupation to be 
Its last, for a timetable determining that 2017 would see the birth of Free Palestine. This was rejected, and the Palestinians referred once again to interminable negotiations with Israel, which – certainly under its present government – has no intention of ever ending the occupation. (A different government might or might not be there next year…)

To the positive side, France fully backed up the Palestinians (for which the French Ambassador to Israel is to be summoned and reprimanded at the Foreign Ministry), as did Luxembourg – a mini state but still a member in good standing of the EU. And Britain at least abstained, which also aroused some worries in the PM’s bureau. All of which was not enough in face of the immovable rock in Washington. 

In the past weeks, there had been many rumors of President Obama, long exasperated with the conduct of PM Netanyahu, considering  a change to the long-standing policy of applying an automatic US veto on behalf  of the Government of Israel. Obama may or may not have considered it. In the event he decided to stick with the good old veto and not risk an all-out confrontation on Capitol Hill. And by dint of various maneuverings and underhand deals, the Palestinian proposal fell short of the nine votes needed.  The Americans were absolved of having full responsibility for blocking the Palestinians’ way to freedom, with Nigeria, Rwanda and South Korea becoming convenient scapegoats. 

Be that as it may, the vote in New York precipitated a reaction which had been long discussed and debated among Palestinians, and which President Abbas until now avoided: adhesion to more than twenty international treaties, and particularly the Statute of Rome. That is the necessary preliminary to Palestinians being able to start legal proceedings against specific Israelis at the International Criminal Court at the Hague, on charges of war crimes and/or violations of International Law. 

Netnayhau and his ministers reacted with the expected fury, and threatened retaliations – i.e., that Israel would start its own proceedings against various Palestinians. So, the Hague might in the coming year witness a titanic judicial duel, with both sides likely mobilizing top lawyers and International Law experts. The Palestinians would set out the horrors of bombings and artillery bombardments of Gaza in 2009, 2011 and 2014, and various smaller-scale killings at other times and places. The Israelis would riposte by citing the shooting of missiles at Israel and various suicide bombings. 

It would not be difficult for Israeli legal experts to build up a case against Hamas leaders. Much less easy would it be to pin anything on Abbas. The final result might be to draw up in international public opinion a parallel between Hamas leaders on the one hand and IDF generals on the other, and have respectable international judges deliberate on whose acts are to be considered more heinous – not precisely the line which Israeli governmental PR experts are usually trying to push.

Moreover, the Rome Statue also includes a specific reference to the creation of settlements in Occupied Territory as a serious breach or International Law. Once gaining access to the International Court, the Palestinians could well draw indictments against settler leaders, building contractors who erect settlements as well as Israeli government ministers and officials engaged in the settlement project. To that, it would be difficult to find an opposite and equal reaction from the Israeli side.]]

All of this  would be in the cards only after March 2015 – when there would be in Israel either a brand new government or a new incarnation of the rotten old one. Wait and see.  

A Footnote

The vote in the UN Security Council was decided by Nigeria at the last moment not supporting the Palestinian proposal. That is not quite surprising, considering the following:

1) The President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan is a Christian.

2) He is not just a Christian, he is an Evangelical Christian. He is member of the Nigerian Word of Life Bible Church which is closely connected with the Evangelical Churches in the United States, fanatic supporters of the extreme right in Israel.

3) President Goodluck Jonathan and the Pastor 'Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor, head of Word of Life Bible Church, were last year on pilgrimage in Israel. It was not just a religious pilgrimage, they also met Netanyahu.

4) Three months ago, in September 2014, the authorities in South Africa searched a Nigerian airplane and found on board three suitcases containing a total of 9,300,000 Dollars in cash. The money was confiscated according to rules against international money laundering.

5) On the plane were three passengers - two Nigerians and an Israeli named Eyal Masika. It was Masika who had the combination for opening the money suitcases.

6)  Eyal Masika lives in the capital city of Nigeria, Exactly what is he doing there? Nobody knows,

7) The plane on which Eyal Masika was travelling with the 9,300,000 Dollars was owned or chartered by the Word of Life Bible Church of Pastor 'Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor. 

8) After all this came out, President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria contacted directly President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, said that  the 9,300,000 Dollars belonged to the Government of Nigeria and asked for the return of the money. President Zuma agreed. 

9) All this affair with the 9,300,000 Dollars happened in September this year, when it was already well-known that the Palestinians were going to the Security Council and that Nigeria was going to be one of the countries deciding the outcome of the vote.

There was no need for any extensive detective work to find all this. A quarter of an hour on Wikipedia and the Internet were quite enough.

