Middle East Peace Talks Just Ahead

Posted on Mon, Nov 05, 2007 @ 02:35 PM

The next round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations scheduled for the forthcoming Annapolis, Maryland, conference (date yet to be announced) were being actively promoted in Jerusalem today by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Her optimism is being supported by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. There does seem more cause for optimism than in the final round of talks at Taba in late 2000, a last ditch attempt to gain some ground after the failed talks at Camp David, when Bill Clinton was unable to get agreement between Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat.

Overlapping with Secretary Rice’s visit was the fourth meeting of the Saban Forum, a program of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. It brought “a high-level, bipartisan U.S. delegation to Jerusalem for discussions with their Israeli counterparts on the theme of ‘War and Peace in the Middle East.’” The official report on Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni’s address makes interesting reading. It was also encouraging to note the presence of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

For further background on the potential for peace, view these recent videos:

Charlie Rose Interviews Saud al-Faisal and Tzipi Livni (Click to Play)
Condoleezza Rice Interviewed by Israeli Television


Tags: jerusalem, middle east, Ehud Olmert, israel, mahmoud abbas, Palestine, Tzipi Livni, Condoleezza Rice, Charlie Rose, Saud al-Faisal

Peace Efforts in Middle East Conflict

Posted on Fri, Aug 17, 2007 @ 02:51 PM
New Move to Bring Economic Development to Palestinian Area

I was happy to read that Japanese, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian entities scheduled a meeting in Jericho this week to initiate a new development project in the Jordan Valley. 

A few years ago by the Sea of Galilee I attended a meeting of Palestinian and Israeli tour operators, at which Israel’s current president, Shimon Peres, was present. It was an effort on the part of his Peres Center for Peace to encourage mutually beneficial economic activities. It struck me recently that in the Middle East conflict there is far too little exposure given to positive news like this report from Jericho. Yet there is ongoing conciliatory work between Israelis and Palestinians. I’m going to publicize such efforts when I can.

Tags: middle east, Shimon Peres, israel, Palestine, Jericho

Middle East’s Super Skyscaper

Posted on Wed, Jul 25, 2007 @ 02:58 PM

I’ve written before about Dubai’s Burj tower project as a symbol of the Middle East’s potential for peaceful economic development. This week, the structure became the world’s tallest at 1680 ft (512 m) with 141 stories so far—that’s more than any other building in the world. Thought to be only about 2/3 finished (though its final height is a secret), it’s scheduled for completion in 2008, when some think that it may reach 800 meters.


Tags: middle east, Dubai Burj Tower

A New Middle East?

Posted on Thu, May 24, 2007 @ 03:49 PM
Conflict and chaos amid economic hope and prosperity

Burj Dubai-Tallest tower in the world

Dubai's new Burj tower symbolizes the potential for economic development in the Middle East. (Image courtesy Burj Dubai Skyscraper official website).

In the few days since I last blogged, conflict in the Middle East has ratcheted up with a consequent loss of life.

The Lebanese army, determined to remove a suspected al-Qaeda cell from its refuge in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, north of Tripoli, has sparked a major confrontation.  

The situation between Israel and Hamas inside and outside of Gaza has seriously escalated.  

It’s no wonder then that editor of The Times, reminded us this week, “The words ‘Middle East’ connote conflict and chaos.”  

Announcing his newspaper’s launch of a Middle East edition, he was making the point that social and economic development in the whole region suffers from the perception of generalized instability caused by the few. When he cited the energy coming from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, he brought to mind four points made by Shimon Peres more than a decade ago in his book, The New Middle East, proposing an MEEC—a Middle East Economic Community. 

In the euphoria that followed the Oslo Agreement, Peres cited four “economic-political belts” wrapping the region. Each has to be overcome to release the region’s economic potential and raise standards of living, obviating the attraction of fundamentalism.


1. The problem of armaments: Disarmament at a 50% rate would free billions for economic development without compromising security.

2. The challenge of water resources, biotechnology and the desert environment: Joint projects lead to friendship and understanding.

3. The need for transportation and communications infrastructure: Economic progress is pure theory without these essentials.

4. The possibilities of much increased tourism across the region: Tourism brings a rapid return on investment, encourages peace and flourishes amid security. 

Several years later, as Speaker of the Knesset, Peres held out the same kind of hope for his own immediate surroundings. In Jerusalem, he told me, “for the sake of Israel being democratic and Jewish, we need a Palestinian state. Not just a Palestinian state, but a democratic Palestinian state. Not just a democratic Palestinian state, but an affluent Palestinian state. . . . From our point of view, the better the Palestinians shall have it, the better a neighbor we shall have.”

David Hulme

Tags: middle east, Shimon Peres, Hamas, Lebanon, israel, Palestine, Nahr al-Bared, Tripoli

Latent Forces of Identity and Ideology Released by 1967 June War

Posted on Wed, May 09, 2007 @ 03:51 PM
A new watershed in the Middle East conflict came with the capture of East Jerusalem.

