Excluding Hamas Won’t Bring Peace!

Recent policies to bring Middle East peace, were pushing Palestinians apart and peace further away.

By Liam Bailey

The latest push for Middle East peace focused on strengthening moderates against “the extremists”. Fatah’s Abbas was the policy’s patron saint, well, a patron anyway. The policy exacerbated a rift that worsened when talks collapsed to create a unity Palestinian Authority government. A rift that quickly escalated in an environment under the pressure of extreme poverty caused by the western government boycott of the January elected Hamas government.

It was an unworkable policy, to the Palestinian people Fatah has sold itself time and time again, first and foremost by accepting Israel’s right to exist. To Palestinians this means accepting that Israel had the right to expel their Arab brethren in 1948. Something they will never do. Hamas in government gave the PA a shred of credibility in the eyes of the Palestinian people. Now Fatah have united under this credibility I hope they can use their moderate status to push for Palestinian rights peacefully. If not any deals made and agreements reached will not bring peace. What’s more Israel and the west know this; one reason for the Hamas boycott was their refusal to renounce violence.

I believe that Hamas joining democratic proceedings and adhering to two ceasefires, one for almost a year, proves they are willing to renounce violence if it is reciprocated and leading to an independent Palestinian state within the 67 borders. The right of return and other final status issues could be settled in further negotiations in –a new concept for both states–, peacetime. Hamas certainly won’t renounce violence to adhere to an agreement reached on the basis of –Fatah–succumbing to Israeli demands and putting self-importance and greed before Palestinian rights. Hamas remaining outside the process that led to the Oslo accord and attempting to sabotage the process through terrorism showed this. However neither Israel nor the PLO adhered to their commitments under the accord anyway.The Palestinian people showed their displeasure for Fatah by electing Hamas. Therefore an agreement between Israel and Fatah would not have been appreciated or adhered to by the Palestinian population at large either, including Islamic Jihad. Palestinians will not support any peace that will not change their lives for the better. In the conditions they live a fair and just deal would be a complete turnaround in their lives. Only Hamas looked capable of sustaining its commitment to Palestinian rights and achieving such a deal. Israel may deal with Hamas now they have formed a coalition with the –supposedly– more moderate Fatah. So, the big push for peace, by worsening PA division to crisis point, and beyond, was actually pushing us away from peace.

The policy started late Dec. 2006, with Abbas meeting Olmert, who promised to free $100 million of withheld Palestinian tax revenues. He made good on his promise a few days later. His other concessions however agreeing to take away some West Bank checkpoints and ease the strangulation of there and Gaza, followed the history of such concessions in being much easier said than done. As Israeli analyst Gershon Bashkin put it in the Jerusalem Post Feb. 5: “the proof is in the pudding, and so far the pudding is rotten.” The meeting was followed by a massive arms transfer from Egypt, allowed to reach Fatah security forces by Israel. The U.S recently pledged $84 billion to Abbas as part of the large and multilateral campaign to arm and fund Fatah against a militarily stronger, –certainly in Gaza– Hamas.

The other arm of the policy was a new peace process involving the Quartet, but completely excluding Hamas. If Hamas were to be ignored politically, all they had left was violence. This and the program of funding and arming Fatah militias was always going to make Hamas feel threatened and angry, which of course was going to escalate the fighting.

The rift between the Palestinian factions started just weeks before the Abbas/Olmert meeting, shortly after unity government talks collapsed three sons of a Fatah allied security guard were gunned down. Hamas were blamed but denied the attack. A Hamas judge was killed in a reprisal attack, for which Fatah denied responsibility. Things escalated again when the Hamas leader and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, returning because of the fighting, was held at the Gaza border by Israel. Hamas militants went to the border, which was being patrolled by Fatah security forces at the time. Fierce fighting broke out between the two factions. After a few hours Haniyeh was allowed to pass and in the chaos, bullets entered the car. Crossfire or not it was taken as an attempt on the Prime Ministers life. Haniyeh’s bodyguard was killed in the attack and his son wounded. Again Fatah were blamed but denied the attack.

Both Abbas and Haniyeh agreed many truces to end the infighting and called for all gunmen to leave the streets. Unfortunately the Hamas military wing is controlled from Syria by Kaleed Meshal. The push for peace presented the appearance that they [the U.S. and Israel] intended to arm and fund Fatah until Hamas was defeated or forced into submission and accepted the –unacceptable– demands laid on them by the west. With Hamas under such a threat and felt to be militarily stronger, Khaled Meshaal sought to ensure Hamas’ survival by defeating Fatah once and for all. At the same time ensuring Hamas’ survival in the political arena and therefore ensuring the Palestinian people will not be willingly led into an agreement of subdifuge.

Hamas and Fatah reached agreement for a power sharing government Feb. 8. Israel officials are casting doubt on whether the planned peace summit Feb. 19 with Abbas, U.S secretary of state Condoleeza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will go ahead with an Abbas now sharing power with Hamas. They are also talking about a reduced likelihood of Olmert making any concessions to Abbas if the meeting does go ahead. Whether it goes ahead or not will likely depend on the rhetoric from the new government towards Israel, and whether the U.S. pressures for it to go ahead under the facade that they are committed to a peace deal. If their commitment to peace was a strong as their commitment to Israel peace wouldn’t look such a far off prospect.

The unity agreement makes no mention of recognizing Israel or the other demand to renounce violence, only stipulating that Hamas will “respect” previous agreements made between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. Abbas had held out for a commitment to adhere to previous agreements, but Hamas held firm and the wording was watered down.

Both Meshal and Abbas have stated their commitment to the deal and their desire for no further internal fighting in the PA, and that they hope the international siege of the PA will be lifted because of the new government. While U.S allies in the region, and the other three members of the quartet (Russia, the E.U. and the U.N.), who have been pressuring the U.S. to end the siege may reinstate diplomatic relations with the PA as a first step to making pledges of aid, the U.S. state department has already reiterated that the new government is required to meet international demands.

Just days after the latest push was started by the Abbas/Olmert meeting, the Israeli government approved a new settlement in the West Bank, one which was nearly completed before government approval. The settlement has now been “frozen” because of U.S pressure. The settlements approval, has recently been followed by another Jerusalem home demolition as part of the campaign to keep Jerusalem’s Arab population low and an extension to the planned route of the separation wall. The new route annexes even more land from the final Palestinian state.

This all happened while Palestinian infighting was diverting attention, as well as freeing Israeli security forces to carry out the operations. All are operations that help toward the Zionist dream of a pure, or at least remaining predominantly Jewish, Israel.

Therefore, even people adverse to conspiracies can see that Israel was the main beneficiary of the Palestinian infighting. Their policies after it began proved, at the very least, that they weighed capitalizing on it above creating a suitable environment for a lasting peace.

Meanwhile the U.S is still treating Israel as an ally in the war on terror and Hamas as an enemy in it. This conflict was going on before Osama Bin Laden could trouble anyone, Hamas were attacking Israel before Al Qaeda were attacking the West, Hamas could have jumped on the Al Qaeda band wagon but, despite Zawahiri’s best attempts, they haven’t.

If the solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict was strengthening moderates against extremists, it would have been over years ago. The only push that will bring peace is all parties pushing the desire for peace to number 1 on the agenda. After nearly a century of conflict isn’t it about time they did?

 <i>I wrote this article two days before the PA unity deal was signed.  An example of how fast things can change in this conflict.</i>

This article has also been published, along with my new articles on War Pages on Blogspot

Pieces of State Part I

Palestinian exports are a small market, but with our help they could be big in ending Palestinian poverty

By Liam Bailey

The Palestinian Authority (PA) economy has never been allowed to expand as it should. In Gaza restricted land access, strict internal and external security measures and high population density have put the fragile economy under pressure. In the West Bank the same type of security measures, restricting movements of people to and from jobs and businesses, and making the movement and export of goods extremely difficult have had the same effect on the economy. The West Bank’s population is slightly less dense which slightly eases the pressure on its economy.

The security measures have been tightened and employed even more frequently, largely in response to the elevated threat from Palestinian resistance groups since the Second Intifada began. Borders and checkpoints being closed severely disrupting trade and labor movements and Israeli military actions destroying businesses and administrative structures were both a factor in the recession of 2001-2002. The separation wall being constructed since late 2002 has further exacerbated the problems. Corruption in the PA and the selfish plundering of its budget has also been extremely detrimental to the growth of the economy.

The Israeli and Western reaction to the election of Hamas in the January 2006 PA elections, refusing aid and boycotting exports and services, increased the Palestinian deficit from $60-$70 million to $110 million per month. Israel also began withholding tax revenues, which accounted for a third of the PA budget and were used for paying the full salaries of its 140,000 employees, the main breadwinners for a third of Palestinian families. These actions have combined to cripple the Palestinian economy

Hamas was elected for its stance on corruption and they haven’t plundered the economy, nor have they put selfish greed before Palestinian welfare. The west’s embargo has made this irrelevant. The economy is in a worse state than ever.

