September 23, 2018

Bolton Threatens Sanctions Against ICC

National Security Adviser John Bolton discusses "Protecting American Constitutionalism and Sovereignty from International Threats," at a forum hosted by the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies in Washington, U.S. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

John Bolton, President Trump’s National Security Adviser, threatened sanctions against the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday in response to the entity’s potential investigation into the United States for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

At a Federalist Society luncheon, Bolton declared that the court has no jurisdiction over the United States and its allies and called the ICC “illegitimate.”

The International Criminal Court unacceptably threatens American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests,” Bolton said.

Bolton added, “If the court comes after us, Israel or other U.S. allies, we will not sit quietly.”

The ICC called Bolton’s statement “shocking” and said they would be “undeterred” by it.

I think what the U.S. is promoting is a sense of the ‘righteousness’ and being above the law,” ICC representative Amal Nasser told the Chicago Tribune in an email.

Israel recently protested against the ICC for launching an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinians; the Palestinian Authority is a member of the ICC despite not being an official state. The United States U.S and Israel are among the countries that do not recognize the ICC as a legitimate body.

Amnesty International: Hamas committed war crimes against Gaza civilians

Amnesty International said in a report on Wednesday that Islamist Hamas committed war crimes against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip during last year's war with Israel.

A ceasefire last August ended 50 days of fighting between Gaza militants and Israel in which health officials said more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.

“Hamas forces carried out a brutal campaign of abductions, torture and unlawful killings against Palestinians accused of 'collaborating' with Israel and others during Israel's military offensive against Gaza,” the human rights group's report said.

In a previous report in March, Amnesty also criticized Israel and accused it of war crimes during the conflict. Apart from the many deaths, at least 16,245 homes were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. Gaza militants fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israel.

In Wednesday's report, Amnesty listed a number of cases it described as “spine chilling” in which Palestinians accused by Hamas of helping Israel were tortured and killed.

“The de facto Hamas administration granted its security forces free rein to carry out horrific abuses including against people in its custody. These spine-chilling actions, some of which amount to war crimes, were designed to exact revenge and spread fear across the Gaza Strip,” Amnesty said.

Representatives of Hamas were not immediately available to comment on the Amnesty report.

Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, a coastal enclave on the Mediterranean which borders Israel and Egypt.

The Palestinians have joined the International Criminal Court since the end of the war, a move opposed by Israel, and the ICC is examining possible war crimes in the conflict. But joining the court also exposes Palestinians to possible prosecution if a case is opened.

Palestinian Authority officially joins International Criminal Court

The Palestinian Authority officially became a member of the International Criminal Court.

A ceremony was held at the Geneva court on Wednesday to mark the P.A.’s ascension.

P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas signed the requests to join the ICC and other international conventions at the end of December after the United Nations Security Council failed to pass a Palestinian statehood proposal. Israel retaliated by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in tax payments it had collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Last week, Israel announced that it would send the tax payments to the P.A.

In a statement at the ceremony, Sidiki Kaba, president of the Assembly of States Parties, said he hoped the accession of “Palestine,” the second state from the Middle East, “will pave the way for other countries in the Middle East who, by adopting the Rome Statute, will strengthen the International Criminal Court in its fight against impunity for mass crimes.” The Rome Statute is the treaty that established the ICC.

In January, ICC prosecutors opened a preliminary inquiry into possible war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank. The prosecutors will determine whether preliminary findings merit a full investigation into alleged atrocities and possible charges against Palestinian and/or Israeli officials.

P.A. Foreign Minister Riad Malki, who met with ICC officials on Wednesday in what were characterized as ceremonial talks, cautioned in an interview on Palestinian radio that “ICC procedures are slow and long and might face lots of obstacles and challenges and might take years.”

Erekat: Israel’s election results mean Palestinians will press at ICC

The Palestinians’ chief negotiator said in the aftermath of Israeli election results that the Palestinians will advance their efforts at the International Criminal Court.

“It is clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government, and for that we say clearly that we will go to the Hague Tribunal, we will accelerate, continue and intensify” legal efforts, Saeb Erekat told the French news agency AFP.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas formally applied for admission to the ICC on Jan. 1, and the Palestinians are slated to fully join the court on April 1. In the meantime, the ICC has begun the process for opening an investigation into potential Israeli war crimes during the 2014 Gaza conflict.

Israel has responded by withholding more than $400 million in taxes and customs revenue from the Palestinians.

Hamas likewise argued that the election results call for a more confrontational approach with Israel, according to a report by the German news agency DPA, which quoted a statement by Hamas official Ismail Radwan saying, “The results should be enough to convince the Palestinian Authority and Fatah Party to forget about the choice of keeping the absurd negotiations.”

In the closing days of the election campaign, Netanyahu declared that he would not allow the creation of a Palestinian state if he remained prime minister.

Israel again withholds tax revenues from Palestinian Authority

Israel for the second straight has frozen tax revenue that it collects for the Palestinian Authority.

The decision not to transfer the money, which is used to pay public sector employees, was reported Wednesday by The Jerusalem Post. The freeze is in response to the P.A.’s decision to join the International Criminal Court and other international conventions and treaties.

On Thursday, P.A. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah called on the European Union to pressure Israel to transfer the funds during a meeting with an EU representative, Ynet reported.

The total amount withheld so far is about $200 million.

P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas signed the requests to join the ICC and other international conventions at the end of December, after the United Nations Security Council failed to pass a Palestinian statehood proposal. Israel, which has frozen P.A. tax revenues before as a retaliatory measure, withheld tax revenues days after the signings.

