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The Common Ground News Service (CGNews) aims to promote constructive perspectives and dialogue on a broad range of issues affecting Arab-Israeli & Muslim-Western relations. CGNews is available in Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Indonesian and Urdu. To subscribe, click here. For an archive of past CGNews articles, please visit our website at www.commongroundnews.org.
Inside this edition  
12 - 18 February 2010
Young Palestinian leadership at the helm of state building
by Hussam Ezzedine
Parliamentarian Hussam Ezzedine analyses the role the younger generation has played in Palestinian state building, oscillating between political participation and violent resistance to the occupation - and believes that given political progress they prefer the former option over the latter. (Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 February 2010)
Policing and the Arab minority: from alienation to cooperation
by Guy Ben-Porat and Fany Yuval
Ben-Porat and Yuval examine the problematic relationship between the Israeli police and the Arab citizens of Israel and recommend ways to improve it.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 February 2010)
Europe, the missing key to Mideast peace
by Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
Middle East analyst Ghassan Rubeiz wonders if Europe might be the key to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 February 2010)
Hard Mideast truths
by Roger Cohen
Roger Cohen warns that it is necessary to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon, and urges President Obama to intensify his efforts in this area.
(Source: International Herald Tribune, 11 February 2010)
Syria must be a top priority
by Alon Ben-Meir
Professor Alon Ben-Meir lists his reasons for believing that peace with Syria must be a priority for Israel, and thinks that Turkey may be the best intermediary for the two.
(Source: The Jerusalem Post, 15 February 2010)
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The Merchavim Institute places Arabic teachers in Jewish schools in Israel in order to better integrate Jewish and Arab communities and create a greater sense of shared citizenship.
Young Palestinian leadership at the helm of state building
Hussam Ezzedine
RAMALLAH - In January 2009 I was standing with dozens of Palestinian youth who were jostling in front of the Palestinian Presidential Guard offices in Ramallah, hoping for a chance to work for the Guard. Some of them left quickly looking disappointed, evidently rejected for not meeting the basic requirements such as height or weight.

The young generation of Palestinians are playing an increasingly important part in building the institutions of a future state. This desire to participate stems largely from a sense that the ministries, the security apparatuses and other institutions, would not have come into being had it not been for the five year struggle of the first Intifada which they had spearheaded.

Nowadays the young generation has significant representation in Palestinian institutions. This was evident in the latest elections within the Fateh movement last summer, an election which was in fact won by the younger generation. The result is that the average age within the Fateh leadership has dropped significantly. Many of these younger leaders hold high positions within government ministries and some are ministers, like the Minister of Prisoner Affairs Eesa Qaraqe who has spent ten years in Israeli prisons.

The initial shift to political participation among the young generation took place in 1994, after the Oslo agreement, when the Palestinian leadership returned to the West Bank and Gaza. In the early days of the Palestinian Authority (PA), large numbers of young Palestinians joined the 120,000 strong civil and security sectors. Today, the employees in the nascent Palestinian institutions number 160,000, most of them young people. The PA has been encouraging youth participation as a strategic element in the process of reconstruction.

The importance of the youth to the leadership, both in terms of its role in politics and the armed struggle, was also evident following the collapse of political negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides at Camp David in 2000. At that point, the leadership used the youth working in the civil institutions to launch new political acts against the occupation. These initially took the form of rallies, but then the focus turned to those working in the security sectors who were clearly ready for armed resistance and were therefore receptive to instructions from the political leadership to launch the second Intifada.

Compared with the first intifada, this uprising was more violent and represented an even stronger desire for independence. Since the political leadership had now returned to Palestinian land, a union emerged between young people who had previously been deported and now returned from abroad, and those inside. The violent nature of this intifada was, perhaps, not anticipated by the older generation. Again, it catapulted the youth to the forefront and contributed to the emergence of a new, younger, leadership, composed of people previously without a voice, such as Marwan Barghouti whom Israel accuses of leading the second Intifada.

The level of counter violence used by the Israeli army to quell the second Intifada, however, surpassed the level of violence used by the Palestinians. The high numbers of fatalities, injuries and prisoners led the younger leadership to re-evaluate their methods and prioritise preservation of the young political leaders.

That subsequent shift away from armed struggle and back to political means was clearly apparent in 2006 when the young leaders of the second Intifada who were now imprisoned in Israeli jails drafted a political document known as the "Prisoners' Document". The document, which was presented to the Palestinian leadership (both Hamas and Fateh), was aimed at promoting internal reconciliation and continued peace negotiations. It represented the beginning of a serious attempt by the young Palestinian leadership to change the approaches assumed by the older leaders.

