Will new Israeli settlements be a deal breaker for a two-state solution?

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | NOVEMBER 5, 2012

Who would have thought that an abandoned territory in the outskirts of a population center could turn into an obstacle for peace. The thing is, when war is profitable — it always is — and the profiteers keep their eyes on the cash prize, anything can be a deal breaker in a peace negotiation. This is the case of the conflict between Israeli leadership and Palestine.

The terrorist government of Israel has shown it has no intention of pursuing a solution to the war it now wages against mostly unarmed Arabs on the Gaza Strip, West Bank and pretty much everywhere else in the Middle East. In retaliation for the successful acceptance of Palestine as an Observer member state of the UN Security Council, Benjamin Netanyahu not only withheld tax money from the Palestinians, but also mandated that new settlements be built on the E-1 zone.

E-1 is mostly a wasteland overlooking the Dead Sea,  but in political terms it is a treasure for Israel because by ordering the construction of settlements on E-1 the government of Israel will maintain alive the conflict with Palestine while it plays possum and acts as the victim of aggression. But Israel’s allies have had it already and even some European nations which have traditionally thrown their support behind Israel are now out of patience. The equation has changed variables as the European Parliament voted almost unanimously to support Palestine as a UN Observer member state, which raised even more tensions between Israel and European countries.

Because E-1 is a proposed colony of Israel and because Netanyahu strongly pledged to speed up the construction of new settlements on that area, some Western chancelleries declared that this action might be the final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution, which should result in the creation of a Palestinian state living next to Israel. Because of its strategic location, if Israel ends building in E-1, the West Bank would split almost in two, making it impossible to have a contiguous future Palestinian State.

Israel announced that it has begun preliminary work to build in this area now, although plans have existed for decades. The Israelis have deliberately pronounced the word taboo, “E-1”. Apart from announcing the construction of 3,000 new housing units in occupied territory, the Israeli government touched another sensitive nerve in the political arena, making it clear to the world that it does not recognize the Palestinians as an Observer state at the UN.

E-1 is reached by road from Jerusalem to Jericho. A detour leads to a long slope, ending at the top of one of the classic cobblestone West Bank hills. An Israeli police station is right at the top of the mount. It is the only building in an area that otherwise is ready for development.

The road uphill, which has up to three lanes, is riddled with roundabouts that lead nowhere, but new streets will certainly originate as soon as the official order to build is given. There are street lights, electricity and running water. Everything is in place. Next to the police station, there is a small gazebo with an explanatory panel signed by several Israeli parliament members, who visited the area three years ago. The panels cite part of a biblical text that promises to build the settlements. “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

E-1 has an area of 12 square kilometers, most of them privately owned by Palestinians. In addition to some geostrategic issues, urbanization will force the expulsion of 11,000 Bedouin people who barely survive in the semi-desert enclave in Ir Amim. From E-1 it is possible to see East Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and up to Jordan. Opposite, it is possible to see Maale Adumim, one of the largest West Bank settlements that is home to about 40,000 Israelis and that would be the population center charge of hosting the controversial expansion of municipal limits. The development of E-1 is one of the great ambitions of the mayor of Maale Adumim, a member of the Likud government, who intends to take the settlements to the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Amir Chesin has lived in Maale Adumim for almost 30 years, but he does not agree with the Israeli plans to extend the settlements. He says that most Israeli people are excited about the expansion of the settlements and that many of them are becoming extreme right wingers. That is why he is actively looking to move elsewhere.

Israeli government sources explained that the idea to build in E-1 is nothing new. That is a project that dates back to the nineties, the time of then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the idea is still the same as then. Since the idea was born 20 years ago, settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have continued to grow, to form a cordon around the Holy City.

The Israeli government has also decided to accelerate the plan to build 1,700 housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in East Jerusalem, according to the newspaper Haaretz, this move comes in response to the UN vote. The planning and building committee of the city will examine the plan in two weeks time.

