Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ideas for the New Administration

A New Mideast Approach
By Yousef Munayyer
Washington Post
Saturday, January 24, 2009; A13

The Obama administration appointed former senator George Mitchell as its special envoy to the Middle East this week in a positive step toward resolving the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While a fragile cease-fire has brought a temporary halt to the recent bloodshed in Gaza, the outburst of violence at the end of the Bush administration was the culmination of eight more years of failed U.S. policy. The new administration will need to break with that policy if it is to make progress toward ending the conflict.

The Bush policy can be divided into two periods. Initially, the administration sought to marginalize Yasser Arafat and pushed for the democratization of the Palestinian Authority. President Bush supported the Palestinian presidential election of 2005 and supported the Palestinian parliamentary elections early the next year -- until he saw the outcome of the vote.

The election of Hamas in January 2006, and the faltering of the longest-ruling party in Palestinian politics, was a wake-up call. The administration, understanding the pressure that Islamic movements were putting on regimes in the Middle East, shifted to "bolstering the moderates." The goal became marginalizing Hamas through economic sanctions and siege, while funding and supporting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

But this tactic of backing "our guy in the fight" achieved results much like those of the Cold War-era tactics it resembled. Ideology-driven civil conflict has raged on. Neither side has moved toward peace or security.

To make real progress toward a lasting peace, a fundamental shift in U.S. policy is needed. Simply put, a divided Palestinian partner can never make serious concessions to arrive at a lasting agreement when it is viewed as legitimate by only half of its population.

The United States must work to forge a unified Palestinian partner and must be wary of the dynamics of legitimacy in domestic Palestinian politics. Attempts to continue aligning Mahmoud Abbas with Israel against Hamas only serve to erode Abbas's legitimacy among his people. And Abbas's Fatah party members will continue to be targeted by domestic opposition as "sellouts." This appearance of submission contributed to their defeat in the 2006 parliamentary elections.

Rather than seeking to bolster the moderates in this conflict, the Obama administration should focus on moderating the extremists. The idea of eliminating Hamas could not be seriously proposed by anyone with any knowledge of domestic Palestinian politics. The notion that Hamas is a primarily militant organization based in Gaza ignores the movement's vast support in the West Bank and elsewhere.

Dealing with Hamas and groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad in arenas of legitimacy, such as elections, negates the possibility that outside parties will spoil peace negotiations.

Those who would resolve the conflict must understand that such parties and groups, often labeled rejectionist, are not primarily ideologically based and are not monolithic. They, like most political parties, are beholden to a constituency.
Yet while their politics are not always the same, the political alliances between them are far stronger than any ideological divisions. For example, consider the image of the Islamist Khaled Meshal of Hamas seated next to communist George Habash at rejectionist party conferences.

Yes, Hamas and other groups must stop the violence. But the process cannot begin by demanding that they recognize Israel.

The support for rejectionist parties in Palestinian politics, Islamist or otherwise, comes straight out of the refugee camps. Gaza has the highest concentration of refugees; nearly half of the population shares in the personal experience of dispossession.

Asking rejectionist parties to recognize Israel's right to exist, thereby justifying the displacement of the majority of their constituents, is not something that could be agreed to under today's circumstances. Most Palestinians owe their tragedies to the very genesis of Israel.

The key to real progress in resolving the conflict is, and has always been, providing a just resolution to the refugee issue. While a resolution will not be easy or immediate, a significant step in the right direction would be an acknowledgment from the state of Israel of at least partial responsibility for creating the refugee problem.

Such a statement, made in a serious and genuine tone and supported by American mediation, would destroy the perception held among many in the Middle East that Israel does not want peace. This, in turn, would begin to moderate the extremists.

The territorial outline for a two-state solution is largely agreed upon, even by some rejectionists. What remains outstanding is a just resolution for the refugee issue. The Obama administration should begin by tackling this necessary step toward comprehensive and lasting Arab-Israeli peace.

The writer is a policy analyst with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Monday, January 12, 2009

An Open Letter from UK Attorneys and Academics

From The Sunday Times of London
January 11, 2009

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is not self-defence – it’s a war crime

ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of “self-defence” as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention.

The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity.

