The PA, the UN, Egypt and the flotilla: no help for the Palestinians

Two states?

In September of 2011, the Palestinian Authority will approach the United Nations for a resolution recognising Palestine as a new member state. Against the backdrop of what are still hopefully being called the Arab revolutions, much of the world believes that UN recognition will force Israel to follow suit and recognise, and thus leave in peace, a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

The government of Israel often warns that a sovereign Palestine would mean Hamas’ taking power, probably violently, and then using a new state as a launching pad for the destruction of Israel. However, one must doubt that Hamas is so irrational. Its leaders are well aware that they would be blown to dust if they initiated a war with Israel. Their being religious does not change that. Religious governments are not crazy, and are as likely as non-religious ones to make war. Iran, for all the Israeli and US rhetoric attacking it, seems to have no intention of starting wars. Why would a poorly-armed, dishevelled group like Hamas?

However, with a state, a legitimate government would set up legitimate defense forces against Israeli aggression. It would enable Palestine’s acceptance as a member of the UN. It would also mean the possibility of self-reliance for its citizens, instead of depending on foreign aid under the constant threat of land expropriation and housing demolitions. Finally, it could end the Palestinian refugee issue (though not satisfactorily, as many insist on the “right of return” of all refugees to their previous homes and parents’ and grandparents’ homes, which could be anywhere in Israel or the Palestinian territories). Of course, given Israeli government interests in the status quo in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and its continual proving its ruthlessness in pursuing those interests, all these hopes are mere hopes. After all, asked one West Bank resident, “who cares if we get recognised as a state if the Israelis can still block the roads?”

If Palestinians want a state, international law states that certain conditions must be met. First, it must have a stable population. Check. Second, it must have a government. The Palestinian Authority is not great, but it has the necessary institutions of a government. Check. Third, it must have a defined territory. This issue is contentious, to say the least. It is hard to know exactly where Israel begins and Palestine ends; but the hope is that a Palestinian state would be built on the pre-1967 lines: the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. More recent negotiations (not to mention the settlements) have reduced the size of the West Bank that could belong to Palestine but have partly compensated for the loss of territory with the idea of land swaps between the two states. The solutions are on the table, though the current Israeli government continues to require conditions that make reaching those solutions all but impossible. Fourth, it must have the capacity to enter into relations with other states. That requires recognition by other states. Most of the world’s states now recognise Palestine as sovereign, with the exception of the most powerful ones. But some governments do not recognise Israel as a state either, and some of its territory is considered illegal (the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem were annexed and settled—an unequivocal violation of international law) and yet it is obviously sovereign. But getting and holding a state will not be easy for anyone.

First, the Security Council needs to recommend statehood to the General Assembly, which might not happen. The US government, which can veto any Security Council resolution, has always vetoed resolutions that are not in the Israeli right wing’s self interest, and has done so recently. In doing so, it goes against the international consensus; but the powerful are not constrained by others’ opinions. Despite its posturing for decades, the US government has done little to promote peace and allow the recognition of a Palestinian state. It is possible that the PA can use General Assembly Resolution 377, which can be invoked to bypass the Security Council when it fails to act to maintain international peace and security (its main function), though it may not be valid for the purpose of recognising a new member state. Second, Israel’s diplomats are flying around the world to drum up support for the Netanyahu government’s Bantustan vision for Palestine. The US, of course, supports Israel in this endeavour, as does Germany.

Third, if somehow Palestine is recognised, the US government will not be its friend. The US senate voted unanimously last week that statehood should (a non-binding resolution) be obtained through negotiations and not unilateral declaration. In fact, not only will the US not negotiate with Hamas, whose participation in talks is just as legitimate as that of any other party, the PA opted to approach the UN because there was no peace process to speak of. The resolution consists entirely of conditions directed at the Palestinians (eg. “any Palestinian unity government must publicly and formally forswear
terrorism, accept Israel’s right to exist, and reaffirm previous agreements made with the Government of Israel”, including, presumably the humiliating Oslo Accords), as the US government never puts any pressure on Israel. Susan Rice, White House ambassador to the UN, has also threatened to suspend all aid to the PA if it gains statehood. Though much of that aid goes into the pockets of the corrupt PA, some of it is nonetheless recycled back into the economy. If a sovereign state will lead to rapid growth in the private sector, Palestine has a chance for self-sufficiency. If not, the Palestinians might be worse off than before. Do the Palestinians have any powerful friends?