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Israel Withholds Palestinian Money and will build more settlements in retaliation for UN vote

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | DECEMBER 3, 2012

The Israeli government wants to make clear that the overwhelming recognition of the international community to the Palestinians at the UN is not going to be free. The government led by Arab hater Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the construction of some 3,000 homes in Palestinian occupied territory immediately after the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of Palestine being an Observer member. Netanyahu said that the vote meant nothing and that the insistence by the Palestinian Authority to be recognized as a State by the U.N. would not favor a peace process. However, Israel was fast to react taking retaliation against Palestinians. In addition to the construction of the new settlements, Israel has now withheld millions in Palestinian funds which are used to run the economy in Gaza.

Israel decided to confiscate about 92 million euros, corresponding to the monthly fee transferred to the Palestinians in taxes collected and that the Ramallah government uses to pay salaries to civil servants. This amount is crucial for the functioning of the weak Palestinian economy.

The government of Benjamin Netanyahu announced that it will use the money to pay a debt that the Palestinian Authority has with an Israeli power company. The monthly transfer of taxes is part of the so-called Paris Agreements, which govern economic relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Last year, while  marking the entry of the Palestinians into UNESCO, the Organization for Education and Culture of the United Nations, Israel cut these transfers, only to resume their payments days later. Now, however, it seems the money will not make its way into Palestine, as Israel decided to keep it all.

The new punishment has not yet exalted provoked reactions from Palestinians, who said they knew there would be retaliation, mainly because they walk drunk after the latest diplomatic triumph. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived Sunday in Ramallah, where the crowd welcomed him with honors only given to national heroes.

“Now we are a state,” Abbas told thousands of Palestinians who came to meet him at the presidential palace, as recorded by the Palestinian news agency Maan. “The world is with us and history is with us. God is with us and the future is ours, “Abbas continued.

The Palestinian president has not yet announced what the next steps will be after obtaining the implicit recognition and binding status of the Palestinian state at the UN. The leaders of the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine have explained in recent days that depending on the political climate they will decide when and which UN organizations they will seek membership. The most important step, which is the one Israel fears most, is that the Palestinians become part of the International Criminal Court, a body which they say, Palestine could denounce alleged Israeli war crimes.

Meanwhile, across the Green Line in Israel, as ministers gathered every Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed them with a defiant tone, with which he announced that Israel intends to ignore the warnings that come from outside, including from Washington. “The response to the attack on Zionism and the State of Israel must strengthen and emphasize the implementation of the settlement plan in all areas where the government decides,” he said, paraphrasing the former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

As if Netanyahu had left any doubt, he added: “Today we are building and will continue to build in Jerusalem and in all areas on the map that are strategic to the interests of the State of Israel”. On Friday, after meeting Israeli plans to accelerate the expansion of settlements, the White House issued a statement calling the  decision counterproductive. Besides increasing the number of homes by 3,000, the Israelis announced they would begin mapping E-1, an area on the outskirts of Jerusalem, where if built, new settlements would split the territorial continuity between the northern and southern of the West Bank.

That is a decision that would absolutely kill the two-state solution, which includes the creation of a Palestinian State. Washington is resolutely opposed to any Israeli urban development in this area. The challenge takes place seven weeks before the general election and in a moment of total rearrangement of the Israeli political map. The main formations have held primaries. In the Likud, Netanyahu’s party has won by a landslide.

Meanwhile, Ehud Barak, the current defense minister and close ally of Netanyahu announced that he is leaving politics. The big news however came from the hand of Tzipi Livni, former foreign minister, who has decided to form a new party, which has dragged some leaders of the centrist Kadima.

He has also convinced the charismatic Labour leader Amram Mitzna, whose political priority is to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. The hangover from the adoption of the UN resolution that elevated the status of Palestinian non-member observer state has not only demonstrated the increasing isolation of the current Israeli government, but also that Netanyahu will do whatever it takes to stay in power. That includes initiating flash wars, murdering Palestinian leaders and strangling the Arab population on the Gaza Strip in order to have his way.

