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August 27, 2012 Edition 20

Why we are closing
Yossi Alpher

We are closing bitterlemons' two weekly e-magazines. The publications that you, our readers, have known for the past 11 years will, with this special edition, cease to exist. You deserve an explanation as to why this is happening. It is not disconnected from what is transpiring around us in the Middle East and globally.

Articles in this edition
Why we are closing - Yossi Alpher
The arc of the pendulum - Ghassan Khatib
First, for those not wholly familiar with the details of our operation, here is a brief summary of what we have produced and published. From November 2001, bitterlemons.org presented a weekly web magazine of Israeli and Palestinian views, including those of myself and Ghassan Khatib, on a selected topic. Beginning in July 2003, bitterlemons-international.org circulated a second weekly collection of analyses on a broader Middle East topic, written by commentators from throughout the Middle East and beyond. By the by, in 2010-2011 we briefly published bitterlemons-api.org, a series on the Arab Peace Initiative. In 2002-3, bitterlemons.org was published in Arabic and Hebrew.

We published two virtual books and created iPad and iPhone apps. We attracted hundreds of thousands of readers and witnessed our articles re-circulated by hundreds of web-based and print publications. We welcomed writers from nearly every country in the region. Everything we published will remain available at bitterlemons.net.

All of this cost money, received over the years from generous foundations, one individual, and donor countries, led first and foremost by the European Union. The donors welcomed our aspiration to involve the region's influentials, along with interested parties from beyond the region, in a high-level and civilized discussion of our differences. They supported the readiness of an Israeli and a Palestinian to undertake this task.

You, the reader, were never asked to support us financially. Indeed, we never even asked you to identify yourself to us, on the assumption that reader anonymity would increase the circulation of a controversial publication produced by Israelis and Palestinians.

We never aspired to make "virtual" peace and never presented a "bitterlemons plan". Rather, we sought to debate our differences and raise the level of dialogue. Over the years, our internet and email publishing operation, based in Israel and Palestine, weathered an intifada, suicide bombings and an Israeli invasion of the Palestinian Authority. Throughout, we never missed an edition except for holidays. Until recently.

We are ceasing publication for reasons involving fatigue--on a number of fronts. First, there is donor fatigue. Why, donors ask, should we continue to support a Middle East dialogue project that not only has not made peace, but cannot "prove" to our satisfaction--especially at a time of revolution and violence throughout the region--that it has indeed raised the level of civilized discussion? Why fight the Israeli right-wing campaign against European and American state funding and the Palestinian campaign against "normalization"?

These last two negative developments also reflect local fatigue. There is no peace process and no prospect of one. Informal "track II" dialogue--bitterlemons might be described as a "virtual" track II--is declining. Here and there, writers from the region who used to favor us with their ideas and articles are now begging off, undoubtedly deterred by the revolutionary rise of intolerant political forces in their countries or neighborhood.

Then there is the global economic slowdown. Even countries and philanthropic institutions not suffering from donor fatigue still have to deal with declining budgets for promoting activities like ours. Obviously, the donors have every right to do with their limited funds as they see fit. But they are nearly all tightening their supervision and review procedures to a point where the weight of bureaucracy simply overwhelms efforts to maintain even a totally transparent project like bitterlemons and to solicit additional funds.

After more than a decade, there is also fatigue at the production end. Even weekly electronic publications that don't require old-fashioned printers and distributors nevertheless need to recruit writers, edit their articles and meet deadlines.

It's time to move on. I, personally, do so with a sense of satisfaction regarding the completely unique Arab-Israel discussion format we developed and propagated for more than a decade. I learned endlessly from this endeavor. I believe we enriched the understanding of Middle East conflicts and developments among large numbers of people in the region and beyond. I hope others will continue this pursuit of better regional understanding.

I wish to thank our readers for their consistent support. And to thank Ghassan Khatib and the highly professional staff at and around Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre in Ramallah for making our work together such a satisfying experience for more than a decade.

Finally, we're not completely going away. We hope in the near future to keep the bitterlemons label alive with important alternative activities. We'll keep you posted.-Published 27/8/2012 © bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons.net family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

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