zaterdag 7 april 2007

"Israel Is Our Home" - Avigdor Lieberman and Israeli politics

Dit interview verschaft nuttig inzicht in het Israelische politieke landschap en de positie van Lieberman hierin, alsmede in de idealen van de vroege Zionisten.

Israel's mission as a country has always been more complicated than "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Amos Oz has said that as far as the early Zionists were concerned, Israel was going to be the most secular country, and the holiest country, and the most socialist country, and the most democratic country, and the most ancient country, and the most modern country. With a founding vision like that, wasn't Israel bound to fall short of its own ideals?

If you don't fall short of your ideals, then you have pretty poor ideals! But I think Israel has done all right when you compare it to a lot of other countries that became independent in the post-World War II period. You could do worse at creating an independent society.

"Israel Is Our Home"

Gershom Gorenberg elucidates the startling politics of Avigdor Lieberman, a right-wing Israeli politician who has lately taken center stage


I n September 1917, a Russian-Jewish socialist named Bor Borochov addressed a group of fellow Zionists at a conference in Kiev. Some outside voices, he acknowledged, were charging Zionists "with the odious crime of wishing to oppress and expel the Arabs from Palestine." On the contrary, Borochov insisted, Zionist settlers would open up more land for everyone by making the desert bloom. "When the waste lands are prepared for colonization…," he proclaimed, "there will be sufficient land to accommodate both the Jews and the Arabs. Normal relations between the Jews and Arabs will and must prevail."

Were Borochov alive today, he would likely be among the many outspoken critics of Knesset member Avigdor Lieberman. Like Borochov, Lieberman is a Russian-speaking Jew and a committed Zionist, but his vision of peace and stability is at antipodes from the one Borochov set forth in 1917. In 2004, Lieberman introduced a plan to transfer all Arab citizens of Israel to a future Palestinian state in the West Bank. His initial proposal met with booing and catcalls when he presented it before the Knesset in June 2004. More recently, he has modified his suggestion, allowing for Israeli Arabs to remain in the country, provided they take an oath of loyalty to Israel's state, flag, and national anthem.

As journalist Gershom Gorenberg demonstrates in his May Atlantic profile, Lieberman, once seen as a fringe figure, now sits at the table with members of the mainstream. A native of Moldova, Lieberman was born at the height of the Cold War to a father who had toiled for 10 years in a Siberian labor camp. Like so many Russian Jews who spent years battling Soviet anti-Semitism, he arrived in Israel with a distaste for leftist politics and a profound cynicism about the old socialist dream of panethnic unity. The party he founded in 1999 is called Yisrael Beitenu, or "Israel Is Our Home," and its base consists primarily of Russian-Jewish immigrants who desire above all else, in the words of the party platform, "to actualize the Zionist vision of a Jewish State for the Jewish people."

Although his politics might appear simplistic, Lieberman is, according to Gorenberg, forcing Israelis to redefine the terms "left" and "right." Unlike traditional right-wingers, whose primary agenda was to hold onto land, Lieberman is willing to part with most of the West Bank. But his attitude toward ethnicity marks him as anything but liberal. Gorenberg explains that Lieberman's newfound prominence—at a time when socialism is all but dead and the center-right is foundering—raises important questions about the country's future:

Lieberman's ascent, say supporters (and some rivals), shows he has moved toward the center. It could just as easily be read as evidence that the center of Israeli politics has collapsed. Olmert and the centrist Kadima movement were casualties of the war in Lebanon last summer. To bolster support in parliament, the prime minister had to offer Lieberman influence over decisions that could shape, and shake, the Middle East. Simply by granting him a ministerial position, Olmert gave legitimacy to hard-line views on internal issues. In December, addressing a convention of his Yisrael Beitenu, Lieberman declared that his goal was "to be the ruling party" within two elections. When aristocracies fade, a pariah may reign.

Gorenberg's writing has appeared in The New Republic, The New York Times, and The Washington Post along with The Jerusalem Report, where he is a senior editor. He is the author of the book The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements. I spoke to him by telephone from his home in Jerusalem on March 7th.

Jennie Rothenberg

Israel is a young nation that was built entirely by immigrants. Why is there such a divide between sabras [native-born Israelis] and people who immigrated during the past couple of decades?

There's an old Israeli saying that Israelis love immigration, they just don't like immigrants. You could translate that as saying that the official ideology favors immigration of Jews, repatriation of Jews to their homeland as it were. But the social realities aren't any different in Israel than anywhere else. People come in with a different language and a different culture, want to belong, and find it hard to fit in. And that's part of what Lieberman's party appeals to. But there are certain aspects of the situation that are unique to Israel. In most cases, the right is anti-immigrant; in this case, the right is seeking its constituency among immigrants.

When immigrants began arriving en masse from the Soviet Union, they often found themselves living side by side with lower-middle-class Israeli Arabs. Did this shape their political outlook at all?

Well, there are certain glaring instances where that's true. For example, the town of Upper Nazareth is heavily Russian, and it's next to the largest Israeli Arab town, which is Nazareth. But what shaped their outlook more was downward mobility. In the Soviet Union, one of the ways Jews defined themselves was by their highly educated professions. The simple fact of mass immigration meant a large portion of those people weren't able to pursue the same professions here as they were in their home countries. So you have tension over a changed social position, you have tension over ending up in a part of the world that may have been a second choice. All of these things influenced the political outlook of many Russian immigrants.

Do Russian-born Israelis like Lieberman and Natan Sharansky feel they've earned the right to speak out forcefully against left-wing views because they spent so many years battling a socialist regime?

You know, one of the people I interviewed for this article pointed out that there's often a contradictory reading of the Russians' politics. People say, "The Russians reject socialism because the Soviet Union was socialist." But people also say, "The Russians are secular because the Soviet Union was secular."

In other words, some people believe that the Russians reacted against the culture they came from, and others believe they were colored by it.

Right. Now, that criticism is valid, and it is also true that people switching societies can do both of those things. It's just a much more complex transaction than simple rejection or simple acceptance. Somebody who stands between two backgrounds both belongs and doesn't belong and is critical of each of them.

I was intrigued by a reference you made to Avshalom Vilan, one of Lieberman's opponents in the Knesset. You wrote, "As a kibbutz member, Vilan is part of an Israeli gentry whose fortunes have faded like those of the antebellum plantation owners in Faulkner's novels." What exactly did you mean by this?

When Israel became independent, the Labor-Zionist movement was the dominant political movement, and the kibbutz was the vanguard of the Labor-Zionist movement. Kibbutz members were utterly overrepresented in every aspect of leadership. They were, in a sense, the ideal Israelis, as Israeli society saw itself at its beginning. Today, socialism in Israel is somewhere around where the log cabin is in America. It's something that you learn about in history class if you're paying attention. And the kibbutz is really very marginal.

I assume this was intentional, but there's a real irony in comparing plantation owners to socialists who owned nothing.

I understand the irony completely. But the elite of the society were also those who believed in owning nothing of their own. The fading of that idea is shown in the fact that they are privatizing their communes!

