Posts Tagged ‘Palestine’

What’s Next in the Middle East?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

I, like many, have been concerned that Barak Obama’s selection of Egypt as the site of his speech to the Muslim world would be problematic. If he wanted to give Muslims assurance of a commitment to democracy and human rights, countries like Turkey or Indonesia would have been a better platform. If he wanted to speak from within the Arab Muslim world, there is no perfect venue, but surely Jordan or Morocco would have been preferable. In Cairo Obama is in the awkward position of having to choose between tacit acceptance of dictatorship and insulting his hosts.

Yesterday’s program on “What’s Next in the Middle East” presented at the Carnegie Institute for Peace only exacerbated my concerns.  Before I explain why, let me summarize for you the views of the panelists.

Ghaith al-Omari, the Advocacy Director of the American Task Force for Palestine, was the only Arab speaker. Although he no longer works for Mahmoud Abbas, you couldn’t guess that from his presentation. He began by asserting that Abbas’ popularity is linked to the success of the negotiation process. This is only true if one insists that Abbas is the only possible spokesman for the Palestinians. Abbas was duly elected President of the Palestinian Authority, but that term of office has been absurdly overextended, while in office he has managed to dump the elected prime minister. (Well, sort of; Haniyya remains the prime minister of Gaza.)

Al-Omari characterized the mission of Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, who has made no secret of his pro-Fatah intervention into Palestinian affairs as stabilizing Gaza with reconstruction conducted in a manner that will not benefit Hamas. Admitting that he did not understand why everyone else seemed to feel Palestinian unity was valuable to the peace process, he opined with obvious satisfaction that Obama made it clear that there will be no change in policy towards Hamas. His main concern seemed to be that pressure on Israel may be seen as too one-sided. He suggested that Syria’s desire to end its isolation gives leverage with respect to Israeli objectives.

The other two panelists, both Jewish, had a less political and more realistic perspective on the situation. Geoffrey Aaronson is the Director of Research and Publications at the Foundation for Middle East Peace. He characterized the Bush policy as supporting the democratic process without being willing to support the outcome. He credited the new administration for coming across as less strident and less extreme, more nuanced. He believes peace is best advanced by a policy less about picking winners than about defining a negotiating space in which possibly conflicting views may be discussed.

Aaronson noted that there has yet to be a substantive engagement with Syria beyond closing out the Bush position, but lamented that “old habits die hard.” He said that the Bush language keeps showing up in the State Department Q&A. He argued that Biden’s visit to Beirut fell flat because Biden was putting U.S. prestige on one side of the election campaign. He warned that we have heard nothing about Oslo, settlement evacuation, etc., and that Netanyahu is correct to say that Israel has never agreed to freeze settlements before final status. The implication, of course, is that we should move to final status negotiations now.

For Aaronson, Lt.-Gen. Dayton has just re-upped for two more years of a counterinsurgency operations, when what is need is diplomacy. We continue to ignore Hamas, and the humanitarian crisis remains unaddressed.  The absence of any sign of intent to rethink the policy of picking Abbas as the winner and continuing to ignore the new guys on the block (Hamas) promises only more of the same failure.

Aaronson argues that there is an alternative paradigm. One must pay attention to Gaza and Hamas’ mobilization of political support there and elsewhere. He feels Ehud Barak, Minister of Defenses, is pushing back at Washington. The challenge is to move beyond “the petty details of occupation” and to seek to redefine Israeli security interests to a drawback that will enhance Israel’s security. It worked in Sinai and Aaronson says itwould work in the Golan. Aaronson wants us to think in terms of enhancing security of all in the area including Israel, Syria, and Iran. Syria is a key.

M.J. Rosenberg is the Director of Policy Analysis at the Israel Policy Forum. He opened with a confession that he looks at things from the vantage point of Capitol Hill and of Jewish organizations. He predicted that the media will soon bemoan how Obama is hurting Israel despite the fact that nothing has happened. He asserted that Israel has set the terms of debate so the media is indignant Israel is treated like any other country.

Yet, Rosenberg was optimistic because Obama has more rightly-placed calm self-confidence than any predecessor since FDR. He felt it was good that he has Rahm Emanuel at his side. He will not “go war with AIPAC,” but will treat them as just another lobby. He sees even Netanyahu’s intransigence as working for the peace process since “Livni could pull the wool over Americans’ eyes; Netanyahu can’t.”

