Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Year After the Gaza War: The Forgotten Children of Sderot.


by Stephanie L. Freid


The rockets may have stopped firing — for now — but the traumatic effects of Operation Cast Lead linger on.


It's been a year since Operation Cast Lead, and from the media silence, one would assume that all is quiet on the Gaza/Israel front. There's been scant reportage of projectile launches coming out of Gaza into Sderot and southern Israel. That's probably because people aren't dying.


But a quick call to Sderot Media Center sheds light on the situation as it truly stands. There have been 283 missiles, rockets, and mortar rounds launched into Israel since last January.  And almost every time there's a launch, air-raid sirens sound to warn residents that they have 15 seconds before touchdown to take cover in bomb shelters.


Since 2001, the city of Sderot has been hit by 10,000 missiles launched by Palestinian militants based in the Hamas-run Gaza enclave. The entire town has suffered but those most traumatized are the children, whose nightmares return every time a siren sounds.


From toddlers to teenagers, more than 80% of Sderot's 8000 kids are living proof of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many of them wet their beds, suffer bad dreams, suck their thumbs, experience chronic anxiety, sleep in their parents' beds, and exhibit lingering physical and psychological manifestations that accompany life in an environment where they have had to scramble for cover in life-and-death situations.

Until now, they've had therapy resources available via the town's Resilience Center Treatment Clinic. The center staff treat the kids' symptoms and guides parents on coping with their children's trauma. The center also serves as a safe haven.


But recently the news came that the Resilience Center Treatment Clinic, which is dependent on donations and subsidies, is in jeopardy of shutting down. There's simply not enough money to keep it going. Rocket and missile barrages minus casualties have a funny way of turning formerly exuberant private donors into "we had to re-prioritize our spending" withholders. The Israeli government has also had to re-prioritize what comes from its coffers.


So what of the kids? That is the question American television producer Liane Thompson is asking. She is hoping to give them a voice and keep the center open with a feature-length documentary she is producing titled Children of Missile City.


The documentary follows a handful of Sderot children, their parents, and therapists offering viewers a glimpse of the lingering effects of PTSD. Thompson says she's making the film to raise awareness of trauma and it ramifications.


"We live in times of red and orange alerts but what do people really know about the long-term effects of terrorism?" Thompson asked. "The Sderot children and what they're living is the perfect chance to tell that story."


The story includes teenagers who sleep with their parents, children unable to function within society, and young people terrified of exiting the safety of bomb shelters.

Israel's government has been putting emergency funding toward the handful of staffers who continue treating the 6,500 or so young sufferers, but the walk-in center shut its doors earlier this year.


Why don't people simply pick up and leave? They can't. Sderot is a working class town of 20,000. And with the situation as it has been, properties don't exactly fall into the prime real estate category.


Thompson and a host of therapists, parents, and kids have hopes pinned on the documentary. If it gets made and starts circulating, awareness surrounding the implications of nearly a decade of rocket fire will be revived.


Unfortunately, the rocket fire could easily be revived as well. Citing the expanded number of weapons tunnels running from Egypt to Gaza, Sderot Media Center spokesperson Jacob Shrybman predicts it's a mere matter of time before 20+ rockets start raining down on the city again.


And what then?


"It's all in the terrorists' hands," he says. "That's why the city's population is so traumatized.  The so-called quiet we have now isn't settling.  It's downright eerie.  And whenever a siren goes off, it serves as a reminder that Hamas can terrorize us whenever they want."


Stephanie L. Freid

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Rethinking preemption.


by Alex Fiedler  

Recent statements by senior US and Israeli officials regarding Iranian intransigence with regard to international calls for negotiation has raised once again the issue of preemptive military action. The international community's most recent analogy vis-à-vis preemption is president George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq.

For this reason, preemption has acquired a pejorative connotation in recent years, and the possibility of using preemptive action against Iran is viewed by many as a nonstarter. But invoking the term preemption and the analogy to Iraq in policy debates for Iran's nuclear program is both misguided and dangerous.

It is in fact a misnomer to refer to an attack against Iran as preemption, and this has negative consequences on the policy debate.

FIRSTLY, A preemptive military strike is one in which Side A attacks Side B when Side A has full assurance that an attack by Side B is imminent. Israel's actions on the morning of June 5, 1967 fall under the preemption classification. Not only is this accepted practice in international relations, it is in fact protected under international law.

What most people actually mean when they discuss policy options vis-à-vis Iran is prevention. A preventive military strike is when Side A attacks Side B because Side A believes that at some point in the future, Side B will be a threat to it; prevention lacks the sense of immediacy characterized by preemption.

So would a strike against Iran fall under preventive military action?

According to this logic, a strike against Iran would in fact be preventive, right? Wrong. Preventive military policy also suggests that the potential "strikee" is not currently a threat, active or passive. It is well documented, and accepted, that Iran supports financially, logistically, politically, and militarily, the who's who of terrorist organizations and states: Hizbullah, Hamas, al-Qaida, Taliban, Syria, Sudan and North Korea.