It's fairly common to newly independent countries that the movements that established them hold power at the beginning. But if they're actually successful at creating a democratic process, eventually those movements fall away, because what defined them were earlier issues. Either the movements redefine themselves, or they become irrelevant. All that's really left of socialism in Israel is the name "Labor Party," which hasn't been socialist in many a year.

Why would someone like Avshalom Vilan be particularly offended by Lieberman's population transfer proposal?

There are two things going on here. One is that Vilan is still, despite everything I've just said, left-wing in terms of being dovish, in terms of stressing equality in Israeli society, in terms of being oriented toward dialogue with Palestinians. And he saw the proposals that Lieberman was making as racist.

But in the particular comment I quoted ["What chutzpah! Who are you at all?"], I felt there was also a certain tone of "Who does this guy think he is?" So there was the irony of a very determined and committed position of pro-equality along with a kind of elitism.

I think it's difficult for Americans to fully grasp what the phrase "right-wing politician" means in Israel. How does someone like Lieberman compare to David Duke, for instance?

This is what's so interesting about the Lieberman phenomenon. For the first phase of Israeli history, through 1967, "left" and "right" meant what they meant in Europe. The left was socialist, and the right was free market. After 1967, gradually the dividing line became what you thought we should do about the occupied territories—or, for that matter, what we should call them. Were they the "liberated territories" or were they the "occupied territories"? Should we keep them because they were our homeland? Or should we give them up for the sake of peace and because it was wrong to rule over another people? How far right you were was determined by how eager you were to hold onto territory, and how far left you were was determined by how much territory you were willing to give up.

By those terms, Lieberman is not a right-winger, because he's talking about giving up land. In fact, he's even willing to give up land from sovereign Israel. On the other hand, as one of the people quoted in the article says, he's opened up a new front against Israeli Arabs. And he wants to underline in black the definition of the state as being the expression of one ethnic group. The other group will either have to declare loyalty to that or be excluded. I think one of the reasons people say Lieberman is in the center is that they don't realize he has, in effect, redefined the terms.

It's telling that you just used the term "ethnic group" to describe the notion of the Jewish State. I think a lot of Americans believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essentially a religious one.

This is the most basic misunderstanding that comes from looking at Israel from the outside, particularly looking at Israel from the American experience. In America, the word "Jew" is primarily a religious term. And in Israel, while "Jew" is a religious term, it is primarily a term of nationality. That is the entire underlying idea of the state of Israel: Jews define themselves as a nationality and seek national self-determination. And therefore, the conflict is defined as the conflict between two ethnic or national groups.

Now, there has clearly been an overlay since the beginning of the conflict of the religious connections of both groups. I will be the first to stress that the ethnic and religious dimensions are hard to separate. But you're starting with the idea of thinking of these as nationalities, in the sense of European conflicts of nationalism. For instance, one of the ethnic groups in Bosnia was "Bosnian Muslim." In other words, there were three ethnic groups, and they were called Serbs, Croats, and Muslims.

Lieberman himself isn't particularly religious, is he?

He is not religious. He lives in a mixed religious-secular settlement.

So it doesn't necessarily follow that the more religious a Jew is, the more right-wing he'll be, and the more secular, the more left-wing?

There's an overlap. And certainly if you ran a statistical study, you'd find a relationship between the two things. But there's no absolute correlation between them. For instance, there's always been a very strong secular right wing.

And there's always been an ultra-Orthodox Jewish population that doesn't even recognize the State of Israel and goes so far as to side with the Palestinians.

Yeah, but that's outside of the right and left issues. That's a different universe. Let's not go there.

I think that if you tried to understand this conflict and said, "Okay, I've got it now. There are these two shades"—you're going to be in trouble. There's more than one fault line running through this.

You mentioned the idea of left and right in Europe. Is Lieberman's status as a right-wing politician more analogous to what a right-wing politician would be in Europe right now, where they're dealing with identity issues like headscarves in schools?

Without trying to make everything line up precisely, I think a Western European could have a much easier time simply identifying Lieberman as being on the right. The whole idea that we have to define who we are, and everyone who is not part of that has to adapt to our society—if you asked somebody in France or the Netherlands or Germany, they would say, "Well, of course. That's what our right looks like as well." But because for the last 40 years Israel has been defining its left and right in terms of territorial issues, when Lieberman was willing to give up land, people said, "He's moved to the center."

In your article, Faina Kirschenbaum, director of Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party, describes the party members as "pragmatic." Some of the more moderate Israelis I know have told me that Lieberman is a pragmatic man and that his logic makes a cold sort of sense. They usually conclude by adding, "But of course we cannot do this, because it's inhumane." Is this a common Israeli reaction to Lieberman?

I haven't run a survey on it, but I think that when people react against Lieberman's ideas, what they're saying is, "You can't do that. You can't take people who are citizens and exclude them." What he's proposing is very simple. It's terribly logical. And like many terribly logical things, it can't be done. Logical simplicity is very often the mark of extreme positions. Because an extreme position is often based on saying, "This is the only problem I need to solve. And everything else will just be pushed aside in order to solve that problem." But in the real world, you have to deal with a whole set of values that you're trying to maintain, not just one.

When I was in Israel during the summer of 1999, I spent a night in an Arab village in the Galilee. I really wanted the people to share their grievances, their feelings of being an oppressed minority, but they really seemed surprisingly content. Of course, things have probably changed in the past eight years. How much unrest do you think there is in Arab-Israeli villages these days?

I think there's a lot of tension. There's been a considerable amount of politicization among Arab citizens of Israel since 2000. At the beginning of the Second Intifada, in October 2000, there were disturbances inside Arab villages in Israel, and there was a very harsh police reaction, which led to a state inquiry afterwards. That issue remains very raw.

Let me put it this way. The issue of how to deal with an ethnic minority and how to integrate it into mainstream society is certainly not a uniquely Israeli issue. I mean, Europe has been embroiled in this for ages. Go back and look at how World War I started. Look at the conflict in the Balkans. Spain is still dealing with this. That's why I said that I actually think, in a lot of ways, these issues are less surprising from a European perspective than an American perspective.

How do American immigrants fit into the political landscape in Israel?

First of all, the number of American immigrants is quite small. There are certain areas where more Americans live, but you don't have the huge subculture you do with the Russians. Russians make up one sixth of the Israeli population, and the larger an immigrant group is, the more it can maintain a separate identity. I don't think Americans, as things stand now, are a political constituency of any weight in Israel.

The other obvious difference is that the Americans, unlike the Russians, didn't come here for reasons of personal comfort or economics or safety. So you have self-selection among immigrants. They are people who are coming here out of ideological commitment. Another thing about American immigrants is that because they're not part of the old power structure in Israel, they're much more likely to get involved in non-party groups. So whether you go to a Peace Now meeting or to a settlement, you will find Americans.

On the other hand, I would stress that there's an illusion in America that I've run into repeatedly that all the settlers are Americans. I can only guess this has to do with the fact that if someone shows up with a TV camera and a microphone, the one American in the settlement will be pushed out to speak. In reality, the percentages don't line up that way at all.

Lieberman believes that Ahmadinejad is every bit as dangerous as Hitler, and that his threats are parallel to the threats the Nazis made before World War II. Do most Israelis agree?