Shlomo Goren blows the shofar on the  Temple MountGeneral Shlomo Goren, military chaplain, was one of the first Israelis to reach the Temple Mount in 1967. Two years later, he became Israel’s chief rabbi (1969–79). On June 7th he blew the shofar and prayed intensely. He also suggested to Major General Uzi Narkiss that the latter could go down in history by taking a hundred kilos of explosive and destroying the Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock.

This was revealed thirty years later when Narkiss was dying and told a newspaper reporter the story. The power of identity and the power of the historic moment possessed Goren. He said to Narkiss: “You don’t grasp the immense meaning of this. This is an opportunity that can be exploited now, this minute. Tomorrow it will be impossible.”

 It was Goren’s conviction that the Jewish temple should be rebuilt. In this he was supported by the minister of religious affairs, Zerach Warhaftig, who held that the Jews own the Temple Mount as a result of the Israelite King David’s purchase from Araunah the Jebusite.

The capture of the Old City set in motion many radical changes to meet the Israelis’ newly released latent identification with their holy places. Using the language of latency and identification, Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua wrote, “The Six Day War was labelled ‘the Jewish War,’ and with good reason, for the old Jewish spirit within us was roused like a ghost.”

On June 19, Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban addressed the U.N. General Assembly. He spoke in detail about the origins of the war and its outcome. With respect to Jerusalem he said:

"In our nation’s long history there have been few hours more intensely moving than the hour of our reunion with the Western Wall. A people had come back to the cradle of its birth. It has renewed its link with the mystery of its origin and continuity. How long and deep are the memories which that reunion evokes."

Evidence of the power of identity and ideological elements when they reemerge after long periods is found in the reactions of many Israelis who visited the Wall soon after its capture. Israeli scholar, Arthur Hertzberg wrote:

"Within hours of the conquest of the Old City, generals who had seldom, if ever, been to synagogue were disregarding snipers’ bullets and walking toward the Western Wall. They were not embarrassed to follow the time-honored custom of writing prayers on chits of paper and pushing them into the crevices of the Western Wall or of kissing its stones."

Since 1967 the Wall has become a national icon for most Israelis, the location of civil and national ceremonies, concerts, and the swearing in of elite army units. Revering the Wall, the Temple Mount and historic Jerusalem is, for most, not a matter of practicing the Jewish religion but rather an essential aspect of national identity rooted in the history and religious tradition of the Jewish people.

David Hulme


Tags: jerusalem, middle east, Dome of the Rock, identity, Old City, conflict, 1967 June War, Israeli, Palestinian, Shlomo Goren

How Economic, Legal and Security Issues Affect the Future of Jerusalem

Posted on Tue, Jan 23, 2007 @ 04:13 PM
A prosperous and peaceful Palestinian entity could only benefit both Palestinians and Israelis.

palestinian market in the old city of  Jerusalem Economic arguments against sharing Jerusalem with a future Palestinian state have no support based on present or foreseeable conditions. There is no threat to the economic growth of the Israeli economy.

Indeed, a resolution of the Jerusalem Question could only improve the economic outlook for the city, East and West, considering the influx of international funding that peace would bring, to say nothing of the boom in tourism that would also ensue.

According to Michael Dumper (Politics of Sacred Space, 154–5), under a permanent-status agreement the projected annual number of guests in Jerusalem would rise from 1 million to about 2 million, and overnight stays from about 3 million to 5 million. Shimon Peres has argued for many years that an economically prosperous Palestinian entity could only benefit both Palestinians and Israelis.

It makes sense that, as Ira Sharkansky has noted, “the motive forces of Jerusalem policymaking are more likely to be national and religious than a seeking-after economic advantage” (Governing Jerusalem, Again on The World’s Agenda, 17).

As to legal reasons for the impasse over the city, the issues are more complex, and as several authorities have pointed out, there is no simple answer to them on either side. However, the baseline for final negotiations with respect to certain key legal issues regarding Jerusalem has been set. In the 1993 Declaration of Principles, both sides agreed to be bound by UN resolutions 242 and 338.

Resolution 242 (22 November 1967) speaks to the situation between Israel and the Arab states following the 1967 war. It mentions the inadmissibility of acquiring territory by war, and the need for a just and lasting peace with security for all states within recognized borders in the region. It calls on Israel to withdraw from territory acquired in the 1967 war and for the Arab states to cease from hostility with all other states in the region.

Resolution 338 (21–2 October 1973) addresses the situation between Israel and the Arab states following the 1973 war. It calls for a cease-fire and the end of all military activity, and for the belligerents to put Resolution 242 into effect and find a just and durable peace. The May 2003 “roadmap” to ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, proposed by the Quartet (UN, U.S., E.U. and Russia), also acknowledges the force of Resolution 1397 (12 March 2002), which recalls the two above resolutions and states the intention of the UN to press for renewal of the peace process and cessation of violence, recognizing the efforts of the Quartet and Saudi Arabia to resolve the conflict.

