At dusk or at dawn, on the horizon in formation of divisions over the Occupied Palestinian Territories' skyline always lie the brazen and driven Israel military. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF), is not only, in the background, but continually, forces itself to the forefront of coordinating conditions on the ground, air and sea of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Left:: Three thousand rifles, bullet proof vests and additional equipment was delivered to FATAH forces. Israel allowed the entry of four Jordanian trucks — with nine more truck loads expected — carrying Kalashnikovs and other rifles, along with hundreds of thousands of bullets and ammunition.
While Israel has been talking peace with Abbas, tensions in Gaza have been rising. Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, was expected Thursday to give final approval for a plan to cut electricity to Gaza every time Palestinian militants fire rockets into Israel.
The punishment would begin with short cutoffs of 15 minutes, then increase in length if more rockets fall. Israel hopes the sanctions will build pressure on militants to halt their near-daily rocket attacks on southern Israel. It remains unclear when the sanctions would go into effect.
Despite the Israeli threats, Palestinians fired two rockets into southern Israel Thursday morning, the military said. No damage or casualties were reported.
Israel provides more than half of Gaza's electricity, so any cutoff would add to the misery in the impoverished coastal area. However, the cuts would not result in a total blackout.
Left: A mock-up of a Qassam rocket is seen as Palestinian supporters of Hamas gather during a rally marking the 19th anniversary of the founding of the group in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, Friday, Dec. 15, 2006. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)
Members of the international community, including U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, have condemned the Israeli plan as unfair collective punishment.
But with its military unable to stop the crude projectiles,
Israel says it is running out of options to deal with the rocket fire. Barak has said a large ground offensive into Gaza — something Israel has tried to avoid — will likely be necessary at some point.
Israel's government last month declared Gaza a "hostile territory," clearing the way for Israel to impose the sanctions. However, it is unclear what effect an Israeli cutoff of power would have on Gazans, who already suffer frequent electricity shortages. Many buildings have backup generators.
In other news from the occupied territories, Palestinians fired at least ten Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip at targets in Israel, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported. One rocket struck an apartment building in the town of Sderot, resulting in several people suffering shock.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told a joint news conference with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta Monday he was confident the Middle East crisis would be solved by the end of 2008.
How can an unpopular US president who will be out of office in just over a year orchestrate Middle East peace? And especially when the Palestinian nation is both physically and ideologically divided, and the Israeli leadership mired under investigations for corruption inspires little other than scorn.
Certainly, the main players are dutifully going through the motions. And at the end of next month there will be a major powwow in Maryland, which few seriously believe will produce anything at all other than a flimsy statement of intent.
Moreover, the Israeli military has just seized 270 hectares of Palestinian land to build a road that would force Palestinian traffic east of a wall around the large Jewish colony of Maale Adumim, thus cutting off the West Bank from East Jerusalem. These are not the actions of a country seriously courting a peace treaty.
One has to wonder why the US and Israel have studiously ignored the Arab Peace Initiative, which has been on the table since it was first introduced by Saudi Arabia and agreed-upon by all 22 Arab League members in 2002. The proposal offers normalization of relations between the Arab world and Israel in exchange for Israel's pullback behind its 1967 borders and a just solution for Palestinian refugees. It is worth noting, too, that the Saudi official news agency reported that Iran also backed the plan.
Instead, the US and Israel prefer to engage in half-hearted symbolic measures such as the proposed Peace conference, which has little hope of achieving anything except photo-ops and vague promises. A delay tactic to allow Israel more room to carve more of its so-called Samaria and Judea cutting down some Palestinian lives in the procession of the process.
In the meantime, Palestinians continue to suffer withing the confines of the Israeli occupation. Moreover, the refugees displaced by the creation of Israel and the subsequent wars it has initiated remain in a state of intrepid limbo. A recent report by Amnesty International highlights the plight of Lebanon's estimated 300,000 Palestinian refugees, and calls on the Lebanese government to clean up its act and lift the restrictions that exclude them from access to work, housing, healthcare and education. The report is just the latest in a run of documents chronicling the growing humanitarian crisis facing Palestinians in the Middle East. Palestinians refugees face harrowing conditions in Iraq, Jordan and Syria. There are 1,827,877 refugees in Jordan, some 404,170 in Lebanon, the count in Syria is 432, 048 refugees. There are also, 1,685,851 Palestinians in the occupied territories living in squalor conditions in refugee camps.