I think there's a lot of fear surrounding this, and I think that Iranian statements serve to arouse those fears. For very obvious reasons, Israelis, as a traumatized people, have an inclination to relate the current threat to what's happened in the past. Therefore, the Nazi metaphor is very easily applied. Lieberman is certainly not the only person who uses those terms. The reason he is able to use those terms is because they resonate in the wider society.

Without any dismissal of the Iranian threat, I think the most obvious reason it can't be compared to the Nazi threat is that in 1938, the Jews were not an independent nation with considerable military power. There is something almost ahistorical and, I would say, ironically non-Zionist in equating the situation of the Jewish people today with that of 1938.

In other words, I think that because of the pain of the past, it's very easy for Israelis to have a sense of helplessness in the face of a threat and want to respond to that threat sharply. But while we are not omnipotent, we are not helpless. We have achieved what Israel set out to do: we are a country. That means we face some threats, but we also have a degree of power—not unlimited power—to deal with those threats. Both the current rhetoric of Iran and the pain of history sometimes make it difficult for people to remember those things.

The Israeli political system is so different from America's three branches of government that it's hard to get a sense of how much power Lieberman actually has and where his career is heading. Is his current position really a stepping stone to even greater power?

Look, he sees it as a stepping stone. He increased his representation in the Knesset from something marginal to something significant at the same time the traditional major parties were continuing to lose votes and influence. I won't make any predictions as to how this will play out electorally, because in a parliamentary system we don't even know when the next elections will be held, much less what the political constellation will be at that moment. Therefore, it's very difficult to say whether he is correct in his evaluation. What I tried to convey in the article is that because of the breakdown of the classic ideologies, there is an opening for him. But there are a lot of other factors that could come into play.

Is Israel's parliamentary government really the best system for a small country with so many splinter groups? Do you think another system could be more unifying?

The Israeli system is based on the idea that the primary constituencies of the country are ideological groups and not necessarily geographic regions. This is very different from the American system, which was based on the states as the building blocks of the country. The Senate is the best example of this. The Israeli system is designed to guarantee representation for all the different ideological communities so they can negotiate their coexistence in a parliament. Even though that makes it look like the government is unstable, I think it actually promotes social stability.

Israel's mission as a country has always been more complicated than "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Amos Oz has said that as far as the early Zionists were concerned, Israel was going to be the most secular country, and the holiest country, and the most socialist country, and the most democratic country, and the most ancient country, and the most modern country. With a founding vision like that, wasn't Israel bound to fall short of its own ideals?

If you don't fall short of your ideals, then you have pretty poor ideals! But I think Israel has done all right when you compare it to a lot of other countries that became independent in the post-World War II period. You could do worse at creating an independent society. 


VN overweegt terugtrekking uit gevaarlijke Gazastrook

46 Burgers zijn de afgelopen weken ontvoerd in de Gazastrook, waaronder een Britse journalist, en 25 mensen zijn gedood in gevechten tussen Fatah en Hamas, ondanks de samenwerking in de eenheidregering. De VN overweegt de Gazastrook officieel tot gevaarlijk gebied te verklaren, wat zal leiden tot de evacuatie van alle buitenlandse humanitaire medewerkers. 



PA fears UN may order all aid workers out of lawless Gaza
Khaled Abu Toameh, THE JERUSALEM POST Apr. 5, 2007

Palestinian Authority officials on Thursday expressed fear that the United Nations may formally declare the Gaza Strip a dangerous zone - a move that would result in the evacuation of the remaining foreign nationals from the area and drastically hamper international humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

PA security sources told The Jerusalem Post that 25 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip last month in internal fighting. Another four were killed in the West Bank, the sources added.

"We're moving very quickly toward such a scenario," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, member of the PLO executive committee and a close aide to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. "The Gaza Strip is full of thugs and gangsters who are responsible for the ongoing anarchy. Soon the Gaza Strip may be declared a dangerous zone, which means that all international organizations would have to leave."

The UN has yet to issue any formal statement to such effect.

Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat warned that a "dangerous zone" declaration would increase the suffering of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and called on the PA security forces to start working to end the state of lawlessness and anarchy.

"The Gaza Strip has become worse than Somalia," a prominent human rights activist in Gaza City told the Post. "Thousands of gunmen continue to roam the streets and the new government hasn't done anything to restore law and order. Every day you hear horror stories about people who are killed and wounded. The situation is really intolerable."

Muhammad Dahlan, who was recently appointed PA National Security Adviser, said it was time to admit that a "curse has hit" the Gaza Strip. "Anyone who does not admit that there's a curse in the Gaza Strip does not know what he's talking about," he said.

Dahlan expressed concern over the wave of kidnappings in Gaza, noting that a local engineer who was abducted several months ago was still being held by his captors. He said that the National Security Council was now preparing a security plan that would end the state of anarchy in the PA-controlled areas.

"The Palestinian security establishment needs to undergo major surgery," he added. "The situation is catastrophic and many young men prefer to work for clans and not the security forces."

Dahlan met earlier with the British consul-general in Jerusalem, Richard Makepeace, and briefed him on the PA's efforts to release kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who was snatched by masked gunmen in Gaza City three weeks ago.
Hassan Khraisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said that the commanders of the PA security forces knew where Johnston was being held, but were doing nothing to release him. "What's the point in having 85,000 security officers if they can't free a foreign journalist who has been held in the Gaza Strip for three weeks?" he asked.

Dozens of Palestinian journalists demonstrated outside Abbas's office in Gaza City on Thursday to protest against the abduction of Johnston. Addressing the journalists, Abbas said he was doing his utmost to secure the release of the BBC corespondent.

"This case will be resolved very soon," he said without elaborating. "We will not allow such things to recur." Abbas's bodyguards fired into the air to prevent the protesters from approaching his office. No one was hurt.

Abbas and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh agreed to form a joint "operations command" to follow up on the case of Johnston.

The new PA government is expected to hold an emergency meeting in Gaza City on Saturday to discuss ways of restoring law and order. But many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip expressed pessimism, saying it was too late to talk about ending the state of chaos.

"There are too many gangs and weapons out there," said the human rights activist. "No government will be able to create a new situation."

He pointed out that at least 46 civilians had been kidnapped in the Gaza Strip in the past four weeks. The latest kidnappings took place on Thursday, when unidentified gunmen abducted three people, including one woman, in separate incidents.

Most of the kidnappings were related to family feuds and rivalries between political groups, particularly Fatah and Hamas.

Also Thursday, the bullet-riddled body of a Hamas security official, Muhammad Abu Hajileh, was discovered east of Gaza City. Abu Hajileh was a member of Hamas's "Executive Force" in the Gaza Strip.

vrijdag 6 april 2007

I am a Zionist and a progressive

Een krachtig pleidooi voor progressief Zionisme; in plaats van een tegenstelling te zijn, horen beide juist bij elkaar.

Reclaiming the Z Word ...or why I can care about my own people and others at the same time

By Christopher MacDonald-Dennis, Ed.D.
When I identify myself publicly as a Zionist, I often get asked the same question: "you are a what?" Generally the person knows that I subscribe to a left-wing world view and is frankly stymied. Their image of a Zionist is a right-wing jingoist who claims that Israel is perfect and that the situation she is in is the fault of only the Palestinians or the larger Arab world. They are incredulous and often take a step back as if they are seeing me for the first time.

