Issues for Rice’s Middle East trip

Jan 16, 2007 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

January 16, 2006
Number 01/07 #06

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was just in Israel as part of a Middle East tour. The primary purpose of her trip is to explore regional support for US efforts to stabilise Iraq, but she will also be seeking to revitalise diplomatic efforts on the Israeli-Palestinian front. This Update deals with what she will need to keep in mind to accomplish this.

First up, Washington Institute for Near East Policy analyst David Makovksy says if Rice wants to make progress, she is going to have to attempt to dispel some of the myths about the peace process that have hampered progress in the past. Among the myths he cites are that the Arab initiative of 2002 shows the Arab states are committed to peace,  “everyone know what the solution is” so the parties just have to agree to sign on the dotted line, and the real problem is Israel enjoys too much support in Washington. For his well-argued  refutation of this and other myths, CLICK HERE.

Next, former New York Times Middle East correspondent Youssef Ibrahim remarks on the belief that “settling the 100-year-old dispute between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs is a sine qua non to resolving other Middle East catastrophes” which seems to be associated by some with Rice’s trip. Ibrahim points out that this belief is a “red herring,” and argues that none of the five “catastrophes” that afflict the region, such as internecine strife, absence of representative government, corruption, poverty and illiteracy, will be ameliorated by solving the Arab-Israel conflict. For this important argument from a knowledgeable source, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Avi Issacharoff of Haaretz has some excellent reporting on the extent of the civil strife in Gaza and the degree of hatred developing between Hamas and Fatah there. It includes some stories of horrific cruelty among Palestinians. For this insight into the degree to which the area has descended into violent internecine strife, CLICK HERE

Busting Arab-Israel peace-making myths

David Makovsky


As Condoleezza Rice visits the region, she should dispel some of the mythology that exists in the Arab world on Middle East peacemaking.

1. If Israel does not go to final status talks, this shows it does not want peace. This is the reductionist, land-driven narrative that sees gradualism as an Israeli plot. It received a boost in the US last year due to contributions by American academics who are not Middle East experts (Walt/Mearsheimer) and by former president Jimmy Carter. This narrative conveniently ignores the fact that some of the biggest obstacles to resolving this conflict in 2000 were not land, but issues of refugees and security. Through land swaps, land seems the most easily resolved of these issues.

The other issues helped doom the talks in 2000 and seem even less resolvable now. Apart from the impasse on refugees, security is a problem as well. From the Israeli side, how could the IDF withdraw from virtually the entire West Bank when 1,000 Kassam rockets have fallen on Israel from Gaza since its 2005 pullout? The distinction that Israel views final status talks as desirable but not feasible is seldom heard in the Arab world, even if the difference is heaven and earth.

2. Everyone knows what the solution is, but the parties just do not know how to get there. This makes it sound as if all that is missing is a book on diplomatic etiquette. In fact, rejectionism and terrorism are not marginal phenomena, as Hamas currently heads the Palestinian Authority government.

3. The Arabs states are for peace. They put forward the Arab Initiative in 2002. It is axiomatic that Arab leaders will urge Rice to press Israel, but it is far from clear that they will do their share. Even though the Arab Initiative is an improvement on the past, there is no doubt that this is a very asymmetrical peace plan.

The initiative requires Israel first to do all the front-loaded work by getting out of the West Bank and Golan Heights, with Arab reciprocation delayed, hence less binding. This process would be far more effective if Arab states were to take parallel steps to reinforce progress on all sides. This would bolster the center among Israel and the Palestinians, providing the latter with key political cover. If the Quartet’s road map is to be revived, it should be matched by an Arab road map.

4. The whole problem of the Arab-Israel conflict is that Israel enjoys too much support in Washington. The Walt/Mearsheimer/Carter thesis is a familiar echo of what famed American historian Richard Hofstadter described in his essay, “The Paranoid Strain in American Politics,” about the American right’s scapegoating of liberals as communists during the McCarthy period.

Perhaps it is not surprising that scapegoating occurs during periods of turmoil like the Iraq War, but it is also unfair. American Jews did not stop Bill Clinton from proposing the partitioning of Jerusalem in 2000, for example.

