Thursday, November 07, 2013

Israel-Palestinian Talks: Why Fate of Jordan Valley Is Key

 From BBC News, 6 Nov 2013, by Yolande Knell
The fertile, largely undeveloped Jordan Valley makes up a quarter of the West Bank. It was captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, and most of it is still under Israel's military and administrative control. Israel says it cannot give up the valley for reasons of security. The fate of the valley is said to be one of the points on which Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are struggling to find a compromise.
    In October, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Knesset meeting, "Our strength is the guarantee for our existence and peace....This requires a security border in the Jordan Valley, as Rabin said in his last speech." Israeli media report that Netanyahu plans to build a new security barrier in the Jordan Valley and rejects the introduction of international forces to guard the border.
"Our experience has been that international forces just don't do the job," says Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He points to the limitations of UNIFIL, which was given responsibility for the southern Lebanon border after the 2006 war. "Giving up the security of the Jordan Valley in a Middle East that's full of chaos? Who knows what's going to happen to Syria - maybe we'll have a new jihad stand to our east - that's a major worry for the Israeli army today."

Compromise Will Likely Lead to a Nuclear Iran

From Jerusalem Post, 6 Nov 2013, by Yaakov Lappin:
The international community and Iran are on a path to reaching a "middle ground" deal on Tehran's nuclear program that will allow each side to claim victory, but which will allow Iran to eventually become a nuclear state, Prof. Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
    An agreement will likely involve Iran decreasing its uranium enrichment activities and a timetable for inspection of nuclear facilities, though it will not include complete Iranian transparency, Rabi said. But a partial nuclear deal is a "certified recipe for creating a nuclear Iran in the intermediate future," he warned....  
“Some of the sites will be open for inspection. Everything will be partial. This is convenient for the Iranian and the American presidents,” Rabi stated.
Such an agreement will likely be supported by Russia – and Europe, despite some reservations, will give its blessing as well....
A deal on Iran’s nuclear program might also expand to an international arrangement for the attempted resolution of the Syrian conflict, Rabi said.
“The Iranians can say: ‘If we’re accepted as a partner in future talks on Syria, we can carry out steps that will push towards an end to the conflict in Syria,’” he added.
The US will seek to calm its Middle East allies, Israel, the Gulf states and Egypt, all of whom are threatened by a nuclear Iran, and convince them that it did not abandon them.
...Any lifting of sanctions will likely be gradual and could involve a slow easing of restrictions on the Iranian oil or banking industries.
But a partial nuclear deal is a “certified recipe for creating a nuclear Iran in the intermediate future...”
...Inside Iran, President Hassan Rouhani has managed to convince the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, that a change in tactics is in order to prevent a collapse of the economy and a new revolution.
Rouhani is a product of the Iranian regime, and his call for a change of course is merely tactical, not ideological, according to Rabi’s assessment.
“He belongs to the elite of the Islamic revolution... what he’s trying to do is prove that through his way, Iran can purchase estates of support abroad and ease the sanctions, without significantly harming Iranian interests.”
“The Iranian charm offensive is working on the Europeans and Americans, who do not want to get involved in another Middle Eastern saga, and want to look at the half-full glass,” Rabi added.

Pallywood Poster Girls Financing the flames from Florida

October 30, 2013:

A shadowy volunteer organization of non-Israelis ["Pallywood Poster Girls"] working ‘against the brutal occupation of Palestine’ is tracked from the West Bank to the woods near Tampa, Florida

Illustrative photo of Palestinian and foreign activists during a 2010 protest against the security barrier at the West Bank village of Bil'in, near Ramallah (photo credit: Issam Rimawi / Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Palestinian and foreign activists during a 2010 protest against the security barrier at the West Bank village of Bil'in, near Ramallah (photo credit: Issam Rimawi / Flash90)

A regular feature of West Bank confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians seems to be a corps of intrepid young women that villagers call “internationals.” They specialize in upfront and personal, in-your-face, and often nose-to-nose verbal taunting hoping to provoke a reaction that video cameras can record. If and when soldiers finally do react, these incidents are then uploaded to the Internet to prove “the brutality of the IDF.” These [Pallywood Poster Girls] often seem to appear out of nowhere at a village flashpoint. Just as suddenly, they melt into the background.