Al-Omari was aware of rumors that the administration is planning to release its own peace plan, a hybrid of the “Roadmap” and the “Arab Initiative,” but he hasn’t seen it and in any case expects it to be revealed in stages. He said that the administration has made it clear that nothing new will be revealed in Cairo.

I would have loved to have answered Al-Omari’s question as to why everyone else seems to think Palestinian Unity would help the peace process, but, alas, I was not called upon. (The session ended 15 minutes early.)  The Israelis need someone with whom they can negotiate who truly represents the Palestinian people, not just a single faction. That’s why the Israelis have decided they need to talk to Hamas.

If Obama’s speech in Cairo signals a continuation of the Bush doctrine of supporting elections while rejecting their outcomes, the entire Arab world will conclude that that the democracy Obama offers is the Egyptian model, with Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian president-for-life and the violent suppression of any (including religious consider Egypt’s treatment of the Copts as well as the Muslim Brotherhood) opposition. In Jordan or Morocco he might have finessed these issues, but, in Cairo, silence will be taken as consent.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

Expectations for the Obama-Netanyahu Meeting

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

I was interviewed by Javier Mendez of Chile’s El Mecurio. Here are my answers to his questions.

Q. What are the expectations for the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu? What are their differences about the possibilities of Palestinian State and the peace in Middle East?

A. We expect Obama to press for Netanyahu to agree to resume negotiations in the pattern of those of the Clinton administration, an approach that, because it ignores or attempts to subvert the right of displaced Palestinians to return to their homes cannot succeed in establishing a lasting peace. However, getting Netanyahu to commit even to a two-state solution all will be an uphill battle for Obama. For the same reasons that the Likud was able to rebuff George Bush Sr.’s modest attempts to put the brakes on Israeli settlements, I mean the unconditional support of the U.S. Congress for Israel, Obama has no leverage to obtain even significant symbolic concessions from Netanyahu. There is also the fact that Avigdor Lieberman, whose support Netanyahu needs to stay in power, is oppose to resuming negotiations altogether. In any case Netanyahu’s insistence that Obama take a more belligerent stance on Iran as a precondition to pursuing peace with the Palestinians is a clear signal that he will not cooperate unless Obama demonstrates a clear acquiescence to the Likud agenda.

Q.  Do your think that they will try to analyze or talk about security issues in Israel, Gaza, West Bank or will they try to driver forward the peace initiative called the Annapolis agreement?

A. I think that Obama will try to persuade Netanyahu that American commitment to Israel’s security is absolutely guaranteed, so that Israel may safely commit to a two-state solution and a settlement freeze, but Netanyahu will argue that Israel will be insecure unless Obama abandons any hope of a peaceful resolution to its differences with Iran.

Q. In your opinion, what could be the chances for peace in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine after the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu? Are there posibilities for a Netanyahu´s goverment to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinia?

A. The chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians emerging from Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu are very poor. Netanyahu has made it clear he will only consider negotiating about security and economic issues.

Q. What are the Israeli conditions for continuing the peace process?

A. The Netanyahu-Lieberman coalition makes belligerency with Iran, a one apartheid state solution, and abandonment of the Palestinian right of return conditions for continuing the peace process.

Q. Will Obama and Netanyahu have a hard-line with Iran and Syria?

A. I would not be surprised to see Obama attempt to appease Netanyahu by adopting a harder line rhetoric on Iran, but unless he is willing to back it up with actual military aggression, Netanyahu will not be satisfied. The Obama administration has already started talking tougher about Syria.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

Encourage Nonviolence Through Accountability

Thursday, March 26th, 2009


[This guest blog was submitted by Ashraf Nubani after the Washington Post, the New York  Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times all declined to publish an earlier version.]

There has been much criticism of the Palestinian response to Israeli occupation — especially the use of violence against civilian targets. We Americans, whose history includes a violent revolution, a civil war, and two world wars, are quick to call for the use of nonviolent resistance when it comes to non-Western peoples and areas of conflict. What then should be our collective response to those killed or injured while engaging in nonviolent resistance? Certainly, we should not blame the victim — especially if the victim is an American.