Unfortunately for Netanyahu, opposition to his actions are not only coming from the US and the Arab world. The Governments of the United Kingdom, France and Sweden also showed their disappointment with the latest round of retaliation and have publicly protested the Israeli government’s decision to initiate the first steps to build the so-called E-1 area. Now even Germany has expressed its preoccupation for Netanyahu’s attempt to prolong the conflict between the governments of Israel and Palestine. Israeli ambassadors in France, Berlin and the UK have officially been called by the governments of those nations to explain what exactly is Netanyahu after with his latest actions.

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U.N. will vote for Palestinian, Israeli States based on 1967 Borders

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | NOVEMBER 29, 2012

The resolution that, in all likelihood, will be approved Thursday by the United Nations General Assembly, includes a recognition of the right of Palestinians to a state on the 1967 borders. According to the draft that was circulated in the hours before the vote, it would be the same territory that was suggested in previous peace negotiations with Israel that found no support from the Jewish representatives. This time however, the nation led by Benjamin Netanyahu may not have many options to pick from. Despite the fact the country is in a delicate diplomatic situation while its people await the next election, its government seems less receptive than ever to talk.

The UN vote will certainly be a moral victory for the Palestinian Authority. His representative in this international organization, Riyad Mansour, has predicted that the resolution to be introduced Thursday and that is sponsored by about 60 countries, will get overwhelming support. “I think most of the nations vote with us because there is an international consensus on the two-state solution,” said.

The Palestinians believe that they have at least 150 votes of the 193 member countries of the General Assembly, which would raise immediately the level of its representation of observant entity to “non-member State observer”, the same status awarded to the Vatican. “Without prejudice”, as stated in the draft resolution, “acquired rights, privileges and role of the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine and the representative of the Palestinian people.”

Unlike the Security Council no one has the right to veto in the General Assembly, so that whatever is decided, will be adopted immediately. The resolution also “reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and independence in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967” and expressed “the urgent need to revive and accelerate the peace process in the Middle East” in order to “reach a lasting peace agreement, fair and balanced between Palestinians and Israelis to resolve major issues such as Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security and water.”

In addition, a strengthening of the Palestinian position should also serve to foster the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, weakened in recent months by the resurgence of radical competitor, Hamas. The problem is to know how far this success, with all the resonance that will have today, can make a difference starting tomorrow. The United States, the indispensable partner of any negotiation process, has shown its opposition to the recognition of Palestine as an Observer State.

Obama will certainly not remain quiet as Israeli – Palestinian relations deteriorate after the resolution is approved — if it’s approved — The same situation will take place within the U.S., where Congress seems to be ready to freeze financial aid to the Palestinians.

From the perspective of the U.S. administration, this vote is an exercise in exhibitionism where Palestinians indulge to demonstrate the wide international support available to them, whilst the Europeans are satisfied with their open support for Palestine. Last week, the European Parliament publicly expressed its support for a State of Palestine, with Spain and France being the most outspoken nations in favor of a two-state solution. Only Germany has shown its opposition to the negotiation that includes the conditions as they were in 1967.

The absolute best thing that can come out of this day is a new sense of urgency to help expedite Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the only way in which the Palestinians may have a state. Nothing indicates, for now, that such negotiation will happen, but today’s vote, if it favors the Palestinian cause, will be the starting point to draw the conditions for a territorial framework during future negotiations. In a sense, the vote will help clarify the most difficult points that previous meetings haven’t been able to clear up. For the first time since its creation, the U.N. may actually do something that favors, at least at first, the peace process in the Middle East, after pretty much originating and promoting the conflict that has existed in modern times. A good question to ask, though is, Chi Bono? Who benefits?

It is likely that Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will use the vote for a Palestinian State based on the conditions of 1967 as a tool to cheat his people. Most likely he will use it as an example of Arab radicalism and will try to turn it into a threat for the Israeli people. The fact that there is a vacuum in world leadership at this moment, could cause two different outcomes. First, the vote in the U.N. could become more relevant than expected, and for the first time a significant group of nations may exercise their will to end a conflict that is thousands of years old. The Israeli leadership may decide to isolate itself from any negotiations despite the growing support for a two-state solution. Second, there may be hope to resolve the conflict if Israel is shaken up by the upcoming elections, if the people of Israel send a clear message to Benjamin Netanyahu, if they make it clear that everyone is sick and tired of having to run underground whenever terrorist leaders on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides decide to bomb each other just to show their muscle.

