Posts Tagged ‘Ehud Olmert’

MIDEAST: Gaza Changed Everything, But Its People Still Suffer

April 18, 2009

Analysis by Helena Cobban* | Inter Press Service News

WASHINGTON, Apr 17 (IPS) – Three months after the end of
Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, and nearly four months after former prime minister Ehud Olmert started it, the standoff between Israel and Hamas is as unresolved as ever.

Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, nearly all of them civilians, are still in a very tough situation, since Israel still prohibits the shipment into Gaza of many requirements for a decent life – including the building materials needed to repair or rebuild the thousands of homes and other structures the Israeli military destroyed during the war.

But it is already clear that the war has changed many aspects of the complex political dynamics both between and inside the Israeli and Palestinian communities.

Hamas, simply by surviving, has become stronger both within Palestinian politics and throughout the broader Middle East.

In the Israeli elections of early February Olmert’s party was defeated – by representatives of an even more militarist trend in Israel whose rise was fueled, in good part, by the war-fever unleashed among Jewish Israelis by Olmert’s own war.

Meanwhile, the ferocity with which Israel fought the war caused significant damage to the country’s image around the world. In the U.S., unprecedented numbers of civil society groups – including Jewish groups – expressed open criticism of Olmert’s decision to launch the war, even from the war’s very earliest days.

All these developments have been evident during Sen. George Mitchell’s latest visit to the region, which started Wednesday. This was Mitchell’s third visit since he was named U.S. special envoy on Jan. 21. Some of the post-Gaza developments seem to make Mitchell’s peacemaking effort harder. But others, especially the new estrangement between the government of Israel and some of its former strong supporters around the world, open up new possibilities for his mission.

Indeed, in some of Mitchell’s early appearances on his latest trip, he has shown himself more ready than any U.S. official has been for many years to publicly adopt a position – in this case, support of an independent Palestinian state – that is very different from that espoused by the government in power in Israel.

When Olmert launched the war on Gaza on Dec. 27, he was aiming either to destroy Hamas or to inflict so much harm on it that its leaders would bow to Israel’s political demands. Despite the large amount of damage the Israeli military inflicted on the people of Gaza, it did not achieve either of those objectives. Hamas’s long battle-hardened command structure in Gaza remained intact and in place.

(Hamas’s broader, ‘nationwide’ leadership has anyway been located for many years now outside the occupied territories. Thus, the idea of breaking or ‘taming’ the whole organisation by delivering a knockout blow to its units in Gaza was always poorly thought through.)

Instead of being broken, Hamas found that during the war its popularity rose throughout the occupied West Bank and among the five million Palestinians living in exile outside their homeland. It dipped somewhat in Gaza, doubtless because of the punishment the IDF was inflicting on the Strip’s people. But Gaza is roughly half the size of the West Bank. The overall effect was that Hamas became stronger.

Fatah, a movement that in recent years has aligned itself ever more closely to U.S. policies, meanwhile saw its popularity decline.

Indeed, the collapse of Fatah’s internal decision-making structures is now so severe there is a real possibility it might disintegrate altogether. Though the collapse has been underway for some time now, the Gaza war certainly hastened it along.

Fateh has also, ever since 1969, been overwhelmingly the strongest component of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), the secularist body that has authorised all Palestinian peace efforts with Israel to date. Fatah’s decline thus also threatens the survival of the PLO – unless the on-again-off-again ‘unity talks’ that Fatah and Hamas have been pursuing in Cairo can find a formula to bring Hamas into the PLO for the first time ever.

Amid all these political developments, Gaza’s 1.5 million people are still trying to deal with life-situations and livelihoods that were shattered by the recent war. During the war more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed, most of them civilians. Ten Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians lost their lives.

For three years prior to the war, there had been intermittent exchanges of fire between Israel and Palestinian militants – mainly Hamas people – operating from Gaza. In addition, Israel maintained a tight siege around Gaza, in clear contravention of its responsibility as “occupying power” to safeguard the welfare of the Strip’s indigenous residents.

At the end of the war both Israel and Hamas announced parallel (and un-negotiated) ceasefires. That was on Jan. 18. In the absence of any more formal, negotiated ceasefire agreement, the existing ceasefires have remained fragile, and several exchanges of fire have occurred.