More recently, the results of the internal elections in Fateh's Sixth Congress last summer, when the younger cadre took over the Central Committee of the movement and its Revolutionary Council, were an additional indication of the decision by the younger sector to drive the struggle for independence by political means.

Alongside the emergence of the young leadership in Fateh, which has taken place over several phases, the growing importance of the younger generation has been even more apparent within Hamas. Their rise to important positions within the party occurred at a faster pace, as is evident after the party's victory in 2006 in the Gaza Strip. Since then, Hamas has been using young faces to communicate the movement's political position to the world. Sami Abou Zuhri, the official spokesman of the movement, is now well-known across most satellite channels alongside Musheer El Masri, both of whom are familiar faces to those following the political situation in the Palestinian territories.

In both parties, the younger generation has substantial representation in the Legislative Council, which explains the presence of a clear trend to allow younger people to have a say particularly if it is in line with party policy.

For the last 16 years, the younger generation has oscillated between political participation and violent resistance to the occupation. The choice depends on whether or not there is a sense of progress in the political realm. If there is progress and given the chance, young Palestinians of today will choose the political path to establish their leadership and build a government.


* Hussam Ezzeddin is a Palestinian journalist, social researcher and parliamentarian.. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News (CGNews), 18 February 2010,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Policing and the Arab minority: from alienation to cooperation
Guy Ben-Porat and Fany Yuval
LEHAVIM, Israel - Relations between the Israeli police and the Arab citizens of Israel have been a major concern in recent years, especially following the events of October 2000 when during demonstrations the police gunned down 13 Arab citizens. A commission of inquiry formed after the events placed the blame not only upon the police but also on the inflammatory rhetoric used by some Arab leaders. It also underlined the role of long-term discrimination in generating frustrations among the Arab citizens of Israel.

Equality for Arab citizens is a significant challenge Israel has yet to commit to and fair and effective policing is a central aspect of this challenge. Even though some attempts were made since October 2000, they have been too few and with little impact.

One of the main problems the commission identifies is that the police force is not perceived as a service provider by the Arab population but as a hostile element serving a hostile government. The commission was right when it outlined the need to expand community police services in order to improve the general services to this sector.

Improvement of police services will not only contribute to the everyday life of Arab citizens but also signal the commitment of the state and its institutions to this public. From the point of view of the police, successful reforms could yield trust and the required legitimacy to work effectively in Arab neighbourhoods.

A study that we conducted on behalf of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, sheds light on the challenges and potential for future reforms. Like minorities elsewhere, Arab citizens feel they are both over policed; stopped and arrested more than others, and under policed; receiving low quality police services inside their neighbourhoods. Thus, while the vast majority of the participants (74 percent) have not personally encountered police discrimination, the fact that a majority (77 percent) believes that Jews are treated better than Arabs by the police shows that negative perceptions run deep.

In spite of this lack of trust, however, our study shows that Arab citizens are unwilling to give up on police services, and are willing to cooperate with the police. The majority of the respondents in the study (60 percent) rejected the statement that "it is unlikely that Arab citizens will collaborate with police forces in any matter", a fact that strongly suggests that reforms aimed at providing fair and effective police services would be welcomed by the Arab-Israeli public and that they would be willing to cooperate with the police to promote reforms.

Effective policing in a multicultural setting requires cultural sensitivity and a familiarity with the needs of ethnic minorities. A majority of the participants agreed that "a police officer who is not familiar with Arab culture and customs cannot perform well when working in the Arab community".

Training of police officers and channels of communication between police and the Arab community are two potential areas for reform. Many respondents agreed that Arab citizens could and should take an active role in training police officers. Similarly, a significant majority agree that police work within Arab communities is much more likely to be successful if it would involve the community leaders.

Recruiting Arab police officers could be a step towards changing the police from within. Political and psychological obstacles resulting from existing tensions and suspicions still prevent many Arab citizens from joining the police. Yet, our findings indicate that a majority of Arab citizens support the recruitment of Arabs to the police forces and that 30 percent would join the police if they were looking for a job.

Interestingly, while 45 percent of the respondents believe that the recruitment of Arab citizens could have a positive impact, this does not necessarily mean that they want to be policed by Arab police officers. Rather, respondents indicated they were more concerned with the fairness and quality of service than with the ethnicity of the police officer.

Experiences from different countries point to the difficulties of adjusting police services to a dynamic multicultural reality and even more so where ethnic tensions underscore many aspects of public life. But while the police are often part of the problem in relations between minorities and the state, they also has the potential to be part of the solution, providing minorities with equality and a voice in policy making.

