Archive for Barack Obama

Obama seeks Palestine state on 1967 borders

Posted in Gaza, Hamas, History, International community, Israel, Israeli occupation, Palestine, Peace process, USA foreign policy, West Bank with tags , , on 19/05/2011 by 3071km

Date published: 19th May 2011

Source: Al Jazeera Online

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US president says borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps.
Barack Obama, the US president, has laid out his vision for the Middle East and North Africa during a key speech in Washington.

On the issue of Palestine, Obama said: “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states.

“The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

“As for security, every state has the right to self-defence, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.”

Israeli reaction

Reacting to the address shortly afterwards, Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said a Palestinian state should not be established at the “expense of Israeli existence”. He appreciated the US president’s address but rejected any withdrawal tp “indefensible” 1967 borders.

Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from Jerusalem, said: “In different parts of his speech Obama shifted from a view closer to the Israeli approach to negotiations and at other times closer to the Palestinian approach.

“He supported the Palestinian’s idea of territorial contingency – meaning that the Israelis would have to withdraw  from some of the settlement blocks in order for the Palestinian state to be viable and enjoy that contingency.

“He also talked about settlement construction had to stop. That is obviously another thing the Palestinians would like to hear from Obama.

“Obama more importantly talked about the status quo and how it was unsustainable. That is bad news for [Binyamin] Netanyahu [the Israeli prime minister].

“On the other hand, Obama supported other approaches of the Israelis that they share in common.

“In that Jerusalem will be discussed later … refugees will be discussed later … the Palestinian state has to be demilitarized … Israel must enjoy security.”

Obama’s speech came a day ahead of a visit to Washington by Netanyahu.

On Thursday, the Israeli interior ministry requested and received the approval of Netanyahu’s office ahead of his US visit to begin holding hearings on an additional 1,550 housing units in the settlements of Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev, both located beyond the 1967 borders.

Obama must take “concrete steps” not issue “slogans,” the Palestinian Hamas movement said on Thursday following the president’s speech.

Hamas response

“What Obama needs to do is not to add slogans but to take concrete steps to protect the rights of the Palestinian people and the Arab nation,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman.

During his address to the US state department on Thursday, Obama said Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, must either lead his country through a democratic transition or “get out of the way”.

Obama said Syria’s brutal crackdown on pro-reform activists was unacceptable.

He said Assad could no longer rule through repression and must change course if he wants international acceptance.

More than 850 people are believed to have been killed in two months of unrest in Syria.

Obama’s speech came a day after he imposed sanctions on Assad and six other officials for human rights abuses during the crackdown.

The president said two leaders in the region had stepped down and that more may follow. The president also said the future of the US was bound to the region.

Iran ‘meddling’

Turning to Bahrain and Yemen, Obama said: “We must acknowledge that our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for change consistent with the principles that I have outlined today.

“That is true in Yemen, where President [Ali Abdullah] Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. And that is true, today, in Bahrain.

“We have insisted publically and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away.

“The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.

“The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.”

The president also said that Iran had “tried to take advantage of the turmoil there”.

Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Cairo, said the speech basically translated to “democracy good, repression bad”.

“He slapped a few American allies, saying if people want change you can’t stand in the way,” Fisher said.

Economic investment

Addressing the death of Osama bin Laden, the president said the al-Qaeda leader was a mass murderer, not a martyr, whose ideas were being rejected even before he was killed.

Turning to Libya, he said: “In Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help.

“Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed.”

Obama also laid out a major economic initiative in the Middle East to encourage democratic change in the region, beginning with Tunisia and Libya.

The president said the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a US government agency, “will soon launch a $2bn facility to support private investment across the region”.

“And we will work with allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernisation in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe,” he said,

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Israel’s blockade of Gaza is cracking

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, International community, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Siege, USA foreign policy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 09/05/2011 by 3071km

Written by: Noura Erakat

Date published: 9th May 2011

Source: Al Jazeera English

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Sealing coastal territory undermines past diplomacy – and siege is likely to be broken by post-revolution Egypt.