Friday, December 26, 2014

About diplomatic subversion and pressure cookers

For the first time in years opinion polls indicate the possibility of Netanyahu’s career coming to its end at the March elections, and also on the diplomatic horizon the PM facec increasing storm warnings, with such headlines as: "Europe said 'yes' to Palestine" / "A European Slap in the Face" / "A Black Day for Israel in the Diplomatic Arena". In "Israel Today", nicknamed "The Bibinews", the tone was especially excited: "An anti-Israeli European Blitz/ Fury in Israel: 'They have not learned a thing!'/ PM Netanyahu: 'Six Million Jews Were Slaughtered on The Soil of Europe, We Will Defend Our Country Against Terrorism and Hypocrisy! '"

Conjuring the memory of the Holocaust up in the context of the European Parliament’s recognition of the State of Palestine did not sound very convincing even in Israel. And giving notice of a personal boycott against the Swedish Foreign Minister, whose government has recognized Palestine, did not seem a serious or credible response; nor did the announcement of "reconsideration of relations with Switzerland", in view of the sharp resolutions taken at the convention of countries signatory to the Geneva Convention. And the decision this week of building  several hundred more settlement housing units in East Jerusalem, was only pouring more oil on the flames.

Labor Party leader Yitzchak  Herzog, for the first time considered a serious contender in the Prime Ministerial race held Netanyahu  responsible “for the diplomatic fiasco afflicting the State of Israel, on top of the economic failure". And Avigdor Lieberman – Netanyahu’s Foreign Minister and until recently his loyal partner - voiced a new tune, not unlike Herzog's words: "Netanyahu’s  status quo policy has failed. Without a political agreement, Israel's relations with the European Union will deteriorate, which will result in serious damage to our economy - look at what's going on in Russia because of the EU sanctions. If we do not take the initiative, we face a diplomatic tsunami".

Can one give any credibility to Lieberman’s efforts of reinventing himself, move away from the extreme right and become a centrist leader? That remains to be seen. But what is remarkable is that this is what a shrewd and highly experienced politician considers as the best way to promote his career.

Surprisingly, the one who volunteered to give a bit of comfort to the harassed Prime Minister was none other than Tzipi Livni, Herzog's partner who had just joined with great fanfare the fight for the replacement of Netanyahu. Livni begged US Secretary of State Kerry to postpone, until after the Israeli elections, the crucial UN Security Council vote on the Palestinian draft resolution. She asserted that the adoption of a UN resolution supporting the  Palestinian aspirations for an end to the occupation would help Netanyahu’ s elections campaign, enabling him to mobilize public opinion on the basis of "The whole world is against us".

Is it so? Tzipi Livni herself no doubt remembers the 1992 elections, when  she was still a loyal member of the Likud Party. During that elections campaign, PM Shamir got entangled in a public confrontation with the US President, Bush the father- with the result that the voters turned their backs on him and his party and brought Rabin to power. It is quite possible that such a scenario would repeat itself if after all President Obama finds the courage to confront Netanyahu - and Netanyahu's supporters on Capitol Hill – precisely at elections time in Israel. Israeli voters may have lost all hope of reaching peace with the Palestinians - but only a few of them would be willing to watch with equanimity the loss of the American backing which had  sustained Israel for so many years.

To the Administration, however, Livni's words (and similar urgings by former President Peres) were very welcome. There is no doubt that Obama and Kerry would prefer to delay as much as possible the difficult decision between a veto, which would lead to a confrontation with the Arab World - and a non-veto which would lead to a turmoil on Capitol Hill. Secretary of State Kerry informed the gathered European diplomats that the United States is determined to delay the UN vote until after the elections in Israel.

Did Livni win the gratitude of Netanyahu and his fellows? Well, not exactly. She  actually got torrents of abuse and condemnation, and it was the right-wingers who condemned her approach to the Americans as "an act of diplomatic subversion"...

So, the Americans are determined to wait until after the elections in Israel - but will the Palestinians cooperate? There was a time when Palestinians used to give much consideration to changes and upheavals in the Israeli political system, but nowadays they don’t have a lot of expectations that elections in Israel will yield a better government than the one presently holding power. In any case, many Palestinians are skeptical about President Abbas’ international initiative, and his agreeing to freeze this initiative until mid-March would greatly increase its lack of credibility.

The very unpopular decision to continue maintaining security cooperation with Israel, also after the death of Minister Ziad Abu Ein – killed during the dispersal of a peaceful demonstration by Israeli soldiers -  leaves Abbas no option but to forge forward with his diplomatic offensive. Therefore, it is most likely that immediately after 1 January - when the composition of the UN Security Council changes and more countries supporting the Palestinian positions gain membership – the draft resolution will come to a vote and President Obama will be forced to take a stand, one way or another.