Egypt

Egypt’s revolution held promise not only for Egyptians, but for Palestinians as well. In 2007, at Israel’s behest, Egypt blocked all access to the crossing at the town of Rafah that straddles the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. In post-(or mid-) revolutionary Egypt, under pressure from the people, the transitional government promised it would open the crossing. A legitimate Israeli fear was that the crossing would become the transfer point for masses of weapons, but it was to be screened for such things like a normal national border. But since the Egyptian junta’s announcement, little has changed. Palestinians applying to leave Gaza—some 20,000—are being told to come back in September. Aside from a few hundred travelers (on a good day) and a mere two truckloads of exports a day, mostly only journalists and ambulances can leave the Strip. One official said it might take months for the Egyptian government to send enough personnel to man the border. Perhaps they are walking there. It has also been reported that, despite pledges of independence from the US and Israeli governments, these two have been reportedly pressuring Egypt not to ease restrictions. Disappointing, to say the least.

The flotilla

The Freedom Flotilla of over a dozen ships is headed for Gaza. The purpose of the flotilla is partly to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza but mainly to bring international attention to the terrible plight faced by the Strip’s inhabitants. It is carrying three thousand tons of aid and its members are from dozens of countries. It is easy to understand why so many people feel strongly about Gaza. Gaza is the most crowded area on earth, with 1.5m people crammed into 360km2. Four out of five Gazans rely on humanitarian aid; 40% of Gazans are unemployed; 80% live in poverty.

Given the impossibility of legitimate trade with the outside world, Gazans long ago resorted to transporting goods by tunnels, which are sometimes bombed by Israel (see here and here for two articles on the latest such attack). Middle East Online says that “[p]rior to Israel’s ‘easing’ of the blockade in 2010 [following the first flotilla debacle], an estimated 80 percent of goods in Gaza’s stores were smuggled through the border with Egypt. Now most consumer goods in the markets and corner shops come from Israel.” Gazans are as enterprising and rugged as anyone else. They do not really need humanitarian aid; they need the ability to trade. According to deputy head of the ICRC in Gaza Mathilde De Riedmatten (and everyone else who has been there), the Strip, essentially a large prison camp, continues to experience crises in health care, water and sanitation. Agriculture has suffered, not only because fertilizers are on the long list of items banned under the blockade, but also because the IDF periodically levels the land and uproots trees. Construction materials cannot enter the Strip, and since Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, they have been needed to repair all manner of buildings. God knows what would happen if Israel repeated its indiscriminate slaughter of Gazans from two years ago, with Gazans still unable to leave. But despite implausible claims that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the powerful do not want the flotilla to continue.

Professor Stephen Zunes said in a recent piece on the flotilla that “nothing frightens a militaristic state more than the power of nonviolent action.” Israeli newspapers have printed the foreboding words of many Israeli officials that Hamas is involved in the organisation of the flotilla, that its intent is to smuggle arms, and that its members plan to attack Israeli soldiers, while others have ridiculed such claims. In his inimitably clever way, Christopher Hitchens attempts to take apart the members of the flotilla. He assumes that the humanitarian convoys will bolster Hamas, rather than help the people; and he questions the motives of the organisers by implying they are associated with the regime of Bashar al Assad of Syria and Hezbollah, which seems, I think any reasonable reader can agree, a stretch. Then he mentions al Qaeda, having learned from George Bush that saying two words in the same speech (“Saddam” and “al Qaeda”) forces listeners to associate the two mentally, when of course they have nothing to do with each other. Despite their use of words such as “proof”, there is little reason to take anything these people say seriously.

