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Entries in Israel (45)


Israel-US Analysis: After Washington, What Will Netanyahu Do?

It's not only the high-level US-Israel meetings in Washington that were divisive. The follow-up statements also clash.

On Thursday, President Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs said: “I think we’re making progress on important issues. But nothing more on substance to report than that.”

Israel: So What is This Government Crisis? (Carlstrom)

In contrast, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to Israel, his spokesman Nir Hefez told Army Radio that Netanyahu had reached a “list of understandings” on policy toward Palestinians, albeit "with additional points still in disagreement between the sides” in Washington. Hafez added:
There are several steps that the Americans would like to see Israel take in order to restart the peace process. We returned from the US with the understanding that on one hand, the construction policy in Jerusalem will remain unchanged, and on the other hand, Israel is prepared to make gestures in order to resume the peace process.

Despite the fact that Netanyahu gave no concessions on Jerusalem, Obama's timeline seems to be explicit: Washington wants tangible change to bring to the Arab League meeting on Saturday.

What are these "demands"? According to The Jerusalem Post, the Obama Administration asked Israel to commit to some limits on building in east Jerusalem; to show a willingness to deal with the so-called "core" issues of borders, refugees, and Jerusalem in the indirect talks; and to agree to a number of confidence-building measures, including the release of hundreds of Fatah prisoners. It is also reported that the administration asked for a commitment to extend the moratorium on housing starts in the West Bank settlements beyond the 10 months originally declared by Netanyahu.

In response, the Israeli Prime Minister asked for extra time to convene his seven-member inner cabinet ministers on Friday to discuss the US demands. According to Israeli senior officials, Netanyahu did not commit himself to a prisoner release and was bringing the matter to the security establishment in Israel for their consideration.

Netanyahu said that he is supporting construction in Jerusalem on his own accord and not because coalition partners are pressuring him to do so: "I do not need coalition partners to pressure me into continuing to build in Jerusalem. I, myself, plan to continue building in Jerusalem as all previous prime ministers did before me."

Sources close to the Prime Minister say that Netanyahu will intensify efforts to draw Kadima members of the Knesset into his Government. In response to this, senior sources in Kadima told Haaretz:
If Benjamin Netanyahu wants us in the coalition, he needs to alter its makeup, break up his extremist government, rebuild it with us. We will not enter a right-wing government and we will not join without an orderly political [peace negotiations] program.

So, what is Netanyahu's position now?

It appears that the Prime Minister is trying to convince his coalition members of additional "concessions" --- extending the moratorium on West Bank construction, delaying some settlements in East Jerusalem until the end of proximity talks, releasing hundreds of Fatah members, and transferring control of some areas in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority --- in return for continuing other settlement constructions in East Jerusalem.

If Netanyahu succeeds, then his government will be able to claim "no more concessions" to Palestinian demands. If not, then he will have exhausted all efforts with his coalition members, setting the conditions to blame his partners and accepting Kadima's demand for a reconfigured Government.

But for all these calculations, Netanyahu still faces a cold reality: the man who couldn't get an answer in Washington, needs an answer in Israel from someone who will work with him.

Israel: So What is This Government Crisis? (Carlstrom)

UPDATE 1345 GMT: Laura Rozen of Politico has just posted a different view of the Israeli Prime Minister:

Netanyahu departed Washington for Israel late Wednesday night, after what some sources described as a sometimes frantic last 24 hours of decision-making after a late night meeting with Obama at the White House Tuesday night.

Netanyahu was reported to have spent part of the day Wednesday in a secure room in the Israeli Embassy making calls back to advisors in Israel, after canceling a round of interviews he had been scheduled to have with the media Wednesday morning. He also met with Sen. George Mitchell and his advisors worked with Dennis Ross and Dan Shapiro to try to come to agreement on a written document of confidence building measures Netanyahu would agree to, but could not close the gap.

“Apparently Bibi is very nervous, frantically calling his ‘seven,’ trying to figure out what to do,” one Washington Middle East hand said Wednesday. “The word I heard most today was ‘panic.’"