But in addition, Israel has considerably tightened the physical siege of Gaza – and this, at a time when the Strip’s residents have extraordinary needs to gain access to the materials they urgently need to rebuild the 5,000 homes and other structures that were destroyed during the war. Those structures included vital water and sanitation facilities, factories, warehouses – and even the parliament.

John Prideaux-Brune, Oxfam’s country director for the West Bank and Gaza, has described Israel’s policy toward Gaza as being one of “intentionally inflicted de-development.”

He told IPS recently, “Israel went on a rampage in Gaza during the war. You can see whole villages flattened, the cows and other livestock killed. They seem to have gone in and removed anything that could have been used for economic development – farms, factories, you name it.” (Israeli sources have said that during the war, the military trucked in 100 heavy-duty bulldozers, especially to undertake this destruction.)

“It seems a mind-numbingly stupid thing for Israel to do,” Prideaux-Brune said. “Where states have succeeded in suppressing terrorism, they have done so through negotiations and fostering economic development.”

He said he hoped western governments would act quickly to persuade Israel to lift the siege. That, he said, would allow Gaza’s people to move back onto a path of economic development rather than continuing to live on handouts.

Many of the humanitarian aid organisations that have been providing ‘emergency’ aid to Gaza (and the West Bank) for many years are now, like Oxfam, becoming more vocal in arguing that the only thing that can really stabilise the very vulnerable situation of the Palestinians of these occupied areas is to find a speedy end to the Israel’s military occupation of their home territories.

Prideaux-Brune said that the Gaza Palestinians are currently suffering from a deliberately inflicted “dignity crisis.”

“So long as Israel controls everything in these people’s lives, they will remain vulnerable,” he said. “Emergency relief aid is no substitute for successful peacemaking, and that is the only way to get to real economic development.”

*Helena Cobban is a veteran Middle East analyst and author. She blogs at http://www.JustWorldNews.org.

Israel will back troops accused of war crimes

January 26, 2009

Reuters
The Independent, UK, Monday, 26 January 2009

Change font size: A | A | A

International calls to investigate Israel over alleged war crimes in the Gaza Strip prompted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to promise military personnel state protection from foreign prosecution yesterday.

“The commanders and soldiers sent to Gaza should know they are safe from various tribunals and Israel will assist them on this front and defend them, just as they protected us with their bodies during the Gaza operation,” Olmert said.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said after meeting counterparts from the European Union, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan in Brussels that Olmert’s comments should not preclude action against Israeli military figures.

“It does not mean there is an immunity against legal actions…More of such efforts will be seen also in the near future.”

Last week, the military censor ordered local and foreign media in Israel not to publish names of army commanders in the Gaza war and to blur their faces in photos and video for fear they could be identified and arrested while travelling abroad.

Israeli media reports said the military had been advising its top brass to think twice about visiting Europe.

Speaking at a weekly cabinet meeting, Olmert said Israel’s justice minister would consult the country’s top legal experts and find “answers to possible questions relating to the Israeli military’s activities” during the 22-day war.

Some 1,300 Palestinians, including at least 700 civilians, were killed, medical officials said, in the offensive Israel launched in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with the declared aim of ending cross-border rocket attacks.

The civilian deaths sparked public outcry abroad and prompted senior UN officials to demand independent investigations into whether Israel committed war crimes.

Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians, hit by rocket salvoes, were killed in the conflict.

Israel said hundreds of militants were among the Palestinian dead and that it tried its best to avoid civilian casualties in densely populated areas where gunmen operated.

Rights group Amnesty International has said that Israel’s use of white phosphorus munitions — which can cause extreme burns — in built-up areas of the Gaza Strip was indiscriminate and therefore constituted a war crime.

Israel has said it used all weapons in Gaza within the limits of international law. Its military, however, has opened an investigation into white phosphorous use during the conflict.

US Envoy

In a quick start to efforts by US President Barack Obama’s new administration to shore up a shaky Gaza truce and revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, his envoy, former US Sen. George Mitchell, is expected in Israel on Wednesday.

He plans to visit the occupied West Bank, Egypt and Jordan. A Western diplomat said Syria was not currently on his schedule.