5. Everything in the Middle East is linked to the Arab-Israel conflict. Since September 11, 2001, the American public has been treated to an endless seminar on the Arab world. Its conclusion has been that Islamism has very deep cultural and political roots, linked to dysfunctionalism in Arab regimes but not driven by the Arab-Israel conflict.

The 2000-2004 intifada did not cause a single Arab regime to fall; al-Qaida prepared its plots at the height of US peacemaking in the Middle East in the 1990s. The Sunni insurgency in Iraq’s Anbar province is not driven by the dynamics of Israelis and Palestinians.

The US should be involved in the search for a two-state solution not because of Iraq, but because it wants to find problem-solving solutions that give dignity to both Israelis and Palestinians alike.

An elevated debate that avoids unchallenged slogans as well as a carefully orchestrated policy that avoids the pitfalls ahead could even prove Santayana’s Middle East corollary to be wrong.

The writer, a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, is director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where his latest monograph is “Lessons and Implications of the Lebanon War: A Preliminary Assessment (2006).” The above is excerpted from a piece he wrote for bitterlemons-international.org


Who’s Your First?


New York Sun, January 11, 2007

A maxim in Middle East affairs to Europeans and many American advocates of convoluted solutions is that settling the 100-year-old dispute between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs is a sine qua non to resolving other Middle East catastrophes.

Indeed Secretary of State Rice is reinvigorating this view with a new round of diplomacy in the Greater Middle East, which means inevitably putting pressure on Israel to accommodate Palestinian Arabs and Syrians with withdrawals from the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

But something doesn’t click here, like the whole argument. It is a red herring from start to finish. The catastrophes in the Middle East lie in five areas:

• Internecine conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon and among Palestinian Arabs;

• Absence of representative governments for 350 million Arabs;

• Uneven distribution of wealth and corruption;

• Widespread illiteracy, poverty, and illness;

• Disenfranchisement of women.

Why does resolving any of these depend on good will in the Palestinian Arab areas?

Ever since they achieved independence in the past century, cliques of families and army officers have ruled Arabs, be they Al Sauds in Saudi Arabia, Al Qaddafis in Libya, Al Mubaraks in Egypt, Al Sabahs in Kuwait, etc. They will neither share power nor are willing to pass it along. These elites have robbed, generated corruption, instituted police states, and observed fitful development and great injustice — all ingredients of failed governments. Their actions have produced violent reactions including fundamentalist jihadis that now target them and the West, which supports them. The logical action here is to force them to reform and end repression at home.

But the “advocates” advance the view that once America “pressures” Israel to settle with Palestinian Arabs, enough goodwill will be generated to resolve other matters. Manifestly, this is nonsense. Arab dictators corner the market on power because they want it, not out of compassion for Palestinian Arabs.

The second catastrophe is growing sectarian divides, not only between Muslims — as in Shiites vs. Sunnis — but between Arabs of different ethnic, tribal, and religious backgrounds as with the Druze, Kurds, North African Berbers, and among tribal clans in Somalia, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. These frictions have turned into gun battles and genocide in the Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, among others. Here, again, it would be quite a stretch to argue that Arabs and Muslims will stop killing each other once Israelis and Palestinian Arabs kiss and make up.

Indeed, the Arabs themselves never awaited Palestinian Arab accord before striking peace with Israel. Egypt and Jordan formalized peace treaties with Jerusalem that still hold, regardless.

Another canard is that the Palestinian Arabs themselves are ready for anything in the way of peace. As this is being written the only thing that Palestinian Arabs are gearing up for is a civil war of their own. Should Israel unilaterally return to the 1967 demarcation lines, leaving much of the West Bank, the follow up will be a Palestinian Arab blood bath. Gaza, evacuated by Israeli occupation troops more than a year ago, stands as a vivid example a mess of armed factions, extortion, corruption, and Islamic fundamentalism. Palestinian Arabs need rule of law before a settlement with Israel.

What of massive illiteracy among Arabs who, the United Nations reports, have left 25% of their populations with no education — neither able to read nor to write. That ranks as major problem without Israeli-Palestinian Arab ingredients behind it. Weapons accumulated by Arab regimes, including Egypt, which has been at peace with Israel since 1979, serve only two purposes: fighting other Muslims and generating billions of dollars in commissions for ruling families.

One has to be a die-hard conspiracy theorist to argue that any of these issues is related to the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict.


