Saturday 21 February 2009

Israel turns right to Netanyahu

21 Feb 2009

RIGHT-WINGER Benjamin Netanyahu is to form the next Israeli government and become Prime Minister, it emerged yesterday.

Even though his Likud Party lost last week’s general election by one seat to the centrist Kadima Party, President Shimon Peres has decided that Netanyahu has a better chance of forming a coalition than Kadima leader Tzipi Livni.

In a move that will put Israel on a collision course with the Obama administration, Peres confirmed that he had asked the Likud leader to build a coalition.

Netanyahu, who opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, now has six weeks to form a government amid strong pressure from the Israeli public for one of national unity.

Livni offered to rotate the premiership with Netanyahu but he refused.

Netanyahu acknowledged ‘ the need for unity’ yesterday, adding: ‘ Not for decades have we stood before such a mass of such enormous and severe challenges at one time.’

Friday 20 February 2009

Bibi poised to be chief with boost from right

Friday, February 20th 2009

BY Matthew Kalman

JERUSALEM - Hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu was poised to return as Israel's prime minister after a maverick right-winger endorsed him Thursday in the wake of the country's indecisive elections.

Israel Is Our Home, the party headed by Avigdor Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer from Moldova, won 15 of 120 Knesset parliament seats in last week's election, catapulting him into third place. With Netanyahu and centrist candidate Tzipi Livni in a dead heat, Lieberman's support for Netanyahu would tip the balance of power to Netanyahu.

Lieberman's rise has aroused concern in the U.S., where the Obama administration is trying to kick-start the peace process.

Livni's centrist Kadima Party won with 28 seats while Netanyahu came in second with 27. Livni offered a rotating premiership with Netanyahu in a broad unity coalition, but Netanyahu demanded leadership.

Both need Lieberman's support to form a coalition with a working majority. Lieberman's support for Netanyahu came with strings attached.

"We recommend Benjamin Netanyahu only in the framework of a broad government," Lieberman said.

Livni signaled that she would not join a coalition government, but President Shimon Peres summoned Netanyahu and Livni to his official residence today to urge them to set aside differences and work together.

Monday 16 February 2009

Market Meltdown and Madoff Scandal Cost Israeli Higher Education Some $250-Million

DAILY NEWS BLOG: February 16, 2009

Jerusalem — Israeli universities have lost annual income of at least $250-million — more than 10 percent of their total yearly operating budgets — because of the effect of the world economic crisis and, in particular, the investment scandal allegedly perpetrated by Bernard L. Madoff.

The Israel Council for Higher Education, the government-appointed body that oversees Israeli colleges and their budgets, has appointed a special committee headed by a former Bank of Israel governor, Moshe Mandelbaum, to assess the extent of the crisis and recommend steps to stem the losses.

Yuval Lidor, a spokesman for the Council for Higher Education, told The Chronicle that an initial assessment by Mr. Mandelbaum and his colleagues suggests that Israeli universities have lost at least $250-million from budgets that in 2007 totaled $2-billion. Mr. Lidor said that in 2007 foreign donors gave at least $175-million, of which some 70 percent was now feared lost.

“Currently, the state finances some 65 percent of the universities’ budgets, and tuition covers another 18 percent. The remainder comes from donations,” the Israeli daily Haaretz reported today.

Israeli universities’ endowment portfolios have been hit by the worldwide slump in the capital markets, reducing investment income. Funds from wealthy foreign donors also struggling with the economic downturn have dwindled to a trickle.

The Madoff scandal hit Israeli universities particularly hard because many of Mr. Madoff’s clients were Jewish and many of them regularly donated large amounts to Israeli education. Some Israeli institutions and their American fund-raising arms also invested directly with Mr. Madoff.

Hadassah, the American Women’s Zionist Organization, which supports the Hadassah-Hebrew University Hospital in Jerusalem, lost $90-million in Madoff investments. The American Technion Society, which raises funds for the Haifa Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, lost $25-million.

Mr. Lidor said the area hardest hit was university research and development, much of which is financed with foreign donations. The Chais Family Foundation, a California-based charity that gave away more than $12-million every year and was believed to be the single largest donor to Israeli universities’ R&D, was forced to close in December, after it emerged that its entire investment portfolio had been handled by Mr. Madoff and had simply disappeared. The pattern echoes events in the United States.

