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Entries in West Bank (7)


Israel-Palestine Latest: The East Jerusalem Demolition/Settlements Argument

Following this week's "redevelopment" plan --- the demolition of 22 houses in East Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood --- Israel's Public Security Minister Yitzhak Ahronovitch told the Knesset on Wednesday that Israeli police expects "widespread disturbances" in and around the area.

The UN later  Wednesday called Israel's plan to demolish Arab homes "unhelpful" and "contrary to international law".

"The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the decision by the Jerusalem municipality to advance planning for house demolitions and further settlement activity in the area of Silwan," UN Chief Ban Ki-moon's press office said.

Gaza Latest (25 June): Iranian Flotilla “Cancelled”; US Says Aid Ships “Irresponsible”; Europe Calls for End to Blockade
Middle East Inside Line: Coalition Changes in Israel?; Netanyahu’s War for Legitimacy; Israel Warns Lebanon

On Thursday, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) called on Israel to halt the development of new settlements in occupied territories and East Jerusalem.

However, as the end of the current freeze on settlement constructions in the West Bank approaches, the Likud Central Committee voted on Thursday to resume building both in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

There is one twist in the story: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not participate in the meeting, thus escaping for the moment criticism from Washington (for endorsing the renewal) or from the Israeli public (for opposing it).

September will be a decisive month on the issue. Until then, Netanyahu may be looking for the conditions to turn indirect discussions into direct talks, moving the burden of responsibility from settlements to Palestinian participation in negotiations.

Middle East Inside Line: Israel Eases Gaza Blockade, Internal Probe on Flotilla Raid Concludes, Obama-Netanyahu Meeting

Israel Votes on "Eased" Blockade: Senior cabinet ministers on Sunday approved steps toward easing Israel's blockade.

The Prime Minister's Office said that Israel would release "as soon as possible" a detailed list of goods that would not be allowed into the Gaza Strip. PM Benjamin Netanyahu said, "Israel seeks to keep out of Gaza weapons and material that Hamas uses to prepare and carry out terror and rocket attacks toward Israel and its civilians. All other goods will be allowed into Gaza."

Middle East Inside Line: US & EU Back Israel on “Eased Blockade”, Lebanon-Israeli Crisis?, Egypt’s Manoeuvre, and More…

Hamas called the Israeli step a "deception" and said that the blockade must be lifted entirely.

Israel's Army Radio quotes Mahmoud Zahar as saying that Hamas would never change its policy of 'resistance' against Israel. In an interview with Al Quds, Zahar then allegedly targeted the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and said that "rocket launches should happen in the West Bank as well [as Gaza]" He blamed the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas of "fighting the 'resistance'" and added that it was not Hamas that took over Gaza, but in fact President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement that had seized the power in the West Bank, aided by the Israeli "occupation".

Israel's Internal Probe Concludes: Israel Radio reported Sunday that a new investigation into the raid by the internal Israel Navy probe concluded. According to the report, during the mass offensive against Israeli soldiers, the commando unit was inadequately prepared, lacked sufficient intelligence, and was ill-used in its approach to the Turkish-flagged ship.

A commander involved in the attack said, "I still awake at three A.M. every morning and ask myself: Damn it, how did we not know more?", Haaretz reports.

Lebanon's Flotilla Not Moving: The Gaza-bound Lebanese flotilla is still in Lebanon, and it may not be allowed to depart since Lebanese law forbids a departing vessel to dock in a port under Israeli occupation. Sources also told the Arab daily Al-Hayat that organizers failed to appeal to the government for the necessary permits, authorizing their departure as well as their travel. However, it is still possible that organizers will submit a travel plan to a different destination, perhaps Cyprus, and then change course during the course of their voyage.

US-Israeli Meeting: Washington also welcomed Israel's recent decision to ease the blockade on Gaza. "We believe that the implementation of the policy announced by the government of Israel today should improve life for the people of Gaza, and we will continue to support that effort going forward," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting in Washington, cancelled on 1 June during the flotilla crisis, has been re-scheduled for 6 July. Discussion is expected on two main issues., There is the U.S. position in the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which called for an international conference in 2012 for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, called on Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and open its nuclear installations to international inspection, and called for the appointment of a special UN envoy on nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

Then there is the "progress" in proximity talks with the West Bank. US Mideast special envoy George Mitchell completed his four rounds of talks and the two sides are ready to talk again. It is uncertain, however, how the Israel's flotilla crisis and, more broadly, the issue of Gaza will affect the course of the talks.

Speaking at a Jewish Agency conference on Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres said that Israel's security remains a top priority for the Americans. Watch for signals as to whether that is the case before Obama and Netanyahu shake hands two weeks from now.

Gaza Latest (13 June): Rumblings of the Next Flotilla

1400 GMT: Mahmoud Abbas denied that he had asked Obama to prevent the lifting of the naval blockade on Gaza. However, Netanyahu, during a meeting of Likud ministers, said that he supports easing the three-year blockade Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip, but that he would not approve the lifting of the naval blockade.