Palestinians have lobbied for a tougher international response to Israel’s military crackdowns. Yet legal frameworks are problematic.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has no jurisdiction to investigate in the Gaza Strip, as it is not a state. Though the Palestinian Authority has been functioning as an interim sovereign polity since 1993, it was forced out of Gaza last year by Hamas after the Islamists won an election.

And while Israel has not signed the Rome Statute that enshrined the ICC, it can still be investigated, but that would require a UN Security Council mandate. Any such proposal would probably be vetoed by Israel’s ally, the United States.

Some European nations allow for war crimes lawsuits to be filed privately against members of Israel’s security services.

Chomsky: Undermining Gaza

January 21, 2009

By Sameer Dossani |January 16, 2009

Foreign Policy In Focus

Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco

Noam Chomsky is a noted linguist, author, and foreign policy expert. Sameer Dossani interviewed him about the conflict between Israel and Gaza.

DOSSANI: The Israeli government and many Israeli and U.S. officials claim that the current assault on Gaza is to put an end to the flow of Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel. But many observers claim that if that were really the case, Israel would have made much more of an effort to renew the ceasefire agreement that expired in December, which had all but stopped the rocket fire. In your opinion, what are the real motivations behind the current Israeli action?

CHOMSKY: There’s a theme that goes way back to the origins of Zionism. And it’s a very rational theme: “Let’s delay negotiations and diplomacy as long as possible, and meanwhile we’ll ‘build facts on the ground.’” So Israel will create the basis for what some eventual agreement will ratify, but the more they create, the more they construct, the better the agreement will be for their purposes. Those purposes are essentially to take over everything of value in the former Palestine and to undermine what’s left of the indigenous population.

I think one of the reasons for popular support for this in the United States is that it resonates very well with American history. How did the United States get established? The themes are similar.

There are many examples of this theme being played out throughout Israel’s history, and the current situation is another case. They have a very clear program. Rational hawks like Ariel Sharon realized that it’s crazy to keep 8,000 settlers using one-third of the land and much of the scarce supplies in Gaza, protected by a large part of the Israeli army while the rest of the society around them is just rotting. So it’s best to take them out and send them to the West Bank. That’s the place that they really care about and want.

What was called a “disengagement” in September 2005 was actually a transfer. They were perfectly frank and open about it. In fact, they extended settlement building programs in the West Bank at the very same time that they were withdrawing a few thousand people from Gaza. So Gaza should be turned into a cage, a prison basically, with Israel attacking it at will, and meanwhile in the West Bank we’ll take what we want. There was nothing secret about it.

Ehud Olmert was in the United States in May 2006 a couple of months after the withdrawal. He simply announced to a joint session of Congress and to rousing applause, that the historic right of Jews to the entire land of Israel is beyond question. He announced what he called his convergence program, which is just a version of the traditional program; it goes back to the Allon plan of 1967. Israel would essentially annex valuable land and resources near the green line (the 1967 border). That land is now behind the wall that Israel built in the West Bank, which is an annexation wall. That means the arable land, the main water resources, the pleasant suburbs around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and the hills and so on. They’ll take over the Jordan valley, which is about a third of the West Bank, where they’ve been settling since the late 60s. Then they’ll drive a couple of super highways through the whole territory — there’s one to the east of Jerusalem to the town of Ma’aleh Adumim which was built mostly in the 1990s, during the Oslo years. It was built essentially to bisect the West Bank and are two others up north that includes Ariel and Kedumim and other towns which pretty much bisect what’s left. They’ll set up check points and all sorts of means of harassment in the other areas and the population that’s left will be essentially cantonized and unable to live a decent life and if they want to leave, great. Or else they will be picturesque figures for tourists — you know somebody leading a goat up a hill in the distance — and meanwhile Israelis, including settlers, will drive around on “Israeli only” super highways. Palestinians can make do with some little road somewhere where you’re falling into a ditch if it’s raining. That’s the goal. And it’s explicit. You can’t accuse them of deception because it’s explicit. And it’s cheered here.

DOSSANI: In terms of U.S. support, last week the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a cease fire. Is this a change, particularly in light of the fact that the U.S. did not veto the resolution, but rather abstained, allowing it to be passed?