Saeb Erekat, the eternal Chief Negotiator of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, explained the reasons for the Palestinians’ determination to go on with their diplomatic initiative: " More than 20 years after the beginning of the negotiations, Israel, the occupying power, has continued its illegal colonization enterprise and relentless violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people. Over that period of time the number of settlers has almost tripled and the settlement infrastructure has continued to grow. At the same time Israel's illegal siege on Gaza continues through various measures of collective punishment. The deterioration has been dramatic and this initiative at the Security Council is an effort to redress this situation by reaffirming the rights of the Palestinian people, reaffirming the parameters of a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and mobilizing the international community to uphold its responsibilities and to salvage the two-State solution and the prospects for peace”.

The Palestinian street does not hold high expectations from the international community and expects even from whatever government will be formed in Israel. More and more young people - most of them "loners" who do not belong to any organization and therefore it is hard for Israel's security services to find them – have come to the conclusion that the only way to get their people free is to take up arms. Last night there was another such case, near the settlement of El-Matan in the northern West Bank. Ayala Shapira, an 11-year old girl, was hit by a Molotov cocktail thrown from an ambush at the car in which she was traveling with her father. She managed to jump out of the burning car and was taken to hospital in a critical condition, suffering from severe burns to her upper body and face. Even if the doctors manage to save her life, she can  be expected to undergo a long and painful rehabilitation process. Evidently she would never again look like the smiling photo prominently published in today’s newspapers this morning, and it would take a long time before she could again attend the enhanced Mathematics Class for Gifted Children.

The El-Matan settlement was established in 2000, officially defined as “a neighborhood " of the older settlement of Ma'ale Shomron; therefore, the road connecting Ma'ale Shomron to El-Matan – where the Molotov was thrown - is considered by the settlers as “an internal artery of Ma'ale Shomron". El-Matan was established without any authorization from the Ministry of Defense or any other government agency, a blatantly illegally act even according to the highly permissive rules of the Israeli military government. It was one of the illegal settlement outposts which PM Sharon was supposed to evacuate, back in 2003 (so he promised ...) On the same year that Sharon pledged to the Americans to evacuate El-Matan, the child Ayala Shapira was born there.

The definition of El-Matan as an illegal settlement outpost was until yesterday no hindrance in the life of the girl and her family - especially as the government of Israel did not show even the slightest inclination to evacuate it – on the contrary, the government transferred ample funds to finance its continuing  growth. In 2012 the idea was raised of legalizing El-Matan by defining it as “an artists’ colony" (though its inhabitants are not artists…) At the time the idea sparked sharp protests in Israel and abroad ("The settlers make the task of giving legitimacy to outposts into a real art. What kind of art can flourish in a manifestly illegal outpost?" Asked Peace Now’s Yariv Oppenheimer). Now, when the front pages filled with reports about the calamity which struck Ayala  Shapira and her family, this idea might surface again.

"This was not the act of a criminal. We are at war and the one who threw the Molotov cocktail is a soldier among those who fight against us" is how Avner Shapira,  the girl's father, is quoted in today’s papers. In this much one can certainly agree with him - even if disagreeing with his further remarks regarding "total impossibility of ever reaching peace" and “the need to conduct all-out war against the terrorists".

Earlier this week, another front of the same war heated up several times -  the border of the Gaza Strip, still bleeding from the harsh summer. A missile was shot from the Gaza Strip into Israel and caused no damage or casualties, and a few days later a Palestinian sniper shot and wounded an Israeli soldier near the border fence. In both cases, Hamas denied any connection to the acts, attributed them to rogue organizations and announced its determination to maintain the ceasefire. In both cases the Israeli government and its armed forces placed responsibility upon Hamas and took punitive measures accordingly - the bombing of a concrete-producing plant in the first case, the killing of an important Hamas operative in the second. In both cases commentators repeated the same formulations: "Both sides, Israel and Hamas, do not want to reach an all-out escalation - but they may be drawn to into it against their will." Such formulations also appeared in the press just before the flare-up in the summer, dubbed "Operation Protective Edge" which ended with the razing of entire Gaza neighborhoods  and the death of some 2100.

By any measure, the war has left the Gaza Strip an open sore which no one is seriously trying to treat. Only a fraction of the donations promised for reconstructing Gaza arrived in practice, and only a trickle of building materials get past the walls and barriers. The mechanism which was set up at the demand of Israel, under which the United Nations must closely oversee the distribution of construction materials "to avoid their getting into Hamas’ hands" has become a constant source of black marketing and wild profiteering. An international activist who was recently in Gaza told me that the price of a bag of cement in Gaza has risen to four times more the price before the war - far beyond the reach of many Gazans whose homes were destroyed.

Officially,  the Gaza Strip is under the authority of the Ramallah-based "Palestinian Consensus Government". In practice, except for a single highly publicized meeting which its ministers held in Gaza, that government has no real presence in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas retains de-facto power. It is highly uncertain whether President Abbas has any  desire to embark on a struggle – certainly political, possibly military as well - to achieve some tangible control over the Gaza Strip or parts thereof.