“No university will collapse,” said Mr. Lidor, “but we are really afraid that all R&D will be frozen.” —Matthew Kalman

Friday 13 February 2009

Tzipi Livni's party wins Israel's cliffhanger election by one seat but faces battle to form coalition government

February 13th, 2009

By Matthew Kalman

Israel was in political deadlock last night after the final votes counted from Tuesday's general election failed to change the preliminary results.

Officials confirmed that Tzipi Livni's centreist Kadima had finished as the largest party with 28 seats in parliament, but put Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud in pole position to become prime minister, even though he won only 27 seats.

Despite her being leader of the party which took most seats, Livni faces an uphill battle to form a coalition government under Israel's proportional representation system in which she must cobble together at least 61 votes in Israel's 120-seat Knesset parliament. At the moment, Livni's centre-left-Arab bloc has only 55 seats, while Netanyahu believes he has the support of at least 65 right-religious party seats.

Livni is hoping that Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the third-placed Israel Is Our Home Party, will choose her over Netanyahu.

Lieberman, a former Russian nightclub bouncer and one-time Netanyahu aide, was confirmed with 15 seats and effectively holds the balance of power.

Lieberman is committed to introducing civil marriage and divorce – a policy that Netanyahu's religious allies reject outright. He could yet upset Netanyahu's calculations and throw his lot in with Livni.

All 12 party leaders who won Knesset seats will be consulted by President Shimon Peres beginning next Wednesday, when the results are officially published. The president will take soundings and then ask whoever he thinks most likely to be able to form a government to do so.

Lieberman said yesterday he had decided who to recommend as prime minister to Peres, but would not reveal his choice.

Netanyahu, who grabbed the initiative with a tub-thumping victory speech only three hours after the polls closed on Tuesday, continued to pile the pressure on Livni to join a unity government under his leadership. He offered her two of the three top spots in a coalition, which means she would stay on in the key post of foreign minister.

'I plan to create a wide coalition and I will tell the other parties, "if you're worried about national interest, lay aside your political interests and join a government under my leadership",' he told the Haaretz newspaper.

Israeli commentators said Netanyahu hoped that Livni would provide an acceptable international fa├žade for what would effectively be a right-wing government implacably opposed to creating a Palestinian state and unable to find common voice with the new peace-seeking Obama administration in Washington.

But a senior Kadima minister said Livni might prefer to stay out of government than become Netanyahu's junior partner or fig leaf.

'We will join a Netanyahu government only if it is not an extreme right-wing government,' said Kadima's Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit. 'We are not afraid to sit in the opposition.'

The party positions remained unchanged after tallying the last few thousand votes of soldiers, the disabled, prisoners, diplomats and people in hospital. They voted at 2,361 special ballot boxes in double-sealed envelopes to prevent tampering.

Observers had expected the soldiers' votes to gain another seat for Netanyahu and his allies, but many soldiers spoiled their ballot papers by writing in the name of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped in 2006 by Hamas.

Thursday 12 February 2009

Close election has Israel in a political stall

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Jerusalem - Israel appears headed for another period of political uncertainty bordering on paralysis after a close-fought general election failed to produce a clear winner.

With only a few thousands soldiers' and diplomats' absentee ballots left to be counted today, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's center-right Kadima Party won the most seats in parliament, but former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud appeared to have the best chance of forming a governing coalition.

"Tzipi Livni has a very weak, if not negligible chance to form a government under her leadership," said Avi Diskin, professor of political science at the Hebrew University. "The chances are that a government will be formed led by the Likud, and Kadima may join it. The sooner Tzipi Livni makes that decision, the greater the returns for her and for Kadima."

But both Livni and Netanyahu have claimed victory, beginning talks with possible coalition partners.

"The people chose me in droves," Livni said Tuesday. "I feel a great responsibility to translate the power that has been given to me into action, to advance the country and to unify the people."

"The Israeli people have spoken sharp and clear. The nationalist camp, headed by Likud has won a clear majority," said Netanyahu. "With God's help, I will stand at the head of the next government."
It could take weeks

Once the official results are published on Wednesday, President Shimon Peres will begin consultations with party leaders before choosing either Livni or Netanyahu to form a government. Peres has indicated that he will announce his selection by Feb. 20. According to Israeli law, the president selects as prime minister the parliamentary member with the best chance of forming a viable coalition government. His choice then has up to six weeks to win a parliamentary vote of confidence.

