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Entries in Benjamin Netanyahu (17)


The Latest from Israel-Gaza-Palestine (27 February): Livni Rejects Netanyahu Coalition

cairo-talksAfternoon Update (11:30 a.m. GMT): Kadima leader Tzipi Livni says she will not join Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu in a governing coalition: Kadima will be a "responsible opposition".

Morning Update (8 a.m. GMT; 10 a.m. Israel/Palestine): The more extravagant headlines on yesterday's Palestinian "reconciliation" talks in Cairo proclaim "Vow to Release prisoners, Unify".

It's not quite that straightforward. Hamas and Fatah did agree to an effective swap of political detainees/prisoners in Gaza and the West Bank and "to stop smear campaigns in the media". The 12 Palestinian groups also agreed to form five committees on prisoners, security, and elections. The committees will begin meetings on 10 March and issue reports by the end of the month.

The question, however, is whether the leaderships of the Palestinian factions will act on those reports. On the surface, this appears to be an immediate victory for Hamas, which did not want any quick pronouncement on the make-up of a Palestinian Government. They now have time to manoeuvre, building on the upswell of support from the Gaza War, while Fatah and the Palestinian Authority scramble to recover their position.

The Latest from Israel-Gaza-Palestine (26 February): The Cairo Talks


Afternoon Update (3:25 p.m. GMT): US envoy George Mitchell has embarked on his second tour of the Middle East, meeting Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in separate meetings. 

Earlier, Mitchell was in Ankara to ensure Turkish leaders, who had criticised Israel over its conduct in the Gaza War, were on board: "Turkey is a crucial ally of the United States and an important force for peace and security in the Middle East."

This is almost a daily ritual. Two rockets fired into Israel; Israel strikes smuggling tunnels around Rafah.

Morning Update (11 a.m. GMT; 1 p.m. Israel/Palestine): The Palestinian "reconciliation" talks, involving a dozen groups but with most attention focused on Hamas and Fatah, have opened in Cairo. Egypt, after the failure of its strategy in the Gaza conflict is hoping to recover a prime position in the region with a successful outcome; its head of intelligence, Omar Suleiman (pictured), told delegates,
Everyone is looking toward you ... and hanging their hopes on you. So do not prolong the disagreement and deepen the division. Unite ranks to fulfill the hopes of all for an independent Palestinian state.

Fatah, with the Palestinian Authority's legal and political mandate in the West Bank in jeopardy, is pressing for a quick agreement on a new Palestinian government; Hamas is signalling that it will seek a longer process.

Meanwhile, in Israel, it appears that any prospect of a coaltion government of Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni, has been doomed over differences on a two-state Israel-Palestine solution. Livni is insisting on a clear settlement; Netanyahu is holding out against it. Former foreign minister and Likud negotiator Silvan Shalom told Army Radio:
There is across-the-board agreement on Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas but there is a big gap between Kadima and Likud on the two states for two people. It's unsolvable.

Latest from Israel-Gaza-Palestine (25 February): Netanyahu Searches for a Coalition

Related Post: Virtual Gaza - Breaking the Information Blockade


Evening Update (5 p.m. GMT): Hamas and Fatah representatives have met in Cairo in advance of Thursday's "reconcilation" meeting of a dozen Palestinian groups. Ezzat al-Rishq, a member of the Hamas delegation, said, "There was a positive and promising atmosphere at ... today's session."

Afternoon Update (12 noon GMT): Israel, responding to the firing of two rockets from Gaza this morning, has struck tunnels near Rafah.

As Hamas and Fatah delegations prepare for "reconciliation" meetings in Cairo, Fatah has released 40 "security prisoners" (or, in Hamas' eyes, "political detainees").

State Department officials have said US envoy George Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will press Israel to allow aid shipments into Gaza on their trips to the Middle East in forthcoming days:
Israel is not making enough efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The US expects Israel to meet its commitments on this matter.

Israeli spokesmen are denying receiving any critical messages from Washington.

Two Qassam rockets landed in southern Israel this morning.

Morning Update (8:45 a.m. GMT; 10:45 a.m. Israel/Palestine): Having failed to get agreement with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and Labor leader Ehud Barak on a possible coalition, Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud turns again to "right-wing" parties today. He will meet Israel-Beitenu's Avigdor Lieberman, third in the recent elections, and smaller political factions.

Damascene Conversions: The Engagement of Syria

assad3Joshua Landis has a complementary (and complimentary) perspective on Tisdall's analysis on Syria Comment.

Simon Tisdall, writing in The Guardian of London on Monday, offered a valuable analysis of the recent dynamics surrounding US-Syrian relations and events in the Middle East. Tisdall noted (rightly, in my opinion) the "realist" outlook of Obama and Co. and suggested that "improved US relations with Syria could hold the key" three vital issues: avoidance of military confrontation with Iran, management of the Iraq withdrawal, "and some kind of half-credible peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbours". He supported this reading with the signals of engagement: Syrian President Bashir al-Assad's interviews welcoming a US "re-entry" into the Middle East peace process, Senator John Kerry's visit to Damascus last week, and conciliatory words from Arab states such as Saudi Arabia.