Egypt has announced that it will open its border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, thereby reversing Egypt’s collusion with Israel’s blockade regime. The interim Foreign Minister, Nabil al-Arabi, has described support for the blockade by the previous Egyptian regime as “disgraceful“. While Israeli officials have responded to this announcement with alarm, they have limited capacity to undermine the new Egyptian government’s prerogative.

Since the capture of Israeli soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit in June 2006, the Rafah crossing has been closed to Palestinians in Gaza, except for “extraordinary humanitarian cases”. In June 2007, after Hamas’ ousting of Fatah, Israel imposed a naval blockade on Gaza and sealed its five border crossings with the territory. Egypt’s closure of Rafah made the siege comprehensive, and effectively cut off the 360sq mile Strip from the rest of the world.

The devastating impact of the blockade on Gaza’s 1.5million population, where food aid dependency has risen to 80 per cent,  has been defined as a humanitarian crisis by a broad range of international human rights and humanitarian aid organisations – including Human Rights Watch, UNRWA, Amnesty International, and the World Health Organisation.

Under the presidency of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt only opened the Rafah border in response to exceptional crises, including during Israel’s Winter 2008/2009 offensive against Gaza and in the aftermath of Israel’s fatal raid on the humanitarian flotilla in June 2010. Rafah’s closure demonstrated Mubarak’s shared interest with Israel in undermining Hamas’ leadership.

Egypt’s post-revolution government is eager to reverse this policy – as evidenced by its successful brokering of a unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas and, shortly thereafter, its announcement that it will end its closure of Rafah. Egypt’s decision comports with enduring border-crossing agreements that have been suspended since 2007.

Egypt’s decision is a resumption of the status quo ante

According to the Agreement on Movement and Access(AMA), brokered by the US and the European Union to facilitate the transfer of authority for crossings from the Government of Israel to the Palestinian Authority following Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza, Egypt is authorised to control the Rafah crossing on its side of the border, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

Following internecine fighting in 2007, in which Hamas forces were routed from the West Bank but took control of the Gaza Strip, the border crossing agreement, along with Egyptian and EU participation was suspended -but not terminated.

The European Union’s Border Assistance Mission to Rafah (EUBAM), deployed to support a smooth transfer of authority at the border, has conditioned its presence on cooperation with Mahmoud Abbas’ Force 17, or the Presidential Guard.  Since Fatah’s ousting from the Strip the EUBAM has “maintained its operational capability and has remained on standby, awaiting a political solution and ready to re-engage“.

The EUBAM has extended its mission four times since suspending it in 2007, indicating the EU’s willingness to cooperate with the PA, should a political solution be reached between the rival Palestinian political parties. As recently as late March, the EUBAM Chief of Mission reaffirmed to Egypt’s ambassador to Israel the mission’s readiness to resume its tasks at Rafah.

Arguably, the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation removes impediments to EU and Egyptian cooperation at the Rafah crossing.

Vague though it may be, the agreement between Fatah and Hamas stipulates the rehabilitation of Palestinian security forces and a mandate to end the siege and blockade of Gaza. Although hostilities between the rival parties are ongoing, in theory, technical hurdles undermining the opening of the Rafah crossing have been overcome.

Accordingly, Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah crossing is commensurate with existing agreements and signals a resumption of the status quo ante. Israel can do little to challenge this policy on legal grounds and it lacks the political credibility to maintain the comprehensive siege by force.

Israel lacks political credibility to maintain Gaza blockade 

While 29 Democratic Senators have urged President Barack Obama to suspend US aid to the Palestinian Authority should Hamas join the PA government, European and international support for the unity government is robust.

On May 6, the EU announced that it will provide an additional US$85million in aid to support the PA in light of Israel’s withholding of $105million of tax revenue belonging to the Palestinian Authority. Similarly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon – along with a coalition of donor nations – have urged Israel to release the Palestinian funds. Meanwhile, the United Nations’ envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, has described the unity government as “overdue“, demonstrating general international support for the unity government that includes Hamas.

Similar international support exists for ending the siege on Gaza. Especially since Israel’s raid on the Gaza flotilla in May 2010, support for the debilitating siege has steadily dwindled. In the aftermath of the fatal attack in international waters, even the US described Israel’s blockade as “untenable” and called on Israel to change its policy toward Gaza.