The only argument they have worth considering is that any feeding of the people of Gaza bolsters the Hamas government. However, that is only true if the blockade of Gaza had any hope of turning the people against Hamas, and so far it has not worked. How could it? History suggests that people punished collectively for supporting a certain group do not turn on the group but on their punishers. It is obvious that the true oppressors are the ones turning the screws on Gaza: Israel, and to a lesser extent the US and Egypt. The stated goal of the siege of Gaza has not and will not work. The inhumanity of punishing 1.5m people for 44.45% of voters’ electing a terrorist group when their alternative was a corrupt, unresponsive, collaborator party also escapes those who insist on maintaining the blockade.

All manner of coercion is taking place to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza. The Greek government, in a move that presumably will not make it any more endearing to its people, banned all ships in the freedom flotilla from leaving its ports. When a Canadian ship left Crete, Greek authorities intercepted it and took all 50 people on board into custody. Israel’s government threatened to jail any journalists found covering the flotilla for up to ten years. It dropped the ban not long after, though having changed their minds so quickly, one wonders if they might change them back. There is evidence that Israelis had sabotaged some of the flotilla ships.

However, there is no evidence any of the ships that are attempting to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza have been found to contain weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes. No evidence was found for the claim that the flotilla organisers have links to Hamas or other terrorists. In fact, flotilla organisers have likely done everything they can to assure there is no legitimate cause for Israel to attack any of its members, as it did last year when nine activists died in a confused fracas. Their non-violent resistance seems in line with the thinking that produced the phrase “If you want to beat Mike Tyson, you don’t invite him into the ring, you invite him to the chessboard.”

Though there is no real evidence the flotilla poses any threat to Israel, the US government has stated it is not willing to protect the US citizens on board against an Israeli attack, and that such an attack is well within Israel’s right. The ships will not be passing into Israeli waters but international waters, followed by the coast of Gaza, which is only blockaded by Israel. It seems unlikely any state has the right to attack unarmed people in international waters; either way, it leaves the Palestinians and those who want to help them find justice without a friend or saviour.

How about one state?

Does all this mean the only hope for a Palestinian state for the PA to take matters into its own hands? Much has been made of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement, with its possibility of integrating Hamas into a new PA. But not only will such a government be rejected by Israel and the US, Palestinians do not seem to hold out much hope for it either. The PA, set up by the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, is seen by many in the West Bank as collaborators: the police of the occupation. The two parties presumably feel the need to work together to obtain statehood, but where would they go from there?

Another question that others have asked is, is a Palestinian state the best way to achieve freedom? Again, if Israel is still in the neighbourhood, still wary to the point of paranoia about any Arab provocation, still hungry for land based on ancient myths of an Eretz (Greater) Israel, an independent Palestine will mean little. One often hears the phrase “facts on the ground”, usually used to imply that settlements have changed Israel’s requirements since 1967, but which obfuscate the issue by making the settlements of the West Bank and East Jerusalem seem irreversible, when the settlements of the Sinai and Gaza were not. In spite of the mess on the ground, it has been said since the beginning of the Arab Spring that Israel will have to make peace sooner rather than later. I do not share this optimism; but since many of the people who do are people who know the issue better than I, let us consider an audacious, less realistic but vastly improved possibility: the one-state solution.

Ali Abunimah, founder of the Electronic Intifada, writes in his book One Country: a Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, “There is no credible ‘peace process’ to provide hope that the misery on the ground is merely a transitionary phase on the way to deliverance, and the one big idea that is supposed to save us—the Palestinian state—lies in tatters.” His thesis is that, if the inhabitants of the Holy Land can just learn to share, they would all be far better off. It is hard to escape his logic. Jews and Palestinians boast roughly equal numbers in Israel and the territories (6m each). They both claim ownership of the land on which they live. The fact that the West Bank and Jerusalem are so important to both Palestinians and Jews alike provides legitimacy to the claim that they should be shared. One state could mean the true right of return that gives all Palestinian refugees a place to live outside the squalid camps so many still inhabit. The two-state solution may in fact be the movement of the old guard. Fatah and Hamas may become (even more) irrelevant as the one-state cause picks up steam among young people in the Palestinian territories.

