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How Israel is trying to enforce gag orders beyond its borders

At Israel’s request, Twitter is blocking Israelis from viewing certain tweets published overseas. Similar take-down notices have been sent to other international online platforms, the Justice Ministry confirms.

Israeli authorities are taking steps to block their own citizens from reading materials published online in other countries, including the United States.

The Israeli State Attorney’s Office Cyber Division has sent numerous take-down requests to Twitter and other media platforms in recent months, demanding that they remove certain content, or block Israeli users from viewing it.

In an email viewed by +972, dated August 2, 2016, Twitter’s legal department notified American blogger Richard Silverstein that the Israeli State Attorney claimed a tweet of his violates Israeli law. The tweet in question had been published 76 days earlier, on May 18. Silverstein has in the past broken stories that Israeli journalists have been unable to report due to gag orders, including the Anat Kamm case.

Without demanding that he take any specific action, Twitter asked Silverstein to let its lawyers know, “if you decide to voluntarily remove the content.” The American blogger, who says he has not stepped foot in any Israeli jurisdiction for two decades, refused, noting that he is not bound by Israeli law. Twitter is based in California.

Two days later, Twitter sent Silverstein a follow-up email, informing him that it was now blocking Israeli users from viewing the tweet in question. Or in Twitter-talk, “In accordance with applicable law and our policies, Twitter is now withholding the following Tweet(s) in Israel.”

The tweet is still available from American and non-Israeli IP addresses, but viewed from Israel, it looks like this:
Richard Silverstein tweet

Because I am writing this from Israel, I am legally forbidden from telling you what Silverstein’s original tweet said. I can’t even tell you the specific legal reason why I can’t tell you what I can’t tell you.

What I can say is that as the use of military censorship in Israel has become less common and less sweeping over the years, authorities are increasingly using court gag orders to control the flow...

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The Black Lives Matter platform: How the Jewish community got distracted by one word

While numerous major Jewish organizations and leaders have remained silent, many in the U.S. Jewish community have been thrown for a loop by black American solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, and the terminology that sometimes includes.

The Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 50 organizations representing black Americans, published a comprehensive platform this week that addresses the systemic racism, violence, oppression and discrimination faced by their communities.

The document, which is not shy in declaring that not all of its needs can be addressed with policy, also includes six policy briefs — End the War on Black People, Reparations, Invest-Divest, Economic Justice, Community Control, and Political Power — that include diagnoses and prescriptions aimed at making tangible and attainable change in the short term.

The 37,000-word Movement for Black Lives (MBL) document outlines one of the most important issues facing the United States today and how to address it. However, a number of Jewish and pro-Israel individuals and organizations took issue with one sentence, or to be more specific, one word: genocide.

In the policy brief on the need to cut military expenditures — both to end American-funded injustices overseas, but also to redirect billions of dollars to “domestic infrastructure and social programs to meet the needs of Black people and working class communities within the U.S.” — the MBL document states that the United States government, through its funding of the Israeli military and arms industry, “is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.”

A number of Jewish and Israel-related individuals and organizations in the U.S. responded with everything from outrage to disappointment to silence. T’ruah, a coalition of rabbis committed to acting on human rights, published a statement saying it agrees with most of the MBL platform but at the same time calls out its use of the term “genocide” in relation to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and rejects its endorsement of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

“While we agree with many of the policy recommendations, we are extremely dismayed at the decision to refer to the Israeli occupation as genocide,” the T’ruah statement read, adding that while it is committed to ending the occupation, “there is no basis for comparing this situation to the genocides of the 20th century, such as those in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, or Armenia, or the Nazi Holocaust in Europe, each of which constituted a calculated plan to destroy specific groups, and each...

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Almost a year later, Israel still refuses to return Palestinian bodies

Palestinian rights groups call decision to hold onto the bodies of 13 Palestinian attackers and alleged attackers a ‘violation of the right to dignity.’ Since beginning of recent wave of violence, over 220 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli security forces.

For 300 days Israel has been holding onto the frozen body of Tha’er Abu Ghazaleh, one of 13 East Jerusalem Palestinian attackers and alleged attackers whose bodies Israeli authorities, since October, are refusing to return to their families for burial.