The White House not only supports an easing of the siege, but it also supports Egypt’s post-revolution government. Shortly after Mubarak’s departure, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt to congratulate the new government – and promised it diplomatic support as well as economic aid. Although not impossible, it is unlikely that the US will challenge Egypt’s decision, which reflects the US’ blockade policy as well as the US-brokered AMA, and risk undermining the government’s nascent development.

Finally, within Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lacks the political support necessary to take any significant risks. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni has accused Netanyahu of isolating Israel and stated that her Kadima party would not join a Netanyahu-led coalition even in the face of September’s “political tsunami”. Livni also opposes the Palestinian unity government, but explains “there is a difference between defending Israel and aiding the survival of a prime minister that only damages the country”.

In light of broad support for the Palestinian unity government, frustration with the ongoing blockade, enthusiasm for Egypt’s new government, and Netanyahu’s tenuous domestic standing, it is neither likely that Israel can mobilise significant political opposition to Egypt’s new policy, nor use force to respond to opening of the Rafah crossing.

Buoyed by impunity, the cover afforded by turmoil in the region, and the desire to establish its qualitative military edge in the region, Israel may nevertheless employ a military option to respond to the reopened crossing. Even if it does not use force at Rafah, it may brandish its military prowess by targeting the forthcoming Gaza flotilla, which will set sail for Gaza’s shores in late June. In light of the political balance, Israel’s choice to use force without a tangible military threat will exacerbate its already waning legitimacy.

Escaping this political trapping leaves Israel with little other choice than to urge the US to act on its behalf. Whether the Obama administration is willing to do so (the US Congress has already demonstrated its willingness) remains unclear in light of a fast-transforming Middle East, where US interests continue to hang in the balance.

Noura Erakat is a Palestinian human rights attorney and activist. She is currently an adjunct professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in Georgetown University. She is also a co-editor of Jadaliyya.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Abbas seen as a traitor: “not backing the UN war report is a ‘scandal'”

Posted in Fatah, Gaza war crimes investigation, Hamas, International community, Palestine, Peace process, Pictures, USA foreign policy, War crimes with tags , , , , , , , on 12/10/2009 by 3071km

Date published: Monday 12th October 2009

Source: Al Jazeera English

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Palestinian unity hopes dim

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A reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, the rival Palestinian parties, has been delayed, following a bitter dispute over the Palestinian decision not to back a UN report on alleged Israeli war crimes.

The deal was to be signed on October 25, clearing the way for Hamas and Fatah to co-operate in rebuilding war-damaged Gaza by preparing for Palestinian elections in the first half of 2010.

Speaking of his disappointment to Al Jazeera on Monday, Mustafa Barghouthi – an independent member of the Palestinian parliament – said he believed Fatah and Hamas had turned a UN war-crimes report into a party-political issue, rather than into an honest attempt to seek justice.

The report, drawn up by a team of experts led by Richard Goldstone, a former South African judge, accuses Israel of using disproportionate force and failing to protect civilians during its bombardment of Gaza at the end of 2008.

Palestinian party politics

Barghouti said: “What is most unfortunate is that the Goldstone report should have been a unifying issue for all Palestinians … to hold Israel accountable for its war crimes.

“What we see is that both Fatah and Hamas are making this into a party-political issue. This should stop.”

The two sides have been divided since Hamas, which commanded a majority in parliament, seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.Following the takeover, there have been rival Palestinian governments in Gaza and the West Bank.

With mediation from Egypt, the parties have been trying to broker a deal to reconcile and establish a power-sharing agreement.

But Hamas said on its website on Sunday that it was postponing the agreement because of a much-criticised decision by the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by President Mahmoud Abbas, to delay action on the Goldstone report.

‘Crime and scandal’

Seven Palestinian groups joined Hamas leaders based in Damascus, Syria, on Sunday in issuing a statement of support for the postponement of the reconciliation deal.

They called Abbas’s decision to freeze action on the UN report a “crime and scandal”.

The groups emphasised the importance of reconciliation but said Abbas’s actions should not go unpunished.

