No, Hamas Did Not Take Responsibility For Three Israeli Youths’ Kidnapping And Murder

In another piece I’ll be publishing later today, I take some time to discuss how the Israeli daily Ha’aretz has been marginalized in

Salech al-Aruri

Salech al-Aruri

Israel and no longer represents a “vibrant debate” as it once did. Now I must also take a moment to reflect on what is only the latest example of how their journalistic standards have fallen as well.

Ha’aretz today reports, uncritically, on the widespread story about leading Hamas activist Salach al-Aruri purportedly claiming that Hamas was, in fact, behind the kidnapping and murder of the three young Israelis earlier this year. That incident, you will recall, was the catalyst for a massive Israeli crackdown in the West Bank and eventually led to the horrors in Gaza these past weeks, which are ongoing. The problem is that this is a non-story, wherein al-Aruri said nothing we didn’t already know. Nothing he said should change anything about how we perceive this crime.

There has always been debate over whether the kidnappings were planned by Hamas or done by a rogue unit. The debate hasn’t really been a sensible one; speak to people with knowledge of the politics in Palestine and, in particular, the various armed factions as well as different familial groupings within the political system and resistance movements and you will realize quickly which side of the debate is correct. But such is the state of our media that such people are rarely spoken to, so we live in ignorance. Continue reading

Kidnapped Israelis Getting Lost In Bibi’s Political Agenda

An edited version of this article originally appeared at LobeLog.

Palestinians in Gaza protest ICRC's neutrality on Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike (Photo by Joe Catron)

Palestinians in Gaza protest ICRC’s neutrality on Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike (Photo by Joe Catron)

There is a sure, albeit contemptible, way to get the attention of virtually the entire state of Israel. That is to kidnap some of its younger citizens. It worked with Cpl. Gilad Shalit, and it seems to be playing well again, this time with civilians (living in the settlements does not strip one of their civilian status under international law).

Israel, as a whole, is riveted on the fates of these three young men. There is a national outcry in Israel when kidnappings occur that is even louder than when Israelis, even young Israelis, are killed. There is a sense of urgency; that something must be done to free the captives before a worse fate befalls them. The attention is widespread and constant, both in cases, like Shalit’s, where the captive is known to still be alive and in cases where the captives are believed or known to already be dead. Israelis press hard for a resolution to the situation. Political leaders do respond, but sometimes, sadly, they do so in self-serving ways.

 

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Mideast Peace Talks Get New Lease on Life

Six months of United States diplomatic efforts have finally restarted talks between Israelis and Palestinians, yet pessimism about their potential for success persists.

On Monday, negotiators from both sides met in Washington for the first time since talks broke off three years ago, amid Israel’s refusal to concede to the Palestinian demand that construction in Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, be suspended during the talks.

The latest round of resuscitated talks was finalised when Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners who have been in Israeli prisons for decades. The first group of those prisoners is expected to be released next week, while further releases will occur periodically, depending on the progress of negotiations.

”The talks will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months,” a State Department statement said.

The negotiations are expected to last some nine months, at the end of which the U.S. hopes to have an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on all “final status” issues, including borders, settlements, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and other contentious points.

To manage the process, the United States has appointed its former ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, as lead negotiator. While early indications are that Indyk is an acceptable choice to both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his appointment has also been controversial on all sides.

Hardline supporters of Israeli policy consider Indyk too soft on the Palestinians. When word first leaked of Indyk’s pending appointment a week ago, Israeli Deputy Minister of Defence Danny Danon, a leading opponent of peace with the Palestinians, wrote a letter to Netanyahu opposing Indyk and asking the Prime Minister to “…ask the American administration for an honest broker for these negotiations.”

He bases his opposition to Indyk’s support of the New Israel Fund, a moderate, liberal international Jewish group which has been the focus of a smear campaign, including unsubstantiated accusations of funding “anti-Zionist” programmes in Israel.

Pro-Palestinian forces have also questioned Indyk’s appointment, claiming that his background with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and his years as the first head of the AIPAC-backed Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), show a strong pro-Israel bias.

