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Entries in Benjamin Netanyahu (30)


Israel-Palestine: Washington's New Strategy for Talks 

Neither the "proximity talks" nor the proposal to start negotiations on core issues have worked for the Obama Administration. So, what is left?

Looks like Washington's next ploy is to press Israel to give concessions on East Jerusalem in return for direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, after the recent US-Israeli tension, hints both from the Palestinian Authority and the Netanyahu Government indicate this may be the best option for President Obama and his advisors.

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Middle East Inside Line: Gaza Border Death, Britain to Review Arms to Israel, Obama’s Passover Message
Palestine Video & Analysis: Saeb Erekat’s Speech at Birmingham (Yenidunya/Baghdady)

On Monday, an official in Jerusalem said the U.S. administration is demanding a four-month construction freeze in all parts of East Jerusalem including Jewish neighborhoods such as Neveh Yaakov, French Hill, and of course Ramat Shlomo in return for pressure on PA leader Mahmoud Abbas for direct talks.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that the status of Jerusalem is to be evaluated:
Again, our view on this, as, again, the view of many administrations prior to ours, are that the issues around Jerusalem are important and they’re final status issues. We think that coming to the table, coming back to the table, developing the type of confidence and trust that both sides need in these proximity talks, is important to building a process to getting to those final status issues.

On Tuesday, in an interview with MSNBC, Obama said:
I think Prime Minister Netanyahu intellectually understands that he has got to take some bold steps. I think politically he feels it. But it's not just on the Israeli side. I've been very clear that the Palestinians have to take steps.

On the same day, following a meeting in White House, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Paris stands with the US in condemning Israeli settlement activity in East Jerusalem and added that the "absence of peace" in the region "is a problem for all of us", feeding terrorism around the world.

A U.S. State Department official has denied an earlier report saying the United States will consider abstaining if the United Nations votes on a resolution condemning Israel's housing construction in East Jerusalem. The U.S. official said that "there is no such initiative before the Council, and we are not pursuing or encouraging any such action."

Iraq: What Do Latest Post-Election Power Plays Indicate? (Cole) 

Juan Cole cuts through the confusion to offer the latest developments in the post-election struggle to lead Iraq. Many useful points here, including:

1. No individual, party, or list "won" the 7 March election, since no one has even one-third of the Parliamentary seats. The battle is now to form a working coalition amongst the various parties.

2. While these maneovures include meetings between Iraqi political actors in Tehran, this does not mean that Tehran will control or dominate any emerging Iraqi Government.

3. And a point made through absence in this account: although the US has an interest in this contest, there is little sign of the Americans in these latest moves.

The Justice and Accountability Commission (formerly the Debaathification Commission), headed by Ahmad Chalabi, is moving to disqualify 6 elected candidates in the 7 March election for their ties to the banned Baath Party of Saddam Hussein. Three of those to be banned are from the Iraqiya list of [former Prime Minister] Iyad Allawi, which would reduce his seat total from 91 to 88, making his list second in number of seats after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, which has 89 seats.

The move, by commission head Ahmad Chalabi (himself an elected MP on the fundamentalist Shiite list, the Iraqi National Alliance), will cause a lot of anger among Sunni Arabs, the main backers of Allawi's list, along with secular middle class urban Shiites.

Al-Hayat writing in Arabic reports that commission official Ali al-Lami let it slip that one of those to be disqualified is Hamdi Najm, leader of the National Dialogue Front in Diyala Province, who is currently in prison on terrorism charges. His party forms part of the Iraqiya list of Iyad Allawi. The disqualifications will be taken to court. However, the courts sided with the Justice and Accountability Commission when it excluded candidates on these grounds in the lead-up to the election, so that avenue does not appear very promising.

But the move is not decisive in deciding the next prime minister, because who can form a government depends not on who has a plurality but on who can put together a governing coalition. It is true that the constitution requires the president to ask the leader of the single largest bloc to form a government. But if that person cannot, then another party leader would get the chance. The best analogy for Iraqi politics at the moment is Israel or Lebanon. In the 2009 parliamentary elections in Israel, Tzipi Livni's Kadima gained 28 seats and Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud only got 27. But you will note that Netanyahu is prime minister, because Shas, Yisrael Beitenu and others preferred to ally with him rather than with Ms. Livni.

