Will Syria Benefit from Israel’s Invasion of Gaza?

Will Syria Benefit from Israel’s Invasion of Gaza?
Joshua Landis, Syria Comment, 21 Jan. 2009

Cartoon In Teshreen, Syria, January 22, 2008: Israel Attacks Gaza As U.S., Arabs, World Remains Silent

Cartoon In Teshreen, Syria, January 22, 2008: Israel Attacks Gaza As U.S., Arabs, World Remains Silent

The question on the minds of many Syrians is whether Israel’s onslaught against Gaza will benefit Syria. Few speak about it because it is heartless to contemplate benefit at a time of loss for so many.

Clearly, everyone has lost because of the hatred and destruction caused by the Gaza invasion. Syria has broken off talks with Israel and set new conditions for re-engaging — the convocation of an international conference. This sets a higher bar for the resumption of talks, but there is plenty of wiggle room in such conditions. All the same, the benefits of bilateral Syrian-Israeli talks had reached their limits, making the need for broader multi-lateral talks urgent. Both Syria and Israel are demanding wider engagement. Syria wants the US involved. Israel wants to set conditions that involved both Iran, Hizbullah, and Hamas. Lebanon wants the US to guarantee that Lebanese sovereignty will not be sacrificed. Both Syria and Israel have broader regional and international conditions for peace between them. Only talks recognizing the broader implications of peace and the broader interconnections of security issues can succeed. But even if the Gaza invasion has made bridging differences between Arabs and Israel more difficult, it underlined the urgency and importance of resolving the conflict. It is not a side issue; it is central.

Syria has benefited from the renewed international awareness that the Arab-Israeli conflict is crucial to any broader Middle East settlement. Obama will have to engage Syria if he wants to attenuate regional divisions and radicalism. Many advising Obama insist that he can ill afford to waste precious political capital trying to fix the hopeless Arab-israeli conflict. They urge him to limit his efforts to Iraq and Afghanistan. In short, they want Israel to get a pass on continued settlement and the Golan. The violence in Gaza proved how dangerous this argument is. America’s allies and regional clout are badly damaged by the ongoing injustices of the Israeli occupation. There will be no winning the war on terror until the festering Palestine conflict is resolved. It is a constant source of renewed hatred, frustration and radicalism throughout the Muslim world precisely because it is an issue over which the US has great influence. Moreover, it is a daily referendum on Washington’s attitude toward Arabs and Muslims.

The war also brought home to us how Iran’s involvement in Arab divisions is derivative. Many analysts insist that Iran is the problem, not Israel. In fact, they argue that Israel is the answer to America’s regional challenges, because Israel can work with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt in order to overpower and defeat America’s enemies allied with Iran. They bolster this argument by insisting that Hizbullah, Hamas, and Syria are Iranian surrogates. They demonize them and insist that they are warlike and terrorist by nature and not by contingency or necessity. But this argument is nonsense.

The “moderate” Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, work with the US and ally with Israel because they have resolved their conflict with the Jewish state. Saudi Arabia can do so because it never had one. In short, the “moderates” are moderate because they have no conflict with Israel. The radicals are radical because they do. Syria, the Shiites of Southern Lebanon, the Palestinians, and the broad opinion of Arabs, who  sympathize with their Palestinian cousins are radical because Israel occupies their land. Syria is compelled to fan the flames of hatred and violence because it calculates — and perhaps correctly — that only militant passions can win back their land and restore lost dignity. They are convinced that America, and increasingly the “moderate” Arab governments, want them to cede their land to Israel in the name of Arab unity and fighting Iran. They will not do this.

It is not a coincidence that the Arab World is divided along lines defined by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Iran did not create this conflict, it merely exploits it. To restore Arab unity and restore the balance between Arab states and Iran, Washington must convince Israel to abandon its occupation. It must find a way to restore land taken from neighboring states. Of course the Arab-Israeli conflict is not the only conflict in the region, but it is central.

The invasion of Gaza has laid bare once again the ugly truths of the Arab-Israeli conflict, just as it has clarified how contingent on it are America’s prestige and policies. Stability, moderation, and balance will not reign until Washington addresses this issue honestly and forcefully. Syria is the leading Arab state involved in this conflict, leaving Obama little choice but to engage it seriously and soon.

Comments (99)

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51. Akbar Palace said:

Anybody want to predict when the next major Middle East-born terror attack against the US will occur?

Perhaps the winner gets a free 2-week trip to Syria?

Professor Josh,

Can we get some funding from the University of Oklahoma, Center of Peace Studies?

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January 22nd, 2009, 1:00 pm


52. norman said:


Analysis: US, Israel could coax Hamas to moderate

2009-01-22 12:38:02 –

JERUSALEM (AP) – Postwar Gaza could become a test of President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech offer to Muslims to «extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
The extended hand would be open borders and international reconstruction money for the Hamas militants who rule Gaza. The unclenched fist would be the Islamic militants of Hamas giving their moderate Fatah rivals a foothold in Gaza and holding its fire against Israel.
After an Israeli offensive that killed nearly 1,300 Palestinians and left much of Gaza in ruins, the new U.S. administration and a soon-to-be new Israeli government have a chance to forge a fresh strategy toward Hamas.
The war appears to have shaken up Mideast politics and the international community could leverage Gaza’s postwar reality to boost moderates in the region, taking advantage of the fact that Hamas desperately needs help following the Israeli onslaught.
That could mean giving Hamas what it most wants _ an open border with Egypt _ as long as Fatah and international monitors control it. Any such deal would also require providing assurances to Israel that Hamas will stop smuggling weapons over the Egyptian border.
Extending Hamas a hand runs the risk of cementing the militants’ power in Gaza. But a deal with strings attached could chip away at Hamas’ stranglehold on the territory, which has been the main impediment to U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Hamas, which has been holding victory rallies in Gaza despite suffering enormous losses from Israel’s assault, is not about to suddenly recognize the Jewish state or join the peace talks between Israel and the moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.
But the war proved Hamas is not a monolith. Divisions emerged between the group’s Syria-based leadership, which opposed a cease-fire, and those inside Gaza who felt the bloodletting had to stop.
Hamas appears to have evolved since the days when it regularly invited youngsters to strap on bombs and blow themselves up inside Israel. Today, after violently seizing control of Gaza in June 2007, the group seems as interested in successful governance as attacking Israel.
Many Israelis believe Hamas’ decision to fire rockets at Israel at the end of a six-month truce _ a decision that sparked the latest war _ was based solely on the group’s hatred of Zionists. But the reality is more complicated.
Hamas was deeply disappointed the original truce did not bring a deal to reopen the borders of Gaza, which Israel and Egypt have blockaded since Hamas seized power. The closure destroyed almost all private enterprise in the territory of 1.4 million people, exacerbating misery in a place where 80 percent of the people need U.N. food handouts to survive.
Gazans found themselves without cement to build new apartments or make gravestones for the dead. Ninety percent of the territory’s 3,600 factories shut down because of a lack of spare parts and raw materials.
And Israel’s military offensive inflicted an estimated $2 billion in damage.
Rebuilding would seem impossible under the current border regime.
«Nobody in his right state of mind can talk about reconstruction in Gaza with the crossings continuing to be … closed,» Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said in the West Bank this week.
Since trade links between Israel and Gaza are unlikely as long as Hamas remains sworn to Israel’s destruction, efforts to ease the blockade are concentrating on opening the border with Egypt.
Fayyad made an urgent plea for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, saying the alternative is a permanent rift that will destroy Palestinians’ dreams for a state of their own.
Current international proposals for a durable Gaza truce envision allowing Fatah back into Gaza to help monitor a reopened crossing into Egypt, an outcome that could be a first step toward moderates regaining a foothold in Gaza.
Hamas leaders have been defiant since a tentative cease-fire took hold Sunday, But Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum made a point of not rejecting Obama’s inaugural overture.
Israel remains Hamas’ enemy, he said. «That does not mean we cannot open a new page with the whole world, including the new elected American administration if they support the Palestinian people’s just rights.
To be sure, no truce deal will be possible unless Israel is assured Hamas will stop firing rockets at Israel and smuggling increasingly lethal weapons across the Gaza-Egypt border.
Israel has scheduled an election Feb. 10 and none of the top candidates for prime minister has shown any willingness to rethink the position on Hamas. And the front-runner is hawkish former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made clear he favors sticks over carrots when it comes to Hamas.
Steven Gutkin is The Associated Press bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian territories.

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January 22nd, 2009, 1:15 pm


53. Akbar Palace said:

Alex –

94% of Israelis supported their sweet young IDF heroes .. those pilots who were risking their lives (by pushing a button inside their F16s) to protect Israel when they successfully murdered 1300 Palestinians and injured 5000

Apparently the F-16s weren’t as indiscriminate as the Hamasniks would like you to believe Alex. Sort of like the big Jenin “Massacre”:

Gazan doctor says death toll inflated


But then again, that’s what you get when you fire thousands of missiles against Israel to Free Palestine. Take it to the International Court of Law Alex, I’d love to see a law suit.

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January 22nd, 2009, 1:24 pm


54. chris said:


comment #51 of yours was fantastic! I laughed out loud.

Sean Alexander:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while it is severe, as you noted, does not seem as central as it appears to be or as some would want us to believe. Often times, leaders use it to galvanize their populations behind a nationalist cause, while directing people’s energy away from domestic issues. Even if there was a resolution to the conflict, we would still have sectarian divide in Lebanon, sectarian conflict in Iraq, and the conflicts that are arising over the emegence of Iran. Every single country in the region has a border conflict with at least one of its neighbors.

