The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Fleeting flotilla thoughts and links for June 6-10 2010

I was away in Beirut for the last few days and kept pretty busy by a conference and enjoying all the delicious food (I think I could win a manaqeesh eating competition), so I have not kept up with last week's blogging on the flotilla. As the issue has started to dissipate, one can only note with horror and consternation the direction debate has taken in the US, where the whole approach to Israel/Palestine is so lop-sided that you'd think Helen Thomas' insensitive comments are a greater offense then an illegal assault that resulted in the death of nine civilians, some of whom may have been killed execution-style.

So here are a few notes on the remains of the flotilla story, especially Egyptian angles:

Interesting letter from the Egyptian Consult to the NYT:

Egypt has not enforced a blockade on Gaza since 2007. Instead, Egypt has operated its border crossing with Gaza in a transparent manner to avoid a chaotic situation that could have resulted after the hasty, unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli forces. The Israeli border authorities did not even consult with their Egyptian counterparts on the future operation of the Rafah crossing.

After the European Union suspension of its participation in staffing the Rafah crossing, and being aware of the possible ensuing blame game, Egypt restricted the movement of goods across Rafah to humanitarian needs. During the Gaza war, more than 80 percent of the humanitarian aid to Gaza entered through the Rafah crossing, which was initially intended for the crossing of people and not goods.

Hussein Mubarak
Consul General of Egypt
New York, June 7, 2010

A lot of this is a lie, of course. It is true that the Israelis (specifically, Ariel Sharon) distrusted the Egyptians so much that when they withdrew from the Rafah border in 2005 they didn't bother to let them know exactly when they were doing. The result was chaos as the border was under-manned. This is an Egyptian-Israeli matter, of course. 

I love the reference to a "blame game", and the rest is simply not true: Egypt has allowed occasional humanitarian aid in, but generally has routed it through Israel and is doing so again right now. This deserves more coverage. By the way, does anybody know if Mr. Mubarak is one of those Mubaraks?

Hamas on reconciliation talks in their latest visit to Cairo:

PLC Vice-Chariman Ahmad Bahr said that Hamas was not against a reconciliation agreement. He added, however, that, "We want a reconciliation agreement that gives the Palestinians their dignity back, which rules out the Quartet conditions and those stipulated by the US."

They also appease the Egyptians by stressing "there is no alternative to Egyptian mediation". Reconciliation should really be everyone's top priority, without preconditions. It's better to have a suspended peace process and Palestinian reconciliation that could lead to a credible interlocutor later on than the current situation, which is a simulation of a peace process intended to prevent reconciliation. Just don't tell that to the Egyptians.

✩ As I predicted in my recent FP piece on Egypt's approach to the Gaza blockade, the Egyptians are endorsing lifting the blockade but shifting all the attention back to Israel, not their own role. We see this in some of the recent news stories:



Also take a look at Biden's statement which focuses on keeping Israel-Palestinian talks alive, calls the current situation in Gaza unsustainable (but with no details) and does make a mention of Egyptian domestic issues.

Mouin Rabbani:

The likelihood of current diplomatic initiatives resulting in a meaningful two-state settlement is for all intents and purposes non-existent, argues Al-Shabaka Policy Advisor Mouin Rabbani, due to Israel’s determination to permanently control East Jerusalem and large swaths of the West Bank, and the lack of political will in the U.S. and Europe to reverse Israel’s expansionist momentum. He foresees an unwelcome future of further ghettoization and fragmentation of Palestinians in the occupied territories and within Israel, greater marginalization and atomization of the Diaspora, and an increasingly regionalized and existential conflict in which the initiative will lie with non-state actors operating beyond the confines of Israel/Palestine. Thus, rather than relying on continued diplomacy and alternative peace scenarios in the forlorn hope that the dominant American-Israeli framework will be modified, advocates of Palestinian self-determination should focus their efforts on arresting and where possible reversing realities on the ground, and undertake global campaigns to challenge Israeli impunity and promote the concept of Israeli accountability for its actions toward the Palestinian people. This, Rabbani concludes, presents the only realistic option for preserving Palestinian rights and, perhaps in the longer run, establishing meaningful diplomatic options.

 Read the whole thing.

Paul Woodward has a nice take on the Helen Thomas affair. It's sad to see her end her career in this way, especially considering the hypocrisy over her admittedly insensitive statement. Plenty of people in America have advocated moving the Palestinians out of Palestine and never get rebuked, even a dovish/progressive blogger/journalist like Matt Yglesias (not a position he holds now, at least, but more here). The whole episode shows how deeply ingrained the Zionist narrative is: you can't contest that it wasn't Jewish land to start with, that the Jewish historical claim to the land is pretty weak, or that most of the Israelis are either born elsewhere or descendants of people who were born elsewhere only a few generations ago. I call this acknowledging the "original sin" of Israel: that it was a settler project no different than the French one in Algeria. This doesn't mean — for me anyway — that Israelis need to pack up and "go home", but it means that either you have to give the same rights to both peoples who live there now or you have reach a solution whereby Israel's borders are fixed, the state stop expanding, and the settlements are dismantled. Along with Mouin Rabbani's argument above, it shows that either you need to roll back much of the settlement expansion of the past two decades and impose a two-state solution, or that solution dies and you're talking about either major conflict and ethnic cleansing or, eventually, a one-state solution. The first option, as difficult as it seems, still seems the best one to me.

More blogging to come tomorrow, I hope. For now, here are recent links: