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On The Hamas Ceasefire Offer, And Mark Mitchell’s Incompetence

With hindsight, it was inevitable that (a) Hamas would agree to the ceasefire deal brokered by Egypt and Qatar and that ( b) Israel would then immediately launch attacks on Rafah, regardless. We might have hoped the concessions made by Hamas would cause Israel to desist from slaughtering thousands more Palestinian civilians. (Reportedly, half of the population of Rafah are children). Yet once again, the world has underestimated the Israeli government’s appetite for acts of premeditated evil.

The full text of the three-stage, Hamas-agreed ceasefire set of proposals is here. Plainly, some details would have to be further negotiated – and the text explicitly says this would be especially true of the second and third stages of the ceasefire deal. Still, Benjamin Netanyahu and his government can no longer credibly claim there is is no feasible way of securing the release of the remaining Israeli hostages. The hostages are being sacrificing on the altar of Netanyahu’s political self-preservation.

None of Israel’s desired goals will be met by “conquering” Rafah. Continuing the war will not destroy Hamas. More slaughter in Gaza will further doom any normalisation of relations with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, and the formation of Israel’s desired axis of US/Israeli/Saudi might against Iran and its relatively puny non-state allies Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis. There are no diplomatic gains for Israel from an eternal war, and no feasible military “victory” to be won. The US may appear to have been alienated, but this distance is largely performative.

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Continuing the war in Gaza will not get the Israeli hostages – living and dead – back home, either. All that a prolonged war can now achieve is to keep Israel’s extreme ethno-nationalist coalition together, and prolong Benjamin Netanyahu’s grip on power, thereby keeping him out of jail. Netanyahu’s personal interests, and Israel’s best interests diverged quite some time ago.

No doubt, Netanyahu would have have preferred a strictly one way deal with all the big concessions being made by Hamas, and only transient concessions by Israel. Such a deal would have involved a token six week ceasefire that got the Israeli hostages home, after which Israel would have resumed the genocide right where it had left off. That deal however, didn’t fly.

Hamas has now signed onto a far wider, far more sustainable ceasefire – one which offers a path to a mutually beneficial outcome, including the reconstruction of Gaza, and an end to the morally abhorrent, internationally illegal state of siege under which Gazans have been forced to live for nearly two decades. Israel and its sponsor in Washington have run out of excuses for rejecting it.

Meanwhile though, the bombing of Rafah has resumed and the carnage continues. Reportedly, the IDF has already taken control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, and as a result, the trickle of humanitarian aid has now been completely halted.

Footnote: While the world looks on in impotent horror at Israel’s actions in Gaza, much less attention has been paid to the settler violence being directed at Palestinians living on the West Bank. To its credit, the (paywalled) Israeli newspaper Haaretz has kept up its reporting on the repeated, widespread incidents of settler violence. This report focusses on the systematic nature of the brutality, and the sophistication of the weaaponry being used.To take just one example anong many, this occurred during the attack on the village of Al-Mughayyir, three weeks ago :

The invading settlers split up into several units that operated simultaneously in several neighbourhoods, residents said. Each unit then split into several smaller cells. One cell was responsible for throwing stones at car and house windows; another engaged in arson; a third, comprised mainly of younger boys, collected stones and handed them to the throwers; and a fourth, relatively large cell, was comprised of armed men who spread out across the area.

Sixty settler attacks across the West Bank were recorded on that mid-April weekend alone. In the fortnight afterwards, another 50 attacks were recorded. Note the advanced weapons that is available to the settlers, and used by them in their arson attacks:

Thirteen homes were torched on the weekend of April 12-13, along with dozens of cars. Residents noticed that the invaders didn't use lighters or matches, which take time to start a fire and don't produce guaranteed results. Nor did they use Molotov cocktails, which don't always ignite.

Instead, the witnesses said, they used a round object resembling a small gas grenade. A member of the arson cell would throw it onto the seat of a car, whose window had been shattered earlier by another cell, or into a home or balcony. The object would then be engulfed in flames, rendering it unidentifiable. After 30 seconds at most – enough time for the arson cell to flee – a huge fire would erupt... Al-Mughayyir residents said the flames only grew when they tried to extinguish the fire with water.

As the eminent Israeli journalist Amira Hass concluded in one of her recent Haaretz articles linked to above :

The "Lord's emissaries" in this "holy Jewish war" aren't stupid. They're confident that the constant harassment they apply will yield the desired result: either "voluntary emigration" or "punitive" mass expulsion. Or both.

In other words, the ethnic cleansing being pursued by Israel on the West Bank is consistent with the genocide it is committing in Gaza. As the IDF begins its Rafah onslaught, Foreign Minister Winston Peters has feebly called on both Israel and Hamas to show “restraint.”