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Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak Quits

Ehud Barak along with Meir Dagan were two of the most visible opponents of an Israeli attack on Iran.

By AMY TEIBEL | AP | NOVEMBER 26, 2012

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday abruptly announced he was quitting politics, injecting new turmoil into the Israeli political system weeks ahead of general elections.

Barak, Israel’s most-decorated soldier and one-time prime minister, said he would stay on in his current post until a new government is formed following the Jan. 22 balloting.

His resignation could mean the departure of the most moderating influence on hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who holds a wide lead in polls and is expected to easily win re-election. Barak, who heads a small centrist faction in parliament, often served as Netanyahu’s unofficial envoy to Washington to smooth over differences with the Obama White House.

His impending departure comes at a key time for Israel, as the nation struggles to find its way in a region where the old order of Arab autocrats has been swept aside by the Arab Spring and the rise of Islamist political parties. Israel also faces a looming decision on whether to attack Iran’s nuclear program, which the Jewish state fears is designed to develop atomic weapons — a charge Tehran denies.

Less than a week ago, Barak led an eight-day military offensive against the Hamas militant group that rules the Gaza Strip. The fighting, aimed at ending rocket fire from the Palestinian territory. ended in a fragile truce.

“I didn’t make this decision (to leave politics) without hesitating, but I made it wholeheartedly,” he told a hastily arranged news conference, saying he had been wrestling with the decision for weeks.

He evaded repeated questions about whether he might agree to serve as a Cabinet minister in an upcoming government, leaving open the possibility that he might still retain an impact on Israeli politics. While most Cabinet ministers also hold parliamentary seats, they do not have to be elected lawmakers, and such appointments have been made in the past.

Barak, 70, made the surprise announcement even after polls showed his breakaway Independence Party gaining momentum after the Gaza campaign.

Despite the bump in the polls, Barak still could have found himself fighting for his political survival once election day rolls around. Surveys before the Gaza operation were unkind to his party, at times showing it polling too weakly to even send a single representative to parliament.

“I feel I have exhausted my political activity, which had never been an object of desire for me. There are many ways for me to serve the country, not just through politics,” he said, adding that his decision was spurred in part by his desire to spend more time with his family.

Possible replacements include Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon, a former military chief, and Shaul Mofaz, a former military chief and defense minister, who now serves as chairman of the opposition Kadima Party.

Barak’s political career was as turbulent as his 36-year military career was dazzling.

The former war hero and military chief of staff blazed into politics on the coattails of his mentor, Yitzhak Rabin, and had been viewed by many as his heir apparent. With a resume that includes commanding some of Israel’s most daring hostage rescue operations and raids, Barak was elected prime minister from the centrist Labor Party in 1999 — just four years after retiring from the military. Many Israelis hoped he would parlay what was seen as his sharp strategic mind and unorthodox methods on the battlefield into long-elusive accords with the Palestinians and Syria.

But the consensus-building so important in the political arena did not mesh well with the go-it-alone style that served him in the military. Political allies and foes alike considered Barak aloof and imperious, and others questioned whether he possessed the interpersonal skills necessary to negotiate elusive accords with Israel’s enemies.

Disappointed with his performance, Israeli voters booted Barak out of the premier’s office in record time — less than two years — after his government unraveled with the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising and the collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace talks.

Hard-liner Ariel Sharon trounced him in a 2001 election. Barak left behind a legacy of failed peacemaking with the Palestinians and Syria, despite unprecedented offers of sweeping territorial concessions, and a contentious decision to end Israel’s 18-year military occupation of south Lebanon overnight, which created a vacuum quickly filled by the anti-Israel Hezbollah guerrilla group.

For six years, the onetime Labor leader kept himself busy with lucrative speaking engagements and business consulting, reportedly amassing millions and cementing his image as a politician out of touch with his constituents.

