A picture is DEFINITELY worth a thousand words.

Map of the countries supporting Palestine's bid to statehood

Go on. The winner gets to feel righteous.

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I can’t exactly remember the last time I took a unilateral decision. It was probably something regarding the ever-regular debate on whether to pay my rent on time and the unilateral decision I made, this is, without the consent or advice of my landlord, proved to be extremely damaging and taught me a lesson my father would have been proud to make himself. This said, I haven’t had my own apartment taken away from me by excessive force nor have I had been under constant oppression for over sixty years, so I can’t really compare the decision Palestine might be taking – unilaterally – to proclaim itself a state, without the consent or advice of Israel.

Yasser Arafat: he had a dream...

The question of recognizing, legally and politically, regionally and internationally, Palestine as a state – with its own government, its own Constitution, its own set of laws and by-laws, and, most importantly and perhaps most decisively, a preset territory, has been at the heart of every potentially successful peace process to be made in the region. There is no possibility to discuss a two-state solution of only one of the parties is actually a State. There is no negotiation to be made between heads of State if only one of the two parties is indeed a diplomatically recognized head of State. There is no legitimacy to be claimed over a territory if there is no State to organize nationwide democratic elections. Moreover, there is no population without a State, as the Palestinians can not claim national protections. Whose and which nationals are they, exactly? Which force is there to protect them from oppression and guarantee them freedom and labour, and if a force stands up and claims it will, how legitimate can it be? The situation of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the West’s heated debate over whether or not this is a legitimate government or a terrorist organization such as Hezbollah is adding fuel to the pan and destroying every embryo of a negotiation. For as long as there is no such thing as a Palestinian state, Palestinians are nothing but Israel’s political prisoners, collateral damage of a forceful sionism that was not even entirely supported by a Jewish community already saturated by the hate and violence they endured.

In short: Palestine wants to be recognized as a State. Israel refuses. The issue of whether the land between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank will be attributed to either of the parties is at stake and Israel has much to gain in maintaining a status quo. But after the much criticized Goldstone report, a decision regarding the region has to be reached. The United States, for the first time in a very long time, is pushing towards a two-state solution. This seems to be the only solution. No matter how hard the right-wing Israeli parties are dragging their feet, this is the only outcome. Except that Mahmoud Abbas, currently the leader of the Palestinian authorities, for lack of a better expression, has declared he might take upon himself to do what Yasser Arafat himself did not do – claim a Palestinian state, following the borders created by the 1967 agreement.

Liebermann, currently Prime Minister of Israel, has replied to this claim with as much of a negative answer one could come up with without resorting to weapons of russian manufacture; and President Shimon Peres himself called to a cooling off of the situation, saying that “anger in Palestine must not be turned into a political agenda.” With negotiations at a standstill, and Hamas struggling to maintain a pseudo-democratic facade, how long will Palestine sustain a relative peaceful and downlow demeanour without access to their demands? The White House and the European Union having hurt a wall during their mediation sessions with Israel last summer, Liebermann being strictly opposed to a two-state solution and even refused to freeze Israeli settlements in the West Bank, can a unilateral action, the very opposite of diplomatic action, can be endorsed? What kind of response are we to expect from Israel, if not an armed force one, justified by the fact that their own borders have been unilaterally claimed frioom one side without the consent of the other?

And what will become of the East Jerusalem Palestinians, Jewish Arabs, citizens with no state and residents with no territory, temporary living heads on borrowed time, allowed by a reluctant authority to cultivate the land they have had for millenia? What will become of the brand new settlers, forced to retract backwards, and not knowing which authority to turn to? Should a third party be named and called upon this issue in order to make the decision neither Israel nor Palestine is willing to do without force? What would even happen to a brand new Palestinian state if the decision brings back the painful memories of the blood-spilling power struggle between Fatah and Hamas? Is Palestine capable of running its own people democratically, peacefully, in full cooperation with its reluctant neighbor, and liberating the Gaza Strip without those collateral damages we have become a little too acquainted with?