The fine talk about "An arrangement" aimed at achieving a fundamental solution to the problems of Gaza was shelved, and the world's attention shifted at record speed to other problems. The negotiations in Cairo were supposed to give the Palestinians a forum where they could air all claims and grievances, demand an end to the siege and even the opening of air and sea ports in Gaza. During the war, Hamas leaders have expressed great doubt whether the Israeli government would indeed conduct such negotiations (that was one of the main reasons for prolongation of the fighting). These doubts proved completely justified.

The Cairo negotiations were cut off two days after opening. Instead, the Egyptian President General Sisi – Netanyhau’s not-so-secret ally – hastened to tighten the siege on Gaza from the Egyptian side. The Rafah Border Crossing was completely shut down, on the grounds that Gazans were involved in attacks on the Egyptian army in Sinai. Afterwards, the Egyptian army began an intensive operation to create along the border with Gaza "a sterile area" half a kilometer wide (later, extended to a full kilometer), which involved the destroying of hundreds of homes and completely erasing entire neighborhoods in Rafah.

This Egyptian campaign is strongly reminiscent - perhaps not coincidentally – of what the Israeli General Yom Tov Samia tried to do when Israeli forces were  in direct control on the other side of the same border. Dozens of Palestinian homes were destroyed, with the declared intention to create just such a sterile area. At the time there were a lot of international protests, especially after the American activist Rachel Corrie gave her life in the struggle against house demolitions in Rafah. But apparently, the world opinion which made an outcry against the destruction of the homes of Palestinians by an Israeli general proved ready to pass over the destruction of the homes of Egypt citizens by an Egyptian dictator...

Roger Cohen of the New York Times, who this week published his impressions from electioneering Israel and bleeding Gaza, wrote: “A child of nine in Gaza has memories of three wars in six years. The child may stand in the remains of the Shejaiya neighborhood in eastern Gaza City, gazing at tangles of iron rods, mountains of stone, jagged outcrops of masonry, and air thick with dust. The child may wonder what force it is that wrought such destruction, so repetitively, and why. It is safe to say that the adult this Palestinian child will one day become does not bode well for Israel. The child has no need for indoctrination in hatred.”

This week, the Egyptian government graciously announced the opening of the Rafah Crossing, after two months in which it was completely closed. The opening was limited to two days, and the only ones allowed to leave the Gaza Strip were residents with a health emergency, students enrolled in universities abroad, and Palestinians holding foreign citizenship. Those who fulfilled one of these criteria crowded the crossing in great droves, anxious to get out before it would close again. Representatives of the Egyptian government announced that a regular opening of the crossing must wait for some undefined future date, "according to security considerations." On this matter, Netanyahu could smile. At least officially, he bears  no responsibility.

In the pressure cooker called Gaza, the pressure continues to mount.

Crowding at Rafah Crossing - photo AFP

On December 29, 2014, the Geneva Initiative will hold a conference at Sderot, on the Gaza border: “A Ticking Bomb Called Gaza: What's In Store for Inhabitants of South Israel?"


 * Gen. (res.) Israela Oron, former Deputy Head of the National Security Council

* Gen. (res.) Giora Inbar, former commander of the Lebanon Border Brigade  and the Givati Brigade

* Mr. Hisham Abd al-Razzaq, a Gaza resident, former Minister of Prisoners' Affairs in the Palestinian Authority

The conference will be held at the Sapir College, on Monday Dec. 29, starting at 17:30

Contact: +972-3-6938780

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Triple Race to Fiftieth Anniversary