Initial ICC probe opened into ‘war crimes’ in Palestinian territories

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court will open a preliminary inquiry into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories, the court said.

The move, announced by a spokesperson of the court on Friday and reported by Reuters, is the first formal step that could lead to charges against Palestinian or Israeli officials.

Prosecutors from the ICC, a United Nations tribunal which is based in The Hague, will determine whether preliminary findings merit a full investigation into alleged atrocities which could result in charges against individuals on either the Israeli or Palestinian side.

The move follows the signing last month by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of a treaty that may allow the investigation of Israel for war crimes at the International Criminal Court, but which may expose Palesitnian officials to countersuits.

Israel has threatened to go after the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which Israel says may both be complicit in war crimes.

The United States has condemned Abbas’ decision to join the treaty that extends ICC jurisdiction to the Palestinian territories.

“We are deeply troubled by today’s Palestinian action regarding the ICC. It is an escalatory step that will not achieve any of the outcomes most Palestinians have long hoped to see for their people,” Jeff Rathke, a State Department spokesman, said last month.

 

Cartoon: A stab in the back of Hamas

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U.N. confirms Palestinians will be ICC member on April 1

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has confirmed the Palestinians will formally become a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on April 1 and the court's registrar said on Wednesday that jurisdiction would date back to June 13, 2014.

This means the court's prosecutor could investigate the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in July and August 2014, during which more than 2,100 Palestinians, 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed.

The Hague-based court handles war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It could exercise jurisdiction over such crimes committed by anyone on Palestinian territory. Israel, like the United States, is not a an ICC member, but its citizens could be tried on accusations of crimes on Palestinian land.

On Friday the Palestinians delivered to U.N. headquarters documents to join the Rome Statute of the ICC and other international treaties, in a move that has heightened tensions with Israel and could lead to cuts in U.S. aid.

Ban announced in a letter posted to a U.N. website late on Tuesday that the Palestinians would formally become an ICC member on April 1. The United Nations is the official depositary of the Rome Statute and many other treaties.

The United States said on Wednesday it does not believe Palestine is a sovereign state and therefore does not qualify to be part of the International Criminal Court.

Experts said the only apparent way to challenge the Palestinians' eligibility to be an ICC member would be in court.

“The most likely challenge would be if an Israeli national ever came before the court,” said Dov Jacobs, a law professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

“A defense lawyer could try to challenge the case's legality by arguing to judges that Palestine was not a state,” he said. Few scholars say that such an argument would be successful.

The Palestinian government signed the Rome Statute on Dec. 31, a day after a bid for independence by 2017 failed at the U.N. Security Council.

The Palestinians, who have been locked in a bloody conflict with Israel for decades, seek a state that covers Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – lands Israel captured in a 1967 war.

Momentum to recognize a Palestinian state has built since President Mahmoud Abbas succeeded in a bid for de facto recognition of statehood at the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, making Palestinians eligible to join the ICC.

Members of Congress warn of repercussions for Palestinian ICC move

Republican and Democratic lawmakers said there would be repercussions for the Palestinian Authority in the wake of its joining the International Criminal Court.

“Congress must do everything in its power to block funds to the P.A. and to any U.N. entity that recognizes a non-existent State of Palestine to make it clear to Abu Mazen that there will be consequences to his schemes at the United Nations and other international organizations like the International Criminal Court,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Middle East subcommittee, said in a Dec. 31 statement.

Abu Mazen is the nickname of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who signed the treaty on Dec. 31.

Joining the court is a step toward allowing the investigation of alleged Israeli war crimes.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said the move “deeply frustrated” her.

“This move only sets back the peace process even further,” Gillibrand said in a Dec. 31 statement. “I will work with my colleagues in Congress to make it clear to the Palestinian Authority that they will be held accountable for these kinds of actions.”

The Obama administration has said it was “deeply troubled” by Abbas’ action, calling it counterproductive.

On Jan. 1, Canada called Abbas’ move “dangerous.”

“Such a provocative decision only furthers the divide between Palestinians and Israelis, and will carry unfortunate consequences,” John Baird, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, said in a statement.

Global court says will not investigate Israeli raid on Turkish flotilla

International prosecutors believe Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes during a raid that killed nine Turkish activists in 2010, but have decided the case is beyond their remit, according to court papers seen by Reuters.

The move by lawyers at the International Criminal Court is likely to enrage Ankara which accused its erstwhile ally Israel of mass murder after the commandos abseiled onto a flotilla challenging an Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“The information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes under the Court's jurisdiction have been committed in the context of interception and takeover of the Mavi Marmara by IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) soldiers on 31 May 2010,” read the paper seen on Wednesday. 

But the lawyers decided the crimes in question were not of sufficient gravity to fall under the court's jurisdiction, the papers added.

Prosecutors added they had reached these conclusions on the basis of publicly available information.

“Not having collected evidence itself, the Office’s analysis in this report must therefore not be considered to be the result of an investigation,” the paper read.

The decision not to open an investigation will disappoint activists who have repeatedly attempted to involve the Hague-based human rights court in the world's most controversial conflict.

The court has no jurisdiction over crimes in Turkey or Israel, since neither is a member of the court. However, one of the vessels, the Mavi Marmara, was registered to the Comoros Islands, which is.

It was the Indian Ocean state that referred the raid to the court, leaving prosecutors no choice under the court's statute but to begin a preliminary examination.

Comoros is represented in the affair by Elmadag, a Turkish law firm, and many critics, especially in Israel, charged Comoros with doing the Turkish activists' bidding by making the referral.