Too Dumb to Fail

Only a fortnight ago, Christopher Luxon was boasting about how he’d taken the necessary steps to install “his aces in their places.” This week though, Luxon has looked less like someone with a handful of aces and more like a guy holding a busted flush. On Monday, his Corrections Minister Mark Mitchell repeatedly insisted that the country’s biggest prison expansion project (at Waikeria) would be adding 210 more beds to the 600 that Labour had already put on stream, for a grand total of 810 beds all up.

Luckily, one of Corrections’ few remaining back-room officials who still hadn’t cleared his desk, was able to step forward and clarify that what the Minister had really meant to say was that there would eventually be at least 810 extra beds at Waikeria in addition to the 600 Labour had already put in train.

It is bloodchilling to think what this level of ministerial ignorance of his own portfolio says about the (lack of) infrastructural planning being contemplated in the small towns adjacent to Waikeria. Hundreds of extra staff will be required to run the added prison capacity envisaged. Many will have families. As Corrections Minister, Mitchell is supposed to be ensuring that the influx of Corrections staff required to run a mega-Waikeria will be able to be housed, receive adequate access to GP care, and have their kids able to attend local schools.

On Tuesday, RNZ’s Checkpoint ran a sceptical eye over the likely ability of Te Awamutu, Te Kuiti, Otorohanga etc to meet the social needs of this influx of hundreds of Corrections staff. Besides the existing scarcity of housing to own and/or rent in that part of the Waikato, the newly built homes that are coming onto the market seem to be in the “high $600” weekly rental category - which as Checkpoint noted, looks to be well beyond the circa $65-70k annual wage packets of typical Corrections personnel.

Yet plainly, Mitchell hasn’t even got his head around the number of beds being planned for the prisoners, let alone what this will mean by way of added social infrastructure for the staff guarding the expanded roll of inmates that he has in mind.

But hey, who cares about pesky details like regional social impacts, accurate bed numbers, adequate capital funding etc when all you’re really concerned about are the optics of looking tough on crime? The coalition government says it's all about making the country feel safe. Frankly, I don’t feel safe when Cabinet Ministers can’t do basic mental arithmetic.

Also....in contrast to Luxon’s treatment of the two women (Melissa Lee, Penny Simmonds) that Luxon recently fired as Ministers, the inept likes of Mark Mitchell and Matt Doocey continue to enjoy Luxon’s confidence. Blokes cover each other’s backs, right? Women, though apparently need to be dealt to with a firm hand. Because that’s how Luxon rolls.

Footnote One : BTW, that $1.9 billion headline figure for Corrections looks less substantial the longer you look at it. For starters, the sum is spread over four years, so it is less than $400 million net annually over that period, even before adjusting for inflation. Also, some $400 million of the grand total comes from cuts (aka “savings” aka“re-prioritisation” ) made to existing Corrections programmes.

If we can believe what Mark Mitchell said on Monday – and that’s a Godzilla-sized “if” – none of the $1.9 billion will be spent on capital projects. So that eventual 810 extra beds (or even more, by some counts) planned for Waikeria is either going to need more funds for the related capital building expansion, or Waikeria’s future inmates will have to endure nigh on quadruple bunking levels of overcrowding.

Footnote Two: Finally, within that $1.9 billion headline figure only an extra $78 million has been allocated for rehabilitation. That’s less than an extra $20 million annually, across the entire NZ prison system. That’s all that is being earmarked for helping an increased numberer of offenders to successfully re-integrate back into society.

That’s a pitiful commitment to a process that is crucial work if, in the long run, communities are ever going to feel safe. The Luxon goverment keeps bragging about how it will be putting more and more offenders behind bars. At the other end of the chain of justice, it plans on spending less additional funds annually (nationwide) on rehabilitating this increase in inmates than it commited last month to building new flood protection measures in Westport.

Footnote Three : After six years of what Luxon repeatedly describes as Labour ‘s “soft on crime”approach, New Zealand’s rate of incarceration was still up at 173 per 100,000 people last year, far higher than the OECD average of 147. Our rate of imprisonment is already spectacularly higher than the likes of Ireland, a country roughly our size, which imprisons only 91 per 100,000 of its citizens. In 2018, after National had just left office, the rate was a whopping 219 per 100,000.

Plainly, we’re now headed back there again. In seeking alternatives to imprisonment, Labour was trying to find a path towards social and economic sanity. Throwing more and more people into prison for longer is a vastly expensive way of enabling politicians to win elections. In every other respect, it is a sign of social failure.

Dog Days

The video for the latest single by the Chicago band Dehd offers a bar-room eye view of humanity. This song celebrates the bar -as-venue for the search for love, companionship, solace, validation, revenge, justice and the desire to pull hair and the impulse to smash things up. Everyone is bleeding, but everything is going to be alright. If only. Love this song, or be ready to fight:

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