In mid-October 2015, the Israeli security cabinet decided to stop its practice of returning bodies immediately to the deceased’s families. The rationale was that large funerals might lead to public disorder. The ban only exists in Jerusalem. The bodies of West Bank attackers have been returned to their families for burial.

Israeli police committed to returning the bodies as part of a deal reached on the sidelines of a High Court case in early May, which was supposed to be completed by the start of Ramadan a month later.

Before the deal could be fully implemented, however, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan ordered a halt to the transfers after only four bodies were handed over, accusing one family of reneging on the terms that sought to limit the number of attendees at the funeral.

In the latest hearing on the matter, Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered the state to explain by August 15 why it still insists on holding onto the bodies.

Since the beginning of the latest round of violence in September 2015, 36 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in stabbings, shootings, and vehicular attacks, while 223 Palestinians have been shot dead by the army or police during attacks, suspected attacks and in demonstrations.

Many accuse Israeli authorities of extrajudicial killings of Palestinian attackers and suspected attackers, deliberately using deadly force when non-lethal methods of neutralizing and apprehending suspects might be available. In at least one case, a soldier was filmed shooting a disarmed, prone Palestinian attacker in the head. He is currently on trial.

In a letter to European Union officials last week, a coalition of Palestinian rights groups described the current Israeli policy as “political intransigence rather than a concern for public security.”

“According to [international human rights law], failing to return the bodies of the deceased is a violation, inter alia, of the right to dignity, freedom of religion, and the right to practice one’s culture,” wrote the rights groups,...

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Authorities start process of replacing Bedouin town with a Jewish one

Israel moved the residents to the plot of land they lives on today. Decades later, the state wants to displace them again — to build a Jewish town on the ruins of their homes.

Israeli police detained five people Sunday protesting the impending displacement of Umm el-Hiran, an “unrecognized” Bedouin village in southern Israel on top of which authorities plan to build a Jewish town, named Hiran.

Among the detainees were youths from the village, and former Rabbis for Human Rights president Rabbi Arik Ascherman. All of the detainees were released late Sunday night. Another woman was hospitalized for injuries she sustained from police.

Police arrived with a tractor and several surveyors to the village on Sunday in order to start building a fence adjacent to the Bedouin villagers’ homes, presumably in order to begin construction of the Jewish town meant to replace them.

Umm el-Hiran is one of dozens of so-called “unrecognized villages,” in which approximately 100,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel live without electricity, water, and other basic services the state refuses to provide.

Here is a quick summary of this history of Umm el-Hiran: Long before the establishment of the State of Israel, members of the Abu Qi’an family lived in an area called Khirbet Zubaleh.

In 1956, the Israeli military government forcibly moved the Qi’an family to the location where they live today. (Their former land was given to Kibbutz Shoval as agricultural land.)

This forced land “swap” is well documented in state archives, but despite the fact that the Qi’an family was settled in its current location by the state itself, its homes have never been connected to the electricity or water grids.

Last year Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the state can change its mind and take back the land it gave to the al-Qi’an family. In place of their current village, Umm el-Hiran, from which they are to be expelled, a new township for religious Jews will be established.

For the past few years, Jewish Hiran’s future residents have been waiting for their new homes at an encampment in the adjacent forest of Yatir.

“The government has no problem with Jewish citizens living on this property – so why should they have a problem with us?” Raed Abu al-Qi’an, a resident and activist from the village, told +972 last year. “They allow rural communities to be built for Jews across the...

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A creative Palestinian answer to Israeli checkpoints

The Israeli army has placed barricades at the entrances to Palestinian villages and towns in recent weeks. One crane operator figured out a way to help out stranded motorists.

The Israel army has been utilizing collective punishment against entire Palestinian cities and villages in recent months as a response to a wave of attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers.

One of the most common tactics, in addition to demolishing attackers’ families’ homes, is to seal off entire villages for a few days or longer after an attack.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been at various times over the past few weeks unable to leave their villages, towns and cities for work, school, travel, family visits, medical care.