“SPECIAL STATUS”

“The Mavi Marmara was deliberately reflagged several days before she set sail,” said Nick Kaufman, an Israeli lawyer who represents clients before the ICC.

“This allowed the Union of Comoros to be exploited as a jurisdictional vehicle for the continuing and obsessive lawfare against Israel at the ICC.”

The Hague-based tribunal was set up to look into the gravest international atrocities, including crimes against humanity and genocide, when local authorities are either unwilling or unable to investigate and try them.

Lawyers representing the Comoros government said they would apply to judges for a review of the decision not to proceed.

“The Prosecutor's decision marks the first time a State referral by an ICC States Party has ever been rejected by … Prosecutor without even initiating an investigation,” said lawyers Rodney Dixon and Geoffrey Nice in a statement.

“It confirms the view expressed by politicians, civil society organizations, NGOs and commentators from many quarters that Israel has a 'special status,'” they added.

The court declined two years ago to investigate allegations against the Israeli military in 2008-2009, citing the uncertain legal status of the Palestinian Authority, which at the time had not been recognized by the U.N. General Assembly as a sovereign state.

Mahmoud Abbas: Winning abroad but losing at home

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Palestinians say that when it comes to diplomacy abroad, nobody can challenge the 80-year-old Mahmoud Abbas. But when it comes to tending to matters in the Palestinian territories, he doesn’t do so well.

In his speech on Sept. 26 to the United Nations Security Council, the Palestinian leader accused Israel of conducting a “war of genocide” during the recent aggression on Gaza. The United States slammed Abbas’ speech as “offensive” and “counterproductive” for any future peace talks.   

Palestinian analysts said Abbas was aiming at his home audience, where he was seen as not being tough enough on Israel during the summer’s fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. But while Abbas has stature outside the West Bank, he is coming under growing criticism at home.

“He has gained among international parties, but failed on the internal issue. There is still division [between Abbas’ Fatah Party and Hamas], no state institutions and a suspended Palestinian Legislative Council [PLC],” Hassan Khresheh, vice president of the PLC, said. “He has not worked hard enough on ending the division. The unity government is not functioning at all and if they don’t unite now, they will never be united.”

In April, a unity deal between the previously bitter rivals of Fatah and Hamas was reached, although it has not been implemented. Last week, Palestinian representatives of Hamas and Fatah agreed in Cairo that the Palestinian unity government will extend its control to include the Gaza Strip. Hamas hopes that the new government will manage to pay the salaries of 45,000 employees who were added to the Palestinian Authority (PA) during Hamas’ control of Gaza since 2007. Palestinian media report that efforts are underway to pay them through a third party before Eid Al-Adha (Muslim holiday of the sacrifice) beginning the evening of Oct. 4.

Khresheh said Abbas’ main agenda is returning to negotiations with Israel under the auspices of the Americans. But he said that most Palestinians have given up on bilateral negotiations with Israel, which have achieved little.

“Such negotiations will not bring rights to our people,” Khresheh said.

The fact that Abbas has been a key player in the Palestinian political process for years and hasn’t called it quits deserves recognition, he said. “He works very well diplomatically, although he is under constant pressure from the United States and Israel.”   

Khresheh said that as nothing has been gained since the U.N. recognized Israel as a non-member observer state two years ago, the PA should join other international bodies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). Israel has opposed this, fearing that it could be subject to war crimes trials. 

Khalida Jarrar, a member of the small hard-line group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said negotiations with Israel have not achieved anything and Abbas should pressure Israel via international organizations.

“I disagree with going back to negotiations,” Jarrar said, adding that action is needed, not more speeches. “He is just delaying going to the International Criminal Court. The ICC and sustaining Palestinian unity should be top priorities.” 

Fatah senior foreign policy adviser Husam Zomlot said bilateral talks with sole U.S. sponsorship has failed the Palestinians for 21 years and only gotten them a “state of limbo.” He urged Israel to be more forthcoming in its negotiations with Abbas, who has long advocated a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“The president believes firmly in the two-state solution and supports nonviolence,” Zomlot said. “This is an opportunity,” he suggested, that “will not repeat itself.”

The Fatah official said a peace partner like Abbas, who has clear political horizon, may not come again.  

London-based researcher Abdullah Hamidaddin said the real question is how Abbas will manage the negotiations. 

“Abbas has worked very hard but has had few successes,” Hamidaddin said. “But he was not decisive enough in the last round of negotiations. He entered them after much hesitation, and then hesitated to make tough decisions,” such as pulling out of the talks as Israel continued to expand construction in areas that Palestinians say must be part of a future Palestinian state.

Alleging U.N. bias, Israel again keeping distance from Gaza probe

The United Nations probe into the Gaza conflict hasn’t even begun, but Israel already is convinced that it won’t end well.

In a resolution adopted by a vote of 29-1 with 17 abstentions, the U.N. Human Rights Council moved last month to establish a commission of inquiry “to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The United States cast the sole vote against.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the council for choosing to investigate Israel rather than nearby crisis zones such as Iraq or Syria, and implied he would not cooperate with U.N. investigators.

“The report of this committee has already been written,” Netanyahu said following a meeting with visiting New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “The committee chairman has already decided that Hamas is not a terrorist organization. Therefore, they have nothing to look for here. They should visit Damascus, Baghdad and Tripoli. They should go see ISIS, the Syrian army and Hamas. There they will find war crimes, not here.”

Israel has been down this road before. Following the end of the last Gaza conflict, in early 2009, its government refused to cooperate with a U.N. investigation led by the South African jurist Richard Goldstone. The probe, dubbed the Goldstone Report, alleged that Israel had intentionally targeted civilians, though Goldstone later personally retracted that allegation. Israel rejected the original report as inaccurate and biased.