CHOMSKY: Right after the 1967 war, the Security Council had strong resolutions condemning Israel’s move to expand and take over Jerusalem. Israel just ignored them. Because the U.S. pats them on the head and says “go ahead and violate them.” There’s a whole series of resolutions from then up until today, condemning the settlements, which as Israel knew and as everyone agreed were in violation of the Geneva conventions. The United States either vetoes the resolutions or sometimes votes for them, but with a wink saying, “go ahead anyway, and we’ll pay for it and give you the military support for it.” It’s a consistent pattern. During the Oslo years, for example, settlement construction increased steadily, in violation of what the Oslo agreement was theoretically supposed to lead to. In fact the peak year of settlement was Clinton’s last year, 2000. And it continued again afterward. It’s open and explicit.

To get back to the question of motivation, they have sufficient military control over the West Bank to terrorize the population into passivity. Now that control is enhanced by the collaborationist forces that the U.S., Jordan, and Egypt have trained in order to subdue the population. In fact if you take a look at the press the last couple of weeks, if there’s a demonstration in the West Bank in support of Gaza, the Fatah security forces crush it. That’s what they’re there for. Fatah by now is more or less functioning as Israel’s police force in the West Bank. But the West Bank is only part of the occupied Palestinian territories. The other part is Gaza, and no one doubts that they form a unit. And there still is resistance in Gaza, those rockets. So yes, they want to stamp that out too, then there will be no resistance at all and they can continue to do what they want to do without interference, meanwhile delaying diplomacy as much as possible and “building the facts” the way they want to. Again this goes back to the origins of Zionism. It varies of course depending on circumstances, but the fundamental policy is the same and perfectly understandable. If you want to take over a country where the population doesn’t want you, I mean, how else can you do it? How was this country conquered?

DOSSANI: What you describe is a tragedy.

CHOMSKY: It’s a tragedy which is made right here. The press won’t talk about it and even scholarship, for the most part, won’t talk about it but the fact of the matter is that there has been a political settlement on the table, on the agenda for 30 years. Namely a two-state settlement on the international borders with maybe some mutual modification of the border. That’s been there officially since 1976 when there was a Security Council resolution proposed by the major Arab states and supported by the (Palestinan Liberation Organization) PLO, pretty much in those terms. The United States vetoed it so it’s therefore out of history and it’s continued almost without change since then.

There was in fact one significant modification. In the last month of Clinton’s term, January 2001 there were negotiations, which the U.S. authorized, but didn’t participate in, between Israel and the Palestinians and they came very close to agreement.

DOSSANI: The Taba negotiations?

Yes, the Taba negotiations. The two sides came very close to agreement. They were called off by Israel. But that was the one week in over 30 years when the United States and Israel abandoned their rejectionist position. It’s a real tribute to the media and other commentators that they can keep this quiet. The U.S. and Israel are alone in this. The international consensus includes virtually everyone. It includes the Arab League which has gone beyond that position and called for the normalization of relations, it includes Hamas. Every time you see Hamas in the newspapers, it says “Iranian-backed Hamas which wants to destroy Israel.” Try to find a phrase that says “democratically elected Hamas which is calling for a two-state settlement” and has been for years. Well, yeah, that’s a good propaganda system. Even in the U.S. press they’ve occasionally allowed op-eds by Hamas leaders, Ismail Haniya and others saying, yes we want a two-state settlement on the international border like everyone else.

DOSSANI: When did Hamas adopt that position?

CHOMSKY That’s their official position taken by Haniya, the elected leader, and Khalid Mesh’al, their political leader who’s in exile in Syria, he’s written the same thing. And it’s over and over again. There’s no question about it but the West doesn’t want to hear it. So therefore it’s Hamas which is committed to the destruction of Israel.

In a sense they are, but if you went to a Native American reservation in the United States, I’m sure many would like to see the destruction of the United States. If you went to Mexico and took a poll, I’m sure they don’t recognize the right of the United States to exist sitting on half of Mexico, land conquered in war. And that’s true all over the world. But they’re willing to accept a political settlement. Israel isn’t willing to accept it and the United States isn’t willing to accept it. And they’re the lone hold-outs. Since it’s the United States that pretty much runs the world, it’s blocked.

Here it’s always presented as though the United States must become more engaged; it’s an honest broker; Bush’s problem was that he neglected the issue. That’s not the problem. The problem is that the United States has been very much engaged, and engaged in blocking a political settlement and giving the material and ideological and diplomatic support for the expansion programs, which are just criminal programs. The world court unanimously, including the American justice, agreed that any transfer of population into the Occupied Territories is a violation of a fundamental international law, the Geneva Conventions. And Israel agrees. In fact even their courts agree, they just sort of sneak around it in various devious ways. So there’s no question about this. It’s just sort of accepted in the United States that we’re an outlaw state. Law doesn’t apply to us. That’s why it’s never discussed.

Sameer Dossani, a Foreign Policy In Focus contributor, is the director of 50 Years is Enough and blogs at shirinandsameer.blogspot.com

Attacks Are Inhuman, Peace Activists Tell Olmert, Barak

January 16, 2009

by Jason Koutsoukis

Despite graphic images of the carnage in Gaza being shown around Israel and the high number of Palestinian casualties, public support for the war remains high.

[Israeli left-wing activists protest outside President Shimon Peres' residence in Jerusalem. Israel's offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip has caused unprecedented suffering to civilian residents of the Palestinian territory, local human rights groups said on Wednesday. (AFP/Gali Tibbon)]Israeli left-wing activists protest outside President Shimon Peres’ residence in Jerusalem. Israel’s offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip has caused unprecedented suffering to civilian residents of the Palestinian territory, local human rights groups said on Wednesday. (AFP/Gali Tibbon)

A poll commissioned by the liberal daily newspaper Haaretz yesterday found 82 per cent of people surveyed believe that Israel has not gone too far with its use of military force during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.The war in Gaza also appears to have gone some way towards rebuilding public confidence in the military following the perceived failures of Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon, with 78 per cent of people judging the war a success.

But not all Israelis are in favour of the war.

On Wednesday a coalition of nine Israeli human rights groups convened to urge an immediate halt to the fighting in the Gaza Strip which they said was on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe.

In an open letter to the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. and the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, the groups said a commission of inquiry would be needed after the conflict ended to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes.

Michael Sfard, a lawyer with the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din that was a part of Wednesday’s press conference, told the Herald it was time Israelis looked into the mirror.

“I think we have become so used to violence that when the sort of things that are happening in Gaza are shown, people don’t care any more,” Mr Sfard said.

“Several years ago, the killing of 15 Hamas militants by the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] caused a major moral revision here within Israel.

“Now [there have been] 1000 people killed in Gaza, many of them children, and there is very little national debate about whether this is right or wrong.”

The groups, which also included Amnesty International, B’Tselem, Gisha, and Physicians for Human Rights, also presented six cases in which they say IDF troops fired on medical personnel, killing 12 people.

They said there have been 15 hits on medical facilities during the conflict, including clinics and medical storage facilities.

“I care about humanity, and what is happening here is inhuman,” said Professor Zvi Bentwich, the head of the Centre for Tropical Diseases and AIDS at Ben Gurion University.

“There is no sense whatsoever of proportionality, it’s a dreadful and callous disregard for human life,” Professor Bentwich said.

Copyright © 2009. The Sydney Morning Herald

Things One Sees From The Hague

January 15, 2009

By Gideon Levy | Haaretz, Israel, January 15, 2009

When the cannons eventually fall silent, the time for questions and investigations will be upon us. The mushroom clouds of smoke and dust will dissipate in the pitch-black sky; the fervor, desensitization and en masse jump on the bandwagon will be forever forgotten and perhaps we will view a clear picture of Gaza in all its grimness. Then we will see the scope of the killing and destruction, the crammed cemeteries and overflowing hospitals, the thousands of wounded and physically disabled, the destroyed houses that remain after this war.

The questions that will beg to be asked, as cautiously as possible, are who is guilty and who is responsible. The world’s exaggerated willingness to forgive Israel is liable to crack this time. The pilots and gunners, the tank crewmen and infantry soldiers, the generals and thousands who embarked on this war with their fair share of zeal will learn the extent of the evil and indiscriminate nature of their military strikes. They perhaps will not pay any price. They went to battle, but others sent them.

The public, moral and judicial test will be applied to the three Israeli statesmen who sent the Israel Defense Forces to war against a helpless population, one that did not even have a place to take refuge, in maybe the only war in history against a strip of land enclosed by a fence. Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni will stand at the forefront of the guilty. Two of them are candidates for prime minister, the third is a candidate for criminal indictment.