Israelis would need to abandon their unswerving claims to a purebred Jewish state in all the land of Israel/Palestine, which at the moment seems more distant than ever. Hamas would need to permanently abandon its rhetoric and violence. But if the flotilla achieves its PR goal, if non-violent Palestinian resistance continues to succeed, if the two-state bid fails and if international pressure on Israel increases, one state for Jews and Arabs might be the answer to the question of peace that everyone claims to want.

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Operation Cast Lead, two years on

Two years ago, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) began the indiscriminate slaughter it named Operation Cast Lead. Some 1400 people were killed, thousands more wounded and displaced. Hundreds of sad people marched in Gaza in commemoration.

See here for the reasons Israel attacked Gaza.

Here I write about why the Mavi Marmara (the Gaza flotilla) incident may have been good for Israel, because it distracted the world from Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report.

I wrote here about attempts to try Tzipi Livni as a war criminal, which apparently did not go anywhere.

And here I wrote about how Israel’s culture legitimised Cast Lead (and other violence in Israel’s name).

Gaza is still under blockade, which means little rebuilding gets done. Things had been relatively quiet along the Gaza border for the past two years until recently, when more rockets have been fired from Gaza, Israeli air strikes have followed, and thus tensions are higher. There are fears (or hopes?) that another Cast Lead-like massacre might be “necessary”. Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Chief of Staff, said Israel “will not accept” more rockets from Gaza, and “holds the Hamas terrorist organisation solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip”, which means the IDF does not distinguish between rockets fired by Hamas or by any other group.

It is sad that this crime will go unpunished, and that it may even repeat itself.

"Ismail, Abed and Leila don't go to the infant clinic anymore"

Why probe the Gaza flotilla?

The UN has announced it will launch a probe into what happened at the Gaza “Freedom Flotilla” incident. Nine Turks were killed two months ago when Israeli soldiers boarded one of the vessels. We know that. Why are they probing any further?

Perhaps the move is to embarrass Israel. It is the latest in a long series of attacks on Israel by the UN and many Arab states. These attacks have grown so numerous and disproportionate to all the other terrible things that happen in the world that they have become meaningless and counterproductive. The incident may have been a debacle, but what effect will a committee investigation have? Even if it produced a report showing that Israel’s leaders were the most devious people in the world, would they change? Would a new round of voting be held immediately, followed by the election of a flock of doves? More likely, Israelis who are not doves themselves would become self-righteous and more entrenched in their defiance than ever.

Perhaps this probe is intended to benefit Israel. Until a few months ago, people were still talking about Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report. Now, they have been distracted by a shiny object and have bitten the hook. Operation Cast Lead was truly a disaster, bad for Israel’s already tarnished image and a nightmare for the Gazans who lived through it. The Gaza flotilla incident was an accident. As such, the government of Israel is taking up the probe commission idea with gusto, offering its choice of investigator for this “independent” investigation. The probe can thus be seen as a way to show Israel is complying with international commissions and has nothing to hide. Just don’t mention the Gaza war.

Or perhaps the probe is to provide work for bureaucrats. Either way, if the UN wants to do good, why does it not focus on the big things? The 1400 dead in Gaza from Cast Lead only a year and a half ago have gone unapologised for. The blockade of Gaza continues to cripple the economy and freedom of 1.5m people. The occupation and settlement building continue in the West Bank. This was never supposed to be about a few dead Turks who were presumably just provoking Israel with the flotilla in the first place. Israel will be seen as making one concession and pressure on it will abate, while its hardcore opponents will not change their stance whatever happens. The UN is just wasting its time.

More settlements will lead to more anger

The Israeli government will approve the building of 1600 new homes in occupied East Jerusalem. This move is another nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.