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January 22nd, 2009, 1:43 pm


55. Alia said:


I hope very much that no further terror attacks start from the Arab/Muslim territories and that 94% of Israeli public continues to distinguish itself with its support of the IDF killing women and children and destroying the foundation of civilian life.

I hope that things will not be so frustrating and hard on the Arabs and the Mulims being pushed by their corrupt dictators as well as Israel, the EU, the Soviets etc..that they would end up losing their humanity and supporting terror, much better being the victims of nukes ourselves as Jad has pointed out.

It is good news that the U.S. is considering cutting loan guarantees to Israel over west bank settlements

And DIVEST please !!!! This from Naomi Klein


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January 22nd, 2009, 1:50 pm


56. norman said:

Syria-based Hamas official dismisses reconciliation talks with rival Fatah group
By Associated Press
7:40 AM EST, January 22, 2009
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A senior Hamas official has dismissed any reconciliation talks with the rival Fatah group.

His remarks Thursday followed claims by the militants that they emerged victorious after the group survived a relentless three-week offensive by Israel on the Gaza Strip.

Sami Khater, a member of the militant group’s Damascus-based branch, says Arab and international donations to reconstruct the war-devastated Gaza should go directly to Hamas and not to rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose faction rules the West Bank.

Khater says Abbas and his Palestinian Authority cannot be trusted.

Khater says a Hamas delegation will travel to Cairo this weekend for talks with Egyptian mediators on ways to consolidate a Gaza cease-fire in place since last Sunday.


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January 22nd, 2009, 1:56 pm


57. Alia said:


You are hilarious. So an “unnamed Palestenian doctor” gives a “so-called interview” and we should believe him because the Jewish media are telling his story. Ha! Ha! Ha!
and everybody else is a liar. How cute! and convenient!

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January 22nd, 2009, 1:58 pm


58. Sean Alexander said:


You’re right that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would not be a cure-all. I didn’t mean to suggest that. What I was thinking was that with that issue null and void, other nations would not be able to use that as a battle cry leading to continued destabilization in the Middle East. I still believe that region-wide it is THE central issue that must be resolved. With that in mind, we will have to then face, as you pointed out, the internal sectarian issues dividing Lebanon and Iraq for example. As for Iran, without the Palestinian issue potentially garnering them support from Sunnis, they will be limited in their ability to influence the region just as they were thirty years ago at the outset of the revolution.

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January 22nd, 2009, 1:59 pm


59. nafdik said:

Thx AP,

Now I feel much better.

Unidentified Doctor’s assessment put my mind at ease.

I hate it when the IDF inflates its casualty figures, they should be taken to the ICJ just for that.

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January 22nd, 2009, 2:03 pm


60. Alia said:

World Health Organization

15 January 2009

WHO deplores the shelling of hospitals in Gaza

WHO deplores the attack on Al Wafa and Al Fata Hospitals, and the Al Quds which is run by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. WHO expresses deep concern about the serious implications on patients, medical staff, health infrastructure and the provision of critical health services.

WHO calls for the discontinuation of the current violence, the removal of the blockade for the safe passage of patients, health personnel, food, fuel and medicines, and the respect of the inviolability of the health facilities in conflict zones.

The details with pictures:


As Israel’s military operation in Gaza enters its
third week, the civilian population is bearing the
brunt of the violence. More than 880 people have
been killed and over 4000 injured in just sixteen
days. Gaza is one of the world’s most densely
populated places; it is clear that more civilians will
be killed and more homes, buildings and civilian
infrastructure destroyed if the conflict continues.
Health services in Gaza are under enormous strain
and require urgent and wide-ranging support.
Pressures include:
1. Exhausted health service providers.
Emergency medical services (EMS) and
trauma teams (physicians, nurses and other
emergency staff) have worked constantly since
the current conflict began on 27 December
2008. Urgent reinforcements are needed to help
care for the critically wounded and avoid the
risk of serious medical/surgical errors.

2. Restricted movement. The intensity of aerial
bombardment and ground hostilities (dividing
Gaza into three distinct, impenetrable portions)
are seriously constraining the movement of
patients, EMS, referral care, and critical health

3. Inefficient use of hospital capacity. Hospital
emergency operations (emergency admissions,
intensive care units, operating theatres) have
been overwhelmed due to reportedly
ineffective triage and restrictions on
movements of the health workforce and
patients. There have been reports of wounded
lying on the ground in health facilities while
beds lie unused elsewhere.

4. Damage to infrastructure of hospitals/health
facilities. There are reports of damage to
hospitals and health facilities close to targets
that have been bombed/shelled – shattered
glass, damage to walls and windows, and
water/electricity pipes, all of which are
essential to the effective functioning of these

5. Limited electricity/fuel supplies are seriously
affecting infection control, blood transfusion,
instrument sterilization, and basic sanitation
and hygiene in hospitals, operation theatres and
ICUs, with the potential for life-threatening
hospital-borne infections (gangrene,
septicaemia, tetanus, shock, etc.).

6. Difficulty in transferring the critically
wounded outside Gaza due to insecurity,
movement restrictions and the closure of
crossing points.

7. Critical gaps in life-saving supplies. IV fluids,
parental antibiotics, corticosteroids, surgical
supplies/consumables, parental analgesics and
other medicines and supplies are needed
urgently. Many donations are held up at the
border because of security constraints.

Since the ground incursion was launched on
3 January 2009, over 28 116 people have been
displaced with no or extremely limited support
services (health care, safe water, food, basic
sanitation and hygiene) because of poor access and
insecurity. The physical and mental trauma of the
civilian population in Gaza, the continuing and
prolonged disruption of basic health services, and
WHO Emergency
Gaza Crisis
13 January 2009
Health Action in Crises © IRIN/Wissam Nassar.

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January 22nd, 2009, 2:18 pm


61. Chris said:

As far as the question of whether or not Syria will benefit is concerned, I believe the actions of those with whom Syria is allied tells us something. During the conflict, the leaders of Hamas who were residing in Damascus, actively opposed any cease-fire agreement between Israel, while the Hamas leaders within Gaza were much more interested in brokering an agreement. Those Hamas leaders who had a closer (literally) relationship with the Bashar family regime actively opposed any cease-fire agreement. As far as who believed they might benefit during the crisis, I think this goes a long way in answering that question.

I didn’t see the dictator of Damascus press very hard for a cease-fire.

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January 22nd, 2009, 2:36 pm


62. Akbar Palace said:

comment #51 of yours was fantastic! I laughed out loud.


Sarcasm and irony works well doesn’t it!;)

I hope very much that no further terror attacks start from the Arab/Muslim territories…


You mean like the already broken cease fire? That was a “given”. However, I’m thinking that a US target is in the offing. Barrack Obama will be tested like every other US president in recent memory:

GWB – 9/11
Clinton – Saddam Hussein
GHWB – Gulf War
Reagen – Lebanon
Carter – Hostages in Iran
Ford – I don’t remember;)
Nixon – Yom Kippur War
Johnson – 6 Day War

This is the “terror-driven” foreign policy the Arabs have perfected. Will it be “al-Queda”, Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah? Undoubtedly, the professional terrorists will cover their tracks perfectly.

I hope that things will not be so frustrating and hard on the Arabs and the Mulims being pushed by their corrupt dictators…


Don’t be too hard your “corrupt dictators”, its all AIPAC’s fault;) Then again, if Arabs are willing to die in intifada’s, how difficult is it to get a couple million Arabs to peacefully demonstrate in a major Arab capital? Frankly, I’m tired of the complaining about “corrupt dictators”.

“…much better being the victims of nukes ourselves as Jad has pointed out.”

What nukes? 20,000 dead in Hama wasn’t from any nuke; it must of been from Israeli F-16s.

It is good news that the U.S. is considering cutting loan guarantees to Israel over west bank settlements.

It wouldn’t bother me a bit. At this point, it is a small symbolic gesture. It may even give Israel a boost to drop it.

Conisdering the US will find it impossible to negotiate with the extremists, and considering Obama is ready to capitulate, the ONLY entity they can lean on will be the “Zionist Entity”. Been there, done that. The Arab Street will be happy of course, but the fighting and the violence will only increase.

This is the price one must pay to ignore the obvious.;)

Barrack is setting himself up to be a 1-term president like Jimmah.

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January 22nd, 2009, 2:38 pm


63. norman said:

January 22, 2009, 7:25 AM
Syrian Leader Reaches Out To Obama
Posted by George Baghdadi

(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)In a congratulatory wire sent to Barack Obama, President Bashar al-Assad voiced his hope Wednesday that Syria and the United States could will be able to build a “constructive dialogue,” according to Syrian officials.

America’s image in the region has been greatly by Israel’s 22-day military operation in the Gaza Strip. Most Arabs believe Israel wouldn’t have dared to perpetrate the offensive without a green light from Washington.

“Assad sent the cable after Obama was sworn in and gave his speech in which he succeeded in declaring his policy, which affirmed a desire to achieve peace around the world and resort to hope rather than fear as a basis for political approaches,” read the cable.

Assad’s message expressed Syria’s “hope for a constructive dialogue with the United States based on common interests and mutual respect, leading to a just and comprehensive peace in the region based on relevant U.N. resolutions.”