Not only is this support well documented, the Iranian regime and its proxies boast of this support. Iranian weapons have killed Israelis (read Hamastan and Hizbullah-stan). Iranian weapons have killed Americans (read Iraq and Afghanistan). Iran's actions in Lebanon and Syria are in direct violation of that oft quoted term in Article 51 of the UN Charter, "international peace and security." By calling for and presaging the elimination of an internationally recognized state, Iran's leadership is brazenly violating the Genocide Convention.

ALL THESE examples of Iranian hostilities are found in open sources. A strike against Iran, therefore, would neither be preemptive nor preventive. It would fall under the classification of retaliation, in response to the direct and indirect murder of a state's citizens, the disruption of international peace and security and numerous other internationally recognized norms vis-à-vis interstate relations.

Relying on Iraq as an analogy for the situation with Iran holds true in some respects. Both countries are in the Middle East. Both countries' names begin with "I-R-A." Both countries are majority Muslim, albeit different sects. This is where the analogy ends.

Chattering classes and media invoke the fact that the US invaded Iraq and has yet to find weapons of mass destruction, the raison d'être for invading. Because Saddam Hussein did not have an active program, or rather, because one was not found, these people conclude that the war in Iraq constituted bad policy. This is the greatest difference between Iraq and Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency, US, Israel, European Union, Russia, the Gulf states and most importantly Iran, acknowledge an active nuclear program. This fact is not in doubt.

An international inspection following a strike against Iran would not magically reveal that there was no WMD program. The only disputes among these actors are how advanced the Iranian nuclear program is, and whether or not the weaponization program is active. But can honest disputants deny weaponization in the face of Iran's continual testing of long-range missile and its desire to enrich uranium to higher levels?

For an honest policy debate on Iran, it is critical to reframe the issue in two ways. Most importantly, a military strike must be posed as one of retaliation, not preemption, not prevention. Secondly, when relying on historical analogies to explain the situation in Iran, proper analogies must be used. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, there is no analogy for a nation like Iran acquiring a nuclear capability.


Alex Fiedler  holds an MA in government from the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the IDC-Herzliya. He was formerly a policy analyst at the Program in Applied Decision Analysis at the Lauder School of Government.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Friday, December 25, 2009

For Obama, 2010 in the Middle East Looks More Like the Precipice of Doom Than of Achievement.

by Barry Rubin

The year 2010 is going to be interesting. Well, all years in the Middle East are interesting; many of them are far too interesting.

For the Obama Administration, I'm going to predict, it will not be a fun year. True, the best face will be put on things. Since it is protected—perhaps next year to a lesser degree--by the media, the administration has a special advantage over its predecessors. Yet there are two huge and two potentially serious problems which it cannot solve.

The first unsolvable problem is the Arab-Israeli conflict. Last January, President Barack Obama promised a quick solution to the issue. Then he promised that an Israeli freeze of construction on settlements would lead to a diplomatic breakthrough. A few months later, he promised he'd get some Arab concessions in response to an Israeli freeze. In September he promised that final status negotiations would begin in two months.

None of these things happened.

In fact, Obama's policy sabotaged progress. After all, if he was bashing Israel to some extent and demanding a freeze, why should the Palestinians give Israel a way out by negotiating and accept anything less than a total freeze? U.S.-Israel relations have now improved considerably and are good, but there's no talks going on because the Palestinian Authority is saying "no."

Remember in his Cairo speech, Obama said the Palestinian situation was "intolerable." The Palestinians disagree with him. They know they are doing pretty well materially, the world is criticizing Israel, and they don't have to make any concessions.

But here's where it gets interesting: there is a very serious prospect of no direct or any serious Israel-Palestinian negotiations during all of 2010. And in late September, Israel's ten-month freeze ends. No progress, no continued freeze.

There is literally no way out for the Obama Administration. The only route to getting talks is either to get more unilateral concessions from Israel (isn't going to happen) or to pressure the Palestinian Authority (also isn't going to happen). Checkmate; deadlock; no way out.

The Obama Administration is not likely to say: We were wrong. This is tougher than we thought. Nor are they probably going to put the issue on the back burner openly. Nor are they going to criticize the Palestinian Authority. So they will pretend to be working hard, sending their envoy zipping around, looking for some opening to leap into action. But isn't this going to be pretty obviously a charade? Well, only if the media wants to say so.

Then there's Iran. Originally, the administration was going to increase sanctions in September. That was moved back to the end of December. Now it is too late to meet that deadline. At best, we are going to see negotiations in January and maybe—maybe—increased sanctions in February. But who knows?

