Egypt’s uprising and its implications for Palestine

Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 29 January 2011

We are in the middle of a political earthquake in the Arab world and the ground has still not stopped shaking. To make predictions when events are so fluid is risky, but there is no doubt that the uprising in Egypt — however it ends — will have a dramatic impact across the region and within Palestine.

If the Mubarak regime falls, and is replaced by one less tied to Israel and the United States, Israel will be a big loser. As Aluf Benn commented in the Israeli daily Haaretz, “The fading power of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government leaves Israel in a state of strategic distress. Without Mubarak, Israel is left with almost no friends in the Middle East; last year, Israel saw its alliance with Turkey collapse” (“Without Egypt, Israel will be left with no friends in Mideast,” 29 January 2011).

Indeed, Benn observes, “Israel is left with two strategic allies in the region: Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.” But what Benn does not say is that these two “allies” will not be immune either.

Over the past few weeks I was in Doha examining the Palestine Papers leaked to Al Jazeera. These documents underscore the extent to which the split between the US-backed Palestinian Authority in Ramallah headed by Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction, on the one hand, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, on the other — was a policy decision of regional powers: the United States, Egypt and Israel. This policy included Egypt’s strict enforcement of the siege of Gaza.

If the Mubarak regime goes, the United States will lose enormous leverage over the situation in Palestine, and Abbas’ PA will lose one of its main allies against Hamas.

Already discredited by the extent of its collaboration and capitulation exposed in the Palestine Papers, the PA will be weakened even further. With no credible “peace process” to justify its continued “security coordination” with Israel, or even its very existence, the countdown may well begin for the PA’s implosion. Even the US and EU support for the repressive PA police-state-in-the-making may no longer be politically tenable. Hamas may be the immediate beneficiary, but not necessarily in the long term. For the first time in years we are seeing broad mass movements that, while they include Islamists, are not necessarily dominated or controlled by them.

There is also a demonstration effect for Palestinians: the endurance of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes has been based on the perception that they were strong, as well as their ability to terrorize parts of their populations and co-opt others. The relative ease with which Tunisians threw off their dictator, and the speed with which Egypt, and perhaps Yemen, seem to be going down the same road, may well send a message to Palestinians that neither Israel’s nor the PA’s security forces are as indomitable as they appear. Indeed, Israel’s “deterrence” already took a huge blow from its failure to defeat Hizballah in Lebanon in 2006, and Hamas in Gaza during the winter 2008-09 attacks.

As for Abbas’s PA, never has so much international donor money been spent on a security force with such poor results. The open secret is that without the Israeli military occupying the West Bank and besieging Gaza (with the Mubarak regime’s help), Abbas and his praetorian guard would have fallen long ago. Built on the foundations of a fraudulent peace process, the US, EU and Israel with the support of the decrepit Arab regimes now under threat by their own people, have constructed a Palestinian house of cards that is unlikely to remain standing much longer.

This time the message may be that the answer is not more military resistance but rather more people power and a stronger emphasis on popular protests. Today, Palestinians form at least half the population in historic Palestine — Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip combined. If they rose up collectively to demand equal rights, what could Israel do to stop them? Israel’s brutal violence and lethal force has not stopped regular demonstrations in West Bank villages including Bilin and Beit Ommar.

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Hamas, the IRA and Us

ALI ABUNIMAH, The New York Times, August 28, 2010

(Chicago) GEORGE J. MITCHELL, the United States Middle East envoy, tried to counter low expectations for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations by harking back to his experience as a mediator in Northern Ireland.

At an Aug. 20 news conference with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, announcing the talks that will begin this week, Mr. Mitchell reminded journalists that during difficult negotiations in Northern Ireland, “We had about 700 days of failure and one day of success” — the day in 1998 that the Belfast Agreement instituting power-sharing between pro-British unionists and Irish nationalists was signed.