Syria and Israel, which have not held face-to-face talks in decades, held four rounds of indirect talks last year mediated by Turkey, but the talks made no significant headway and it is not clear when they might resume.

Syria has been subject since 1979 to stiff economic sanctions because of its place on the U.S. State Department’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism.”

In December 2003, Congress added an additional layer of penalties when it passed the Syria Accountability Act, seen by many here as an attempt by the Bush administration to prompt regime change.

The Bush White House also worked hard to isolate and weaken Syria on the international scene. It has repeatedly blocked the World Trade Organization (WTO) from accepting Syria’s membership application.

In February 2005, when former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated, the U.S. and France both loudly blamed Syria and the U.S. withdrew its ambassador from Damascus. There has been no U.S. ambassador here since.

Syria has, however, regained a degree of approval in Europe after supporting a peace pact with Lebanon and forging diplomatic ties with its neighbor country after years spent dominating it.

Observers say Syria, which has good relations with a broad range of actors in the Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese political scenes, could contribute a lot to any international push to build a stable peace in the region.

Last week, Obama told CBS News he was going to work toward a comprehensive peace in the Middle East “on day one” of his presidency, and that this would include Syria. “We’re going to have to take a regional approach. We’re going to have to involve Syria in discussions,” he said.

“That was music to the ears of the Syrians, since under the Bush White House, nobody believed Syria’s sincerity over peace talks,” says Syrian political analyst Sami Mubayed.

“The Bush team wrongly believed that the Syrians were more interested in returning to Lebanon than in restoring the Golan (Heights). That was untrue and unfair to Syria,” he added, referring to a tiny piece of land which has been disputed by Israel and Syria.

Mubayed suggested there were immediate overtures that Obama could start with.

“One gesture would be sending a U.S. ambassador to Damascus, to fill a post that has been vacant for years,” Mubayed said. “Then he could invite Arabs, Israelis and world leaders to a conference — similar to Annapolis — to discuss peace in the Middle East.”
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January 22nd, 2009, 2:55 pm


64. Ben Waxman said:

I am not sure that I understand why “only militant passions can win back their land and restore lost dignity”. Regarding militant passions, well suffice to say that both Egypt and Jordan got back their lands by acting cooly and calmly and going to Jerusalem. They got back every inch. Nothing militant was required.

Regarding their lost dignity – if they lost it, then the only ones who can give it back are themselves. Syrian dignity has nothing to do with Israel, it has to do with Syria.

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January 22nd, 2009, 3:05 pm


65. Alia said:


This splitting of messages and answering out of context is the strategy of intellectual weakness (ditto :chris the Zionist Wannabe so called student)

The rest is wishful thinking. So what if Obama is elected only for one term?

It is better for Obama to behave as an honest effective leader like John Adams, who made great personal sacrifices in the service of his country, and be elected only once, than being the laughing stock of American Presidency (GWB) and crawling out of sight despised by his own people- Less than 29% positive ratings at the end of his presidency, think about it concretely if you had that kind of rating at your job How wonderful you would feel about yourself…

Beside their stealing of land, torturing of Palestinians, the Israelis have infected the Western world with a disregard for ethics. The United States was not built on this garbage.
Your talk is the personification of opportunism, lying and propaganda that are the hallmark of the Pariah nation that you are defending.

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January 22nd, 2009, 3:33 pm


66. Observer said:

For those that still doubt the war crimes perpetrated by the Israeli leadership this is very important reading

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January 22nd, 2009, 3:45 pm


67. Chris said:


I think right around the time I became legally able to drink I stopped reading Noam Chomsky. His analysis is extremely simple: anything the U.S. does is an atrocity. His tone is annoyingly condescending. He ought to stick to linguistics, where what he contributes is meaningful.

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January 22nd, 2009, 3:52 pm


68. norman said:

‘55% of Israelis want deal with PA’

Jan. 22, 2009
Over half of Israelis, some 55 percent, support holding negotiations with Palestinians with the aim of reaching a permanent agreement, according to a ‘New Wave’ poll commissioned by the Geneva Institute. Sixteen percent disagreed, saying that only an interim, or limited agreement should be sought, while 68% of respondents said they supported increasing US involvement in such talks.

The findings of the survey, released on Thursday, show that 23% felt that the selection of Barack Obama for the US Presidency increased the chances of reaching permanent agreement in the Middle East, while 16% believed the likelihood of a deal was lessened by the choice. 39% said the choice of US president makes no different to a Middle East peace agreement.

In terms of the Palestinians, 46% of respondents said they would prefer the next Israeli government negotiate with the Palestinian Authority with the aim of coming to a permanent agreement, as opposed to 18% that backed the government negotiating with Syria.

A further 21% said they would prefer the government hold talks with both the PA and Syria, while 10% prefer negotiating with Hamas over the PA.

The poll, taken during IDF Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, found that a solid 73% of the general public oppose any negotiations with Hamas, up 18% from July 2008, when only 55% opposed. Regarding the operation itself, 43% were of the opinion that the offensive increased the chances of a permanent agreement with the Palestinians. 22% disagreed, saying the operation lessened the chances of such an agreement.

Some 25% of respondents said the operation made no differences to the chances of reaching a permanent agreement.

This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com /servlet/Satellite?cid=1232292939014&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull
[ Back to the Article ]
Copyright 1995- 2009 The Jerusalem Post – http://www.jpost.com/

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January 22nd, 2009, 4:02 pm


69. Observer said:

NPR reported today that the Israeli Defense Minister issued an edict not to publicize the names of military commanders in the latest operation lest they be prosecuted for war crimes
The following post from Juan Cole today is very informative how this campaign has resulted in a debacle: the tunnels are operating again, Hamas is stronger in Gaza, Fatah is weaker in the West Bank, Egypt is humiliated, SA is without an initiative, the European public and the Muslim and Arab world are angrier than ever

Here is the entire post today:

Gaza Aftermath Raises Question of War Crimes:
Obama Must Overcome Initial Muslim Distrust

The Israeli assault on Gaza has drawn to an end, now that its Great Enabler (W.) is no longer in the cockpit of the Calamity Machine, and its architect, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is the lamest of lame ducks.

Those hawks who proclaimed so loudly that Israel had no choice but to just fall upon the Gazans, and that the Palestinians of Gaza were unalterably dedicated to war-making on Israel, have fogotten a mid-December poll that showed 74% of Palestinians wanted to see the truce extended, and 51% of Israelis did. Let me just repeat that. In calling Hamas’s bluff to break off negotiations, and massively punishing Gaza civilians, the Olmert government was ignoring the majority view among Israelis and the vast majority of Palestinians who wanted a truce. Of course, once hostilities began, people rallied around their flag. But if Olmert had been forced to hold a referendum among Israelis on whether to do this horrible thing, he would have lost.

The last Israeli troops left Gaza on Wednesday. The three week long shooting-fish-in-a-barrel exercise killed, on the Palestinian side, 280 children and minors, 111 women, and 503 male noncombatants. Gaza police accounted for 167 of the dead; can you just read off Gaza police as “Hamas militants”? Or were they traffic cops & etc.? The Palestinian Center for Human rights estimated that the Israelis killed 223 Hamas guerrillas. In other words, if this count is correct, the Israelis managed to kill more children than real militants.

So what is the outcome of this dirty little war?

The fundamentalist group Hamas is reasserting itself in Gaza as Israeli troops withdraw, and now has a new pretext to target members of the Fatah group, secular nationalists loyal to Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. So the Israelis may have actually politically strengthened Hamas and further weakened Fatah, which is already notorious for corruption, political repression, inefficiency, and, increasingly collaboration with Israel.

Although Israel claimed to have destroyed 60 percent of the tunnels whereby Gazans bring food, medicine, and sometimes explosives into the Strip via the Sinai Peninsula, reports Wednesday indicated that the tunnels were already active again. Even if only 40 percent of them are operational, it is hard to see what was achieved. The others can be redug, and anyway a lot of materiel can be brought in with the 40 percent surviving tunnels.

Israeli politicians and military commanders are being urged to consult counsel before they travel in Europe, where some courts assert universal jurisdiction and where war crimes cases are being filed against Israeli leaders. In 1998, a London court ordered the arrest of Chilean dictator Gen. Augustino Pinochet, who had butchered thousands of community activists, asserting universal jurisdiction. Governments have attempted to reduce the prerogative of courts in this regard, but apparently there are loopholes in the current British legislation that would allow an Israeli leader or officer to be arrested if they journey to the UK. Ynet observes, “The Israeli. . . claim that Hamas has been using women and children as human shields never really took, said a source. Whenever it was used the response was the same: If you know that . . . women and children [were] there – hold your fire.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak is setting up a legal defense of Israeli troops from potential war crimes prosecutions. Barak pledged that Israeli soldiers would not have to worry about prosecution: “The soldiers did not embark on a private operation . . .We will give them out full support.” It is ironic that an Israeli defense minister seems unaware that the Nuremberg trials established the principle that following orders is no defense for a soldier charged with atrocities.

Even as Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni visited Brussels, human rights organizations in Belgium were (wholly unrealistically) petitioning a court to have her arrested. However impractical the legal move, it was a humiliation for Tzipi.

The right-Zionists are always asking why Israel is held to a different standard. It isn’t. it appears to be being held to the same standard as Augusto Pinochet and Slobodan Milosevic. It isn’t very nice company to be in, and many Israelis are deeply ashamed of what was done and demanding Israeli investigations of war crimes.

UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon visited Gaza and was reported absolutely appalled at the scenes of human destruction he witnessed there. He demanded that nothing like the Gaza campaign ever be undertaken again (i.e. by Israel) and he said he would do what he could to establish accountability.

Amnesty International is accusing Israel of using white phosphorous in such a way that it constituted a war crime. The New York times clearly takes the charges seriously, underlining my thesis that what the government of Ehud Olmert disturbed many American Jews.

Aljazeera English reports on the aftermath of the Israeli assault on Gaza, including questions about the use of white phosphorous on densely populated civilian areas, producing burns and destroying food warehouses in the midst of a famine. Many Gaza civilians are camped on the rubble of their former homes, searching frantically for loved ones who may no longer be among the living.

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January 22nd, 2009, 4:03 pm


70. Off the Wall said:

AP and Chris
Nothin is funny about possible or immaginable terrorist act. Would both of you be dancing at the ruins, you are already doing that over gaza’s ruins. Fun in this context is a previlage only only a sick mind can afford. Have you both no shame?

I do not think that Chomksy is losing sleep over your inability to grasp his outrage at injustice and self declared hypocritical rightuousness of much of what the US does. It is telling, though, that you stopped reading him the moment it became legal for you to get drunk. Obviously you have not gotton over the first drink you had since then, I wonder what was in that drink?

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January 22nd, 2009, 4:39 pm


71. Chris said:


The part that was funny, was not the commission of a terrorist act by some Islamic fundamentalist, but rather, getting rewarded for guessing when it might happen with a free trip to Syria.

More importantly thought OTW, the insults really aren’t conducive to a constructive political discussion. A forum like this is meant to facilitate dialogue, not acrimony.

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January 22nd, 2009, 4:46 pm


72. Observer said:

ONE more instance where some on this blog are too adult and wise to read as they blabber the same thing again and again
Another indictment of the apartheid regime


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January 22nd, 2009, 5:11 pm


73. Akbar Palace said:

Beside their stealing of land, torturing of Palestinians, the Israelis have infected the Western world with a disregard for ethics.


I suppose it will take a long time until Israel and her “infected” American allies “rise” to the level of ethics the Arabs and their jihadist heroes display on a daily basis:






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January 22nd, 2009, 5:59 pm


74. jad said:

Dear OTW, How are you? Hope everything is good from your side, I’m a big fan of your writing as you already know..

You wrote
(Nothing is funny about possible or immaginable terrorist act….Have you both no shame?)
I was thinking the same way when I read the comments you are describing but as you and many others asked to ignore those comments, I didn’t want to write back.
I think ignoring them is working just fine, let them write and hear their own echoes instead of reading their naive comments as a reply…

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January 22nd, 2009, 6:21 pm


75. Chris said:

Interesting analysis on the recent Arab League conference, scheduled to be about development, but now about Gaza.

January 22, 2009
At Arab Gathering on Development, the Talk Is All About Gaza
KUWAIT — Two and a half years ago, a group of Arab leaders decided it was time to try to set aside their political differences and deal with what was ailing their countries: widespread illiteracy, ineffective schools, unemployment, inadequate water and food resources.

So they called for an extraordinary summit meeting to be held in Kuwait City this week. The plan was for the 22 members of the Arab League to agree on concrete ways to improve the lives of their 330 million citizens. Instead, they bickered over how to handle the Gaza crisis.

At nearly every turn, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains an obstacle to development in the Middle East. It inflames public emotions, serves as a convenient distraction for leaders unable or unwilling to reform their nations and is a tool in the hands of those seeking to promote their own regional standing, often at the expense of the Palestinians.

“The Arab-Israeli conflict reinforces the puritanical, radical, traditional and also the authoritarian because everyone holds onto what they have and there is no third way,” said Shafeeq Ghabra, a political science professor at Kuwait University. “Basically, this is a region stuck in time, stuck in space and in history and in conflict.”

When the presidents, kings and emirs arrived in Kuwait, they were scheduled to discuss regional cooperation to improve education, ease trade and travel barriers, improve food security and lift their citizens out of poverty. But they were barely talking to one another because of differences over how to deal with Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

“Yes, military occupation is a serious matter that needs to be addressed,” said Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League. “But backwardness in our societies needs to be taken care of.”

There was a suffocating sense of despair hanging over the Kuwait meeting as the Gaza crisis eclipsed every other issue.

“The Arab ship is sinking,” Mr. Moussa said on the first day of the conference.

The Arab world has been in the same self-defeating fight for decades. In 1975 the Arab League took out an advertisement in The New York Times to celebrate its 30th anniversary. The headline said, “Political, economic and social unity in action.” The text said solving the Palestinian crisis was the group’s “first priority.”

But that headline was as much an illusion then as the headlines declaring that Arab leaders had reconciled their differences after the first day of the conference. The flash point has not always been Israel. But the victim has always been a unified effort to improve regional economic and social development.

Arab leaders certainly have the ability to improve conditions at home, even amid the feuding. In that way, the Palestinian cause can become a useful distraction for authoritarian rulers reluctant to make changes that risk instability, or that might strengthen regional competitors.

The need for regional cooperation rests on data. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of Lebanon said that the Arab states would need to create 50 million jobs in the next 20 years simply to keep unemployment at current levels. He said Arab universities were collapsing and scientific research was almost nonexistent.

By many measures, the Arab world is slipping further and further behind in its ability to compete globally. Perhaps the single greatest drag on the region, one that afflicts wealthy Persian Gulf states as well as poorer countries like Egypt, is the quality of schools. International trends in math and science among fourth- and eighth-grade students show that in math, for example, among fourth-graders, the bottom four nations out of 36 were Tunisia, Kuwait, Qatar and Yemen. In science, eighth-grade students in Qatar placed second to last.

Since the 1940s, Arab leaders have been promising the creation of an economic union along the lines of what the Europeans have achieved. They have repeatedly said that Arabs should invest in and trade with Arabs first.

They were still talking about that this week.

In Kuwait, there were complaints that the region had failed to coordinate its electric grids, transportation systems and customs regulations. But the Palestinian issue so consumed the meeting they barely had the chance to discuss such matters.

“We have to be aware as Arabs that the absence of an Arab solution to the Palestinian issue also means the absence of continuous progress, major development, sustainable growth and agreement within our Arab world,” Mr. Siniora said at a conference in Kuwait before the summit meeting.

While no one was arguing that the Arab states should stop fighting for a Palestinian homeland, the summit meeting’s participants virtually begged leaders to separate political differences from common economic needs. Many speakers at the conference had said that economic, social and human development could only help bolster the region’s position in its confrontation with Israel. But no one actually offered a compromise on how to overcome those differences.

The sense of urgency in addressing the developmental issues has been compounded by the economic crisis. At the opening of the summit meeting, officials said that Arab countries had so far lost about $2.5 trillion, and that 60 percent of the development projects in the oil-rich gulf had been postponed or canceled.

There is no one who would argue that resolving the Palestinian issue would suddenly produce a united Arab world. But the issue continues to play havoc with agendas and expose hypocrisies.

“We have written many times, ‘If Hezbollah loves the Palestinians so much they want to fight Israel, why can’t they fight to give the Palestinians human rights in Lebanon?’ ” said Mohammad al-Rumaihi, a newspaper editor in Kuwait. But pressure over the issue is relentless.

“The masses,” he said, “their hearts are with the Palestinians.”

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January 22nd, 2009, 6:47 pm


76. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Mike Hanna (sorry if misspelled his name) on English Al Jezeera:
An opinion poll from Gaza and the west bank from after ‘Cast Lead’:

70% of Palestinians support a peace treaty with Israel.

Support for the Palestinian factions:
26% Fatah
16% Hamas
52% neither of them

82% for a unity government of Fatah and Hammas.

[ Sorry. Have no link. This is from watching English AJ live ]

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January 22nd, 2009, 6:50 pm


77. nafdik said:


“I think right around the time I became legally able to drink I stopped reading Noam Chomsky”

This confirms the observed a negative correlation between alcohol consumption and Chomkyism.

He is very popular in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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January 22nd, 2009, 7:14 pm


78. why-discuss said:

Yahoo! News
Gaza tunnels back in business
and Calamity Livni soon out of business!
By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU, Associated Press Writer
2 hrs 1 min ago
RAFAH, Gaza Strip – Hundreds of workers toiled in southern Gaza Thursday to repair dozens of tunnels dug under tents or fake greenhouses while smugglers brought in food and fuel just days after Israel ended a barrage of bombs and missiles aimed at cutting off the supply route from Egypt.
The renewed smuggling underscored how difficult it could be for the Israeli military to meet one of the key goals of its three-week offensive: preventing Hamas militants from bringing weapons into Gaza through the porous Egyptian border.
Some 1,285 Palestinians, most of them civilians, died in the Israeli operation, launched Dec. 27 to end Hamas’ rocket fire on southern Israel and to cut the group’s suspected arms route from Iran.
The military said it had destroyed 60 to 70 percent of the tunnels before Israel declared a cease-fire on Saturday. The smugglers in Rafah, a southern Gaza border town where nearly all smuggling
tunnels are dug, told The Associated Press that the destruction was probably even higher.
“I’d say that only one out of 10 tunnels is still intact,” said Abu Rahman, a tunnel manager who asked to be identified by his nickname because of his smuggling activities…..

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January 22nd, 2009, 7:48 pm


79. majedkhaldoun said:

No more torture,G.Mitchel is envoy to M.E.,close Guantanamo.this is great,and american way.

