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Mideast Roundup: Syria, Israel, Palestine

My kids are on their two-and-a-half-week Passover vacation, so I’ve been unable to get enough alone time in my office to post much lately. My husband just took them all swimming, though, so I have a brief window.

  1. This one is hot off the presses: Syria is lifting the emergency laws that have been in place for the past 48 years. This comes on the heels of reports that Syrian security forces have opened fire on protesters in Homs and locked down the city. Al-Jazeera’s correspondent at the scene says many wounded are not going to hospital for fear they will be arrested on arrival. Assad keeps ratcheting up both ends of his carrot-and-machine-gun approach, but neither is silencing the masses. The government’s statement on the protesters in Homs said some of them “have called for armed insurrection under the motto of Jihad to set up a Salafist state…Their objective is to spread terror across Syria. ” Assad is pitching his bloody crackdown on his people as a battle against Islamism, which, it will be recalled, was his father Hafez’s justification for wiping out most of the population of Hama in 1982.
  2. The LA Times is claiming that the Quartet (the US, Russia, the EU and the UN) might support the establishment of a Palestinian state according to the 1967 borders if Israel does not quickly present a strategy to restart the moribund peace talks. If this is based on anything other than speculation (and I haven’t found any evidence so far), it’s a big deal. It’s extortion, basically: do as you’re told, Israel, or a) lose the option to negotiate a safe peace and b) surrender the contested territory forever. It would place the onus for restarting negotiations entirely on Israel, erasing into irrelevance the Fogel massacre, the intensification of the Hamas war on southern Israel, the disingenuousness of Abbas and Fayyad regarding their true desire for a two-state solution (about which more anon), the status of Gilad Shalit, etc. If this threat is carried out, it will prove the contention that the Obama administration is firmly entrenched in the Palestinian camp. Now, I’m reserving judgment on this one until I see it confirmed elsewhere, but there’s no question that the Americans are leaning on Israel right now. Hillary recently told the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Washington that “[t]he status quo between Palestinians and Israelis is no more sustainable than the political systems that have crumbled in recent months” — a jab at Bibi if ever there was one. He appears to have been listening: he has said he’s going to be announcing an initiative of some kind when he visits the US in May.
  3. Ahmad Khalidi, a senior associate member of St Antony’s College, Oxford and a former Palestinian negotiator, published an opinion piece in the Guardian today that warrants close attention. He states that the declaration of statehood that is now, with the help of the UN General Assembly, almost within the Palestinians’ grasp, is “out of tune with prevailing Palestinian sentiment.” It’s an “anachronism” reflecting the outmoded goals of the ossified PLO. What the frustrated Palestinians want, he says, is no longer a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel, but the conquest of Israel and the claiming of all its territory.  He describes the Palestinians as moving “away from seeking the ever-shifting goalposts of an inevitably constrained and incomplete form of statehood that would come at the expense of equally fundamental rights to a much broader interpretation of self-determination that includes all the divergent Palestinian constituencies, and a much wider and continuing confrontation with the Zionist enterprise in Palestine [emphasis added]. This shift is premised on forging a new common identity and common national goal – embracing all sectors of Palestinian society and aimed at the entirety of Palestine before 1948 [emphasis added]…From this perspective West Bank statehood seems an irrelevance, almost an anachronism. It matches neither the popular revolutionary zeitgeist of the Arab world nor wider Palestinian aspirations. At best it addresses part of the Palestinian condition on part of the land.” I am fully convinced that this is an accurate description of “wider Palestinian aspirations” and hope this piece is being read closely in Washington. If Hillary reads it and chooses to ignore it, she and her boss are either  on board with the Palestinian dismantling of the state of Israel or profoundly and irredeemably out of their depth on this issue.
  4. Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian writer and academic from Jordan now living as a refugee in the UK, has written a piece for the Hudson Institute on why the declaration of statehood being steamrolled through the General Assembly is a bad idea — for Palestinians.
  5. The Israeli teenager who was unlucky enough to be the last kid remaining on the school bus targeted by Palestinians with an anti-tank missile earlier this month has died of his injuries.