This is one simple decision, but raising a plethora of questions no one is quite ready to address yet. Unilateral decisions are never favored on the diplomatic scene, for the simple reason they always rile up the party that has not been consulted, like in any divorce, any conflictual relationship, any divided, segregated area. But what if finally standing up to the test and making the decision everyone has been waiting for and hedging one’s bets was the only solution left for the Middle East? What if Palestine had to take their chances?

One of the most depressing and pathetic results of 9/11 was the manicheism brought upon by a Samuel Huntington-esque world view brought upon by the Bush Doctrine. Black against white, good versus evil and East versus West, every conflict, every social issue, every ideology was suddenly taken through a time warp. We woke up in 2002 presided over by McCarthy, doing fire drill exercizing leading us to the closest underground bomb shelter as if the Soviet were pointing missiles at our suburbian homes again, and every phone was tapped by our government for maximum safety measures. Thankfully, the world in itself is still as complex as ever, ideologies are still being brewed in the same religious blender they’ve always been meant to mix in, and common sense is still gravity-defying.

Take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for instance. Sixty years of anti-logic attitude on both sides, a cruel mistake performed by so-called peace-building international institutions, open-sky concentration camp in the Gaza Strip, and regular bombing tests by american weapons. Israel, the only western force in the Middle East, vs Palestine, a State that doesn’t even exist, backed up by religious extremism and the European Union: headache-inducing, as far from common sense as humanly possible, a textbook unresolvable conflict that has been testing the limits of diplomacy with every decade, is now adding more fuel to this already burning pan. On one hand, Holocaust survivors and their descendants are creating a supermax State with the help of 1.8% of american tax income. On the other hand, Palestinian and their democratically elected men-in-uniform Hamas leaders are struggling to stop colonization from the former. Jews versus Muslims, military task forces versus Intifada, and now, on top of it all, comes the orthodox Rabbis.

A member of Neturei Karta protesting against the violences inflicted on Palestinian civilians

A member of Neturei Karta protesting against the violences inflicted on Palestinian civilians

The ideology behind the creation of Israel was zionism, a very controversial branch of Judaism claiming that the Chosen People will live in the Promise Land – Israel – until Judgement Day, where God will recognize them as His faithful servants. Until then, most Jews did not have their own country. Hardly contained and confined to one specific corner of the universe, and evolving across continents through a process otherwise known as diasporas, Zionists believe that the anti-Jewish sentiment, from pogroms in the Middle Ages to the Holocaust, have been caused by the fact the Jews were basically nation-less. Zionism was brought to light by Theodore Herzl towards the end of the 19th century, thanks to his book Der Judenstaat, speaking of not only the creation of a Jewish state (Eretz Yisra’el), but its necessity in order to stop the diaspora. Soon enough this idea was both embraced by members of the Jewish community concerned by the rampant antisemitism in Europe, and by European and American scholars alike seeing in zionism a solution to “the Jewish question”. Herzl wrote,

“The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilised countries—see, for instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level”.

It is in this climate of divided Jewish ideology that the BBC reports the visit of four representants of orthodox Jewish movement Neturei Karta paid a visit to the Hamas headquarters in Gaza in order to discuss Israel. Hamas, currently in charge of leading the Gaza Strip and fundamentally opposed to the very existence of an Israeli state, claiming its destruction in order to retrieve what was once Palestinian land, seem to have a lot in common with those rabbis, heavily dressed in traditional and conservative Jewish habit, a peculiar sight inside Gaza, where over a million Palestinian are confined without no possible exit by air, sea or ground. To Neturei Karta, Israel can only be created by the Messiah – that does not have a seat at the Security Council just yet – and therefore the current Israel as we know it is heretic. Oddly enough, Hamas drew the same nuance those rabbis do: they reject zionism, not Jews themselves.

Neturei Karta embraced a pro-Palestinian stand. “It is your land, it is occupied, illegitimately and unjustly by people who stole it, kidnapped the name of Judaism and our identity.” The movement, which membership level rises up to a few thousand across the Middle East as well as in the United Kingdom and the United States, even attended the extremely controversial conference on the Holocaust held by Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, where negationism and other forms of denial of the genocide was discussed in harsh antisemitic terms. Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, described those emissaries as “heroes”, extreme religious leaders willing to recognize the occupation as illegal and illegitimate and fight against Israel’s apparent determination to disperse Palestinians.