That's not all. The administration keeps pretending that it has China and Russia on board for sanctions. Anyone who actually reads Chinese and Russian statements should know this is untrue. Can this be kept secret for very long in 2010? Either there will be no sanctions, ridiculously weak sanctions or sanctions without these two. Once again, there is no way out for the administration from looking like a failure.

And by the end of the year or earlier it will be clear that any sanctions applied aren't working. The year 2010 is the make or break year for stopping Iran. Not hard to guess which it will be.

I'm not chortling over this as I'd greatly prefer the administration would be brilliantly successful in bringing peace—a good one, of course, not just any deal—and ensuring Tehran didn't get nuclear weapons. But it's not going to happen.

Two other issues may cause problems but are not likely to bring benefits in 2010, though they are designed to bring political dividends for when Obama is up for reelection in 2012. Iraq will be a headache if the Iranians decide, in part due to their more belligerent mood and as a response to sanctions, to escalate the violence. Syria, unhappy that the United States has not caved in to them, may also do so. This could lead to higher casualties making the troop withdrawal look either like running away or at least ineffective.

The same basic point holds for Afghanistan, where Obama's version of the surge will be in full implementation. The Taliban might decide to make America look defeated; Pakistan isn't going to help. Again, there could be high U.S. casualties and the appearance of failure.

Then there's the chance that Obama's vaunted popularity will crack. Palestinians will claim he isn't giving them everything for nothing; Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah will try to make short work of making America look bad. What if, for example, Obama has to veto some far-out UN Security Council resolution that, for example, demands that Israel return to the 1967 borders? Maybe he'll be able to get it watered down but that could happen.

There's always the chance of a major terrorist attack against some American target succeeding.

In short, 2010 does not look good at all for Obama. Is there any chance of a big success in the region for him? (Your eyes dart around the room trying to think of something. Finally, you give up and give the inevitable answer.) No.

The most critical question of all is whether the administration will learn from its experience. There are a lot of mistaken conceptions to learn from:

The Palestinians aren't desperate to make peace. Moving away from Israel doesn't bring you any material gains and indeed makes it even harder to get progress toward peace. Arab states won't help you. They aren't going to lift a finger to stop Iran while demanding you do so. Engaging Iran and Syria doesn't work. Being popular among Muslims and Arabs is a fragile thing and doesn't get you much more than a cup of coffee when you visit the Saudi king. Apologizing makes you look weak and everyone will then take advantage of you. Shall I go on?

Usama bin Ladin says that everyone wants to bet on the strong horse. Obama's policy makes America look like a dead horse. And, yes, Middle East dictatorships and revolutionary Islamist groups love flogging a dead horse.

Shall Obama hope that 2011 comes fast? Well, that's the year Iran will probably get nuclear weapons.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Analysis: The domino effect.

Last week's visit by Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri to Damascus is the latest marker in the return of the coercive Syrian presence in Lebanon. It is also an indication of Syria's successful defiance of the west.

Hariri's ritual gesture of supplication to Bashar al-Assad in Damascus was the inevitable adjustment of the leader of a small state to a changing regional balance of power. Hariri and his supporters have little reason to take pride in the gesture. But the real responsibility for it lies not in Beirut, but further afield.

The pro-western and pro-Saudi March 14 movement, led by Hariri, achieved a modest victory in elections in June. This victory was effectively nullified in the lengthy coalition "negotiations" that followed. The new government as finally announced in November represented the unusual spectacle of a wholesale capitulation of the electoral victors before the vanquished.

·                                 The Hizbullah-led opposition kept their effective veto power in the Cabinet. The government's founding statement included an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of Hizbullah's continued armed presence.

This substantive conceding by Hariri of his election victory has now been accompanied by a symbolic gesture.

It should be remembered that the process which led to the ending of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon in 2005 was set in motion by the murder of Sa'ad Hariri's father, Rafiq, in February, 2005. The murder of the elder Hariri is widely thought to have been committed by Syria or elements allied with it. The murder called forth a mass movement opposing Syrian occupation.

In the context of a more general US and pro-US assertiveness in the region at the time, the Syrians felt compelled to withdraw their forces from Lebanon.

From the moment of its humiliating retreat from Lebanon, Syria sought to rebuild its influence "by other means." These other means included its overt backing of Hizbullah, the key deciding factor in internal Lebanese affairs. Syria also adopted a classic "strategy of tension" to undermine stability in Lebanon. A string of March 14 politicians and pro-independence political figures were mysteriously murdered.

As one Syrian analyst happily put it this week: with Sa'ad Hariri's trip across the mountains to Damascus, the circle that began with the retreat of the Syrian army from Beirut is completed.

The Assad regime, in a typically feline gesture, even chose to accompany Hariri's visit with a further attempt at ritual humiliation. A few days prior to the visit, a Syrian court issued summons against 24 former and current senior Lebanese officials, demanding that they stand trial in Syria. They are accused of defaming a notorious Lebanese client of the Assad regime, Jamal Sayyed.