Arab citizens demand a police force that is both fair and effective in providing security to Arab neighbourhoods suffering from high levels of crime. Moreover, they are also willing to cooperate with the police to achieve this goal. To get there we need good will and a determined leadership, both within Arab society and the police.


* Fany Yuval is a lecturer at the department of Public Policy and Administration at Ben-Gurion University. Guy Ben-Porat is a senior lecturer at the department of Public Policy and Administration at Ben-Gurion University. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 February 2010,
www.commonground news.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Europe, the missing key to Mideast peace
Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida - The latest American Middle East peace initiative has been launched in the absence of change in the attitudes of the protagonists or in the political landscape. Is America gambling with a new round of dead-end diplomacy by packaging old wine in new bottles?

The United States urgently needs Europe to take additional responsibility for resolving the conflict if it wants to break the deadlocked peace negotiations. Indeed, Israel may also need to reassess Europe's relevance for its future.

The problem is that the White House has been working with the wrong assumption. The current deadlock does not stem from a dispute over the order of topics to negotiate, for example the place of a settlement freeze in relation to other controversial subjects. Rather, it lies in the predisposition of the stakeholders in the conflict: America has too close a relationship to Israel to be able to twist its partner's arm to take a risk for peace. Israel is too comfortable with the occupation and the Palestinians are divided. Moreover, Arab rulers do not convey credibility.

Strong international pressure is needed to break the deadlock. But Washington alone is losing political muscle. Close coordination between the United States and Europe could both strengthen the power of mediation and provide international security to enforce a peace agreement.

To better understand Europe's credentials for peace promotion, consider some historical facts: Europe played a major role in the formation of the state of Israel. The British government authorised the "Homeland for the Jews". The apocalyptic tragedy of the Holocaust, a central factor in the promotion of a Jewish state, was a Nazi German undertaking. Indeed, Jews who fled from Europe formed an essential backbone of the early state of Israel. And the first peace mission to the region after the 1967 occupation was undertaken by a European-Gunnar Jarring- the Swedish envoy to the United Nations.

Over the years, Europe's role as a mediator receded, giving way to an expanding US role in the region. But in more recent decades, European states have achieved excellence in policing peace in many places: in the Middle East, the Balkans, West Africa and elsewhere. Given the opportunity, Europe could provide the Israelis and Palestinians with the necessary international security that is crucial for enforcing a two-state solution.

This international security is necessary, as most Palestinians strongly feel that a future Palestine would require a national army (albeit, possibly a symbolic one). Palestinian skies and borders must be free. But Israel considers an armed, independent Palestinian state, including armed movements such as Hamas within it, a threat to its current and future security.

Stationing international peace-keeping forces on the borders between Israel and an envisioned Palestine state backed by Europe would simultaneously give Palestinians the independence they need and Israel the security for which it yearns.

Despite its limitations, a peace-keeping model is already on the ground in the region in the shape of UNIFIL, the UN force in Southern Lebanon, which largely consists of, and has been led by, European states. This force could be modified, strengthened and broadened to cover the West Bank, Gaza and possibly the Syrian Golan borders. Currently, the EU itself has a policing force, EUBAM, along the border with Egypt, and despite its observer status, it could further contribute through an expansion to the 1967 borders. Indeed, Palestinians are more likely to be tolerant of a European force, bearing in mind Europe's perceived balance in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Europe, or rather, the EU can further contribute to a future agreement by offering as an incentive to Israel and future Palestine, a "special status" similar to the EU's recent offer to Morocco. Also, Europe is urging the two factions of Cyprus to make peace in order to qualify as a united country for EU membership. Why not link the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict to the prospects of securing Israel and establishing a viable Palestinian state within a protective, suitable regional framework? If Cyprus is a candidate for the EU, why not Israel and Palestine?

The long-term future of Israel could depend more on Europe than on the United States.
Hopefully, one day, should Israel decide to withdraw from the 1967 territories, it might discover that Europe could be its bridge to the Arab world.


* Dr. Ghassan Rubeiz (grubeiz@comcast.net) is former Secretary of the Middle East for the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 February 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Hard Mideast truths
Roger Cohen
NEW YORK - For over a century now, Zionism and Arab nationalism have failed to find an accommodation in the Holy Land. Both movements attempted to fill the space left by collapsed empire, and it has been left to the quasi-empire, the United States, to try to coax them to peaceful coexistence. The attempt has failed.