A moment before dispersing itself, the outgoing Knesset still managed to re-enact the law authorizing the years-long detention without trial of African asylum seekers in the Negev “open prison”. A law which was already twice overturned by the Supreme Court. But for Likud’s Miri Regev, Chair of the Knesset Interior Committee the bill was “not  tough enough.” She promised: "Next time we get to power we will enact a stronger law”.
"Next time we get to power" -  Regev probably didn’t notice what she let slip. She didn’t say "After the elections” but “Next time we get to power”. For the first time in quite a while, the Likud winning the elections and Netanyahu's remaining in power no longer seem to be a self-evident outcome.
Just a week ago, most commentators - and the general public – thought new elections will not bring any substantial change in the political situation; that calling elections two years ahead of time was a waste of time and money. And then the atmosphere changed overnight, and the possibility of a change in government has suddenly come to seem concrete and real. It is not unthinkable  that in a few months we will start getting used to the phrase "Prime Minister Yitzhak Herzog”.
Making this a reality seems a goal worthy of hard work and effort, even though there were Prime Ministers from the Israeli Labor Party whose tenure ended in bitter disappointment and shambles. A goal certainly worthy of hard work and effort - especially considering that if Netanyahu does manage to win the elections and put together his fourth cabinet, it is quite possible that we will have to get used to "Defense Minister Naftali Bennett". (Better not to dwell too deeply on what that would imply and entail...)
Last week, one day before Netanyahu dismissed his Minister of Finance and Minister of Justice and thereby brought his cabinet into a terminal crisis, the French Parliament decided by a majority of 339 against 151 to call upon the French government to recognize the State of Palestine. This week, a day after the Knesset dissolved itself, the Irish Parliament joined the swelling ranks of European parliaments making such resolutions. Like their colleagues in other countries, Irish lawmakers called upon their government to "officially recognize the State of Palestine, on the basis of the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital, as established in UN resolutions” and stated that such an act would be “a further positive contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." At the time of writing, a similar resolution was passed by the Portuguese Parliament, and the European Parliament is to debate the same next week. 
The diplomatic clock is ticking inexorably toward the moment when the UN Security Council deliberates the draft resolution setting a definite two-year date for the end of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The United States would have to make the decision whether or not to impose a veto. The Palestinians do not seem inclined to wait for the Israeli elections and halt efforts on the international arena. Whoever enters next March into the Prime Minister’s bureau in West Jerusalem might face a new diplomatic landscape.
In the meantime, on the ground, the Palestinian villagers of Turmus Ayya, Al Mughayer, Qaryut and Jalud went out, together with Israeli peace activists, to demonstrate near settlement outpost "Adey Ad"  (“Forever and Ever”). Mayors of the four villages had appealed to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, asking to evacuate the outpost and implement the demolition orders which the army itself issued against the settler houses.
The Palestinian villagers intended to plant olive saplings on their land, recognized as such by the Israeli authorities, but which the settlers claim as being part of the outpost and as “Jewish land from time immemorial”. Soldiers on the spot were given unequivocal instructions to block the Palestinian demonstrators and prevent them at all costs from approaching the settlers; the orders issued by commanding officers made no reference to the fact that the army itself considers the outpost to be illegal. The soldiers started shooting tear gas, although the Palestinians refrained from throwing stones. Some of the soldiers were not content with shooting tear gas from a distance – rather, they closed with the protesters, beat up some of them, grabbed other by the throat and threw them on the ground. All this took place on December 10, which happens to be International Human Rights Day.
Video photographers accompanied the protest and took extensive footage, as they routinely do at all the many demonstrations throughout the Occupied Territories. But usually there is not much chance of Israeli TV  broadcasting them. However, among the protesters was this time Ziad Abu Ein, the Palestinian Minister in charge of the Struggle Against the Settlements: by title, a cabinet minister and part of a Palestinian government which is supposed to exercise governing power, in reality an activist living under occupation and forced to face the occupier’s soldiers and settlers in a protest demonstration.  In the end of the protest, the unconscious Abu Ein was taken to hospital in Ramallah, where he died.
Exactly how did the actions of the soldiers confronting the demonstration relate to the death of Minister Ziad Abu Ein? This afternoon I conducted a lengthy argument with an unidentified caller who resented the text of the ad published by Gush Shalom. "Why did you write in your ad that he was killed in a confrontation with soldiers? He died from a heart attack!" - "If soldiers fire tear gas on a heart patient, is there a connection between that and the heart attack from which he died right afterwards? If a soldier takes a heart patient by the throat and chokes him, is that connected with the heart attack?" - "If he had a heart condition, he should not have been there. He took a risk." - "When a soldier goes into battle, he is taking a risk. There at the settler outpost was also a battlefield of a kind, only that Ziad Abu Ein went there empty-handed,  without arms. That was the risk which he and his fellows took.”
Soldier holding Ziad Abu Ein by the throat, a few minutes before he lost consciousness.(Photo: Mahmmood Arafaat.)
Video at:

Is the death of Ziad Abu Ein going to be the spark which would set off the great conflagration of the Third Intifada, which has long been talked of? Probably not yet, although yesterday afternoon came the news of a Palestinian throwing acid on the passengers of an Israeli car - apparently yet another case of an act of violence undertaken at an individual’s personal initiative without any  organizational guidance.
Even after this violent death of one of their own senior  people, the Palestinian Authority and PLO, under the leadership of Mahmud Abbas, seems determined to continue the delicate balancing act: militant rhetoric and diplomatic offensive, combined with continuation of “security coordination” with the Israeli security services which is highly unpopular with grassroots Palestinians. This could be maintained for some time yet, at least as long as there seems a chance for the diplomatic approach to achieve concrete results.
In a little over two years and a half, on 5 June 2017, a symbolic date is due  - a precise fifty years since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel's armed forces. If this symbolic date passes without a significant change in the situation, it will be hard for the State of Israel to continue arguing  that its rule over the Palestinians is just "temporary”.
Three ongoing processes take part in a race against time towards this symbolic date - the changes taking place in the Israeli political system, the diplomatic process led by the Palestinians in the international arena, and the growing escalation of violence on the ground. Which of them will be the first to arrive at the finishing line?
The petition of Israeli citizens, calling upon European parliamentarians to support recognition of Palestine, continues to gather momentum. Among the latest to join more than 900 signatories are the writers Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman, as well as singers Achinoam “Noa” Nini and Mira Awad.   
Dalia Yairi-Dolev is a well Israeli radio broadcaster, writer and poet. Her first husband was Colonel Uzi Ya’airi, killed in battle with Palestinians in 1975. Though considered broadly dovish in orientation, she never took an outspoken political position, and on one occasion was invited by AIPAC to address the lobby’s annual conference in Washington. She has now decided to strongly endorse the petition to the European parliamentarians:

This petition is an outspoken declaration, aimed at underlining how vitally important this issue is for us. It expresses the aspirations of the generations who were born and grew up here, dreaming of a country with secure borders, a country which invests its resources in its citizens, in education, in health services, in the standard of living, in the quality of life. A democratic, egalitarian state whose army is in truth “The Israeli Defense Forces” - an army which knows how to defend and safeguard both security and peace.  This petition expresses how deeply these generations long for quiet, for peace – all of them, those who were born before the state was set up [like Yairi-Dolev herself], and those who were born afterwards, and those who were born to these and grew up and undergone military service. Longing for peace, for a clearly defined  state of our  own. Better a cold peace with soldiers guarding a clearly-delineated border than a military involvement among a hostile population. A state is an entity, a clearly defined “address” of those whom we face. A Palestinian state is not a gift to the Palestinians. It is a gift to ourselves. It is our liberation from the chains binding us to them. Creation of a Palestinian state is the Palestinians’ share in the process of their divorce from us. There are those who try to draw us into a trap of fear and demagogic threats, as if the creation of a Palestinian state is a threat to us. It is not a threat, it is a promise. A promise of normalization, of a future.

(English text of the petition after the Hebrew)

Friday, November 14, 2014

The conflict is managing us

The effect of tear gas (photo: Guy Butavia)

Two weeks ago, in the memorial rally at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Shimon Peres made one of the better speeches of his long career. “Some people have made ‘peace’ into a dirty word. For some, 'a peace seeker ' is a word for people with naïve illusions, or for non-patriotic persons. To all these, I want to say  loud and clear: the naïve illusion is of those who despair of peace. Those who gave up and stopped seeking peace, it is they who are naïve and non-patriotic! And we have the wise guys who, instead of peace, are talking of ‘managing’ the conflict. Does this concept of conflict management really fit with what happened in the Gaza Strip last summer, and in Jerusalem these days? Is it possible to manage a conflict? The conflict is managing us”.

Two weeks have passed since that speech, and the conflict continued to manage us into a dizzying vortex of inflammatory declarations and hatred and violence and bloodshed, event following event at lightning speed until it's hard to remember exactly how it started and which Palestinian provocation was a reaction to an Israeli one (or the other way around).

Last week, an Israeli Arab resident of Kafr Kana in the north was killed by police officers under dubious circumstances.  And the flames of confrontation and disaffection spread from East Jerusalem to the Arab population of Israel proper. Three days later Nur a-Din Hashia – an 18-year old Palestinian worker from the Askar Refugee camp in Nablus, working in Tel Aviv without a permit – took a personal decision, not at the order of any organization. He took up a knife, stabbed and fatally wounded Almog Shiloni, a 20-year old soldier serving in the Israeli Air Force, who was on his way back to base.

On the evening of the same day we left home. The door on the ground floor opened and a neighbor whom we don’t really know spoke with motherly concern. “Did you hear?” she said. “They have already gotten to Tel Aviv! It’s better that you don’t walk around in public places. Better not get far from home at all. It’s dangerous, they said so on TV!” On the street a very excited young man passed us, speaking to his mobile phone: “If after what happened now the country starts fighting, they will not have to call me! I will show up at my unit even before getting the call-up order”. Would it have been any use to stop and try to explain to the frightened woman and the enthusiastic young man, to try to explain the roots of the conflict and the still existing chance for peace?  The fact is, we did not even try. The esplanade on the Tel Aviv beach was nearly deserted, we saw only a few passers-by.

