Below are some scattershot headlines from Israel and Palestine. This following on a diary yesterday in which I posted some of the headlines and folks were able to discuss them calmly and thoughtfully. I am violating my standard rule of I/P discussions, which is "always have a concrete point and stick closely to it." A cursory glance will show that these headlines are all over the small map. If some folks use that as an excuse to levy the traditional charge that I only wish to damn Israel, well, I suppose I can't cry. However, that is not my intention. I simply sought to pull together what I found to be the most important headlines of the day (and a few overlooked ones from earlier) to see if we can, by using a relatively uncontroversial starting point, have a relatively calm discussion.
Textbooks and such
Israel will remove from school textbooks an Arabic term that describes its creation in 1948 as a "catastrophe", the Education Ministry said on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said when he was opposition leader two years ago the word "nakba" in Israeli Arab schools was tantamount to spreading propaganda against Israel.
It’s hard for me to even comment on this action, so perhaps its best if I say little. Volleyboy1 has already commented on the subject, perhaps more wisely than I can. I will simply point out that the plight of the Arab population in Israel is bad. Like many minorities throughout the world, they are significantly poorer than the majority population and face many constraints on their rights and liberties. The removal of a word from the textbooks may seen minor to an outside observer, but it is an assault on their cultural heritage, a reminder that they are still considered outsiders in Israel, and an act that is guaranteed to increase ethnic tensions within Israel.
Construction in East Jerusalem
Israel presses forward with construction of housing units for Jews in Arab East Jerusalem. However, France, Russia, Germany, and the EU have joined the US and UN in opposing the construction. Together, these parties represent the entire "Quartet" sponsoring peace talks, and three out of five UN Security Council members. If Obama is looking for avenues to pressure Israel on continuing construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Security Council is an obvious choice. Israel has responded to this pressure by sending around a photo from 1941 in which one of the owners of the land in question met with Adolph Hitler. It says something about the crassness of this tactic that such a move is considered uncouth even by DailyKos I/P discussion standards.
Support for the Settlements
Again demonstrating that the 400,000 settlers are not isolated extremists, Israeli rabbis called on US Jews to pressure President Obama to support the settlements.
A group of Israeli rabbis, headed by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, have sent a letter to U.S. rabbis and the President's Conference, urging them to exert political leverage in Israel's favor, Israel Radio reported on Wednesday.
"The American government pressures Israel to prevent Jews from building houses in extensive areas in the Land of Israel, which is very unfortunate," the rabbis wrote. "We ask you to make use of your political power to lobby the American authorities to reconsider this policy in the spirit of truly democratic justice, and give weight to halakhic considerations that are binding for the Jews."
Additionally, the pushback from other Israeli interests continues, as former AIPAC director Steven Rosen writes an op-ed in both Foreign Policy and NPR. This piece is a little bit smoother than Ehud Olmert’s clumsy bit in the Washington Post last week, but it still contains the same basic flaws: it pines for the good ol’ days of George W. Bush, and it presents no actual solutions. I remain suspicious that Israeli officials bragging about how well things went for everyone under the Bush Administration will really win them any new friends in Washington or America at large.
Elliot Abrams, meanwhile, takes a potshot at George Mitchell. Abrams drops hints that Mitchell will soon be retiring (and thus can be safely ignored). Right-wing Christian pastor John Hagee also joins in the press.
The Israeli government will have a change to press its case more directly when Def. Secretary Robert Gates (and possibly National Security Advisor Jim Jones as well) visits Tel Aviv later this week.
The army and police, of course, continue to protect the settlers wherever they go and whatever they do:
Nablus – Ma’an – More than 25 Israeli military vehicles overran the northern West Bank village of Awarta south of Nablus overnight providing security to a group of settlers traveling in the area.
According to Qays Awwad, head of Awarta’s municipal council, dozens of settlers in two buses entered the area to visit two archeological sites from periods of ancient Jewish history. The soldiers tore off the main gate of the village’s boys’ secondary school and used the compound as a military headquarters, he said.