Using false names and seemingly untrackable movements, the skilled and stealthy internationals have managed to inspire and encourage videographed confrontation far beyond their numbers. Who are they? What is the font of their financial wherewithal? Who is financing these flames?        
Searching for answers, one night in early May 2013, I traveled to the tiny West Bank town of Deir Itsiya where the [Pallywood Poster Girls] quietly maintain a base of operations. The women are known to many in that local Arab community, where they are provided logistical assistance and deferential hospitality. They receive many European guests. When I asked my taxi driver, “Do you know where the house is?” he answered, “Yes, Sheik Haider (neighborhood).” He took me there.
At an elbow in a dusty road, I found their compound behind long, ornate iron fencing. I knocked on all the doors, the ones with knockers and the ones without. No answer. I called out for anyone who was home. A neighbor strolled by to remark. The driver translated: “He said the European girls are not sleeping in town tonight. But he knows how to reach them. I will take you where he said.”
Moments later, as I walked down a back alley, a man appeared at the top of the lane. After brief introductions, he dialed one of the international women on his cellphone. “Hello, dear,” he said to them in English, exercising almost affectionate appreciation. “There is someone here who wishes to talk to you, dear.” After listening for a few moments, he answered, “So, dear, what you wish us to do?” A few moments elapsed. “Yes, dear, I will do just as you say,” he replied, with unexpected docility. In four consecutive sentences, he addressed the woman as “dear.”
With a nod, the man handled me his cell. The woman on the other end of the phone spoke to me with an American accent but would not identify whether she was an American or give her real name.
“We don’t reveal our identities. We use false names,” she explained. “Our group is the International Women’s Peace Service...Our group is completely independent. We are here for protective presence.[shorthand for obstructive confrontation with security forces during high-profile actions] She added, “We resist the Israeli occupation... We go to the Friday demonstrations at Nabi Saleh...”
The International Women’s Peace Service bills itself as a volunteer confrontation and intervention organization. ...The IWPS keeps member names and locations a secret to evade the Israeli police and security forces.
But who finances and organizes the operation?
Tracking the organization’s international banking information revealed their European banking and donations are channeled through BAWAG PSK bank in Vienna, Austria. Internet-based donations to the IWPS are accepted via WePay, a recently developed alternative to PayPal. WePay has become popular with alternative and protest groups seeking opacity. It was reportedly the money channel of choice during the Occupy Movement.
In the United States, checks for the IWPS are mailed to the titular American nerve center of the international movement. That location is not ensconced in the avant-garde, liberal Mission District of San Francisco, or the constricted hustle-bustle avenues of New York’s socially-conscious West Village, or even the fractious, academic neighborhoods of Chicago’s Hyde Park. That location is secluded in a heavily wooded area of Spring Hill, Florida, a small community in sparsely populated Hernando County about an hour north of Tampa.
A check of Internet traffic reaching the IWPS IP address daily for the past year, including the two dozen-odd websites that currently link back to the IWPS, led to the same residence in Spring Hill that receives checks.
To reach that dwelling, one must first drive from the nearest state highway, skirting the nearby sandhill preserves and state parks, and then turn down a small paved road, which after 970 feet stops abruptly but then continues for 1,700 feet as a primitive lane that was upgraded earlier this year by the county roads department from compacted limerock to reclaimed asphalt, and from that last maintained lip down along a personal dirt driveway that must first cross an adjacent private five-acre wooded lot. There, at the end of the end of the end of the road is a small mobile home on a five-acre, tree-filled parcel. County real estate records indicate that of the property’s approximate $95,000 value, about $83,000 is in the five-acre land itself, with only $10,000 allotted for the actual dwelling. The trailer enjoys a street-specific numbered postal address only as a theoretical extension of the nearest paved road that is used to access the asphalt extension leading to the dirt driveway that extends to the front step of the front door.
In other words, the IWPS [Pallywood Poster Girls] American location is a little trailer in the woods.
Frank and Marie Indelicato live at that address. Their phone number is unlisted. I got it.