On the following day, at the soldier’s funeral, his twin brother Sahar Shiloni said: “You can’t just walk quietly down the street in this country. My brother just wanted to get back to his base camp, and he was stabbed in the street. It just can’t go on like this. I understand that this country is living under the delusion that everything is fine. I want to say to everybody, to the policymakers - you'd better start waking up." And if the policymakers start “waking up”, does that imply going for peace or to war? He did not elaborate.

Commentator Alex Fishman, known as an unofficial spokesperson for some factions in the army’s high command, published on the following day an extensive commentary firmly calling for an iron fist policy “in order to restore Palestinians’ awe of the government”. Fishman proposed to conduct manhunts and systematically detain all “Arab rioters in Jerusalem and all over the country”, even if it would necessitate building an extra prison for them; to blow up “the houses where the terrorists and their families have lived” in order to “create deterrence among the population out of which the knifemen issue”; and also to deny work permits to everybody in the part of Nablus from which the Tel Aviv perpetrator came, since “it is impossible to deal with terrorism without environmental punishment” and there is a need to target “the environment where the perpetrator came from, his neighbors, the worshippers in the mosque he attended”. 

Today, just three days later, the same Alex Fishman published a commentary with a different slant, far more moderate. Now he tells that the army commanders have decided, for the time being, not to exacerbate the conflict with the Palestinians and to avoid collective punishments, since “it is better to separate the terrorists from the general population. They also recalled a military commission which some years ago concluded that destroying homes is counterproductive. It seems that this change of atmosphere is also linked with the efforts made in the past few days by Secretary of State John Kerry, who is trying to put off the fire or at least lower the flames.

It seems that the Amman emergency summit held by Kerry with PM Netanyhau and King Abdullah – and separately, with President Abbas – succeeded in dealing at least with the most sensitive focus of conflict, the mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. Today, Israeli police allowed unrestricted entry of Muslim worshippers, with the Palestinians giving a tacit obligation that there will be no demonstrations and riots there. Netanyahu reinforced his public commitment to prevent any change of the status quo on the Mount and avoid takeover acts by the Messianic Nationalists, some of whom hold ministerial positions in his own cabinet. It was probably easier for Netanyahu to take this position due to the firm stand taken by the Chief Rabbis, who forcefully reiterated the traditional Orthodox position opposing on purely religious grounds any attempt to ascend to where the Temple had been 2000 years ago. The Rabbis went as far as blaming those breaking into the Mount for the bloodshed in Jerusalem.

However, in other locations outside this holy sensitive compound, riots and outbreaks and confrontations continue. From the area of the Qalandia Checkpoint in North Jerusalem came today news of an innovative action taken by Palestinian activists, to protest the fence which denies West Bank inhabitants access to East Jerusalem.  One of them told Israeli Y-Net  news that some 150 activists arrived at the blocking fence with improvised ladders, enabling some of them to cross the fence. Simultaneously, other Palestinians cut the fence near the inactive Atarot Airport. The activist asserted they had surprised the army, which was not prepared on the other side of the fence.

Against the background of riots and confrontations ten years since the death of Yasser Arafat were marked in Ramallah – a death whose circumstances remain controversial, many Palestinians believing that he was poisoned by the Israeli security services. Ten years since the death of Arafat, it also means a decade of presidency by his successor Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen)   and invites a comparison between the two leaders – and for most Palestinians, such a comparison is not favorable to Abbas.

From the beginning of his term Abbas opposed as a matter of principle the use of violence, and insisted that Palestinians could achieve their political goals solely by the politics of diplomacy. But in the ten years of his term he did not succeed in presenting to his people concrete achievements which prove this claim.

During his term, Abbas reiterated again and again that his aim as a Palestinian leader is to create a Palestinian state in the ‘67 borders and that he has no intention to hurt the integrity of Israel within these borders.
It failed to impress Netanyahu.

A few days before the Holocaust Day Abbas met with an American Rabbi and stated that “the Holocaust was the most terrible crime in the history of humanity.”
A sour reaction from the Israeli PM.

At the conference of Arab Foreign Ministers in Saudi Arabia last June, Abbas made a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the kidnapping and killing of three Yeshiva studenst on the West Bank. Earlier Abbas had admitted that he personally as a Palestinian refugee understands that he will never return to his town of birth, Tzfat in the Galilee - nowadays a Jewish-Israeli town with a big concentration of national-religious who threatened to use violence if Abbas comes to the city even for a short visit.

By such declarations Abbas angered quite some Palestinians while the positive effect on Israelis was limited. The Prime Minister’s Bureau adopted as an almost automatic reaction “as long as he doesn’t recognize Israel as a Jewish State, everything is worthless.” One may wonder what excuse would have been launched, had Abbas embraced this too.

In recent months, with the growing escalation, Abbas was pushed into a changed policy – making militant declarations (“Israel committed genocide in Gaza”, “the settlers are desecrating Al-Aqsa Mosque”) but at the same time strictly maintaining the security cooperation with the state of Israel and it’s security services.

