Netanyahu Killed the Peace

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Pres. Bill Clinton says that Netanyahu now rejects the deal that all others, including Israel’s past leaders, wanted.

By Josh Rogin 

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Palestine’s Pres. Mahmoud Abbas holds up a copy of the letter that he had delivered to UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki-moon requesting full UN representation for a Palestinian state, September 23, 2011.     

REUTERS/Mike Segar

Who’s to blame for the continued failure of the Middle East peace process? Former President Bill Clinton said today that it is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — whose government moved the goalposts upon taking power, and whose rise represents a key reason there has been no Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Clinton, in a roundtable with bloggers today on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, gave an extensive recounting of the deterioration in the Middle East peace process since he pressed both parties to agree to a final settlement at Camp David in 2000. He said there are two main reasons for the lack of a comprehensive peace today: the reluctance of the Netanyahu administration to accept the terms of the Camp David deal and a demographic shift in Israel that is making the Israeli public less amenable to peace.

“The two great tragedies in modern Middle Eastern politics, which make you wonder if God wants Middle East peace or not, were [Yitzhak] Rabin’s assassination and [Ariel] Sharon’s stroke,” Clinton said.

Sharon had decided he needed to build a new centrist coalition, so he created the Kadima party and gained the support of leaders like Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert. He was working toward a consensus for a peace deal before he fell ill, Clinton said. But that effort was scuttled when the Likud party returned to power.

“The Israelis always wanted two things that once it turned out they had, it didn’t seem so appealing to Mr. Netanyahu. They wanted to believe they had a partner for peace in a Palestinian government, and there’s no question — and the Netanyahu government has said — that this is the finest Palestinian government they’ve ever had in the West Bank,” Clinton said.

“[Palestinian leaders] have explicitly said on more than one occasion that if [Netanyahu] put up the deal that was offered to them before — my deal — that they would take it,” Clinton said, referring to the 2000 Camp David deal that Yasser Arafat rejected.

But the Israeli government has drifted a long way from the Ehud Barak-led government that came so close to peace in 2000, Clinton said, and any new negotiations with the Netanyahu government are now on starkly different terms — terms that the Palestinians are unlikely to accept.

“For reasons that even after all these years I still don’t know for sure, Arafat turned down the deal I put together that Barak accepted,” he said. “But they also had an Israeli government that was willing to give them East Jerusalem as the capital of the new state of Palestine.”

Israel also wants a normalization of relations with its Arab neighbors to accompany a peace deal. Clinton said that the Saudi-inspired Arab Peace Initiative put forth in 2002 represented an answer to that Israeli demand.

“The King of Saudi Arabia started lining up all the Arab countries to say to the Israelis, ‘if you work it out with the Palestinians … we will give you immediately not only recognition but a political, economic, and security partnership,’” Clinton said. “This is huge….

It’s a heck of a deal.”

The Netanyahu government has received all of the assurances previous Israeli governments said they wanted but now won’t accept those terms to make peace, Clinton said.

“Now that they have those things, they don’t seem so important to this current Israeli government, partly because it’s a different country,” said Clinton. “In the interim, you’ve had all these immigrants coming in from the former Soviet Union, and they have no history in Israel proper, so the traditional claims of the Palestinians have less weight with them.”

Clinton then repeated his assertions made at last year’s conference that Israeli society can be divided into demographic groups that have various levels of enthusiasm for making peace.

“The most pro-peace Israelis are the Arabs; second the Sabras, the Jewish Israelis that were born there; third, the Ashkenazi of long-standing, the European Jews who came there around the time of Israel’s founding,” Clinton said. “The most anti-peace are the ultra-religious, who believe they’re supposed to keep Judea and Samaria, and the settler groups, and what you might call the territorialists, the people who just showed up lately and they’re not encumbered by the historical record.”

Clinton affirmed that the United States should veto the Palestinian resolution at the U.N. Security Council for member-state status, because the Israelis need security guarantees before agreeing to the creation of a Palestinian state. But the Netanyahu government has moved away from the consensus for peace, making a final status agreement more difficult, Clinton said.

“That’s what happened. Every American needs to know this. That’s how we got to where we are,” Clinton said. “The real cynics believe that the Netanyahu’s government’s continued call for negotiations over borders and such means that he’s just not going to give up the West Bank.”

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Obama, Erdogan Seek Common Ground on Middle East

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Spetalnick and Laura MacInnis

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U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan shake hands in New York September 20, 2011. World leaders have gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.  

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan sought common ground on counterterrorism and Middle East policy on Tuesday even as Washington pressed Ankara to ease tensions with close U.S. ally Israel.

Their talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly came as a showdown loomed this week over Palestinian statehood at the world body, another source of rising tensions in a region in political upheaval.

