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Mar. 27, 2009: Path to Peace Needs New Realism on All Sides March 27, 2009

Posted by Helena Cobban in Uncategorized.
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Analysis by Helena Cobban*

WASHINGTON, Mar 27 (IPS) – With Benjamin Netanyahu now close to announcing his government line-up in Israel, the issue of whether and how to include Hamas in Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking is moving to the top of the Middle East agenda.

On Thursday, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and eight other senior former U.S. officials issued a report that urged Pres. Barack Obama to find a way to include Hamas in the diplomacy. But how can this be done, given Washington’s longstanding prohibition on dealing with Hamas so long as it does not renounce terrorism, commit to all the previous commitments made by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and spell out it formal recognition of Israel?

One hint recently came from Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal himself. In a Mar. 18 interview with Australian journalist Paul McGeough, the Damascus-based Meshaal said, “Judge us by what we do today – not by what was written more than 20 years ago.”

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Mar. 20, 2009: Pressure Mounts on Egypt to Deliver Results March 21, 2009

Posted by Helena Cobban in Uncategorized.
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Analysis by Helena Cobban*

WASHINGTON, Mar 20 (IPS) – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak weathered the recent war in neighbouring Gaza much more successfully than many observers had expected, and after the war ended Jan. 18 he emerged as the sole mediator in negotiations over stabilising the ceasefire and other key related issues.

But now, more than two months later, Egypt’s active mediation efforts have still not delivered any of these agreements, whether on the question of the strengthened Gaza ceasefire, a big Hamas-Israel prisoner exchange, or intra-Palestinian reconciliation. With these agreements still unsecured and a more rightwing government taking over in Israel in the coming days, Gaza’s 1.5 million people remain mired in an angry misery that could yet erupt again.

The stakes are high for Mubarak, who has been a key U.S. ally in the region since he came to power 28 years ago. An important Arab summit will be held in Qatar’s capital, Doha, Mar. 29-30, at which his performance on these mediations will be one key topic discussed. Meanwhile, inside Egypt, socioeconomic unrest is rising steadily and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a close ally of Hamas, still forms the main base of opposition to Mubarak’s rule.

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Mar. 13, 2009: Even Mixed Signals Mark a Policy Shift March 13, 2009

Posted by Helena Cobban in Uncategorized.
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Analysis by Helena Cobban*

WASHINGTON, Mar 13 (IPS) – The British government has announced it will hold talks with the political wing of Lebanon’s Hizbullah. The Barack Obama administration sent two envoys to Syria to discuss steps to improve relations. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has invited Iran to take part in a conference on the future of Afghanistan.

It looks as though the United States and Britain are trying to end the policy of exclusion and – where possible – regime change that the Bush administration and its allies once vigorously pursued against Iran and its regional allies. But how far-reaching have these changes actually been, and what do they mean for the Middle East in the months ahead?

The picture is still mixed. There are many signs that the Obama administration has not yet taken any clear decisions on Middle Eastern issues other than the important decision, announced Feb. 27, that all U.S. troops would indeed – in line with last November’s Status of Forces Agreement – be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

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Mar. 6, 2009: East Jerusalem Settlements Ratchet Up Tensions March 6, 2009

Posted by Helena Cobban in Uncategorized.
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Analysis by Helena Cobban*

JERUSALEM, Mar 6 (IPS) – As the fires of human misery continue to smolder in Gaza, the situation in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem is emerging as another potentially explosive issue in, and far beyond, the Middle East.

The fate of the city is considered an issue of prime importance to both Palestinians and Israelis, as well as to their supporters around the world. Jerusalem-related tensions have sparked several earlier rounds of violence between the two peoples, including when former (and future) Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu started work on the new East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa in 1997.

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