What can and should be added to Tisdall's analysis are the recent events that have not only promoted this engagement but strengthened Syria's position in negotiations. In December 2008, the foundations for direct Israel-Syria talks had been laid but the wider context for the diplomacy was still the call for Damascus to end its support of groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas and to limit, if not cut, its ties with Iran.

Then the Olmert Government decided to gamble with the invasion of Gaza. The direct talks with Syria were suspended of course, alienating Turkey in the process, as Tel Aviv effectively hand-in-hand with Egypt and probably Saudi Arabia on the challenge to Hamas.

The significance was not only that this challenge failed but that it spurred a re-alignment which put Syria in the Middle Eastern ascendancy. By giving vocal and visible support to Hamas, Assad set himself up as the defender of Arab resistance to Israeli aggression, a position buttressed by the damage to Egypt's reputation. With Turkey and Iran recognising that position, as they quickly sent representatives to Damascus, and with platforms such as the Qatar Summit, the Syrians could look to a reconfigured diplomatic scene in the aftermath of Gaza.

Few have noted, for example, that there is no more talk of bringing Syrian leaders to account for the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005. It is also notable that no one, especially the US, is making a fuss about the alleged Syrian nuclear facility destroyed by Israel in October 2007, even though an International Atomic Energy Agency report last week pointed to the presence of uranium.

Instead, renewed Israeli-Syrian talks are being pursued so vigorously that Uzi Mahnaimi, who should be considered more a conduit for the Israeli military and intelligence services than a journalist for The Sunday Times, is writing: "Reports compiled by Mossad, the overseas spy agency, and by military intelligence, that strongly advocate opening negotiations with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria."

Which brings us back to the wider of the Damascene conversion of Gaza into a re-aligned position not only on its direct relations with Tel Aviv but on relations with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Tehran. Tisdall sees a trade-off: a new Israeli Government will have to engage in meaningful talks with Syria to maintain its isolation of Hamas: "If, as seems likely, [Benjamin Netanyahu] obstructs the Palestinian track, the Likud leader may have to give ground elsewhere, literally."

That might have been possible up to December, but no longer. Syria now has the cards for its territorial aims vis-a-vis Israel but for an inclusion of Hamas in the discussions on Palestine. The attempt to curb Hezbollah through talks with Damascus, which always was a curious exercise mssing the complexities of Lebanese politics and society, will now be kicked into touch. And the breaking of a supposed Syria-Iran axis is now less likelu than a dynamic in which engagement with both Damascus and Tehran takes place.

In 2003, chatter in Washington was "Baghdad, Then Turn Left". That thought of rolliing regime change can now be consigned to the dustbin of George W. Bush's history. It's envoys, not tanks, that are the talismen of this New Middle East Order.

Israel-Gaza-Palestine Alerts (23 February): Amnesty Criticises Israel and Hamas, Calls for Arms Embargo

Related Post: Has the Obama Administration Brought Hamas into A Palestine Unity Government?
Related Post: Text of the Amnesty International Report


Evening Update (8:30 p.m. GMT): Even as the Obama Administration opens up the possibility of accepting Hamas in a Palestinian government (and thus meaningful truce talks with Israel), it is trying to keep up pressure on the Gazan leadership and re-insert Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. US officials said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce more than $900 million in aid 0f at a donors' conference next week, however, ""This money is for Gaza and to help strengthen the Palestinian Authority. It is not going to go to Hamas."

Afternoon Update (3:15 p.m. GMT): Ehud Barak, leader of the Israeli Labor Party, has rejected Benjamin Netanyahu's offer to join a coalition government. The two had met this morning to discuss possible terms.

Egyptian authorities, despite the limited opening of the Rafah crossing, are blocking the movement of most Gazans. Among those refused exit from Gaza was photojournalist Sameh Habeeb, whom we have featured on Enduring America. Habeeb was travelling to Europe for a speaking tour.

7 a.m. GMT (9 a.m. Israel/Palestine): Amnesty International has released a report on the misuse of US weapons by Israeli forces during the Gaza war, calling on the United Nations to launch an investigation:
Israeli forces used white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the USA to carry out serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes. Their attacks resulted in the death of hundreds of children and other civilians, and massive destruction of homes and infrastructure.

Amnesty also asked the UN to consider Hamas rocket attacks as a war crime.

Israel Radio reports that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has suspended Amos Gilad, his envoy to the Egypt-brokered talks with Hamas. As we reported last week, Gilad had criticised the Olmert Government over its "inconsistent" position, notably its insistence on the pre-condition of a prisoner swap including Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Olmert has also asked the Civil Service Commission to check if his envoy's published remarks amounted to insubordination.

After their meeting Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni, the leaders of the top two parties in this month's Israeli elections, have agreed to further talks on a Government coalition, although Livni said "substantial differences" remained.