The importance of Jewish-Muslim and Israeli-Palestinian dialogue will never be stressed enough; informal and formal meeting between religious and political leaders must take place on a regular basis in order to create a comfortable and productive place for a peace process to be drafted. However, extremism seems to draw extremism as much as ever in the region. Although Neturei Karta’s rhetoric contains compassion and empathy for the plight of Palestinians, a feeling that’s more than welcome on this side of the Red Sea, they are also committed to the destruction of the State, with no regard to its inhabitants. Regardless of the side which everyone seems to inevitably lean toward, it seems one state will never be able to live alongside the other. Co-existence is constantly challenged to the point mutual destruction seems unavoidable. So contested is the existence of Israel, even within its own community, only Israel itself seems to hold the cards regarding its future in the Middle East.

Erin Cunningham is a 25 years old journalism rising star currently living in Gaza City. She’s collaborated with us in the past, specifically providing insight into the Gazean lifestyle post-Israeli strike last February, giving us fantastic photographic evidence of the damage caused by a rogue foreign policy practised by Israel. She agreed to sit down with us in-between two power cuts to talk about her career, Middle Eastern politics, and the future of Palestine.

Formerly based in Cairo for the most part of 2008, Erin perfected her knowledge of Middle Eastern politics, arabic, and honed her writing skills by being one of the first journalists allowed to cross into the Gaza Strip from Egypt after the Israeli raids destroyed the city in January. Covering the aftermath for the Inter Press Service, Erin witnessed first-hand the disaster that had been created by  a policy based on fear, intolerance, and unconsciousness. Shortly after her coverage, she briefly returned to her native California, only to make a swift trip back to Gaza. “What I saw during those three days, and the unbelievable destruction afterward, changed me. It changed the way I thought about war, about life, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about journalism and about finding greater meaning in my future work”, she explains. As for now, Erin is no longer a simple journalist, but chronicles the every day lives of a people she feels extraordinary compassion for. “I decided it was time to go back to Gaza to pursue not only what I felt would be meaningful and rewarding work for myself, but also a way of telling the story of Gazans that presents them not just as blood-thirsty suicide bombers, but as people. People who have dreams, who tell jokes, who love their children, love the sea, and whose spirits and lives are being crushed by this crippling economic siege — and now war. “

Now living in Gaza City like any other resident, Erin Cunningham is giving us a compelling glimpse of assieged life.

Erin, with neighbour Islam Shawhan

Erin, with neighbour Islam Shawhan

Semi-autonomous Collective: what are your actual living conditions, and what does it tell us about the siege Gaza City is currently under?

My living conditions are okay, but that doesn’t say much. Currently I’m living in the apartment of a friend who was forced to leave Gaza during the Hamas-Fatah clashes of 2007. It is a nice building, in a middle-class neighborhood, but power outages occur daily. They have become more frequent as of late, and I only have power for a few hours a day now. This means that I can’t heat water for baths (which I take out of a bucket because the water pressure is so low), and most of the food in my refrigerator goes bad. Of course, I have it better than most and remind myself of that every day.

Meat, fruits, vegetables and anything else not available in the food aid packets distributed by the UN are terribly expensive. They are not always available, depending mainly on the amount of livestock being smuggled in through the tunnels. “Supermarkets” are sparsley stocked, and don’t even think about variety. You’ll often find cans of tuna, beans, cooking oil and packets of salt and sugar. One thing Gazans have made sure gets in, however, is chocolate, and there is more chocolate in Gaza than anything else.

As far was water goes, the situation is pretty dire. The majority of Gaza’s water supplies are contaminated, mainly from the dumping of raw sewage into groundwater supplies as a result of dilapidated infrastructure, and are not safe to drink. Bottled water is expensive (3 shekels or $.75 for 1.5 liters), as is the installation of a water filter. Water treatment plants were damaged during the war, and it’s obvious given the size of the Gaza Strip (40 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide) and the size of its population (1.5 million) that they are going to face major problems in the future in terms of not only securing safe sources of drinking water, but building the infrastructure to make it available.