Tristan Anderson, 37, of Oakland, Calif., was been critically injured in the village of Ni’lin on the occupied West Bank after Israeli forces shot him in the head with a tear gas canister on Friday, March 13, 2009.  I have known him for many years and our hearts go out to him and his family. The canister penetrated Mr. Anderson’s skull and surgeons had to remove a portion of his right frontal lobe due to bone fragments lodged in his brain. Reconstructive surgery was required near his right eye. His parents and sister arrived in Israel on Monday.

Demanding an immediate, fair and independent investigation into his shooting is the minimal response we should expect to this blatant act of aggression that left Mr. Anderson fighting for his life at Tel Hashomer Hospital outside of Tel Aviv. Any investigation must provide satisfactory answers to several issues.

According to the International Solidarity Movement, the Israeli army began using a high velocity tear gas canister in December 2008.  The black canister, labeled in Hebrew as “40mm bullet special/long range,” can shoot over 400 meters. It emits no noise, no smoke trail, and virtually no warning when one is fired. The combination of the canister’s high velocity and silence is extremely dangerous and has already caused numerous injuries to Palestinians.

According to eyewitness testimony, media reports and Israeli officials, the incident took place inside the village of Ni’lin and not near the separation Wall where demonstrators earlier had clashed with Israeli troops. Everyone agrees the incident took place at about 4:30 p.m. local time, after the four-hour demonstration had dwindled.  According to eyewitnesses, Teah Lindquist and Gaby Silverman, Mr. Anderson did not participate in the earlier clashes nor did he throw stones at Israeli troops. In addition, Ms. Silverman told one of our representatives that Israeli occupation forces delayed Mr. Anderson’s ambulance for nearly 20 minutes at the checkpoint before allowing it to make its way to the hospital.

As regrettable as this incident is, it does, however, draw attention to the very cause that Mr. Anderson placed his life in harm’s way to defend: Israel’s concrete separation barrier, which the International Court of Justice has deemed to be illegal because it is being built on Palestinian land. Ni’lin will lose approximately 625 acres of agricultural land when the Wall is completed. The village comprised 228 thousand acres in 1948, was reduced to 132 thousand acres after the 1967 war, and currently is 40 thousand acres. When the Wall is finished, 30 thousand acres will be all that’s left of Ni’lin. Residents have been protesting the Wall for months.

Palestinian, and now American, life is needlessly being endangered and lost every day because Israel, an ally of the United States, continues its illegal occupation by force of arms. Mr. Anderson is not the first to make this trek and pay a large sacrifice for it. This week marks the sixth anniversary of another conscientious and brave American who lost her life while defending against the demolition of a Palestinian family’s home in the Gaza Strip: Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli soldier driving a bulldozer (supplied by Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc.) The U.S. still has not conducted an independent investigation into her death which the Israelis ruled “an accident.”

If the past is an indicator, we can’t rely upon Israel’s claim it is pursuing an investigation. In the report “Promoting Impunity: The Israeli Military’s Failure to Investigate Wrongdoing,” Human Rights Watch questioned the objectivity and integrity of the Military Police investigation into Ms. Corrie’s death. It faulted the investigation for poor preparation and for posing questions to witnesses that were “hostile, inappropriate, and mostly accusatory.” The report described other instances in which short summary findings were made available to the media after closed investigations with no involvement of nonmilitary witnesses nor victims or their families.

If we want to show the Palestinians a better way to achieve their quest for self-determination, we must show them that at the very least we seek justice and accountability for one of our own nonviolent protesters.

Hatem Bazian
American Muslims for Palestine (AMP)

Thinking Through a U.S. Strategy Toward Gaza

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

On March 3rd something that is (to my knowledge) unprecedented happened in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. A standing room only crowd of over 130 persons heard actual Congressmen (not just outsiders given a platform by Congressmen) objectively discuss the devastation recently visited upon Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces.

It began with an excerpt from a video about the Congressmen’s visit to Gaza that showed what was left of a day-care center. Although not much more than rubble, the center was host to an art exhibit that the staff insisted on mounting after its destruction because it was a center of life. There were also interviews with the staff of a hospital who, although their homes are only an 18-minute drive away, must go through an at least 90-minute (each way) check point every working day.

