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Entries in George Mitchell (5)


Israel-Palestine: The Political Wreck on Netanyahu's Economic Track

Related Post: Israel’s Emerging Statesmen - Avigdor Lieberman and Natan Sharansky

netanyahu6Enduring America's Ali Yenidunya has dropped in on our partner website, Libertas, with a guest blog on the Israeli Government's new strategy on Palestine. His prediction? Prime Minister Netanyahu, trying to block a "two-state" resolution, is only making trouble for himself with an economics-first approach:

A month ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened a conference in Jerusalem. In contrast to other high-profile meetings such as that last week with US envoy George Mitchell and in May or June with President Obama, this was a quiet affair. However, the Jerusalem Wealth Management Conference, featuring Netanyahu’s participation, was far from insignificant.

The conference’s concern was difficulties with investments in Palestine and Israel, both for individuals and for companies. Amongst those considering the matter were the Bank of Israel, the Ministry of Trade, the International Monetary Fund, the Association of Banks in Palestine, the US Embassy in Israel, the new Israel-Palestine Chamber of Commerce, and the PalTel (Palestinian Telecommunications) Group. Discussions were in three main panels: Israeli Inc. as a Grade A Destination, Israel's Investment Opportunities, and Investment in the Palestinian Economy.

This, however, was a conference with political as well as economic significance. It was no less than a forum for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s strategy towards the Israeli relationship with Palestine. In his commitment to “economic peace initiatives”, he was also drawing the line against a political two-state resolution. Netanyahu was once again declaring that peace talks could focus on building the Palestinian economy and its governing institutions, but there was no need for them to engage other issues such as settlements, refugees, the status of Jerusalem, and borders.

While there is no record to dissent from the gathered bankers, financiers, and investors to Netanyahu, the weakness --- possibly even the folly --- of his approach was clear. A progressive peace plan cannot be achievable merely through “investment”, strengthening the Palestinian economy and the economic relationship between Israel and the West Bank.

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Israel-Palestine: Obama Invites Netanyahu, Abbas, Mubarak to US

abbas1After yesterday's announcement that President Obama is inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas (pictured) to Washington in May, we now know the US plan for Israel and Palestine in full.

Let's Talk. If Only for the Sake of Talking.

The visit of the Middle East trio to the White House follows last week's set-up discussions by US envoy George Mitchell in the region. After the talks, Obama will probably announce that he will go to Israel and the West Bank in June (a plan we recently revealed on Enduring America).

It is hard to see, however, what the US is achieving so far other than going through the motions. Even before getting to the detail of an Israel-Palestinian settlement, there are two not-so-small obstacles.

The first is the position of the Israeli Government. While Netanyahu went through the diplomatic motions in talking to Mitchell last week, in contrast to the hard-line image of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he pointedly did not accept the "two-state" formula pushed by the US. The Israeli position --- discussions should be on areas such as economic development and "security" rather than any notion of Palestinian independence --- is still being held.

US officials put out signals that Mitchell pressed Netanyahu to show some flexiblity, and no doubt those signals --- if only for public display --- will be repeated before the May talks. Even so, there  is the second obstacle: the uninvited but very visible presence of Hamas.

Of course, Obama could not countenance a White House welcome for Hamas leaders such as Khaled Meshaal or Gazan Prime Minister Ismail Haniya. What is more important is that there are still no indications of a discreet Washington contact, direct or through third parties, with the organisation. Instead, the US can probably hold to its own line that, as long as the Cairo talks fail to produce "Palestinian unity", the issue of Hamas at the table does not arise.

That means, however, that these are not talks on Israel and Palestine but, at most, on Israel and the West Bank. And it also means that the impression, if not the actual US policy, will be of a political strategy with Israel and Egypt to prop up Abbas --- whose term as President of the West Bank expired on 9 January --- as a "leader" even without significant movement towards a Palestinian state.

Israel-Palestine: What Has Happened to George Mitchell's Talks?

mitchell-netanyahuFunny thing about US envoy George Mitchell's latest visit to the Middle East: most of the US and British press didn't take much notice.

Mitchell was in talks yesterday with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and opposition leader Tzipi Livni. The New York Times decided this was worth one paragraph with the lead sentence:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday skirted calls by George J. Mitchell, President Obama’s envoy to the Middle East, for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, demanding prior Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state instead.

The Washington Post relied on an Associated Press summary, "Stark differences between U.S. and Israeli policy toward peace talks with the Palestinians emerged clearly Thursday."

Even those brief mentions, however, raise the question: has Netanyahu effectively blocked Washington's pursuit of substantial Israeli-Palestinian negotiations?