An unnamed IDF officer, involved in daily activity on the West Bank, is today quoted in the article of Nachum Barnea in Yediot Ahronot:

“The Palestinian security services remain faithful to their commitment of calming down the situation, under the explicit orders of Abu Mazen. They continue to arrest Hamas people. The Palestinian public regards them as traitors and nevertheless they continue.” The officer emphasized that so far there had not been “any flow of people and weapons from the security services to terrorism”, a situation which very much surprises the military which wonders how long it will last. Especially, the call to start an uprising made by Marwan Barghouti from prison might change the situation. “Barghouti says openly what many Palestinians think, but so far it does not happen.

The officer gave a non-optimistic assessment  “We had more difficult times as far as the violence is concerned, but my feeling is that this is the most dangerous situation in the past decade. The Palestinian grassroots feel, much more than in the past, that there is no alternative to terrorism. Abu Mazen proposes an alternative – let’s go to the Security Council, let’s go the UN Agencies.  The only Palestinians who believe in this alternative are Saeb Erekat and Abu Mazen himself. The public does not wait for salvation from New York. What is left? There is left armed resistance, what we call terrorism.”

The Palestinian diplomatic initiative, in which most Palestinians have no confidence, remains the thin thread on which Mahmoud Abbas’ fate is hanging. In Europe the Palestinians are accumulating a momentum of recognition by governments and parliaments. After the declaration of the Swedish government of its recognition of the state of Palestine, and the dramatic vote in the British Parliament, there are expected in the Spanish Parliament (Nov. 18), in the French Parliament (Nov. 28) as well as in those of Denmark and Ireland (time not yet fixed).

Yuval Steinitz, Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs, tried to pose a counter weight and in a big interview in a French paper warned that a French recognition might “hurt the peace process” (which peace process?) as well as making it impossible for France to be a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians (but Israel never agreed to France having such a role). The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Parliament responded, noting that 700 Israeli citizens have signed a public call to the member of the French Parliament to support the recognition of Palestine – among them Dr Alon Liel, former Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Professor Eli Barnavi, former Israeli ambassador to France.

The struggles in the European arena are but the prelude to the decisive moment expected some time in December or January – the moment when the Palestinian Draft Resolution will come up in the U.N. Security Council, and the U.S. will have to decide to veto or not to veto. The American decision, one way or another, will likely define Mahmoud Abbas’ fate – and might have far-reaching implications for the whole triangle of relations U.S., Israel, Palestine.

On the weekly news of the Israeli TV Channel I, commentators discussed the possibility that President Obama would indeed remove from Israel the protection of the American veto. The veteran commentator Oded Granot summarized: “Netanyahu expressed an open glee at the Republican victory in the mid-term elections. Netanyahu’s people said again and again that Obama has now become a lame duck. But they may find out that he has become a wounded tiger.”

Tomorrow morning on Saturday, November 15 which is the anniversary of the Palestinian Declaration of Independence initiated by Arafat in 1988, the Combatants for Peace movement made a special call:

Israelis say "Yes" to a Palestinian State

Because independence for the Palestinians means true independence for Israelis.

Join us, a large group of Israelis and Palestinians, in a demonstration of popular democracy, solidarity and hope.

The event will take place on both sides of the Separation Wall, on Saturday, November 15 - the Palestinian Declaration of Independence Day.

The event will challenge the validity of the separation barrier in regard to relations between peoples, and will create a constructive interaction between the two communities – an interaction that is intended as a declaration of our support for Palestinian independence - and thereby also free us of the burden of Israeli domination over another people.

At the event we will use giant puppets towering above the wall, and we will be accompanied by a film crew documenting our activities.


Shuttles will depart from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

9:45: Tel Aviv – Central Railway Station comound, Shlomo Sixt Car Rental parking lot.

10:45: Jerusalem – Teddy Stadium parking lot, across from the Mall. Please register on the online form

Please bring your own food and drinks.

Contributions, to cover expenses and ongoing activities of "Combatants for Peace", will be warmly welcomed.

For further information please write to

November 15 is the date of the declaration of the creation of a Palestinian state, a declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly with the support of 104 countries in 1988. 111 countries, including all the Arab countries, most countries in Africa, most countries in Asia, most countries in South America and most Eastern European countries have recognized, in one form or another, the Palestinian Authority as a “political entity”, even though most of them have not acknowledged it as an independent state. 96 of them have formalized diplomatic relations, some with ambassadors. In spite of proclamations by the Chairman and leaders of the Palestinian Authority of their intention to unilaterally declare the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, the announcement has yet to be made. Diplomatic activity has resulted in a number of countries including Russia, Cyprus and most South American nations to declare their recognition of the State.