Israeli police allowed 45 far-right Israelis to tour the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem in what Palestinians viewed as a provocation.
On Tuesday evening, right-wing Israeli groups rallied inside the Old City of Jerusalem near Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Police closed Al-Wad road to protect them and facilitate the demonstration. Palestinian shop owners were forced to shut down their shops at 6:00pm.
Some of the Israelis assaulted Palestinian Jerusalemites and their properties near the Silwan Girls School in the Mughrebi Gate area. Six Palestinians were injured.
However, there are continuing rumors that the Israeli military and police are planning a joint operation to simultaneously remove 23 of the most isolated "outposts." While the Army is currently denying that any such order has been given, expect numerous details of the secret plan to be laid out in the weeks ahead.
For those who have a bit of time, NPR has a story about the expansion of the settlements and the economic advantages for Israelis to move there. It’s worth a listen.
Changing tone in Gaza
Israeli security chief sees changing tone (and is immediately shot down by Netanyahu)(July 19, 2009)
[Shin Bet security service chief Yuval] Diskin told the cabinet Hamas rhetoric had changed somewhat in recent weeks. "Public statements by leaders attest to efforts by Hamas to appear interested in ending the conflict with Israel, based on the model of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in exchange for a long-term hudnah [cease-fire]," Diskin said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu silenced Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin as Diskin was making a presentation during Sunday's cabinet meeting on intelligence matters, which included references to Palestinian attitudes to Israel and the possible renewal of the peace process.
"First focus on your issues and give an intelligence report. The diplomatic arena is not the responsibility of the Shin Bet, but of the national security adviser," Netanyahu told Diskin.
Hamas PM Haniyeh forswears anti-semitism (This is from July 15, but I haven’t seen it covered here, so I tossed it in)
De facto Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met on Thursday with a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews who arrived in Gaza with a US aid convoy.
Haniyeh told the members of the Neturei Karta sect that Jews are not the enemies of Arabs or Muslims. "Our problem is with the occupation, that stems from the Zionist ideology and its desire to disperse all the Palestinians," he said.
(UPDATE: Jay Elias points out that the group Haniyeh spoke to, Neturei Karta, is very far outside the mainstream for world Jewry (he phrased it rather more harshly). However, this point does not change the fact that Hamas' leadership has made a clear, public, and unequivocal statement quoted here.)
Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshal told a Russian diplomat a few days ago that his group would not stand in the way of a peace deal brokered between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel. Meshal reportedly told Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov in Damascus that if Abbas comes to an agreement on a final settlement of the conflict with Israel, and if the agreement is approved in a Palestinian referendum, Hamas would not try to derail such an accord.
It's hard to say what is going on here. These three stories all suggest a real softening in Hamas's public position. Some will simply dismiss this as politics, and of course, to a certain extent they are and must be right. Everyone is constantly evaluating the situation and making their moves accordingly. With Netanyahu blocking all of Obama's demands, Hamas likely sees an opportunity to put change its public stance and so open more doors around the world. And yet, even acknowledging this action has political roots, I would be hard pressed to understand why we should not fully support it and encourage moderates within Hamas by engaging them.
Finally from Gaza, three weeks ago there was significant hope that a deal to get Gilad Shalit released was finally settled on, but hopes seem to have faded. Interestingly, the Egyptian Foreign Minister claims that the deal is still there, except for the Israeli demand that the Palestinians to be released be expelled from the West Bank:
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit says that most issues concerning a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas which would secure kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit's release have already been agreed upon, and the only obstacle left is Israel's insistence on deporting West Bank prisoners to the Gaza Strip.
This is merely the latest story about Shalit and the prisoner swap negotiations. A quick search will turn up others that blame Hamas (or Fatah or Egypt or the US). Nonetheless, there remains hope that the two parties are in fact not far off. If we can get just a couple of days where both sets of leadership believe a swap is in their self-interest, we may actually have a "surprise" deal without any direct warning. It's a hopeful thought in a diary that needs such.