I admit to a good deal of frustration with the corporate media in the United States that keeps talking about Iyad Allawi "winning" the Iraqi parliamentary elections. It just is not true. Apparently even some well informed and intelligence Americans can't understand the difference between achieving a slight plurality and winning a parliamentary election.

You need 163 seats to have a majority in the 325-member Iraqi parliament, so neither 91 nor 89 is a "win." Rather, 163 is a win. Allawi did not win and has not won and probably won't win.

The reason is that it is difficult to see how he gets to 163. He needs 72 more seats (or maybe 75 if the disqualifications go through). It is easier for al-Maliki's list, if not al-Maliki himself, to get to 163 seats than it is for Allawi, since the fundamentalist Shiites have 70 seats and they under normal circumstances will find it easier to ally with Maliki's Islamic Mission Party (Da'wa) than with the secular Arab nationalists and Sunnis that back Allawi.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that 'informed sources' told its reporters that Ali al-Adib, a leader of al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, recently met Muqtada al-Sadr in Qom, Iran, though they have not yet closed a deal. Al-Sadr has 38 seats in parliament and his bloc is the largest single group of seats in the Shiite fundamentalist Iraqi National Alliance, which has 70 seats. Then, al-Maliki is said to have returned to Baghdad from Tehran, accompanied by al-Adib and Abdul Hamid al-Zuhairi (both from the State of Law list) and Jalal al-Din al-Saghir and Hadi al-Amiri of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Al-Maliki is said to have been among a big party of Iraqi officials in Tehran the day before yesterday. They went there, al-Hayat said, because there was too much danger of being listened in on in Iraq. Presumably what is actually being asserted here is that the US has sophisticated signals intelligence and has widely tapped phones, so that in Baghdad any attempt at coalition-formation would be immediately picked up by US intelligence. Since the US is widely thought to be backing Allawi's secular Iraqiya list, it would be undesirable from al-Maliki's point of view for them to overhear his negotiations with other lists. Thus, they went off to Iran.

Al-Hayat's source says that Muqtada al-Sadr demonstrated flexibility, and demanded in return for dropping his objection to al-Maliki the release of all prisoners from his movement, and undertakings that al-Maliki would not attempt to rule single-handedly. He also wanted an agreement that al-Maliki would be fired if he attempted to overstep the decided-up course of action of the party. A Sadrist leader, Qusay Suhail, refused to comment on the Iran story, but did allow as how the Sadrists had met with representatives of al-Maliki's State of Law. The source said that so far in the negotiations the Kurdistan Alliance and the Sadr Movement have declined to put forward an alternative candidate for prime minister. So far al-Maliki is the only candidate from the Shiite parties, "and we did not sense any opposition to him." In contrast, cleric Jalal al-Din Saghir of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq insisted that ISCI would definitely put forward a prime ministerial candidate. (ISCI is actually too small to follow through on Saghir's bluster.)

Palestine Video & Analysis: Saeb Erekat's Speech at Birmingham (Yenidunya/Baghdady)

Ali Yenidunya and Christina Baghdady write:

On 23 March, the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, Dr. Saeb Erakat spoke about the current political stalemate at the University of Birmingham. This prompted a lively and open debate, with Erakat encouraging those who attended to challenge him. The topics covered were broad, including: the Palestinian Israeli conflict, including the most recent exchange of maps between the former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas; the relationship and influence of external powers on the region; and the problem with Hamas.

Middle East Inside Line: Is Washington Scaring the Israeli Government?
US-Israel: The Big Fight Within Obama Administration — Ross v. Mitchell, NSC v. State Department

Video sections are interspersed amongst the analysis:


Peace talks with Israel

Stating that the recent proximity talks should be based on a generally agreed framework consisting of core issues, in particular borders, Erakat suggested a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with agreed swaps of territory.