Mr. Mitchell’s comparison is misleading at best. Success in the Irish talks was the result not just of determination and time, but also a very different United States approach to diplomacy.
The conflict in Northern Ireland had been intractable for decades. Unionists backed by the British government saw any political compromise with Irish nationalists as a danger, one that would lead to a united Ireland in which a Catholic majority would dominate minority Protestant unionists. The British government also refused to deal with the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, despite its significant electoral mandate, because of its close ties to the Irish Republican Army, which had carried out violent acts in the United Kingdom.

A parallel can be seen with the American refusal to speak to the Palestinian party Hamas, which decisively won elections in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006. Asked what role Hamas would have in the renewed talks, Mr. Mitchell answered with one word: “None.” No serious analyst believes that peace can be made between Palestinians and Israelis without Hamas on board, any more than could have been the case in Northern Ireland without Sinn Fein and the I.R.A.

The United States insists that Hamas meet strict preconditions before it can take part in negotiations: recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by agreements previously signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, of which Hamas is not a member. These demands are unworkable. Why should Hamas or any Palestinian accept Israel’s political demands, like recognition, when Israel refuses to recognize basic Palestinian demands like the right of return for refugees?
As for violence, Hamas has inflicted a fraction of the harm on Israeli civilians that Israel inflicts on Palestinian civilians. If violence disqualifies Hamas, surely much greater violence should disqualify the Israelis?

It was only by breaking with one-sided demands that Mr. Mitchell was able to help bring peace to Northern Ireland. In 1994, for instance, Mr. Mitchell, then a Democratic senator from Maine, urged President Bill Clinton — against strenuous British objections — to grant a United States visa to Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader. Mr. Mitchell later wrote that he believed the visa would enable Mr. Adams “to persuade the I.R.A. to declare a cease-fire, and permit Sinn Fein to enter into inclusive political negotiations.” As mediator, Mr. Mitchell insisted that a cease-fire apply to all parties equally, not just to the I.R.A.

Both the Irish and Middle Eastern conflicts figure prominently in American domestic politics — yet both have played out in very different ways. The United States allowed the Irish-American lobby to help steer policy toward the weaker side: the Irish government in Dublin and Sinn Fein and other nationalist parties in the north. At times, the United States put intense pressure on the British government, leveling the field so that negotiations could result in an agreement with broad support. By contrast, the American government let the Israel lobby shift the balance of United States support toward the stronger of the two parties: Israel.

This disparity has not gone unnoticed by those with firsthand knowledge of the Irish talks. In a 2009 letter to The Times of London, several British and Irish negotiators, including John Hume, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the Belfast Agreement, criticized the one-sided demands imposed solely on Hamas. “Engaging Hamas,” the negotiators wrote, “does not amount to condoning terrorism or attacks on civilians. In fact, it is a precondition for security and for brokering a workable agreement.”

The resumption of peace talks without any Israeli commitment to freeze settlements is another significant victory for the Israel lobby and the Israeli government. It allows Israel to pose as a willing peacemaker while carrying on with business as usual.

As for Mr. Mitchell, since he was appointed Middle East envoy, he has so far enjoyed almost 600 days of failure. As long as the United States maintains the same hopeless approach, he can expect many more.
Ali Abunimah is the author of “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.”

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December 28, 2008
Take Action to End Israeli Attacks on Gaza – Radio Show Sunday

Our friends in Rafah and elsewhere in Gaza report massive casualties from Israeli air strikes. Hospitals are overflowing with more than 200 dead and over 500 wounded (so far). So-called “Hamas compounds” included a civil police training school where scores of young men desperate for a salary to support families were assembled for a graduation ceremony. Bombs hit at school let-out time so children were in the streets in large numbers.

Many expected that no Israeli attack would be launched just hours after Israel, as widely reported in the western media, had finally allowed the delivery of a small amount of humanitarian aid to the starving population of Gaza. Widespread property damage is making life in the cold and dark of Gaza even more miserable than it was, if such a thing can even be imagined. And as I write this, it is reported that new missile attacks are targeting a mosque and various social welfare agencies located in densely crowded neighborhoods.

And the U.S. media continues to promote the myth of Israeli “retaliation” when in reality it was Israel that broke the truce several weeks ago.