Washington has watched with concern as NATO ally Turkey’s once-friendly ties with Israel have deteriorated rapidly over Israel’s 2010 killing of Turkish activists in a Gaza-bound aid convoy. The crisis has underscored Israel’s growing isolation and the new limits of U.S. influence in the Middle East.

“The president underscored his interest in seeing a resolution of that issue between those two countries and encouraged continuing work toward that end,” White House adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall told reporters after the meeting, saying Obama also emphasized the need to calm tensions throughout the region.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama would make the same points to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he meets him on Wednesday.

The two leaders also discussed Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad’s unrelenting crackdown on anti-government protests has alarmed neighboring Turkey and led to U.S. calls he step aside.

Obama and Erdogan agreed on the need to increase pressure on Assad and agreed to consult on possible further steps that “could include sanctions, political pressure, other measures,” Rhodes said.

Obama and Erdogan, in their public comments to reporters, focused on deadly attacks in Turkey on Tuesday that they agreed underscored the need for cooperation on counterterrorism.

“This reminds us that terrorism exists in many parts of the world, and Turkey and the United States are going to be strong partners in preventing terrorism,” Obama said.

An explosion from a suspected car bomb ripped through a street in the Turkish capital, Ankara, near a neighborhood housing government buildings, killing three people.

Also on Tuesday, Kurdish guerrillas attacked a police college in southeastern Turkey, killing four people in a passing vehicle, broadcaster CNN Turk reported on its website.

NEED ‘TO WORK TOGETHER’

Erdogan said the United States and Turkey needed to “work together in planning, use technology so that we can continue to take more steps in trying to fight against terrorism.”

Turkey is in talks with the United States to provide a base for a fleet of U.S. Predator drones now stationed in Iraq. It is reported to want surveillance drones to carry out operations against Kurdish separatist rebels based in northern Iraq.

The Obama administration is seeking to preserve close ties with Turkey, an increasingly assertive economic and military power in the region that has become a champion of democracy movements roiling the Arab world.

Ankara backed efforts that led to the ouster of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and aids U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan, and plays a crucial role in neighboring Iraq.

Obama praised Erdogan for “great leadership” in promoting democracy in the region. But problems remain.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Turkey on Monday not to do anything to worsen its relationship with Israel.

Israeli-Turkish relations have spiraled downward in recent weeks with the release of a U.N. report on the 2010 flotilla raid, in which Israeli commandos raid killed nine Turkish activists, and Israel’s refusal to apologize to Ankara.

Erdogan’s government has expelled Israel’s envoy, frozen military cooperation and warned that the Turkish navy could escort future aid flotillas — raising the prospect of confrontation between Turkey and the Jewish state.

Erdogan has also kept up a stream of harsh rhetoric against Israel, using a tour of Arab states last week to support a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations and chide Israel as a spoiled client of the West.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Peter Cooney)

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Great American Patriots

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Glenn Greenwald, AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress, just as the U.S. President does each year.  Here is how the American Congress — especially the super-patriots of the American Right — reacted to their own President the last two times he addressed them (with frosty coolness and even passive-aggressive hostility):

And here is how the super-patriots of the American Right — largely joined by their Democratic colleagues — reacted to the speech given today by this foreign leader: with multiple standing ovations, including for ludicrous and absurd proclamations such as equating Hamas with Al Qaeda and claiming that Israel is “not a foreign occupier” in the West Bank:

Indeed, according to ABC News, Netanyahu received more standing ovations from the U.S. Congress (29) than the U.S. President did the last time he spoke (25); all of the ones Netanyahu received were from the super-patriots of the GOP caucus (and most from the Democratic caucus as well), whereas those right-wing patriots joined in only a small fraction of the ones received by their own country’s President.

What makes this more remarkable still is that this foreign leader whom they were cheering so boisterously and continuously just completed a public, ugly conflict with the American leader and has a long record of demonstrated indifference to American interests; yet the super-patriots of the American Right sided so brazenly and publicly with this foreign leader over their own country’s President.  Meanwhile, both political parties in Congress are in a frantic competition to see which one can lavish Netanyahu with more obsequious praise; this statement sent out in the name of Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey is typical of the entries.  For his part, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ran to AIPAC to undercut (and rebuke) his own President and the leader of his own party on Israel, something that — as Andrew Sullivan correctly observed –  would be inconceivable on any foreign policy issue other than Israel.

In sum, the same faction that spent the last decade demanding fealty to the Commander-in-Chief in a Time of War upon pain of being accused of a lack of patriotism (or worse) now openly sides with a foreign leader over their own President.  The U.S. Congress humiliates itself by expressing greater admiration for and loyalty to this foreign leader than their own country’s.  And because this is all about Israel, few will find this spectacle strange, or at least will be willing to say so.

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Independent Palestinian State?

November 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Push causes Israeli alarm

By Donald Macintyre in Ramallah

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Palestinians light candles around a poster depicting the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a rally marking the fifth anniversary of Arafat’s death, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 10, 2009. Arafat died on November 11, 2004.        

REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Palestinian leaders from President Mahmoud Abbas down have alarmed Israeli ministers by swinging their weight behind a planned effort to secure UN backing for a unilaterally declared independent state in the West Bank and Gaza.

In an innovative strategy which would not depend on the success of currently stalled negotiations with Israel, the leaders are preparing a push to secure formal UN Security Council support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders as a crucial first step towards the formation of a state.

Although there is no fixed timetable, Palestinian officials see the second half of 2011 as a plausible starting date for such a process. That is when the Palestinian Authority is due to fulfill Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s widely applauded two-year plan for completing work on all the institutions needed for a fully-fledged state.

One senior Palestinian official said here that the new plan was “the last resort of the peace camp in Palestine” given the current negotiating impasse left in the wake of the US failure to persuade Israel to agree a total freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank as a preliminary to talks.

The moderate Palestinian leadership also sees the unilateral process as a viable – and, in internal political terms, significantly more credible – alternative to surrendering to intense US pressure to enter negotiations without the settlement freeze.

As the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared to denounce the Palestinian plan in a speech last night, Israel’s President Shimon Peres declared in Brazil, “A Palestinian state cannot be established without a peace agreement. It’s impossible and it will not work. It’s unacceptable that they change their minds every day. Bitterness is not a policy.”

But officials here are hoping that, without any progress towards “final status” negotiations on a future state, the US could be persuaded not to veto such a resolution. Explicit UN Security Council support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders would, the officials believe, dramatically intensify legal and moral pressure on Israel to lift the 42-year-old occupation.

Some officials are even drawing a direct comparison with the diplomatic process by which Israel itself was established as a state: a UN resolution endorsing it in November 1947, the Declaration of Independence by David Ben Gurion in May 1948 and the subsequent swift recognition by the US and Soviet Union.

The strategy is tied closely to – though not specified in – Mr Fayyad’s plan, “Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State”, and is thought to have originated with the Prime Minister, an independent who has recently publicly questioned the willingness of Mr Netanyahu’s government to grant more than a “mickey mouse” state in any negotiations. But it has since had strong backing from Mr Abbas, and other leading figures in his Fatah faction.

At a commemoration of his predecessor Yasser Arafat’s death, Mr Abbas declared last week, “The Palestinian state is a fact which the world recognises”. Saying that more than 100 countries supported Palestinian aspirations for a state, he added: “Now we are fighting to get the world to recognise the borders of our nation.” Mr Abbas, who reaffirmed his intention not to run again as President, has insisted that he will not return to negotiations without a settlement freeze and clear terms of reference specifying a state based on 1967 borders, East Jerusalem as the capital, and an agreed solution for refugees.

The leading Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat yesterday followed his Fatah colleague Mohammed Dahlan in strongly endorsing the plan. “We have taken an Arab foreign ministers’ decision to seek the help of the international community,” Mr Erekat told Reuters, adding that the US and other leading international players would be consulted before any UN move. “If the Americans cannot get the Israelis to stop settlement activities, they should also not cover them when we decide to go to the Security Council,” he added.

Ghassan Khatib, head of the Palestinian government’s media centre, said that the international community should confront Israel with a choice of a clear negotiating path towards a state based on 1967 borders, or international recognition for a Palestinian state without an agreement. “They cannot block the negotiating approach to two states and at the same time refuse the alternative,” he added.

He said that progress by the current “peace camp” in charge in Ramallah was essential if it was not to “run out of ammunition” against the alternative offered by Hamas. “I honestly think there is no future for the peace camp in Palestine if this is not going to work,” he said, adding that it would be “political suicide” for the present leadership to enter negotiations on present terms. He said the international community had long been striving “for an agreed end to the conflict – a two-state solution as a result of an agreement. But we are saying it’s not working. Why not recognise a Palestinian state when it is ready, without necessarily relying on Israeli consent?”

Mr Khatib added that recognition for a unilaterally declared state would parallel Israel’s recognition as in 1948. “The other side was not [then] expected to accept. There was no consent by either the Palestinians or the Arab [states].” Such a strategy would be severely complicated by Gaza, if it were still controlled by Hamas at the time – but no more so than the negotiations which the US is currently trying to promote.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to reject the Palestinian proposal. Addressing a forum on the Middle East in Jerusalem, he said, “There is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority…any unilateral path will only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel’s side.”

