Obama Snubbed Netanyahu

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Telegraph UK

The snub marked a fresh low in US-Israeli relations and appeared designed to show Mr Netanyahu how low his stock had fallen in Washington after he refused to back down in a row over Jewish construction in east Jerusalem.

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File picture:  Bibi Netanyahu and Barack Obama

The Israeli prime minister arrived at the White House on Tuesday evening brimming with confidence that the worst of the crisis in his country’s relationship with the United States was over.

Over the previous two days, he had been feted by senior Republicans and greeted warmly by members of Congress. He had also received a standing ovation from the American Israel Public Affairs Affairs Committee, one of the most influential lobby groups in the United States.

But Mr. Obama was less inclined to be so conciliatory. He immediately presented Mr. Netanyahu with a list of 13 demands designed both to the end the feud with his administration and to build Palestinian confidence ahead of the resumption of peace talks. Key among those demands was a previously-made call to halt all new settlement construction in east Jerusalem.

When the Israeli prime minister stalled, Mr. Obama rose from his seat declaring: “I’m going to the residential wing to have dinner with Michelle and the girls.”

As he left, Mr. Netanyahu was told to consider the error of his ways. “I’m still around,” Mr. Obama is quoted by Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper as having said. “Let me know if there is anything new.”

For over an hour, Mr. Netanyahu and his aides closeted themselves in the Roosevelt Room on the first floor of the White House to map out a response to the president’s demands.

Although the two men then met again, at 8.20 pm, for a brief second meeting, it appeared that they failed to break the impasse. White House officials were quoted as saying that disagreements remained. Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, added: “Apparently they did not reach an understanding with the United States.”

It was the second time this month that Mr Netanyahu has been at the receiving end of a US dinner-time snub.

A fortnight ago, Joe Biden the US vice president, arrived 90 minutes late for a dinner Mr. Netanyahu hosted in Jerusalem after Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new homes in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish settlement in the city’s predominantly Arab east.

Erupting in fury, the United States described the decision to expand Ramat Shlomo as an “insult” that undermined Mr. Biden’s peace making efforts and demanded that it be reversed. Palestinians see east Jerusalem, captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, as their future capital and regard any Jewish building there as a barrier to a peace settlement.

Mr Obama’s mood further soured in the minutes before his meeting with Mr. Netanyahu after it emerged that approval had been given for an even more contentious Jewish building project in the heart of one of east Jerusalem’s Palestinian suburbs.

Sending a clear message of his displeasure, Mr. Obama treated his guest to a series of slights. Photographs of the meeting were forbidden and an Israeli request to issue a joint-statement once it was over were turned down.

“There is no humiliation exercise that the Americans did not try on the prime minister and his entourage,” Israel’s Maariv newspaper reported. “Bibi received in the White House the treatment reserved for the president of Equatorial Guinea.”

It is not the first time that Mr. Netanyahu has been involved in a dinner-time snub, although he is arguably more used to delivering, rather than receiving, them.
In 1998, during his first term as Israeli prime minister, Mr. Netanyahy angrily cancelled a dinner he was due to give with the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook.
Mr. Cook had earned his host’s ire after he briefly visited a new Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem with a Palestinian official and called for an end to all settlement construction in the parts of the city Israel occupied after the Six-Day war.

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Gentle, Friendly Face of Indonesia and Islam

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Greg Barton, Theage.com

ABDURRAHMAN ad-DAKHIL WAHID, FORMER INDONESIAN PRESIDENT

2009-12-31T131642Z_1627607473_GM1E5CV1N0R01_RTRMADP_3_INDONESIA-PRESIDENT WHEN the former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid succumbed to a long battle with kidney disease and diabetes, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for seven days of national mourning. For many millions of Indonesia’s 240 million citizens, the mourning is very personal.