Left: Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
According to Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians will boycott the conference unless a deal is reached with Israel on the issues of Jerusalem, water and borders. "Without a clear agreement on these issues, we won't go to the conference," he said.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for the PA leadership in Ramallah, called on the US to exert pressure on Israel to accept the Palestinian preconditions for attending the conference.They also warned that the conference would deepen divisions among the Palestinians and urged the Arabs and Muslims to boycott it. If a deal were to be reached it would be negotiated without Hamas therefore, would not enjoy the assent of all of the Palestinian people through their representatives.
"The US must move from rhetoric to action," he said. "The time has come to put pressure on Israel to agree to a detailed document about the final status issues before the conference."
Abu Rudaineh also said the Palestinians would boycott the conference unless an agreement is reached with Israel on all the core issues.
"Israel is avoiding serious negotiations to strike a deal before the conference," he said. "Israel has launched a military and rhetorical offensive aimed at poisoning the atmosphere because they don't want to tackle the final status issues."
In Gaza City, representatives of various Palestinian factions said the conference was doomed to failure because of the PA leadership's "weakness" and Israel's "intransigence."
"The Palestinian Authority is too weak to sign a deal with Israel," said Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar. "The conference will fail and this will have serious consequences on the situation in the region."
While Mahmoud Abbas is publicly optimistic about the US peace conference Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, at a joint conference with British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, stated that the conference would present no more than an atmosphere building endeavor. He said it would merely, set the stage for future conferences.
"Annapolis will not provide a solution but it will set the direction. It therefore will not be a negotiating process because we will continue the direct negotiations between us and the Palestinians as was agreed between us and them all along the way, but it will help create the necessary international environment which is of great possible consequence."Moreover, two rightist Israeli ministers, Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu and Eli Yishai of Shas, have threatened to take their parties out of the government if the conference, due to convene in late November or December, or whenever tackles final-status issues such as borders, Jerusalem and the refugees.
Their hostility makes Rice's enthusiasm all the more bizarre. One must reluctantly, begin to believe she must be genuine, if so many Israeli politicians are nervous and set against the summit.
Elsewhere in Europe, Ehud Olmert met with French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who hosted the Israeli Prime Minister at the Elysee Palace, where he expressed strong support for Israel, describing its establishment as "a miracle" and "the most significant event of the 20th century."
One may surmise that events such as space exploration, the detonation of nuclear weapons on civilian centers, the demise of the USSR, among many other examples do not compare in importance according to Mr. Sarkozy's world-view.
"They say that I support Israel because my grandfather was Jewish, but this isn't a personal matter," he continued, according to the Israeli sources. "Israel introduces diversity and democracy to the Middle East. It's a miracle that out of the remnants of the ... scattered Jewish people, such a state has arisen."
"It is not reasonable for the Palestinians to demand both an independent state and also the refugees' return to the state of Israel, which even today has a minority of one million Arabs."
"Israel's security is a clear red line, which is not up for negotiation," he added. "That is an inviolable condition, which we will never concede."
Sarkozy's spokesman said that "the minute Israel's security is assured, it will be possible to display creativity toward the Palestinians."When will Israel ever be safe? The Jewish state has been using the "security card" for 60 years now confounding every attempt and dispelling every wish to finally, settle the middle east conflict.
The US Jewish Lobby and other Jewish philanthropic organizations are not shy about their opposition to the peace conference to be held in November in Maryland. Anti-Defamation League leader, Abraham Foxman, has conveyed his fears about the upcoming Middle East peace summit in Annapolis, Md. Mr. Foxman forecasts the summit would fail — and possibly lead to violence.
That stance, almost universal among mainstream pro-Israel groups, comes as peace process opponents mount a well-financed campaign to undermine public support for the conference, both here and in Israel. The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is buying full-page ads in The New York Times critical of Palestinian leader Abbas, which ultimately, undermines the scheduled summit. While both, Jewish and non-Jewish pro-peace groups just do not have those kinds of resources to help mold public perception of the issues.
Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), said that while his group supports the broad goals of the conference, it is not planning a "public campaign" because "there are still so many open questions about what’s going to happen, and even if it’s going to happen."
At a recent conference held by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy — a think tank known for its pro-Israel views and for its predominantly Jewish board — brought together Americans, Israelis and Arabs to a serene Northern Virginia resort. The State Department officials who attended the discussions were provided with a clear message to take back to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: No need to rush into a peace conference.