The battle within

By Avi Issacharoff

Haaretz, January 14

RAMALLAH – Sufian Abu Zeida’s blue eyes are tired and lifeless. He cannot get the battle in the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza last Thursday out of his head. Hamas militants killed his neighbor and fellow Fatah member Mohammed Gharib, head of Preventive Security in the Gaza Strip, in a raid on his home. The same force also blew up Abu Zeida’s home. After a week of battles in Gaza, the likelihood of peace with the Israelis appears greater than reconciliation with his neighbors in Hamas.

“Our future is black,” Abu Zeida, a senior Fatah official and former Palestinian Authority cabinet minister, told Haaretz this week in an interview in Ramallah. “We have no way out. In one day my world turned upside down. My wife and children no longer sleep at home, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to return to my work. Mohammed Gharib had been my friend since childhood, he was in the class below me in school. But I tell myself I can’t complain – compared to Mohammed, I’m fortunate. All they did was blow up my house. The Hamas activists executed him with smiles, with pleasure. They laughed and joked among themselves and then shot him to death. Afterwards they tied up his nephew and held him for several hours, a boy of 16. At one point he asked for water. They returned a few minutes later with a suspicious-looking liquid and the boy understood that he shouldn’t drink it. Then they poured it on his hands. Do you know what it was? Acid. Do you understand the depths of the hatred?” Abu Zeida asked.

“Who would have believed,” asks his friend Salim Abu Safiya, a senior Fatah official and the head of border crossings for the PA, “that of all people Hamas would try to kill Sufian, who is so well known for his nationalist struggle. Allah and I rescued him from death,” he says. That day the father of a mutual friend, businessman Ihab al-Ashkar, died after a long battle with cancer.

“I told Sufian he had to come with me that afternoon to pay a condolence call, because it’s not safe to be on the streets after dark. He agreed. We went to Ihab’s house. As soon as we arrived we heard about the fighting,” Abu Safiya related.

“My wife called and said there was shooting and that I shouldn’t come home,” Abu Zeida picks up the story. “She was under fire for six hours, she hid on the floor,” he continued. “In the end they burst into the house. They wanted to kidnap my son, but the neighbors came and demanded that they leave him alone. Afterward, they put a bomb in the house that I’m building and blew it up.”

“You have to understand,” Abu Safiya said, “The people who wanted to kill Sufian are 18, maybe 20 years old, whereas he was in prison for 12 years. Who behaves like that? Even the Israelis who arrest a suicide bomber treat him with respect compared to what Hamas did to Gharib.”


Five Palestinians, all Fatah members, are hospitalized at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center. Four have leg injuries. The fifth is in intensive care, in a coma. The Hamas men who attacked Gharib’s house were responsible. The fifth was inside the house at the time. The victims’ descriptions resemble those of Third World executions.

“At about 3 P.M. on Wednesday [January 3 – A.I.], a car carrying three of Mohammed Gharib’s bodyguards was stopped by a Hamas Executive Force roadblock,” A., one of the wounded, related in a telephone interview to Haaretz. “They wanted to arrest one of the passengers but they resisted. One escaped, the second was caught and the third was shot when he tried to flee and then arrested. In response, relatives of ours [the Gharib family – A.I.] abducted a member of the Executive Force in a counter-operation, and then men from the Popular Front stepped in to mediate. The abductees from both sides were released, and we thought the whole affair was behind us,” A. said. He is breathing heavily. A. was scheduled to undergo another operation on his wounded legs yesterday.

“But the next day the battles erupted again,” A. continues. “At 2 P.M. a van carrying Executive Force militants pulled up next to our home. They fired at the building and the guards returned fire.” One of the Hamas men was killed, and the response was not long in coming. “They called in dozens of armed men to the site,” A. says. “Not only from Jabalya but from Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahia and other places. In less than an hour there were about 100 gunmen surrounding the house. Hamas militants began setting up roadblocks all over the northern Gaza Strip and in Gaza City to prevent the arrival of reinforcements from Fatah or from the Preventive Security forces. First, they surrounded the family’s two houses, then the nearby homes, and then they started isolating the entire arena – the neighborhood. At about 3 P.M. the massive firing at the houses began.”

