In this issue:

Egypt Brokers Hamas-PLO agreement

New Palestinian Youth Groups Demand Unity, Civil Rights

New Israeli Peace Initiative Launched

Turkey's Erdogan Plans To Build 'Kanal Istanbul'

From Volume 38, Issue 18 of EIR Online, Published May 6, 2011
Southwest Asia News Digest

Egypt Brokers Hamas-PLO agreement

April 28 (EIRNS)—The Egyptian government has successfully brokered a unity deal between the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas movements to form an interim government in preparation for elections. An agreement followed secret talks held in Cairo, and will be overseen by the Arab League.

"We have agreed to form a government composed of independent figures that would start preparing for Presidential and Parliamentary elections," Reuters quotes Azzam al Ahmed, the head of Fatah's negotiating team, as saying. "Elections will be held in eight months from now.... We are proud that we now possess the national will to end our divisions so [that] we can end the occupation of Palestine ... the last occupation in history."

Hamas was represented in the talks by Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of its Damascus office. Both parties had been invited for talks by Egypt's new intelligence chief Mourad Mouafi and Foreign Minister Nabil Al Arabi.

The agreement will be signed the week of May 2 in Cairo by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political bureau head Khaled Meshal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not surprisingly, denounced the agreement, saying that Palestinians have to choose between Israel or Hamas. Israeli President Shimon Peres also denounced the agreement, in softer language, saying that Hamas wants unity for war, whereas, "Mr. Abbas wants a union for peace," and urged Abbas and "my friends in the leadership of Fatah" not to "compromise" with the terrorist group Hamas. Responding to Netanyahu, the spokesman for Abbas, Nabi Abu Rdainah, said, "Netanyahu must choose between a just peace with the united Palestinian people ... and settlements."

The role of Egypt was key in the deal. Hany Al Masri, a political commentator who took part in the talks, is quoted by Reuters as saying, "This agreement is possible because the Egyptian regime has changed. The new administration is taking a balanced position."

The White House issued a statement saying that Hamas was a terrorist organization, and that any Palestinian government would have to renounce violence, respect past peace deals, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

While the European Union Foreign Affairs office issued a statement saying it will have to study the agreement, it nonetheless stated support for unity. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement welcoming the agreement.

The role of Egypt in the deal is significant: Despite still being in transition to forming a solid government itself, it is able to carry out regional initiatives. Also interesting is that, while Netanyahu and his crazy Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have attacked the deal, the Egyptian daily Al Ahram reports that no fewer than five Israeli delegations have visited Cairo in so many weeks, to hold talks with Egyptian officials, especially intelligence chief Mourad Mouafi and Foreign Minister Nabil Al Arabi.

New Palestinian Youth Groups Demand Unity, Civil Rights

April 28 (EIRNS)—The power of the international mass-strike process was demonstrated in a profound way in mid-March in the Palestinian territories, when, after years of political deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Hamas and Fatah, things abruptly shifted, through the efforts of the Palestinian youth of Gaza, who, inspired by the events in Egypt, organized a demonstration of 10,000 people in Gaza City. The youth demanded that Hamas and Fatah reach a unity agreement and reconstitute a single government over the Palestinian territory.

While large demonstrations haven't continued, mostly due to the threats of Israeli strikes and general repression, the Gaza demo helped revive back-channel discussions between top Hamas and Fatah officials, culminating in the formal unity agreement reached with Egypt's help, that was announced on April 27. More importantly, the mass-strike process is manifested through the spread of a little-known civil rights effort known as the Nabi Saleh movement, that has spread throughout the West Bank, and has no affiliation with either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority.

But the Israeli government—with Obama's support—is taking the Qaddafi path, labeling the non-violent Nabi Saleh movement a "threat to public security," and has begun jailing its leaders. At the same time, Obama's Justice Department, especially Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, has launched a campaign of Grand Jury subpoenas and search warrants against American student groups and supporters of the Nabi Saleh movement.

On March 24, the Israeli government arrested Bassem Tamimi, a 44-year-old resident of the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, reports historian and activist Mark Perry, in the April 26 issue of Foreign Policy. Tamimi's crime is leading protests against an illegal Israeli settlement's "expropriation" of the spring in Nabi Saleh, the village's water source and symbolic center of town. Over the last several years, in the West Bank towns of Nabi Saleh and Bi'lin, Perry reports, a Martin Luther King-type civil rights movement has grown up, protesting the separation Wall that illegally took Palestinian land, and other violations of civil rights. The movement, whose members are between 14 and 45 years old, trains itself in non-violent protest tactics.

The March 24 arrest of Tamimi is a serious escalation. Perry says that Tamimi was brought before the Ofer military court and charged with "incitement, organizing unpermitted marches, disobeying the duty to report to questioning" and "obstruction of justice"—for giving young Palestinians advice on how to act under Israeli police interrogation. Perry explains that "under Israeli military decree 101 he is being charged with attempting 'verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the Area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order.'" The charge carries a ten-year sentence.

The actions that began modestly in Nabi Saleh have now spread to many towns across the West Bank, where protests have involved dozens to hundreds, and sometimes thousands of people. Perry blasts Obama for not condemning the Israeli arrests and attacks on this non-violent movement.

New Israeli Peace Initiative Launched

April 29 (EIRNS)—While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are complaining to everyone about Israel's new peace initiative, the lead editorial in Ha'aretz points out that while this development will strengthen the Palestinian hand in September when it intends to declare itself an independent state, this could be a good development. Ha'aretz writes that "Israel can redeem itself by recognizing a Palestinian state," in an editorial.

Earlier this month, a new private Israeli peace initiative was launched by 40 top retired security personnel, military officers, business people, and leading peace activists. The initiative is formally a belated response to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, but more immediately, it is a response to the absence of a peace process and the developments in the region, especially Egypt.

The initiative follows closely on the so-called Clinton peace plan, which President Bill Clinton announced just before leaving office in 2000. This includes a Palestinian State on the 1967 borders, with limited exchanges of land with its capital in East Jerusalem. It calls for a peace with Syria and withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Israeli Corporation head Idan Ofer told Ynet that Israel must have its own peace initiative ready when the Palestinians unilaterally declare a Palestinian state. He fears that if Israel doesn't back a Palestinian state, it will end up like the apartheid regime in South Africa, which had international sanctions slammed against it. Ofer, whose company is deeply involved economically with the Palestinian Authority, wants to see a peace agreement with the Palestinians as a way of opening for economic projects with other Arab states, including the building of desalination plants.

Turkey's Erdogan Plans To Build 'Kanal Istanbul'

April 28 (EIRNS)—With more than 1,000 people, mostly members of the ruling AKP, cheering him chanting slogans like "Turkey is proud of you," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the plan to build "Kanal Istanbul," which will connect the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, bypassing the congested Strait of Bosphorus. Comparing his dream for Istanbul to that of the 15th-Century conqueror of Constantinople (Istanbul), Ottoman Sultan Fatih Sultan Mehmet, and the prominent 16th-Century Ottoman architect Sinan, Prime Minister Erdogan said: "There have been always big dreams behind the big steps and big victories in history. And now we have a dream for our nation and Istanbul. We are rolling up our sleeves for Kanal Istanbul, one of the greatest projects of the century, that will outshine the Panama and Suez canals."

Emphasizing the necessity of Kanal Istanbul, Erdogan pointed out that the project aims to minimize the threat posed to the city by the transportation of hazardous materials on tankers through the narrow, 30-kilometer-long Bosphorus Strait.

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