Of course, as American industrialist Henry Kaiser once said, “problems are only opportunities in work clothes.” If you happen to have access to industrial equipment, that is.

One truck-mounted crane operator decided to help out stranded motorists by lifting cars over the Israeli military barrier blocking the entrance to a southern West Bank town in the Hebron area. (It’s not clear which.)

According to several news outlets, the crane operator was charging NIS 30 to move a car from one side of the barrier to the other. +972 could not immediately verify that detail, however.

The photo above was posted by a Facebook page called City of Hebron, which appears to be run by Radio Shabab.

To learn more about Israel’s use of collective punishment in recent months, read Amjad Iraqi’s analysis of the practice, which he describes as a national addiction.

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New Israeli law seeks to expel ‘misbehaved’ Arab parliamentarians

Plenty of democratic countries have mechanisms for de-seating elected representatives, but those countries don’t have rich histories of trying to ban politicians of one ethnic group. And their laws weren’t designed to target specific unpopular politicians.

On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with the “Expulsion Law” passed by Israel’s Knesset early Wednesday morning. Lots of other parliaments have mechanisms for expelling elected representatives. In the U.S. Congress, all you need is a two-thirds majority vote determining that a member is guilty of “disorderly behavior.”

What is wrong with Israel’s new law is that it targets one particular parliamentarian and her party — who just happen to be elected representatives of Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

According to the new law, 70 (out of 120 members of Knesset, including 10 from the opposition) may ask a parliamentary committee to determine whether a specific member of parliament has incited to racism, or supported an armed struggle, terrorist organization or enemy against the State of Israel. The law does not define what “support” means. After the committee makes its decision, 90 MKs can then vote to expel the offending member.

Supporting a terrorist organization, supporting an armed struggle against the state, supporting the state’s enemies, and incitement to racism are all already criminal offenses under Israeli law. Furthermore, under existing Israeli law, an elected member of Knesset already loses their position if they are convicted of such a crime. So why the new law?

Under the new “Expulsion Law” a member of Knesset does not need to be convicted in a criminal court to be expelled. The high bar set by criminal law, proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, does not exist when a member of Knesset is “tried” by other politicians in a Knesset committee. Such committees can rule however they choose, and often do so along partisan, political, and in this case, ethnic and religious lines.

No burden of proof exists because nothing needs to be proved — just decided. Or in even clearer terms, the new law turns the most serious question of whether an elected representative of the people can be expelled from their position into an act of partisan, political showmanship.

The law’s proponents argue that the high bar it sets (90 MKs must vote to expel another member of Knesset) means that it is almost un-usable.

History teaches us otherwise.

The “Expulsion Law” was written specifically to target and remove from office MK Haneen Zoabi and her entire Balad Party (an...

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PHOTOS: Palestinians of Susya return to village they were expelled from

North American and European activists from the Center for Jewish Non-Violence accompany the Palestinian residents of Susya to the site of their former village, from which they were expelled three decades ago.

A group of American and European Jews on Thursday accompanied Palestinian residents of Susya to the former site of their village, from which they were expelled 30 years ago and which today is an Israeli-administered archeological park.

Many of the 80 Palestinian residents of Susya who took the trip on Thursday had never been back to the site of their former village, where much of the older generation was born and raised. Some of the younger boys and girls had never seen the caves in which their parents grew up, despite living only a few hundred meters away.

Once at the site, after exploring some of the caves in which their families once lived, the two groups gathered outside the ancient synagogue at the site. Addressing both the foreign Jewish activists, from the Center for Jewish Non-Violence, and their own children and grandchildren, elder Palestinians from Susya began telling their stories — the stories of their lives and births, of who lived in which cave and which home, and the story of their dispossession.

To the surprise of most, not a single police officer or soldier arrived to stop the group from entering and touring the site. The Jewish activists had purchased tickets in advance for both the Palestinians and themselves, but did not tell the park administrators that Palestinians would be a part of the group.

Two park employees eventually followed the group around but did little more than count the number of visitors. When asked by +972 whether other groups of Palestinians had ever been allowed inside the site before, one employee responded with only: “I’m new here.”