Wahid, better known as Gus Dur, although a controversial president, was deeply loved and admired. Even before becoming Indonesia’s first democratically elected president in October 1999, he had built a towering reputation as a progressive Islamic intellectual and as a leading dissident. In fact, many feared that his unexpected entry into political office would tar his reputation as a social reformer and religious leader.

They were right to be afraid. He was never meant to be a president. It wasn’t just that his style was too unconventional, it was that he refused to play by the rules of the game and to do the sort of deals that politicians need to do. Ironically, however, it was this commitment to idealistically championing reform despite a lack of political backing for which he is currently being remembered, as much as for his contributions as an Islamic intellectual and Muslim community leader. He was the wrong man for the job but it was the right man for the time.

Born into one of Indonesia’s most prominent families of ulama, or Islamic scholars, Wahid went on to lead Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) for 15 years from 1984 until 1999. He succeeded in transforming the culture and orientation of this traditionalist Islamic association; with a membership of about 40 million people, it is the world’s largest Islamic organisation. Along with like-minded colleagues he helped ensure that the NU pesantren, Islamic boarding schools known elsewhere as madrassa, completed a transition to becoming modern schools offering the secular state curriculum alongside religious instruction. This ensured that their mostly poor rural students were able to enter fully into modern Indonesia society.

Wahid’s two grandfathers, Hasyim Asyari and Bisri Syansuri, had been instrumental in establishing NU in 1926, and his father, Wahid Hasyim, was minister of religious affairs under Sukarno and one of NU’s most prominent leaders up until his death in 1952, when the car in which he was travelling with his son, the future president, skidded on a mountain road. As the eldest of six children, Wahid felt a heavy responsibility to follow in his father’s footsteps. His solid pedigree gave him a commanding position to call for reform within NU and to challenge the Indonesian military, including president Suharto, on human rights abuses, corruption, nepotism and abuse of power. Gifted with a brilliant mind and near photographic recall, he blitzed through his pesantren studies as a teenager while sneaking off to the cinema as much as he could.

He also developed a love of literature. His mental gifts, if not his personal discipline, meant that when he arrived at Cairo’s famous al-Azhar University to study Islamic studies in 1963 he quickly found the sort of traditional rote learning in place there to be a disappointment. Neglecting his formal studies he spent his time in informal learning, extending his earlier studies to include French cinema and Western literature (read in the library of the American University) as well as hours of coffee shop debates in the cafes of Cairo.

Wahid was working at the Indonesian embassy in Cairo at the time of the 1965 coup that saw Sukarno toppled and hundreds of thousands of alleged communist sympathisers brutally murdered. He translated diplomatic cables and letters reporting events from back home and was all too aware of the culpability of NU members in aiding and abetting the violence. This led to a lifelong commitment to speaking out on human rights abuses, including those linked to his own community. As president, he sought to rehabilitate former political prisoners.

Bored with al-Azhar, he moved to Baghdad University in 1966, where he completed a degree in Arabic literature. Back home to Indonesia in the early 1970s, he threw himself into NGO activism. Like his father, he enjoyed broad friendships across all communities and was an early proponent of interreligious dialogue. He was also a champion of the rights of minority communities, including Indonesia’s Christians and Chinese, and later as president sought to advance their interests.
His leadership of NU positioned him to fearlessly critique Suharto and his regime, especially when beginning in the early 1990s Suharto sought the support of the radical Islamist elements that he previously persecuted.

To oppose this Wahid joined Djohan Effendi and others in establishing Forum Demokrasi to openly criticise the president’s use of sectarian sentiment for political purposes. In 1994, Wahid and Djohan accepted an invitation from Shimon Peres to visit Israel; they participated in the inauguration of the Peres Centre for Peace. Later, as president, he sought to open formal relations between Indonesia and Israel. Despite this bold move his popularity among his support base in NU remained undiminished and he declared that he was now prepared to run for a third five-year term as executive chairman. Suharto did all that he could to block his re-election but Wahid’s triumph established him as one of the few people who could take on Suharto and get away with it.