With all civilian votes counted, Kadima won 28 parliamentary seats, followed by Likud with 27 and the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) with 15. In fourth place, the liberal Labor Party - for decades Israel's ruling party - recorded its worst ever result with just 13 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel's parliament. Labor's traditional left-wing partner, Meretz, eked out just three seats.

On the other hand, right-wing and religious parties did well, winning 65 seats in contrast to 55 seats for Kadima, and center-left and Arab parties. The absentee ballots yet to be counted are expected to strengthen the rightist parties by one or two seats.

The uncertain result of Tuesday's election has revived calls for an overhaul of Israel's proportional representation system, which typically fails to produce stable governments. David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, has called it "unworkable" and in need of "urgent electoral reform."

Livni, 50, who hopes to become Israel's first female prime minister since Golda Meir (1969-1974), called on Netanyahu to join a unity government under her leadership and hurried to meet with Avigdor Lieberman, the tough-talking leader of Yisrael Beiteinu who has emerged as a kingmaker and is expected to support Netanyahu.
'A clear majority'

"We want a nationalist government. We want a right-wing government," Lieberman told delighted supporters Wednesday. "The nationalist camp has won a clear majority. The rightist bloc has won a clear majority. I am pleased that we hold the key. And this key also brings with it a responsibility. And this decision will not be at all easy," he said, referring to deep divisions over religious policy with the ultraorthodox Shas party, which supports Netanyahu.

Lieberman has been accused of racism over his controversial proposals to redraw Israel's borders to push out heavily Arab areas and mandate Israel's 1.1 million Arab residents to swear loyalty to the state and perform national service or lose their right to vote and hold office. But his largely Russian constituency appears to be most concerned about ending the religious monopoly on marriage and divorce - Israel does not recognize civil marriage or divorce - a policy that Livni endorses but would be an anathema to Netanyahu and his Shas supporters.

Netanyahu's former chief of staff, Lieberman has whittled way at Likud's share of the conservative vote and now threatens to replace his ex-boss as undisputed leader of the right if he throws in with Livni's Kadima Party.
'The fact is, we won'

Knesset member Meir Shetreet, who left the Likud to help form Kadima three years ago, said his party would not join a Netanyahu-led government that would refuse to advance the peace process. Netanyahu is opposed to the creation of an independent Palestinian state, and wants to maintain Israeli control over the Jordan Valley and expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

"The fact is, we won. The last thing the country needs is a right-wing government that will bring about a freeze in the entire peace process and social, economic and diplomatic deterioration," said Shetreet.

Meanwhile, Palestinian reaction has been one of alarm at Israel's rightward shift.

In Gaza, Hamas officials accused Israel of electing "a troika of terrorists."

In the West Bank, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said "the Israeli public has voted for paralysis. I don't see how any coalition established after these elections will be able to fulfill the necessary conditions for peace."

Until a new government is in place, however, Ehud Olmert remains prime minister.

Before he leaves office, Olmert is expected to push through an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire deal with Hamas and broker a controversial exchange of 400 Hamas prisoners in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in 2006.

Israel deadlocked in election drama

12 Feb 2009

From Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

ISRAEL was politically gridlocked yesterday after its general election left the two prospective leaders both claiming victory

With only a few thousand soldiers’ and diplomats’ absentee ballots left to be counted, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima Party had the most seats in the Knesset parliament.

But right-wing former premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud still had the best chance of forming a stable coalition.

Both Livni and Netanyahu claimed victory and began talks with possible coalition partners.

‘ The Obama administration is going to inherit the worst of both worlds,’ said former U. S. mediator Aaron David Miller. ‘ It has already inherited a dysfunctional Palestinian house, made worse by Gaza, and now what it is inheriting is a dysfunctional Israeli house.’

President Shimon Peres will begin consultations with party leaders next week then give either Livni or Netanyahu a month to form a government.

With all the civilian votes counted, it looks as though Kadima has won 28 seats, Likud 27 and the ultra rightwing Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) 15.

Labour, for decades Israel’s ruling party, collapsed to its worst ever result with just 13 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

The absentee ballots are expected to strengthen the right-wing and religious parties and leave them with a total of 65 seats, compared to 55 for centre-left and Arab parties.