According to R., another survivor of the attack, “they fired about 50 RPG missiles [shoulder-launched rockets] at the big house, and then they started on the small house. Mohammed Gharib hid in the small house. They fired about 20 missiles at it. We couldn’t see or breathe. The entire room was full of smoke and fire. We kept trying to call for help, but they blocked us, kept anyone from reaching the area, even ambulances.”

G., a member of Gharib’s family, joined one of the processions of unarmed civilians that was organized in an attempt to create a human barrier between the Hamas gunmen and the house. When the gunmen opened fire at the marchers, wounding dozens, he managed to escape into the surrounded building. “I went in and went upstairs, where everyone was. There were about 50 people there, in two rooms. The firing continued, and after each explosion another part of the wall or the ceiling fell,” G. related.

“At the same time negotiations for surrender to the Hamas men began,” G. continued. “We didn’t believe they would let us surrender without harming us but they swore on the Koran and on Allah. They demanded that we go out with our hands up, in groups of five. I was together with Mohammed Gharib in the first group of five. We came out, with our hands up like they wanted, to the roof, where several of them were waiting, masked and armed. They tied up everyone and hit us. They shouted that they were from Iz al-Din al-Qassam [the Hamas military wing], that would never be defeated. One got a phone call; he answered and then hung up. ‘Where is Mohammed Gharib?’ he asked. Gharib stood up and said: ‘That’s me. Do what you want with me, just leave the shabab [young people] alone.’ They asked everyone to remove our jackets, to make sure we were unarmed, and then three of them pushed Gharib into the wall and shot him in the legs, before our eyes.

“We thought they would stop shooting, since presenting him as a captive could be considered an achievement for them,” G. continued. “But the three went away and three more came. They approached Gharib and shot him in the legs again. He shouted, ‘I haven’t done anything to you, I’ve never harmed anyone,’ and then he began to recite the Shahada [the Muslim confession of faith, “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet,” which is recited before death – A.I.]. The ritual was repeated a third time: Another group approached Gharib and shot at his legs,” G. continued. “At this point he was still alive. They took Thar, the teenaged nephew who used to escort him around, sat him next to his Uncle Mohammed, who was still conscious, and shot Thar dead.”

“The Hamas militants didn’t let up,” G. said. “They insulted Gharib, laughing and joking among themselves. ‘Aren’t you ashamed to say the Shahada? You’re a heretic, shame on you.’ They didn’t look angry or hateful, simply bored. Gharib was slowly dying, after they had fired dozens of bullets into his legs. But in the end they shot him in the head and the back and killed him. Afterward they asked for Khaled Gharib, and took him too and shot him, too. But he lived, and now he’s in intensive care,” G. concluded.

At that point, the other occupants of the house began to surrender as well. The gunmen waited for them outside, and each young man who emerged was shot in the knees. Some were taken for a “walk” in Gaza City and then thrown, bleeding, into the street. Two Fatah men – Hussein Abu Khalil and Ihab Al-Mabhouh – were killed in the course of the battle. After the fact it turned out that one of the Hamas gunmen who shot Ihab was his brother. Both were masked and were unaware that they were shooting at one another.

Fatah returns

A few days after the incident in Jabalya, Fatah held the largest rally in its history, in Gaza City. In many ways the assault on Gharib’s house backfired on Hamas. Perhaps the aggressive message got through, but the shocking images from the house that was raided, and above all the interview with Gharib, broadcast live on Palestinian television just minutes before his death, with missiles exploding in the background, provoked strong criticism of Hamas.

There is a sense on the street that the Islamic organization which always drew its strength from the grassroots is abandoning it to focus on its faithful supporters only. Hamas may have decided that this is a culture war that cannot be resolved by peaceful means.

“About a quarter of a million people attended the rally,” Abu Zeida and Abu Safiya claim. “Not all were Fatah members, on the contrary. Many were ordinary civilians who have reached the conclusion that they are fed up. The attack made people realize they are all in danger of death; today it’s Gharib, tomorrow it’s me. The cruelty overflowed into inhumane behavior, and Gazans understand that. Nobody can agree to remain silent after such a crime, to applaud Hamas and to speak again about national unity.” “There are two policy paths, and only one can survive,” Abu Safiya says. “A solution? There’s none on the horizon.”


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