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January 22nd, 2009, 8:54 pm


80. Alex said:


That poll says it all … Hamas is too extreme, Fatah is an American Israel Egyptian puppet …

The Palestinian people in Gaza want a solution and an end to the conflict … and they know that we will not be able to have a solution through extremists of through “Arab moderate” puppets alone, so they want them both to be there to watch each other.

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January 22nd, 2009, 10:30 pm


81. Amir in Tel Aviv said:


I don’t completely agree with you.

Hamas is a dogmatic religious movement. That’s why incapable to change and adopt.
Fatah is not a ‘puppet’. ( and I don’t like the ‘puppet’ / ‘stooge’
kind of talking, coz then, we adopt the extremists jargon ).

The Palestinians had a 3rd choice in the 2006 elections: the ‘Third Way’,
with good, decent and talented people, as Salam Fayyad, Hanan Ashrawi and
Yasser Abd Rabo. The ‘Third Way’ got 2.41% of the votes.

I hope that the Palestinians will learn from past mistakes.
Believe it or not… I’m quite optimistic.

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January 22nd, 2009, 11:05 pm


82. Alex said:


Fatah is full with “agents” for Israel … you did read the Vanity fair article, didn’t you?

They ARE puppets.

The third way did not win because of the same reasons third ways do not win in the United States … people worry that University professors and intellectuals alone can not run the affairs of a population… so they stick to the devil they know.

Parts of Hamas are reformable … other parts are a hopeless case. The solution is to empower the more reasonable ones and see if there is a chance.

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January 22nd, 2009, 11:37 pm


83. Alex said:

recommended reading (Arabic)

By yosri fouda


and (English) by Zvi Bar’el


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January 22nd, 2009, 11:41 pm


84. SimoHurtta said:


I don’t completely agree with you.

Hamas is a dogmatic religious movement. That’s why incapable to change and adopt.

How would Amir in Tel Aviv describe Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas? The latest polls promise them together 57 seats in the Knesset, nearly halve of the seats. I suppose that crowd is not very interested in peaceful solutions. Aren’t Amir parts or whole of those parties dogmatic religious movements? They are also incapable to change and adopt or learn.

Hasn’t Fatah also an armed wing – Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades like Hamas has. So what is the difference. PA has not been able to provide anything to Palestinians, much to Israel. That is the problem for Palestinians. Rather understandable that the people are frustrated.

Amir if Israelis are entitled to choose extreme religious nuts to lead the country, why can’t Palestinians be given the same right.

The Palestinians had a 3rd choice in the 2006 elections: the ‘Third Way’, with good, decent and talented people, as Salam Fayyad, Hanan Ashrawi and Yasser Abd Rabo. The ‘Third Way’ got 2.41% of the votes.

Democracy is a “bitch” isn’t it Amir. Same observation as you did with Palestinian elections could be made with Israel. Where are there the compromise seeking parties, who are ready for a fair solution (67 borders)?

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January 23rd, 2009, 12:37 am


85. norman said:

That is how Syria will win,

w w w . t u r k i s h w e e k l y . n e t

James Baker: Obama Has to Get Hamas Involved Peace Process

By Mehtap GUZEL, JTW

James A. Baker, former Secretary of State and former Treasury Secretary, told the Newsweek magazine that new American President Barack Hussein Obama must Hamas involved the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Baker said in the interview “you cannot negotiate peace with only half the Palestinian polity at the table. I would suggest an approach like we used leading up to the Madrid Conference in 1991. For the first time ever we got Israel’s Arab neighbors—all of them—to negotiate face to face with Israel. How? Back then, we nor Israel could talk to the PLO because, like Hamas, it was a terrorist organization. So we negotiated with Palestinians from within the territories whom we and Israel knew were taking their orders from [Yasir] Arafat in Tunis. But we both had deniability, and it worked!”

Baker further advised new president to engage Syria. “Syria’s marriage with Iran is one of convenience, and if we assured them they would get back the Golan and normalized relations with the U.S., we might wean them from Iran. Hamas has its offices in downtown Damascus. The Syrians claim that they can get Hamas to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. If they can do that, you would then have 100 percent of the Palestinian polity, with whom you might negotiate a peace accord” he added.


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January 23rd, 2009, 2:40 am


86. norman said:

War will be coming back to Gaza if Israel continues to starve the people there , It is time to make it clear to Israel that it responsible for the people under occupation.or give them a clear independence.

ABC Online

AM – Israeli economic blockade of Gaza continues

[This is the print version of story http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2008/s2472892.htm%5D

AM – Friday, 23 January , 2009 08:13:00
Reporter: Matt Brown
PETER CAVE: The tense truce between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is nearing the end of its first week.

While Israel continues to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, most of the people there say they’re yet to see the benefits and the truce is under immense pressure.

Middle East correspondent Matt Brown reports from the Gaza Strip.

MATT BROWN: As the winter sun rose on Gaza city, the Mediterranean reflected just a wisp of cloud. Pairs of young men stood on tiny skiffs that looked like almond shaped surf boards and paddled out to catch a few fish in their nets.

(Sounds of patrol boat fire)

Israeli gunboats were quick on the scene.

The Israelis have been shooting at fishermen for years and they’ve killed several. Citing previous attempts to send terrorists up the coast into Israel, they keep the fishermen hemmed in.

(Sounds of patrol boat fire)

As the rounds crashed into the water behind them, these fishermen were about 800 metres from shore.

(Hassan Abu Ali speaking)

“We’re just fishermen, we were just fishing,” Hassan Abu Ali says. “We are not carrying missiles. We put out our nets, then the boats came.”

While the fishermen are supposed to be allowed at least 12 nautical miles out to sea, on any given day the Israeli military decides to enforce an even tighter limit. And the fishermen find out the hard way.

(Sounds of patrol boat fire)

This is supposed to be a ceasefire but the military told the ABC that the limit today was the beach.

(Hassan Abu Ali speaking)

“When they shot at us, we were really afraid and we just wanted to get out of there,” Hassan Abu Ali says. “We cut our nets to get away and we lost our catch.”

Five people were wounded as the gunboats patrolled up and down the coast.

Fishing is one of the few businesses not crushed by Israel’s long standing blockade.

There is, however another trade route not yet shut down. On Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, the bulldozers are busy clearing tonnes of twisted steel and smashed concrete; the remains of homes hit in repeated Israeli air raids. Israel says it targeted the entrances to hundreds of tunnels used to bring weapons and food in beneath the border.

(Sound of a winch)

The winches are already back in action. Under the supervision of Hamas, the Islamists who run Gaza, the tunnel men are repairing their old supply routes to feed a still desperate black market.

(Man speaking)

“They can surround us, but we will even dig 70 metres underground to get bread,” this tunneller says. “The important thing is breaking the siege.”

Plenty of Gazans are angry at Hamas for the suffering Israel inflicts in response to their brand of resistance. But even amidst the rubble, many Hamas supporters are unbowed.

(Man speaking)

“Hamas didn’t come from the sky,” this tunneller says. “We elected Hamas and we want them.”

The three-week war caused widespread devastation and the loss of many civilian lives but not much has really changed at sea, or underground.

This is Matt Brown in the Gaza Strip, reporting for AM.

© 2009 Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Copyright information: http://abc.net.au/common/copyrigh.htm
Privacy information: http://abc.net.au/privacy.htm

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January 23rd, 2009, 2:45 am


87. norman said:

This is huge,

Obama urges Israel open Gaza crossings to aid
23/01/2009 11:42:00 AM
US President Barack Obama said he was dispatching new Mideast envoy George Mitchell to shore up the fragile truce in Gaza, as Israel warned it would strike again if Hamas is allowed to rearm.

Both Obama and United Nations officials also called on Israel to open Gaza border crossings.

“As part of a lasting ceasefire, Gaza’s border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce,” Obama said, during his first visit to the State Department as president.

UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said the borders must be opened to allow reconstruction of the enclave.

“You have to have cement and construction materials and pipes and spare parts,” he said at a UN-run school hit by an Israeli missile in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.

Since Israel began its 22-day offensive on December 27, the army said it had allowed 2,284 truckloads of humanitarian supplies into Gaza where the 1.5 million population relies on the border crossings for virtually everything.

Obama said his administration would “actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its Arab neighbors.”

The President confirmed George Mitchell, a veteran diplomat renowned for negotiating the 1998 Good Friday agreement that helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, as his Middle East envoy.

He said he would be sending the former senator “to the region as soon as possible to help the parties ensure that the ceasefire that has been achieved is made durable and sustainable.”

In a call to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also vowed to work for a “durable and just peace as quickly as possible,” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.

Israel pounded the Gaza Strip for 22 days to reduce the threat from the Islamist group Hamas, before ceasefires on both sides came into effect this week.

But the Jewish state warned it would attack the territory again if Hamas uses smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian border to rearm.

“Things must be clear – Israel reserves the right to react militarily against the tunnels once and for all,” Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said.

Her ministry said Livni told Clinton in a phone conversation that peace talks with the Palestinians should resume as soon as possible.

Livni stressed the necessity for a resumption of negotiations with Abbas, omitting Hamas.

A senior aide to Abbas, whose forces were booted out of Gaza by Hamas in May 2007, said that the Islamists would not be allowed to turn Gaza into a separate entity in the wake of the war.

“We will not allow the creation of a separatist entity, no matter what the price,” Yasser Abed Rabbo told a press conference. “The plot aiming to separate Gaza from the West Bank will not pass.”