Independence: Getting past the roadblock

Q. Would a unilateral declaration of independence carry risks?

A. Even if it were underpinned by a UN endorsement of a Palestinian state based on the areas occupied in 1967, it would certainly be a lurch into uncharted diplomatic waters. But some Western diplomats believe it would remove any lingering doubts about the meaning of UN Resolution 242, on which Palestinian and international demands for an end to the occupation begun in 1967 are based.

Q. What might be the advantage for the Palestinians?

A. Israel technically regards the West Bank as a disputed territory the final status of which is a matter for negotiation. Palestinians hope that a process of obtaining UN Security Council support for independence, followed by major individual countries recognising the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza as a state, would greatly and immediately put Israel under pressure to withdraw its forces and civilian settlers from the occupied territories in the West Bank. At the most extreme interpretation, Israel would then be regarded as occupying a foreign country. The UN could also grant the new Palestine immediate and full membership, with voting and proposing rights, in major international bodies.

Q. What is Israel’s main problem with the proposal?

A. Israel argues that such a unilateral declaration would not only violate its right to reach an agreement on borders with the Palestinians, but also directly cuts across the 1995 Oslo-derived agreement that neither side should take unilateral steps affecting the status of the territories.

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UK’s Huge Jewel Heist Linked to Israel

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Press TV

Top Israeli officials have been linked to Britain’s biggest ever jewelry heist, in which gems worth up to $65 million (£40m) were stolen.

According to an Israeli report, three former senior officials in the Israeli army were the main shareholders of the company responsible for guarding the Graff Diamond jewelers in central London, where the robbery took place. The Universe Security Group (USG) has been in charge of the security of the store, after a group of Balkan robbers–dubbed the Pink Panther gang–carried out an armed raid on the same store in May 2005, taking off with 1 million pounds worth of diamonds.

Nahum Admoni, former Mossad chief and Maj. Gen. Uri Sagie, former chief of intelligence in the Israeli army, reportedly resigned from the leadership of the London-based group, just two months before the heist.

Another primary share holder of the security company is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special adviser, Isaac Molho.

The police have meanwhile arrested a 50-year-old man in connection with the robbery, but only described him as a ‘minor player’ in the act.

The August 6 raid, which had all the makings of a blockbuster movie, was carried out by two smartly dressed men, who had disguised themselves professionally with make-up layered on latex masks, Metropolitan Police footage showed.

In just minutes, the leading men drew handguns, grabbed a female member of staff and headed for the exit with 43 pieces of jewelry including rings, bracelets, necklaces and watches.

They fired warning shots, jumped into a waiting blue BMW and abandoned their hostage, speeding through Mayfair. No one was injured in the incident.

An international man hunt has been in progress ever since, with insurers offering a 1 million-pound reward for information leading to the capture of the thieves and the recovery of the jewels.

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Poll: Most Israelis Could Live with a Nuclear Iran

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Haaretz

“Pretty soon . . . you will have nine weapons states and probably another 10 or 20 virtual weapons states.”–Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

Only one in five Israeli Jews believes a nuclear-armed Iran would try to destroy Israel and most see life continuing as normal should the Islamic Republic get the bomb, an opinion poll published on Sunday found.

The survey, commissioned by a Tel Aviv University think-tank, appeared to challenge the argument of successive Israeli governments that Iran must be denied the means to make atomic weapons lest it threaten Israel’s existence.

Asked how a nuclear-armed Iran would affect their lives, 80 percent of respondents said they expected no change. Eleven percent said they would consider emigrating and 9 percent said they would consider relocating inside Israel.

Twenty-one percent of Israelis believe Iran “would attack Israel with nuclear weapons with the objective of destroying it,” the Institute for National Security Studies, which commissioned the poll, said in a statement.

The survey had 616 Jewish respondents and a margin of error of 3.5 percent, INSS research director Yehuda Ben Meir said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, like his predecessors, has hinted that Israel could attack Iran pre-emptively should Western diplomacy fail to curb its uranium enrichment.

The INSS survey found 59 percent of Israeli Jews would support such strikes, while 41 percent would not back the military option. A separate survey, commissioned by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found 52 percent support for pre-emptive Israeli attacks on Iran, with 35 percent of respondents opposed.

Israeli Arabs, who make up some 20 percent of the population and are generally less likely to see themselves as targets of Israel’s enemies, were not included for budgetary reasons, he said.

Israel, the United States and other western nations say Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at manufacturing nuclear weapons. Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil producer, insists its uranium enrichment program is for civilian needs only.

But Iranian leaders’ anti-Israel rhetoric and support for the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah have stirred fears of a regional war.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is expected to devote a more significant part of a major foreign policy speech to the Iranian threat, officials close to the premier said, in the wake of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s electoral win Saturday.

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