There are people and companies trying to help. Zaytoun is a UK company paying fair-trade prices to import olive oil and other produce from growers in Palestine. The products are sold over the internet and through many small outlets, with hope of attracting bigger stores. I will be covering Zaytoun in my next article in this series.

Another is Joe Turner of Freedom Clothing, a UK not for profit co-operative set up in Jun 2005, importing Palestinian clothing for sale online. I spoke to Joe by telephone. He told me that at the moment he only imports t-shirts from one factory in Beit Jala employing 80 Palestinians. He has his own printer and prints t-shirts with designs to order, for charities and organizations etc.

Joe also told me that the banks wouldn’t give him a loan because they didn’t think it could be done and that the company is currently costing him money, which can’t be sustained forever. Joe added: “if we do have excess finances, we are committed to giving the money away – either to charities that work directly to improve Palestinian society, to the suppliers as bonuses or as reinvestment in more products.” Joe also answered a few questions by e-mail:

Are the products you sell labelled as Palestinian exports?

Our products are labelled ‘Made in West Bank and Gaza’, because the European trade agreement between Europe and the Palestinians is with the ‘West Bank and Gaza’. There was a considerable amount of discussion with the factory owner about what the label should say, and he was adamant that we could get into trouble if it said ‘Made in Palestine’ and tried to export via Israel.

Do you take part in the boycott against Israel?

Regarding a boycott, with respect to those people I know at the Palestinian solidarity groups, the policy is essentially unworkable. Everyone needs to appreciate the macro economics of the situation – the Palestinian economy is dependent on the Israeli economy, and to a lesser extent, the Israeli economy is dependent on the Palestinian economy. I do not have the exact figures to hand, but more than 90% of Palestinian exports go to or via Israel. Many international products marketed by Israeli companies originate in Palestine. Jerusalem Stone is a very good example. Most of the quarries are in Hebron or the Bethlehem area. And yet, most of the big companies that sell Jerusalem Stone tiles are from Israel. Much the same kind of thing happens with Dead Sea cosmetics.

The other day, I was talking to various groups about a strawberry we found in the UK that was marketed under a ‘Palestinian produce’ label by an Israeli company. This particular company is subject to an international boycott because it trades with Israeli settlements. On the other hand, the company buys from Palestinian farmers in Gaza who have no other market for their products. Refusing to buy Israeli, therefore, in a very direct way is likely to mean refusing to buy Palestinian and will lead to further economic depression in Palestine.

I think there is another way. We need to promote and spend every effort assisting and encouraging Palestinian exports. The structures and commitments are in place (even as policies from the Israeli government) for this to happen, but it does not in any major way. There are a few activists like ourselves, exporting small amounts of handicrafts, olive oil and clothing. There are a few people in the Diaspora who have businesses exporting relatives’ products, but there is much more that can and should be done. If we spent a whole lot less time moaning about the boycott and a whole lot more time creatively thinking of ways we can assist Palestinian exports, we stand to gain much more. I am calling for a reverse-boycott of Palestinian goods.

Does Israel make running your business easy or difficult?

We are not a conventional company. We have done the things that others think are stupid, impossible and irresponsible. Almost everything about our business is difficult. Every time I wish to go to visit the factories, I face hours of interrogation by immigration officials and our products are often held up by delays. Yet, the plain truth is that it is possible. If someone like me can do it, anyone can.

Do you think you’re turnover would increase if you were trading from an independent Palestinians state?

I think that life exports would be easier from an independent Palestinian state. Apart from anything else, if there was a functioning airport and seaport in Gaza, transportation would be a lot quicker and more reliable. Whether or not that would have an impact on our own turnover is impossible to say. It might well be the case that the need for a company such as mine would disappear.

Tell me about the problems you mentioned:

Regarding difficulties, the main problem with most Palestinian products, and Palestinian clothing in particular, is the price. This is related, but not entirely due, to the current difficulties. For example, the price of living in Palestine is relatively high, hence the cost of labour to make a product is relatively high. Palestinian factories are generally small, hence no economies of scale. The end result is that the Palestinian product is more expensive than can be purchased from China or India or wherever. This is the major threat to the Palestinian textile industry – many buyers are going elsewhere for cheaper products.

So, the struggle is to find ways that value can be added to Palestinian products, so they are no longer competing at the lowest end of the market but can extract some kind of premium. Generally, I believe that there is little currency in the fact that the products are made in Palestine. More time and effort should be spent in finding higher quality materials, and working to produce a much better quality product than the alternatives. Also the proximity of Palestine should mean that producers can get things to the European market much more swiftly than other parts of the world.

In what ways has the conflict affected you and the business?

In a sense, the conflict has had minimal effect on me. Clearly, I do not run the gambit of bullets, checkpoints and depression on a daily basis. On the other hand, it has been taking up much of my time and money for the last few years – on something that most other people see as a pointless endeavour. Our main objective is to build sustainability that means as many Palestinian workers as possible have stable jobs, can send their kids to schools, put falafal on the plate and hope in their hearts. People cannot eat words.

We may fail. We may make a minuscule effect even on the people that we directly give work to. But ultimately, if we fail, we will fail having tried everything in our power to do something positive. And hopefully others with more skills will take heart from our failure and see that Joe was no fool to give what he could not keep in an attempt to gain what he could not lose.

Joe and I talked a great deal on the phone. Joe hopes to expand the business, eventually importing jeans and other clothes from more Palestinian factories. On a limited budget and struggling to survive, Freedom Clothing badly needs to find buyers for the t-shirt business currently running and for other markets in the UK, Europe and around the world.

If you run a charity or other organization and want to buy printed t-shirts from an ethical company, trying to help manufacturers out of poverty instead of keeping them in it, Joe’s business will print any number of t-shirts with your design for a very competitive price.

Or if you are in a position to help Joe expand into other areas of the textile market, know a bulk buyer looking for reasonably priced ethical jeans, sheets etc, go to the Freedom Clothing website for contact information. Ask for Joe Turner.

This article was published by the Middle East’s leading English daily newspaperArab News.

A Powerful Voice: An Interview with Ilan Pape.

Painting a worrying picture and offering ways to alleviate the Palestinians plight.

By Liam Bailey 

Prominent Israeli academic and author Ilan Pape is openly critical of Israel. In his latest article, he called Israel’s policies in the West Bank ethnic cleansing and felt safe to call their actions in Gaza “measured genocide”.

Let us not forget that Ilan Pape is an Israeli and for him to accuse his own homeland of these things must be very hard indeed, and without a strong basis I’m sure he would reduce the terms to something much weaker. Secondly Ilan Pape has extensive experience of the conflict; he is senior lecturer in the University of Haifa Department of political Science and Chair of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies in Haifa.

He has also written books on the subject, including, among others: The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (London and New York 1992), The Israel/Palestine Question (London and New York 1999), A History of Modern Palestine (Cambridge 2003), The Modern Middle East (London and New York 2005) and his latest, Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006).

An Israeli with so much knowledge criticizing his homeland makes him a powerful voice. Ilan agreed to answer a few questions of mine on the above matters by e-mail.

Liam Bailey: Do you believe Israel will ever commit to peace?

Ilan Pape: Not in the near future and maybe not in the longer run. There is a need for a revolutionary change in global and regional balances of power before a genuine process of change takes place in Israel itself. If ever this happens, and it is likely to happen at one point, these are time consuming processes. Israel has to be de-Zionised to a point before any genuine reconciliation can be attempted.

LB: Do you think Israel would be more committed to peace if the U.S allowed resolutions against Israel, and threatened to withdraw U.S aid unless they make more concessions to achieve sustainable peace with the Palestinians?

IP: Yes by all means this is one of the revolutionary changes in the global balances I was taking about, above. It will be a crucial factor in forcing a new thinking within Israel and it would be a very positive message to the Arab world to believe once more in the possibility of peace.

LB: Do you share the opinion that the recent Gaza ceasefire was nothing more than appearing as committed to peace to guarantee continued U.S support from a Democrat Congress?

IP: I think the ceasefire was less to do with US policy as with two other factors: one, Israelis want to see how a civil war inside Gaza serves them and secondly, foolishly, Hamas and Fatah are willing to divert their energies and attention from fighting the occupation into trying to struggle one against the other.

LB: When this article is published, going by my past articles, I will be inundated with e-mails and comments saying that genocide in Gaza is a ludicrous suggestion, that Israel is only attacking Gaza in self defence, and that if the Palestinians would stop launching rockets and committing other acts of terrorism Israel would stop retaliating. What would you say to those people?