Ha'aretz, the Israeli newspaper, offers a possible answer:
The Obama administration is preparing a Middle East peace process that will include simultaneous bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel and Syria. The plan is based on the Arab peace initiative that offers establishing normal relations between Israel and Arab League states in exchange for withdrawing from the occupied territories and establishing a Palestinian state.

The United States will put together a "security package," including demilitarization of the territories from which Israel will withdraw and the option of stationing a multinational force in them for years.

Frustratingly, Ha'aretz gives no clue to its source, so it is unclear if the information has been leaked by Washington. Even more curiously, the spin on the plan is that "the Obama administration believes that a breakthrough in the peace process between Israel and the Arab states would restrain Tehran's influence and contribute to the diplomatic effort to block Iran's nuclearization". This could be an attempt by an Israeli official to sell the US approach to a domestic audience, or it could be an American attempt to overcome Tel Aviv's opposition by setting out the "Iran-first" framework.

All this speculation and spin, however, may be no more than academic, given the current Israeli position. Palestinian Authority leaders, meeting Mitchell in the West Bank today, made clear, "The U.S. must hold Israel to previous peace commitments and pressure it to accept the principle of Palestinian statehood."

Exclusive: A Turkish "Vacation", a US Envoy, and an Israel-Syria Settlement

omediate_p1What could Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's vacation and the Obama strategy on the Middle East have in common?

Quite a lot.

Erdogan, after an intense workload from a showdown with Israel to success in Turkish elections, has decided that a three-day holiday in Hataywith his family is what the doctor has ordered.

That is, if Erdogan's doctor had a second degree in Politics. The two cities where the Prime Minister is relaxing, Antalya and Balikesir, were lost to opposition parties, as was Hatay, the only city with a coast on the Mediterranean.

And maybe that doctor's third degree is in Middle Eastern Politics. Hatay isn't exactly the top choice for a VIP holiday; instead, Erdogan may have noticed that the city is on the Syrian border.

However, where Hatay has been the site of Turkish-Syrian disputes in the past, today it may be the pretext for Erdogan to meet new friends in Damascus. For months up to December 2008, the Turkish Prime Minister was working with Syrian President Bashir al-Assad to arrange direct Israel-Syria talks. And, while the Gaza War was a pretty serious inconvenience to those plans, Assad's recent meeting with US envoys and signals from Damascus indicate that Syria is ready to enter negotiations with Tel Aviv.

Which is where the US, or to be precise, Obama envoy George Mitchell enters the picture. Mitchell is not one to take holidays, but it just so happens he will be arriving in the Middle East on Monday. His first stop? A visit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mitchell faces a tough task getting Netanyahu to agree, at least in the short-term, to talks on a two-state solution with Palestine. Pushing the Israeli Prime Minister towards discussions with the existing state of Syria would be a most welcome alternative.

A five-star vacation? Not exactly. Five-star diplomacy? Definitely.

Obama to Visit Israel, West Bank in June; Showdown with Netanyahu?

obama7Now that President Obama has completed his walk across Europe and Turkey, with a quick stay in Iraq, where does he go next?

Israel and the West Bank.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reports, based on "an announcement circulated among American diplomatic representations in the region", that Obama will visit the area in June, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, after he sees President Nicolas Sarkozy in France.

Before the President's trip, US envoy George Mitchell --- who has been in the shadows as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her high-profile intervention last month --- will resurface to visit the Middle East from 13 April. Netanyahu will then come to Washington in May.

Interpretation? The Obama Administration is trying to restart discussions based, first and foremost, on the acknowledgement of a two-state Israel-Palestine solution. The signals were there in Obama's speech in Ankara, as he pointed to Turkey as an influence for Israeli discussions with its neighbours, and even in his Town Hall meeting with Turkish students on Monday evening.

The immediate obstacle is the Israeli Cabinet. Netanyahu has resisted talks based on an assumption of a Palestinian state, and his Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was trying this week to put away the possibility of discussions. Israel is also insisting that the US get very, very tough with Iran before any significant move is made on Palestine.

Indeed, the initial skirmishes in an Obama-Netanyahu battle may have begun. Ha'aretz reports this morning:
In an unprecedented move, the Obama administration is readying for a possible confrontation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by briefing Democratic congressmen on the peace process and the positions of the new government in Israel regarding a two-state solution. The Obama administration is expecting a clash with Netanyahu over his refusal to support the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Meanwhile, Israel and Netanyahu's close friend within the George W. Bush Administration, Elliott Abrams, writing in The Washington Post, tries to draw a line in the sand. No concessions, not even a pause in the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank:
Settlement activity is not diminishing the territory of a future Palestinian entity. In fact, the emphasis on a "settlement freeze" draws attention from the progress that's needed to lay the foundation for full Palestinian self-rule -- building a thriving economy, fighting terrorism through reliable security forces and establishing the rule of law.