In a televised speech from the conference in Damascus, Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, spelled out his party’s position.”When Goldstone investigated the criminal aggression by Israel against Gaza, this was an opportunity to indict Israel,” he said.

“But this group of Palestinian leaders [Fatah leadership] withdrew the report. This is the Goldstone scandal. A courageous leadership is a leadership that is frank with its people.

“Those who are accumulating political mistakes are today continuing their lies. This is not a leadership that deserves to be entrusted with the leadership of the Palestinians.

The Goldstone report recommended that the UN Security Council require both sides to carry out credible investigations into alleged abuses during the conflict – in which 13 Israelis and almost 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilian women and children, were killed.

Israel has rejected the report’s allegations while the US has called it deeply flawed.

But many Palestinians, and not just Hamas members, were outraged after Abbas withdrew Palestinian support for having the UN Human Rights Council forward the report to the 192-nation General Assembly for possible action.

In reaction, Abbas gave his own speech on Sunday in Ramallah – saying Hamas had its own reasons for not wanting to sign a reconciliation agreement.”This campaign by Hamas is aimed at serving their interests, which is to postpone the signing of the reconciliation agreement,” he said.

“They want to concentrate their rule and their regime in Gaza. They want to ensure the continuity of division in Gaza, that aims at weakening the Palestinian Authority.”

Unity ‘efforts continuing’

Some Palestinian parliamentarians are still hopeful that a reconciliation agreement might be reached by October 25.

Barghouti, the Palestinian politician, said despite the public media attacks, unity efforts are continuing.

“The Egyptians have provided a final copy of the agreement for reconciliation. And hopefully, by the 20th of this month, all parties will sign this agreement in preparation for a ceremony that would declare unity,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Delaying the Goldstone report vote would never have happened if we had had a united Palestinian leadership.

“Given that Israel has arrested large numbers of parliamentary members, the parliament is paralysed and unable to function – so this agreement needs to happen.”

But other Palestinians say the chances of national unity are slim.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Monday, Azzam Tamimi, author of Hamas: Unwritten Chapters, said saving the reconciliation process while Abbas remains president is almost impossible.

“The overwhelming opinion in the Palestinian street now is that Abbas is a complete traitor. There is no coming back from that,” he said.

“And what makes this worse is the reality that, despite much hope for change with a new US government under President Barack Obama, it seems clear now that it was American pressure that forced Abbas not to back the UN war report.”

Tamimi said Washington’s policy towards the whole Palestine issue “has not changed, despite a new set of faces in the White House”.

LowKey – Long Live Palestine

Posted in Activism, Everyday life in Gaza, Everyday life in the West Bank, Palestine, Songs with tags , , , , , on 03/10/2009 by 3071km

The issue of Israeli settlements

Posted in Everyday life in the West Bank, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Peace process, Videos, West Bank with tags , , , , , on 20/09/2009 by 3071km

Date published: Sunday 20th September 2009

Source: Al Jazeera English

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Despite a wave of protests and talks on the issue, Israeli settlement construction continues.

George Mitchell, the US envoy to the Middle East, met Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, during his latest tour of the region and although the meeting was described as “good”  by the prime minister’s office, there was no deal on the thorny issue of settlements.

The US wants Israel to temporarily halt its expansion into Palestinian land, especially in the occupied West Bank.

Mitchell and Netanyahu are set to meet again and the special envoy wants to secure an agreement ahead of possible three-way talks between Netanyahu, Barack Obama, the US president, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

So, where does that leave Obama’s peace initiative? And is the US willing to force its ally to compromise?

Inside Story, with presenter Shiulie Gosh, discusses with guests Raanan Gissen, a former senior advisor to Ariel Sharon, Michael Hudson, a professor of International Relations at Georgetown University, and Azzam Tamimi, the director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought.

Obama to host Netanyahu-Abbas talks

Posted in Fatah, Hamas, History, Israeli politics, Operation Cast Lead, Palestine, Peace process, Pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 20/09/2009 by 3071km

Date published: Sunday September 20th 2009

Source: Al Jazeera English

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Obama, right, will meet Abbas, left, and Netanyahu seperately before the there-way talks [File: AFP]

The White House has announced that the US president will host three-way talks with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday.