Two women, two children and an elderly man were wounded on Thursday by fire from Israeli navy boats patrolling the Mediterranean, medics said. The army said it fired warning shots at a fishing boat.

Four Palestinians were injured when two tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border collapsed, an Egyptian security official said on Thursday.

On Thursday morning a tunnel caved in, injuring Palestinian Sharif al-Shaer, in his 20s, who was hospitalised with broken bones and respiratory problems, he said.

Earlier the security official said another tunnel had collapsed on Wednesday and that three Palestinians were hospitalised in Egypt for respiratory problems.

During its offensive on Hamas, Israel bombed hundreds of tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border, destroying 150, according to Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

Israel declared a ceasefire on Sunday after guarantees from Cairo and Washington to secure the enclave’s porous border with Egypt.

In a final casualty toll, Gaza medics said the Israeli offensive had killed 1330 people, at least half of them civilians, including 437 children. Another 5450 were wounded, including 1,890 children.

A prominent Al-Qaeda figure, Abu Yahya al-Libi, on Thursday urged Islamist militants to launch attacks in the West, naming the United States and Britain, to avenge Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, according to a translation by SITE monitoring group of his video clip posted on the Internet.

Page: 12single page

© SMH Comments

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January 23rd, 2009, 2:59 am


88. Alex said:

Another display of new Saudi position …

Saudi patience is running out

By Turki al-Faisal

Published: January 22 2009 20:15 | Last updated: January 22 2009 20:15

In my decades as a public servant, I have strongly promoted the Arab-Israeli peace process. During recent months, I argued that the peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia could be implemented under an Obama administration if the Israelis and Palestinians both accepted difficult compromises. I told my audiences this was worth the energies of the incoming administration for, as the late Indian diplomat Vijaya Lakshmi Nehru Pandit said: “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.”

But after Israel launched its bloody attack on Gaza, these pleas for optimism and co-operation now seem a distant memory. In the past weeks, not only have the Israeli Defence Forces murdered more than 1,000 Palestinians, but they have come close to killing the prospect of peace itself. Unless the new US administration takes forceful steps to prevent any further suffering and slaughter of Palestinians, the peace process, the US-Saudi relationship and the stability of the region are at risk.

Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, told the UN Security Council that if there was no just settlement, “we will turn our backs on you”. King Abdullah spoke for the entire Arab and Muslim world when he said at the Arab summit in Kuwait that although the Arab peace initiative was on the table, it would not remain there for long. Much of the world shares these sentiments and any Arab government that negotiated with the Israelis today would be rightly condemned by its citizens. Two of the four Arab countries that have formal ties to Israel – Qatar and Mauritania – have suspended all relations and Jordan has recalled its ambassador.

America is not innocent in this calamity. Not only has the Bush administration left a sickening legacy in the region – from the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to the humiliation and torture at Abu Ghraib – but it has also, through an arrogant attitude about the butchery in Gaza, contributed to the slaughter of innocents. If the US wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact – especially its “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia – it will have to drastically revise its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine.

The incoming US administration will be inheriting a “basket full of snakes” in the region, but there are things that can be done to help calm them down. First, President Barack Obama must address the disaster in Gaza and its causes. Inevitably, he will condemn Hamas’s firing of rockets at Israel.

When he does that, he should also condemn Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinians and support a UN resolution to that effect; forcefully condemn the Israeli actions that led to this conflict, from settlement building in the West Bank to the blockade of Gaza and the targeted killings and arbitrary arrests of Palestinians; declare America’s intention to work for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, with a security umbrella for countries that sign up and sanctions for those that do not; call for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Shab’ah Farms in Lebanon; encourage Israeli-Syrian negotiations for peace; and support a UN resolution guaranteeing Iraq’s territorial integrity.

Mr Obama should strongly promote the Abdullah peace initiative, which calls on Israel to pursue the course laid out in various international resolutions and laws: to withdraw completely from the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, returning to the lines of June 4 1967; to accept a mutually agreed just solution to the refugee problem according to the General Assembly resolution 194; and to recognise the independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return, there would be an end to hostilities between Israel and all the Arab countries, and Israel would get full diplomatic and normal relations.

Last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran wrote a letter to King Abdullah, explicitly recognising Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab and Muslim worlds and calling on him to take a more confrontational role over “this obvious atrocity and killing of your own children” in Gaza. The communiqué is significant because the de facto recognition of the kingdom’s primacy from one of its most ardent foes reveals the extent that the war has united an entire region, both Shia and Sunni. Further, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s call for Saudi Arabia to lead a jihad against Israel would, if pursued, create unprecedented chaos and bloodshed in the region.

So far, the kingdom has resisted these calls, but every day this restraint becomes more difficult to maintain. When Israel deliberately kills Palestinians, appropriates their lands, destroys their homes, uproots their farms and imposes an inhuman blockade on them; and as the world laments once again the suffering of the Palestinians, people of conscience from every corner of the world are clamouring for action. Eventually, the kingdom will not be able to prevent its citizens from joining the worldwide revolt against Israel. Today, every Saudi is a Gazan, and we remember well the words of our late King Faisal: “I hope you will forgive my outpouring of emotions, but when I think that our Holy Mosque in Jerusalem is being invaded and desecrated, I ask God that if I am unable to undertake Holy Jihad, then I should not live a moment more.”

Let us all pray that Mr Obama possesses the foresight, fairness, and resolve to rein in the murderous Israeli regime and open a new chapter in this most intractable of conflicts.

Prince Turki is chairman, King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies, Riyadh. He has been director of Saudi intelligence, ambassador to the UK and Ireland and ambassador to the US

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January 23rd, 2009, 5:05 am


89. offended said:

I am intrigued to ask, what will Saudi Arabia do when it runs out of patience?

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January 23rd, 2009, 7:44 am


91. Alex said:

From “land for peace” to “an eye for an eye”

Rime Allaf

No sooner had Israel begun its most vicious onslaught yet before commentaries began to explain the massacre and put things into context. And though Israel surpassed its own previous savagery, few in the media rose above their usual mediocrity and instead continued to parrot the line spewed by the Israeli propaganda machine, images to the contrary notwithstanding. The more people Israel killed in Gaza, the more repugnant the justifications and lies on offer, and the more the media narrative succumbed to collective self-hypnosis.

We learned that barrages of rockets had forced Israel to defend itself after Hamas had ended the ceasefire. We read that police stations, ministries, utilities and media centers were all Hamas buildings, hiding among the civilian population. We discovered that hospitals, United Nations schools and mosques were terrorist shelters. We found that thousands of homes all over Gaza contained actual Hamas members and had to be bombed, that white phosphorous was not an illegal weapon (and that Israel was not obliged to disclose its arms of choice in the slaughter of Palestinians) and that medical reports of terrifying new weapons leading to massive organ failure and an unprecedented number of amputations (especially in children) were made by Hamas sympathizers and could not be “independently” verified.

And that was just in the Arab world. Or, to be precise, it was “moderate” Arab media, setting the tone for the sorry spectacle of competing Arab summits that, after three weeks of inaction, achieved nothing as Gaza was pulverized in front of Arab leaders’ very eyes. Not only are the Palestinians cursed with an enemy like Israel, they have the misfortune of having friends like these.

These “friends” have explained that the 18-month siege of Gaza, leading to the practical starvation, strangulation and slow death of 1.5 million people, couldn’t be broken until the government that Palestinians elected democratically (in Gaza and the West Bank) was forced to stop launching rockets, accept Israel and live by its diktat. Egypt, consequently, could not simply open the Rafah border to save the lives of these desperate people, so its foreign minister threatened to break the legs of any Palestinian daring to cross over and an Israeli leader was invited to menace Palestine from Cairo, home to the Arab League and the moderate club. Just do it (but this time finish the job), seemed to be the consensus in the face of the inconvenient resistance group that makes regimes look bad.

On all fronts, the war on Gaza crossed new thresholds, fully exposing the reality of Israel’s criminal intentions and bringing the Arab-Israel conflict to the point of no return. Never before have so many people regressed in their attitude toward Israel or given up on peace and been willing to act on it: never forgive and never forget.

Nevertheless, a depressingly large number of Arab commentators reduced the suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of their tormentors to a competition between opposing alliances in the region; instead of concentrating on the fundamental issue of the Palestinian cause, they have been analyzing the effects of the last three weeks and trying to figure out who will benefit and who will lose.

If it is admitted that Israel did not achieve its vaguely declared goals in Gaza, goes one argument, then it signifies a victory for the countries supporting Hamas. Hence, Syria (and Iran, which has been designated as an instigator by the “moderates”) comes out of its isolation for the umpteenth time. Indeed, obsession with Syria remains ripe in a number of Arab countries that would apparently prefer an Israeli victory over the possibility of any sign of Syrian influence. The moderates are thus squarely blaming Hamas for provoking Israel (by refusing to accept the blockade), for not falling apart under its mighty onslaught and for giving Syria and its allies a boost. Unforgivable.

Unforgivable, also, were the repeated attempts by the new counter-axis of Syria, Qatar, Algeria and friends (including an increasingly outspoken Turkey) to call for an emergency Arab summit to discuss Israel’s attack on Gaza, thereby forcing others to take a position. The moderate club stayed away from Doha, ensuring that neither the Palestinian president nor the head of the Arab League could pretend that Gaza’s catastrophe merited a special meeting, as the issue could be tackled during the Kuwait economic summit. In fact, had it not been for the rage sweeping through the region and the world, where millions took to the streets demanding action against Israel, several Arab regimes would have been tempted to allow Israel more time to continue the massacre while they looked the other way. Deja vu, in a way, but in far worse circumstances for the current victims.