US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel today and criticised the move by Israel. However, his words will go unheeded. The settlement building will continue, illegal but unabashed. Palestinians will get angrier. They will throw stones. The Israeli Defense Forces will strike back with tear gas, bullets, even tanks, like in the first two intifadas. Binyamin Netanyahu will continue to demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state, much like the Spanish Inquisition whipping a man into confessing his sins, except that the Palestinians will refuse and this will be taken as proof that they reject peace.

The United States government will continue to pay lip service to ending settlement construction while doing nothing to intervene. “A historic peace is going to require both parties to make some historically bold commitments“, he said in deliberately vague terms. What did he have to lose by saying it? Even while condemning the settlement plan, Biden stressed the US’s commitment to Israel’s interests, and praised the “constructive discussions” he had had with Israeli leaders.

Jews will move into the homes in East Jerusalem and the new settlements will, like the biggest settlements in the West Bank, become part of the status quo. In other words, Israel will be unwilling to uproot people living in them. Ten years down the road, calls to dismantle those settlements will be called insulting. Peace proposals will include them as part of Israel, just as such proposals now mostly include the big West Bank settlement blocs as part of Israel.

The settlement issue must be dealt with if there is to be a peace treaty. But how to deal with it? A 2008 survey found 66% of Israelis opposed withdrawing from the West Bank, which would mean leaving the settlements behind. There is little appetite for giving any concessions. As an example, the Israeli media often refer to “illegal outposts” in the West Bank, meaning small, outlying settlements, when in fact all settlement of conquered land is illegal. There is little support (29%) for a divided Jerusalem, which is another condition of a real, lasting peace. So settlement building in Jerusalem will continue.

Israel is too powerful to care what Palestinians think, and if the powerful, the US and EU, do not intervene, Israeli policy will not change. The settlement question will remain unresolved, and Jewish Israelis will strengthen their hold on all of occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank. Palestinians will throw rocks, perhaps even start another intifada, and peace will slip ever further away.

Paving the Road to Gaza: Israel’s National Role Conception and Operation Cast Lead

On December 27, 2008, the Israel Defense Forces began their assault on the Gaza Strip in what they called Operation Cast Lead. 13 Israelis and as many as 1400 Palestinians were killed in the three weeks of fighting. The war enjoyed wide support among Israelis: according to the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, 94% of Jewish Israelis (76% of Israel’s population) supported the attack. Operation Cast Lead caused enormous suffering in Gaza and has been a thorn in the side of Israelis since its commencement. Numerous human rights organisations have issued reports on the conflict accusing both sides of war crimes, and the Israeli government has denied any but the noblest intentions. How did we get here?

This essay uses national role conception theory to explain how Israel’s political culture approved of Operation Cast Lead and permitted the latest brutal attack on the Palestinians. You can find it at the following link.

One week of Israeli-Palestinian conflict bias-balancing: Conclusions

Day 7: Conclusions

I have spent the past week reading and analysing newspapers from Israel and Palestine to try to make sense of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By balancing the biases from news media, we can get a good picture of what is going on, what the people think and why things are the way they are.

One unspoken job of the newspapers is to give its readers reasons why they are right. If you believe Palestinians should not have their own state, you read the papers that not only agree with you but give you well-reasoned arguments as to why yours is the only logical position to take on the issue. Thus, when you read other newspapers that say Palestinians deserve sovereignty, you can denounce them dextrously. The newspapers I read, particularly Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, the Palestine Chronicle, the Alternative Information Centre and Arutz Sheva were very good at telling their readers how to think and why.

All newspapers are biased, though some more obviously than others. It is hard to tell which are the right-wing papers and which are left-wing, as the basic positions are the same. The divisions would be more accurately described as into doves and hawks. I didn’t find as many doves as I expected. I know there are peace activists among Israelis and Palestinians but there is just so much anger that they are clearly fighting an uphill battle. Others, meanwhile, claim to want peace, but since there could never be peace while the other exists, they must be held down or eliminated.

My take on the two-state solution

The biggest issue at play in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is, in my opinion, independence for Palestinians. There are other issues too but they would all be solved if this one was. For example, the right of return of Palestinian refugees. If there was a Palestinian state, it would be able to accommodate them. So the two-state solution is the solution. But it is still a long way off.

Netanyahu’s ideas on a Palestinian state are that, since it is a dangerous tiger, it should have its teeth, claws and one eye removed. Having nominally endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state, he can say he is on the side of the US. However, he has shown his hawkish side is the one he will follow. A Palestinian state must agree to recognise Israel as a Jewish state; a demilitarised Palestinian state; no control over Jerusalem; and Jewish West Bank settlements will keep growing. He made this proposal because he knew Palestinians would reject and get angry at it, making his government look like the peacemakers whose olive branch was rejected by the unreasonable Arabs. He started his speech by saying “Peace has always been our people’s most ardent desire.” What he meant was, Peace for Jews is our desire. If others need to be repressed or killed to secure it, fine.

That said, there is no reason to believe the two-state ideal is dead, as some Palestinian journalists have claimed. Netanyahu will not be in power forever. The Barack administration will keep up the pressure. Jimmy Carter’s point of view is valuable as well. But a viable Palestinian state does, nonetheless, seem a distant prospect.

The Israeli press spends too much time writing about why everything Israel does is right, and why everyone who disagrees with anything it does is wrong. If the newspapers reflect and reinforce public opinion, Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter are hated in some circles of Israeli society. These are the peacemakers. How can Israelis claim they want peace if they shoot the peacemakers? And how can they find solutions if everything is the fault of Arab terrorists?

Israelis in general also need to get over the idea that theirs is the only legitimate claim to the land of Israel. Was there nobody there before the Aliyah? Why do Jews but not Arabs deserve a nation state? There is no reason that Jews, Muslims and Christians, Jains, Daoists, dogs and monkeys cannot all live in harmony in Israel. All it requires is accepting that our group is no better than theirs.

How should Palestinian leaders proceed? Being far less powerful than the Israeli state, Palestinian leaders might be better to commit to non-violent resistance and creative solutions. I know, I know, in the face of aggression, one wants to be aggressive. I can understand the Intifada and the radical groups and the anger and bitterness of the Palestinians. But violence by Palestinians has two major consequences. First, it means retaliation, and if the blockade of and war in Gaza were any guide, violence is just not worth it. The Israeli Defence Forces should have made that clear. Second, it means less international sympathy for the people committing violence. If the Palestinians can play the peaceful yet oppressed minority, they could garner the support needed for recognition of their plight, and the world would put enough pressure on Israel to give them their own state. Or perhaps that is already the case and the result is not statehood but the status quo. Perhaps everyone needs to work harder to achieve peace.

The media can play the role of the hawk, by presenting narrow views and arguments that never compromise, or it can play the role of the dove, by presenting a variety of viewpoints, each one reasonable, from people of all ideologies in the conflict. Too many play the hawk. More critical thinking, more balanced biases, and more recognition of the legitimate claims of the other are the only way to achieve peace.

One week reading Israeli and Palestinian newspaper bias

Day 6

Today we will start by looking at an Israeli paper, then a Palestinian one, then one that claims neutrality.

Yedioth Ahronoth

Wikipedia calls Yedioth Ahronoth (“latest news” in Hebrew) the most widely circulated paper in Israel since the 1970s. It gives right- and left-wing commentary, though it is seen as more of a tabloid than a newspaper.

The big news today is Netanyahu’s speech at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He will be laying his policies out plain, they say. They also say he will give his support to the idea of a Palestinian state, but that it must be a demilitarised state. How a demilitarised state could keep its independence I do not know. The leader writes of this and shows photographs of protestors. In one, some women are holding signs saying “NO settlements/apartheid wall/Gaza siege”, and in another photo, counterpoint to the first, people are waving Israeli flags and holding a banner in Hebrew that I can’t read, but which the article reliably informs me reads “Barack Hussein Obama – an anti-Semite and hater of Jews”.