Barack Obama is due to meet Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, separately before the three go into a joint session, the White House said.

The meeting is expected to take place in New York before a session of the United Nations General Assembly, the White House said, “to lay the groundwork for the relaunch of negotiations, and to create a positive context for those negotiations so that they can succeed”.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, welcomed Obama’s personal involvement in the peace process, but indicated low Palestinian expectations for a positive outcome.

“At this point, I think President Obama must convey to the world that one side is undermining efforts to resolve the peace process,” he told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

“This meeting is not about resuming negotiations. I don’t think we will come out of this meeting with Netanyahu agreeing to resume negotiations or stop settlement expansion.”

‘Comprehensive peace’

Talks have been stalled since Israel launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip last December and Abbas has repeatedly said that they will not restart until Israel commits to a complete freeze of settlement building in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

George Mitchell, the US special envoy to the Middle East, wrapped up a mission to the Middle East on Friday having failed to secure the concessions necessary for the peace process to resume.

He said that the three-way meeting planned for Tuesday showed Obama’s “deep commitment to comprehensive peace”.Al Jazeera’s John Terrett, reporting from Washington DC, said: “The general assumption was that George Mitchell was flying back to Washington a failure.

“After half a dozen trips to the Middle East he had failed to secure a trilateral meeting at the UN General Assembly next week.

“I suspect the Americans would have preferred to keep the drama going right the way through the opening stages of the General Assembly and out late as Wednesday or Thursday.”

Netanyahu has repeatedly refused to commit to either a permanent stop to settlement expansion, as demanded by the Palestinians, or the year-long halt that Washington was believed to be calling for.

Instead he has suggested that Israel could be prepared to stop building new settlements for six months while negotiations resume.

‘Commitments and agreements’

Maen Areikat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) mission to the US, said that no conditions had been attached to Tuesday’s planned talks.

“We haven’t laid down any conditions. We have been asking all along for all parties to meet their obligations,” he told Al Jazeera from Washington DC.

“We Palestinians feel that we have met a lot of our obligations under previous commitments and agreements and phase one of the road map [for peace].”Israel so far has failed to meet any of their obligations.”

Areikat said that the efforts of the Obama administration were encouraging but “we will have to see what kind of discussions we will have on Tuesday”.

But Akiva Eldar, the chief political columnist for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, said that it was Abbas that would be under pressure going into the meeting.

“He can’t afford to go home empty handed again, and what I mean by empty handed is without a full commitment from the Israelis to stop all the operations in the settlements,” he said.

“[Netanyahu] can come out of the meeting with President Obama and can say something such as ‘we have agreed on some formula that will alllow the settlers, especially those in Jerusalem, to maintain a normal life’.”

More than 500,000 Israelis live in settlements on land occupied by Israel following the 1967 war, land that the Palestinians see as vital to any future independent state.

‘Unrealistic demand’

Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli national security adviser currently with the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, told Al Jazeera that the Palestinians’ demand for a total end to all settlement building was ultimately impossible.

“The demand that there be a total and complete Israeli freeze not only in the West Bank as a whole, but including Jerusalem, was an unrealistic demand,” he said.

“No Israeli prime minister could have agreed to that.”

Meanwhile, Ismail Haniya, the deposed Palestinian prime minister and Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, condemned Abbas’s decision to meet Netanyahu.

Speaking at prayers in Gaza for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, Haniya said “it does not obligate the Palestinian people to anything”.

“No one is authorised, not the PLO nor anyone else, to sign any agreement that violates the rights of the nation and the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Negotiations exclude Hamas

Posted in Hamas, History, International community, Israel, Israeli politics, Palestine, Peace process, USA foreign policy, Videos with tags , , on 27/08/2009 by 3071km

Date published: 27 August 2009

Source: Al Jazeera English

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Barack Obama, the US president, is attempting to seal an Arab-Israeli peace deal that has eluded the region for more than six decades.

In the fourth of the series, Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin looks at the consequences of a peace plan without the involvement of Hamas.