The killing of almost 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 3,000 injuries, accompanied by the destruction of schools, mosques, houses, UN compounds and government buildings, which Israel has a responsibility to protect under the Fourth Geneva Convention, is not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire.

For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. And yet in 2005-8, according to the UN, the Israeli army killed about 1,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it.

Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas. Instead it killed 225 Palestinians on the first day of its attack. As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.

We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes. Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas.

Ian Brownlie QC, Blackstone Chambers
Mark Muller QC, Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales
Michael Mansfield QC and Joel Bennathan QC, Tooks Chambers
Sir Geoffrey Bindman, University College, London
Professor Richard Falk, Princeton University
Professor M Cherif Bassiouni, DePaul University, Chicago
Professor Christine Chinkin, LSE
Professor John B Quigley, Ohio State University
Professor Iain Scobbie and Victor Kattan, School of Oriental and African Studies
Professor Vera Gowlland-Debbas, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva
Professor Said Mahmoudi, Stockholm University
Professor Max du Plessis, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban
Professor Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College
Professor Joshua Castellino, Middlesex University
Professor Thomas Skouteris and Professor Michael Kagan, American University of Cairo
Professor Javaid Rehman, Brunel University
Daniel Machover, Chairman, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
Dr Phoebe Okawa, Queen Mary University
John Strawson, University of East London
Dr Nisrine Abiad, British Institute of International and Comparative Law
Dr Michael Kearney, University of York
Dr Shane Darcy, National University of Ireland, Galway
Dr Michelle Burgis, University of St Andrews
Dr Niaz Shah, University of Hull
Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyer
Prof Michael Lynk, The University of Western Ontario
Steve Kamlish QC and Michael Topolski QC, Tooks Chambers

Thursday, January 08, 2009

10 Ideas for Taking Action

Ideas and thoughtful analysis from Anna Baltzer, young Jewish American, Fullbright scholar writer and lecturer [www.annainthemiddleeast.com]

What Most US Media Isn't Telling You

Four days ago, Israel invaded Gaza on the ground to compliment its aerial bombardment. The Palestinian death toll has reached 660. The official Israeli death toll is up to 5, of whom 4 were civilians. Attacks on civilians, no matter who they are, is criminal. Yet the US government, public relations officials, and mainstream media—unlike those of almost every other country in the world—continue to criminalize Palestinian violence while absolving Israel (the undisputed party in power) of almost any responsibility of its own.

The official position seems clear: Israel can do as it likes until Hamas stops all violence. The underlying assumption here is that Palestinians' human rights depend on the actions of their leaders. This is false. Palestinians do not have to earn the human rights inalienable to every person on Earth. Human rights are non-negotiable. Likewise, Israelis do not have to earn their human rights. Israeli state terror not withstanding, it would be criminal to bombard the entire population of Israel (in which, as in Gaza, fighters live alongside their families in civilian areas) for the crimes of its government. But this is exactly what Israel is doing in Gaza with US weapons before a seemingly impotent international community.

Every day the carnage unfolds on CNN-International (different from CNN-US—the United States is the only country in the world with domestically customized international news coverage): a mother and her 4 kids killed instantly; a 7-year-old shot twice in the chest (I'm not sure how that happens accidentally, but does that even matter?); more than 40 policemen in training obliterated (even Israel does not claim the Palestinian police orchestrates rocket attacks); TV stations and places of worship successfully destroyed; a mortuary out of room for bodies.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, "sewage water is pouring into the streets in Beit Hanoun, following damage to the main pipeline between Beit Hanoun and the Beit Lahiya wastewater treatment plant." Save The Children reports that newborn baby Gazans are battling hypothermia due to power cuts and freezing winter winds. Some of the worst news comes from the doctors. Can you imagine a hospital functioning without electricity? According to the mainstream British newspaper The Guardian, medics are working around the clock and running out of anesthesia. There is no more gauze so doctors are using cotton, which sticks to wounds. Nurses are forced to draw blood with the wrong sized syringes and without alcohol. The Guardian article was entitled, "The injured were lying there asking God to let them die." Many have gotten their last wish, dying as they wait in the emergency rooms.Medical workers themselves have also been under fire, with at least 4 killed as they tried to reach victims.