1315 GMT: U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has said there should be international participation in Israel's investigation into its raid of the flotilla. Israel's vice premier Dan Merridor replied: "There will be international elements in the commission which is going to be formed. For the moment it is not totally clear but the commission will be composed of five Israelis and two or three foreigners."

1245 GMT: Nabila Abu Rdineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, said in an interview with local newspaper al-Ayyam, that an international mechanism to end the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip might be formed within a few days. He added: "President Abbas told the U.S. administration that lifting the Gaza blockade is not less important than peace talks."

However, the issue is more complicated than it seems. On Wednesday, following President Barack Obama's political support for the "unsustainable" situation in Gaza along with $400 million pledge to Gazans, Abbas told Obama that the easing of the siege should not bolster Hamas. His suggestion was not to end the naval siege by Israel for the time being.

1200 GMT: Former MP George Galloway is planning a land and sea convoy in September. He said: "Following our negotiations in Istanbul, I can announce to you that the day after Ramadan [September 10], two mighty convoys, one by sea and one by land, will begin. The land convoy will leave from London, will travel though Europe, Turkey, Syria and Jordan, and it will sail from Aqaba to Sinai and enter the gates of Rafah, and I ask the Egyptian government, in the name of millions of people, open those gates and let the convoy through."

1130 GMT: An EA reader has just reported that 70 Iranian MPs are also volunteered to aboard.

1100 GMT: The Israeli Defense Ministry has announced that Defense Minister Ehud Barak will stay in Israel while the government creates a committee to investigate the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. He was supposed to be present at a new Israeli booth at the Eurosatory 2010 air show in Paris and to meet French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Barak took a decision following pro-Palestinian groups' threats that they would do their best to bring Barak to be justice for his alleged war crimes.

The former commander of the navy and Shin Bet, Ami Ayalon, also called on Barak to "accept responsibility for the consequences of the decision to raid flotilla" and to resign.

1045 GMT: The Voice of Israel reports that the Turkish delegation announced two weeks ago that it wasn’t coming to the conference on International Holocaust Education organized by Yad VaShem (Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority).

1030 GMT:  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the former Supreme Court chief justice Yaakov Tirkel will be appointed to head an investigation into Israeli Defense Forces' operation to Freedom Flotilla.

0900 GMT: Agence France Presse reports that the Iranian Red Crescent equipped and loaded two ships with aid and is awaiting the permission of the Foreign Ministry to set sail to Gaza. Iranian officials claim that 100.000 people have already volunteered to go aboard.

On Thursday, Israel's Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center warned that extremist Islamic organizations were planning to send more ships to the Gaza Strip.

0800 GMT: The head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, is the first senior Arab official visiting Gaza since 2007. He met with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at the Rafah crossing, which Egypt is still keeping "temporarily" open,before seeing Hamas officials today to find a basis for the continuation of the reconciliation talks. Moussa said, "This blockade which we are all here to confront must be broken and the position of the Arab League is clear."

Turkey Analysis: Which Way is Ankara Heading? (Yenidunya)

There seems to be a lot of fuss right now about whether Turkey is "turning its face towards the East".

The query, often simplistic, arises from a number of development. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is pursuing a "Zero Problem with Neighbours" policy based on dialogue, various economic agreements, and the lifting of visa requirement. The policy includes a close relationship with both Syria and Iran.

This policy has been part of the uranium swap deal with Iran, dismissed by the West; the friction with Israel, from the "low chair" crisis up tothe  nine deaths on board the Mavi Marmara in the Freedom Flotilla; warming relations with Russia, crowned with a nuclear settlement; and the veto of sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council.

Israeli officials reiterated, following the most recent crisis in high waters, that they view the region separated into two opposite camps. There are "moderates" such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Palestine (West Bank), Jordan, and Israel, There are "extremists" such as Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and (Palestine) Gaza. Israel asks: which will Turkey choose?

That blunt enquiry has been accompanied by some incredibly naive arguments, lacking an apparent notion of the basic principles of international relations. Nuh Yilmaz wrote in Foreign Policy magazine:
"All options are on the table” is the best phrase to describe how Turkey feels about Israel’s attack on humanitarian aid flotilla carrying more than 600 activists from 32 countries... Israel will, most likely, no longer be seen as a friendly state nor an ally, but will be treated as a rogue state by Turkey.

When I say Turkey will imply that “all options are on the table,” I do not mean that Turkey will wage a war against Israel. However, more dangerously, Israel will be seen as a state against which one should protect itself and should consider any possible action because of its unlawful and rogue character.

Others placed Ankara's "adventurism" at the centre of Turkish-American relations. Steven A. Cook of Foreign Policy argued that Turkey had not only shifted its axis but had dared to a challenge the US:
It is hard to admit, but after six decades of strategic cooperation, Turkey and the United States are becoming strategic competitors -- especially in the Middle East. This is the logical result of profound shifts in Turkish foreign and domestic politics and changes in the international system.

Some tried to find a formula for Turkey's "shift". On Thursday, Turkish daily Hurriyet asked whether there would be a "Middle East Union" under Turkey's leadership in the future. This would build on a joint declaration signed among Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, seeking to lift visas and increase the level of cooperation in the fields of energy, health, agriculture, trade and customs.

Let me be blunt with you and with those who are wringing their hands. There has been no change in Turkey's axis.

Ankara's ultimate destination is still full membership in the European Union. Turkey's efforts and regional diplomatic initiatives are a part of its economic development and a part of its struggle to turn into a "strategic" mid-power which can help (re)shape the region.

The tension between a mid-power in Ankara and an American strategic partner --- a Middle East "spearhead" --- in Israel is the outcome of a power struggle between two allies at a time when the latter is under pressures and the benefits of "direct friendly support" of Washington are being seriously being questioned, inside and outside the US. The perception arises that Turkey is trying to fill the space Israel has left/will be forced to leave.

In the context of Turkey's economic boom and diplomatic manoeuvres to increase its credibility in the region, the  complicating factor is that its part to the European Union is currently blocked. Out of 34 chapters to be confirmed to accept Turkey as a part of the Union, only 12 chapters have been addressed so far. Of the other 22, 17 are being blocked by other countries --- eight alone by Cyprus.

The lesson to take from this dead end is crystal-clear: without political concessions on Cyprus and the Aegean Sea, there will be no European Union in the future for Turkey. So Ankara is not only  trying to gain time by looking to its back garden but also trying to knock on Europe's door with an increased credibility.

At the end of the day, Ankara's manoeuvres are not a new invention but the reflection of an active political agenda. As the president of the Washington-based American-Turkish Council, retired Ambassador James Holmes, said, "Turkey is expanding its interests, rather than isolating itself."

The current international alignments are suitable to Turkey's interests, since Washington needs Ankara more than other countries. That is not because of the political swamp in Afghanistan and Pakistan but also because of the ongoing diplomatic track with Iran and Syria, in the aftermath of Bush the Junior's imperial policies and Israel's perceived aggression in the region. Indeed, engagement and diplomacy is preferable to Washington rather than confrontations that could dynamite Obama's  "change", slapping aside unclenched fists and preventing a settlement between Israel and Ramallah.

There are limits to this political agenda. Although Ankara is ready with an economic surplus to deliver to its neighbours, it has not solved its own problems.

The weakest chain of the "Zero Problem" policy rattled in Turkey's relations with Armenia. Ankara couldn't break through long-standing fearsin the face of threats over energy supplies from the "little brother" Azerbaijan.

And, within Turkey, thousands of Kurdish children are in prisons and more officials of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) are arrested. Indeed, the war with the Kurdish separatist group PKK is accelerating day-by-day since the Erdogan Government see the Kurdish political movement as a "rival".

And, of course, there are always the Armenian "genocide" issue and the Cyprus problem...

Another limit is Israel . West Jerusalem still means more than a regional power to Washington, remaining and a "friend" and a nuclear "democratic" power. Indeed, Washington sorted out the most recent Flotilla problem and gave a green light to Tel Aviv for an internal inquiry into the violence on the Mavi Marmara. Israel is not discredited in the eyes of Washington just because of a few days, not when military/intelligence relations are indispensable for both sides.

Still, if Ankara can show progress in its Kurdish and Cyprus issues in the near future along with continuing diplomacy advances in the region and a move back from blunter discourse towards Israel, it can continue increasing both its credibility to use as leverage against the EU and to promote its strategic importance to Washington.

Turkey and Israel: How Serious is the Tension? (Yenidunya)

Last Thursday a group of angry Israelis, including former member of Parliament Alex Goldfarb and Meretz Party activist Pinhas Har-Zahav, announced that they will leave for Cyprus next week on a flotilla and call for an end to the Turkish occupation of the island.

On Saturday, the Lebanese newspaper al-Mustaqbal reported that  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was willing to travel to the Gaza Strip to "break the Israeli blockade". The newspaper said that Washington told Erdogan to delay his plans.

Gaza Flotilla LiveBlog (7 June): Moving Beyond the Attack
Turkey Inside Line: Erdogan Roars at Israel, Extends His Hand to Iraqi Kurdistan

How to get out of this escalating political conflict? The Jerusalem Post reported a possibility after Rabbi Menachem Froman of Tekoa in the West Bank met Erdogan in Istanbul. Froman said that Erdogan is willing to help Israel secure the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier detained by Hamas since 2006.

However, as he met Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Istanbul on Monday (and just before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived today), Erdogan reiterated his position on Gaza: "The time has come to lift the embargo on Gaza. We don't want an open air prison in the world any more." He also stated that Turkey can give Gaza everything it needs if Israel lifts the siege.