The next headline reads “Iran reformists: annul vote”. “Ahmadinejad rivals Mousavi, Karroubi say they will file an appeal to annul ‘illegitimate’ results of nationwide election”. Well, if you like. I doubt it would do anything. In the Israeli press, the assumption is that the Iranian election was rigged and fraudulent. I wonder if it really was. An op-ed embed in this story asks “The beginning of the end? Young Iranians may topple Ayatollah regime in wake of elections fiasco.” It should have been titled “Wishful thinking? Israelis hope young Iranians will topple the Ayatollah”.

You see, if all you read is Israeli newspapers, you will probably just presume the vote was fraudulent, along with the fact that Iran is about to declare nuclear war on Israel. So you could have trouble seeing that it is possible Ahmadinejad won the popular vote, or that the ruling clerics might be popular. There is certainly some evidence of violence and vote rigging. Do they mean the Iranian election should have gone to second-choice Mousavi? Are enough Iranians going to be angry enough with the result that they will take down the government?

The next headline down in Yedioth Ahronoth is about Jimmy Carter. Despite the protest we read about yesterday, he met with the town council of Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The local council says it changed Mr Carter’s perceptions. A seemingly carefully selected group was brought into council leader Shaul Goldstein’s house to meet with Carter. The group included two religious leaders, two women who had lost family members to terrorists, and a pair of newlyweds who said that, if there were limits to the natural growth of settlements, they could not raise a family in Gush Etzion.

A link in this article leads to the report on Noam Shalit giving a letter to the former US president for his son Gilad. Unlike Haaretz, the Yedioth Ahronoth website does not have a timer counting the number of seconds Gilad Shalit has been kidnapped. It does, however, have the exact number of days, 1083, printed in the article.

Arab Media Internet Network

At first glance, AMIN is structured like the Palestine Chronicle: journalists write new articles every day or so and submit them to the newspaper. As a result, the links to all the old articles are down the sides of the page. There seem to be many more articles in Arabic than in English. According to Google Translate, this site does not translate from English to Arabic or vice versa. Here is a selection of the articles in Arabic. (Bear in mind that Google Translate is imperfect and it is not always possible to capture the shades of meaning of other languages.)

Is the establishment of a Palestinian state in the interest of Palestinians?

Palestinians pin their hopes on others

Suffering of prisoners and the suffering of 40 years of occupation

Exposing racism in the Israeli police and security forces

An Israeli ministerial committee ratifies a law against commemorating the Nakba

The Arabic headlines seem slightly more angry than the English ones. Here are some of them.

Will the Netanyahu government make progress toward peace?

Obama’s song and dance in Cairo

Oslo redux: Fool’s gold in Israel/Palestine

While I will not translate the full Arabic articles, the English articles are nonetheless pro-Palestinian. But they are well-written and full of insightful analysis. The article on if the Netanyahu government’s progress on peace, for instance, discusses why it may, though gives six reasons why it probably will not. Popular, hawkish governments are sometimes the ones who make real progress toward real solutions. This journalist, Elias Tuma, a professor emeritus at the University of California, recalls how similar leaders such as Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin have surprisd us by signing lasting peace treaties. Being a strong leader, says Tuma categorically, “Natanyahu is capable of reaching and signing a peace agreement with Palestinians.” Then he gives six reasons why he might not.

First, Avigdor Lieberman, Foreign Minister and Deputy PM, submitted a bill to the Knesset banning commemoration of the Nakba. Second, Lieberman’s party submitted a bill demanding that Israeli Arabs recognise Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state. Third, the same party demands that Israeli Arabs serve in the military or another civic institution. Failure to do either of the last two results in loss of citizenship. Fourth, another party in the ruling coalition submitted a bill to declare that Jordan is Palestine. In other words, the Palestinians can leave Israel and go there. (I read about this idea elsewhere. It is really stupid. They might as well have declared that Russia is Israel.) It is not just cracks that support this bill: its supporters include three cabinet ministers. Fifth, Netanyahu has not accepted the two-state solution yet. Well, actually he has, but this article came two days before his speech where he said he accepted it. Sixth, Netanyahu insists on continuing construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Well, actually he said that new settlements would not be allowed, but natural growth of existing settlements (which are numerous) would be allowed. History will bear out the accuracy of this analysis. I think Elias Tuma is right.