Erakat outlined the counter proposal, in response to the December 2008 offer of the Olmert Government in Israel, on the border swaps (part  3 of the video). Although the satellite images show that 1.2% of the West Bank is occupied by Israeli settlements, the Olmert government provided a map in December 2008 annexing 6.5% of settlement land (in return of giving 5.8%). The Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas provided a counter-map approving an annexation of 1.9% of the total land. Erekat noted that no agreement was achieved, and the problem is yet to be solved.

The questions remains:  what is the purpose of Israeli settlements and their expansion in the Palestinian territories since 1967? The term "security" is constantly reproduced by Israeli advocates. The Palestinian Authority also invokes "security", but it does so to consolidate legitimacy not just within the eyes of Palestinians but also in the international arena, since interaction with a stateless, non-territorial Palestinian group is more problematic compared to that with Israel. In the absence of a level playing field between Israel and the Palestinian territories and of Israel accepting conditions for the end of settlement construction, there is little hope for both parties to understand each other’s needs.


Erakat pointed out the cost of war must be greater than that of peace to achieve a peace settlement. Was this a subtle hint that Israel is hoping to benefit further from a lack of peace? Following US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, 1600 new housing units were approved by the Jerusalem municipality. Then, on 24 March, hours before the Obama-Netanyahu meeting in the White House, the Jerusalem municipality announced final approval for construction of 20 apartments in a controversial hotel in east Jerusalem.

That is where we come to the point of crisis. Despite Washington’s pressure on Israel to announce a moratorium in East Jerusalem if not a permanent freeze, the Israeli authorities are still ignoring calls to stop settlement expansion. Last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told  his ministers in the weekly Cabinet meeting: “As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv.”


This crisis came out in Erekat’s words: “If Israel does not want a two-state solution, if they want to call my home town Jericho in its Hebrew name Yeriho, if they want to call Nablus in its Hebrew Shechem, if they want to call al Quds, Yerushalayim... [it] is destroying the two-state solution.” (part 2 of video)

External influence

To achieve peace in a region of conflict, a mediator may be useful, but if the mediator is not effective or the peace process reaches a stalemate, then external influences and distant events can adversely affect the situation. Erekat commented, "When bombs are falling in Iraq and Afghanistan, bombs are falling in my home in Jerusalem....When bombs fall in Kandahar, it also falls in my home in Jerusalem."


For the mediator to conduct their role effectively, they must be on good terms with the parties in conflict. The US has been that mediator with the 1993 Oslo process, but their position --- after a second intifada, the attack on Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, and now a potential third intifada  --- is now strained.


Erekat noted the issue of "security" for the US,  "This is a wake up call....The US take bodies wrapped in the national flag back to the US daily... They do not need anyone to seek security for them." This "wake-up call" has arguably brought a renewed push for peace, with  talks much more regular under the Obama Presidency than under the previous Bush administration.

However, Erakat pointed out that the Palestinian government had chosen the EU for nation- building, security talks, and mediation, and it wasn’t because they "love them". According to Erekat, the EU have  credibility and can provide sufficient financial support to the Palestinian territories. In addition, the EU has relatively stable relations with the US as it faces its "wake-up call".


When one looks at the options available to the Palestinians, they have little choice Egypt and Jordan have arguably been effective as mediators; however, their financial contribution to nation-building as well as their credibility is on a par with the EU.

The United Nations, another option given their role in the Quartet (US-EU-UN-Russia) are not that close to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Moreover, it has failed on previous occasions to enforce the notion of the collective upon the action of a state, as in the ability to prevent the US-UK invasion of Iraq.


Russia would be an interesting but highly unlikely choice as mediator. Russia has military links with Iran and thus with Syria and Hezbollah. That is a suspect list of alliances for the US, which would prefer the Palestinian government to choose the EU over Russian involvement.

For Erekat, democracy is the second pillar, after “just” solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, of the fight against “extremism”. He stated, "Anyone who says Arab world is not ready for democracy is a racist.”