"If not November, let it be December. And if not December, let it be January," said Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University.Yes, we are too familiar with this line of stratagem: If not 1947, then 1948, well 1956, no wait, 1967, hey 1973 is the year, 1978, so on into the annals of delay and procrastination by Israel and her enablers in the west who have never wanted a peace treaty.
What the US administration is now calling a "meeting," rather than a peace conference, in Annapolis, Maryland, has elicited a unanimity unheard of in the Middle East. From the heroes of Hamas to the lions of Likud, there is a rare consensus: Annapolis is doomed to failure. Keeping in step with the erratic nature of peace in the middle east, the date for the event is already slipping. Once penciled in for November 26, it is now scheduled only for some time "before the end of the year."
What is really at the heart of this benevolent proposal from the Bush Administration when they have sat idly by for 7 years while Israel continued to expand and encroach on Palestine? Bush administration policy has engineered this entire escapade — they are the casting director and have confirmed the main actors and supporting cast. Hamas controlling Gaza has allowed the US to stick to its long-held policy of static stasis, but now they have the veneer of legitimacy provided by a leap of faith that negotiating with an ["Islamist"] 'terrorist' group is a non-starter. Why bother?
The "Peace Summit" provides a welcome side-show for Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and the State Department to become embroiled in shuttle diplomacy. The ineffectual news conferences and meetings across borders only saps the energy and political capital of the moderate wing of the administration. While Vice President, Richard Cheney, the neo-con hawks and the DOD can always point to this utter failure and call for a focused approach on the true source of instability — Iran. It will be pointed that Iran is the supporter of this terrible cabal in Gaza, but also the nurturers of Hizballah in Lebanon, and the linchpin within "Islamism," and the key to defeating 'Islamofascism.'
Ramzy Baroud at KaleejTimes asks whether the Middle East peace conference proposed by the Bush administration is not a clear smokescreen, aimed at concealing the true intentions of US foreign policy in the region. Mr. Baroud writes:
The ultimate goal of this charade is not even so much to isolate Hamas, but rather to set in motion events that will further isolate Iran and Syria.Iran is becoming the key component in the designs of Israeli regional hegemomy and toward a global machine of US dominance. Iran is disfavored because she has supported independence movements in the region and elsewhere.
The significance of the anti-Iran campaign already underway in the US should not be missed in light of the conference next month. The media circus demonizing Iran was unleashed a few years ago, when leading neo- conservatives, notwithstanding Richard Perle himself, went on accusing President Bush, some of his advisors and military generals of being ‘stupid’ for failing to recognise the threat posed by Iran.
The US has repeatedly accused Iran of destabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, blaming the Revolutionary Guards for funding, supplying and training insurgents.
Mr. Baroud continues:
Since Israel [has been laden] with nuclear warheads and missile technology [for more than 45 years] capable of delivering them wherever intended, it is only reasonable to assume that Israel wishes to ensure that it remains the sole holder of such lethal power. However, Israel is also wary of Iran’s regional influence; without it Hizballah could not have forced Israel to abandon its plans in Lebanon — aimed at controlling the country via proxy and toppling the Syrian regime. Moreover, both Iran and Syria have proved of tremendous value to Hamas’ survival. The former has provided Hamas with immense financial resources, and the latter has provided the movement with a political platform. Without Teheran and Damascus, it would have been impossible for Hamas — or the other Palestinian groups whose policies are not consistent with Tel Aviv or Washington — to continue to exist outside the Occupied Territories and Israeli prisons for so long and against all odds.Alas, the show goes on, on ... and on, only the cast has changed over these past decades. The wealthy and influential producers of the Middle East Peace Process hope that the audience will actually believe what they are viewing on the political stage. Whether performed in Madrid, Oslo, London, Washington, Riyadh, or Camp David, one can only hope for a viewing in one's home city. This is a never ending story with great revenue sharing potential, which has been teasing us with an interminable cliff hanger that adheres to a predestined plot caused by a century of western- supported Zionist scripts in Palestine. The advertisers and sponsors will most likely, pull their funding if the show ever dares to alter the narrative or ever intimated a summation or an ending.
The peace conference is, in fact, the delineation of all of these sub-plots and majestic machinations. The summit will provide the media with opportunities to inculcate public opinion with half-truths and twisted facts regarding those standing for peace and those considered obstruent obstacle that must be devoiced for peace: obstacles that can seemingly be removed through pre-emptive violence, thus forming a new case for a new war — Iran.