December 2008

Of the three politicians who announced the military assault on Gaza to the world on Saturday, perhaps only the outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert has little to lose – or gain – from its outcome. Flanking the Israeli prime minister were two of the main contenders for his job: Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and the new leader of Mr Olmert’s centrist party, Kadima, and Ehud Barak, the defence minister and leader of the left-wing Labor Party. The attack on Gaza may make or break this pair’s political fortunes.

The population of Jewish settlers in the West Bank is not only growing at three times the rate of the Jewish population in Israel, but they are happier, healthier and wealthier than other Israelis, according to a new survey. The poll reveals that, far from being as embattled as media reports suggest, the half million settlers are in fact enjoying a boom time in the occupied territory.

Jewish peace groups have accused the Israeli police of fuelling racism by cancelling a “Jewish Pride” march by a far-right group that was to have taken place through one of the largest Arab towns in Israel. The police postponed the march, which was due to take place on Monday, claiming they had evidence extremist residents of Umm al Fahm in northern Israel would open fire on the marchers and police. “There was a real danger that lives could be lost,” said a police spokesman, adding that the decision to ban the march would be reassessed in two weeks.

Tzipi Livni, the woman leading the ruling Kadima party into Israel’s forthcoming elections, stoked anger in the region last week when she warned that a peace deal would put the future of the country’s 1.2 million Palestinian citizens inside Israel in doubt. Speaking to a group of Jewish schoolchildren in Tel Aviv, she said: “When the Palestinian state is created, I will be able to go to Palestinian citizens, who we call Israeli Arabs, and say to them – you are residents with equal rights, but your national solution is in another place.”

The Human Rights Association with its 20-year record of exposing Israeli policies that discriminate against the country’s 1.2 million Arab citizens is facing imminent closure as major funders withdraw money in what some observers believe may be a co-ordinated policy to silence Israel’s harshest “critics from within”. The association, one of the most prominent of several leading Arab rights organisations, is attracting the opposition of international charitable foundations concerned with promoting democracy in Israel, according to the HRA’s director.

Extremist settler groups currently involved in violent confrontations with Palestinians in the center of Hebron have chosen their next battleground, this time outside the West Bank. A far-right group know as the Jewish National Front, closely associated with the Hebron settlers, is preparing to march through one of the main Arab towns in northern Israel. The march, approved by the Supreme Court back in October, is scheduled to take place on December 15, the group announced this week.

A broad coalition of Jewish lobby groups has made a series of breakthroughs this year in its campaign to link the question of justice for millions of Palestinian refugees with justice for Jews who left Arab states in the wake of Israel’s establishment 60 years ago. Referring to these Jews as the “forgotten refugees” and claiming that their plight is worse than that of exiled Palestinians, the campaign has scored political successes in recent months in Washington, London and Brussels.