Finally, many other observers question the wisdom of appointing a figure who was so central to the failed negotiations of the past, particularly in the 1990s, including the disastrous Camp David II summit of 2000, which preceded the start of the second intifada.

With the framework for the talks shrouded in secrecy by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the appointment of Indyk is one of the few indicators for the direction the talks are being steered in, and therefore the main focal point of analysis. Groups which strongly support the continuation of the Oslo process and a strong and immediate push for a two-state solution have come out strongly in support of Indyk.

Debra DeLee, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, said, “Ambassador Indyk is an experienced diplomat and a brilliant analyst. He has the skills, the depth of knowledge, and the force of personality to serve Secretary Kerry as an excellent envoy.”

“He knows the issues, he knows the leaders and the negotiators, and he has a proven record of commitment to peace and to a progressive Israel that lives up to its founding fathers’ vision of a state that is both Jewish and a democracy.”

DeLee’s view was echoed by Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying group, J Street.

“The negotiations ahead promise to be tough and will require active, determined and creative US leadership and diplomacy if they are to succeed. Ambassador Indyk can bring all these attributes to the task. Secretary of State John Kerry could not have chosen a more qualified envoy.”

But Stephen Walt, professor of International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, is dubious about Indyk’s role.

“There are obvious reasons to be concerned by Indyk’s appointment,” Walt told IPS. “He is passionately devoted to Israel, and began his career in the United States working for AIPAC, the most prominent organisation in the Israel lobby.

“He was among the team of U.S. diplomats who bungled the Oslo peace process during the Clinton administration (1993-2001). He was also a vocal supporter of the invasion of Iraq, which casts serious doubt on his strategic judgment or knowledge of the region. There is no reason for the Palestinians to see him as a true ‘honest broker’.”

Yet while Indyk’s past association with the U.S. pro-Israel lobby has raised eyebrows, few doubt that he is currently much less connected to it than his predecessor as the leading interlocutor with Israel and the Palestinians, Dennis Ross. Ross, who played a central role in U.S. Middle East diplomacy in the administrations of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, is currently a counselor at WINEP.

Walt acknowledges the possibility that Indyk’s position might be different now than it was when he last engaged directly in Israel-Palestine peacemaking.

“Indyk’s views seem to have evolved over time,” Walt said. “He may understand that this is his last chance to make a genuine contribution to Israeli-Palestinian peace. It is also the last chance for a genuine two-state solution, which remains the best of the various alternatives.

“Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians should all hope that he surprises us, and that the elder Indyk behaves in ways that the younger Indyk would have strenuously opposed.”

B’Tselem: Hamas must release Gilad Shalit immediately and unconditionally

For three years, Gilad Shalit has languished in captivity. That captivity is illegal and both the way it has been managed by Hamas as well as Shalit’s capture itself do not fall within the boundaries of “prisoner of war” status, but rather that of a hostage. Hostage-taking is a blatant violation of international law. Today, as Shalit enters his fourth year of imprisonment, the organization I work for, B’Tselem, has renewed its call for his release.

Noam Shalit holding a picture of his son, Gilad

Noam Shalit holding a picture of his son, Gilad

It often happens that when one discusses Shalit the response is “what about all the Palestinian prisoners being illegally held by Israel?” B’Tselem, of course, does enormous and extensive work on that issue (click here for some of it). But it is important to break the linkage of such issues.

The crimes of one side do not justify crimes on the other side, and that holds true even if the scale or frequency is very different. The issue of Palestinian prisoners must not be linked to Shalit because whether he is freed or not, the issue remains the same. By the same token, whether those Palestinian prisoners are freed (or at least in many cases, tried) or not has no bearing on the need to free Shalit.

It is precisely that principle that is crucial for any hope, in terms of politics or diplomacy as well as human rights, to be realized. Israel and the Palestinians must do what is right, what is demanded by both law and by human decency, for its own sake. Of course, it is true that security concerns and concerns for the protection of people’s rights to land, life and dignity often make this much more difficult to accomplish than to say. But it should remain the goal and, at the least, the idea that one party’s crimes can be used to justify the other side disregarding the law or the norms of human rights must be categorically rejected. Continue reading