Sunday, June 22

The Egyptian Brokered Cease-fire between Israel and Hamas

The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has been signed under Egypt’s brokerage after much haggling. It is difficult to ascertain at this stage whether it is a positive development or not. Israelis have mixed feelings about its success because Hamas is not prepared to negotiate a permanent peace treaty with Israel or recognize Israel’s right to exist. The cease-fire could be a tactic allowing Hamas to re-group and re-arm in order to carry out another round of terrorism against Israel. However, despite these misgivings, it is a welcome development and while there is calm, both sides – Israelis as well as Palestinians, benefit from cessation of active hostilities against each other.

The constant firing of rockets into Sderot and its environment have ceased and Israeli retaliations have come to a halt as well. In practical terms, lives are saved on both sides. Surely this in itself is a positive development. People on both sides are able to get on with the business of carrying on with their daily lives. The residents of Sderot can come out of their shelters without worrying about when and where the next Qassam will fall and the people of Gaza do not have the fear of Israeli Air Force planes flying overhead, pursuing a Hamas terrorist group and hitting a crowd of innocent people by mistake resulting in unnecessary bloodshed. A cease-fire, for whatever reason, is always a positive development for both sides as lives are saved. The big question is whether this cease-fire will last or whether there will be a renewal of the hostilities in a very short time. Both sides are skeptical as to whether this cease-fire will hold.

There are some signs that the cease-fire may hold if one were to examine the statements of Palestinian parliament member and Hamas' spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Salah al-Bardawil. He seems a bit more upbeat about the cease-fire. "Nothing is impossible," he maintains. "The Arab world has already outstretched its hand for peace with the Israelis in the past," he says. "The ideas of Ahmed Yassin [Hamas' founder and former leader], who supported a cease-fire for some 15-20 years, focused on peace, not war. Hamas people who insist that there will never be peace with Israel do so because they are skeptical about the intentions of Israel's leadership. Everyone on your side is saying that the hudna [truce] is an opportunity for Hamas to narrow the military gap, but it's actually a historic opportunity for Israel and for all the sides involved to live in peace, and to build a future for the next generations."

According to a report in Haaretz, 20th June2008, Bardawil said in a telephone conversation "After years of fighting, each side has doubts about the other side's seriousness in upholding the cease-fire. Your side says that the small factions are liable to blow it to pieces, but they have all pledged to abide by it. Experience shows that when Hamas commits to something, it makes sure to keep its promises." He continues, "Today, the relations between Israel and Hamas are those of enemies, but during past negotiations between Hamas and Fatah we agreed on 'the national reconciliation agreement,' which declares that the Palestinian state will be established within the 1967 borders. Israel mustn't pass up such an agreement with Hamas - otherwise an ideology more extreme than Hamas will be the result. Israel has to understand that nowadays, Hamas is a factor that balances the radical and out-of-control voices in both the Arab and the Muslim world." This may be a minute sign of optimism from a spokesman of Hamas that the cease-fire may hold despite the skepticism in both the Israeli and Palestinian camps.

On the other hand, the peace and quiet could gather momentum by alleviating the tough economic situation and suffering in Gaza and be a positive development for Israel as well. It would have the following implications: (a) the easing of the closure on the Gaza Strip thus allowing not only essential supplies to enter Gaza but also materials that allow the Gazan economy to gradually return to some kind of normality; (b) greater efforts to prevent weapons from entering the Gaza Strip from Egypt for use against Israel; (c) progress on the prisoner exchange deal for the release of Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier who next week will mark two years of being held in Gaza. Meanwhile the London-based 'al-Sharq al-Awsat' reported on Saturday 21st June 2007, that Israel's refusal to release 30 prisoners is the only remaining point of contention in the negotiations to free Shalit.

Unfortunately the ingredients for maintaining the calm are not visible at this stage. Hamas still does not recognize Israel’s right to exist in theory but in practice the leadership has hinted that it does. The fact that Hamas agreed to the cease-fire with Israel means that it de facto accepts Israel’s right to exist. If it did not it would not agree to the six month cease-fire with an option of its extension. This may indicate a small step on the part of Hamas in recognizing Israel’s right to exist despite many misgivings.

According to Asharq Alawsat, 21st June 2007, Israel is concerned with compromise as it has nothing to lose from it. But the question here is: can Hamas’ indirect negotiation with Israel through Egypt be considered a truce or is it one of Hamas’ new tricks striving for more talks and agreements? It became clear that Hamas does not care about Palestinian suffering inasmuch as it as wanted to accomplish gains for the movement itself.

Hamas wants to kill a number of birds with one stone. Mishal and his group want to improve ties with the Egyptians after the Rafah crossing crisis and to alleviate the uneasiness that exists amongst the second rank of Hamas leaders because of the deteriorating situation in Gaza after the Palestinian Authority was overthrown.