If you need more information on today’s events in Gaza, click here: Gaza City hospital a gruesome scene; families pick through body parts to identify loved ones:

    (27 Dec) Death shrouds the hallways of Gaza City’s Ash-Shefa medical compound Saturday, its smell creeping in from all corners. Amputated bodies are strewn throughout hallways because morgues in the city can no longer accommodate the dead. In one corner a man stands with his seven year old son in a cardboard box because the hospital ran out of sheets to cover the dead with. This is how he will carry him home and bury him. Another man stands dazed, in shock after watching his son Mohammed killed during his graduation ceremony at the de facto police headquarters. The father of one of Mohammed’s classmates stood next to his son as he was decapitated. The man is still screaming.

and here, Gaza-based foreigners witness catastrophic violence:

    (27 Dec) In front of our house we found the bodies of two little girls under a car, completely burnt. They were coming home from school. This is more than just collective punishment. We are being treated like laboratory animals.

See also this from Ali Abunimah at The Electronic Intifada:
Gaza Massacres must spur us to action.

If you are ready to do something, read on.

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February 22, 2007
Ali Abunimah in Madison

Ali Abunimah is coming to Madison to speak on his new book, One Country — A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

A Palestinian-American, Abunimah is a co-creator and editor of the The Electronic Intifada web site and more recently, of Electronic Iraq and Electronic Lebanon. A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Chicago, he has written for the Chicago Tribune, among numerous other publications.

One Country presents a provocative approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is sure to touch nerves on all sides. Clear-eyed, sharply reasoned, and compassionate, the book proposes a radical alternative: the revival of an old and neglected idea of one state shared by two peoples.

One reviewer had the following to say about the book: “Ali Abunimah shows how the two [peoples] are by now so intertwined—geographically and economically—that separation cannot lead to the security Israelis need or the rights Palestinians must have. He reveals the bankruptcy of the two-state approach, takes on the objections and taboos that stand in the way of a binational solution, and demonstrates that sharing the territory will bring benefits for all. The absence of other workable options has only lead to ever greater extremism; it is time, Abunimah suggests, for Palestinians and Israelis to imagine a different future and a different relationship.”

Abunimah will be appearing at the Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium at 7:00pm on Thursday, February 22nd. A reception and book signing will follow at the Memorial Union.

Sponsored by the Distinguished Lecture Series of Wisconsin Union Directorate and the Associated Students of Madison. Co-sponsored by Al-Awda Wisconsin, Campus Anti-War Network, Four Lakes Greens, Madison Area Peace Coalition, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, Rainbow Bookstore, UW Middle East Studies Department, and WORT radio.

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Wisconsin Bookstore’s Fight for Free Speech Victorious

David Grogan, American Booksellers Association, Nov 12, 2003

On Thursday, November 6, Madison, Wisconsin’s Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative and a local newsweekly were able to convince Madison Area Technical College (MATC) to reverse its decision to impose restrictions on a speaking event about the Middle East, featuring noted writer and University of Chicago researcher Ali Abunimah. MATC had attempted to limit the scope of the talk and to deny Rainbow’s request to sell books in conjunction with the event after some residents protested the talk due to Abunimah’s pro-Palestinian point-of-view. However, faced with an unexpected backlash from the public, MATC decided at the last moment to proceed with the event as scheduled the evening of November 6.

The speaking engagement featuring Abunimah was scheduled as part of MATC’s “Reporting From the Middle East,” which is sponsored in part by Rainbow Bookstore, and also is part of MATC’s Global Horizon lecture series. However, some in the community who vehemently opposed Abunimah’s point-of-view on the Middle East exerted pressure on MATC to cancel, or at the very least, limit what Abunimah could talk about at the event. Subsequently, the college “sent an e-mail to Abunimah telling him what he could and could not speak about,” Allen Ruff, Rainbow’s events coordinator, told BTW.

When Abunimah was informed of the restriction, he told The Isthmus, a Madison alternative weekly newspaper, that it was “an outrageous violation of my First Amendment rights and the rights of the community to engage in dialogue and debate about matters of public interest.”