This time, the commission will be chaired by William Schabas, a Canadian-born professor of international law at Middlesex University in London. Schabas said in an Aug. 12 interview with Israel’s Channel 2 that it would be “inappropriate” to assert that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Last year, Schabas said that Netanyahu would be his “favorite” leader to see tried at the International Criminal Court.

Schabas’ father is Jewish and he sits on the advisory board of the Israel Law Review. In the Channel 2 interview, he said he would not let his personal opinions affect his investigation.

“What someone who sits on a commission or a judge has to be able to do is to put these things behind them and start fresh, and this is of course what I intend to do,” Schabas said. “It’s in Israel’s interest to be there in that discussion and give its version of events. If it doesn’t, then that leaves an unfortunate one-sided picture of it.”

Israeli cooperation could have softened his report’s conclusions, Goldstone wrote in the 2011 Washington Post Op-Ed in which he backed down from the report’s most scathing criticism of Israel. Goldstone noted that subsequent investigations by the Israeli military indicated that it was not Israel’s intent to target civilians.

“Although the Israeli evidence that has emerged since publication of our report doesn’t negate the tragic loss of civilian life, I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes,” Goldstone wrote. “Israel’s lack of cooperation with our investigation meant that we were not able to corroborate how many Gazans killed were civilians and how many were combatants.”

Among Israeli legal experts, there is broad agreement that Israel must do its part to present its version of events, even while disagreeing about how best to do that. Only Israel’s state comptroller has indicated that he will be investigating the Gaza conflict.

Amichai Cohen, an international law expert at the Israel Democracy Institute, said the comptroller’s probe is insufficient and that Israel should launch an investigation by experts.

“The comptroller himself doesn’t have knowledge in international law, in criminal law, in military law. That’s not his specialty,” Cohen told JTA. “You need something independent and transparent.”

Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based NGO UN Watch and a vocal critic of the Human Rights Council’s treatment of Israel, said Israel should do what it did in 2009: publish accounts from the conflict that show its side of the story without directly cooperating with the investigation.

“If the U.N. decides to have a one-sided inquiry, they will write a one-sided report,” Neuer said. “I’m confident Israel will make sure that the commission will have no excuse to say they didn’t have the information.”

Shlomy Zachary, a lawyer with the Palestinian legal rights group Yesh Din, urged Israel to cooperate with the United Nations, noting that its decision to work with a 2010 U.N. investigation of the so-called flotilla incident helped mitigate criticism of Israel.

That probe, known as the Palmer Commission, was charged with investigating the storming of a Turkish boat aimed at breaking Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. The report ultimately condemned the raid, but it also criticized the conduct of protesters on board the ship and determined that the Gaza blockade was legal.

“When Israel cooperated with international bodies, the results were in favor of Israel,” Zachary told JTA. “When Israel is not willing to cooperate, it creates the suspicion it has something to hide.”

Neuer agreed that the 2010 probe was a good model for U.N. investigations, but he noted that it was supervised by the U.N. secretary-general, not the Human Rights Council. Neuer said that given the commission’s record of bias, Israel’s options are more limited.

Ultimately, the conclusions of the latest investigation will not be legally binding on Israel. But if its conclusions are harsh, it could further ratchet up international criticism. Cohen said that could put added pressure on Israel to exercise restraint should another round of conflict take place.

“The point in these commissions isn’t just to research the past, it’s to tell the future,” Cohen said. “The main problem is that a commission will say from now on, this or that should be prohibited. This is very problematic for Israel. That will make it harder next time.”

Netanyahu asks U.S. congressmen to protect Israel from war crimes charges

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly asked U.S. lawmakers to help Israel avoid war crimes charges stemming from the Gaza conflict.

Netanyahu asked a delegation of visiting legislators to help keep Israel out of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Rep. Steven Israel (D-N.Y.) told the New York Post in an interview Wednesday from Israel, the newspaper reported.

Palestinian Authority leaders met Wednesday with officials from the court to discuss the process of joining.

The Palestinians and other world leaders have charged that Israel committed war crimes by firing on civilian areas of Gaza during its operation. Experts have suggested that Palestinians in Gaza also could be charged with war crimes for firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel, most in civilian areas.

Netanyahu “wants the U.S. to use all the tools that we have at our disposal to, number one, make sure the world knows that war crimes were not committed by Israel, they were committed by Hamas. And that Israel should not be held to a double standard,” Israel the congressman told the Post.

Egypt’s army chief calls for mass demonstrations

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Egypt’s military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi today called for mass rallies on Friday to give him a mandate to confront violence. Coming three weeks after the army deposed Mohamed Morsi, the call puts pressure on Islamists, who vow they will continue to fight for Morsi to be reinstated.

Morsi supporters said they would also go out into the streets on Friday, which could lead to possible violence. Since Morsi’s overthrow some 100 Egyptians have been killed in fighting between the two groups. In the most recent clashes, at least nine Morsi supporters were killed when police opened fire on some 1000 people at a sit-in near Cairo University.

Al-Sisi said that Morsi was being held in a secure location for his own safety. In a press conference this week, Morsi’s son Osama said the family has not heard from Mohamed Morsi since he was overthrown. He also said he will sue Al-Sisi in the International Criminal Court.

Egypt has been rocked by huge protests in the past month. On June 30 some 17 million people took to the streets to demand Morsi resign. Many say he has failed to lead Egypt to real democracy and has pushed through a draft constitution that favors Islamists.