That assertion faces the reality of governmental structures such as monarchies in Saudi Arabia and Oman, constitutional monarchies in Bahrain and Jordan; constitutional emirates in Kuwait and Qatar, a federation of emirates in United Arab Emirates, an authoritarian regime in Syria, and a “half-democracy” in Iraq.

Erekat says that “democracy is democracy”, regardless of how it arrives,  but that cannot guarantee social change and a political agenda for his outcome. Indeed, beyond the Arab world, does the US want this? Which country has been the closest ally of Washington? Israel or Saudi Arabia?


The Problem of Hamas

Dr. Erekat harshly criticized Hamas’s policy following its victory in the last Gazan elections. He described Hamas’s existence in the Gaza Strip as a coup d’etat and emphasized that “democracy in Palestine did not fail but Hamas failed”. Referring to the Quartet’s demands (recognition of the State of Israel, renouncing “terrorism”, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations including the "Road Map"), Erekat blamed Hamas for not acting as a responsible government.


Yet, what is to be done? Erekat says that nations must go and tell Hamas to sign the reconciliation document. But how? In an aggressive manner? Erekat himself said that the peace talks had collapsed due to Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against Gaza in December 2008.

So, can Erekat mean that the only solution to peace is through dialogue in the region? Perhaps, given Erekat's reference to Tehran. Unlike his President, Mahmoud Abbas, who had blamed Iran for blocking reconciliation between his Fatah organization and Hamas, Erekat said that Iran should not be seen as a threat.


How is this possible? Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to the UK, Talya Lador-Fresher, in her own speech at Birmingham in March, said Israel’s official policy is not to help the Gazans develop themselves economically. West Jersualem's position is explicit: unless there is a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah, Israel will never intervene and talk to Hamas.

At a time when both Israel and Egypt show their teeth to Hamas, who is supposed to put pressure on the Israelis to show flexibility? The EU or the US? Given Israel’s “(in)security needs”, and its claim that it has suffered since the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, urging West Jerusalem to sit at a table with Hamas is more difficult than having Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the same table.

There is just one solution: instead of indirect pressure from Washington, the Obama Administration should start the same strategy they have pursued with Damascus to get a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas as soon as possible. This would not only help institutions produce an antidote to “insecurity requirements” but also bring an increase in the pressure on the State of Israel to reconsider the extent of its “concessions” on core issues.

Middle East Inside Line: Is Washington Scaring the Israeli Government?

Israel Warns Hamas: After two Israeli soldiers were killed this weekend in an exchange of fire on the Gaza border, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Hamas on Monday that Israel would react harshly: "The enemy in the Gaza Strip has paid and will continue to pay a heavy price if it tries to shake the equilibrium along the border."

Is Washington Scaring Israelis Now?: Political sources in Jerusalem say that the Obama Administration intends to impose a permanent settlement on Israel and the Palestinians in less than two years. Conditions on Israel will include opening a Palestinian commercial interests office in East Jerusalem, an end to the razing of structures in Palestinian neighborhoods in the capital, stopping construction in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and suspending building in the neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

US-Israel: The Big Fight Within Obama Administration — Ross v. Mitchell, NSC v. State Department

Israeli officials are not only considering this as a marked shift from previous American administrations but also as a  way to bypass direct negotiations between parties. [But do they ask this question to themselves: "Did previous Israeli governments build housing units in Arab-dominated parts of East Jerusalem?"]

With Washington telling West Jerusalem to leave "pre-conditions" aside and sit at the table with the Palestinian Authority, Benny Begin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's inner cabinet, described Washington's pressure as "bolstering Palestinian hardliners". Speaking to Israel Radio, he said:
It's bothersome, and certainly worrying. This change will definitely bring about the opposite to the declared objective. It will bring about a hardening in the policy of the Arabs and of the Palestinian Authority.

Meanwhile, Israeli government sources say it is likely that even if the current diplomatic crisis with the United States is resolved, Israel will soon face an even more serious row with the European Union.

US-Israel: The Big Fight Within Obama Administration --- Ross v. Mitchell, NSC v. State Department


Laura Rozen of Politico returns to top inside reporter form with this piece on the division over Israel policy within the Obama Administration, in particular between Dennis Ross of the National Security Council and Obama's special envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell.

