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Posts Tagged ‘Palestine’

Israel Makes Little Progress with Palestine and Its Neighbors

In June, Hamas and Fatah wholly rejected Netanyahu’s stipulated version of a two-state solution, and violence has since escalated at the 500-mile “barrier” that separates the West Bank from Israel.

The Associated Press reports,

Palestinians have been staging weekly demonstrations at both sites to protest the barrier’s route, which crosses through the villages and cuts farmers off from hundreds of acres of agricultural fields.

Israel says the barrier–a mix of towering concrete walls and electronic fences–is needed to stop Palestinian militants from crossing into Israel to carry out attacks. Palestinians call it a land grab because parts of it jut deep into the West Bank, cutting them off from territory they claim for a future state.

Israel has classified the protest areas as closed military zones and troops have clashed frequently and increasingly violently with protesters, some of whom hurl rocks at the soldiers.

In May, Israel’s Justice Ministry opened a criminal investigation into the firing of tear gas shells at the demonstrations. Tear gas shells struck one of the two Palestinian demonstrators killed recently and injured the American.

The AP reported Saturday that Israeli Defense Forces sprayed a “putrid” substance on protesting Palestinians and sent plainclothed Palestinians across the border.

Confrontations over the barrier have become increasingly violent, with two Palestinian demonstrators killed in recent months and an American supporter seriously injured.

Video footage of one incident at the West Bank village of Naalin showed three masked undercover agents surrounding a shirtless Palestinian demonstrator, throwing him to the ground and then calling for backup by uniformed soldiers.

Several rocks hurled by protesters struck the ground near the troops and one of them pulled a pistol and fired in the air as Palestinians fled the scene. Two Palestinians were arrested, the military said.

In his June 4th address in Cairo, President Obama said the Palestinian experience has been defined by “the daily humiliations…that come with occupation,” and he has since pressured Israel to neogitate with Fatah and Hamas. Under these conditions, the failure of negotiations is lamentable and is fortified by ongoing violence on the ground and by Israel’s seizure of humanitarian aid groups, including the “Spirit of Humanity,” which carried US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

Prospects for peace have also been wrecked by Israel’s diplomatic relations with neighboring Arab states. In recent months, both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have sent an ambassador to Syria. The former after five years and the latter following a lengthier inter-country contention from the 2005 assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafiki Al-Hariri to disparate support from Hamas and Hizbollah.

According to the Obama administration, establishing diplomatic relations with Syria may weaken its support of Hizbollah and unabashed support of Iran. However, Israel has instead preferred to mobilize military against Iran and has refused to send an Israeli ambassador to Syria because of Syria’s singular demand for Israel to withdraw form the Golan Heights. According to the AP, Syria has refused peace talks with Israel since the latter annexed the area in 1981.

The Associated Press reports,

Syrian forces used the strategic plateau to shell nearby Israeli communities before 1967, and Israel fears those communities will once again become vulnerable should the Heights be ceded. Israeli officials also argue that holding the area gives Israel early warning of Syrian military moves and a buffer zone in case of attack.

The area is also home to crucial water sources, a profitable Israeli winery, and Israeli settlements with about 18,000 residents. About 17,000 Druse Arabs loyal to Syria also live there.

Senior adviser to the Middle East envoy George Mitchell and U.S. diplomat Frederick Hoff went to Israel this week, ostensibly, to shore up talks between Israel and Syria. Hoff will meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barack and other senior military advisers.

Ha’aretz writes, “The Americans believe the crisis in Iran has created an opportunity for the United States to draw Syria closer and resume Israel-Syria negotiations.”

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10
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Encouraged by Obama, Arab Governments Move Forward for Peace

For some at home, President Obama’s June 4th address to the Islamic and Arab worlds registered as apologetic, pandering and idealistic. Liberals and conservatives alike criticized the President for his calculated omission of the region’s civil and human rights violations and of Iran’s barefaced support of terrorism.

Leaders in the region, however, were pleased by the address and invigorated by the President’s call to engage. A week after the speech, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal arrived in Cairo at the invitation of the General Intelligence Chief, who, the government said, was acting on Obama’s signal to engage the “Islamist resistance movement.”

Egyptian daily Al Ahram reports,

The visit of the influential Hamas leader is meant to set the stage for a new — and Egyptian sponsors hope conclusive — round of national dialogue talks for all Palestinian factions due to convene in Cairo 7 July. Egyptian officials close to the preparations of the next round say that both Egypt and Hamas are “encouraged” by Obama’s signal to “engage” Hamas. They add that Obama’s speech made it clear for all concerned that Palestinian national reconciliation should be reached sooner rather than later.

In the words of one informed diplomat who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity, “the Americans — to judge not just by the Obama speech and talks in Cairo and Riyadh, but also by successive delegations to the region — seem serious about getting engaged in talks for peace. Now the Palestinians and Arabs in general have to work to make these talks possible.” He added that if Obama is determined to pursue Middle East peace, “irrespective of any artificial deadline or timetables”, then “we’d better strip the Israelis of the pretext that there is no ready Palestinian partner”.

According to this source there is no confirmation that the next round of national reconciliation talks will succeed, but there is determination on the side of the Egyptian sponsor to push things forward.

The Arab League has also been moved by Obama’s call for action. On June 24th, Arab foreign ministers will assemble to “‘formulate a new line of Arab diplomacy’ compatible with the spirit of engagement the US president proposed,” Secretary-General Amr Moussa told Al Ahram.

Moussa said the “new line” seeks to create a reciprocal relationship between the Arab states and Israel. This goal was no doubt propelled by Benyamin Netanyahu’s speech earlier this week, in which he–caveats aside– supported the possibility of a two-state solution and an end to the settlements.

In his talks with General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman and Moussa, Meshaal insisted that a “viable Palestinian state” includes the 1967 borders outlined in the Palestinian national accord.

The fate of inter-Palestinian negotiations are similarly tenuous. Meshaal told Al Jazeera that Fatah security forces have been conducting raids against Hamas in the West Bank. Meshaal called the raids “the most difficult obstacle” to reconciliation.

The recent raids in the West Bank, which prompted deadly violence in the city of Qalqilya, have fuelled concerns of a wider conflagration between armed units of Fatah and Hamas.

Meshaal said Hamas and Egyptian officials had discussed how to resolve the crisis, examining options such as freeing Hamas political detainees and ending the security crackdown in the West Bank.

Despite the many hurdles to peace, Dina Ezzat of Al Ahram purports that Egypt is embracing its position as “engagement liason” to reconfigure and cement positive relations with the United States.

From the Egyptian perspective, the resumption of peace talks and positive US engagement in the Middle East is improving bilateral relations. “Egyptian-American relations are moving on a positive path because there is a will on the side of the [new US] administration to conduct dialogue rather than dictate policies as was the case with the previous administration.”

Egyptian and Arab officials say they are considering stepping up consultations with — and maybe also visits to — the US in order to keep the “positive” momentum going. “We want details beyond the speech” and the guidelines that were offered during the Obama talks in Riyadh and Cairo, commented one Egyptian diplomat. He said that future talks between Egyptian, as well as Arab, officials and their US counterparts should focus on these details.

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10