For many, security concerns would seem to be the main stumbling block in coming to agreement over Jerusalem’s future. Security is normally defined in terms of external security, internal security and public order. The latter is usually a matter of police control over crime in the public sphere. However, both external security, in terms of attack from outside Israel, and internal security, in terms of terrorist activity within Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, are the concern of the IDF.

Israel’s use of the IDF to counter the First and Second Intifadas has placed the army, rather than the police, at the center of public order issues in and around Jerusalem. Thus one possible explanation for Israeli intransigence over resolving the Jerusalem Question is guaranteeing its external and internal security. The security of Jerusalem and its environs is a logical concern for all parties involved in the city’s daily life.

The significance of the Old City as a center of worship for multiple faiths carries security implications because of the possibility of clashes between visitors to the various religious sites. While public order has usually been the issue in such cases, events of the past thirty years have demonstrated the vulnerability and volatility of the area encompassing the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Since the Israelis took possession of the Old City in 1967, they have often stated that they will provide adequate security and freedom of access to the holy places for adherents of all faiths. The statement is made whenever there is a suggestion that sovereignty over the holy sites should be shared with others. But this response does not appear to be based on security needs.

An argument for intractability on the part of Israel based on security concerns appears to have little merit. As the single most powerful entity in the Middle East, supported by the United States, Israel is fully capable of defending herself from attack within Jerusalem’s present or foreseeable boundaries.

Image: Jill Granberg. Flickr

Tags: jerusalem, middle east, conflict, israel, Palestine, Israeli, Palestinian

Identity and Ideology vis-à-vis Palestine

Posted on Thu, Dec 21, 2006 @ 04:23 PM

The Jerusalem Question is on the lips of, among others, Moroccans, Iraqis, Iranians and Turks, to say nothing of “the Trio”—Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia—and “the Quartet”—the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia

Over the past century, not only have Palestinians and Zionists fought on Palestine’s terrain of battle, but so have Turks, British and Jordanians. Each has had reason to invest itself in the region.

Whether it was early-twentieth-century fading Ottoman imperial intent, energetic colonialism in the case of the British Mandate (1922–1948), the de facto division of land between Israel and Jordan under their 1948 armistice agreement, or Israeli retention of the territorial spoils of the 1967 war, each power has expressed aspects of its own identity and ideology vis-à-vis Palestine.

The Palestinians still seek to express their identity by establishing a state where international justice, recognition of their historic property claims and accommodation of some refugees’ right of return can be achieved. But their conflict with the Israelis has now become centered on one essential square kilometer—the Old City of Jerusalem—within which lie the ancient symbols and trophies of these now opposing identities.

Reserved for final-status negotiations, Jerusalem, with its core historical and religious elements, constitutes a potential deal-breaker. Outside the immediate Israeli-Palestinian orbit, the Jerusalem Question is on the lips of, among others, Moroccans, Iraqis, Iranians and Turks, to say nothing of “the Trio”—Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia—and “the Quartet”—the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia.

Medieval Christians placed the city at the center of their spiritual lives because the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches sanctified physical Jerusalem. As a result, and in the absence of geographic knowledge and appropriate technology, their maps showed Jerusalem at the center of the globe. A separate, earlier tradition also named it the omphalos, or navel, of the world, and yet another, the birthplace of the cosmos.

Mirroring these conceptions in some ways, the modern world seems to have returned to such images, and Jerusalem has become once more the center of the world’s attention

(to be continued).

Tags: jerusalem, middle east, israel, Palestine

The Middle East

Posted on Mon, Dec 18, 2006 @ 04:27 PM
Conflicting passions invite the luxury of lazy generalizations

The Middle East is a region whose enduring and conflicting passions invite the luxury of lazy generalizations. But sooner or later most who study the extraordinary complexity and nuance of its modern history and politics come to the conclusion that its problems are not given to simple solutions.

Part of the reason, they learn, is that for thousands of years the people of the Middle East have suffered the almost constant imposition of outside power and outside ideas. Yet within the Gordian knot of alternative histories and contending claims in the broad sweep of its lands from North Africa to Saudi Arabia to Iran, Iraq and Turkey, there are core issues that may respond to fresh analysis in the search for solutions.

For example, the apparent intractability of the Middle East’s most vexing problem may be illuminated when examined through the familiar though underutilized prism of identity studies. According to Shibley Telhami and Michael Barnett, “No student of Middle Eastern international politics can begin to understand the region without taking into account the ebb and flow of identity politics” (Identity and Foreign Policy in the Middle East).

The contemporary heart of the region’s great geographic and cultural arc is the center of the more-than-100-year conflict between the Arabs and the Zionists. Henry Kissinger has characterized the conflict as an anachronism—a seventeenth-century-style religious war three hundred years too late.

Europe’s last religious war spanned thirty years (1618–1648); though the Arab-Zionist conflict has lasted much longer, its vicious dynamic relies on similar intransigent attitudes and approaches. And while the conflict has religious elements, the Palestinian and Israeli people of the early twenty-first century are caught up in not so much a religious war but more precisely a clash of two personal and collective identities (to be continued).

Tags: middle east, identity, crisis, conflict