Gregg Carlstrom, writing for The Majlis, tells some home truths about the supposed crisis in the Netanyahu Government and its constraint on the Israeli Prime Minister:

Yedioth Ahronoth quotes a bunch of unnamed "commentators" -- every journalist's best friend! -- who think Netanyahu's coalition government is about to collapse. So does an unnamed minister from the Labor party, who thinks Bibi will have to replace right-wing parties like Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu with Kadima:

A Labor minister said Thursday that "the government in its current state may be in danger". But a senior Likud minister disagreed, saying that it was "too soon to assume that the composition of the coalition will change".

Israel Special: Obama-Netanyahu Meeting and the Settlement “Surprise”

I think the Likud minister gets it right. Coalitions don't just collapse, after all; Netanyahu would have to make some policy decision that causes the right-wing parties to withdraw.

Obviously we're talking about a settlement freeze in East Jerusalem -- a decision Bibi has shown no desire to make. He said this week that the Palestinian insistence on an East Jerusalem freeze would delay peace talks, calling it an "illogical and unreasonable demand." And Interior Minister Eli Yishai told a Shas-affiliated newspaper that construction will continue.
"I thank God I have been given the opportunity to be the minister who approves the construction of thousands of housing units in Jerusalem," Yishai said in an interview with ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yom Yom.

Daniel Hershkowitz, the science and technology minister (from the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party) praised Netanyahu for standing up for (what he perceives as) Israel's interests; Silvan Shalom, the deputy prime minister, also commended Netanyahu for his response to "American pressure."

Doesn't seem like there's any crisis in this coalition right now. There will be, if Netanyahu freezes construction in East Jerusalem -- but that doesn't seem likely.

Israel Special: Obama-Netanyahu Meeting and the Settlement "Surprise"

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a two-hour low-profile meeting in two separate sessions. The leaders met for 90 minutes, adjourned to talk to advisors, and then Netanyahu requested another half-hour discussion.

NEW Middle East Therapy: Why You Are Not Necessarily “Anti-Israel” (Wright)
Full Video & Transcript: Benjamin Netanyahu’s Speech to AIPAC Conference (22 March)

Unusually, reporters were not invited to see Obama and Netanyahu shake hands and begin talks. At the end of the second meeting, the White House did not issue any statement. As for the Israelis, Netanyahu spokesman Nir Chefetz said only, "President Obama and the prime minister met privately for an hour and a half, the atmosphere was good."

Indeed, the meeting was overshadowed by another pre-emptive political strike from Israel. Netanyahu had assured Washington that there would not be another "surprise" similar to the announcement of extra 1,600 housing units made while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel, but hours before the meeting in the White House, the Jerusalem municipality announced final approval for construction of 20 apartments in a controversial hotel in east Jerusalem. The units, located in the Shepherd Hotel purchased by American tycoon Irving Moskowitz in 1985 for $1 million, were initially approved by the local planning council in July.

So, given the timing of Netanyahu's visit and this latest defiance of US wishes for a settlement freeze, is Defense Minister Ehud Barak the only Israeli leader speaking openly and honestly? In an interview to be aired on the US Public Broadcasting Service on Wednesday, Barak has said that he cannot guarantee that there won't be any future mishaps regarding settlement building. He said:
I cannot tell you that we fully control any step or any announcement about all these dozens [of] programs which are in the pipeline, including many that are related to Arab building in Jerusalem and so on.

Middle East Therapy: Why You Are Not Necessarily "Anti-Israel" (Wright)

Robert Wright writes for The New York Times:

Are you anti-Israel? If you fear that, deep down, you might be, I have important news. The recent tension between Israel and the United States led various commentators to identify hallmarks of anti-Israelism, and these may be of diagnostic value.

Israel Special: Obama-Netanyahu Meeting and the Settlement “Surprise”

As you’ll see, my own view is that they aren’t of much value, but I’ll leave it for you to judge.

Symptom no. 1: Believing that Israel shouldn’t build more settlements in East Jerusalem.

President Obama holds this belief, and that seems to be the reason that Gary Bauer, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, deems Obama’s administration “the most anti-Israel administration in U.S. history.” Bauer notes that the East Jerusalem settlements are “entirely within the city of Jerusalem” and that Jerusalem is “the capital of Israel.”

