With Rosh Hashona approaching we wish all our readers a happy new year. May we continue to have faith in a better future, hope that it will be achieved soon, and strength to cope with any disappointments along the way. We call for justice, equality, peace and prosperity for all in the Middle East. And we wish our Muslim readers Eid Mubarak.
Refusenik and activist Matan Cohen, partially blinded after being shot in the face by a tear gas canister had his case dismissed by an Israeli judge who further imposed a £13,000 fine for bringing a “frivolous” lawsuit. Matan needs to raise a £5,000 deposit in order to lodge an appeal against the ruling. And support for Firas Maraghy, still on hunger strike in Berlin, continues to grow.
As peace talks open dozens of commentators have taken the opportunity to reflect on the wider context as they assess the prospects for peace. On one thing they are united: the outlook is poor to very poor. We’ve selected half a-dozen contributions, all of which we think are worth reading. Many of the criticisms overlap, but even then, the different emphases are interesting:
* Daniel Levy, a co-founder of J Street, is acutely aware of all the obstacles in the way of success, but finds room for some cautious optimism, arguing that if there is “an Israeli yes to real de-occupation gestating somewhere in the Israeli public and body politic” it will take a surgeon to give birth to it – and only Dr Obama can play that role;
* Ramallah-based lawyer and former PLO advisor Diana Buttu finds no room for optimism about the outcome of the forthcoming talks. There is no support for them on the ground in the West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas lacks all legitimacy. It is Fatah rather than Hamas that is emerging isolated;
* Ahmad Tibi MK, writes: “Whether in the United States, Israel or the occupied territories, equal rights before the law is a powerful and crucial concept. And it is one that should be at the forefront of the next round of talks. Obama is a marvelous American choice to deliver the message to an Israeli “democracy” decades late in implementing fundamental legal equality….”;
* According to Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada: “No serious analyst believes that peace can be made between Palestinians and Israelis without Hamas on board, any more than could have been the case in Northern Ireland without Sinn Fein and the I.R.A…”;
* Henry Siegman, president of the US/Middle East Project, argues that progress in the peace talks depends on President Obama’s willingness to submit parameters for peace that the US Congress is currently dead opposed to. They also require an effective Palestinian interlocutor – that means an opening to Hamas; “If the Obama administration will not lead an international initiative to define the parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement and actively promote Palestinian political reconciliation, Europe must do so, and hope America will follow.”
* Veteran Gush Shalom commentator Uri Avnery focuses on how threatened each party to the talks – Netanyahu, Abbas, Obama – feels and how, for each of them. “the main thing is to minimize the damage”.
Nicolas Pelham, the Economist’s Palestinian affairs correspondent, analyses Hamas’s latest ‘drive-by shootings’ in the context of the evolving balance of forces in both Palestinian and Israeli society; and foresees a time when “Down the road, the interests of the rising new guard of religious nationalists in Israel and Palestine might yet converge.”
A Fride think-tank policy brief looks at how the EU has lost credibility among Palestinians since its boycott of Hamas and suggests it should re-energise its approach to democracy promotion, focusing on Palestinian civil society capacity building, and being more assertive towards Israel regarding occupation policies…
Two reports of life under occupation were posted this week: one, from Defence for Children International – Palestine Section reports on how children in Gaza collect gravel near the border with Israel which they then sell to builders for US $0.80 a bucket.. Israeli soldiers frequently fire above the heads of the children to scare them away from the border; or at their donkeys; or at the children… And the WHO draws attention to the case of Ahmed a medical student who cannot continue his training at an East Jerusalem hospital because his permit was confiscated. He recounts how the Israeli secret service asked him to work for them if he wanted his permit back.
On that note Ran Cohen, Director of the Department for Migrants, Refugees and Undocumented People at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, reports on the tragedy of Palestinian collaborators generally as Israeli security agents have recruited tens of thousands of Palestinians to a network of informants and collaborators that was established in Israel, and after 1967 also in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, using false promises, blackmail, coercion, violence and exploitation of personal distress…
On the rightward drift within Israel itself, Neve Gordon, professor of politics at Ben-Gurion University, argues that the anti-liberal and anti-democratic agendas of the American right and the Israeli right are becoming ever closer; a disturbing report by Nathan Guttman in the Jewish Forward suggests that: “The New Israel Fund, the target of attacks by right-wing organizations accusing it of supporting anti-Zionist groups, is discussing the possibility of specifying in its guidelines that grants will be given only to groups that accept the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland.” And Richard Silverstein comments on these developments in two postings on his Tikun Olam site.
Finally, Esther Zandberg, architectural correspondent for Ha’aretz issues a call “for architects and planners to wake up and announce publicly that they will not continue planning new buildings in the settlements… Architects and planners are the ones who implement in practice the occupation policy of Israeli governments and continue the conflict on the drafting table…”