President Barack Obama came to office more than a year ago promising new thinking, outreach to the Muslim world, and relentless focus on Israel-Palestine. But nice speeches have given way to sullen stalemate. I am told Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have a zero-chemistry relationship.

Domestic US politics constrain innovative thought-even open debate-on the process without end that is the peace search. As Aaron David Miller, who long laboured in the trenches of that process, once observed, the United States ends up as "Israel's lawyer" rather than an honest broker. The upside for an American congressman in speaking out for Palestine is nonexistent.

I don't see these constraints shifting much, but the need for Obama to honour his election promise grows. The conflict gnaws at US security, eats away at whatever remote possibility of a two-state solution is left, clouds Israel's future, scatters Palestinians and devours every attempt to bridge the West and Islam.

Here's what I believe. Centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust created a moral imperative for a Jewish homeland, Israel, and demand of America that it safeguard that nation in the breach.

But past persecution of the Jews cannot be a license to subjugate another people, the Palestinians. Nor can the solemn US promise to stand by Israel be a blank check to the Jewish state when its policies undermine stated American aims.

One such Israeli policy is the relentless settlement of the West Bank. Two decades ago, James Baker, then secretary of state, declared, "Forswear annexation; stop settlement activity." Fast-forward 20 years to Barack Obama in Cairo: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements." In the interim the number of settlers almost quadrupled from about 78,000 in 1990 to around 300,000 last year.

Since Obama spoke, Netanyahu, while promising an almost-freeze, has been planting saplings in settlements and declaring them part of Israel for "eternity". In a normal relationship between allies-of the kind I think America and Israel should have-there would be consequences for such defiance. In the special relationship between the United States and Israel there are none.

The US objective is a two-state peace. But day by day, square metre by square metre, the physical space for the second state, Palestine, is disappearing. Can the Gaza sardine can and fractured labyrinth of the West Bank now be seen as anything but a grotesque caricature of a putative state? America has allowed this self-defeating process to advance to near irreversibility.

In fact, it has helped fund it. The settlements are expensive, as is the security fence (hated "separation wall" to the Palestinians) that is itself an annexation mechanism. According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, US aid to Israel totalled $28.9 billion over the past decade, a sum that dwarfs aid to any other nation and amounts to four times the total gross domestic product of Haiti.

It makes sense for America to assure Israel's security. It does not make sense for America to bankroll Israeli policies that undermine US strategic objectives.

This, too, I believe: Through violence, anti-Semitic incitation, and annihilationist threats, Palestinian factions have contributed mightily to the absence of peace and made it harder for America to adopt the balance required. But the impressive recent work of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank shows that Palestinian responsibility is no oxymoron and demands of Israel a response less abject than creeping annexation.

And this: the "existential threat" to Israel is overplayed. It is no feeble David facing an Arab (or Arab-Persian) Goliath. Armed with a formidable nuclear deterrent, Israel is by far the strongest state in the region. Room exists for America to step back and apply pressure without compromising Israeli security.

And this: Obama needs to work harder on overcoming Palestinian division, a prerequisite for peace, rather than playing the no-credible-interlocutor Israeli game. The Hamas charter is vile. But the breakthrough Oslo accords were negotiated in 1993, three years before the Palestine Liberation Organization revoked the annihilationist clauses in its charter. When Arafat and Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn, that destroy-Israel charter was intact. Things change through negotiation, not otherwise. If there are Taliban elements worth engaging, are there really no such elements in the broad movements that are Hamas and Hizbullah?

If there are not two states there will be one state between the river and the sea and very soon there will be more Palestinian Arabs in it than Jews. What then will become of the Zionist dream?

It's time for Obama to ask such tough questions in public and demand of Israel that it work in practice to share the land rather than divide and rule it.


* Roger Cohen writes for the New York Times. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the International Herald Tribune.

Source: International Herald Tribune, 11 February 2010,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Syria must be a top priority
Alon Ben-Meir
JERUSALEM - Recently, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman caused yet another blunder for Israel's image in a series of hawkish comments and threats toward Syria. Following the diplomatic breech with Turkey by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Israel has allowed its foreign policy to be poorly misrepresented by ideologues that differ greatly from the majority of Israelis who want peace.

As the US finally announced that it is reinstating an ambassador to Syria, Israel needs to consider some gestures to ease the negative attention it has received and start looking to the North to resolve its own disputes with its neighbour.