It is inconceivable that they not be held to account for the bloodshed. Olmert is the only Israeli prime minister who sent his army to two wars of choice, all during one of the briefest terms in office. The man who made a number of courageous statements about peace late in his tenure has orchestrated no fewer than two wars. Talking peace and making war, the “moderate” and “enlightened” prime minister has been revealed as one of our greatest fomenters of war. That is how history will remember him. The “cash envelopes” crimes and “Rishon Tours” transgressions will make him look as pure as snow by comparison.

Barak, the leader of the party of the left, will bear the cost of the IDF’s misdeeds under his tutelage. His account will be burdened by the bombing and shelling of population centers, the hundreds of dead and wounded women and children, the numerous targetings of medical crews, the firing of phosphorus shells at civilian areas, the shelling of a UN-run school that served as a shelter for residents who bled to death over days as the IDF prevented their evacuation by shooting and shelling. Even our siege of Gaza for a year and a half, whose ramifications are frighteningly coming into focus in this war, will accrue to him. Blow after blow, all of these count in the world of war crimes.

Livni, the foreign minister and leader of the centrist party, will be remembered as the one who pushed for, legitimized and sat silent through all these events. The woman who promised “a different kind of politics” was a full partner. This must not be forgotten.

In contrast to the claims being made otherwise, we are permitted to believe that these three leaders did not embark on war for electoral considerations. Anytime is good for war in Israel. We set out for the previous war three months after the elections, not two months before. Will Israel judge them harshly in light of the images emanating from Gaza? Highly doubtful. Barak and Livni are actually rising in the polls instead of dipping. The test awaiting these individuals will not be a local test. It is true that some international statesmen cynically applauded the blows Israel dealt. It is true America kept silent, Europe stuttered and Egypt supported, but other voices will rise out of the crackle of combat.

The first echoes can already be heard. This past weekend, the UN and the Human Rights Commission in Geneva have demanded an investigation into war crimes allegedly perpetrated by Israel. In a world in which Bosnian leaders and their counterparts from Rwanda have already been put on trial, a similar demand is likely to arise for the fomenters of this war. Israeli basketball players will not be the only ones who have to shamefully take cover in sports arenas, and senior officers who conducted this war will not be the only ones forced to hide in El Al planes lest they be arrested. This time, our most senior statesmen, the members of the war kitchen cabinet, are liable to pay a personal and national price.

I don’t write these words with joy, but with sorrow and deep shame. Despite all the slack the world has cut us since as long as we can remember, despite the leniency shown toward Israel, the world might say otherwise this time. If we continue like this, maybe one day a new, special court will be established in The Hague.

Olmert advocates Israeli pullouts

September 30, 2008
Al Jazeera, Sep 29, 2008

Olmert stepped down on September 21 amid corruption allegations [AFP]

Ehud Olmert, Israel’s outgoing prime minister, has said that Israel will have to leave much of east Jerusalem and allow Palestinians to form a state equal in size to the area of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In an interview with the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, published on Monday, Olmert also said that peace with Syria would require withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

“[I am saying] what no previous Israeli leader has ever said: we should withdraw from almost all of the territories, including in East Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights,” he was quoted as saying.

Olmert resigned on September 21 amid corruption allegations and will officially step down once a new government has been formed.

Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, agreed at a meeting in the United States last November to push for a comprehensive peace deal before the end of the year.

Yediot Ahronot noted that the remarks in its “legacy interview” go further than any the prime minister made before he effectively became a lame duck in September.

“I am not trying to justify retroactively what I did for 35 years. For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at reality in all its depth,” Olmert said.

“A decision has to be made. This decision is difficult, terrible, a decision that contradicts our natural instincts, our innermost desires, our collective memories, the prayers of the Jewish people for 2,000 years.”

Stalled talks

Peace talks between the two sides have stalled over the borders of a future Palestinian state, the future status of Jerusalem and the right to return of Palestinian refugees.

The construction of new Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of a future state, have also proved to be a major obstacle.