IP: The Israeli actions, as the Israeli army admits, increase the motivation for more rockets and missiles. The Israeli army itself admits the punitive actions have very little to do with the missile attacks and are meant to achieve ‘deterrence’. Moreover, ever since 1993, whenever any Palestinian group was willing to ceasefire and give a chance for a peace dialogue, the Israeli army immediately launched a provocative action so that the lull would not continue for too long. After the recent ceasefire was agreed upon, the Israeli army arrested a large number of leaders and killed activists and civilians in the West Bank; knowing perfectly well that this was a cassis belle in the eyes of the Palestinian groups.

LB: You paint a convincingly horrifying picture that Israel is actively committing measured genocide in Gaza and ethnic cleansing in the West Bank. The only problem I have is that both policies cannot be achieved quickly, and will likely run through several governments. How can the people in Israel who want to carry these actions through be sure that the people don’t elect a more liberal government, which would put a stop to their well laid plans?

IP: The cleansing of the Jewish space or the area of Palestine that all the Zionist parties, including the liberal ones, covet as a State, is a pillar in Zionist thought. As long as Israel is a Zionist state there is ‘no danger’ that a counter policy would ever be adopted by a Zionist government. After all, it was liberal Zionists who committed the greatest act of ethnic cleansing so far, the 1948 one, and a pure Jewish space is accepted by liberals as well, as a noble target. They are willing to be happy with a smaller part of the land for achieving this goal but there their liberalism ends. This is why there is ‘no rush’ and in fact it is a liberal Zionist concept that a slow measure nowadays is best for silencing world criticism or internal doubts.

LB: I know one Israeli, Reuven Kossover who openly criticises the government, but not for the Gaza siege or the years of disproportionate reactions and collective punishment, but because they don’t do enough to squash the resistance. He believes that Israel should either declare a border excluding Judea, Samaria and Gaza and expel all hostile Arabs from green line Israel, or annex Gaza and the West Bank completely and expel the hostile Arabs. In your experience do a lot of Israelis share similar opinions?

IP: I think yes, but I do think when it comes to voting we alternate every few years between the ‘Left’ a slower pace of ‘squashing’ and the ‘right, an accelerated one. From the victim’s point of view, alas, the result is the same.

LB: How do you think Israel can be stopped from committing ethnic cleansing and genocide?

IP: Only through a coordinated campaign like the one that stopped the apartheid system in South Africa. But for the boycott, divestment and sanction campaign to succeed you also need a strong, united and well orientated Palestinian leadership and strategy. We lack both.

LB: It is currently in the news that Israel faces an existential threat from Hamas and Hezbollah and most Israelis believe Ahmadinejad is synonymous with a second holocaust. Do you share the opinion that Israel currently poses a far bigger threat to the Arab world than the Arab world does to Israel?

IP: Indeed, Israel is an unfinished project of statehood, and would go to any length to impose its will until most of the West Bank would be annexed to it, together with the Golan Heights and strategic control up to the Litani River in Lebanon. Anyone that stands in the way is or will be attacked.It is interesting that Israeli generals here say that Hizballah and Hamas are mere irritations and not strategic threats, which I think is an accurate description.LB: It seems to me that the fear of a counter-attack by Israel, the U.S, or both obliterating Iran completely will prevent Ahmadinejad from launching a nuclear attack, or any kind of attack. If it occurs to me then someone in Israel’s leadership must also realize the great threat their nuclear arsenal projects. Am I right that Israel always presents fears for its existence, allowing it to remind people of the holocaust at regular intervals, to stop the world criticising its actions against Palestinians?

IP: Yes the manipulation of the Holocaust memory is to allow the policies I have described above to be carried out without interruption. But I do think the fear in Israel is not from a nuclear attack from Iran, it is clear that the worst that can happen is deterrence policies such as the ones that took place in The Cold War. The fear is from a serious challenge to Israel’s absolute military hegemony in the area.

LB: Or does Israel do the above so that anyone who reads they are committing genocide will not believe it because of the way them and their ancestors suffered at the hands of the Nazi’s.

IP: I think what the Israelis rely on are two things. The slow measures that can obfuscate the general picture and hide the accumulative effect and secondly, the Jewish communities who would back unconditionally even the worst Israeli atrocities.

LB: Finally, I read the other day about a new youth movement –similar to the Hitler youth– that has been formed by Israeli MP, Ariyah Eldad. Its stated aims are hiking scouting and promoting the forced transfer of Palestinians from the West Bank. The group’s formation is clear evidence of his intention to carry on Israel’s policies into the next generation. Eldad said he formed the group because he was being asked by a lot of youths while touring schools, “where are we to go?” “What can we do now?” Do you believe he is telling the truth and that his group will attract significant numbers of Israeli youths?

IP: I am sure this will be a very popular youth movement given the present mood in the country, but the Israeli establishment will be very careful from openly endorsing it.

My interview with Ilan Pape has reinforced my view that this conflict is a long way from a peaceful solution. I just hope that the campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions will achieve more popular support and have the desired effect of changing Israeli policies.

Stop the Israeli Oppression!

Publicising a peaceful way to bring Israel into line.

By Liam Bailey

Many people compare the Palestinian’s plight to that of South Africans living under apartheid; two peoples living in one country in completely separate circumstances, one being oppressed and treated inhumanely at the rule of the other. Israel’s separation wall that is being erected, at its current course annexing yet more Arab land reinforces the Israeli apartheid view.

Palestinians –like South Africans under apartheid– are suffering a great deal, especially in Gaza where they have been forced by an EU, U.S boycott to live in poverty as bad as anywhere else in the world. Unlike South Africans there is no significant campaign to stop the oppression. The British anti-apartheid movement became extremely popular across the western world, attracting the support of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. Its campaign of boycotting the South African regime, with such popular support, made a big difference in ending the apartheid, according to the people who lived under the regime.

Last year, in a cry for similar support, authoritative members of Palestinian civil society called for an academic, consumer, and cultural boycott of Israel as well as divestment from churches, universities, states, cities, unions, banks and anyone else who wants to take part. The text of the call was:

We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.

These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

The call was endorsed by 171 Palestinian organizations, campaigns, unions and refugee rights associations, as the original call said: from “the three integral parts of the people of Palestine: Palestinian refugees, Palestinians under occupation and Palestinian citizens of Israel.” The boycott –which could become a major part in the fight to end Israeli oppression– has begun. Several factors are stopping it from having the popular support from mainstream media and western governments enjoyed by the South African anti-apartheid movement:

One: The similarities between Israel treatment of the Palestinians and the South African Apartheid is not commonly connected, especially in the mainstream media, which for whatever reason refuses to make the connection.

Two: We live in a world ruled by the U.S, with Israel by their side, Israel have been extremely keen to have any form of boycott or divestment labelled as anti-Semitic, an almost equal campaign by pro-Israeli media and journalists has begun for people to boycott the boycott.

Three: Fear of terrorism, which gives weight to Islamaphobia and credibility and therefore increasing popularity to far-right wing groups and political parties, happily criticising the entire Muslim community as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. This means that the Palestinians actively fighting the oppressive Israeli occupation with the only means they have, is played out in the media and therefore seen by the world as terrorism.

Four: Al Qaeda continually seeking to affiliate its cause, which is, in short the murder of Americans and their allies anywhere in the world, with the Palestinians cause, seeking to live in an independent and oppression free-state, and be treated as equals by the world. This adds weight to the media stories, and that the Palestinians fighting the occupation are part of the same Islamic Extremist ideology that is a threat to the western world.

All these factors combine to prevent the calls for boycott and divestment of Israel, attempting similar activities as the anti-(South African)-Apartheid movement and with a similar cause, freeing a people from an oppressive and racist regime, from enjoying anywhere near the same level of support. The campaign is young and this is my way of helping.

Israeli academic and author Ilan Pape is a strong supporter of the boycott. In a recent interview given to Christopher Brown, Mr Pape said of the Boycott’s value in achieving a just solution for the Palestinians:

“It will be very hard in this globalized world we live in to bring about economic sanctions, which would have been the most effective in forcing a change in Israeli policy.

The second best, and more feasible, [way] is to send a message to Israel from the societies at large that its policies are unacceptable, that as long as it continues to do what it does it cannot be accepted … It cannot be in the community of civilized nations.

I think there is both a symbolic and a very political significance to a coordinated reaction by societies in the west for a message, a clear message, that is conveyed in the way of a boycott of divestment or any other symbolic act which says that there is a price tag attached to the policies that you pursue and as long as you pursue these policies, you are not welcomed here. Not as individuals — you are not welcomed here if you represent a certain ideology, a certain state, and especially if you appear as an official representative of this state.”