Yes, Virginia, there are progressive Zionists.

Many people will ask why I want to utilize a term that is synonymous with reactionary and racist to many. Zionism, for those who automatically think of the right-winger described above, is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. Zionists come in many stripes, including cultural Zionists, labor Zionists, and revisionist Zionists to name but a few. By using that moniker, I do not claim to follow any political line. However, I do firmly stand for one thing: the need for a Jewish homeland.

Too often, some on the left characterize Zionists as frothing racists who hate Palestinians and want to oppress others. Many also view Zionism incorrectly as an attempt to reclaim biblical Israel. I am not the type of Zionist who harbors triumphalist visions of greater Israel. Although I am a religious Jew, my Zionism is as secular as that of the original Zionists.

Most people have no idea that there has historically been a diversity of opinion among Zionists. Some were binationalists, hoping for a utopian country in which Jews and Palestinian Arabs lived together in harmony. I like to think that, had I been alive in the 1920's, I would have been a binationalist hoping for a united Palestine, a la Herzl's Altneuland.

Of course we know that all offers for this type of nation were rejected, as was a two-state solution. I do not state this to point fingers and to demonize others. I say this because, as a Zionist, I have been frustrated by the fact that many people do not know the history of the conflict and automatically blame Israel for the lack of peace. Yes, Israel and Zionism have made mistakes in the past, just as all national liberation movements have. Look at the history of decolonization of Africa to see that countries which often had a bright future often make some horrible mistakes.

As a Zionist, I look at the Jewish community as my people. I will not distance myself from right-wing Zionists in order to curry favor with others. I know that the dynamic of "good Jew/bad Jew" has been used throughout our history to divide us. I will struggle with my more conservative brothers and sisters so that they may see why my views will bring about justice and security but I do it from a place of love. I detest the Occupation and yes, I call it an Occupation. I mourn the times in which we have said we were committed to peace and had no intention of it. But I shall struggle with right-wing Zionists, non-Zionists and others who want to constructively engage in finding peace to solve this conflict. However, I strongly believe that there are many reasons that there is not peace; but Israel is only one actor in this drama. Israel cannot and should not take the entire brunt of the blame.

I am a Zionist because, while as a progressive I am ambivalent about nationalism, I realize that the nation-state is the way that humans are currently organizing themselves. I am a Zionist because I love the idea of the various Jewish ethnicities living together after thousands of years. Mizrahim, Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Asian Indian Jews, Beta Israel of Ethiopia, as well as others learning to be a Jewish people together. Interestingly, those who live in Israel, a multiethnic Jewish state, have never questioned how someone named Chris MacDonald-Denis could be a Jew, unlike the never-ending questions I get in the U.S.

I am a Zionist because of my reading of Jewish history and oppression. I want the Jewish people to survive and thrive. Historians have counted the number of Jews living in the Roman empire two thousand years ago and, using demographic analysis of the people with which we lived throughout the centuries, postulated that there should be 250 to 300 million Jews in the world. However, there are approximately 14 million of us now. Genocide, forced conversion, and oppression have dwindled our numbers. I do not believe that Zionism is supposed to mean the end of the Diaspora or that Zionism is the natural culmination of our history. However, a homeland at peace with its neighbors would allow the Jewish people to flourish.

Alex Stein recently made a brilliant point when he stated that the classic dichotomy in the contemporary Jewish world is between particularity and universality. Jews have fought over the notion that one should not be too particularist (I care about Jews as a group) or too universalist (I care about all groups of people except for Jews). As a progressive Zionist, I do not see that there has to be a choice. I agree with Stein when he states that as a Zionist, his primary concern is for the citizens of Israel (he is Israeli) and for Jews all over the world but also cares for others as well. He uses the analogy that caring for your family does not preclude you from being concerned with the well-being of your neighbors.

I am also identifying publicly as a Zionist because it bothers to have others define me. Instead of asking what Zionism means to me, many people will tell me what Zionism is. Of course these are the same people who would never tell me how to identity as a gay man (queer? Same-genderloving? Gay?) or as a Latino (Hispanic? By country of origin?) Why as a Jew and as Zionist do I get this basic respect taken away? This piece is my statement that I will not be defined by others. I am loudly and proudly Zionist.

The editor of Ha'aretz, Bradley Burston, in his recent piece about "coming out" as a Zionist, summed up my feelings about being a progressive Zionists better than I ever could:

"I believe that a Jewish country need not be racist. I believe that a Jewish country must not be racist.

I believe that Jews have every right to a state of their own, no less than the Palestinians. I believe that the Palestinians have every right to a state of their own, no less than the Jews.

I believe that if one side denies the other the right to a state, it does direct and permanent harm to both peoples.

I believe that in a world in which there are dozens of Islamic countries, some of which cannot abide the corporeal presence of the Jew, there is room for one Jewish one.

I believe that in a world in which the flags of 13 nations bear a cross, the flag of one nation can bear a Star of David.

I believe that the process of dividing and sharing the Holy Land will be agonizing for both peoples.

I believe that the process of forgiveness will be painful, in some ways cruel. I believe that it will be next to impossible.

I also believe that it will happen.

I believe that a time will come when the sides will come to recognize what each has been saying to the other - often in the worst possible ways - for a lifetime now:

We're here. That's final. Get used to it."

I am a Zionist and a progressive. In fact, I am a Zionist because I am a progressive. I want self- determination for all peoples of the world, including my own. I simply want a Jewish state, living in peace among and in cooperation with her neighbors. Amos Oz, one of the few voices of sanity in a shrill and ugly conflict, states that there will be painful concessions on both sides. As he says, the problem is that this conflict is one of right meets right. I want Israel to live side by side in security and justice with a vibrant Palestine. I desperately want to find those willing to pull up his or her sleeves and make peace a reality. In all of this, however, I do it as a Zionist.

dinsdag 3 april 2007

Egyptian-American Writer Nonie Darwish, Founder of 'Arabs for Israel' on Al-Arabiya TV


Special Dispatch-Egypt/Reform
April 3, 2007
No. 1533

Egyptian-American Writer Nonie Darwish, Founder of 'Arabs for Israel':
"We Must Begin to View the Jews in a Forgiving Light"

To view this Special Dispatch in HTML, visit: .

The following are excerpts from an interview with Egyptian-American author Nonie Darwish, founder of 'Arabs for Israel.' The interview aired on Al-Arabiya TV on March 23, 2007.


Interviewer: "We mentioned at the beginning of the program that your father was a commander of the fedayeen in the Gaza Strip in the 50s. Your father is considered an Egyptian hero, but it has been said that you described him as a terrorist. Did you?"

Nonie Darwish: "Absolutely not, I don't understand how they could say such a thing. I admire my father. My father was a great man, and I love him because he had a great personality. He loved people, and people loved him. I love him not because he killed Jews, but because he was a great man. He is my role model."


"We have peace with Israel now. We should begin to view the Palestinian Arab cause in a different manner. For 58 years we have been fighting Israel, so how can we resolve this problem and put it behind us? Enough, we must resolve this problem, because it hinders the progress of the Arab peoples."