One hopes that the cease-fire will also include a deal whereby the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is released. The Israeli government has not done enough to ensure his release. No price is too high to release a captured Israeli soldier even if it means releasing Palestinian prisoners with blood on their hands. The Israeli Army had been careless and this had resulted in Gilad Shalit’s kidnapping. It is easy for the Israeli government to talk about the high price and to hesitate. Do they intend to abandon Gilad Shalit because the price for his release is too high? The way the situation is now, it seems that a tragedy of his abandonment by the Israel government is about to unfold. The beleaguered Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, has made some rather disturbing statements to Gilad Shalit’s parents that show total lack of sensitivity and is far from encouraging or supportive. Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, says he does not feel that anyone in the cabinet is agonizing over his suffering. This should resonate loudly. He said the prime minister told him that "he had no contract that obligates him to release any citizen from captivity," referring to Noam's son, the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit. This too evokes grave thoughts.

The evasive response of the prime minister's bureau - "We have no desire or intention to get into a public confrontation on this matter" - does not exempt the prime minister from the responsibility not only to bring Shalit home, but also to treat his anxious parents properly. I wonder how Olmert would react had he been the father of a son kidnapped by Hamas in Gaza. Would he be so flippant? It seems that the Palestinian prisoners crowding Israel’s prisons is more important rather than freeing Gilad Shalit who has to pay the price for Israel’s folly.

Saturday, June 14

Is Zionism good for Israel?

This is an open -ended question – perhaps a provocative question! Zionism is a movement promoting the return of Jews to Israel and rebuilding it. Today Zionism has lost its relevance. An ideology that is very much alive in the Diaspora can be found in the smoke-filled living rooms of wealthy Jewry, who do not even intend to make the move to Israel. They are the diamond-studded Zionists who are involved in lavish fund raising parties for causes that are often negative towards Israel’s well being. The sponsors are not aware of it due to naivety or burying their jewel-bedecked necks in the sand.

The causes that are supported by these souls are causes that are concerned with furthering Israel’s occupation and maintaining the racist right wing settler movements in the occupied territories. These settlers are imbued with a religious Zionist fanaticism that is bent on destroying Palestinian agricultural lands and forcing Palestinians out of their homes to make way for Jewish settlement. The diamond-studded Zionists of the US are supporting this insidious Zionism. This is the Zionism that the Palestinians view as mainstream and as a form of racism which undoubtedly it is.

The collection of funds at these Zionist extravaganza affairs in the US somehow portrays the opulence of the wealthy Jewish sympathizers of Israel. The “who’s who” in wealthy Zionist bodies seeks the honour and a photo opportunity to show their presence. They want press exposure at almost any price. While in Israel, there is almost no mention of World Zionist Congress activities in the local press. The average, secular Israeli is not concerned with Zionism which further proves its irrelevance today. People who need Zionism are Jews who seek an ideal identity with Israel. This is the Israel of their dreams. The reality is different.

These wealthy Zionists also use their money to influence Israeli politics. They give much money to Israeli political parties for their election campaigns. This is despicable! It has also created a problem with PM Ehud Olmert and his “godfather” Morris Talansky who had been giving money to him in the form of loans for his mayoral campaigns, luxury hotel bills, cigars and who knows what else. He footed the bills for Olmert’s high living expenses on his visits to the US.

Today wealthy American Zionists try to interfere in Israel’s internal affairs. Money talks, and much money talks incessantly. This is neither in Israel’s interests nor in the interests of peace with the Palestinians. Money could better serve the interests of peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours. Instead of financing corrupt Israeli political parties, the funds could be diverted to encourage joint Israeli-Palestinian peace projects which are positive for both peoples who are unable to cease the cycle of violence. So much could be done to improve the standard of living of Palestinians including the creation of jobs. Instead, Zionist fundraising is used to perpetuate a society whose face is towards the continuation of the occupation rather than moving towards a two state solution or a binational state solution depending on what the people desire.

The more money that wealthy Zionists donate the more corruption in high places occurs. Many of these “charities” or “good causes” do not help Israel at all. They are a salve to the conscience of the armchair wealthy Zionists in the Diaspora. If the monies were channeled into improving the living standards of Palestinians in the occupied territories, extremist Palestinian terrorist groups would not have the fertilizer of hate to carry out terrorist activity. Funds should never be donated to partisan Israeli politics to maintain the high standard of living of party political hacks of which there is no shortage.

Most Zionists will disagree. They will say that it is the responsibility of the Arab states to help the Palestinians and alleviate their suffering. Reality does not allow money from Arab countries to enter Israel for the purpose of Palestinian rehabilitation. Israel is still technically at war with most of its Arab neighbours with the exception of Egypt and Jordan. It would not allow money from Arab countries to reach the Palestinians for fear that it would be used to promote terrorist activity. If this is the case, the onus lies on Israel to improve conditions for the Palestinians because they are the occupiers. In other words, the Palestinians under occupation have become Israel’s responsibility. Israel squandered much money on the occupation and encouraged illegal settlements at the expense of Palestinian suffering which deteriorated even further.

The fund raising activity of Diaspora Zionists does not even reach Israelis (Jewish and Arab citizens alike) who are poverty stricken or who are under stress. Is this kind of Zionism good for Israel?