But Barak returned to politics in 2007, handily recapturing the Labor leadership and replacing civilian Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who led a much-criticized war in Lebanon the previous summer.

But while Israelis liked Barak as defense minister, they didn’t want him as their prime minister, and his party, which had led Israel to independence and governed the nation for its first three decades, lost its public appeal. In the 2009 election that brought Netanyahu to power, Labor won an all-time low of 13 of parliament’s 120 seats.

Barak’s dovish base turned on him after he led Labor into Netanyahu’s conservative government, accusing Barak of betraying the party’s ideals by joining forces with a man who at the time did not even recognize the principle of a Palestinian state.

In January 2011, he bolted Labor to form a new party, Independence, which has largely failed to resonate with the public.

Israeli hard-liners disliked him, too, accusing him of undermining the West Bank settlement movement by holding up building approvals, clearing squatters from West Bank homes and encouraging Netanyahu to support a temporary settlement construction slowdown.

But if Barak was unpopular with the public, he retained his clout with Netanyahu, whom he commanded in an elite special operations unit. As the prime minister’s point man with the United States, Barak was welcomed in Washington as a moderating influence on Netanyahu’s hard line policies toward the Arab world and Iran’s nuclear program.

That alliance saw some rocky times recently with reports the prime minister objected to Barak’s newly moderate tone that Israel should defer to the U.S. in deciding whether to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.

But the two seemed to have patched up things, appearing to work harmoniously on the recent Gaza campaign.

In a statement Monday, Netanyahu said he “respected” Barak’s decision.

No Truce in the Middle East: Israel launches 100 different attacks on Gaza

Did Hamas respond by bombing a bus in Tel Aviv?

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | NOVEMBER 21, 2012

The Israeli army announced earlier Wednesday it has launched more than one hundred attacks on the Gaza Strip overnight, hitting a total of one hundred points of terrorist activity, of which approximately 50, the army said, were underground rocket launchers.

The Armed Forces spokesman pointed out that a senior member of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in charge of the air offensive operations was hit in one of the attacks. The same happened to other alleged terrorist operatives, but he did not clarify if they are dead, injured or have walked away.

The objectives included the Department of Homeland Security in Gaza, considered as the main control center for Hamas, several tunnels allegedly used to smuggle, communication centers, a police station, three arsenals and a place used for the manufacture of armaments. These outcomes were confirmed by the Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian news agency Maan reported on the impact of Israeli missiles in various parts of the Strip and indicated that some of them have reached civilian homes and government buildings.

Among the buildings affected are several international media houses as well as Palestinian ones, including the French news agency AFP, the U.S. agency AP
and the Qatari television network Al Jazeera. During the same attacks, Israeli bombs injured an Iranian correspondent for Press TV identified as Akram al Sattari.

According to the report provided by Maan, at least 137 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, have died since the Israeli offensive began, while
the number of injured amounted rose to 1,050. On the Israeli side, five people were killed, four civilians and military, due to the impact of projectiles against Israeli territory.

In addition, about a hundred people have been treated in their homes by emergency services, mostly for anxiety attacks.

Did Hamas respond by Bombing a Bus?

According to international media, a bus exploded Wednesday morning in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv because of a “terrorist attack”, reported Israeli police. The report was later corroborated by a government spokesman, but it has not been confirmed by other sources as a de facto terrorist attack.

It is unknown how many people were inside bus at the time of the explosion but medical emergency services that moved to the area reported that there have been 10 people injured, three of them seriously.

Israel Radio said the attack was committed by a suicide bomber, perhaps someone put a bomb and fled the vehicle, but no confirmation of this has been issued yet. “A bomb exploded on a bus in the center of Tel Aviv. It was a terrorist attack. Most of the injured suffered only minor injuries,” said Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Gendelman gave no proof of his statement, though.

Several ambulances headed to King Saul Boulevard, while the area was encircled police.

Television showed pictures of a bus full of smoke and with broken windows. The attack came on the eighth day of an offensive against the Gaza Strip, which the Israeli regime launched in a supposed attempt to prevent rocket attacks from Hamas.

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