+972 plans to bring you more on this tour and other direct actions in Palestine by the Center for Jewish Non-Violence in the coming days and weeks.

The Israeli army first demolished the village of Khirbet Susya, deep in the desolate south Hebron Hills, three decades ago, on the grounds that it was located on a biblical site. Susya’s Palestinian residents, many of whom lived in caves on the site for generations, packed up and moved a few hundred meters away, onto adjacent agricultural land they own.

The IDF, which as the occupying power controls nearly every aspect of Palestinians’...

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Gaza farmers demand IDF compensation for herbicide spraying

The Israeli army sprayed herbicides in the Gaza Strip late last year, causing damage to hundreds of acres of Palestinian farmland. Now the farmers want an investigation — and compensation. 

A number of Palestinian farmers are demanding compensation from the State of Israel for damage their crops and land sustained as a result of the IDF aerially spraying herbicides inside the Gaza Strip last year, a practice first confirmed by +972 Magazine.

In late December, the IDF confirmed to +972 that it used crop-dusters to kill off vegetation — and perhaps inadvertently, agricultural crops — inside the Gaza Strip. No other Israeli media outlet had reported on the practice at the time.

“The aerial spraying of herbicides and germination inhibitors was conducted in the area along the border fence in order to enable optimal and continuous security operations,” a military spokesperson said in December.

According to Palestinian officials, over 420 acres of land were damaged by that round of spraying.

In a letter to Israeli military officials on behalf of Ibrahim Abu Ta’aymeh, a spinach farmer from Khan Younis, three Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups detailed NIS 11,400 (nearly $3,000) in damages.

The rights groups, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, are demanding an investigation and monetary compensation on behalf of Abu Ta’aymeh.

A letter like the one sent by the legal organizations, is the first step if one plans to file a more formal lawsuit.

Abu Ta’aymeh’s spinach crops, on plot of land adjacent to the border that he has been farming for 12 years, is his family’s sole source income. His crops were reportedly damaged two months prior to the incident reported by +972, in October 2015.

“The Israeli military’s aerial spraying of herbicides constitutes a violation of both Israeli constitutional and administrative law, as well as of international humanitarian and human rights laws,” Adalah said in a statement Monday, citing international legal obligations to protect civilian and humanitarian interests, and to respect the right of civilians to food.

The three human rights groups have also sent Israeli authorities letters of complaint on behalf of seven additional Gaza farmers and landowners who also suffered damage from IDF spraying of herbicides.

The IDF has for years imposed a lethal no-go buffer zone along the...

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Why Egypt's FM came to Israel, and why you shouldn't get too excited

Recent interest — by all sides — in reviving the Arab Peace Initiative presents a new window of opportunity. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves as long as Benjamin Netanyahu is in charge.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry came to Israel on Sunday to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu about the Palestinian peace process, the first such visit in nearly 10 years.

Egypt, which until the 2011 revolution was a regular partner in American-led peace efforts, appears to be making a move to reassert its leadership in the region, and perhaps take advantage of a temporary vacuum of American leadership all but guaranteed by the upcoming presidential elections.

Recent months have seen a reinvigorated interest in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API) — the Arab League’s offer to Israel of normalized relations if Israel simply adopts the widely accepted parameters of a two-state solution (and withdraws from the Golan Heights).

And while Netanyahu and company have long sought to flip the API on its head, by normalizing ties with Arab states prior to making peace with the Palestinians, an approach the Arab world has flatly rejected, it is still very noteworthy that the Israeli prime minister has nonetheless been discussing the Saudi-led framework with increasing frequency. Early this summer, the Quartet (the U.S., EU, UN and Russia) all but endorsed the API as the best path for revisiting peacemaking efforts.

So what is happening in Jerusalem and Cairo? As the only Arab heavyweight to have diplomatic ties with Israel, Egypt is the only regional power positioned to reach out and hear exactly how far Israel is actually willing to go. That could indicate a post-Paris concerted effort to try and create some momentum around the API, or it could just be another Egyptian effort to reassert its regional leadership after half a decade of instability and debilitating regime changes.

The other factor is that Israel long hoped the mutual threat of an Iranian nuclear program would create opportunities for an alliance with Arab states in a way that allowed it to side-stepped the Palestinian issue. With the Iranian nuclear threat all but neutralized, it could be that Netanyahu is beginning to re-examine his calculus of Israeli interests and his strategy for finding a place for Israel in the region.

The API banked on the idea that the Arab offer of acceptance in the Middle East...

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Telling the stories of Gaza's 'obliterated families'

A new project uses heartbreaking photos, text and video to tell the stories of the Palestinian families who lost more than three members in the 2014 Gaza war, the stories of their lives, their deaths and the survival of those left behind.

There is no shortage of numbers and statistics that are cited in telling, reporting on and remembering periods of war and violence. Often times certain wars come to be represented by numbers. The number of killed, wounded displaced. The number of homes damaged or destroyed. The number of days that the bombs fell, the number of days since they stopped.

It goes without saying that people are not numbers. One innovative and touching writing project in the Gaza Strip, We Are Not Numbers, aims to take those numbers, the way that so much of the world views far-off conflict, and recapture the human narratives they represent.

But photojournalists Anne Paq and Ala Qandil were haunted by one specific number about the 2014 Gaza war. One hundred and forty-two. The 142 families that lost three or more members. Obliterated families.

Paq, who as a member of the Activestills photography collective helped cover the 2014 war for +972 Magazine, met some of the families and their survivors before and during the war. In return visits over the past two years, she has met with 50 such families. Together with Qandil and other Palestinian journalists, the pair launched a multimedia web project on Friday, using photos, in-depth text, animations, infographics, short videos, and design elements to tell their stories.

(View the project at obliteratedfamilies.com)

The Kilani family of Beit Lahiya lost 11 members on July 21, 2014. Ibrahim al-Kilani, an architect who lived in Germany for 20 years before moving back to Gaza, was killed along with his wife and five children in the bombing of the Salam residential tower in Gaza City. They had sought shelter there after being told by the Israeli military to leave their own home.

Ibrahim and all five children were German nationals. He is survived by two children from an earlier marriage who still live in Berlin.

The area of the online project dedicated to the Kilani family powerfully combines photographs, video and text to tell the story of Ibrahim and his family, from tales of childhood games hiding in orchards from Israeli warplanes in the 1960s,...

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Israelis don't get to hold a referendum on Palestine

A recent poll found that if there were a Brexit-style referendum over whether to maintain Israeli control over the West Bank, most Israelis would choose ‘remain.’ But is that up to Israelis to decide?

If there were a referendum in Israel about whether to “leave” the West Bank — while holding onto most of the settlements — only 41 percent of Israelis would vote “leave.” If you narrow that down to Israel’s Jewish citizens, a mere 36 percent would vote “leave,” according to June’s Peace Index poll, published by the Israel Democracy Institute earlier this week.

And who would have a say in such a referendum? Well, the “Peace Index” pollsters only asked Jewish Israelis that question. Just over 50 percent of them said all Israeli citizens should get a vote, 44 percent said only Jews should have a say.

The framing of the question and those allowed to answer it — of whether or not the Israeli army should continue occupying 2.5 million Palestinians — along religious lines is an apt metaphor for the power dynamics at play in the conflict.

The Palestinians aren’t given any agency in their own future. And that’s true not only of the Palestinians living under Israel’s military regime in the West Bank; the idea of disenfranchising Palestinian citizens of Israel is also presented as an entirely legitimate idea.

The pollsters reveal through the phrasing of the question that it is inspired by the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom last month. In that poll, UK citizens were asked whether they want to leave the EU. Let me repeat that, the citizens of the UK were asked to decide their own fate.

Similarly, Scotland held a referendum a year and a half earlier on whether to secede from the United Kingdom. In that vote, Scottish citizens — and Scottish citizens alone — were allowed to decide the fate of their country: who their rulers would be, what their constitution would look like, and under what flag they should live. Citizens of England, Wales and Northern Ireland had no say in the matter.

Palestinians, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of deciding their own fate in a referendum.

Another, perhaps more troubling question asked by the “Peace Index” pollsters, was about the participants’ preferred outcome of Israel’s control over the West Bank. Almost 55 percent of the Jewish respondents chose a situation that...

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How Israel is turning anti-occupation activists into dissidents

Israel is seeing a worrying resurgence of attempts to curtail and suppress dissent, particularly among anti-occupation and human rights activists. That process does not take place in a vacuum.

[Updated July 12, 2016]

Israel’s parliament passed the so-called “NGO Law” Monday night, a piece of legislation meant to stigmatize left-wing and human rights organizations in Israel as agents of foreign powers.

The law singles out non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive the majority of their funding from foreign state entities (friendly European governments), and compels them to prominently declare their foreign funding in any publication or public engagement such as media appearances or events.

The law is not intended to create more transparency; Israel already has very strict transparency laws and regulations. Furthermore, the vast majority of the organizations in question already list their sources of funding on their own websites and report the information to the government, which also makes it available online.

The intended effect of the NGO Law is to send a dangerous and stifling message to the Israeli public. The message it sends is that the values espoused and advanced by these organizations — like B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, and others — do not exist organically in Israel; lawmakers are saying that the values of human rights and opposing the occupation are being imposed on Israel from the outside-in, and only for the malicious purposes of harming the Jewish state, its citizens and its global image. (Of 27 organizations believed to be affected by the law, 25 were found to be left-wing or human rights groups. Full disclosure, my wife serves as legal advisor for several organizations that will be affected by the law.)

Earlier this year, Im Tirtzu, a radical right-wing organization with ties to the Israeli government, launched a campaign accusing prominent Israeli human rights organizations and their staff of being foreign-planted “moles,” citing the funding they receive from friendly European countries. The campaign even suggested that the “moles,” some of the country’s most prominent activists, were responsible for Palestinian stabbing attacks.

On another front, Culture Minister Miri Regev has been working for several years to curtail political dissent in the arts. Last month Regev sent questionnaires to artists asking them whether they perform in West Bank settlements, the first step in cutting funding on the basis of political...

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Nobody is coming to end the occupation, part two

Israel’s response to the Quartet’s ‘recommendation’ that it halt settlement expansion makes one thing perfectly clear: Netanyahu has fully internalized that nobody is coming to end the occupation.

The Quartet on Friday released a long-awaited report on … well, actually, nobody is really sure what it is about or why it was written. In fact, it’s not really clear what the Quartet is aside from a grouping of countries and international institutions that once upon a time endorsed a peace plan that never got off the ground (George W. Bush’s Roadmap for Peace).

The Quartet report did not say anything new. It simply repeated the same condemnations we’ve heard for over a decade — condemnations of settlements and settlement construction, violence, incitement to violence, and the need for both sides to take steps to “advance[e] the two-state solution on the ground.”

Equally predictable were the reactions the report drew from Israeli and Palestinian leaders alike. Neither side was particularly thrilled, primarily because the report’s authors, quite understandably, focused on their respective unflattering sides.

Rinse and repeat

So what is the point of spending months crafting a 3,500-word document that regurgitates the same things everyone has been saying for the past decade?

The U.S. State Department offered the following lackluster explanation. “These are legitimate recommendations that we believe are valid and still believe can help – if enacted, if adopted, if pursued – get closer to a two-state solution,” spokesperson John Kirby said.

What were the recommendations? In short: both sides should de-escalate tensions and reduce violence; Israeli should cease settlement activity and permit Palestinian development in the West Bank; Israel should lift its siege on Gaza; and the Palestinians should establish a single government that controls both the West Bank and Gaza.

“That many of those recommendations – most of them – are ones that we have made in the past or we have talked about before – not just us, but other members of the Quartet – I think should come as no surprise to anyone,” Kirby added.

That is a dangerous situation. By repeating the same tired “recommendations” ad nauseum for over a decade, and without laying out any consequences or next steps, the conglomerate of world powers known as the Quartet is broadcasting a depressingly clear message —nobody is coming to end the occupation.

That’s not news, of course. (See my identically titled article from late...

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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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