Saturday, June 7

The US Presidential Candidates and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

In the Middle East, most of the people are following the presidential elections with great interest. They view the elections from the point of view as to which candidate serves their interests better. Will it be the Republican candidate, John McCain or the Democrat’s Barrack Obama? My gut feeling is that most Israelis would like to see John McCain elected the new president of the United States. Many believe that he is more pro-Israel than Obama. Both candidates have made many pro-Israel statements in the hope of capturing the Jewish vote. Perhaps the edge on pro-Israelism lies in McCain. Much remains to be seen as to the tactics used and the speeches that will be made by the two presidential candidates in order to capture the Jewish vote.

Possibly in the short run, from Israel’s point of view, McCain’s election as president would serve its interests, judging his statements on the Middle East. In the end, we must remember that he will be representing conservative Bush policy continuity. Bush’s record in the Middle East is poor. He has blundered in Iraq, Afghanistan and he has brought US prestige to a low. Iraq is in a total mess. There is no control and the country is in the process of self-destruction, with suicide bombings an everyday occurrence. The US armed forces will remain in Iraq for a long time if McCain and his Bush legacy wins the presidential elections. The Iraqi people are subjected to the cruelest violence between Sunni and Shiite Moslems which shows no signs of abating. Bush has created the US’s “second Vietnam” and the hell that goes with it. The US dollar has weakened against most world currencies and the US economy is in the doldrums. The Bush legacy has nothing to offer anywhere at any place at any time. The US is in great need of change before it can regain its prestige and act as an honest broker in peace-making in the Middle East. McCain is not the man who can take on that role.

The new US president will have to renew US efforts in being an honest broker once again. Bush never fulfilled that role and only showed interest in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict towards the end of his presidency with his hype-filled Annapolis Conference that has been forgotten like a momentary blip of news on the TV screen. Lately Israel’s legally beleaguered PM Ehud Olmert and George Bush, whose popularity ratings are at the lowest ebb possible, have become strange bedfellows in the twilight of their political careers. One must bear in mind that McCain, being a Republican, will somehow continue the Bush legacy which will not achieve peace in the Middle East. He will cause the US to sink further into the quagmire. Barack Obama’s record is clean as far as the Arab states and Palestinians are concerned. Apart from his speech at the influential AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) which did upset Arab nations, he still has support from the Arab nations. Hopefully, he will be more successful in negotiations than his predecessor Bush assuming that he is elected to the presidency. His sense of balance in this conflict can only be to the advantage of all parties to the conflict when it comes to getting the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians back on track.

It is incumbent on the American people to make a change. They have an opportunity to elect a president who could cease US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and return it to its former status of being a world power. This can influence the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians positively.

The chances of the US withdrawing its armed forces from Iraq are greater under an Obama than under a McCain presidency. Obama is an impressive and charismatic politician. He shows promise that could ring in changes that the US needs so desperately. The old Republican order will ensure the same Bush legacy which would be bad for US interests and the interests of peace in the Middle East.

Obama has promised the electorate that he will make withdrawal of US troops from Iraq a top priority as well as a renewal of peace negotiations between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours. We have not heard this commitment so strongly from McCane. A new vision that will be acceptable to both Israel and its Arab neighbours including the Palestinians is overdue. If Obama wins the election, there is a greater chance of achieving peace on these tracks than ever before. This is conditional, of course, on whether Obama is prepared to become more involved than his predecessor who left it far too late. The Palestinians see Obama more receptive to their suffering than Bush, despite his declared support for Israel and this is an advantage.

It is still a long haul before the Presidential elections. Observers here who show a great interest in the Middle East situation will be assessing every statement that is made by the two presidential candidates concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There have been so many attempts at peace making over the years and the results have been poor.

It remains to be seen how the candidates will get the process on track especially now with Hamas being a major player. There are no signs coming from the Hamas camp of any form of rapprochement with Israel or any change in their anti-US attitudes. Their rhetoric remains uncompromising and this does not bode well for the future of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. If Hamas gains the upper hand in the West Bank then there will be a very big problem for the future of peace between Israel and the Palestinians no matter who wins the presidential elections in the US.

If Hamas gains strength over Fatah in the West Bank and does not change its attitude it will result in Iran increasing its influence in the area and could result in a nuclear arms race. Hamas is a very dangerous obstacle towards peace and it is unlikely that they will succeed in unifying the Palestinian people. They will heap destruction and havoc on the Palestinian people which will encourage Iran under Mahmoud Ahmadinajad to become involved in arming Hamas. He will use the Palestinians in order to spread his influence and try to rule the Middle East. It is hoped that the moderating influences in the Palestinian camp would unite in order to prevent this development. A nuclear arms race is a great threat to all peoples of the Middle East and not only to Israel. Nuclear fallout kills everybody! Hopefully this realization would unite all peoples of the Middle East to resist Iran which is a potential enemy to all peace loving peoples of the Middle East. Obama, with his clean slate from the Arab point of view, has the potential of applying pressure on Hamas and preventing Iran’s meddling in Palestinian affairs if he plays his cards right assuming that he wins the presidential elections.