Understanding what has happened requires a broadening of focus.

The Hizbullah-led opposition conditioned their agreeing to join the coalition on the Hariri visit. But this condition was originally agreed to, according to reports, by Saudi King Abdullah, during his visit to Damascus in October. This visit was a gesture of rapprochement by the Saudis to the Syrians. The main backer of Hariri and March 14 appears at that point to have signaled Saudi willingness to concede its clients to the pro-Syrian interest in Lebanon.

Unlike the Syrian and Iranian clients in Lebanon, Hariri and Co. have no "hard power" or resistance option. The only game they can play is diplomacy. So once their main diplomatic patrons had offered them up, the game was effectively over.

But why did the Saudis choose to make this gesture? On one level, the Saudis hope to pull Syria way from Iran by welcoming Damascus back into the Arab "fold." But Syria has made abundantly clear that it has no intention of ending or even toning down its staunch, 30-year alliance with Teheran.

On another level, the Saudis and Syrians share an additional, common interest in ensuring a weak, vulnerable Iraq between them.

But even this begs another question. Why should the Saudis choose to begin to engage with Iran's main Arab allies - the Syrians - against the US-aligned Iraqis? Riyadh's own patron, after all, is the United States.

Here one arrives at the crux of the matter. Although the Obama administration has hesitated before rushing headlong into renewing relations with Damascus, it has undertaken a series of gestures that have demonstrated that any real policy of isolation is over. This goes hand in hand with the broader regional stance of the administration of attempting "engagement" with the Iranian regime.

Far from signaling to Middle Eastern powers that a new world of cooperation is about to commence, what this US stance conveys to friends and foes in the region is that Washington no longer has the stomach for holding fast against the bid by Iran and its allies for regional hegemony.

The clients, and the clients of the clients, therefore move to make their accommodation with the changed reality. Unlike the Obama administration, they understand that the dominion of force is not going to end any time soon in the Middle East. The only question is - whose force will it be?

So if the small dominoes like Hariri are falling, it is because the larger ones are pushing them. Reversing this process, meanwhile, would require a general re-think of the current assumptions guiding western policy in the Middle East.


Jonathan Spyer is senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


The Forgotten Palestinian Refugees.

by Daniel Schwammenthal

Even in Bethlehem, Palestinian Christians are suffering under Muslim intolerance.


Meet Yussuf Khoury, a 23-year old Palestinian refugee living in the West Bank. Unlike those descendents of refugees born in United Nations camps, Mr. Khoury fled his birthplace just two years ago. And he wasn't running away from Israelis, but from his Palestinian brethren in Gaza.

Mr. Khoury's crime in that Hamas-ruled territory was to be a Christian, a transgression he compounded in the Islamists' eyes by writing love poems.

"Muslims tied to Hamas tried to take me twice," says Mr. Khoury, and he didn't want to find out what they'd do to him if they ever kidnapped him. He hasn't seen his family since Christmas 2007 and is afraid even to talk to them on the phone.

Speaking to a group of foreign journalists in the Bethlehem Bible College where he is studying theology, Mr. Khoury describes a life of fear in Gaza. "My sister is under a lot of pressure to wear a headscarf. People are turning more and more to Islamic fundamentalism and the situation for Christians is very difficult," he says.

In 2007, one year after the Hamas takeover, the owner of Gaza's only Christian bookstore was abducted and murdered. Christian shops and schools have been firebombed. Little wonder that most of Mr. Khoury's Christian friends have also left Gaza.

On the rare occasion that Western media cover the plight of Christians in the Palestinian territories, it is often to denounce Israel and its security barrier. Yet until Palestinian terrorist groups turned Bethlehem into a safe haven for suicide bombers, Bethlehemites were free to enter Israel, just as many Israelis routinely visited Bethlehem.

The other truth usually ignored by the Western press is that the barrier helped restore calm and security not just in Israel, but also in the West Bank including Bethlehem. The Church of the Nativity, which Palestinian gunmen stormed and defiled in 2002 to escape from Israeli security forces, is now filled again with tourists and pilgrims from around the world.

But even here in Jesus' birthplace, which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Christians live on a knife's edge. Mr. Khoury tells me that Muslims often stand in front of the gate of the Bible College and read from the Quran to intimidate Christian students. Other Muslims like to roll out their prayer rugs right in Manger Square.

Asked about why Muslims would pray so close to one of Christianity's holiest sites, Pastor Alex Awad, dean of students at the Bible College, diplomatically advises me to pose this question to the Muslims themselves. Mindful of his community's precarious situation, he is at pains to stress that whatever problems Christians may have with their Muslim neighbors, it's not the PA's fault.

"Muslims and Christians live here in relative harmony," he tells reporters, only to add that Christians "feel the pressure of Islam . . . There is intimidation and fanaticism but these are little instances and there is no general persecution."