Interviewer: "You have been quoted as saying while visiting Israel: 'I have come to say that I forgive you for killing my father, and ask you to forgive us for the terrorism and killing on our part.' Did you say this?"

Nonie Darwish: "Absolutely, this is true. Forgiveness is the most important thing for reconciliation. We want reconciliation with Israel. I call upon the Muslims... The Islamic countries are beautiful countries. I love the Arabs, the Palestinians, and the Egyptians. They are my children – the beautiful Egyptian boys and girls – and their suffering and poverty in Egypt is difficult for me. But in order to resolve this problem, we must begin to view the Jews in a forgiving light. There must be forgiveness and justice, not just for the Palestinians, but for our enemies as well."


"My support for Israel does not mean I am against the Arabs. So please don't think that because I want peace with Israel, I don't want peace with the Arabs. I love my people very very much."


Interviewer: "Do you agree that as a rule, peoples whose lands have been occupied have the right to conduct resistance and to fight?"

Nonie Darwish: "As Arab countries, we must grant Israel some security. From the days of Abd Al-Nasser until today, with Ahmadinejad in Iran, all they hear is that we want to throw Israel into the sea. All they hear are ugly things. Can you believe that we accused Israel of 9/11? In mosques in America, Egypt, and the Arab countries, they say that Israel was the cause of 9/11. It is wrong for the Muslims to say such things about Israel."


Interviewer: "What is your response to the recent discovery that 250 Egyptian POWs were killed by Israelis in the 1967 war?"

Nonie Darwish: "If we begin to calculate who killed whom, we will never finish. We will never put an end to this problem. We killed many of them. The fedayeen killed thousands, and they killed thousands. Both they and we are wrong. This must be over and done with. If we begin to calculate who killed whom, we will never finish. We will spend all our lives in jihad. We must stop this. Many Egyptian men were killed, including my father. Many women were widowed, and many children were orphaned – not only on our side, but among the Jews as well."


"I would be the first to demonstrate in front of the Israeli embassy, if I found that they committed violations against Arabs. We must be just and grant the Jews security. There are five million of them, and we are 1.2 [billion] Muslims. What are we afraid of – five million Jews? We must welcome them, so they can live in our midst."


"We must stop the terrorism in Israel, and we must not encourage Hamas to say it wants to annihilate Israel. Ahmadinejad is not even an Arab – what does he have to do with Israel? Is he acting this way in order to unify his people?"


"We must begin to want peace with Israel. I am familiar with what goes on in the Arab countries, and I'm sad to say that most of us want to annihilate Israel. We want to kill all the Israelis. This is wrong."

Interviewer: "Aren't you generalizing?"

Nonie Darwish: "This is how we were educated in the Arab countries."

Interviewer: "Aren't you generalizing when you say that we all want to annihilate Israel? Who says that we all want this? Can you mention a single person who said we want to annihilate all the Israelis?"

Nonie Darwish: "Gamal Abd Al-Nasser said this, Ahmadinejad wants this, and the Hamas Charter says that they want to annihilate Israel. When Israel sees that in all 22 Arab countries, the peoples say: 'We want to annihilate Israel' – they are afraid. We must give them some security, so that they can... They left Gaza – and then what happened? They began launching missiles at them from Gaza."


"I have lived in America for 28 years. I love America, and I love freedom. This country has given us a lot of freedom. I get really angry when I hear that some Muslims here curse America."


"To this moment, the Hamas Charter says that it wants the total destruction of Israel. This must be erased. Besides, Ahmadinejad is not even an Arab. Ahmadinejad must stop this. He has nothing to do with Israel or the Arabs. Ahmadinejad should resolve the problems of Iran, not of the Arabs."


"Do you know what they used to say in the mosques in Egypt? 'We want to go to the White House and turn it into the Islamic House. We want to cancel the American constitution.' They say: 'Death to America.' How can we come to this beautiful country and do such things? America is my country."


"We call upon the Arab countries to stop teaching hatred to the Arab children, and to stop teaching them to hate the Jews and the Christians."

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Syria, PA slam Olmert's call to hold joint peace summit

Meer Arabische reacties op Olmerts oproep om op een gemeenschappelijke top over vrede te praten, waarbij het Arabische vredesplan startpunt, maar geen eindpunt kan zijn.


Syria, PA slam Olmert's call to hold joint peace summit

A Syrian source slammed on Monday Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's call to Arab leaders to hold a joint conference to further peace negotiations.

The unnamed Syrian source, quoted by the Saudi paper Al-Watan, said that Olmert's insistence on thorough groundwork before sitting to the negotiation table, was indicative that Israel was "trying to use the pretext of delaying talks by a few years to actually avoid them."

Mouhammad al-Madhoun, bureau chief to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, also said that Olmert's statements were "an attempt to empty the Arab peace initiative from its content, because of its refusal to recognize the Palestinian right of return."

Full text of Olmert's 'Post' interview for Pessah:

•  'It has not been the easiest year...'

On Sunday night, Olmert made his first public reaction to the Arab League summit's relaunching of its 2002 peace initiative last week, inviting the heads of the Arab states to a conference where these and other ideas would be discussed.

"I am proposing a meeting of all the heads of the Arab states, including - obviously - the Saudi king, who I see as a very important leader, to have discussions with us," Olmert said at a Jerusalem press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He said it was clear that each side would be able to bring its positions to such a meeting, alluding to Israel's stance that the Arab peace initiative was a starting point for negotiations, not the finish line.

Olmert's invitation was in line with the careful position that Jerusalem has charted since the Arab League readopted its land-and-refugees-for-peace plan last week, stressing its positive aspects and not rejecting it out of hand as it did in 2002 in order not to be cast in the naysayer's role.

Olmert said there was a "significant gap" between the Israeli and Arab positions, but that "in a correct, responsible and careful process we can move forward toward negotiations."

He said he agreed with Merkel, who argued that declarations like those issued in Riyadh could not come in place of negotiations between the sides.

"And I am saying to the Arab leaders, that if the Saudi King will initiate a meeting of the moderate Arab states, and invite me and the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, and present us the Saudi ideas, we will come to hear them and be happy to articulate our ideas as well," the prime minister said.

Olmert said it was important that the Saudis had decided to take an active role in finding a solution to the conflict.

"I think that the change in the way of thinking, the willingness to accept the State of Israel as a fact and to argue about the characteristics of a future solution, is something that I can't but appreciate," he said.

Olmert, during the press conference, denied statements made recently by elements in Iran regarding a coordinated US-Israeli attack on Iran allegedly planned for this summer.

Olmert said that a plan whereby the US would attack Iran in the summer, and where Israel would at the same time attack Syria and Hizbullah, is "a plan we don't know of. It is baseless, and an unfounded rumor with no foundation."

Israel was not planning an attack, does not want an attack, and "I hope very much that no one makes a miscalculation because of claims that are completely baseless," he said.

Merkel, who spoke positively of the Arab summit's resolutions, also said they needed to be seen as a starting point for further negotiations.

Merkel reiterated the Quartet's demand that the new PA government recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept previous Israel-Palestinian agreements to gain international legitimacy.