Not that it matters what one axis or the other actually does or says, nor what various analysts have tried to advocate (pathetically, from “sitting on the fence” to “passive resistance” and throwing flowers to child killers). Israel is on the loose, seemingly throwing a tantrum like a bully picking on the poorest and weakest kid in the neighborhood, but actually continuing a systematic process begun decades ago: the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the beating of its original inhabitants into submission. Whether it is Islamic or secular, no Palestinian leadership will ever be acceptable to Israel until it bows to the Jewish state.

In Kuwait, Syrian President Bashar Assad invoked “an eye for an eye” and was incorrectly deemed to be waving the flag of religious duty, an ironic feat for a nominally secular regime that has repeatedly called for renewed peace talks. While the moderate club weakly hinted that its Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 wasn’t on the table forever (to the relief of Israel), Assad designated Israel as the terrorist state that many (Arabs and others) now openly proclaim it is and requested that all ties with Israel be broken (including the indirect Syrian-Israeli negotiations), giving many hope that Syria is committing to more than lip service to the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israel conflict.

Neither land nor peace came to Arabs as they needlessly offered successive concessions to Israel. It’s time the neighborhood bully was told it can’t get away with its crimes. In its present uncivilized state, until it learns to live and let live, Israel deserves nothing more than a resurrection of the three nos.- Published 22/1/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org

Rime Allaf is associate fellow at Chatham House.

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January 23rd, 2009, 8:36 am


92. offended said:

Alex : )

I was thinking maybe more of this:

this prince has clearly run out of patience.

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January 23rd, 2009, 8:45 am


93. Akbar Palace said:

January 23rd, 2009, 12:59 pm


94. idaf said:

John Mearsheimer: “The two state solution is probably dead” – London Review of Books

The one supporters of the one state solution are increasing. It seems that Israel is still to grasp the magnitude of its latest savagery.

Also don’t miss:

Israel’s Lies
By Henry Siegman (Former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America, Director of the US Middle East Project in New York, is a visiting research professor at SOAS, University of London.)

London Review of Books

Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas’s capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has acted not only in its own defence but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network.

I am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions this version of events. Criticism of Israel’s actions, if any (and there has been none from the Bush administration), has focused instead on whether the IDF’s carnage is proportional to the threat it sought to counter, and whether it is taking adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties.

Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division. In an interview in Ha’aretz on 22 December, he accused Israel’s government of having made a ‘central error’ during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing ‘to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip . . . When you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,’ General Zakai said, ‘it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire . . . You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.’

The truce, which began in June last year and was due for renewal in December, required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad (even Israel’s intelligence agencies acknowledged this had been implemented with surprising effectiveness), and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions. This understanding was seriously violated on 4 November, when the IDF entered Gaza and killed six members of Hamas. Hamas responded by launching Qassam rockets and Grad missiles. Even so, it offered to extend the truce, but only on condition that Israel ended its blockade. Israel refused. It could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didn’t even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza’s population.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that Hamas declared an end to suicide bombings and rocket fire when it decided to join the Palestinian political process, and largely stuck to it for more than a year. Bush publicly welcomed that decision, citing it as an example of the success of his campaign for democracy in the Middle East. (He had no other success to point to.) When Hamas unexpectedly won the election, Israel and the US immediately sought to delegitimise the result and embraced Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, who until then had been dismissed by Israel’s leaders as a ‘plucked chicken’. They armed and trained his security forces to overthrow Hamas; and when Hamas – brutally, to be sure – pre-empted this violent attempt to reverse the result of the first honest democratic election in the modern Middle East, Israel and the Bush administration imposed the blockade.

Israel seeks to counter these indisputable facts by maintaining that in withdrawing Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005, Ariel Sharon gave Hamas the chance to set out on the path to statehood, a chance it refused to take; instead, it transformed Gaza into a launching-pad for firing missiles at Israel’s civilian population. The charge is a lie twice over. First, for all its failings, Hamas brought to Gaza a level of law and order unknown in recent years, and did so without the large sums of money that donors showered on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. It eliminated the violent gangs and warlords who terrorised Gaza under Fatah’s rule. Non-observant Muslims, Christians and other minorities have more religious freedom under Hamas rule than they would have in Saudi Arabia, for example, or under many other Arab regimes.

The greater lie is that Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza was intended as a prelude to further withdrawals and a peace agreement. This is how Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass, who was also his chief negotiator with the Americans, described the withdrawal from Gaza, in an interview with Ha’aretz in August 2004:

What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements [i.e. the major settlement blocks on the West Bank] would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns . . . The significance [of the agreement with the US] is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with [President Bush’s] authority and permission . . . and the ratification of both houses of Congress.

Do the Israelis and Americans think that Palestinians don’t read the Israeli papers, or that when they saw what was happening on the West Bank they couldn’t figure out for themselves what Sharon was up to?

Israel’s government would like the world to believe that Hamas launched its Qassam rockets because that is what terrorists do and Hamas is a generic terrorist group. In fact, Hamas is no more a ‘terror organisation’ (Israel’s preferred term) than the Zionist movement was during its struggle for a Jewish homeland. In the late 1930s and 1940s, parties within the Zionist movement resorted to terrorist activities for strategic reasons. According to Benny Morris, it was the Irgun that first targeted civilians. He writes in Righteous Victims that an upsurge of Arab terrorism in 1937 ‘triggered a wave of Irgun bombings against Arab crowds and buses, introducing a new dimension to the conflict’. He also documents atrocities committed during the 1948-49 war by the IDF, admitting in a 2004 interview, published in Ha’aretz, that material released by Israel’s Ministry of Defence showed that ‘there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought . . . In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them, and destroy the villages themselves.’ In a number of Palestinian villages and towns the IDF carried out organised executions of civilians. Asked by Ha’aretz whether he condemned the ethnic cleansing, Morris replied that he did not:

A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.

In other words, when Jews target and kill innocent civilians to advance their national struggle, they are patriots. When their adversaries do so, they are terrorists.

It is too easy to describe Hamas simply as a ‘terror organisation’. It is a religious nationalist movement that resorts to terrorism, as the Zionist movement did during its struggle for statehood, in the mistaken belief that it is the only way to end an oppressive occupation and bring about a Palestinian state. While Hamas’s ideology formally calls for that state to be established on the ruins of the state of Israel, this doesn’t determine Hamas’s actual policies today any more than the same declaration in the PLO charter determined Fatah’s actions.

These are not the conclusions of an apologist for Hamas but the opinions of the former head of Mossad and Sharon’s national security adviser, Ephraim Halevy. The Hamas leadership has undergone a change ‘right under our very noses’, Halevy wrote recently in Yedioth Ahronoth, by recognising that ‘its ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future.’ It is now ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state within the temporary borders of 1967. Halevy noted that while Hamas has not said how ‘temporary’ those borders would be, ‘they know that the moment a Palestinian state is established with their co-operation, they will be obligated to change the rules of the game: they will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original ideological goals.’ In an earlier article, Halevy also pointed out the absurdity of linking Hamas to al-Qaida.

In the eyes of al-Qaida, the members of Hamas are perceived as heretics due to their stated desire to participate, even indirectly, in processes of any understandings or agreements with Israel. [The Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled] Mashal’s declaration diametrically contradicts al-Qaida’s approach, and provides Israel with an opportunity, perhaps a historic one, to leverage it for the better.

Why then are Israel’s leaders so determined to destroy Hamas? Because they believe that its leadership, unlike that of Fatah, cannot be intimidated into accepting a peace accord that establishes a Palestinian ‘state’ made up of territorially disconnected entities over which Israel would be able to retain permanent control. Control of the West Bank has been the unwavering objective of Israel’s military, intelligence and political elites since the end of the Six-Day War.[*] They believe that Hamas would not permit such a cantonisation of Palestinian territory, no matter how long the occupation continues. They may be wrong about Abbas and his superannuated cohorts, but they are entirely right about Hamas.

Middle East observers wonder whether Israel’s assault on Hamas will succeed in destroying the organisation or expelling it from Gaza. This is an irrelevant question. If Israel plans to keep control over any future Palestinian entity, it will never find a Palestinian partner, and even if it succeeds in dismantling Hamas, the movement will in time be replaced by a far more radical Palestinian opposition.

If Barack Obama picks a seasoned Middle East envoy who clings to the idea that outsiders should not present their own proposals for a just and sustainable peace agreement, much less press the parties to accept it, but instead leave them to work out their differences, he will assure a future Palestinian resistance far more extreme than Hamas – one likely to be allied with al-Qaida. For the US, Europe and most of the rest of the world, this would be the worst possible outcome. Perhaps some Israelis, including the settler leadership, believe it would serve their purposes, since it would provide the government with a compelling pretext to hold on to all of Palestine. But this is a delusion that would bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Anthony Cordesman, one of the most reliable military analysts of the Middle East, and a friend of Israel, argued in a 9 January report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the tactical advantages of continuing the operation in Gaza were outweighed by the strategic cost – and were probably no greater than any gains Israel may have made early in the war in selective strikes on key Hamas facilities. ‘Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal, or at least one it can credibly achieve?’ he asks. ‘Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel’s actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process? To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes.’ Cordesman concludes that ‘any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends.’