Al-Sisi was a member of the military council that ruled Egypt for 16 months after long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down. At that time, he was the chief of military intelligence. Morsi named him defense minister and military chief almost a year ago. He also repeated his promise that parliamentary elections will be held next year.

Morsi supporters say they will continue to use peaceful means to have their leader reinstated.

“I will not fight to regain my vote that was taken away,” Bahaa Mohammed, an Egyptian soldier told The Media Line. “I hear the rumors that we are aggressive, and terrorists, but really we’re just patient people. They [referring to anti-Morsi activists] are brain washed by the opposition media which is run by the sons and relatives of the corrupt Mubarak regime.”

In violence this week, at least 11 people were killed at Cairo University. Violence has also increased in the Sinai Peninsula, with frequent attacks on police there. The army says it has launched a crackdown to restore its control over Sinai.

Last week, four women – all supporters of Morsi — were killed in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura.

“The thugs were military and police dressed in civilian cloth or real thugs who are paid and drugged to commit such terrible actions.” Said Sonia the spokeswoman of the Committee to Protect Women told The Media Line.

The ongoing violence has divided Egyptians over the future of their country. Egypt was seen as a model of peaceful transition when Hosni Mubarak stepped down. A military coalition took over and paved the way for democratic elections.

But in the last few weeks, fears have grown that violence could spread among Egypt’s 85 million people, many of whom live in poverty. A growing economic crisis is exacerbating tensions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has postponed finalizing a $4 billion loan to Egypt because of the tensions although Qatar has given money to keep the country afloat,.

While some welcome the military’s intervention into Egypt’s politics, others, even non-Morsi supporters, worried that the military presence could become permanent.

“I am with Morsi now more than before even though I didn’t vote for him, Said Mohamed Taher, a taxi driver told The Media Line. “I feel that legitimacy and democracy were stolen by the military.”

Morsi supporters also say that soldiers are defecting from the army and joining their ranks.

“The people who are killed in the protests have relatives in the army and police, and when one man dies, the whole family [tribe] comes out and tries to seek revenge,” Mohamed al-Amir, a pro-Morsi activist. “Now the soldiers do not want to attack protestors. I have information that when soldiers go visit their families, they are not coming back to the service.”

Plenty of unknowns as Kerry lures both sides back to peace negotiations

We don’t know.

That’s the operative phrase of the new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks announced July 19 and ostensibly set to begin in the coming days in Washington.

We don’t know their parameters, or if Israel will freeze settlements, release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners or agree to negotiate based on its pre-1967 borders.

We don’t know whether the Palestinian Authority (PA) has agreed to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. We don’t know how long PA President Mahmoud Abbas will hold off on taking Israel to the International Criminal Court.

Most of all, we don’t know whether they’ll lead anywhere.

The talks, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, will last six to nine months with the intended outcome of a two-state, final-status agreement between Israel and the PA.

For now they will involve the chief negotiators for both sides: Saeb Erekat for the Palestinians, and Tzipi Livni and Isaac Molho for the Israelis.

The rest of the details, as Kerry said in his Friday announcement, are “speculation” and “conjecture.”

“The agreement is still in the process of being formalized, so we are absolutely not going to talk about any of the elements now,” Kerry said, adding that “the people who know the facts are not talking about them. The parties have agreed that I will be the only one making further comments about this.”

Kerry’s dogged efforts to simply bring both sides to the table — including six trips to the region this year — have been characterized by their secrecy. During his months of shuttling between Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman, Kerry has praised progress toward negotiations but kept details under wraps.

Following Kerry’s July 19 announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hopes the talks will prevent the establishment of a binational state in Israel and the creation of an Iranian-sponsored terrorist entity in West Bank.

“These will not be easy negotiations, but we will enter into them with integrity, sincerity and the hope that this process will be conducted responsibly, seriously and substantively — and, I must say, at least in the opening stages, discreetly,” he told his Cabinet on July 21. “Throughout this process, I will strongly uphold, as I already have, the security needs of the State of Israel and other vital interests.”

Signs of the rocky road ahead were evident almost immediately, with Palestinian officials denying July 22 that any agreement had been reached to participate in final-status negotiations.

A Palestinian spokesperson said the upcoming meeting would only be a preliminary one; formal negotiations would take place only when Israel consented to freeze settlement expansion and negotiate based on the 1967 lines. Israeli ministers shot back that they would agree to none of those stipulations.

Israel is set to release 82 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture ahead of the talks, but Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio that “a settlement building freeze isn’t on the table.”

The biggest question that no one can answer, of course, is whether this round will succeed where so many others have failed. Israelis and Palestinians have been talking peace for more than 20 years, but the process has borne little fruit in the past decade.

The last attempt at talks, in 2010, ended after three weeks, when Israel rebuffed Abbas’ demand for the extension of a 10-month settlement building freeze.

Before that, lengthy negotiations in 2008 between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas reportedly ended after Abbas rejected an Israeli proposal without presenting a counteroffer. Soon after, Olmert was indicted for corruption and resigned his post.

It’s far from clear whether the political will exists on either side to conclude a final-status agreement, which would likely include at least some evacuation of Israeli settlers from the West Bank and Palestinians abandoning claims for millions of refugees to return to Israel.

On the Palestinian side, Abbas has held power for eight years without elections and has no power in Gaza, which has been controlled by Hamas since 2006. Kerry has gained backing for the negotiations from the Arab League, but Hamas, deemed a terrorist group by Israel and the United States, has come out against the talks.