“I’d like see if there is one serious person in the State of Israel who believes it is possible to make peace with the Syrians without eventually giving up the Golan Heights”

Ehud Olmert,
Israeli prime minister

According to Western and Palestinian officials, Olmert has previously proposed an Israeli withdrawal from some 93 per cent of the occupied West Bank. Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005.In exchange for settlement enclaves, Olmert has suggested handing over a desert territory adjacent to the Gaza Strip, as well as land on which to build a transit corridor between Gaza and the West Bank.

“We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace,” Olmert said in Tuesday’s interview.

Olmert has previously argued that the issue of Jerusalem be considered at a later date because the difficulties in reaching an agreement.

But on Tuesday he said that giving up parts of the city was critical to securing Israel’s security.

“Whoever wants to hold on to all of the city’s territory will have to bring 270,000 Arabs inside the fences of sovereign Israel. It won’t work,” he said.

Concrete offer

Saeb Erakat, a senior adviser to Abbas, said Israel must “translate these statements into reality” if it is serious about wanting to achieve a peace deal.

“We haven’t seen these statements translated into a piece of paper, into a concrete offer,” he told the AFP news agency, stressing that “the road to peace is through ending the occupation and [Israeli] settlements in the West Bank”.

During his time in office, Olmert reopened indirect negotiations, through Turkey, with Syria after an eight-year freeze.

“I’d like see if there is one serious person in the State of Israel who believes it is possible to make peace with the Syrians without eventually giving up the Golan Heights,” he said in the interview.

Israel annexed the territory in 1981, a move never recognised by the world community.

More than 18,000 Syrians, mostly Druze, are left from the Golan’s original population of 150,000 people. The region now is home to nearly 20,000 Jewish settlers.

Middle East: Israel’s chief negotiator rules out peace with Palestinians in 2008

August 22, 2008

The Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, said yesterday it was unlikely a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would be reached this year and warned that pressure to hurry negotiations could lead to violence.

Livni, 50, the chief Israeli negotiator for the current talks with the Palestinians, is the favourite to replace Ehud Olmert as prime minister when the ruling Kadima party holds leadership elections next month.

The latest peace process, launched in Annapolis in the US in November, was originally intended to produce an agreement by the end of this year.

“I think that any attempt to bridge gaps that maybe it’s premature to bridge, or to reach something that is not the comprehensive agreement that we want to reach, can lead to doing it wrong just because of the pressure,” she told a news conference in Jerusalem. “This can lead to clashes, this can lead to misunderstandings, this can lead to violence as we faced after Camp David 2000 and the circumstances in a way are similar.”

In the months after the failure of the Camp David talks in 2000, the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada, broke out. Since then more than 4,800 Palestinians and more than 1,000 Israelis have been killed in the conflict.

Livni said all the issues of dispute between Israel and the Palestinians were up for discussion, but she gave no indication of what, if anything, had so far been agreed in months of discussions between the two sides. However, she ruled out any prospect of a right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel and said refugees would return to live in the future Palestinian state.

Talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders have been under way for several months, but there has been no sign that any concrete agreements have been reached, even in private.

Although Livni is expected to win the Kadima leadership next month, it is not yet clear if she will be able to form a coalition government.

She said she would like to try to lead a coalition, or to form a unity government. She said that would be decided by other coalition parties.

If she fails to form a coalition there would be early general elections. Recent polls have suggested the rightwing opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, of the Likud party, would win. However, a poll in yesterday’s Ha’aretz newspaper put Livni and Netanyahu as equal frontrunners.

Olmert, the current prime minister and Kadima leader, has promised to step down after the primary election next month. He is still being questioned in a series of corruption investigations.

PA: We May Demand Binational Israel-Palestinian State

August 11, 2008

Information Clearing House

10/08/08 “Reuters” — – Senior Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia said Sunday that the Palestinians may demand to become part of a binational state if Israel continued to reject the borders they propose for a separate country.

Qureia, who heads Palestinian negotiators in U.S.-brokered talks with Israel, told Fatah party loyalists behind closed doors that a two-state solution could be achieved only if Israel met their demands to withdraw from all Palestinian territory in accordance with 1967 borders, a reference to land in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

“The Palestinian leadership has been working on establishing a Palestinian state within the ’67 borders,” Qureia said.