Samir Qumsieh, the founder of what he says is the holy land's only Christian TV station, also stresses that there is no "Christian suffering" and that the Christians' problems are not orchestrated by the PA. Yet his stories of land theft, beatings and intimidation make one wonder why, if the PA doesn't approve of such injustices, it is doing so little to stop it?

Christians have only recently begun to talk about how Muslim gangs simply come and take possession of Christian-owned land while the Palestinian security services, almost exclusively staffed by Muslims, stand by. Mr. Qumsieh's own home was firebombed three years ago. The perpetrators were never caught.

"We have never suffered as we are suffering now," Mr. Qumsieh confesses, violating his own introductory warning to the assorted foreign correspondents in his office not to use the word "suffering."

Always a minority religion among the predominantly Muslim Palestinians, Christians are, Mr. Qumsieh says, "melting away," even in Bethlehem. While they represented about 80% of the city's population 60 years ago, their numbers are now down to about 20%, a result not just of Muslims' higher birth rates but also widespread Christian emigration. "Our future as a Christian community here is gloomy," Mr. Qumsieh says.

Palestinian plight not attributable to Israel barely seems to register in the West's collective conscience. As Christians around the world remember Jesus' birth, perhaps we can think of Mr. Khoury and those Christians still suffering in Gaza and Bethlehem.

Mr. Schwammenthal is an editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal Europe.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Can they give Britain a loan, please?


by  Melanie Phillips


The choir of Clare College, Cambridge and its pro-'Palestinian' conductor are reported to have cancelled a planned performance in 'east' Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria because they are also performing in Israel.


The Palestine Solidarity Campaign wrote a letter, signed by more than 200 people, asking that the choir cancel its tour of Israel or risk, in their words, 'appearing indifferent to Palestinian suffering'. As a result, the PA asked the Bishop of Jerusalem to withdraw the invitation for the choir to sing in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.


Betty Hunter, the general secretary of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, says that desire to travel to the West Bank does not excuse the choir's tour of Israel. That tour, she says, is 'surprising and shocking' - something which, in her words, 'promotes Israel as a normal state rather than one which represses Palestinians'.


Is that so.  Here is the parlous state of the Palestinians of the West Bank:

For the time being, International Monetary Fund officials say economic growth in the West Bank could reach as much as 7 percent in 2009 if Israel continues to relax restrictions, notably the removal of roadblocks.


Here is more evidence of the appalling conditions the Palestinians are suffering:

The economic situation in the West Bank has improved steadily since 2007 in every area, Leibovich pointed out. Here are some of the numbers:


           As security has been strengthened in the West Bank and suicide bombings have virtually disappeared -- thanks overwhelmingly to Israel's much criticized security fence -- the tourism industry in the Palestinian areas has rebounded nicely. The city of Bethlehem saw 1 million tourists in 2008, an increase of 500,000 from the previous year. The city of Jericho saw 500,000 tourists in '08, an increase of over 100,000 from 2007. To put it in perspective, the entire state of Israel had 1 million tourists in 2008.


           The unemployment rate in the West Bank in 2002 was a whopping 31 %. This was during the second Intifada, when Palestinian terrorism was at its peak, and the Israeli security fence had not yet been erected. Today, that unemployment rate stands at 15 %. To put it in context, Israel's unemployment rate right now is at 9%, and the U.S. rate is hovering around 10 %. In the longtime West Bank terror hotbed of Nablus, which has now become an unlikely shopping destination, unemployment has dropped all the way down to 6 %.


           229,000 trucks passed between Israel and the West Bank in the first half of 2009, a 41 % increase from 2008. This has helped lead to a 29 % increase in fuel deliveries to the West Bank between '08 and '09.


           In 2008, there were just over 2,000 cars imported into the West Bank. In the first half of 2009, there were 5,472. There has also been an 18% increase in imported cement, from 466,000 tons in 2007 all the way up to 611,000 tons so far in '09.


           The number of employment permits that would allow Palestinians to work inside Israel has more than doubled, to almost 661,000, since 2006. Overnight stays for Palestinian employees have increased significantly, and the Allenby Bridge on the Israel-Jordan border is now open 24 hours a day. This helps facilitate the movement of goods to and from the West Bank.


           Since 2007, some 170 roadblocks and checkpoints have been dismantled. You can now drive from Jerusalem to the West Bank city of Hebron (site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is the second holiest site in Judaism) in 40 minutes and not hit one checkpoint.


           There are even plans to build a new city, called Roabi, near Ramallah in the West Bank. The city would be designed to attract young, educated professionals.

And here is yet more evidence of the Palestinians' agony:


         Growth continues in the West Bank. Fayyad recently addressed the growth of 8% or more that is projected for 2009. In an interview with the New York Times on November 11, Quartet emissary Blair anticipated that the Palestinian economy might reach a double-digit growth rate in 2009.