Marie picked up the phone and confirmed that she is one of just eleven people worldwide that run [Pallywood Poster Girls]. The others are located in Europe, Japan, Australia, and Latin America. There is no president or director..
[Pallywood Poster Girls] know they are operating stealthily, often in the shadows and at the edge of confrontation. “Four of our people have been caught and been banned by the Israelis from entering the country for ten years,” she said. Even a reduction of four diminished the thin but effective disruption operation. [There are only 150 Pallywood Poster Girls.] Marie states, “Most are paying their own way and getting assistance from the villages and others.” The 150 participants are divided up between “long-term volunteers” and “short-term volunteers,” with twenty-two being the minimum age for involvement. A three-year commitment is required of long-term volunteers, which includes at least an annual three-month stint secreted in the West Bank. Short-term volunteers can work on the West Bank for just four months.
A rigorous screening process awaits any applicant. That screening includes a warning: “Are you aware that our work of nonviolent resistance runs the risk of possible injury, arrest, and deportation? Our Volunteer Agreement draws your attention in addition to the possibility of death, though this has never happened to [a Pallywood Poster Girls]. Please note that we take every precaution against all these possibilities.”
The volunteer agreement specifies: “Any medical insurance you take out may not cover you for injuries sustained through participation in any conflict, riot or war (e.g. your human-rights monitoring, nonviolent intervention, and civil resistance work).” That said, Marie explained that most [Pallywood Poster Girls] resort to ordinary travelers insurance for such coverage. “If we are injured protesting at an Israeli action,” Marie added, “under our agreements with the Palestinians, we are provided treatment by the hospitals in Nablus or Ramallah free of charge.”
Training is undertaken in conjunction with the International Solidarity Movement, which on occasion takes their calls and answers emails for them from the ISM email account. ISM functions as a partner to [Pallywood Poster Girls].
But participation in IWPS is dwindling, and recently the group’s presence has been reduced. Under IWPS rules, “at least two seasoned volunteers must be in the house at all times,” Marie explained. But with a lack of participants, the house in Deir Istiya is, at press time in mid-2013, unoccupied and may not be restaffed in time for the fall 2013 harvest, when the town is traditionally more active and populated. “We may not be able to reopen it until the spring of 2014,” Marie said.
The house in Deir Istiya incurs a monthly rent of 580 Israeli shekel— about $162. Deir Istiya mayor Abu Hejleh confirmed that the village council signed a contract with the local owner in 2009 to enable the international rental. “The house is owned by a Palestinian,” explained Abu Hejleh. “He did not know about these women. He was afraid to rent to them. So we signed the contract with him to show it was fine.” When asked about the utilities, Abu Hejleh confirmed that those costs are defrayed by the council. “We also help with the issues of electricity and water, and they pay nothing,” he stated.
One prior [Pallywood Poster Girls] was a Jewish woman called Kate Raphael. She is publicly identified as a founder of a San Francisco Bay-area anti-Israeli group called “Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism.” Raphael is known as a frequent anti-Israeli protester who has repeatedly clashed with the IDF, been jailed, and also been deported from Israel, according to reportage over recent years as well as her various taped radio interviews.
Raphael has written about her involvement with the International Women’s Peace Service [Pallywood Poster Girls] for Reclaiming Quarterly, a magazine for a segment of the witchcraft and magic activism community, according to that publication’s website. In that publication, Raphael is quoted as writing that the entire IWPS project “was initiated by members of the Hares Villager Council.” In a second Reclaiming Quarterly article, an interview with Raphael explores the anti-Israeli obstructive protest and confrontation skills — direct action — that she deployed for the International Solidarity Movement.
She is quoted as stating, “When I heard about the March 2002 direct-action campaign, I didn’t hesitate. I thought, ‘Breaking the law, that’s something I’m good at.’ You didn’t have to be a nurse or a doctor or a lawyer. You just had to be willing to put your body in the way.” Despite efforts, Raphael could not be contacted for comment.
Those who wonder whether Palestinians and Israeli can reconcile and co-exist in peace must also confront the fact that foreign influences are working to make that more difficult. In the case of the [Pallywood Poster Girls] at Deir Istiya, the foreign intervention reaches all the way into the United States, and to a humble trailer located off the road, deep in the woods of Florida.