“If Israel continues to oppose making this a reality, then the Palestinian demand for the Palestinian people and its leadership [would be] one state, a binational state,” he added at the meeting held in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Qureia’s comments were carried in a statement issued after the meeting.

The chances of achieving a peace deal before the expiration of Washington’s deadline, when U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office next year, have dimmed since Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced last month he planned to resign in the coming weeks due to multiple corruption investigations underway against him.

Despite the Israeli political crisis, Olmert, who has vowed to pursue peace efforts until he leaves office, met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week. The two are said to be planning additional talks later this month.

But months of discussions have produced little visible progress on key issues of the conflict such as who would control Jerusalem, a city both Israel and the Palestinians want for a capital, and the future for millions of Palestinian refugees.

A Palestinian official said Qureia told Sunday’s gathering he thought the peace talks had hit an impasse.

The unsuccessful efforts to realize the goal of a separate state has touched off debate among Palestinians for months, including as to whether they should seek instead to merge into a joint state with Israel.

Spotlight on the lesser evil

August 4, 2008
By Gideon Levy | Haaretz.com, Aug 3, 2008

The Olmert affair has come and all but gone. A few more invoices here and some daggers there will be hurled at the hemorrhaging political corpse hanging in the town square, and Ehud Olmert will disappear into the sunset. A hedonistic, spendthrift prime minister, a relatively small-time, corrupt man who, like many others, did not know where to the draw the line between public and private money and who – like many of his colleagues in the upper crust of government – thought that a politician deserves everything, is going home. Olmert and his transgressions will be remembered as a footnote in history.

Contrary to the typically passionate claims of a few self-styled protectors of the law, Olmert`s conduct did not for one second endanger the rule of law in Israel; it did not threaten its form of government, nor did it undermine the state`s foundations. Far more serious acts of corruption have been committed. Much greater dangers stalk and ultimately threaten the rule of law, and our democracy is fissured and fragile due to other phenomena. It isn`t the Rishon Tours affair, nor the house on Cremieux Street, nor the Talanskys of this world, nor the cronyism and patronage in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry that shape the state`s character. On the contrary, the manner in which the relevant instruments of power sprang into action and launched an all-out offensive clearly proves that when it comes to minor corruptible violations, the rule of law is in relatively good shape. The danger we are faced with stems from other, incalculably graver circumstances. Nobody has taken it upon himself to wage a war against these circumstances, because this war demands much more courage.

Like the `investigative journalism` programs we see on television, the self-righteous preoccupy themselves with trifle matters. How great it must be to make a name for yourself as a pursuer of justice as you shine the spotlight of your `investigation` onto a rabbi who got a little too frisky or the mechanic who overcharges his customer. This is a war that is universally satisfying to all sides. After all, who wants to tolerate an adulterous rabbi, a swindling mechanic, or a thief for a prime minister?

It goes without saying that such characters are worthy of ostracism, yet these battles are confined to the tiny space illuminated by a flashlight instead of the larger front where the greatest danger awaits. Olmert failed the Kolbotek (a popular consumer affairs TV show) litmus test, and he deserves to be punished accordingly, but the saintly image of the hell-bent seekers of justice that has been affixed to those who have brought him down is exaggerated, if not ridiculous.

Continued . . .

‘This is like apartheid’: ANC veterans visit West Bank

July 11, 2008

By Donald Macintyre in Hebron | The Independent, Friday, 11 July 2008

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Veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle said last night that the segregation endured by Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories was in some respects worse than that imposed on the black majority under white rule in South Africa.

Members of a 23-strong human-rights team of prominent South Africans cited the impact of the Israeli military’s separation barrier, checkpoints, the permit system for Palestinian travel, and the extent to which Palestinians are barred from using roads in the West Bank.

After a five-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories, some delegates expressed shock and dismay at conditions in the Israeli-controlled heart of Hebron. Uniquely among West Bank cities, 800 settlers now live there and segregation has seen the closure of nearly 3,000 Palestinian businesses and housing units. Palestinian cars (and in some sections pedestrians) are prohibited from using the once busy streets.

“Even with the system of permits, even with the limits of movement to South Africa, we never had as much restriction on movement as I see for the people here,” said an ANC parliamentarian, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge of the West Bank. “There are areas in which people would live their whole lifetime without visiting because it’s impossible.”

Continued . . .


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