Livni called on Netanyahu to join a unity government under her leadership. She hurried to meet Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beitenu who has emerged as the kingmaker. He told his supporters: ‘ I am pleased we hold the key. And this key also brings with it a responsibility.

‘And this decision will not be at all easy,’ he said, referring to deep divisions over religious policy with the ultra-orthodox Shas Party, who are also supporting Netanyahu. Meanwhile, Ehud Olmert remains prime minister. He is expected to push through an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas and an exchange of 400 Hamas prisoners for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Monday 9 February 2009

Israel ready to bring back Benjamin Netanyahu in general election

9th February 2009

By Matthew Kalman

Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to return to power in Israel, a decade after his last controversial term.

Voters are expected to lurch to the Right in tomorrow's general election.

Tough-talking Mr Netanyahu, leader of the Right-wing Likud Party, is firmly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Weekend polls showed the Likud leading with about 26 seats in the 120-seat Knesset parliament and a wafer-thin advantage over foreign minister Tzipi Livni of the ruling Kadima Party.

Whoever wins in Israel's system of proportional representation must form a coalition with other parties, leaving Mr Netanyahu, 59, with the choice of a narrow Right-wing government or a broad national unity government with Kadima and Labour.

Mr Netanyahu was elected in 1996 as Israel's youngest prime minister after a wave of Hamas suicide bombings ended the election hopes of Shimon Peres, now Israel's ceremonial president.

The former commando is credited with playing a key role in opening up Israel's economy to the free market, boosting a period of strong economic growth.

But his administration was overshadowed by disputes - with the Palestinians, with the Americans, with Europe and finally with his own Right-wing coalition partners, who brought about his downfall in 1999.

Mr Netanyahu says he has 'learned from my mistakes' and has promised to do better this time round.

The only party showing a significant rise in the polls apart from Likud is Yisrael Beitenu - Israel is Our Home - led by Avigdor Lieberman, a pugnacious Russian-born former aide to Netanyahu who has been under police investigation for corruption for most of the past ten years.

The run-up to the general election has been dominated by Israel's war in Gaza, which has claimed 1,300 lives.

Two more Hamas rockets landed in Israel on Sunday despite a supposed ceasefire between Hamas and the Israelis. But it emerged last night that Israel and Hamas are on the verge of agreeing a new ceasefire. Egypt has been mediating between opposing sides, according to Egypt's foreign ministry.

Sunday 8 February 2009

Bard College and Al-Quds University to Open Joint College

February 8, 2009

JERUSALEM — Bard College in New York and Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem will open a joint college in September 2009, modeled on the college Bard opened in Russia with St. Petersburg University a decade ago.

The Al-Quds Bard Honors College for Liberal Arts and Sciences — as it will be known — will eventually accept 100 new students each year for the four-year course. The first 60 students are expected to enroll this fall and will be awarded joint degrees from Al-Quds and Bard. The self-standing autonomous college is recruiting an entire new faculty and will occupy a building on the Al-Quds campus originally built to house the Palestinian Parliament and Yasser Arafat’s office. Applications for the founding dean of the new college, who is expected to speak both English and Arabic, have been requested by the end of February 2009.

Bard and Al-Quds are also planning a joint master of arts in teaching (MAT) program and a model high school. “The honors college and MAT programs are to be launched in summer 2009 and will be located on the Abu Dis Campus of Al-Quds University. The model school is scheduled to open in fall 2010,” according to a job vacancy for a project coordinator advertised on the Bard College website.

“Al-Quds and Bard College are initiating partnerships with public schools in the West Bank and Jerusalem representing different models of student learning. Teachers in the pioneer schools will be the first cadre of students in the MAT Program and will serve as mentor teachers for future apprentice teachers,” Bard announced in its search for a director of the MAT program.

Plans for the new college were finalized in a joint memorandum signed by Bard College President Leon Botstein and Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh during a visit to Bard by Mr. Nusseibeh and his senior colleagues in August 2008. Half of the $3-million budget for the first two years is being donated by the George Soros Foundation, with the balance coming from Bard fundraising programs. — Matthew Kalman

Saturday 7 February 2009

Israeli elections tightening, polls show

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Jerusalem - The identity of Israel's next prime minister and the future of the Middle East peace process will be decided in a neck-and-neck election Tuesday that most pollsters say is too close to call.