Israel’s new Foreign Affairs Minister, Avgador Liebermann, said, during a recent trip in Europe,  that there was no way Israel would ever go back to its 1967 boundaries, and that in any case, it wouldn’t resolve the conflict; that East Jerusalem could never be Palestine’s capital city, “that it had always been, is, and will always be Israel’s true heart”. What do you think will happen to Gaza? Do you think it’ll eventually be wiped off the map or perhaps swallowed by new colons?

There’s already talk of the fact that Gaza may be Egypt’s “problem” once again, now that Israel has “disengaged” (meaning that while it evacuated settlements in Gaza, it retains control over the territory’s airspace, borders, and sea access) and effectively sealed its borders with the territory. Many are afraid that if the Palestinian factions reach a power-sharing agreement, and Egypt opens its only border crossing with Gaza at Rafah, that it will give an opportunity for Israel to wash its hands of Gaza once and for all while it increases settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The argument is they want Israel to continue to bear responsibility for Gaza, so that it keeps Gaza and the West Bank, also occupied by Israel, connected for any future Palestinian state.

If that were to happen, and Israel were to “wash its hands” of Gaza by creating facts on the ground, I think it would be devastating politically for the Palestinians. But I’ve talked to a handful of Palestinians here, even those in the Hamas-led government, that say if that did happen, it’s very unlikely Gazans would acquiese to become part of Egypt. Palestinians here seem much more fervent in their attachment to Palestine, and maintain the world’s highest birthrate. That spells trouble for both Egypt and Israel in the coming years, and as long as the idea of Palestine or at least a rump Palestinian state is kept alive, Gaza is unlikely to disappear into Egypt any time soon.

For most of the international community, the nightmare Gaza went through in January/February is over. You were recently telling me about airstrikes. How often do they occur, and what are their targets?

The airstrikes happen once or twice a week it seems, there’s no real pattern. They are obviously nowhere near the levels they were during the war nor are they as frequent or as deadly as they were even prior to the war, or last year at this time prior to the 6-month cease-fire.

What seems to be happening is the Israeli army and the armed Palestinian groups are doing tit-for-tat strikes. They both say they are reacting to the other, but in all it has been fairly calm. The majority of the bombing happens either at the border areas with Israel or on the tunnels. I believe it was two weeks ago when an F-16 bombed a blacksmith’s shop in Gaza City, probably the first of strike of its kind away from the border areas since the war.

Shelling from the sea is daily, however. Even inland (although Gaza is not that wide), you can hear Israeli warships firing on Palestinian fisherman. Rarely are people are killed, but it is a constant reminder that Gaza is under siege. It should be also noted that while air strikes don’t necessarily happen daily, that F16s do fly over the strip every day, and unmanned drones fly over the border areas 24 hours a day. You can imagine the damaging psychological impact it is having on the population.

The danger is and remains that the horror experienced by Gaza residents fall into the pit of oblivion, leaving a population of over a million deal with the increasing lack of food security, oppression and eventually displacement, if not complete disappearance, of what was once their home. Despite the constant insistence from the European Union and the slight shift in attitude showed by the Obama Administration, who is keen to insist on a double-state solution to the conflict, tiredness and reluctance from Israel to participate into any sort of peace process will eventually hinder the willingness to provide peace. Are we on the verge of settling for the worse instead of fighting for the best? Erin has no answer to the current state of affairs, but insists that everyone must keep in mind that the lives of millions of Palestinians do not reside in the hands of Hamas, but in those of a relentless international community committed to the respect of basic human rights. “It all of course depends on the continued will to create a Palestinian state among leaders in the international community. If Palestine isn’t created soon, and Gaza slowly becomes an appendage of Egypt, the international community may very well get fed up with the Palestinian cause later on and abandon it completely, no matter how many more Palestinians there are. A United Nations rapporteur on Gaza once said, ‘Gaza is a prison, and Israel threw away the key.'”

You can read more of Erin Cunningham’s works on Sift Through The Rubble @ Blogspot (with our friend and colleague Cassidy Flanagan), IPSnews.com and Associated Content.