To the Israeli claims that the boycott is anti-semitic Mr Pape said: “the Israelis are over-using the anti-semitic accusation against anyone who criticizes them. Not only [against] those who call for a boycott, even the mildest criticism of Israel is depicted here as an act of anti-semitism. Maybe one or two known anti-semites have joined the wagon, but that doesn’t prove anything. The fact is that Israel wants to be immune from any criticism. And the shield it uses is always anti-semitism.”

Mr Pape’s final word in the interview was:

“Israel needs a wake-up call. Israelis don’t know that this is what the world thinks about them and I think that civil societies around the world can be the alarm clock for them, and they should be the alarm clock.”

The daily violence Palestinians have to endure under Israeli occupation, combined with what can safely be called “measured” “genocide” and intentions to ethnically cleanse the West Bank, should mean Palestinians have the massive support of all campaigners against oppression. They don’t.

The boycott is a way that you and I can support the Palestinians struggle, a way to let Israel know that the developed and civilized world will no longer tolerate their behaviour, even if our government’s will. I will be supporting it, click here to find out how you can too.

Will the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict Ever End?

Latest Gaza ceasefire shows that peace is still a long way off.By Liam Bailey

In the latest Gaza ceasefire the actions of leaders on both sides have proved that they are so hardened and corrupted by the years of conflict that they can’t fully commit to peace. In just the last few hours, Israel blocked the re-entry of Hamas leader and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh into Gaza from his ME trip. The decision came in response to reports that he was carrying $35 million in cash. He has since been allowed to enter but has reportedly left the cash in safe hands with Egypt’s leadership. This display’s, as Palestinians repeatedly complain, that even when Israel doesn’t occupy Gaza they still control it.

I read a report over a week ago that the Likud were suggesting such a move and I actually chuckled at the stupidity of it. I honestly thought that it would be abandoned to the realms of yet more outrageous rhetoric from Israel’s far-right. For them to actually do it, knowing full well the anger and backlash it would instil in Gaza and the occupied territories, displayed Israel’s lack of respect for Palestinian democracy. The backlash it did instil; was Hamas gunmen going to the Gaza-Egypt border and opening fire. Prompting a gun-fight between Hamas and Fatah allied security forces, which are currently patrolling the border areas.

Events in the last few days were already threatening to provoke civil war in the Palestinian Authorities. Three sons of a Fatah allied Gaza security officer were gunned down Monday. Hamas were blamed but denied the attack. Reprisal came yesterday when four gunmen waited for a Hamas commander outside the courthouse in Khan Younis. When Bassam al-Fara, 30, a judge at the Islamic court arrived he was dragged from the car and onto his knees by three of the men, and shot by the other. Hamas have since released a statement blaming a Fatah “death squad” for the attack. Whoever is responsible for the latest violence it makes a Palestinian Authority (PA) coalition government a distant possibility.

Saturday’s statement by Mahmoud Abbas that there are to be new elections in Palestine made matters worse still, making further fighting likely and civil war a definite possibility. Hamas called the plan to hold elections early a Fatah coup attempt on a democratically elected government. Their foreign minister said that Hamas are in government positions and if they don’t take part in elections then there are no elections. If elections do go ahead some good may come from all the violence in the form of a Palestinian unity government.

Israel has stated that it will only deal with a PA coalition government that is willing to recognise Israel’s right to exist.

Israel’s actions in blocking Haniyeh’s return therefore, –predictably– provoking further internal PA clashes show that Israel is keen on killing, once and for all, the talks to create a coalition government and therefore peace. Of course without doing anything that would prompt a facade of objection from Bush and the U.S, who still class Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Since the truce came into effect the Palestinian Authority and militant factions haven’t helped themselves, their people or chances of peace either however. They have had weeks to find some common ground and form a unity government, which collectively at least recognizes Israel and denounces violence. Obviously something more than the (collective punishment) dire poverty the world’s embargo on the Hamas government is causing the general Palestinian public, is needed to justify putting their difference aside. Of course the talks may have been more effective had Hamas leader been in Palestine. One of his commanders being killed cut Haniyeh’s tour short. But the new ceasefire and weeks of talks to form the coalition, necessary to achieve peace didn’t. This shows the Palestinian Prime Minister’s overall lack of desire for peace.

The latest events however, only reinforce the lack of commitment being shown on both sides. The morning after the ceasefire came into effect in Gaza, Israel’s arrest raids and targeted killing of Palestinian militants in the West Bank began with renewed vitality and have continued throughout the prolonged period of supposed calm. Israel’s supreme court Thursday ruled that the targeted killing could continue, but only as a last resort.

Israel’s actions in the West Bank have been met with frequent rocket attacks by Palestinian militants, another one landing Thursday in response to the Israeli border blockade. With Olmert again upping the rhetoric over how long Israel can show restraint in the face of the Qassam attacks, which one Palestinian speaking anonymously called. “big metal forged fireworks.”

The Palestinian resistance groups can not yet see the futility of the rocket attacks, which to Israel are like a giant being hit with a fly swat. It seems they would sooner sacrifice themselves to fight for the freedom of the Palestinian people, than do what so many have done before… unite in the face of a common enemy and settle differences when that enemy is defeated. The PA need to engage in diplomacy as one collective and eternally more powerful voice.

I respect the Palestinian militant factions for their resolve in the face of adversity, under months of heavy Israeli bombardment, military incursions and disproportionate reactions this year and through the years. But their failure to see that Israel’s actions, which, technically haven’t breached the ceasefire; are a strategy meant to provoke the Palestinians into breaking the truce. Once again returning the moral high ground to Israel.

As for Israel’s leadership… Israel currently relies heavily on U.S aid, which continues to flow freely because the conflict with the Palestinians is lumped into the –broad term– War on Terror. If Israel did pull back to the 1967 borders it is likely that the resistance from the Palestinians would be cut to a minimal level. And ensuing diplomacy over the right of Palestinian return could almost certainly end it. Where this would leave U.S aid to Israel is unclear to everyone including their leaders. The recent shift in power in the White House and the Baker report calling on a new approach to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have undoubtedly added yet more uncertainty over future U.S aid.

So, in the current climate it is unlikely that Israel will go all out for peace. It appears that their every action is aimed at guaranteeing continued U.S support. That includes continuing the conflict and making the Palestinians look like –terrorists– the bad guys.
I wrote in my last article that the Gaza truce is nearer to collapse each day. The last few days have undoubtedly accelerated its collapse. With the current internal clashes in the PA. And the desire of some on both sides for renewed violence. Surely the ceasefire can’t hold on for much longer.

If and when the ceasefire does collapse, I doubt there will be another opportunity like this for quite some time. And unless there are some serious changes on both sides, and in the world’s treatment of both sides, the next opportunity is liable to be squandered just as carelessly.

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US: End of Middle East Dominance: What Dominance?

Previously suppressed states are exploiting the mess in Iraq and vying for supremacy.By Liam Bailey

With the Baker report suggesting America talks with its staunch adversaries Iran and Syria, and the public’s apparent support for Baker’s findings. It is beginning to look like Bush might finally be forced into –unthinkable for him– acts of history validated common sense. Since talking to Iran and Syria was first suggested by Blair after he gave evidence to the Baker Commission, analysts have been questioning the end of U.S domination in the Middle East.

The question should be: did the U.S ever dominate the Middle East? Sure, unconditionally supporting Israel ensured their influence in that conflict, IDF style. Bombing and shooting the Palestinians into agreement with the U.S’ –fad– peace plan at the time. Meanwhile the U.S exerted little or no influence in Israel’s often ill-advised and frequently illegal actions. Israel currently has little or no influence in Middle East affairs anyway. It couldn’t get by without U.S aid [PDF], let alone suppress the latest Palestinian Intifada.

There was a tradition of U.K and U.S influence in Iran’s monarchical rule after we imposed a suitable Shah. The current stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program, and its meddling in Iraq [PDF] show how much things have changed. Not only recently but since the Iranian revolution in 1979, the hostages taken in the U.S embassy during the revolution flipped the bird to U.S influence in Iran.

Iran currently showing disregard for U.S power is a facade to amplify its own strength and help their hegemonic aims.

Syrian diplomats have always adhered strictly to agreements reached with their U.S counterparts. But they have also been close to all-out war over the Israeli Lebanon conflict in 1983. The U.S, recognising that Syria plays a central role in the Middle East and in global Jihad, attempts to exert its influence. And turn the “rogue state” from a supporter of terrorism to a supporter of democracy and U.S hegemony. They have and probably will never succeed in that aim.

The U.S has enjoyed 70 years of good relations with Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, until 9/11 put a significant strain on the “special relationship”. Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of Israel during the Israel/Hezbollah conflict and rhetoric of going to war showed that the U.S doesn’t hold much influence over Saudi Arabia.