While Ruff said he did not know who in Madison had exerted pressure on the school, The Isthmus quoted Steve Morrison, executive director of the Madison Jewish Community Council, as saying he perceived a lack of balance in the Global Horizon series. Morrison said he told MATC’s events coordinator, Geoff Bradshaw, and MATC acting president Roseann Findlen, that his concerns regarding Abunimah would be mitigated if his talk were limited to media issues, the newsweekly reported.

In addition to the attempt to restrict Abunimah’s speech, MATC administrators also put a ban on literature tables in the building where Abunimah’s talk was being held. “We asked [Bradshaw] if this edict applied to us, and he checked and came back to us with a compromise — that we could only sell books by Abunimah,” Ruff reported. But while Abunimah had published many articles, he had not authored any books. As a result, MATC decided Rainbow could not have a table of books at the event. “We usually have a broad range of books relating to a topic [at similar events],” he said. “We had planned to test [the school decision] by having a table anyway.”

Faced with MATC’s pronouncement, Ruff notified the local lawyers guild and the ACLU. Isthmus picked up the story and published an article the morning of Abunimah’s talk. In a quick turn of events, a few hours later MATC’s Student Life Administrator “called me saying it was all a miscommunication, and to proceed as previously planned,” he said. “Word got out about this potential for suppression, and it swelled the crowd at the event. There was no opposition [to Abunimah] in the crowd.”

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October 30 – November 20, 2003
Reporting the Middle East, From the Road Map to Iraq: A Lecture Series

Amira Hass
Thursday, October 30, 2003
Morgridge Auditorium, UW-Madison Grainger Hall
7:30 pm

Amira Hass covers Palestinian affairs for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. She is the only Israeli journalist who actually lives in the Occupied Territories. Author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza, she has just published a second book, Reporting from Ramallah. Known for her honest and often brutal portrayals of the impact of Israeli occupation on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, she received the 1999 International World Press Freedom Award in recognition of her work in the Gaza Strip.

Ali Abunimah
Thursday, November 6, 2003
Madison Area Technical College, Room D240
211 N. Carroll St.
7:00 pm

Ali Abunimah is a co-founder of and major contributor to The Electronic Intifada, an online educational gateway to the Palestine-Israel conflict, and one of today’s most prominent critics of mainstream U.S. media coverage of that conflict. He is also vice-president of the Arab-American Action Network of Chicago.

As’ad Abukhalil
Thursday, November 13, 2003
The “War on Terrorism” and its Impact on Middle East Politics”
UW-Madison Memorial Union, Great Hall
7:30 pm

Dr. Abukhalil is a Professor of Political Science in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at California State University-Stanislaus. He is the author of the just-released book, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.: The Tale of the ‘Good’ Taliban.

Robert Fisk
Thursday, November 20, 2003
The Fantasy War: “Democracy”, WMD’s and “Liberation”
Orpheum Theater, Madison
8:00 pm

Robert Fisk covers the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia for the London Independent. One of the leading independent journalists in the world today, Beirut-based Fisk has put the mainstream American media to shame for 28 years with his unflinching on-the-ground reports from the frontlines in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon and more. He has received more awards for excellence in reporting than any other journalist in his league. Author of Pity the Nation on the Lebanese civil war and Israelís invasion, he is currently working on a book covering events in Iraq since the first Gulf War.

Sponsored by the the A. Eugene Havens Center of the University of Wisconsin – Madison Department of Sociology, Madison Area Technical College Global Horizons Series, Global Studies Program, Middle Eastern Studies Program, the Harvey Goldberg Memorial Fund, the Palestine-Israel Peace and Justice Alliance (PIPAJA), The Borders and Transcultural Research Circle, Chadbourne Residency Center, and WORT 89.9 FM.

Endorsed by the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project (MRSCP), the Madison Area Peace Coalition, the Madison Islamic community, Progressive magazine, the Wisconsin Book Festival, and the Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative.

Financial support provided in part by the UW-Madison Office of International Studies

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