Controversial Pope Benedict XVI is in the middle of a highly expected journey in Israel, where a heavy political and religious agenda is awaiting the spiritual leader of Catholicism. Going where no Pope has ever gone before – The Wall of Lamentations – Benedict is making some efforts in the domain of reconciliation and peace-building, whilst managing to keep his Jewish audience underwhelmed.

Benedict might be on a spiritual journey to the heart of monotheist religions, but there is no dissociating the Middle East’s history from its complex politics. The Pope’s childhood in the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) has been well documented and publicized; his appearance in Jerusalem has been expected from both the Israeli government and Jewish leaders, hoping to extract from the guiding light of the Roman Catholic Church words of importance regarding the Holocaust. It is on a more recent political agenda that the Pope decided to speak out, addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a peace-building perspective and calling Christians living in the region to act as mediators towards peace between the two populations.

Israel President Shimon Peres and Pope Benedict XVI visiting holy sites

Israel President Shimon Peres and Pope Benedict XVI visiting holy sites

Despite picking symbolism as his own weapon of persuasion – reflecting in silence at the Yad Vashem memorial, or climbing Mount Temple – most Israeli visitors and curious observers have claimed to be disappointed by the Pope’s weak address. Most wished he had addressed the issue of anti-semitism and the memory of the Holocaust in a tougher and stronger way, as never a German Pope had taken onto the task to call upon the collective memory of the diaspora and remind humanity of what led to the creation of Israel in 1958. Refusing to publicly mention his past, personal and perhaps buried under the responsibilities of his new function, Benedict XVI never avoided nor eluded the sensitive questions raised by a pilgrimage in the Middle East, but on the Israeli side, he failed to be convincing on the subject of christian-jewish reconciliation.

Where Benedict did shine, however, is in Palestine, where thousands of fellow christians expected his visit but were often blocked by Israeli security barrages, or even finding it impossible to cross the wall separating the communities in East Jerusalem. Surprisingly so, in a memorable speech given right next to the Wall, in the Aida camp, Benedict XVI called for the recognition of a Palestinian State, so the residents could have “a place that is theirs”. It could have easily been taken as provocation to the newly appointed Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, Liebermann, a fervent opponent to a Palestinian state, if the Pope’s rhethoric wasn’t so ecumenical and universal in its approach to peace.  Next to Mahmoud Abbas, historical leader of the Palestinian authority, the Pope said: “I have seen the Waml that is intruding in your territories, separating neighbours and dividing families. Although walls are easily built, we know they do not always remain. They can be taken down.” It took a German Pope to remind the global population of the horrid degradation and humiliation that was the Berlin Wall, and the need for popular support in taking walls down, in promoting peace-building and reconciliation in territories torn by conflict and political interests.

Following the spirit of the recent UN resolutions Liebermann tried to fight,  Benedict called for the self-determination of people, the end of fratricide in the Middle East, and more importantly, gave a heart-warming call for hope. Ensuring Palestinians of his support, and that of the rest of the world, he told young men “not to fall in the desperate trap of violence”, not to heed “the vicious call of terrorism”.  Fully understanding what many nation leaders failed to grasp – that ethnopolitical terrorism often springs out of repression – Benedict called for mediation, negotiation, dialogue, and diversity, in a region that has known nothing but adversity, war, fear, and hatred. Giving his full support to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, the Pope most feared would bring catholicism back into the fold of ultra-conservatism and bigotry has shown the courage that many European elected representatives never showed in the area. Free of the tight reigns of national interest, and flying high above political propaganda, the Church is trying to establish itself as a messenger of peace, of freedom, and of brotherhood. Where people expected awkwardness and a lack of political correctness, two disciplines Benedict XVI has mastered in his recent public address, notably in Africa, the Chief of Rome has comfortably evolved in the very place others fell to their knees. It does take extreme situations to bring out the exceptional emotion in people. Let’s hope he’s been heard.