Nearly 30 percent of Israel's estimated 5 million voters remain undecided among the two leading candidates: right-wing former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who rejects the idea of a Palestinian state, and centrist Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who says she is committed to peace talks and withdrawing Jewish settlements from the West Bank.

Until this week, Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud party, who has also pledged to remove "Hamastan" from Gaza and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons by any means necessary, seemed to be heading for a narrow victory and a possible coalition with a band of smaller, hawkish and religious parties or with Livni's ruling center-right Kadima Party and the center-left Labor Party led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

But seven polls published Thursday and Friday projected Likud and Kadima would each win 25 seats in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. The job of prime minister is assigned by the president - mainly a figurehead position - to the Knesset member with the best chance of forming a viable coalition government in light of election results.

During the campaign, doubt over the peace process with the Palestinians has been a major factor. Many Israelis fear the Palestinians are hopelessly divided between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and their political rival Fatah, which controls the West Bank. Moreover, the recent 23-day war in Gaza not only revealed Hamas' huge arsenal of weapons aimed at Israel but also left Hamas still in control - dashing hopes that Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza would prompt Palestinians to create a model for their future state that could live in peace with its neighbor.

"The complexity of the situation after the Gaza war leads most Israeli Jews to favor a grand coalition bringing together Netanyahu, Barak and Livni," said Shlomo Avineri, professor of political science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Last September, Netanyahu looked like a certain winner after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced he would resign over corruption allegations, and Livni, his replacement as Kadima Party leader, proved unable to form a new coalition.

But five months is a long time in Israeli politics.

Olmert's alleged financial dealings have faded from public debate and been replaced by worries over Gaza and a deepening economic crisis. And Netanyahu's position as the unassailable leader of the Israeli right has been overshadowed by the sudden popularity of the Russian-dominated Yisrael Beiteinu party, or Israel Is Our Home Party, led by the pugnacious Knesset member - Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu's former chief of staff.

Since Russian speakers make up more than 10 percent of the Israeli electorate and lean heavily toward the right, polls suggest his party could replace Labor as Israel's third-largest party.

Lieberman, a former bar bouncer who immigrated to Israel from Moldova in 1978, still speaks Hebrew with a strong Russian accent. His campaign slogan is a direct challenge to Israel's 1.7 million Arab citizens, many of whom identify with the Palestinian cause: "Without loyalty, there is no citizenship."

Lieberman has proposed initiatives demanding every citizen swear loyalty to the state or lose the right to vote or run for office, and pushing areas with heavy concentrations of Arabs outside Israel and under Palestinian jurisdiction in return for annexation of West Bank Jewish settlements.

"Israel is under a dual terrorist attack, from within and from without," Lieberman said this week. "And terrorism from within is always more dangerous than terrorism from without."

Israeli Arab leaders have angrily charged Lieberman with racism - an accusation given weight by comments made by some of his party colleagues who publicly advocate the emigration of Israeli Arabs.

"This is the backlash of some Israeli Jews against what they saw during the Gaza war as the support of many Israeli Arabs for the Hamas side," said Avineri.

Not surprisingly, Netanyahu has redirected his campaign in past weeks at keeping Likud supporters from migrating to Lieberman's party, while projecting an image of fiscal and diplomatic expertise to attract moderates concerned about the nation's economic crisis and maintaining cordial relations with the new Obama administration.

Livni, who says she is confident of victory, has presented herself as the new face of Israeli politics, the first female candidate for prime minister since the legendary Golda Meir and the leader most likely to work closely with President Obama.

"Livni is seeking to demonstrate that a woman can be a tough leader in tough times," said David Makovsky, head of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute.
Israel's electoral system

Since Israel's multiparty system has never produced a majority for a single party, parties that receive the most votes must form coalition governments.

On Tuesday, 30 parties will compete for 120 seats in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. The Israeli electorate votes for a party, rather than for individuals, with a minimum requirement of 2 percent of the vote to take a seat.
Currently, the center-right Kadima Party leads with 29 seats, followed by the center-left Labor Party with 19 and the right-wing Likud party with 12.

In recent years, centrist parties aiming to break the Likud-right, Labor-left grip on power have been one-shot wonders.