         The second cellular company in the West Bank, Wataniya, commenced operations at the beginning of November with 3.8 MHz and 40,000 subscribers. According to various publications, the company is expected to bring investments estimated at about $700 million into the West Bank, and to bring revenues of $354 million into the treasury of the Palestinian Authority, while providing thousands of jobs.


         Stock market: A 12.5% rise since the beginning of the year.


         Foreign investments in the West Bank: A six-fold increase (!) compared with the corresponding period last year, as a result of the economic conferences that were held in Bethlehem and Nablus, and of the improved security in the area (this figure was provided by the Palestinians and the Joint Economic Conference held on September 2).


         Truck traffic between Israel and Judea and Samaria: A 41% increase in the first half of 2009 compared with the corresponding period last year. There was a 22% increase in the crossing of goods into the Gaza Strip between September and October, and an additional 14% increase from October to November (source of data: COGAT).


         Palestinian sales to Israel: From 2007 to 2008 there was a 6.8% increase, from $530 million to $566 million. In the first quarter of 2009, there was an 8% increase, from $136 million to $147 million (source: Central Bureau of Statistics).


         Palestinian purchases from Israel: From 2007 to 2008 there was a 25% increase, from $2.6 billion to $3.25 billion. In the first quarter of 2009, there was a decrease of 9.5% compared with the corresponding quarter in 2008, from $796 million to $720 million (source: Central Bureau of Statistics).


         General Palestinian foreign trade (including with Israel): Imports in 2008 totaled $3.7 billion, of which 72% was from Israel. This is a 20% increase compared with 2007. Imports in 2008 increased by 3%, and reached $529 million. The PA's total trade in 2008 was $4.3 billion - a 17% increase compared with 2007.


Need I go on? I'm sure we'll all agree that this unremitting picture of wretchedness, destitution and sheer hopelessness (the photograph above is of a shopping mall in Jenin) is just too painful to absorb.


Melanie Phillips

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Shhh.Mubarak is building a wall.


by Khaled Abu Toameh

For years, the Egyptians have been strongly condemning Israel for erecting the security fence in the West Bank. But now Egypt is quietly building its own wall along its border with the Gaza Strip and does not want to hear any complaints.

The Israeli barrier was built with the chief goal of halting suicide bombings and other terror activities against Israelis. The Egyptian fence, on the other hand, is being constructed to stop Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip from entering Egypt.

Many Palestinians can still understand why Israel does not want to open its border with the Gaza Strip. But the majority cannot understand why Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the rest of the Arab leaders are keeping them locked inside the tiny, overcrowded and poverty-stricken area known as the Gaza Strip.

Israel does not want to reopen its borders with the Gaza Strip and that is regrettable and painful, but also understandable. But what one cannot understand is the negative attitude of the Egyptians and the rest of the Arab regimes toward the misery of their Palestinian brothers. Mubarak and the rest of the Arab dictators should be helping the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and not choking them.

By keeping the border crossings shut and now building the metal wall along the border with the Gaza Strip, Mubarak is in fact sending the Palestinians to knock on Israel’s door for help. By now it should be clear that the Arab rulers want the Gaza Strip to remain Israel’s problem alone.

The millions of dollars that are being invested in the construction of the new wall could have built hospitals and schools and created job opportunities for the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. Half a billion dollars could even have solved the severe housing crisis in that area.

The Palestinians are not asking Mubarak to open the border so that they could move to live in Cairo. Most of them are seeking to leave the Gaza Strip to search for jobs or be reunited with their families in other countries. They want Mubarak to open the Rafah border crossing because now that’s the only way to leave the Gaza Strip.

Even worse, the Egyptians often prevent medical and humanitarian aid from entering the Gaza Strip through this border crossing. And in many instances they have also banned human rights activists and missions of solidarity from entering the Gaza Strip to support the Palestinians.

Mubarak is using Hamas’s presence in government as an excuse to build the metal wall. But the truth is that Hamas poses a threat to Israel more than to Egypt, if at all. Hamas’s goal, as clearly stated by its leaders, is to “liberate Palestine,” not occupy Egypt.

If Hamas really were such a big threat to Egypt’s national security, why has Mubarak been negotiating with Hamas leaders over the past three years about different issues, such as a prisoner exchange agreement with Israel and reconciliation with Fatah? And how come Hamas leaders are free to visit Cairo and stay in its finest hotels at the expense of the Egyptian government?

The Egyptians initially denied reports about the construction of their wall, but were forced to backtrack in light of pictures showing the bulldozers and laborers on the Egyptian side.

The new Egyptian fence is actually a 10-kilometer underground metal wall that cost at least $500 million. Experts are skeptical about the effectiveness of the project. They note that Palestinians involved in the smuggling industry along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt are so professional and experienced that they will quickly find ways to bypass the wall.