In Israel, Netanyahu supports the talks, but a majority of his coalition opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state. In January’s election, Jewish Home — a pro-settler party — won 12 of the Knesset’s 120 seats running on a platform of opposing a Palestinian state.

Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economics minister, threatened Monday to vote against the coalition’s proposed budget unless Netanyahu advances a bill that would put any peace deal to a national referendum. Netanyahu said Sunday he would do that.

And in recent weeks, as Kerry was galvanizing support for the talks, prominent members of Netanyahu’s Likud Party — including Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon — came out against Palestinian statehood. On July 20, Danon said he trusts Netanyahu but opposes settlement evacuation or a release of Palestinian prisoners.

Should Netanyahu’s coalition turn on him, the prime minister could count on support from across the aisle. Labor Party Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, who leads the opposition, has said her party would support Netanyahu should a peace deal come to the table.

“I hope that Prime Minister Netanyahu, who declared loud and clear that he supports the two-state solution, will make the necessary decisions,” Yachimovich said, according to the Times of Israel. “We should not just settle for a renewal of negotiations but do everything possible to work toward real accords.”

Kerry says Israelis, Palestinians must make tough decisions

Israeli and Palestinian leaders must decide soon on whether to revive long-dormant peace negotiations to end their decades-old conflict, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday.

Ending two days of meetings in the region, Kerry said he had had “very productive” talks. But there were no obvious signs of any breakthrough, with neither side offering the sort of compromises needed to end a three-year stalemate.

“We are reaching the time where leaders need to make hard decisions,” Kerry said at the end of his fourth visit to the region in barely two months as he struggles to overcome deeply entrenched positions that have snarled the peace process.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has held separate talks in Israel and the Palestinian territories to voice support for Kerry, told reporters in Jerusalem he had not yet seen any significant progress.

“I don't think we are in a position to say that the necessary compromises have been made,” he said.

“Unless bold leadership is there to make the most of this opportunity, then we face a bleak situation in the Middle East,” he added, warning that time was running out to secure an independent nation for the Palestinians.

The Palestinians have repeatedly said they will only resume negotiations if Israel halts settlement building on land seized in the 1967 Middle East War, where it wants to establish its future state.

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The Israeli government has said there should be no preconditions and drew anger earlier this month when it turned to the courts to try to legalize four unauthorized West Bank settler outposts.

Kerry said he had raised the issue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose center-right government includes many fervently pro-settler politicians.

“It is also clear that when actions are taken, whether by court or otherwise, it is our view that those actions can be deemed by some to be provocative…So it is our hope that there will be a minimal effort there,” Kerry said.

On taking office in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama called on Israel to halt its settlement program. Netanyahu agreed to a partial freeze, but did not extend it beyond an initial 10-month period and Washington quietly dropped the demand.

Obama made his first official visit to Jerusalem this March to re-launch U.S. peace efforts, with Palestinian officials talking about a June 7 cut-off point for the U.S.-led diplomacy.

The Palestinians say it is pointless to hold negotiations while the Israeli building continues in the West Bank and east Jerusalem – home to some 500,000 settlers.

In the absence of formal peacemaking, the Palestinians last year gained de-facto statehood recognition at the United Nations. Israel is worried that they will use their new-found status to join the International Criminal Court and pursue war crimes charges against the Jewish state.

EU and U.S. diplomats have warned that the spread of the settlements could prove irreversible and Kerry has said the window of opportunity for securing an historic peace deal might close within two years.

“I made clear in my discussions that the parties should be focused on making progress toward…direct negotiations,” he said on Friday, adding that each side needed to “refrain from provocative rhetoric or actions … that take us backwards.”

Writing and additional reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Angus MacSwan

International court to look into Israel’s 2010 Gaza flotilla raid

The International Criminal Court prosecutor said she would open a preliminary examination into the 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, which left nine Turkish activists dead.

The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in a statement Tuesday that she was obliged to open a preliminary examination following a referral from the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros, where one of the vessels that were raided was registered, Reuters reported.

Few preliminary examinations ever lead to a full investigation, let alone a trial. Activists have repeatedly attempted to involve the court in The Hague in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it has so far declined to investigate events in the Palestinian territories.

The raid, in which Israeli special forces rappelled down onto the ships of activists who were seeking to break an Israeli blockade of Hamas in Gaza, caused a breakdown in relations between Turkey and Israel.

“My office will be conducting a preliminary examination in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met,” Bensouda said.

The referral from the Comoros was relayed to the ICC by a Turkish law firm, Elmadag, according to Reuters.

The United States has been promoting a reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, two of its allies. Since then, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for “any error that may have led to loss of life” and talks have begun on compensation.

U.N.: Israel must withdraw from settlements immediately

A U.N. report on the impact of Jewish West Bank settlements on Palestinians said Israel immediately should begin withdrawing all settlers from the territory.

The report issued Thursday by the U.N. Human Rights Council based in Geneva said that settlements violate the 1949 Geneva Conventions and that failure to withdraw could lead to a finding of war crimes at the International Criminal Court. The Palestinians have threatened to take Israel to the ICC after the Palestinian Authority was recognized as a non-member state at the U.N. General Assembly last November.

The Human Rights Council's investigation began last March. Israel did not cooperate, barring investigators from entering the West Bank and charging the council with anti-Israel bias. The council has issued more resolutions regarding Israeli human rights violations than resolutions for all other countries combined.

Israel's Foreign Ministry called the report counterproductive.

“The Human Rights Council has sadly distinguished itself by its systematical, one-sided and biased approach towards Israel. This latest report is yet another unfortunate reminder of such approach,” the ministry said. The report “will only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” and “the only way to resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including the settlements issue, is through direct negotiations without pre-conditions.”