Ambulances are not safe, nor are the schools: When I woke up yesterday a UN school had just been bombed, killing 3 of the civilians who had come to the school seeking shelter. Watching the news later in the evening, I learned the same UN school had beenbombed again (twice in one day), killing 40 more. The British director of the school, having lost his usual calm, was irate and imploring the world to understand that nowhere in Gaza is safe anymore—there is nowhere left to go. Yet reading the Washington Post and watching the nightly news you might believe that Israel's is in fact the most virtuous army in the world, going as far as sending text messages to and dropping leaflets in Palestinian areas explaining that unless civilians leave, they will be attacked. Reported alone, this might sound reasonable, but quickly becomes absurd if you know that Gazans have no place to go to! Nowhere inside the strip of land is safe and there is no way to leave it, since the borders are sealed.

The bombing and invasion have clearly heightened the threat against Gazans' lives, but they did not start it. For the 18 months preceding the invasion, the average Gazan could not reliably go to school, make a living, contact the outside world, divert their sewage, heat their homes, drink clean water, or eat. This was due to the enclosure summed up in the words of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights: "Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key." This was the reality of Israel's "ceasefire. "The closure pushed Gaza's humanitarian crisis to a new low, with poverty reaching 80%. Any attempt to counter poverty was thwarted. Gaza students dependent on transportation could not reach their schools, and those accepted at foreign universities in America, Europe, and the West Bank were denied permits to leave. Without enough fuel, industrial businesses were either shut down or running below 20% capacity, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. Contrary to Israeli court order, the Israeli army allowed just 15% of fuel needed for generators, wells, and transportation, resulting in garbage piled high in the streets while up to 15,000,000 gallons of raw or partially-treated sewage flowed into the sea every day. This was the reality of Israel's "ceasefire."

On November 4th and 5th, Israel broke the "ceasefire" by killing at least 6 Palestinians in Gaza, reported on CNN-International but unlikely by CNN-US. Of course, there was no ceasefire to begin with, since the main requirement on Israel was to sufficiently unseal Gaza's borders, a requirement that was consistently ignored. By the end of the "ceasefire," 262 had Gazans died due to lack of access to proper medical care during the blockade. Hamas should be condemned for its attacks on civilians, but it is na├»ve to expect that they would renew a truce that Israel had never adhered to. Whether or not it would cease cross-border attacks in exchange for Israeli reciprocity—as Hamas continues to offer—is something we cannot know, since Israel has never given the offer a chance.

Analysis and sympathy have no value if they do not result in any action. There are enough action ideas below that every single person has the power to do at least one, ideally many more.
1. Monitor and contact local media to inform others and counter misinformation. Write letters to the editor (usually 100-150 words) or op-eds (usually 600-800 words) for local newspapers. Also contact radio talk shows and television news departments, especially in response to biased coverage. You can find all local media at: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/dbq/media/ The US Campaign to End the Occupation compiled a fact sheet about US direct contributions to the war on Gaza, which you can use for facts: http://www.endtheoccupation.org/downloads/gaza_us_weapons.pdf
2. Organize and join demonstrations in front of Israeli embassies or (if that's not doable) in front of the offices of elected officials or other visible place. Inform the media beforehand. Here is a list of the many demonstrations happening around the country (For example, St. Louis, where I live, usually has one a month, but this month there are demonstrations every day): http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=1773
3. Join local activist groups organizing local actions. If there aren't any, start your own. Now is an excellent time to rally support.
4. Initiate boycotts, divestments and sanctions to nonviolently pressure Israeli compliance with international law, as was effective in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Now is an excellent time to rally support and begin a campaign. More info and resources athttp://www.bdsmovement.net/
5. Send direct aid to Gaza through one of the following organizations:- United Nations Relief and Works Agency: www.un.org/unrwa/- United Palestinian Appeal: www.helpupa.com- Islamic Relief: www.irw.org- Canadian Red Cross: www.redcross.ca- American Near East Refugee Aid: www.anera.org- Physicians for Human Rights: www.phr.org.il/phr- Other groups: http://gazasiege.org/support_gaza.html You can also support solidarity activists on the ground at www.palsolidarity.org/main/6 Contact elected and other political leaders in your country to urge them to apply pressure to end the attacks. Find your representatives and their contact info at http://www.congress.org/congressorg/officials/congress Call the Obama/Biden Transition Office at 202-540-3000, press 2 to speak to a staff member. Tell them the U.S. needs a new Middle East policy, which holds Israel accountable to international law and UN resolutions and human rights. Tell them the U.S. should not support Israel with billions of dollars every year and should not be arming Israel with U.S. made weapons. Add your own suggestions. The time is right for President-elect Obama to hear from the peace community.
7. Sign petitions for Gaza, for example: http://www.avaaz.org/en/gaza_time_for_peace/98.php?cl_tf_sign=1 http://capwiz.com/arab/utr/2/?a=12364076&i=90758629&chttps://secure2.convio.net/pep/site/Advocacy?s_oo=d13BldH27ypl2jxg-1cOFA..&id=233
8. Put a Palestinian flag at your window. Wear a Palestinian headscarf (keffiya). Wear black arm bands (this helps start conversations with people).
9. Do a group fast for peace one day and hold it in a public place.
10. Inform others in your community with flyers, vigils, and conversations. At the very least, forward this on.
This list was based on a call from the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People and Friends of Sabeel.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