If anything, the Egyptian wall is likely to escalate tensions in the Gaza Strip, where many Palestinians already feel that they are living in a big prison.

After Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, the Egyptians and Arabs have done little to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians there.

The ironic part is that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is now defending Egypt’s right to build a separation wall. This is the same Abbas who, for years, has been condemning Israel’s “Apartheid Wall” and urging the world to force Israel to tear it down.


Khaled Abu Toameh
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Seventy Years Ago, Palestinian Arabs Threw Away Chance to Prevent Israel's Creation; Following the Same Policies Today.


by Barry Rubin

The greatest opportunity ever to prevent Israel’s creation and instead make the entire land a Palestinian Arab state took place in 1939, specifically on May 17, 1939, seventy years ago.

What is truly remarkable is that the debate at that time and on that specific day was almost precisely identical to the situation on the day you’re reading this article. If you can understand these events, it is possible to comprehend why the conflict has ended this long with no end in sight.

Let’s set the scene. The British knew that another war was on the horizon with Germany and Italy ready to disrupt their control of the Mediterranean and Middle East. Fearful of Arab revolts in alliance with their fascist enemies, London was ready to give lots of concessions to them.

On the Palestine issue, the British government was so desperate that it offered an amazing deal. A single Palestine state (the British had conceded to Arab opposition over the word "federal") would be established in ten years with an Arab majority. Land sales to Jews would be prohibited in most of the country and Jewish immigration would be strictly limited. If the Arabs had agreed, Israel would never have been established. As it was, the British implemented the immigration restrictions any way, dooming hundreds of thousands of Jews in Europe to horrible deaths.

But the Arabs in Palestine rejected the proposed political deal to put them in charge of the government with a timetable for turning the country over to them. They walked out of negotiations with Britain, ostensibly over the ten-year waiting period. Most importantly, they believed that their goals could be achieved more quickly and completely through a combination of an Arab uprising and an Axis military victory in the coming war.

The Egyptian government thought this was a terrible mistake and urged the Palestinian Arabs to make the deal. On May 17, Egyptian Prime Minister Muhammad Mahmoud and Ali Mahir, who would be the next one to hold that job, met the Palestinian Arab delegation to try to talk them into changing their minds.

Mahir told them that they should accept the British plan. The reason the Jews were so much against it, he explained, was that it was so favorable to the Arab side. Most important of all, it was a tremendous opportunity: the best deal the Arabs could obtain. Cooperation with Britain was better than being, “At the mercy of the Jews.” Once the Palestinian Arabs had a state, sympathetic Arab regimes would help them ensure their total control.

Getting an independent state, Mahir continued, required training administrators, preparing for defense, and achieving "legitimacy” on the international scene. A transitional period, Mahir suggested might do the same for the Arabs. The best way to win was to advance step by step. It was like a war in which, “One army is vacating some of its front trenches . Would you refrain from jumping into them and occupying them?"

But like a Greek chorus, the Palestinian representatives retorted, "If we accept, the revolution will end."

So Mahir tried again to explain reality to them. "Do you believe,” he asked, “that Great Britain is unable to crush your revolution, with all its modern satanic war inventions? Is it not better for you to come nearer to the British authorities and get them to forsake the Jews?" Then the Arabs wouldn’t have to ask London to stop Jewish immigration, they’d control it themselves and not even a single Jew could enter the country. The Arabs would control key positions in the government and after a few years in a parliament as well.

Next Mahmoud weighed in with his arguments. If they made a deal right now, he insisted, the Palestine Arabs could have their way but soon there would be a war and they would be in a weaker position. Britain would lose patience and invoke martial law. Arab countries would be too involved with their own problems to help. In fact, Mahmoud and Mahir could not have been unaware that the Arab revolt which had begun two years earlier, was being stamped out by a British offensive and was almost dead.

Again the Palestine Arabs said “no”: "When the revolt started, we had aims in view to attain. We cannot now tell our people, ' Stop the revolution because we got some high posts …."

"You can tell your people," Mahir answered, "that you shall be able to control your country's government; to stop persecution, deportations, and harsh measures” by the British "You could set Palestine's budget, limit the Jewish population to one-third, and point to the Arab governments ' advice for your accepting the deal.” The Palestine Arabs would not even have to sign anything, but would merely have to agree to cooperate with the White Paper. None of his arguments made any headway.

There can be no doubt that the 1939 White Paper did go a very long way toward satisfying Arab demands. If they had agreed, taken over much of the government, and worked closely with the British, there never would have been a partition and the Palestine Arabs would almost certainly have won. Instead, their leaders—including Amin al-Husseini—collaborated with the Germans against the British. Nothing constructive was done by them, no real preparation for statehood, no cooperation with the British or the White Paper framework. In 1948, they would make the same mistake and reject getting a state of their own. And many times thereafter.