The UN’s hypocritical Human Rights Council

From The Star, Mon Nov 04 2013 by Vivian Bercovici:
On Oct. 29, in a United Nations chamber in Geneva, a well-orchestrated farce played out. Unsurprisingly, the western media gave it scant attention.
As is customary for the UN, Israel was the focus. This time, the 47 member nations of the UN Human Rights Council gathered to express brazen hypocrisy masquerading as earnest politics.
Established in 2006, the UNHRC is intended to monitor human rights issues and follows a protocol of conducting country-specific reviews every five years to assess compliance with global standards. The only country in the world to be singled out by this august body for special scrutiny, set out as a standing agenda item for every single meeting, is Israel.
Since its inception, of the 19 “special sessions” convened by the UNHRC, six have focused on Israel. Only when Israel is the subject of such an inquiry is the phrase “grave situation” used. Fratricide in Syria, apparently, is less urgent. Not a single special session has been convened regarding North Korea. Never mind Russia, Saudi Arabia, China.
In the UN, no country on the planet can be a more heinous violator of human rights than Israel.
Leading the charge against Israel in Geneva were the beacons of international human rights.
Waffa Bassem, Egypt’s UN Ambassador, condemned Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, demanded the release of all political prisoners and free movement for Palestinian refugees.
Wow. This, from a country that condones detention without charges; which just replaced an elected Islamist government by military putsch; that flooded Gaza smuggling tunnels and has choked off the passage of goods or people to and from the territory, with impunity and without exception.
Israel allows building, medical, food and other supplies to pass into Gaza. Construction materials allowed into Gaza have been diverted to the building of tunnels burrowing from the Strip into Israel. Hamas makes no effort to conceal their purpose: to facilitate the kidnap of Israeli soldiers and execute terrorist raids against civilians. Ho hum.
Iran’s representative refused, in the chamber of a United Nations conference, to utter the name “Israel,” instead calling it “the regime.” This, from a country that tortures and murders, en masse, peaceful protesters demanding basic civil rights.
Qatar. A filthy rich emirate that has been criticized, gently, for using foreign workers as slaves. In the last few years, according to the Guardian newspaper, hundreds of migrant labourers went home in coffins, worked to death in broiling heat, for paltry wages, in deplorable conditions. They die servicing a $100-billion building spree so that Qatar can put on a big show for the 2022 World Cup it will host.
Joining in the pile-on were Turkey. Venezuela. Cuba. Is it really necessary to elaborate?
Why have all the activists — women’s, LGBT, NGOs — gone silent?
The UN is supposed to mean something; it is supposed to set the bar for decency and integrity.
But, UN operations are predicated on a regional group system, where each member state belongs to a group intended to ensure equitable geographical representation. Only through group participation can a state engage, fully, in the UN’s major juridical institutions, tribunals and inter-state consultations.
Israel’s group — Asia — is dominated by Arab and Muslim members which block its inclusion.
“This hobbled and undignified position in which … Israel uniquely finds itself is without doubt morally shocking; but it is also manifestly unlawful and constitutes a breach of both the letter and the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations … Israel’s continuing exclusion from the regional group system is both unlawful and strikes at the roots of the principles on which the United Nations exists.”
So declared Sir Robert Jennings, eminent Cambridge law professor and judge of the International Court of Justice, in a legal opinion in 1999.
Not only do his recommendations, reflecting outrage, remain unrectified, but the UNCHR report on Israel was reviewed and finalized last Friday by the Maldives, where a 15-year-old rape victim was sentenced to 100 lashes by a court for “fornication;” and Sierra Leone and Venezuela, hardly renowned for their human rights record.
Talk about a world gone topsy-turvy.
*Vivian Bercovici is a Toronto lawyer and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. Her column appears monthly.­


Sunday, November 03, 2013

China's Growing Role in the Middle East

From MEF, 28 Oct 2013, by David P. Goldman*:

English-language media completely ignored a noteworthy statement that led Der Spiegel's German-language website October 12, a call for China to "take on responsibility as a world power" in the Middle East. Penned by Bernhard Zand, the German news organization's Beijing correspondent, it is terse and to the point: now that China imports more oil from the Middle East than any other country in the world, it must answer for the region's security. "America's interest in the Middle East diminishes day by day" as it heads towards energy self-sufficiency, wrote Zand, adding:
China's interest in a peaceful Middle East is enormous, by contrast. Beijing is not only the biggest customer of precisely those oil powers who presently are fanning the flames of conflict in Syria; as a VIP customer, Beijing has growing political influence, which it should use openly. The word of the Chinese foreign minister has just as much weight in Tehran and Riyadh as that of his American counterpart.
China's situation, Zand continues, is rather like Germany's after reunification: a state whose economic power is growing will eventually be asked what it puts on the table politically. He concludes:
The time when American could be counted on to secure Beijing's supply lines soon will come to an end - America's budget deficit will take care of that by itself. Whoever wants to be a world power must take on responsibilities.
I have no idea how China envisions its future role in the Middle East. Americans will learn the intentions of the powers who gradually fill the vacuum left by Washington's withdrawal from the world "well after the fact, if ever", as I wrote on September 16 (See US plays Monopoly, Russia plays chess, Asia Times Online). .... It is helpful, though, to take note of what the rest of the world is saying, particularly when not a single English-language source made reference to it. Der Spiegel's public call for China to assume a leading geopolitical role in the Middle East, though, did not appear out of context.
American commentators have regarded China as a spoiler, the source of Pakistan's nuclear weapons technology, Iran's ballistic missiles, and other alarming instances of proliferation. It is worth considering a radically different view of China's interests in the lands between the Himalayas and the Mediterranean: no world power has more to lose from instability than does China.
Iran's nuclear weapons program poses the greatest risk to the region, and China has been viewed as uncooperative in the extreme by Western diplomats trying to tighten the economic screws on Tehran. Chinese companies, moreover, have helped Iran bypass trade sanctions, but at great cost, and with a complex result. The New York Times on September 30 profiled the problems of Iran's economy under the sanctions, and took note of the country's dependence on China:
One economist, Mohammad Sadegh Jahansefat, said the government had been taken hostage by countries benefiting from the sanctions - particularly China, which he called the worst business partner Iran had ever had."China has monopolized our trade - we are subsidizing their goods, which we are forced to import," he said, adding of its work in the energy industry, "They destroy local production and leave oil and gas projects unfinished so that no one can work with them." [1]
China's capacity to exert pressure on the Iranian regime is considerable. Apart from its interest in avoiding nuclear proliferation in the Persian Gulf, China has a number of points of conflict with Iran, well summarized in an October 17 survey by Zachary Keck in The Diplomat. [2] The one that should keep Tehran on its toes is the Islamic Republic's border with Pakistan. Iran announced October 26 that it had hanged 16 alleged Sunni rebels in Baluchistan province on the Pakistani border, the latest in a long series of violent incidents.
"With a population of 170 million, Pakistan has 20 million men of military age, as many as Iran and Turkey combined; by 2035 it will have half again as many," I observed in 2009 (see Hedgehogs and flamingos in Tehran, Asia Times Online, June 16, 2009). It also has nuclear weapons.
Iran sits between two Sunni powers -Turkey and Pakistan - that depend to a great extent on Saudi financing, and that also have excellent relations with China.
Turkey's still-disputed agreement to buy a Chinese air defense system represented a revolution in Chinese-Turkish relations, motivated by a Chinese promise to transfer the whole package of relevant technology to Turkey and to help the Turks to manufacture the systems, a more generous offer than ever Ankara got from the West. Turkey is the logical terminus for the "New Silk Road" of road, rail, pipelines and broadband that China has proposed to build in Central Asia.
China, it might be added, also has excellent relations with Israel, whose premier technical university just was offered a US$130 million grant from Hong Kong magnate Li Ka-shing to fund part of the costs of building a branch in China. Chinese provincial and local governments will contribute another $147 million. The seamless interchange of ideas and personnel between Israel's military, universities and tech entrepreneurs is a success story in miniature that China hopes to reproduce in scale.
As Singapore-based political scientist Michael Raska reports, China's military modernization envisions the spread of dual-use technologies to private industry.
Without attributing any geopolitical intention to Beijing, the visible facts make clear that China has the capacity to exercise strategic influence in the Middle East, and it has an unambiguous interest in maintaining stability. What China might choose to do, Washington will learn after the fact, if ever. If China wished to influence Iran, for example, it has considerable means to do so, and a great deal else besides.
*David P. Goldman is Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
1. Iran Staggers as Sanctions Hit Economy, New York Times, September 30, 2013.
2. China and Iran: Destined to Clash?, The Diplomat, October 17, 2013.