Investigators interviewed about 50 Palestinians in Jordan for the report, which found that Palestinians are prevented by settlements from reaching their farming lands and water resources.

Israel “must, in compliance with article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, cease all settlement activities without preconditions,” the report said. “It must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers from the OPT,” U.N.-speak for “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

An estimated 520,000 settlers live in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem in some 250 settlements, which “prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the report said.

Palestinians appeal to U.N. over Israel’s E1 housing plan

The Palestinians appealed to the United Nations Security Council to stop Israel from making plans to build 3,000 apartments in a controversial area outside of Jerusalem.

In a letter to the Security Council, the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. secretary-general, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations said the announced plans represent “Israel’s contemptuous response” to the international body's vote to approve enhanced observer statehood status for the Palestinians. Authorization for the construction planning was made by the nine-member security Cabinet on the evening of Nov. 29 in the hours after the General Assembly vote.

The housing would be built in the E1 corridor connecting Jerusalem to the large Maale Adumim settlement, an area that the Palestinians say is necessary to keep the borders of a Palestinian state contiguous.

The housing is still in the planning stages and construction is a long way off, according to reports

“Israel is methodically and aggressively pushing ahead with this unlawful land grab and colonization of Palestine with the intent to alter the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian territory, especially in and around East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, in its favor in order to entrench its illegitimate control of the land and prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations,” the letter said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would block the settlement building using all legal and diplomatic means, The Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said earlier in the week that the Palestinians would take Israel to the International Criminal Court over the settlement planning and the announcement that Israel would withhold $100 million in taxes collected for the Palestinians, which it will apply to the PA's outstanding electric bill

‘‘By continuing these war crimes of settlement activities on our lands and stealing our money, Israel is pushing and forcing us to go to the ICC,’’ Shaath said.

American push to temper Palestinian U.N. bid reportedly fails

An American push to temper a resolution asking the United Nations General Assembly to grant the Palestinians enhanced status has failed, Haaretz reported.

The final draft of the Palestinians' resolution, which is set to be introduced Thursday in the General Assembly, was circulated Tuesday in New York. The United States had urged the Palestinians to add a clause to the draft saying that they would not file criminal charges against Israeli leaders at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Israeli daily reported, but the Palestinians refused to make the addition.

The Palestinians, who are seeking status as a non-member observer state, told the U.S. that they would provide an oral promise not to file charges with the international court for some six months, but after that time period they would not be obligated to the guarantee, Haaretz reported.

Israel also wants a clause saying that the granting of enhanced status is a symbolic decision that grants no sovereignty over the West Bank, Gaza Strip or eastern Jerusalem, according to the newspaper.

“We continue to try to dissuade the Palestinians from taking this action,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday. “We think it's going to be complicating and potentially a step backwards in terms of the larger goal, which is a negotiated solution.”

The Palestinians, represented by the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, were rebuffed last year in their bid to have the U.N. Security Council recognize Palestine as a state; the United States successfully lobbied against the move, threatening to use its veto.

There is no such veto in the General Assembly, where the Palestinians have an assured majority. Observer state status does not carry with it the privileges of full membership; observers must still apply to become members of U.N. constituent groups. The PLO is currently a non-member observer entity.

How to turn crisis into diplomatic promise in Gaza

The crisis over Gaza was triggered by a Hamas escalation of missile attacks against Israel, which resulted in Israeli retaliation, the killing of Ahmed Jabari — the Hamas military chief, and the destruction from the air of major Hamas missile emplacements. The question now is how this escalation will end.

Since the Hamas attacks have not stopped, including the first missile over Tel Aviv since Saddam Hussein attacked Israel at the outset of the 1991 Gulf War, Israel is preparing for a ground attack. This leaves 2-3 days for a ceasefire to be reinstated. The U.S. will not deal directly with Hamas due to its having been designated a terrorist organization, so the only country that is capable of arranging a ceasefire is Egypt. President Morsi may well be reluctant to do so given his new Islamist government and the opposition to aiding Israel in any way by much of the Egyptian population. The challenge for the US is therefore to convince the Egyptian President to paint mediation as a way of saving Hamas and Gaza, and to move forward to achieve a ceasefire if Hamas will go along before Israel proceeds further.

If the Israelis do attack, they will have three options: reoccupy Gaza and remove Hamas, presumably returning the area to Palestinian Authority control; attempt to weaken Hamas by a massive assault as was pursued in Operation Cast Lead (Dec. 2008 to Jan. 2009), without completely taking over Gaza; or a peripheral strategy of a limited nature which would attack Hamas installations outside populated areas. Unless Hamas is removed, the other two approaches of attack will likely look toward repeated similar confrontations between Israel and Hamas in the years ahead. The key question will then be the degree of destruction and the political fallout, depending on the military tactics Israel uses each time, and the effectiveness of Hamas missiles.

But in addition to counting casualties on both sides, and assessing the relative effectiveness of each in achieving its aims, this time the Middle East is much more complicated in the wake of the Arab Spring. A new Egyptian Islamist government may well distance itself from Israel in dramatic ways. Jordan in is the midst of political crisis. Israel has much to lose from deteriorating relations with both Arab states with which it has peace treaties. And while Hezbollah has acquired thousands of weapons since it last confronted Israel in 2006, it is very unlikely that it would risk its hard-won gains in Lebanon by an attack on Israel, especially given the civil war in Syria and the need for those missiles as a possible retaliation should Israel attack Iran. But it could attack, and Israel can't ignore Hezbollah either. There are increasing dangers as the hostilities continue.