She also said the release of kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit was a necessary step in moving the process forward, and in a diplomatic manner admonished PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for telling her in a recent meeting in Berlin that Schalit would be released shortly, and then not making good on that promise.

Germany has been actively involved in efforts to secure Schalit's release, as well as that of kidnapped reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. When asked whether Regev and Goldwasser were alive, she could only reply that Germany had no information about their condition but was continuing to work on their behalf.
Merkel met with the families of the kidnapped soldiers during the day.

Her 36-hour visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority included a meeting in the morning with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who, according to a statement her office put out, expressed Israel's disappointment in Abbas, especially regarding his inability to bring about Schalit's release, and in his Fatah movement's joining a unity government with Hamas that did not accept the Quartet's three principles.

Livni called on the European Union, which Merkel currently heads as its rotating president, to back the position that Palestinian refugees should return to a future Palestinian state, and not to Israel. A firm European position on this issue would have an important impact on the Arab world, she said.

Following her meeting with Livni, Merkel went to Yad Vashem where - accompanied by Livni - she toured the museum and participated in a brief ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance. She left a message in the memorial guest book that read, "Humanity grows out of responsibility for the past."

She then went to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she received an honorary doctorate, and then on to Ramallah for a meeting with Abbas.

Her trip here, her second Middle East trip since Germany took over the rotating presidency of the EU in January, is part of a regional tour that includes Jordan and Lebanon.

Arabisch vredesplan: Vrede of overgave

Voordat er onderhandeld kan worden, moet Israël het Arabische vredesinitiatief onvoorwaardelijk accepteren, heeft een Saoedische diplomaat gezegd, in reactie op Olmerts oproep tot een gemeenschappelijke top om over vrede te praten. Bovendien kan pas sprake zijn van erkenning van Israël nadat het zich tot de pre-1967 grenzen heeft teruggetrokken en er een Palestijnse staat is. Misschien, indien alles volledig naar wens van de Arabische staten is verlopen, de vluchtelingen en hun miljoenen nakomelingen naar Israël zijn teruggekeerd en gecompenseerd en Israël verder geen noten op zijn zang heeft.
Dit is een beetje vreemd idee over hoe vijandige staten vrede met elkaar sluiten. Soms, als een partij genadeloos is verslagen zoals Duitsland na de Eerste Wereldoorlog, wordt een dergelijke dictaat opgelegd, maar zelfs hier is men van teruggekomen. Voor zover ik weet is Israël nooit verslagen door de Arabische staten. Dat Israël een dergelijke dictaat niet accepteert mag dan ook niet verbazen, en het is absurd daaruit te concluderen (zoals sommigen doen) dat Israël geen vrede wil.
Er is een groot verschil tussen vrede en overgave.


Saudi official: Israel should leave 'Arab' territory
Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST Apr. 2, 2007

Israel should withdraw from Arab territory and allow the creation of a Palestinian state before Arabs recognize it, a Saudi official said Monday - the first Saudi statement on the issue since Prime Minister Ehud Olmert publicly invited Arab leaders to discuss their ideas for peace with him.

Olmert specifically called on Saudi Arabia Sunday to take the lead, the first time Israel has made such a request of the Saudis, who maintain a state of war with Israel but are pushing for a peace deal.
The Saudi official told The Associated Press that "before any meeting could be considered," Israel should accept the 2002 Arab peace initiative that would recognize Israel in exchange for withdrawal from captured territory and a just solution for the Palestinian refugees. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

At a summit in Saudi Arabia last week, the Arab League renewed its commitment to the peace initiative, which was initially proposed by Saudi Arabia. Olmert welcomed the decision but said Israel did not accept all parts of the plan.

He said that if King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia were to invite him, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and moderate Arab leaders to a meeting "to present Saudi Arabia's ideas before us, we will come to hear them and be glad to offer our ideas."

Egypt's assistant foreign minister for Arab affairs, Hani Khallaf, was quoted as saying Monday that the Arab side cannot negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians. The Jordanian government did not make any immediate comments.

Syria had no immediate comment to the latest Israeli offer. At a meeting on Sunday, Olmert asked US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad that if Syria stops its support for terrorism, Israel would be interested in making peace.

In a March 22 interview with French television, Assad said seeking peace with Israel is a "firm principle," but stressed that the return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the Six Day War, was a Syrian right that would not be compromised.

"The land must be returned in full. Any other details are subject to negotiations but land is not. It is Syrian land," he said.

Wat voorkomt een Israelische inval in de Gazastrook?

Een Israëlische analist antwoordde als volgt op de vraag van het Palestijnse Ma'an hoe een hernieuwde Israëlische inval in de Gazastrook te voorkomen:
One analyst was asked what might prevent an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip and his response was: firstly, a prevention of arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza, secondly, an end to the manufacture of projectiles and thirdly, the cessation of the launching of projectiles at Israel.
Aangezien er sinds november een staakt-het-vuren is tussen Israël en de Gazastrook is het sowieso, laten we zeggen, een beetje vreemd, dat de Palestijnen zich met bovenstaande activiteiten bezighouden. Dat dit vroeg of laat tot een Israëlische reactie zal leiden mag eigenlijk niet verbazen, en dat bij gevechten in dichtbevolkt gebied burgerslachtoffers zullen vallen evenmin. Toch is dit laatste een belangrijke reden dat Israël een dergelijke aanval blijft uitstellen, ondanks veelvuldige waarschuwingen van het leger en inlichtingendiensten over de grootschalige wapensmokkel, wapenproductie en trainingsactiviteiten van de militaire vleugel van Hamas in de Gazastrook. De vraag is wat eerder komt: een Palestijnse raketaanval waarbij dodelijke slachtoffers aan Israëlische kant vallen, of een einde aan de raketten en de wapensmokkel. 
Emergency quartet formed to prevent Israeli attack on Gaza Strip
Date: 31 / 03 / 2007  Time:  14:34

Bethlehem - Ma'an - Israeli TV revealed that a quartet committee from Egypt, Israel, Palestine and the United States, was formed recently to prevent an escalation between the Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli TV Channel 2 said that the committee was formed during United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent visit to Ramallah and Jerusalem.

Egyptian mediators

The committee will convene in Egypt soon but no exact dates have been announced. The representatives from each of the four nations will discuss security issues such as monitoring the Rafah crossing from Egypt into the Gaza Strip and arms smuggling, in addition to the launching of projectiles from the Gaza Strip into Israeli areas.

Israeli analysts said that the Israeli leadership hopes that this committee will succeed in preventing projectile launching. Other analysts believe that the Israeli military commanders are pushing for a military confrontation in the Gaza Strip, but that the political leaders are less inclined to create an escalation in Gaza.

One analyst was asked what might prevent an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip and his response was: firstly, a prevention of arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza, secondly, an end to the manufacture of projectiles and thirdly, the cessation of the launching of projectiles at Israel.

The red line

When asked if there was a line that Palestinians could cross to provoke an attack, he said "the landing of a projectile during the Jewish Easter feast on an Israeli Jewish family and if that kills the Israelis; that will be enough to launch an attack on the Strip."