In Iraq’s case, we all know the current scenario. The U.S has as much influence in Iraq now as any of the rival militia factions. The same influence it has recently had over every other Middle East country, very little.

The U.S has had reasonable influence in Turkey since shortly after World War II, with the exception of the mid-late 70’s when Turkey invaded Cyprus. The U.S’ influence in Turkey crumbled in the build up to the Iraq war. Turkey refusing U.S forces entry to hit Iraq from the North, showed that –unlike Saudi Arabia– Turkey’s loyalty to their Iraqi Muslim brothers and sisters influenced their policy more than U.S relations. U.S aid [PDF] was cut-off 2003. Except a small military grant, which I presume was necessary for Turkey’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Relations fell apart in Mar. 2005, when the U.S ambassador to Turkey resigned after two years. Because Turkey’s government came out in support of their President’s decision to visit Syria in early April that year, despite the U.S warning against it. Also for ignoring the ambassador’s calls for Turkey to join an international coalition concerning Syria.

The U.S weighs its relationship with and influence of Egypt perhaps higher than any other Middle East country, because of its leadership role in the region. A role which was set when Egypt was actively fighting Israel and sought military aid from the Soviets. Several other Arab states shortly followed suit. U.S Israel relations improved after the 1979 peace treaty was signed with Israel. Since then the U.S has given billions of dollars [PDF] in military and financial aid to sustain Egypt’s moderate voice in Arab councils. Persuade less moderate regimes of the benefits of compromise and to maintain the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty.

The latter has been more successful than the other two by far. As the U.S failed to realize that the feelings of Egypt’s leaders toward Israel’s treatment of their Arab Palestinian brothers didn’t change overnight. More likely they realised they would be in a much better position to help the Palestinians in every way with a whole whack of U.S aid.

Jordan’s monarchy has perhaps the best relationship with the U.S. The U.S began providing Jordan with economic and military aid in 1951 and 1957 respectively. Relations were slightly soured by Jordan’s reluctance to participate in the first Iraq war to liberate Kuwait. Relations improved throughout the 1990’s as Jordan began to take a more favourable view of normalization of relations with Israel. Over the years the U.S has provided billions of dollars [PDF] in aid to Jordan. In return Jordan provided logistical support in the Afghanistan war, and, informally the same in the current Iraq war, although the monarchy was publicly opposed.

King Abdullah’s policies of normalization with Israel and alliance with the U.S cause much unrest from Jordan’s Islamic fundamentalist groups. Like the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood, an influential part of the political mainstream. It also causes unrest in parts of the Palestinian communities, and in prominent professional and trade organizations.

The Middle East and its rich oil reserves have always been at the fore-front of U.S policy. So much so that they have taken their eye off the ball elsewhere; allowing China to become the main influence in Asia and enter the fight for global supremacy. The North Korean nuke test is another example of the Bush administration taking their eye off the ball.

Given all this focus on their Middle East policy it is ludicrous that it has descended into such a farce.

Little wonder as it is largely the world’s most backward foreign policy. Unconditionally supporting a country surrounded by enemies –Israel–, while hoping to exert influence over its enemies. Is like a boxer’s coach shouting orders at the opposing fighter. Stupid. Previously however the U.S had tried to exert their influence over Israel’s enemies by diplomacy in the main. Bush Jnr coming in with his complete ignorance of foreign policy and its relation to even recent history, alongside his policy of never talking to your adversary. Combined with the backward policies above, are perhaps the main reasons for the current state of the Middle East.

Something else I find laughable however is Bush Snr, responsible for another reason for the current mess. Coming in now and telling his son what he needs to do in Iraq. If he had honoured his statements to the Iraq’s Shia and Kurdish populations, by ordering U.S forces to go on into Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, in the first gulf war 1991. Embracing the uprising started by the Shia in the south and driving Iraqi forces into the Kurdish uprising in the North. Both of which were started because of Bush’s suggestion of support.

Saddam would undoubtedly have been easily defeated. As he was 2003, but the occupying U.S or U.S/U.N forces would have probably had the support of the Kurdish minority and Shia Majority. Giving the Sunni’s no choice but to join the new diplomatic efforts or be left out of Iraq’s democratic future. As oppose to miss-trust for Bush Jnr by Shia and Kurd’s after being lied to by his dad before him. And resentment because of the massacres his lies led them into.

I believe had Bush Snr done this Iraq would have been a stable democracy by now, certainly closer than has been for decades.

In closing, the U.S never really had much influence in Middle Eastern affairs. The little it did have from supplying heavy financial aid to needy countries in prominent positions. And U.S and Israel’s superior military force were sufficient to secure the things they really needed and manipulate affairs to ensure no-one else gained more control.

The Iraq war in 2003 showing that U.S military force was useless against sporadic Jihad’s guerrilla warfare. Accelerated the rate at which the little Middle East influence the U.S had is disappearing. All that remains is moderate influence in return for heavy aid to countries with even less influence –than the U.S– in Middle East affairs.

The rich and influential Middle East countries are exploiting the exposed weakness to secure their own hegemony.

It will be interesting to watch the changing political and military landscapes in the coming months. Especially if a serious U.S strategy shift in Iraq coincides with a policy shift in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Liam Bailey is a writer from the UK, he runs the War Pages weblog and can be contacted by e-mail.

Somalia Resolution: No Peace to Keep

Peacekeepers should never be expected to establish peace.By Liam Bailey

The 15 Member United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1725 Dec. 6 2006. The U.S led resolution authorizes a regional force from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union (AU) to establish a protection and training mission in Somalia. And the lifting of the UN arms embargo in relation to supplying the peacekeeping force. The previous UN mission in the country, started similarly but ended in a bloody battle and the death of 18 Marines attempting to disarm rival factions. The current resolution states its intention to consider taking measures against those that seek to prevent or block a peaceful dialogue process, overthrow the Transitional Federal Institutions by force, or take action that further threatens regional stability. Suggesting that, like its predecessor it could become far more than a protection and training mission, which may well have an adverse effect regional stability.

The U.S pushed for the resolution fearing that, predominantly following Salafist Islam, based on the Wahabi ideology that drives Al Qaeda’s Jihad. The Union of Islamic Courts will turn Somalia into a safe-haven and breeding ground for terrorism if they succeed in taking complete control of the country.

The current situation and likely near future presents similarities with other regions in the world past and present, none of which have gone well, in fact quite the opposite. When the U.S proposed the resolution, immediately analysts were calling out on the U.S’ intention to send troops into another Muslim country they were not wanted. In Iraq’s case that is where the similarities end and the opposites begin…

The U.S led coalition invaded Iraq to topple the government, whereas, no U.S or Western forces will enter Somalia to ensure that the government is not toppled.

The resolution reiterates that Transitional Federal Charter and Institutions are: “The only route to peace and stability” in Somalia, a northeast African nation without an effective central government since 1991. Statements like that, and passing the U.S led resolution authorizing a force, predominantly to protect the TFG in their stronghold of Baidoa, and train their security forces to counteract Islamist rule. Suggests they share the U.S’ desire, or ideology if you like to lump all Islamic militants together. Immediately make them the bad guy’s in any conflict, and proceed to meet them with force under the heading of the War on Terror. As in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, where the U.S and their supporters are finally being forced –by Iraq– to admit that this one size fits all policy just may be a mistake.

Despite Kofi Annan saying Thursday that the nations providing the troops should convince the UIC that they would not be an invasion force, adding: “It is important that we get the Somalis to understand that the force is coming in to help.”

The resolution and proposed force are provoking a predictable reaction from the Somali Islamists. Ibrahim Adow of the UIC told the BBC Friday: “Deploying foreign forces to Somalia is seen as invading forces and the Somali people are prepared to defend themselves against aggression.” Another UIC spokesman, Abdirahin Ali Mudey told The Washington Post Thursday that the resolution will introduce sophisticated weapons into Somalia and provoke a war between his group and the government. The UNSC hopes the resolution will restore peace and avert wider conflict in the region. But Mudey accused them of allowing Ethiopia to occupy Somalia and said that his movement would now reconsider attending the scheduled peace talks with the government later this month.

The UIC considerations would have taken a turn for the worse Friday when TFG forces, according to eye-witnesses accompanied by Ethiopian troops attacked UIC controlled Dinsoor. Some analysts, like BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut are warning that it could be the opening shots of the long awaited war for control of Somalia. I think it more likely that they are attempting to grab as much land before the arrival of the peacekeeping force, to give them more leverage in the power-sharing agreement that will supposedly follow the UN mission.

A peacekeeping force in Somalia may yet be a long way off, as many of the IGAD and AU nations are reluctant to send forces into the depths of the Somali conflict. Uganda, the only country to pledge troops for the force are now saying they may hold off until the security situation improves. Their Deputy Defense Minister called the lifting of the arms embargo “a first step” but said “It may be that we will think of holding off until the terrain is not so hostile for Ugandan forces.” And that the situation had changed since they first backed a peacekeeping force January 2005. Some are saying the UN’s adoption of the resolution is more a symbolic display of support for the TFG.

If or when a peacekeeping force do arrive in Somalia I suspect they will be in for a rough time. In the final comparison with Afghanistan, not the current war, now led by N.A.T.O, of which the coalition invasion would draw the same comparison’s as Iraq with Somalia’s current plight; the invasion of a Muslim country to topple a Muslim government not in the U.S interest. The earlier invasion however, when Soviet forces entered to strengthen the weak Afghan government they supported against a Mujahideen onslaught, is identical to the current situation. In that the IGAD and AU forces are entering on behalf of the UN, to protect the Somali government which they support, despite it controlling only a fraction of the country. Also identical in the level of outside support for both sides, intent on fighting a proxy war inside Somalia.

So if the examples of conflict in Somalia’s last peacekeeping mission, Iraq, Israel/Palestine and Afghanistan past and present are anything to go by. The AU and IGAD nations’ reluctance to pledge troops is understandable. And if a peacekeeping force ever does enter Somalia it won’t achieve its title aim, especially if it follows the UN mandate. Imposing Sharia law throughout Somalia by Holy War (Jihad) if necessary is central to the UIC’s Salafist ideology, force is the operative word and they will always meet it with force. And they will always have outside support from the world’s extremists.

The only way to avert all out war in the region is by reaching out to Somalia’s moderate Muslim’s with diplomacy to secure peace first, followed by an appropriate force to make sure the agreements are implemented. After a decade of war Somalian’s deserve peace. Not the U.S hijacking diplomacy to open yet another front in the War on Terror that will end in catastrophe. I’m really surprised and disappointed with the UN and the U.S’ failure to learn from their –many– mistakes.

Gaza: Shock, Awe and Uncertainty 2006

The biggest shock in operation “Autumn Clouds” was the strength of the Gaza Palestinians resolve and Israel’s response. By Liam Bailey

Operation Autumn Clouds was very similar to all Israeli operations against its Palestinian occupants in recent times. Openly disproportionate, indiscriminate against civilians, disregarding of International Law to break their enemies resolve and unsuccessful in their aims. The current truce offers hope that Israel’s leaders may have finally realized killing civilians, especially children in their droves, won’t eventually prompt the Palestinian majority -those not active in the resistance- to say enough is enough and pressure the terrorists to stop attacking Israel… Only compromise on both sides will bring peace.

A lot has happened in Gaza over the last few days… The Israeli Security Cabinet proposed expanding the Gaza offensive in a more determined effort to halt the Qassam attacks Wed. 22. There were 80 rocket attacks in the ten days before the meeting. The day after the meeting; Nov. 23 Israel rejected what was hailed as a landmark truce offer from Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib. Habib said Hamas and Fatah, as well as several smaller groups had agreed an offer to halt rocket attacks if Israel halts its Gaza offensive, in a meeting with the Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Haniyeh has since confirmed the report. An explanation for the Thursday rejection was given by Prime Minister Olmert’s spokeswoman Miri Eisin “The suggestion concerns a partial ceasefire, limited to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, in exchange for a total halt to Israeli operations on all fronts. This is not serious,” Adding, “We want to see quiet in the Gaza Strip.” Israel’s response was understandable given, that the proposed truce didn’t offer an end to suicide attacks.

According to the official Palestinian Authority (P.A) website President Mahmoud Abbas addressed Fatah officials Friday: “We do not need these rockets because they are no match for Israel’s weaponry and because they draw a violent and harsh Israeli response,” And Saturday, despite the rhetoric of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal based in Damascus, who threatened a 3rd and more violent Intifada unless Israel returned the land gained in the six day war within six months. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and P.A President Abbas were again meeting with all factions and resistance groups to discuss a new truce offer. When all groups had reached agreement to halt all attacks from Gaza –including suicide bombings- from 6:00 am Sunday (4:00am GMT) Abbas telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, late Saturday.

Abbas told Olmert “That all the Palestinian groups are committed to the agreement” and asked that Israel stop all activities in the Gaza strip and “withdraw all forces,” according to Miri Eisin Olmert’s spokeswoman. “The prime minister … told Abbas that Israel would respond favourably, as Israel was operating in the Gaza Strip in response to the violence. With the end of violence, Israel would be happy to withdraw its troops.” Eisin said. The two leaders agreed the mutual truce, which didn’t apply to the West Bank, starting from 6:00am Sunday (4:00am GMT). Israel withdrew all forces in the hours running up to the deadline and according to a spokesperson, Hamas fired its last rockets half an hour before the truce began.

The truce held Sunday, despite two early breeches; rocket attacks by Hamas’ militant wing and Islamic Jihad just hours after the agreement came into effect. The attacks were followed by announcements from the two factions that they were committed to the agreement if Israel observed it. In response to the breeches hundreds of Palestinian security force personnel were deployed to the border with Israel in order to prevent further rocket attacks and Palestinian Prime Minister, Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh voiced hope on Israel’s adherence to the agreement, calling on all factions to observe the truce. Israel showing extreme restraint meant there were no further Palestinian rocket attacks Sunday. Israel is therefore worthy of high praise because its restraint allowed the ceasefire to take hold from its shaky start.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus, softened his rhetoric Sunday in response to the strengthening truce, saying: ”if the door is sealed and the horizon is closed (for creating a Palestinian state) then we have to look for another choice.” In an interview on Egyptian television.

Israel’s actions early Monday morning, in my opinion cancelled out the praise for their restraint on Sunday, in that their West Bank raid could well have ended this excellent opportunity for peace. Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians in an overnight raid in the West Bank town of Qabatiya. One of the dead was a wanted militant affiliated with the Hamas Popular Resistance Committees; responsible for many of the rocket attacks on northern Israel. The other was a woman, shot as she tried to run off with the dead militant’s gun. The killings caused much Palestinian anger, but the feared violent response from Gaza never materialized, only two rockets were fired from the strip, three according to some reports. In a planned speech Monday afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert offered to release frozen funds and prisoners and reduce check-points if the Palestinians made a similarly serious push for peace. Olmert also said that Israel would “uproot” settlements and pull out of the West Bank as part of a final peace deal. Adding: “I hold out my hand in peace to our Palestinian neighbours in the hope that it won’t be returned empty.”

Olmert’s sudden willingness to make concessions for peace is a reflection of his plummeting popularity over the handling of the Lebanon war. And his months of overestimating the IDF power and underestimating the Gaza Palestinians resolve in two operationally massive failures.

If Israel’s latest operation, Autumn Clouds hadn’t failed so miserably in stopping the rocket attacks from Gaza, I don’t believe Olmert would have been making any such offer. When asked about the planned expansion of the operation an IDF spokesman said last week that there had been 157 rockets fired from the strip in November- attacks which killed two Israelis in Sderot. Despite the 105 Palestinians killed, according to medical staff quoted by the Palestinian maan news agency, since the operation began Nov.1. An operation total that does not tell the misery caused by the deaths of innocent civilians, like the 20 Palestinians killed, mostly children in the inerrant shelling of Beit Hanoun Nov. 8, another example of Israel’s indiscriminate use of its superior weaponry. Attacks like Beit Hanoun were meant to break the Palestinian resolve, but with images of crying fathers carrying their babies –plural- to be buried, the attacks strengthened the Palestinian’s will to resist.

Autumn Clouds was the continuance of Operation Summer Rains. Between the two, 400 Palestinians had been killed since Summer Rains began Jun 2006 as the biggest military operation in Gaza since the Israeli disengagement ended Israeli military rule in Gaza Sep. 2005. Disengagement however didn’t end the occupation as far as the Palestinians were concerned.

“Israeli troops surround Gaza, its aircraft fly over it and it has closed the crossing to Egypt” -splitting families and- “stranding hundreds of people.” “Some of those who shelled these Qassam rockets are … provoking Israel, but Israel is very much provoking them because of all kinds of occupation and terror actions against Palestinian civilians. Do not forget the Beit Hanoun massacre,” Mohamed Edwan head of the Palestinian president’s press office told World Peace Herald. Disengagement was presented as a change in Israel’s strategy toward the occupied territories, unfortunately that was as far as it went. The disproportionate violence continued, as did the Palestinian rocket attacks.

Israel fired between 7000 and 9000 heavy artillery shells into Gaza, killing 80 Palestinians in six months between its withdrawal in September 2005 and March 2006. Palestinian rocket attacks are estimated at 1000 for the same period. A further 5100 Israeli artillery rounds were fired tit for tat between the end of Mar. 2006 and the end of May 2006, with 800 Qassam rocket attacks. Operation Summer Rains was sparked off by a cross border raid Jun. 25 in which militants from several Palestinian groups, including Hamas’ military wing killed two IDF soldiers and captured Corporal Gilad Shalit.