Yet read this carefully and you'll pick up an even bigger story. This doesn't look like just Ross v. Mitchell but a battle between the National Security Council and the State Department.  Note the strength of the anti-Ross feeling amongst the unnamed officials and ask yourself, "Where are their desks in Washington?"

Then note the quick defense of Ross and dismissal of any tension by his NSC bosses, as well as the "other contacts", also likely to be in the NSC, who defend Ross's Israel line as part of a sensible approach to the "big picture" of the Middle East and Iran.

This is the "inside" part of the headline tension between the US and Israeli Governments. Just as something will have to give --- and someone will have to lose --- in that context, so someone will have to suffer defeat, possibly to the point of resignation, within the Obama Administration. Whether that is Ross or Mitchell will say a lot for which agency gets the upper hand in the Administration's foreign policy, particularly on Israel-Palestine and on Iran.

Middle East Inside Line: Arab League/Turkey Criticism of Israel, Peres v. Netanyahu, Armenia Complication for Turkey-Israel?

Since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tense visit to the White House last week, an intense debate inside the Obama administration about how to proceed with Netanyahu to advance the Middle East peace process has grown more heated, even as Israeli officials are expected to announce they have reached some sort of agreement with Washington as soon as tonight.

Sources say within the inter-agency process, White House Middle East strategist Dennis Ross is staking out a position that Washington needs to be sensitive to Netanyahu’s domestic political constraints including over the issue of building in East Jerusalem in order to not raise new Arab demands, while other officials including some aligned with Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell are arguing Washington needs to hold firm in pressing Netanyahu for written commitments to avoid provocations that imperil Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and to preserve the Obama administration's credibility.

POLITICO spoke with several officials who confirmed the debate and its intensity. Ross did not respond to a query, nor did a spokesman for George Mitchell. 

“He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu's coalition politics than to U.S. interests,” one U.S. official told POLITICO Saturday. “And he doesn't seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this Administration.”

What some saw as the suggestion of dual loyalties shows how heated the debate has become.

[ROZEN UPDATE: NSC Chief of Staff Denis McDonough fiercely rejected any such suggestion. "The assertion is as false as it is offensive," McDonough said Sunday by email. "Whoever said it has no idea what they are talking about. Dennis Ross's many decades of service speak volumes about his commitment to this country and to our vital interests, and he is a critical part of the President's team."]

Last week, during U.S.-Israeli negotiations during Netanyahu’s visit and subsequent internal U.S. government meetings, the first official said, Ross “was always saying about how far Bibi could go and not go. So by his logic, our objectives and interests were less important than pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi's coalition's red lines.”

When the U.S. and Israel are seen to publicly diverge on an issue such as East Jerusalem construction, the official characterized Ross's argument as: "the Arabs increase their demands ... therefore we must rush to close gaps ... no matter what the cost to our broader credibility.”

A second official confirmed the broad outlines of the current debate within the administration. Obviously at every stage of the process, the Obama Middle East team faces tactical decisions about what to push for, who to push, how hard to push, he described. 

As to which argument best reflects the wishes of the President, the first official said, “As for POTUS, what happens in practice is that POTUS, rightly, gives broad direction. He doesn't, and shouldn't, get bogged down in minutiae. But Dennis uses the minutiae to blur the big picture … And no one asks the question: why, since his approach in the Oslo years was such an abysmal failure, is he back, peddling the same snake oil?”

Other contacts [Editor's Note: almost certainly NSC officials] who have discussed recent U.S.-Israel tensions with Ross say he argues that all parties need to keep focus on the big picture, Iran, and the peace process as being part of a wider U.S. effort to bolster an international and regional alliance including Arab nations and Israel to pressure and isolate Iran.

This is an argument that presumably has resonance with the Netanyahu government. But at the same time, Arab allies tell Washington that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem inflames their publics and breeds despair and makes it hard for them to work even indirectly and quietly with Israel on Iran. They push Washington to show it can manage Israel and to get an Israeli-Palestinian peace process going that would facilitate regional cooperation on Iran.