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Update – 16 September 2009

Posted by Emily Chrapot on 16 September at 4:35pm:

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Two days ago we were saddened by the tragic news that Captain Asaf Ramon was killed in a crash while flying an Israeli Air Force F 16-A during a routine training flight on Sunday afternoon. Asaf was the son Ilan Ramon z”l, Israel’s first astronaut and one of seven crew members killed when the U.S Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry on 1 February 2003. For more information and for a short biography of Asaf’s life, please click here.

Our local newspapers also covered the story. Please read Jason Koutsoukis’ offering from the Age entitled ‘Israelis grieve as son follows father in tragedy’ and ‘Israel mourns death of space hero’s son’ from the Australian.

The sad reality for all Israelis is that they are a nation that has grown up with the continual grief for fallen soldiers. But the story of the Ramon family seems to have struck a particular cord with the Israeli public, who experienced the very highs of sending their first citizen into space and the lowest of lows upon hearing of Ilan’s death 6 years ago. The public watched as Asaf followed in his father’s footsteps, excelling in his pilot’s course and receiving his wings just a few months ago. Perhaps Prime Minister Netanyahu put it most succinctly when he said, “it is rare that a private tragedy pierces the heart of the nation with such strength. Today we all grieve the death of Asaf, who fell from the heavens like his father Ilan.”

President Shimon Peres eulogized Ramon by saying, “Today we are all Ramons. You will return to the photos in the father’s albums… especially to the memories, the moments of glory in space and in the sky, and to the breaking points in the skies of Texas and the Hebron Hills. Our broken hearts are with you in every tear, every smile-sparking memory, and every moment of wrenching pain. Consolation is far away but there are things to be proud of, and there are things to hope for.” (see more)

At the funeral, Ilan Ramon’s widow and Asaf’s mother Rona Ramon said, “You’ve left me in a trap. Ilan, I know that now you are watching him but I wanted him here a little longer.”

Yesterday’s Australian also carried a story by Mid-East correspondent John Lyons entitled ‘US envoy set to pressure Abbas’, which talks about US envoy George Mitchell’s plan to put pressure on Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to meet with US President Barack Obama and PM Netanyahu next week in New York.

One of the main sticking points for Abbas is that he has publicly stated that he will not meet with Netanyahu until Netanyahu completely freezes settlement expansion in the West Bank. According to yesterday’s article Netanyahu was expected to offer a six month moratorium on expansion (after sneaking through the approval of 455 new units last week), and Mitchell is going to put pressure on Abbas to accept this condition and move forward with negotiations.

Two problems appear to have arisen. The first is that Netanyahu and Mitchell could not agree to the length of this proposed freeze (see more). In article in today’s Australian, Lyons reports that Netanyahu stated to foreign affairs and defence committee of the Knesset that, “There will not be a complete settlement construction freeze in Judea or Samaria (West Bank)… We informed (the US) that we could not do this and would continue to build 2500 housing units whose construction has already begun” (see more).

The second issue is that most Fatah and Hamas people have made it clear that they should accept nothing short of a complete freeze on settlements.

President Peres secretly met with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat urging him to get Abbas to go. It was reported that he said, “This opportunity must not be allowed to pass”. He conveyed to Erekat that he thought it would be possible for the two sides to at least agree on a number of short term issues.

In a new section of the Australian newspaper, titled the World Commentary section, John Lyons put forward his own perspective on the situation last week. In an article entitled, ‘Israel PM offers the best chance of peace’ Lyon’s attempts to neatly solve the entire issue by saying, “Israel needs to acknowledge that if it wants long-term security it can’t keep rolling bulldozers and settlements across land that is not theirs; Fatah needs to acknowledge that Israel has a right to exist, and Hamas needs to renounce violence, stop firing rockets at kindergartens in southern Israel, and for the sake of the desperate 1.5 million Gazans, join with Fatah to form a unity government”.

It may seem harsh and according to separate narratives not entirely accurate, but by stating the obvious, Lyons actually makes a great deal of sense. I look forward to the day when all of these hopes can become a reality, though it is clearly more complex than that.

Yesterday the much anticipated “Goldstone Report” was released, which was a fact-finding mission on the Gaza Conflict in January. While both the Israelis and the Palestinians have been accused of actions amounting to war crimes, it is particularly critical of Israel’s role. The Israelis have reacted by stating that it presents an unjust “equivalence of a democratic state with a terror organisation” (see more). Please read ‘Israel’s analysis and comments on the Gaza Fact-Finding Mission Report’ from MFA. For more information on Israel’s reaction, see here and here. I will send out a more detailed analysis next week.

In the meantime, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has launched a special website which provides factual information addressing the legal and political context of the conflict in Gaza, the issue of Gaza war crimes, the issue of human rights and the investigations into the Israeli military conduct during combat. Please see ‘Gaza Facts – The Israeli Perspective’.

Finally, I would like to wish you all a Sweet and Happy New Year.

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