Within hours of operation summer rains starting several Palestinian civilian population centres were targeted. Bridges were destroyed effectively splitting Gaza in two and Gaza’s only power station was destroyed leaving the population without power, in the re-processing plants this meant no clean water. Dealing with the trauma of almost constant bombardment and frequent ground force incursions, both killing many Palestinian civilians. While an international boycott of the elected Hamas government placed them in extreme poverty, combined, I believe, to leave Palestinians with only one thing; their religion to believe in, their religion to get them through.

Like Operation Autumn Clouds, Operation Summer Rains failed to achieve its aims of ending the frequent Qassam rocket attacks launched against Israel from the Gaza strip, and freeing captured Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit. The rocket attacks continuing, –before the truce- despite Israel’s increasing retaliation, for me, was a sign that the operations, like all Israel’s disproportionate actions in the last 20 years, were not diminishing the Palestinians resolve. So, perhaps Olmert has finally realized that Israel could send every IDF soldier into Gaza, under the heaviest bombardment and artillery shelling of the conflict and the Gazan’s resolve would remain intact. Rockets would still land in Israel. The Palestinians would still fight by whatever means available for the return of their holy land. The right of their brothers, descendants of those cruelly expelled by Israel 1948-49 to return to an independent Palestinian state. And to ensure that the thousands killed in the decades of conflict haven’t died in vain.

According to Ghazi Hamad, a PA spokesman, Hamas’ response to Olmert’s speech Monday was “This is a conspiracy. This is a new manoeuvre. Olmert is speaking about the Palestinian state without giving details about the borders.”

During his Monday afternoon speech Olmert also said that in return for his concessions, Palestinians would have to “renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to live in peace and security and give up their demands to allow refugees from the 1948 Mideast War to return to their homes in what is now Israel.” Hamad responded: “The Palestinians cannot give up on the issue of the refugees. It is something approved by U.N. resolutions and it is a main part of the Palestinian cause.” The same stumbling blocks, -official borders and right of return- that have effectively ended all previous efforts for peace.

There will be no peace in the Middle East till Israel is ready to compromise and make firm commitments about Palestinian state borders. Firmly committing to returning the land it gained in the 1967 six day war would certainly be a step in the right direction. If Israel did this perhaps the Palestinians would in return compromise on some of the terms of the right to return, i.e. only direct descendants of those expelled in 1948-49 would have the right and only returning to the Palestinian state. Israel can’t grant full right of return while maintaining a Jewish state, because of the predicted influx of Arabs into Israel. A recent poll however, suggested most Palestinians wouldn’t return to Israel; only to an independent Palestinian state, if that can ever be established.

As I detailed in my last article, Israel currently has no incentive to make any sort of compromise. Only the UN, which –largely because of the U.S- has failed miserably in the past, can motivate Israel into such a compromise, but only along with a change in U.S policy towards the Jewish state. I have come to believe a new resolution ordering Israel to return the land taken in the 1967 war. Create an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as most of the Palestinian militant groups call for. And allow Palestinians directly descended to those expelled in the 1948 war to return and live peacefully in the newly formed Palestinian state. Along with a U.S threat to stop acting as a shield, financially and militarily unless Israel follows the resolution to the letter. Is possibly the only way to achieve a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

An earlier version of this article was published by Arabic Media Internet Network and OhmyNews International.

Does U.S Support Prevent Israel from Commiting to Peace?

Peace Between Israelis and Palestinians… By Liam BaileyThe United Nations General Assembly finally passed a resolution condemning Israel for killing 19 civilians in an artillery attack on Beit Hanoun. The resolution put forward by Qatar and other Arab UN member states was passed Nov. 17 2006, 9 days after the errant shells that were so costly to civilian life.

Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman walked out after saying the “one-sided” resolution lends a hand to terror and that he would be better holding a press conference down the road. Despite this and similar criticism from U.S ambassador John Bolton the resolution was overwhelmingly passed, with 156 of the 192 member General Assembly members accepting the resolution’s “tweaked” wording. Seven rejected the resolution and there were six abstentions. The General Assembly has none of the powers of the Security Council, such as imposing sanctions or possibly even authorizing a UN peacekeeping force. As such the resolution is little more than rhetorical condemnation.

Practically the same resolution was presented to the Security Council, again by Qatar and other Arab member states, calling for an end to the violence on both sides. The U.S vetoed the resolution, with Bolton calling it “unbalanced,” “biased against Israel,” and “politically motivated.” If such wanton death or excessive (collective) punishment were being inflicted on a civilian population by any other country than Israel, I personally believe a U.N. security council resolution would have long since been passed trying to put a stop to the violence. This suggests that the U.S. supports Israel’s actions unquestioningly.

This support is also visible in U.S financial aid to Israel, which, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, using Congressional research figures [PDF] from 2005 has been between US$1.7 billion and US$4.9 billion per year since 1976, with varying amounts going straight back into the U.S. buying advanced weapons and military technology. The same CRS report, cited on the Jewish Virtual Library estimated U.S aid to Israel for 2006 as U.S$2.56 billion: a U.S$2.28 billion military grant, 240 million economic grant and a 40 million dollar grant for the resettlement of Jewish refugees.

In the current climate Israel is seen by the U.S. a staunch ally in the War on Terror, Bush and Olmert standing side by side in the face of Islamic extremist terrorism.

Comparing the violent acts of the Hamas militant wing and the many other Palestinian militant groups resisting the occupation to the indiscriminate and unnecessary terror that Al Qaeda and similar groups are inflicting on the world is not only a big mistake, but is also the reason that the biggest obstacle to Middle East peace is the lack of Israeli commitment to that goal.

Ahdaf Soueif, who writes on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for the Guardian and Eyal Weisman, architect and prominent Middle East liberal writer both share my views on Israel’s commitment, I asked them both this question by e-mail:

Do you think the lack of Israeli commitment over the decades has been a major factor in the failure to resolve the conflict?

Both answered: “Yes”

Eyal Weizman is currently lecturing at Goldsmith’s college London, part of his lecture is on his forthcoming book Hollow Land, to be published in 2007 by Verso. The book includes the following excerpt:

“The chief of staff of the Israeli armed forces, Dan Halutz, confirms that the Israeli army sees the conflict as “unresolvable”. It has “geared itself to operate within an environment saturated with conflict and within a future of permanent violence … it sees itself acting just under the threshold of international sanctions … keeping the conflict on a flame low enough for Israeli society to be able to live and prosper within it.”

So, there you have it, Israel’s leadership doesn’t want peace. Israel’s UN ambassador also said before walking out of the General Assembly meeting on the shelling of Beit Hanoun, that the debate offered the Hamas government no incentive to renounce their ways of terror. Let’s look at incentives…

Since suicide bomb attacks effectively ceased with the erection of the separating wall, Israeli civilians have been relatively safe in the conflict. Although the Qassam rockets fired regularly from the Gaza strip by Palestinian militants are extremely disturbing and regularly cause damage to property, the thousands fired have killed nine Israeli’s this year. An Amnesty U.S.A total of 20 Israeli’s killed by Palestinian armed groups this year, is a stark contrast to the 240 Palestinians killed by Israel in the same period.

Therefore all Palestinians, including the Hamas government have one big incentive for renouncing terror and seeking peace: the heavy civilian death toll of every upsurge in Israeli retaliation. The Israeli leadership has no such incentive.

As I said Israel has received heavy financial aid from its U.S allies throughout its decades of conflict with its Palestinian occupants. Israeli leaders must wonder therefore whether achieving a sustainable peace in the on-going conflict would result in U.S aid being reduced. This is an incentive for Israel to keep the conflict going.

I also said that the latest U.S veto suggested that Israel enjoys unquestioned U.S support in the UN, which has a history of speaking the truth about Israeli actions. Add the latest veto to the 40 resolutions critical of Israel vetoed by the U.S since 1972 and it becomes clear just how unquestioning the U.S’ support for Israel’s military actions is. Therefore, whether I am right that Israel isn’t fully committed to peace, for whatever reason, or not, this unquestioning support from the U.S would certainly allow them to suppress the Palestinians sufficiently, as -Dan Halutz- suggests, to make such a policy viable.

Therefore if we are to see peace in the Middle East, the U.S has to change its attitude towards Israel. I believe if the U.S. stopped its unquestioning support of Israel in the U.N., perhaps allowing resolutions and possibly even sanctions against the Jewish state, alongside an ultimatum of cutting U.S. aid unless Israel’s leadership commits fully to achieving a sustainable peace with their Palestinian neighbours — firstly by sticking to promises and adhering to past resolutions, possibly by making more concessions, and certainly by being more willing to compromise — Israel’s leadership would become far more committed to peace. I put this to Ahdaf Soueif and Eyal Weisman:

Do you think Israel would be more committed to peace if the U.S allowed resolutions against Israel and threatened to withdraw U.S aid if Israel doesn’t make more concessions to achieve sustainable peace with the Palestinians?