The Israelis also must face the past repeated sequence of its wars since 1982, when the first Lebanon-Israel war was waged. In each of these cases, Israel gained early, achieving many if its initial objectives, but then the problem of how to complete the remaining objectives and end the war satisfactorily emerged, and in the process Israel progressively began to suffer in world opinion and at home as it inflicted and suffered increasing casualties. The early military gains were slowly challenged by political and diplomatic difficulties that robbed Israel of its clear victories. The longer the Gaza war ensues the more challenges Israel will face.

But in this case Hamas and the other Islamist and radical organizations in Gaza also face severe challenges. The Netanyahu government, with elections in late January, may have an incentive to end the suffering of the Israeli people once and for all, even if the cost is high. If this is the case, Hamas could either suffer major losses or even be removed from power in Gaza. And Hamas has been doing well politically recently against its Palestinian foe, Fatah, led by Mahmoud Abbas. The latter's imminent bid to the United Nations for an observer state non-member status will almost certainly be successful, and will diminish Hamas' standing. Indeed, Hamas may well have increased its attacks on Israel to diminish Fatah at a critical moment.

Meanwhile, the crisis creates a new dilemma for the U.S., Israel, and some Europeans: They oppose the Palestinian Authority application because it will unilaterally change the dynamic of the peace process to the extent it still has potential, and the bid will likely permit the Palestinians to confront Israelis in various UN bodies such as the International Criminal Court. But Hamas would lose as a consequence of the PA application.

All of these mind-boggling complexities may offer the U.S. a possible opportunity for a diplomatic coup. Continue to back Israel solidly, coax Egypt's president to push for a ceasefire, and make a side deal with Abu Mazen to increase economic assistance to his Palestinian Authority in exchange for delaying his UN bid. After all, the UN application will be less necessary if Hamas suffers a major defeat at the hands of Israel. And the bid may be less appropriate at a time of turmoil initiated by the Israeli-Hamas confrontation. In this way a seeming political hurricane could be transformed into a new playing field offering President Obama a chance to move forward toward increasing stability in a region now seemingly escalating toward major disaster. Such an approach is certainly worth a try.


Steven L Spiegel is director of the Center for Middle East Development and professor of Political Science at UCLA.  He is also a National Scholar at the Israel Policy Forum.

Activists Stand Firm on Warrant for Sudan Leader

Hours after an international court issued a warrant for his arrest, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir kicked humanitarian aid groups out of his country. Nevertheless, Jewish activists who backed the indictment are standing behind their decision.

The world community cannot allow Bashir’s crimes and threats to deter the appropriate legal entities from taking action, said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Bashir’s reaction reaffirms “the legitimacy of the indictment” by the International Criminal Court (ICC), said Saperstein, who noted that Bashir has been obstructing the provision of humanitarian aid for years. He said that the indictment and arrest warrant should turn up the pressure on the Sudanese leader.

The warrant charges Bashir with five counts of crimes against humanity — murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape — in the Darfur region of Sudan. It also includes two counts of war crimes — intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population and pillaging.

After a nearly six-year campaign of systematic rape, expulsion and murder against the citizens of Darfur by the government-backed Janjaweed militia, hundreds of thousands have died and more than 2.5 million have fled their homes and live in refugee camps in the region or in the neighboring countries of Chad and the Central African Republic.

Following the arrest warrant, the Sudanese government revoked the licenses of 13 international humanitarian organizations and evicted them from Sudan on March 4. The government also closed down three domestic relief agencies.

According to the Save Darfur Coalition, the expelled organizations account for at least half of the humanitarian operations in Darfur, and without them, some 1.1 million people will be without food aid, 1.5 million will not have medical care and more than a million will be left without safe drinking water.

“I’m sad” about the situation, but “if criminal law is going to mean anything, we have to call it what it is,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), which earlier this month passed a resolution supporting the possible use of military force in Darfur.

Gutow said supporters of the indictment anticipated the consequences, but the hope is that the ICC action will have an impact “not today but tomorrow.” He said the arrest warrant increased the likelihood that others in the Sudanese leadership, upset by the international opprobrium, would push out Bashir and set up a more conciliatory government.

Another Jewish group active on the Darfur issue, the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), refused to connect the two recent events. AJWS spokesman Joshua Berkman said his organization “does not believe there is any legitimate link” between the arrest warrant and the ejection of aid groups.

“The ICC is an independent court and has nothing to do with humanitarian relief work,” he said.

Berkman said AJWS believes the international community is correct in rejecting the idea that humanitarian aid for 4 million people could be used as a “bargaining chip” in any way, and added that it was time for the United States to take the lead in pushing to resolve the conflict.

Saperstein agreed, saying that his group was pushing for the White House to name a special envoy to work on the issue.

After a meeting with President Obama last month, actor George Clooney said he was told there would be an envoy appointed, but the White House has not announced it.

In a letter last week signed by AJWS, the Religious Action Center and the JCPA, more than 50 members of the Save Darfur Coalition urged Obama to condemn publicly Bashir’s actions and “insist that he restore access to life-saving humanitarian aid.”

While the effects of the expulsion of aid groups on Darfurians is not yet known, Jewish leaders said that Bashir’s actions immediately caught the attention of the wider American Jewish community, which has been at the forefront of efforts to bring the world’s focus to the Darfur genocide.

The Reform movement sent out an action alert last week to its congregations urging members to call their members of Congress about Darfur, and “judging from the response, people are re-engaged on this issue,” Saperstein said.

He said the indictment and expulsion of aid groups “has galvanized people again.”