By Erin Cunningham for semi-autonomous collective

“We have nothing left, even our houses,” says Ibrahim Jaleel, crouched in front of what is left of his home in Rafah in the Gaza Strip — a contorted mass of concrete, metal and household appliances. “We’re not even allowed to get the materials to rebuild.”


A “unilateral cease-fire” called by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday night gave Palestinians the chance to emerge — and some cases even return home after having been displaced — on Sunday to assess the damage wreaked on them by the devastating Israeli assault that has been raging for over three weeks and has killed at least 1,200 Palestinians, one-third of them children, according to both Gaza health officials and the United Nations.

Despite the recent carnage, which carried on until the last minutes before the 2:00am cease-fire deadline on Sunday, there is a palpable sense of relief in the air. Shops are opening their doors for business — selling everything from falafel and Saudi soda to clothes and barrels of petrol — and children have even taken to playing pick-up games of football in the all-too-ubiquitous rubble.

© 2009 Erin Cunningham

© 2009 Erin Cunningham

Witnessing the destruction and constant bombardment of the past several days, it seems Gazans will seize any chance to live even a moment of normalcy amid an all-out war on their territory, which some are calling the deadliest ever. But the low, menacing whine of unmanned drones in the sky above is a crude reminder that no, for the people of Gaza, this war is not yet over.

In Rafah, a divided city that straddles the besieged enclave’s southern border with Egypt, it looks like a wasteland. Homes and other buildings have not only been struck by missiles, but completely leveled by some of Israel’s most powerful and most sophisticated weaponry. An entire stretch of homes spanning at least one kilometer and facing the Egyptian border are simply gone. The ominous skeleton of a four-storey building looms over the crowds there to dig, pick-up the pieces and salvage what is left of their lives and their families.

The Israeli government says Rafah was targeted for its role in receiving the goods smuggled through tunnels dug under the Egyptian border, and which have proliferated since the elected Islamist movement Hamas took the Gaza Strip from Fatah forces loyal to current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel claims the underground network has allowed Hamas to arm itself with more deadly weapons capable of landing deeper into Israeli territory.

© 2009 Erin Cunningham

© 2009 Erin Cunningham

Even if this is the case, local Gazans are saying, the tunnels were a vital lifeline to a population economically starved by its neighbors. As a testament to that, even the goods sold at local kiosks are caked with the dirt of the subterranean passageways. Regardless, Rafah’s destruction is both devastating and indiscriminate. Rifling through his belongings atop a mound of wreckage, Abdel Karim, a 24-year-old Palestinian journalist, decries the apparent randomness of the Israeli attacks that have so far hit hospitals, schools, the United Nations and humanitarian convoys.

“What could they possibly want to bomb here?” he asks with tears in his eyes. “My only computer? My cans of food? My mother? The ironic thing is, I’m actually a supporter of Fatah.”
But despite the relative calm of Sunday, many are skeptical their lives will be peaceful for long. And those who are returning to Rafah during the lull may not have somewhere to flee a second time around, if Israel decides to break the cease-fire. The UN says at least 800 families were forced to leave the area.

“I don’t believe the Israeli government when they say they will stop killing us,” says 12-year-old Wafa as she emerges from her debris-littered bedroom. “They have never been anything but destructive to us, and I can still hear the drones.”
Just hours before the cease-fire, Israeli missiles were striking residential areas in both Rafah and Khan Younis, one of the narrow coastal territory’s major population centers ‑- falling just outside the walls of Khan Younis’ main hospital – and F16s swept low over the cities, sending people running in terror.

As Ehud Olmert was announcing the cease-fire on television, battleship machine guns pounded targets near the Khan Younis coastline, cutting the city’s power for the night. So when the missile-carrying drones, what locals call “zananah”, or pest, for their incessant buzzing, a Palestinian woman and her three daughters were sifting through the ruins of her home, they looked warily toward the sky. “Every day we live our lives in fear,” she said. “They say there is a cease-fire, but we don’t know. The power is in their hands. I don’t know if I’m safe right now, in my home, I don’t know if I’ll ever be safe again.”

Erin shared a set of 45 compelling, magistral photos taken last week in Gaza City, added to the already existing Flickr account. You can check them here. Warning: some pictures may not be suitable to sensitive individuals.