But if Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu wins Tuesday's election, he has expressed a preference to form a unity government with Kadima and Labor, which are expected to control more than 70 seats. That would blunt the power of smaller parties that typically make budgetary and policy demands that have torpedoed previous Israeli coalitions, including Netanyahu's first administration in 1999.

A Likud-Kadima-Labor hold on power also could alter the traditional shape of Israeli politics and reduce the power of fringe parties.

- Matthew Kalman

This article appeared on page A - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Friday 6 February 2009

Colleges in Gaza Reopen but Face More than $20-Million in Repairs

Friday, February 6, 2009



Palestinian colleges in Gaza have resumed examinations and started repairing more than $20-million in damage to buildings, equipment, and infrastructure caused by Israeli bombing raids during the recent invasion of the tiny coastal territory.

The colleges in the Gaza Strip were preparing for first-semester examinations when Israel launched its assault on December 27, following the collapse of a fragile six-month truce. "Operation Cast Lead," as it was called by Israel, ended on January 18 after thousands of aerial bombing raids and a ground invasion in which many educational facilities were damaged.

The Palestinian university hit hardest was the Islamic University of Gaza, which, with 20,000 students, is also the largest higher-education institution in Gaza. The university, which was founded by Hamas and maintains close ties with that group, was specifically targeted in Israeli airstrikes that destroyed two blocks containing 50 science and engineering laboratories and caused widespread destruction throughout the campus. University officials deny Israeli assertions that the laboratories were used as research facilities to develop Hamas weapons.

Six members of the university's teaching staff were killed during the Israeli campaign, including one who was targeted as a leading figure in the Hamas military wing, the Qassam Brigades (The Chronicle, January 7).

The university resumed exams on a limited schedule this week and plans to hold a full exam timetable for the first semester beginning on Saturday. The delayed spring semester will begin on February 28.

Lost Tuition

Kamalain Sha'ath, president of the Islamic University, told The Chronicle that damage to buildings, equipment, and infrastructure was expected to cost $14-million in repairs. He said the university had started a fund-raising campaign to cover that amount and an additional $10-million in lost tuition, which averages $500 per student per semester.

"The students in Gaza are poor, so we allow them to register for the first semester and then try to collect the tuition afterward," said Mr. Sha'ath. "Now we have reached the end of the first semester, we find that 40 percent of tuition hasn't been paid and we cannot ask the students because they don't have it.

"In normal times, we don't allow them to register for the next semester unless the fees owing are paid. This time, we will allow them to register without paying. Also, we expect that even for next semester, only 20 to 30 percent of students will be able to pay the fees."

Another institution, Al-Azhar University, was not specifically targeted by Israel, but repairs to damage there will still cost more than $6-million, the university's president, Jawad Wadi, told The Chronicle.

"We had a farm and our faculty of agriculture in Beit Hanoun, which Israel completely destroyed. The cost of rebuilding the farm and the faculty will be about $5.8-million," said Mr. Wadi. "At the main building in Gaza City, there was extensive damage to doors, windows, aluminum, and computers, which will cost about $450,000 to repair."

The university resumed its laboratory examinations this week and plans to start final exams for the first semester on February 7. Full classes will resume on March 8.

Mr. Wadi said that nearly half of the 12,000 students were unable to pay their tuition on time, leaving the university with a $5.6-million deficit from unpaid fees.

Widespread Damage

Al-Aqsa University, a public institution sponsored by the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah, suffered about $1.4-million worth of damage to five of its buildings in Khan Yunis and Gaza City. A new building in Khan Yunis intended to serve as a community college was destroyed, as were seven staff apartments. The library on the main campus in Gaza City was badly damaged by Israeli tank fire.

Ali Abu Zuhri, president of the university, told The Chronicle that 14 Al-Aqsa students and one member of the staff had been killed. Exams will resume on Saturday, and the second semester will begin on March 7. Mr. Abu Zuhri said that more than 50 percent of the 14,000 students enrolled for the first semester had been unable to pay tuition.

The university has appealed to the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees to help repair the damage, said Mr. Abu Zuhri. "We are also asking our friends to help students who are unable to pay tuition," he said. "So far, we have received sponsorship for about 100 students from friends in the Gulf, but there are 7,000 more who need assistance."