There is no military solution

Israeli action against Gaza will make matters worse
By Yousef Munayyer
January 2, 2009

There is great grief around the globe for the people in Gaza but there should also be a genuine fear for the safety of Israeli citizens as well. As a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship I have many friends and family members who are in range of Hamas rockets in the south and of Hezbollah rockets in the north.

While at first glance the Israeli actions against Hamas in Gaza may seem like a legitimate response to rocket fire, in the long run, the actions of the Israeli government have put more Israeli and Palestinian lives in jeopardy and may possibly have ruined the hopes of ever reaching a two-state solution.

Some may find it difficult to believe but it's important to think about the events of last week not only in the present but also in the context of the past and future. A poll from Israel last week indicated only 39 percent of respondents thought that the massive attacks against Hamas in Gaza would lead to an end of rocket fire. Perhaps this is because the Israeli government had already found a way to practically end rocket fire before abandoning it for belligerency.

During the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, Hamas rocket fire from Gaza dropped dramatically. However, instead of nurturing what could have been the beginning of a much longer cease-fire, the Israeli government took a calculated step on Nov. 4 by killing four Hamas members they accused of smuggling weapons. Immediately afterwards Hamas responded by sending rockets, and Israel tightened its siege on Gaza.

Every step taken by the Israeli Cabinet is thought about carefully. They hope now, with this war that they brought on, to "change the equation" and break the stalemate in the peace process that has existed since Hamas was elected in 2006.

But does this really change the equation?

Even if the entire leadership of Hamas, a designated terror organization, is wiped out by Israeli raids, does that in anyway change the rejectionist sentiment among the population that elected it? Of course not. In fact, it will probably make the situation worse.

At the foundation of Hamas is the principle of rejecting negotiations with Israel because Israel cannot be viewed as a negotiating partner in good faith. Though Hamas' methods, like attacks on civilians, can never be morally justified, its opposition to Israel is based on legitimate grievances like illegal occupation, political imprisonment and siege. How are these brutal attacks on Gaza, following its slow and steady starvation, supposed to win the hearts and minds of Palestinians who previously supported Hamas?

The problem with dealing with Hamas the way Israel has is that Hamas is not merely an organization, it is a movement, and it is a movement that more and more people in the Arab and Muslim world grow sympathetic to each time it is attacked. With looped images of mangled bodies strewn across burnt pavement pervading the Arab news networks, there is outrage from Morocco to Manila.

In 2006, Israel used the same logic to deal with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah, another designated terror organization, is today more popular than it was before the war both among the Shiites in Lebanon and the Arab and Muslim world in general.

Throughout the first and second Palestinian uprising, Israel targeted Hamas' leadership time after time. After nearly two decades of this policy, Hamas was able to win the first national Palestinian election it participated in, even taking a number of Palestinian Christian votes.

Each and every time Israel strikes Hamas the organization, Hamas the movement grows. Why then did Israel choose to employ failed tactics once again despite the success of the recent cease-fire?

The Israeli government owes answers to the international community, to Palestinians, and most of all to its own public.

Yousef Munayyer, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Washington.