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January 23rd, 2009, 1:02 pm


95. Akbar Palace said:

Today’s Middle East Keyword: “Puppet”

At all cost, don’t be a “puppet”…

(translation: don’t even TRY to make peace with Israel)


Have fun George…

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January 23rd, 2009, 3:21 pm


96. Ghat Albird said:

A definitive compilation of Israel as a “rogue” whose primary goal is to dominate rather than make concessions for peace.


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January 23rd, 2009, 3:37 pm


97. norman said:


I posted the article for reference.

Captive Nation

How Gaza became a Palestinian prison

Avi Shlaim

The only way to make sense of Israel’s senseless war in Gaza is through historical context. Establishing the state of Israel in May 1948 involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians. British officials bitterly resented American partisanship on behalf of the infant state. On June 2, 1948, Sir John Troutbeck wrote to Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders.” I used to think that this judgment was too harsh, but Israel’s assault on Gaza and the Bush administration’s complicity have reopened the question.

I served loyally in the Israeli army in the 1960s and have never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I reject is the Zionist colonial project beyond the Green Line. The occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the 1967 War had little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic, and military control over the Palestinian territories.

With a population of refugees crammed into a tiny strip of land with no infrastructure or natural resources, Gaza’s prospects were never bright. Yet this is not an instance of economic underdevelopment but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development. To use the Biblical phrase, Israel turned the people of Gaza into hewers of wood and the drawers of water—a source of cheap labor and a captive market for Israeli goods. Local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination and establish the economic underpinnings essential for independence.

In 2005, Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25 percent of the territory, 40 percent of the arable land, and the lion’s share of scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in unimaginable misery. Eighty percent still subsist on less than $2 per day. Living conditions remain an affront to civilized values, a powerful precipitant to resistance, and a breeding ground for extremism.

In August 2005, a Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon staged a unilateral Israeli pullout, withdrawing settlers and destroying the houses they left behind. Sharon presented the withdrawal as a contribution to peace based on a two-state solution. But the year after, another 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank, further reducing the scope for an independent Palestinian state. Land-grabbing and peace-making are simply incompatible.

The real purpose behind the move was to redraw the borders of Greater Israel by incorporating the main settlement blocs on the West Bank to the state of Israel. Withdrawal from Gaza was thus not a prelude to peace but to further Zionist expansion on the West Bank. It was a unilateral move undertaken in what was seen as the Israeli national interest.

Israel’s settlers were withdrawn, but Israeli soldiers continued to control all access to the Gaza Strip. The Israeli air force enjoyed unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and terrorize the hapless inhabitants.

Israel portrays itself as an island of democracy in a sea of authoritarianism. Yet Israel has never done anything to promote democracy on the Arab side and has done a great deal to undermine it. Israel has a long history of secret collaboration with reactionary Arab regimes to suppress Palestinian nationalism. Despite all the handicaps, the Palestinian people succeeded in building the only democracy in the Arab world with the possible exception of Lebanon. In January 2006, free and fair elections brought to power a Hamas-led government. Israel, however, refused to recognize the democratically elected government, claiming that Hamas is purely a terrorist organization.

America and the EU joined Israel in demonizing the Hamas government and trying to bring it down. A surreal situation thus developed with a significant part of the international community imposing sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied.

Israel’s propaganda machine purveys the notion that the Palestinians are terrorists, that they reject coexistence with the Jewish state, that their nationalism is little more than antiSemitism, that Hamas is just a bunch of religious fanatics. But the truth is that the Palestinians are a normal people with normal aspirations. They want a piece of land on which to live in freedom and dignity.

Like other radical movements, Hamas began to moderate following its rise to power. From the ideological rejectionism of its charter, it moved toward pragmatic accommodation of a two-state solution. In March 2007, Hamas and Fatah formed a unity government that was ready to negotiate a long-term ceasefire. But Israel refused to negotiate with a government that included Hamas.

It continued to play the old game of divide-and-rule between rival Palestinian factions. In the late 1980s, Israel supported nascent Hamas in order to weaken Fatah, the secular nationalist movement led by Yasser Arafat. Now Israel began to encourage the corrupt and pliant Fatah leaders to overthrow their religious political rivals and recapture power. American neoconservatives participated in the plot to instigate a Palestinian civil war. Their meddling was a major factor in the collapse of the national unity government and in driving Hamas to seize power in Gaza in June 2007 to preempt a Fatah coup.

The war on Gaza is the culmination of confrontations with the Hamas government. In a broader sense, however, it is a war between Israel and the Palestinian people who elected it to power. The declared aim of the war is to weaken Hamas until it agrees to a ceasefire on Israel’s terms. The undeclared aim is to ensure that the Palestinians are seen by the world as a humanitarian problem, derailing their struggle for statehood.

As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression, but the asymmetry of power leaves little room for doubt as to who the real victim is. To be sure, Hamas is not an entirely innocent party. Denied the fruit of its electoral victory and confronted with an unscrupulous adversary, it has resorted to the weapon of the weak—terror. The damage caused by these primitive Qassam rockets is minimal, but the psychological impact is immense, prompting the public to demand protection from its government. Israel has the right to act in self-defense, but its response has been disproportionate. In the three years since the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis have been killed by rocket fire. In 2005 to 2007 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.

Whatever the numbers, killing civilians is wrong. This applies to Israel as much as it does to Hamas—and Israel’s record is one of unremitting brutality toward the inhabitants of Gaza. Israel maintained the blockade after the ceasefire came into force, which in the view of Hamas leaders amounted to a violation of the agreement. During the ceasefire, Israel prevented any exports from leaving the strip. Officially, 49.1 percent of the population is unemployed. At the same time, Israel restricted the number of trucks carrying food, fuel, cooking-gas canisters, spare parts for water and sanitation plants, and medical supplies to Gaza. It is difficult to see how starving and freezing civilians could protect Israel. But even if it did, it would still be immoral, a form of collective punishment forbidden by international law.

The brutality of Israel’s soldiers is matched by the mendacity of its spokesmen. Eight months before launching the war on Gaza, Israel established a National Information Directorate. Its core messages are that Hamas broke the ceasefire agreements; that Israel’s objective is the defense of its population; and that Israel’s forces are taking the utmost care not to hurt civilians. But it was not Hamas but the IDF that broke the ceasefire, with a raid into Gaza on Nov. 4 that killed six Hamas men. Israel’s objective is not just the defense of its population but the eventual overthrow of the Hamas government by turning the people against their rulers. And far from taking care to spare civilians, Israel is guilty of indiscriminate bombing and of a three-year blockade that has brought the inhabitants of Gaza to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

No amount of military escalation can buy Israel immunity from rocket attacks from the military wing of Hamas. Despite all the death and destruction that Israel has inflicted on them, they kept up their resistance. This is a movement that glorifies victimhood and martyrdom. The only way for Israel to achieve security is not through shooting but through talks with Hamas, which has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders. Israel has rejected this offer for the same reason it spurned the Arab League peace plan of 2002: it involves concessions and compromises.

Israel’s record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders.” A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses WMD, and practices terrorism—the use of violence against civilians for political purposes.

Israel’s real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbors but military domination. It keeps compounding the mistakes of the past with new and more disastrous ones. Politicians are of course free to repeat lies and mistakes. But it is not mandatory to do so. __________________________________________

Avi Shlaim is author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World and Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace. This essay is adapted from a piece that originally appeared in The Guardian.

The American Conservative welcomes letters to the editor.
Send letters to: letters@amconmag.com

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January 23rd, 2009, 4:01 pm


98. offended said:

Photos from the smashed neighbourhood of Tel Al Hawa, Gaza:

You can see the red crescent building, drugs warehouse, Al Quds hospital and kids play area, all hit by Israeli shells.


oh yes, they were assembling Qassams in the warehouse, ofcourse I don’t know that but I can guess this is going to be the IDF’s line.

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January 23rd, 2009, 4:09 pm


99. SimoHurtta said:

The Finnish public service media company’s reporter (stationed in Jerusalem) was finally allowed to Gaza. In her report she told for example that in the houses where Israeli soldiers were staying were signs of vandalism by the soldiers. Carpets were smeared with excrement. Food was deliberately spoiled.

A reporter from Helsingin Sanomat (the largest news paper in Finland) wrote a couple of days ago a column about his experiences in Israel during the Gaza war, when he was trying to cover the events. He said that the Israeli military and other spokespersons were astonishing hyperactive and aggressive in trying all the time unasked to push their (=Israel’s) views. He said that nothing those persons told ended to pages of the newspaper. He ended his column by begging Israel to have during the next war less spokespersons and less propaganda.

The Israeli ambassador here must be working overtime in writing threatening letters to the editors and other influential persons in the media companies. By the way when the war started ambassador Avi Granot wrote a long opinion to Helsingin Sanomat’s opinion pages. Normal Israeli propaganda and excuses. Israeli ambassadors are the most active, this was not the first time, among different countries diplomats to write to the newspaper’s opinion pages. I do not remember any other ambassador using that method of trying to influence the public opinion. It would be interesting if they did. The Zimbabwe ambassador could write a lengthy opinion – there is no cholera in Zimbabwe, the Sri Lanka ambassador could enlighten us that the army doesn’t kill civilians etc. Normal Finns would have no chance complaining in the opinion pages of politics, universities financing, childcare and other of numerous things that bother people.

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January 23rd, 2009, 5:54 pm


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