Damage to buildings and equipment at the University College of Applied Sciences totaled $690,000. Although the campus escaped the worst of the bombardment in comparison to other colleges, most of the windows were shattered, and there were large holes punched in the walls by Israeli shells, which also damaged furniture and equipment. In an interview with The Chronicle, Dean Yahya R. Sarraj described the Israeli assault as "barbaric." He said that exams would resume this weekend and the second semester would begin on February 21.

Al-Quds Open University appears to have suffered collateral damage from Israeli missiles. Nedal Tayeh, a spokesman for the university, said 85 percent of the university's windows were broken, and its administration offices were badly damaged. He said breakage occurred to air-conditioning units, fans, computers, and communications and multimedia equipment, and he estimated the total cost of repairs at about $211,000.

Thursday 5 February 2009

Palestinian University Pulls Back on Longtime Partnerships With Israeli Academics

Thursday, February 5, 2009



The only Palestinian university to maintain ties with Israeli colleges and oppose international calls for a boycott of Israeli academics voted Sunday to freeze new joint projects with Israeli universities in the wake of the war in Gaza.

But faculty members at Al-Quds University took pains this week to emphasize that existing joint projects would continue and that the university was not joining calls in Europe and North America for an academic boycott of Israel.

Al-Quds has traditionally opposed a boycott, arguing in a joint statement issued with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2005 that "it is through cooperation based on mutual respect, rather than boycotts or discrimination, that our common goals can be achieved."

Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds, has repeatedly rebuffed pressure to end joint projects with Israeli institutions (The Chronicle, March 24, 2006). Faculty members who were present at Sunday's council meeting told The Chronicle that Mr. Nusseibeh had steered his colleagues toward a compromise that sent a strong signal disapproving of Israel's actions but stopped short of severing ties altogether.

In a speech he gave while accepting an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of Leuven, in Belgium, on Monday, Mr. Nusseibeh called on "all civil society institutions, in Palestine or abroad, to place a six-month moratorium on all new 'routine' or normal cooperative activities with Israeli institutions or individuals — not, I must add, as a punitive measure, but as a rallying cry for all concerned to pressure the Israeli government into committing itself to a timetable for ending the occupation in return for a full peace treaty with its Palestinian neighbor."

In an interview with The Chronicle on Wednesday, Mr. Nusseibeh said that the move was intended "only in order to raise the alarm to take the matter seriously of the continued occupation and the need to reach a solution."

He said that existing projects with Israeli universities would continue and that individual faculty members at Al-Quds were free to ignore the new policy and seek ties with Israeli institutions. He emphasized that Al-Quds was not joining the international boycott campaign.

"It wasn't really clear what the purpose of the other boycotts were," he said. "Some people are engaging in a boycott just for its own sake, maybe some people because it's done as a form of antagonism, as a form of provocation. Maybe some individuals and institutions want to achieve different results. Different people engage in this kind of thing for different reasons."
Seeking Action, Not Isolation

Mr. Nusseibeh said the university, which has 10,000 students at its campuses in the West Bank towns of Al Bireh, Abu Dis, and East Jerusalem, has about 40 joint projects with Israeli institutions with a combined budget of less than $5-million. They include joint political and educational seminars and "very important research" in medicine, dentistry, and nanotechnology.

The university council, comprising the deans of the university's 12 academic schools and other senior department heads, voted unanimously on Sunday to begin a six-month review period during which no new ventures would be established.

The decision was taken following an earlier council meeting during Israel's military offensive in Gaza where some senior faculty demanded an immediate break with their Israeli partners, and following two lengthy consultations with all Al-Quds faculty members involved in joint projects with Israel.

Faculty members said the council hoped to use its unique position to increase pressure on both sides to move more quickly toward a peaceful solution of the conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state at peace with its Israeli neighbors.

"Ending academic cooperation is aimed at, first of all, pressuring Israel to abide by a solution that ends the occupation, a solution that has been needed for far too long and that the international community has stopped demanding," the council said in a written statement.

Mohammed Dajani, a professor of American studies, said the six-month moratorium was a reaction to the Israeli assault on Gaza and the current impasse in the peace process.

"We felt it was time to protest the fact that the Israeli universities and faculty did not even take a stand regarding the destruction of the universities in Gaza or show any sympathy at the deaths of more than 1,000 Palestinians, many of them women and children," said Mr. Dajani.

"We felt that the university has not been rewarded by Israel for taking this courageous stand opposing the boycott and working for dialogue, joint ventures, and promoting understanding," he added.