Nevertheless, he was forced to seek a rapprochement with Suharto following the latter’s ousting of Megawati Sukarnoputri from the leadership of her own party in 1996 and the violent suppression of her supporters. But when the Asian economic crisis hit Indonesia in the 1997, he was again at the head of the movement for reform.

A near fatal stroke in January 1998 robbed him of what was left of his failing eyesight and meant that he spent the first half of 1998 in physical rehabilitation rather than in leading the push against Suharto. Still, following Suharto’s resignation in May, Wahid was able to establish a new party designed to garner the support of members of NU but founded on principles of secularism. The success of this party, PKB, in the 1999 elections set him up for role in government. No one, however, really expected him to become president.

That occurred because Habibie, who wanted to turn his transitional presidency into a full term through election, was thwarted when he supported the referendum in East Timor and Islamist elements and others within parliament moved to block the ascension of Megawati Sukarnoputri. She eventually became president in July 2001 when parliament effectively voted Wahid out of office.

Wahid is remembered today largely for his role as a reformist president, but history is likely to also remember him as one of the 20th century’s leading Islamic intellectuals and as someone who demonstrated how a traditional Islamic scholar can also be modern, democratic and humanitarian.

Professor Greg Barton is Herb Feith Research Professor for the Study of Indonesia at Monash University, and acting director, Centre for Islam and the Modern World. He is also the author of Gus Dur: the Authorised Biography of Abdurrahman Wahid.

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Independent Palestinian State?

November 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Push causes Israeli alarm

By Donald Macintyre in Ramallah

2009-11-10T105107Z_1235520321_GM1E5BA1FW201_RTRMADP_3_PALESTINIANS

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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Strained Ties Between Israel & Turkey

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Independent UK

‘This is incitement of the most severe kind… it isn’t worthy of broadcast even by enemy states’

Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli Foreign Minister

Israel’s increasingly troubled relations with its main ally in the Muslim world took a turn yesterday when it formally protested to Turkey over the “incitement” generated by a television series featuring fictional scenes of barbaric acts by Israeli soldiers.

The airing of the series, on Turkish state television, coincides with tensions triggered by a decision last week by Ankara to exclude Israel – which it has severely criticised over last winter’s war in Gaza – from a planned NATO air exercise.

The acting Turkish ambassador, Ceylan Ozen, was summoned yesterday to the Israeli foreign ministry in protest at the drama series Ayrilik which shows soldiers brutalising Palestinians. In one abbreviated sequence shown on YouTube, a soldier is seen gratuitously shooting a girl at close range, killing her. In another, Palestinians are apparently about to be executed by a firing squad.

Mr Lieberman said this week that the broadcast was “incitement of the most severe kind… under government sponsorship,” and added: “Such a drama series, which doesn’t even have the slightest link to reality and which presents Israeli soldiers as murderers of innocent children, isn’t worthy of being broadcast even by enemy states and certainly not in a state which has full diplomatic relations with Israel.”

Relations between the two countries have been severely strained by Turkish criticism of the military offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

In January, Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, walked out of a televised panel discussion in Davos in Switzerland, in which Israel’s President, Shimon Peres, had been defending the military operation.

The air exercise planned for this week was cancelled after the US and Italy refused to take part in response to the Turkish decision to bar Israel. Mr Erdogan said later that “diplomatic sensitivities” had led his government to stop Israel participating.

Naor Gilon, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s deputy director for Western Europe, told the Turkish diplomat that “this kind of incitement is likely to lead to physical harm being done to Jews and Israelis who arrive in Turkey as tourists”.

Selcuk Cobanoglu, the producer of the television series, told the Israeli media yesterday that it was made clear before each episode that the production was was fictional.

The series had not intended to denigrate the Israel Defence Forces as a whole but only a group who had killed Palestinian children.

He said: “It is very important that I stress that we love the people in Israel. We love the Israelis.”

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