Many of the articles are out of date, speculating on what Netanyahu (or even Barack) will say in his speech. This past weekend was something of a game changer because of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech and the election in Iran, so they are not so relevant anymore. One final note of interest on this site: there are a number of books in Arabic, written by Palestinians about Israel. If I could read Arabic, I would love to delve that much deeper into the experiences of Palestinians by reading them.

Bitter Lemons

Bitterlemons.org (subtitle: Palestinian-Israeli crossfire) is a project, financially supported by the European Union, to present Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace process. It “maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli components.”

Bitter Lemons offers a long list of links to such pertinent documents as Security Council resolutions; International Court of Justice decisions; the Athens Plan, a 2005 initiative calling for Israel to disengage from Gaza and the Northern West Bank; statements by political leaders; and other agreements and plans dating back to the founding of Israel.

I also appreciate that you can very easily access back editions all the way to 2001; and each weekly edition addresses a different topic. Some of the most recent are Obama’s Cairo speech; In the aftermath of Pope Benedict’s visit; and West Bank-Israel security issues. Many of the same contributors write in each edition. This week’s is Netanyahu’s speech on the peace process.

“A Palestinian View”: Ghassan Khatib calls Netanyahu’s speech “a failed public relations exercise” that “catered to the right-wing constituency that put him in the position he is in.” (An English transcript of his speech can be found here.) After taking apart Netanyahu’s “farcical” concept of a Palestinian state, Khatib says that the entity Netanyahu describes is not a state at all. I agree wholeheartedly, and will explain why tomorrow. Khatib continues by saying that the speech is a threat to peace, and that the American administration must clean up the mess. He also acknowledges the radicalisation of Palestinian opinion, and that this speech will not help that either. Mr Khatib is a former minister of the Palestinian Authority.

“An Israeli View”: Responding to pressure from Washington, the Israeli prime minister and his advisors thought of the best way they could address US government demands and throw them out at the same time: “give everyone–the US administration, his coalition, the Palestinians–a little of what they want. Confuse them, too. But also do something dramatic to satisfy the Americans.” He avoided confronting the real issues, and is “steeped in Revisionist ideology”. His coalition, meanwhile, will hold.

“A Palestinian View” (I do not really like the whole identity thing but I suppose it is relevant): Mr Netanyahu’s speech was “the death of hopes for peace and a Palestinian state.” Is that not a little premature and pessimistic? Anyway, the writer, a professor at Al-Quds University, goes on. He speaks of the PM’s invocation of Abraham when he said that the West Bank, like the rest of Israel, is Jewish and Israeli and whatever else makes it ours because it is the land of Abraham. But, says the writer, Abraham is a prophet of the Christians and the Muslims too. Are they not all his children? This article gets bitter. Though of course the Israelis, especially the government, should understand Palestinian viewpoints, the ones this writer mentions are the kind that Netanyahu’s base would reject out of hand. It therefore speaks less to Israelis in a position to do something and more to the already bitter. This man should aim his lemons higher.

“An Israeli View”: This final article, also bitter, blames the Palestinians for repudiating Mr Netanyahu’s acceptance of a Palestinian state. Moreover, “[h]ad they accepted Netanyahu’s offer, I have no doubt that there would have emerged in Israel an unprecedented consensus favoring a Palestinian state.” But that is like saying, if you offer me a bowl of rice off your banquet table, I should accept it graciously; and if not, I do not deserve it. This writer, a columnist for Haaretz, said that “they repeatedly reject Israel’s generous offers”. So it’s all their fault.

I very much enjoyed reading Bitter Lemons, because even what I do not agree with, I appreciate as a well-reasoned perspective. I can conclude that, as far as I have read, they do indeed uphold their position in the centre of the road. Tomorrow, I will draw conclusions from my week reading Israeli and Palestinian newspaper bias.