Erin Cunningham is a journalist based in Cairo and is collaborating with Semi-autonomous Collective since January 2009 as a special correspondant in the Gaza Strip.

It appears Israel finally caved to the international pressure and declared itself ready to declare a ceasefire in Gaza, paramount to enter the Egypt-engineered peace talks.

Livni and Rice on the agreement towards Hamas decommission. © New York Times

Livni and Rice on the agreement towards Hamas' decommission. © New York Times

Tonight, Israel is expected to put all the weapons down and keep their armed forces in place while the details of the peace talks are being worked out in Cairo. Mark Regev, Ehud Olmert’s spokesperson, told the New York Times about the feelings surrounding the operation: “It looks as if all the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. There will be discussions tomorrow morning, and it looks like a cabinet meeting will take place tomorrow night. Everyone is very upbeat.” This upbeat atmosphere will hopefully reach a positive, upbeat ending leading to the upbeat burial of the 1,133 Palestinians killed during the Gaza offensive in the scope of only twenty-one days. We at Semi-autonomous Collective are sharing that giddy feeling of entering upbeat peace negotiations.

In the meantime, in the upbeat spirit of the last couple of days, Israel is reminding the Palestinians that the ceasefire has not yet been signed and ratified;  an UN official – probably the same one that was injured in the bombing of the UN headquarters – told Reuters that an Israeli tank fire killed two boys at a United Nations-run school on Saturday in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya.  Because misery loves company, two brothers had been killed and 14 people had been wounded in the attack, including the boys’ mother. The New York Times reports that “An Israeli army spokesman said that he was checking the report.” Glad to know that the Israeli bureaucracy has yet to be affected by the conflict. I hope said spokesman reads fast.

The irony is far from over: Tzipi Livni, whom we praised last year for her post-modern position on the conflict, met with Condoleezza Rice in order to come up with an agreement on “a range of steps the United States would take to stem the flow of new arms to Hamas from the Egyptian Sinai, mostly via tunnels.” After allegedly helping Hamas come to power, the United States are engineering a short-circuit of their weapon supplies, which is not without resembling their not-so-ancient conundrum with the Talibans in Afghanistan. It would also be a little too much to ask, three days before the passation of powers in Washington, some understanding regarding the american funding of Israel’s firepower so as to prevent another disproportionate and unfair use of force against the Palestinian population. First: drain the concurrence. Second: take a brief look at international law. Everyone has their priorities straight.

Oddly enough, Hamas appears to be completely unimpressed by Israel’s participation in the peace talks and calls for an increase in resistance. The leader, Khaled Meshal, was quoted as saying, “Israel will not be able to destroy our resistance, and the United States will not be able to dictate us their rules. Arab countries should help Hamas to fight against the death of civilian Palestinians.” This world is coming to an extremely sad conclusion when it takes religious fundamentalists with a keen spirit on guerrilla violence to finally say what the rest of the world has been quietly thinking in the relative comfort of their double-mortgaged homes.  As apocalyptic and potentially Huntington-ish this address might sound, this is a formidable call for independance the Palestinians would find it hard not to heed.

Livni confessed Israel had “met its war aims” and was “ready to enter peace talks”, hoping Hamas understood Israel”s “deterrent capacity”. (we would think not). She continued: “We did that a few days ago, in my opinion. It has to be put to the test. If Hamas shoots, we’ll have to continue. And if it shoots later on, we’ll have to embark on another campaign.” Israel refuses to confer any legitimacy to Hamas, despite being democratically elected in last year’s elections; Hamas has firmly embedded the idea of Israel’s destruction into its party line. Both parties’ reluctancy to come to terms with violence made Egypt cautious in its approach, and while Israel and Hamas never met officially, Cairo brokered the talks in shuttle diplomacy. Rice stayed silent on the precise time and date of the ceasefire, but promised everything was being to done to put this conflict to an end.

A funeral for a senior Hamas official, Interior Minister Said Siam, who was killed Thursday by an Israeli attack, turned into a mass rally in Gaza City.

Not really the end – more like an extremely bitter and bloody beginning.