There was also a grocery store in Jaballia camp in which there were items on shelves thanks to the infamous tunnels. Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) argued that it would be better to open the crossings where freight would be checked.

One must understand that none of the speakers blamed Israel for what happened. Indeed, all who spoke strongly emphasized that they were not taking sides and mentioned the anxieties that militants in Gaza have imposed on Israel with their rocket attacks. Nonetheless, when most in Congress and the mainstream media are in a state of denial about the humanitarian crisis, the fact that these few stood up to show pictures of bombed schools and displaced civilians indicates that there is change in the air and that the time for the Palestinian narrative to complement the other one that has monopolized the discourse in America is timely.

Ellison insisted that his call for opening the crossings, which he said was the only message he had to offer, would enhance Israeli security as well as alleviate the humanitarian crisis. He said that at no time did they hear any anti-American talk, nor anti-Israeli or pro-Hamas comments (although that may have been due to the fact that their visit was for only one day). Ellison noted that without a dedicated constituency, Gazans can expect no action. He noted that there is well-organized Israeli lobby and a somewhat less well-organized Palestinian lobby, but no peace lobby.

Brian Baird (D-WA) said that the original intention of the Congressional visit was for him and Ellison to speak on Islam in the West. Now, he said, the challenge is to be honest about what they have seen without being accused of taking sides. He felt that what has been done in the last couple of months gives people there hope, but that money is not sufficient. Neither the rockets nor the invasion has moved things forward; neither has advanced the prosperity or security of the people there.

Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) says he never feared for his safety and he never met anyone looking for a fight. He said he found only friendly children and people who wanted to get on with their lives. He expressed the view that letting aid go only through tunnels has not stopped the rockets and not advanced communication between the parties to the conflict, but only enriched outlaws. Holt mentioned seeing a science book at an American school there shredded by the bombings and Baird recalled a book about baseball that mentioned Jackie Robinson’s successful struggle against racism.

The respondent was Daniel Levy, Director of the Middle East Task Force of the New America Foundation. He remarked that the Congressmen had done a service for America’s public diplomacy by restoring hope. He thanked them for resisting playing the blame game and noted that the arbitrary definition of “basic food and medicine” that is now allowed at the Rafha crossing excludes toothpaste, building materials and item arbitrarily labeled ‘luxuries.’ Banknotes are not allowed in. Even when credit is deposited to a bank it can’t be withdrawn because there is no physical currency. He said these are collective sanctions rather than targeted sanctions. He concluded that to resolve the issue there needs to be a deal on Gilad Shalit, the crossings must be opened, and a cease fire accepted. What must not happen, he said, is to continue to hold the entire population hostage. The theory that deprivation of Gaza will cause them to overthrow Hamas has been disproven.

Levy explained that in 2005 there was an agreement that the Rafah crossing would not be used for commerce, and all commerce would go through the five Israeli crossings, but those crossings are now closed. Although 200 trucks now pass through Rafa, the minimal aid requirement is 500 trucks. Baird added that the crossing best equipped to screen trucks for contraband is not open.

In response to reporter Sally Quinn’s allegations of fears by “Arab and Muslim leaders” that Hamas will steal any aid and her inquiry as to whether Gazans are angry at or supportive of Hamas, Ellison replied that Gazans are focused on their survival. Baird added that there was a lot of discussion of long-term psychological effects on children and that they had heard at the Islamic Conference that if we don’t proactively reward moderates extremism will flourish. Because of the frequency of allegations of a “hate filled curriculum,” he asked the children about their attitudes toward the U.S. and got typical kid answers. Levy added that we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact the Fatah position was that by working with the U.S. and Israel they would deliver a Palestinian state; all these years after the handshake on the White House lawn that has become a tough promise to sell. There is a recognition now that Hamas is part of the landscape like it or not.

In response to a question from a reporter from Al Jazeera as to whether the trip and program signaled a real shift in American policy, Baird replied that “you can criticize a friend and still be a friend.” He feels that many in Congress would like resolutions to be more measured and nuanced. Ellison noted that in Israel it is okay to talk about these things; it is only in Washington that politicians fear derision for stating the obvious.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute (more…)