Turkey has recently reiterated its interest in resuming its mediating role between Israel and Syria. Israel should embrace the Turkish efforts and commit itself to a negotiated peace agreement with Syria, as the effects of this would reverberate throughout the region, especially as Iran continues to strengthen its ties to proxies Hizbullah and Hamas. Though the recent rift between Turkey and Israel over Israel's handling of Gaza has put a strain on the countries' bilateral relations, Turkey remains Israel's most important strategic ally in the region and is still in the best position to mediate between the two. Israeli concerns over Turkey's ability to remain neutral in its mediating efforts do not take into account the progress that Turkish mediators were able to achieve in the last round of negotiations that collapsed with Operation Cast Lead.

Israel can benefit from a Turkish ally who is close to the Arab world. Turkey seeks Israeli-Syrian peace not merely for self-aggrandisement, but because regional peace would have a tremendous effect on its national security and economic developments and will certainly have even greater impact on Israel's national security and economic interests.

Looming beyond the benefits of direct Israeli-Syrian land-for-peace negotiations are the long-term implications for Syria's ties with Iran and its proxies. If Syria feels it is within reach of getting the Golan Heights and normal relations with the US, it takes no special acumen to understand that an Israeli-Syrian peace will fundamentally change Damascus' strategic interests and the geopolitical condition in the Middle East. Changing Syria's strategic interests will have a direct impact on Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah's behaviour. Syria has served as the linchpin between the three and by removing Syria's logistical and political backing, which will inadvertently result from an Israeli-Syrian peace, Hamas and Hizbullah will be critically weakened. Both are direct by-products of the Israeli occupation, and only by ending its hold on the Golan will Israel be in a position to begin effectively dealing with Arab extremism.

Whereas Israel's concerns over Iran's nuclear programme may not be completely mitigated by an Israeli-Syrian peace, it will certainly force Tehran to rethink its strategy toward Israel. The irony is that while Israel continues to hype up the Iranian nuclear threat, and perhaps for good reason, it has lost focus on how to change the regional geopolitical dynamic and weaken Iran's influence in the region. Peace with Syria will reduce the prospect of using force against Iran to resolve its nuclear threat, but, under any violent scenario between Israel and Iran, Tehran will no longer be able to count on the almost automatic support of Hamas and Hizbullah because the national interests of these two groups will now be at odds with Syria's strategic interest.

Israel must seize the opportunity to enter into negotiations with Syria not only because it can now negotiate from a position of strength but also because of the collective Arab will to make peace as enunciated time and again by the Arab Peace Initiative. Israel cannot make the claim that it seeks peace but then fail to seize the opportunity when one is presented.

President Bashar al-Assad, like his father, has prioritised peace with Israel as a strategic option. He has expressed his desire to conclude a deal in exchange for the Golan Heights and a healthy relationship with the US. Israel must make a choice. It cannot continue trying to justify the occupation in the name of security when the whole Arab world is extending its hand to achieve a genuine peace.

Israel must choose between territory and real security; as long as Syria has territorial claims against Israel, Israel will never be secure on its northern borders. If Syria offers peace, normalisation of relations, and meets Israel's legitimate security concerns and Israel still refuses, the Golan will become a national liability rather than national security asset.

International opposition to Israel's continued occupation is growing because occupation of Arab land and the settlements are seen as the single source of continued regional strife and instability. Linking the occupation to national security concerns is viewed as nothing more than a pretext to maintaining the occupation and as a recipe not only for self-isolation but a precursor for renewed violence.

It is time for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to put an end to Lieberman's reckless statements about Syria and lack of any diplomatic savoir-faire. If Israel is truly focused on national security then it must relinquish the Golan Heights.

The fact that Syria chose a negotiating venue through Turkey to regain the Golan, and may not be in a position to regain it by force, should not be taken by Israel to mean that it can indefinitely maintain the status quo without serious consequences. Syria has shown tremendous capacity to deny Israel peace with Lebanon and the Palestinians and can continue to do so.

The appointment of Robert Ford as the new American ambassador to Syria has potential to open a new chapter in US-Syrian relations. Whereas the Obama administration is fully keen on trying to advance the peace process, it has no illusion that the real game changer in the Middle East in connection with Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinians is an Israeli-Syrian peace. The improved relations between the United States and Syria will inadvertently shift Syria's strategic calculus as the normalisation of relations with the US and the prospect of regaining the Golan Heights will assume national priority over other tactical ties that Syria currently has with Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas.

The United States will have to remain relentless in its efforts to advance the Israeli-Syrian peace and may find Turkey to be the best interlocutor between the two nations.


* Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the Jerusalem Post.

Source: The Jerusalem Post, 15 February 2010,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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