Today, the Egyptian government is still trying to explain reality to the Palestinians. They are still rejecting anything short of everything. They have largely thrown away the opportunity to build an effective and popular government on the basis of the 1993 Oslo agreement. They said “no” at Camp David and to the Clinton plan in 2000.

Indeed, the philosophical and strategic lines of argument have basically changed not at all since 1939, almost down to the smallest detail.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Assad Returns as the Strong Horse.


by  Michael J. Totten

As Jonathan noted yesterday, Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Hariri just spent two days with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad in Damascus, and you'd think from reading the wire reports that Lebanon and Syria had re-established normal relations after a rough patch. That's how it's being reported, but it's nonsense. Hariri went to Damascus with Hezbollah's bayonet in his back.

Assad's regime assassinated Saad Hariri's father, Rafik, in 2005 for just gingerly opposing Syria's occupation of Lebanon. There is no alternate universe where Saad Hariri is OK with this or where his generically "positive" statements at a press conference were anything other than forced.

I was invited to dinner at Hariri's house earlier this year and had a long and frank discussion about politics with him and some colleagues. I can't quote him because the meeting was off the record, but trust me: the man is no friend of the Syrian government or Hezbollah, and it's not just because someone in that crowd killed his father. His political party, the Future Movement, champions liberalism and capitalism, the very antithesis of what is imposed in Syria by Assad's Arab Socialist Baath party regime and the totalitarian Velayat-e Faqih ideology enforced by the Khomeinists in Iran and in the Hezbollah-occupied regions of Lebanon.

Hezbollah and its sponsors in Tehran and Damascus have forced Hariri to do a number of things lately — to give it veto power in his government's cabinet and to surrender to its continuing existence as a warmongering militia that threatens to blow up the country again by picking fights with the Israelis.

Hariri and his allies in parliament resisted an extraordinary amount of pressure on these points for months before caving in, but cave in they did. They didn't have much choice. The national army isn't strong enough to disarm Hezbollah, and unlike Iran's tyrant Ali Khamenei, Hariri doesn't have his own private army. Hezbollah militiamen surrounded his house last year and firebombed his TV station when the government shut down its illegal surveillance system at the airport. At the end of the day, Hariri has to do what Hezbollah and its friends say unless someone with a bigger stick covers his back when push comes to shove.

No one has Hariri's or Lebanon's back, not anymore. He and his allies in the "March 14″ coalition have sensed this for some time, which is why Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has grudgingly softened his opposition to Assad and Hezbollah lately. When Hariri went to Damascus, everyone in the country, aside from useless newswire reporters, understood it meant Syria has re-emerged as the strong horse in Lebanon.

Walid Jumblatt is another member of what David Schenker calls the Murdered Fathers Club. Assad's ruthless late father, Hafez Assad, put Jumblatt through a similarly gruesome experience back in the 70s during the civil war. First Assad murdered Walid's father, Kamal, then summoned the surviving Jumblatt to Damascus and forced him to shake hands and pledge his allegiance. Who can even imagine what that must have felt like? Hariri knows now, and Jumblatt still tells everyone he meets all about it.

Hariri generally doesn't like having long conversations with journalists on the record because he doesn't want to calculate how everything he says will be simultaneously interpreted in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Israel, the United States, France, and Saudi Arabia. I can't say I blame him. He lives under virtual house arrest as it is, with barely more freedom of movement than Hassan Nasrallah. Here is something he said, though, back when it was safer for him to do so: "Action must be taken against Syria, like isolation, to make the Syrians understand that killing members of [Lebanon's] parliament will have consequences."

The U.S. and France did effectively isolate Assad with Saudi assistance when George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac were in charge, but presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy think they can save the Middle East by "engaging" its most toxic leaders. Syria, therefore, is no longer isolated. Lebanon's little anti-Syrian government doesn't stand a chance under these circumstances, especially not when Hezbollah is the dominant military power in the country.

"It's a dangerous game these people are playing," Lebanese activist and political analyst Eli Khoury said last time I spoke with him in Beirut, "but I think it's only a matter of time until the newcomers burn their fingers with the same realities that we've seen over and over again. I've seen every strategy: Kissinger's step-by-step approach, full engagement — which means sleeping with the enemy, basically — and the solid stand as with the Bush Administration. I've seen them all. The only one that works so far in my opinion, aside from some real stupid and dumb mistakes, is the severing of relationships. It made the Syrians behave."

It did make the Syrians behave a bit for a while, but now the U.S., France, and Saudi Arabia are bringing Assad in from the cold and giving him cocoa. His influence, naturally, is rising again, in Lebanon and everywhere else. That's good news for Hezbollah, of course, which means it's also good news for Iran. It's bad news for the Lebanese, the Americans, the French, the Saudis, and the Israelis. None of this was inevitable, but — in Lebanon, at least — it was predictable.


Michael J. Totten

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.