Olmert's April Fool's Day joke

Haaretz, zondag 1 april 2007

After perusing the interviews with Ehud Olmert in the country's major newspapers this weekend, readers can only rub their eyes and ask themselves whether the prime minister is living in a fantasy, or if they themselves are trapped in a nightmare from which they will awaken any moment to a world that is fun to live in. If the latter is true, then the distress with which Israelis have been living for the past eight months is the private problem of each of them.
But if the former option is the real one, then the country is in big trouble. According to the prime minister, Israel is now in better shape than when he took over a year ago: The government is performing well, the economy is thriving, the coalition is stable, there is no terror, Israel's international status has never been better and he, Olmert, is managing the affairs of state quite well. Were this picture not so disturbing, we could console ourselves by imagining that this is Olmert's idea of an April Fool's Day joke. There it is, a one-to-one ratio between the image of reality as seen by the prime minister and the way it is experienced by the rest of creation.
Olmert claims the Second Lebanon War was a resounding success, and that Israel's strategic situation has improved immeasurably. The day before he was interviewed, the new IDF chief of staff appeared before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and declared he was taking action to ensure there would be no question regarding the victor of the next war. Even if we disregard the superfluous braggadocio of Gabi Ashkenazi's remarks, there is no doubt they represent an admission the IDF did not have the upper hand at the end of the war. It doesn't end there: Olmert's argument that the war changed Israel's strategic position for the better is refuted by other voices (including from within the military establishment) who believe Israel's deterrent powers were severely compromised in the war.
Olmert claims the decision-making process in his government is in good order and also was during the war. This contradicts his own claims (spread via his associates) that the investigations of the country's leadership are paralyzing them, impeding decision-making and driving away the most talented people in public service. It also ignores the calls during the war by retired senior officers such as Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and politicians such as Dan Meridor to change the way the war was being pursued and search for a way off the battlefield.
The logic behind the way the war was waged is one of the issues being examined by the Winograd Committee. Until the panel has its say, the compliments Olmert is giving himself in this area are nothing more than snake oil.
Olmert claims Israel is free from acts of terror. In saying so, he is attempting to make us forget the Qassam missiles being fired from the Gaza Strip into the western Negev, and to a greater extent, the mood in the IDF General Staff, which is preparing for a major military operation in Gaza. In other words, the current calm, according to the IDF's assessment, is the calm before the gathering storm. It is thus inaccurate for the prime minister to present it as a genuine achievement.
Olmert claims that within five years an arrangement will be reached between Israel and the Palestinians and with the entire Arab world. By saying so, the prime minister is counting imaginary vision among his achievements. In practice, during his tenure there has been no genuine movement toward ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, neither on the Palestinian nor the Syrian front. Olmert sounds believable when he talks about being tired of war and preferring the path of dialogue, but the speed at which he pushed the button in Lebanon and the skepticism that has characterized his response to diplomatic signals from Damascus and Ramallah undermine this impression.
The Olmert of this weekend's interviews is a very resilient person. There is something touching about the way he insists on presenting himself as a success story. Amazingly, he isn't suffering as prime minister and manages to protect himself from the darts sent his way over suspicions of corruption and his miserably low popularity. The psychological flak jacket he made for himself is itself disturbing: Isn't it evidence of just how out of touch he is with reality?

maandag 2 april 2007

VN baas: wapensmokkel bedreigt staakt-het-vuren in Libanon

Secretaris generaal Ban Ki-Moon dringt aan op een einde aan de wapensmokkel via Syrie, en naleving van VN resolutie 1701 die het einde van de oorlog tussen Israel en Libanon betekende. Ook roept hij op tot de onvoorwaardelijke vrijlating van de Israelische soldaten die door Hezbollah zijn ontvoerd, en waarover Hezbollah geen enkele informatie heeft gegeven sinds hun ontvoering.
Beter laat dan nooit. Hopelijk blijft het niet bij mooie woorden.
UN chief: Arms smuggling threatening cease-fire

The UN chief warned Saturday that arms smuggling from Syria could threaten the cease-fire in Lebanon and urged full compliance with a UN resolution that ended the summer war between Hezbollah and Israel.

UN Resolution 1701 which halted the 34 days of fighting calls among other things for a stop in arms shipments to Hizbullah guerrillas and demands the "unconditional release" of two Israeli soldiers the militants captured, triggering the conflict.

Noting allegations that the arms embargo on Hizbullah was not being enforced, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met Friday with Lebanese security chiefs during his two-day visit to Lebanon to discuss ways of enhancing the Lebanese army's monitoring capabilities of the along border with Syria, one of Hizbullah's principal patrons.

The leading Lebanese daily An-Nahar reported Saturday that Ban told the Lebanese security chiefs that Israel had provided him with "evidence and pictures" of trucks crossing from Syria to Lebanon and unloading weapons.

On Saturday, Ban again voiced concern about the reported arms smuggling.

"There are intelligence reports that arms are smuggled. I am concerned by that kind of arms smuggling, which will destabilize the situation in Lebanon," he told reporters during a stop at the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.

Ban urged all sides to obey the UN resolution and expressed the need for "an enhanced monitoring capacity of the Lebanese armed forces to ensure that there will be no such smuggling activity."

Defense Minister Amir Peretz told Ban during a stop in Israel in March that the UN-brokered cease-fire in southern Lebanon is endangered by Hizbullah militants. He accused the Iranian- and Syrian-backed guerrillas of continuing to receive arms shipments from Syria.

Lebanese leaders have rejected Israeli claims that weapons smuggling continues.

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, who is opposed to Hizbullah and Syrian influence, said at a news conference with Ban in Beirut on Friday that the Lebanese government was trying to improve its monitoring capabilities but stressed that "not one single case of arms smuggling across the border" with Syria has been recorded.

His defense minister, Elias Murr, recently said that not a "single mosquito" is getting across the border, adding that Hizbullah did not need to resupply. On Friday, the defense minister again dismissed reports of arms smuggling through Syria as "not true."

But Hizbullah has boasted that it replenished its stockpile of rockets after the war.

Israeli warplanes have continued to fly reconnaissance missions over Lebanon though Beirut and the United Nations consider them a violation of the cease-fire and have demanded Israel stop the overflights. Israel has refused, saying they are vital intelligence-gathering missions. But an internal Israeli military document has said the flights are intended in part to pressure the international community to stop arms smuggling to Hizbullah guerrillas and release the two abducted Israeli soldiers.

The UN chief arrived Thursday in Beirut from Saudi Arabia, where he attended an Arab summit. His Mideast tour has already taken him to Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

On Friday, Ban also expressed disappointment that there had been no progress toward the release of two Israeli soldiers whose capture during a cross-border raid triggered the fighting.

Hizbullah has not provided any information about the conditions of the two soldiers seized on July 12 and has insisted they would be released only through a prisoner exchange with Israel.

Ban also traveled by helicopter to southern Lebanon near the Israeli border to thank the peacekeepers from 30 countries who are monitoring the cease-fire. He was briefed by senior commanders at the headquarters of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon at the Lebanese coastal border town of Naqoura. He later flew by helicopter over the Blue Line, the UN-demarcated border between Lebanon and Israel, and made stops at several of the force's bases before departing for New York.