Mohammad Shaheen, dean of the School of Public Health at Al-Quds, said he supported the change in policy even though he has been working with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Beersheba, for more than five years on joint psychological and social research dealing with children's trauma.

"Through this dialogue, we experience mutual learning and academic growth," Mr. Shaheen said. "Israel has a more established infrastructure, experience, and institutions dealing with trauma, especially with children. We wanted to learn from them and also share with them how we do our own programs, especially because we don't have such resources."

"As academics we are not politicians, but we have a political and ethical responsibility toward our own Palestinian people who are part of this and live this reality every day," he said. "This new position is not against any specific Israeli organization or colleague. This position is a cry for waking us on both sides and saying that we cannot continue. We have to take a position because we are not working in a vacuum."
Frustration and Sympathy

Musa Bajali, dean of the School of Dentistry, said he also supported the new policy but would continue a two-year-old research partnership with the Hebrew University's Hadassah School of Dental Medicine.

"The Al-Quds policy is based on a democratic approach that allows people who need to continue at a personal level with collaboration, just as it allowed people who were against cooperation the freedom not to be involved until now. I will continue, and I don't think our collaboration will be affected," said Mr. Bajali.

Israeli faculty members expressed sadness at the decision and hope that it would be reversed. Moshe Ma'oz, emeritus professor of Islamic and Middle East studies and a former director of the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said he was proud to have initiated many of the earliest joint projects with Sari Nusseibeh more than 20 years ago.

"It's very unfortunate that it's been done. If the universities and academics will not work together, then who will?" asked Mr. Ma'oz. "Many among the academics in Israel support the Palestinian cause, and there should be more cooperation, not less."

Although he disagreed with Al-Quds's decision, he said he sympathized with the university's frustration over the failure of more Israeli professors to speak out against the attack on Gaza.

"I expect academics to do something, to protest. I tried myself," he said. "The week before the war, I was on the radio saying that Israel should not attack Gaza and should try to reach a political settlement with Hamas, but no one listened. It's one of the frustrations of academics that governments don't listen to us. They ask our advice, and then they take it as ammunition if it suits them."

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Palestinian University Suspends Contacts With Israeli Academics

DAILY NEWS BLOG February 3, 2009

Jerusalem — The only Palestinian university to maintain ties with Israeli colleges and also to oppose international calls for a boycott of Israeli academics has suspended contacts with Israeli universities in the wake of the war in Gaza.

Al Quds University, with 10,000 students on campuses in the West Bank towns of El Bireh, Abu Dis, and East Jerusalem, had been noted for its ties to Israeli academe despite years of conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. But on Sunday it froze all projects with Israeli colleges for six months, pending a policy review.

The unanimous decision was prompted by Al Quds faculty members, who said they were disappointed that their joint projects with Israeli colleagues had failed to produce any tangible results and had caused friction with other Palestinian universities.

The Al Quds president, Sari Nusseibeh, who in the past has opposed boycotting Israel and has called for “cooperation based on mutual respect,” persuaded his colleagues not to break off ties permanently, but to suspend cooperation for a limited period instead.

Al Quds faculty members told The Chronicle that some Arab donors, notably Kuwait, had refused to provide funds to the university because of its policy of dialogue and cooperation with Israel. Al Quds has about 60 joint projects with Israeli institutions, with a combined budget of about $5-million.

“If the two-state solution is as far away today as it was 10 years ago, there is no justification for continued academic cooperation based on reaching that solution,” said a statement issued by the Al-Quds University board and reported by the International Middle East Media Center. “And there is no justification for continued official and nonofficial cooperation in other fields, foremost security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Ending academic cooperation is aimed at, first of all, pressuring Israel to abide by a solution that ends the occupation, a solution that has been needed for far too long and that the international community has stopped demanding.”

The report linked the decision to rising calls for an academic boycott of Israel in Canada and the United States following the recent fighting in Gaza, in which several Palestinian universities suffered millions of dollars in damage.

The university board expressed disappointment over the absence of serious protest from Israeli academics, in particular, and civil-society organizations, in general, as well as the failure of those groups to “understand the injustice that Palestinians are suffering from.” The board called on local, international, and regional academics to support the university’s stance by halting academic cooperation with Israeli institutions, the Ma’an News Agency reported. —Matthew Kalman