Again, both answered: “Yes”

As the lack of commitment by Israel’s leadership has been such a factor in the failure to resolve the conflict. I believe such increased commitment by Israel would greatly increase the chances of sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians. If this was followed by an international peace conference as is currently being talked about who knows, there could finally be a lasting peace in the Middle East.

This article was published by OhmyNews International and Arabic Media Internet Network

Islamic Terror Rife in UK

The government’s actions have turned moderates into extremists.

By Liam Bailey

Head of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller shocked Britain Nov. 10 2006 when she announced that MI5 were tracking around 30 “priority one” terror plots in the UK involving 200 groups comprising of some 1600 dangerous extremists, mostly British born and linked to Al Qaeda. She also said that she believed in the not too distant future the threat could be from chemical or nuclear attacks. Adding that “martyrdom” videos showed that extremists were clearly motivated by their interpretation of U.K foreign policy as Anti-Muslim, “in particular the U.K’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan”.A video of one of the 7/7 bombers, released shortly after the attacks stated only the Iraq war as a reason for the attacks, this is because even Muslim’s can see the reasoning behind the Afghanistan invasion, given the carnage of 9/11 and the strong links between the perpetrators and terrorism central Afghanistan.

The media made a mockery of the justification for the Iraq war, illuminating the “sexed up dossier” and 45 minute strike lie, leaving Muslim’s to wonder at the true reason for obliterating Muslim land.

So when the U.K under Blair went ahead with its part in the Iraq war, despite the millions of people, including many Muslim’s protesting before the event, this caused many British Muslim’s, mainly the young to rebel against our way of life; creating an element of separatism within our Muslim communities.  

Blair and Bush’s actions before the Iraq war, like Gauntanamo bay displaying severe discrimination against Muslim’s, guilty (and tortured to admit it) until proven innocent under the watch of two supposedly democratic governments. Gauntanamo Bay was also responsible for showing Muslim’s and non-Muslim’s that the U.S and U.K governments clearly felt it was okay to treat Muslim’s as second class citizens, not entitled to the same basic rights as non-Muslim’s, such as innocent until proven guilty and the right to legal counsel, or the Geneva convention preventing torture.  This laid the foundations for the separatism the Iraq war created.

As a dispatches survey in July/Aug 2006 found that the separatism is young Muslims, alienated and disillusioned by British foreign policy, focusing on their religion and becoming devout Muslim’s, in that they stop enjoying western comforts and past-times. I believe their drifting away from their British roots and British friends makes them ripe for radicalization as Eliza Manningham-Buller said “by friends, families or organised training events in Britain and abroad.”

The 7/7 bombings, an unintended consequence therefore of the UK’s support Gauntanamo bay, and involvement in the Iraq war brought the War on Terror to UK shores, leading to heightened security in the capital and increased pressure on the intelligence services.
Religious discrimination against Muslims increased after the July 7 attacks, which also showed, long before the MI5 chief’s announcement, that the increasing separatism within our Muslim communities, particularly among the young, can easily turn into extremism and “home-grown” terrorism. This increased the demonization, discrimination and persecution of Muslims, which in turn increased Muslim separatism, and the vicious cycle began.

The MI5 chief also said that the number of plots had increased by 80% since January, this can’t be directly put down to Afghanistan, Gauntanamo or Iraq, but their triggering 7/7 and the heightened pressure on the government and intelligence services led to intelligence mistakes, homeland security policy and foreign policy that can account for such a staggering increase. The first, an intelligence and police mistake was the Forest Gate raid.

The Forest Gate raid angered Muslim’s, initially because of the shooting, the unnecessary level of force/officers (250) and the almost immediate suspicions in the media that the raid was launched on flimsy intelligence. Subsequent stories unfolded in the coming days, revealing the raid was launched on the flimsiest of uncorroborated intelligence, from –according to his own barrister- an “utter incompetent”. Serving a sentence under the terrorism act 2000, Abu Bakr Mansha reportedly gave the information in return for a transfer to a more lenient prison.  Blair’s support for Gauntanamo and the Forest Gate raid also showed Muslim and non-Muslim Britain that (Blair) the UK government felt that the current massive problem of terrorism being carried out by Muslims, gave them the right to openly discriminate against and persecute Muslim’s, this further demonized the Muslim community and fuelled the vicious cycle of discrimination and separatism. 

The 7/7 bombings also enabled the government to pass new terror legislation: The Terrorism Act 2006.

The changing or expansion of the definition of terrorism, and the inclusion of “glorification of terrorism” as a charge in the Terrorism Act 2006 worried civil liberties campaigners, who feared anyone campaigning against the government could be accused of glorifying terrorism and therefore arrested.   The new laws and police powers, especially longer detention of terror suspects; extended to 28 days without charge and extended stop and search and interception powers –surveillance, phone taps and room bugs- have and are causing anger within the British Muslim community.  Even the governments information commissioner fears that Britain has become a surveillance society.

Muslim’s, especially the young have been complaining about increased persecution by the police since before the 7/7 attacks, especially the stop and search powers of the Terrorism Act 2000 being used excessively and disproportionately against them. As I have said the 7/7 attacks increased pressure on the police, so the extension of stop and search powers in the new bill -mid 2006- meant even more young Muslim’s were being stopped and searched, devout Muslim’s with the stereotypical Islamist look –like Osama Bin Laden- were increasingly targeted by police. This isn’t entirely the police’s fault, potential terrorists are likely to be Muslim, but under the new laws, stopping and searching the same individuals or groups is doing more harm than good.

The police’s best chance in the fight against terrorism comes from regular, reliable intelligence from within the Muslim community, continuing to demonize, create the impression of discrimination, and Blair’s comments after Forest Gate that more similar raids were likely; practically saying that stopping another attack is more important than the obvious mistreatment and shooting of a subsequently innocent –second class citizen-Muslim, decreases the chances of obtaining said intelligence and therefore of successfully fighting terror.

The Israel/Lebanon conflict was another possible turning point between growing levels of Muslim separation and the current heightened threat from extremism/terrorism or as Eliza Mannigham-Buller put it between “passive sympathy” and “active terrorism.” 

Blair’s handling of the Israel/Lebanon conflict again showed double standards and discrimination against Muslim’s, in that he and Bush condemned Hezbollah killing civilians in rocket attacks but allowed Israel to continue indiscriminately killing Lebanese Muslim’s. Even as most other world leaders were calling for an immediate ceasefire. Some Muslim’s must have thought the only way to stop Israeli bombardment was for Hezbollah to defeat Israel, leading to many Muslim’s in the Middle East taking up arms in Jihad and going to Lebanon to fight.

I’m sure many of Britain’s young Muslim’s were also angered by the heavy civilian death toll and with vivid images in every news report like the 34 children killed in Qana may quite possibly have radicalized some young Muslim’s in Britain and around the world, saving the terror networks and radical clerics a job. Undoubtedly, Blair’s support for such carnage increased the separatism among British Muslim communities, leaving yet more young Muslim’s ripe for radicalization and more worryingly with so many Jihad video’s just one Google away, possibly some actively seeking out terror networks to join.

Jack Straw’s –publicity stunt- comments that Muslim women wearing the veil was a barrier to communication and would hinder the integration of Muslim communities. Also adding that he felt all Muslim women should voluntarily remove their veils. The debate they provoked brought support for his remarks from several other prominent government ministers. Shadow Home Secretary David Davis feared the veil was creating a voluntary apartheid. As I wrote in a previous article, Jack Straw’s comments and those supporting them could eventually lead to government sanctioned apartheid, by denying Muslim women the same rights as everyone else, to wear what they want in a “free” country. As the first Muslim peer Lord Ahmed said this added to the demonization of and discrimination against U.K Muslims coming from the top of government down, this again increased the separatism making terror networks and radical cleric’s job of recruitment far easier.

So, in attempting to stop another 7/7, the UK government, police and intelligence services’ actions have demonized Muslim’s and gave the impression that, given this new threat, persecution of Muslim’s is okay. Every action that did this increased the feeling of separatism within young U.K Muslims. As 7/7 and The MI5 chief’s announcement showed, this separatism has been increasingly turned into extremism by the radical clerics and terror groups. Therefore, because of the government’s ill-thought out actions, especially those since January the U.K now faces an incredible threat from “home-grown” Islamic terrorism.

This article was published by OhmyNews 3 days ago. I predicted the terror threat MI5 warned of just after the Airline bomb plot in August this year.

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