"This is an occasion for me to express my gratitude in person to all of you," he said during a ceremony at the headquarters. He also paid homage to those who "paid the ultimate sacrifice" and those who were injured during the 29-year-old mission in southern Lebanon.

UNIFIL first deployed in Lebanon in 1978 after an Israeli invasion but has been ineffective over the years. The fighting between Hizbullah and Israel last summer killed more than 1,000 in Lebanon and 159 Israelis.

The cease-fire resolution called for a reinforced UNIFIL, which now numbers close to 13,000. It currently patrols a weapons-free zone alongside some 15,000 Lebanese troops.

Hamas: we zullen verzet niet opgeven totdat geheel Palestina is bevrijd

Hamas zegt het nog maar eens heel duidelijk, zodat er geen misverstand over kan zijn:
"But Hamas insisted it would not recognize Israel or renounce violence.
"We stress that we do not and will never recognise the right of Israel to exist on one inch of Palestinian land," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
"We will not abandon the resistance to the Zionist occupation until the liberation of all Palestinian soil," Barhoum said."
Hamas is niet pragmatisch geworden, is niet bereid vrede met Israel te sluiten, en de vorming van de Palestijnse eenheidsregering betekent ook niet dat Hamas Israel 'impliciet heeft erkend'. 
Wishful thinking brengt een oplossing van het Israelisch-Palestijns conflict niet dichterbij. 

Merkel calls on PA gov't to meet Quartet demands

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday urged the new Palestinian unity government to embrace Western demands it recognize Israel and renounce violence to revive Middle East peace talks.
Merkel arrived in Israel Saturday evening for a meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"We call on the members of the unity government to adhere to the Quartet principles ... to bring forward the peace process," Merkel told reporters at a news conference with Jordan's King Abdullah at the start of a Middle East tour.
"We want to support those forces that abide by the Quartet principles," she said.
But Hamas insisted it would not recognize Israel or renounce violence.
"We stress that we do not and will never recognise the right of Israel to exist on one inch of Palestinian land," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
"We will not abandon the resistance to the Zionist occupation until the liberation of all Palestinian soil," Barhoum said.
Earlier Saturday, the European Union pledged to work with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and other relative moderates to support an Arab initiative that Europeans see as a hopeful sign in the Middle East peace process, officials said Saturday.
"EU foreign ministers ended a two-day meeting determined to stay fully engaged in the search for Mideast peace," said Cristina Gallach, the spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana.
Also Saturday, Solana said that developments in the Middle East are pointing toward a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world for the first time in decades.
"The Arab League for the first time in many years has assumed the responsibility to be more active in the peace process," he said.
"If you put that together with the reaction of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the two things ... are beginning to construct the dynamic that could lead to the settlement of a crisis that has been with us for many years," Solana said.
Olmert told Haaretz in an interview that he wants to start a dialogue with Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab countries after the Riyadh summit again ratified the initiative. Olmert said he would be happy to take part in a regional conference that would support direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Solana, who attended last week's Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, praised the hosts for assuming a leadership role in reviving a 2002 Arab peace initiative.
"I think after the meeting in Riyadh (Arab nations) will be constructive and active in moving the peace process forward," he told reporters at the end of a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
"The moment in which we are living is a moment of hope that we may be able to move the process of a comprehensive peace forward," he added.
Gallach said the EU sees an initiative this week by the Arab League to relaunch a 2002 Arab peace initiative as a sign of new momentum in the peace process.
The EU ministers, meeting in Bremen, also agreed to keep in place, for now, an ad-hoc aid scheme, overseen by the World Bank, that in the past year has funneled hundreds of millions of euros directly to poor Palestinians - bypassing the previous Palestinian government led by the Islamic militant Hamas.
The emergence of that government a year ago led international aid to the Palestinian Authority to dry up. The EU cobbled together a so-called Temporary International Mechanism that hands out monthly cash payments to support 150,000 or so destitute Palestinian families.
The platform of a recently formed government of national unity, a coalition between Hamas and Abbas' more moderate Fatah faction, falls short of international demands that it recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by existing Palestinian-Israel agreements.
But on Saturday, the Europeans agreed they will judge the new government by its actions rather than its words and to progressively help it build up credible government institutions, Gallach said.
The EU will limit its dealings to relative moderates such as Abbas, Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr and Finance Minister Salam Fayyad.
The latter is a respected economist and former International Monetary Fund executive who earned the trust of the U.S. administration in his first term as the Palestinian treasury chief before Hamas came to power in 2006.
The EU is interested in seeing an early meeting of the so-called Quartet of peace negotiators - the United States, the EU, the United Nations and Russia. At the same time, officials said, the EU will increase contacts with the so-called Arab Quartet of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Emirates.
This week, the Arab League revived a 2002 initiative that calls for full recognition of Israel by the Arab world in return for an Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in the 1967 Six Day War and a just solution for Palestinian refugees.
Despite an official freeze of aid to the Palestinian government in the past year, international assistance to the Palestinians has risen in the past year.
The EU alone has given some $932 million - almost half of it in cash handouts to poor Palestinians and the remainder though the United Nations and other relief groups.
That has left the Palestinian treasury empty. Fayyad, the new finance minister, has said it will take him four to six months to rebuild the sound finances and budgeting practices that existed before Hamas took power.
Merkel: No grounds for optimism in Middle East
Merkel said earlier Saturday that the future of the Middle East is not particularly optimistic, shortly before setting off for a three-day tour of the region.
"The situation is ... difficult," Merkel acknowledged before her departure. "But on the other hand, plenty has started moving - particularly because of the Arab countries' activities. We now have to sound out to what extent we can also make out of this movement for the peace process in the Middle East - although I think we still have a very, very difficult road ahead of us, so we don't yet have grounds to be particularly optimistic."
Her trip will include talks with Abbas and Olmert, meetings that will come close on the heels of Thursday's Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The meeting called for Israel to accept a revived peace plan.
Merkel's first stop is in Jordan, where she will see Jordan's King Abdullah - one of the strongest supporters of the Arab plan.
German officials called the recent Arab statements a sign of new momentum in the intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute after swings through the region by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
"After the Arab move, we now have to sound out to what extent we can also make out of this movement for the peace process in the Middle East," she said.
"But everything must be done so that this peace process moves forward," she said.
EU ministers mull Arab peace plan, Palestinian unity gov't
EU foreign ministers on Saturday assessed prospects for Middle East
peace based on a Palestinian government comprising the rival Fatah and Hamas factions and a revived Arab peace initiative.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier praised Saudi Arabia for helping put together a Palestinian national unity government and for relaunching a 2002 peace initiative at this week's Arab League summit in Riyadh.
"A number of Arab partners have acted constructively in furthering the peace process," Steinmeier, whose country holds the EU presidency, said as he arrived at the meeting.
"We shouldn't let this opportunity evaporate again," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.
Crucial for the EU now are the intentions of the new coalition government between Hamas and Fatah.
Solana, who was scheduled to brief the EU ministers on the outcome of this week's Arab League summit, told the European Parliament this week he will recommend the EU governments judge the new Palestinian government by its deeds and maintain contact with moderate elements in the national unity government.