That’s artful wording, but it doesn’t change the fact that East Jerusalem, far from being part of “the capital of Israel,” isn’t even part of Israel. East Jerusalem lies beyond Israel’s internationally recognized, pre-1967 borders. And the common assertion that Israel “annexed” East Jerusalem has roughly the same legal significance as my announcing that I’ve annexed my neighbor’s backyard. In 1980 the United Nations explicitly rejected Israel’s claim to possess East Jerusalem. And the United States, which normally vetoes U.N. resolutions that Israel finds threatening, chose not to do so in this case.

In short, accepting Gary Bauer’s idea of what it means to be anti-Israel seems to involve being anti-truth. So I don’t accept it. (And if you’re tempted to accept the common claim that Israel is building only in “traditionally Jewish” parts of East Jerusalem, a good antidote is this piece by Lara Friedman and Daniel Seidemann, published on Foreign Policy Magazine’s excellent new Middle East Channel.)

Symptom no. 2: Thinking that some of Israel’s policies, and America’s perceived support of them, might endanger American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (by, for example, giving Jihadist recruiters rhetorical ammunition). This concern was reportedly expressed last week by Vice President Joe Biden to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. And General David Petraeus is said to worry about the threat posed to American troops — and to America’s whole strategic situation — by the perception of American favoritism toward Israel.

Identifying threats to American troops is part of a general’s job, and it seems to me Petraeus could honestly conclude — without help from dark “anti-Israel” impulses — that some of those threats are heightened by the Israel-Palestine conflict and America’s relationship to it. But Max Boot, writing on Commentary’s Web site, seems to disagree; if Petraeus indeed holds such opinions, that’s a sign of “anti-Israel sentiment,” in Boot’s view.

Now, for a lionized American general to even hint that America’s stance toward Israel might threaten American troops is a serious public relations problem for Boot’s ideology. That, presumably, is why Boot tries to show that this “anti-Israel” view, though attributed to Petraeus, is not in fact Petraeus’s view. Specifically, Boot aims to discredit journalists who attributed this quotation to Petraeus: “The [Israel-Palestine] conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel … . Meanwhile, Al Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”

Boot assures us that this passage, far from being a good guide to Petraeus’s thinking, was just “pulled from the 56-page Central Command ‘Posture Statement’ filed by his staff with the Senate Armed Services Committee”. Well, I don’t know who did the filing, but the document itself is titled “Statement of General David H. Petraeus … Before the Senate Armed Services Committee.” So I’m guessing it’s a fair guide to his views — in which case, by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel, right? And in which case I’ll reject Boot’s criterion for anti-Israelism.

Boot has an ally in Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman said the perspective attributed to Biden and Petraeus “smacks of blaming Jews for everything.”

Foxman’s claim may seem hyperbolic, but look at it this way: If he can convince us that blaming any Israeli policy for anything is akin to blaming Jews in general for everything, then anyone who criticizes an Israeli policy will be deemed anti-Semitic — and fear of that label will keep everyone from criticizing Israel. And by virtue of never criticizing Israel, we’ll all be “pro-Israel.” And that’s a good thing, right?

Actually, it seems to me that if we were all “pro-Israel” in this sense, that would be bad for Israel.

If Israel’s increasingly powerful right wing has its way, without constraint from American criticism and pressure, then Israel will keep building settlements. And the more settlements get built —especially in East Jerusalem — the harder it will be to find a two-state deal that leaves Palestinians with much of their dignity intact. And the less dignity intact, the less stable any two-state deal will be.

As more and more people are realizing, the only long-run alternatives to a two-state solution are: a) a one-state solution in which an Arab majority spells the end of Israel’s Jewish identity; b) Israel’s remaining a Jewish state by denying the vote to Palestinians who live in the occupied territories, a condition that would be increasingly reminiscent of apartheid; c) the apocalypse. Or, as Hillary Clinton put it in addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference on Monday: “A two-state solution is the only viable path for Israel to remain both a democracy and a Jewish state.”

So, by my lights, being “pro-Israel” in the sense embraced by Bauer, Boot and Foxman — backing Israel’s current policies, including its settlement policies — is actually anti-Israel. It’s also anti-America (in the sense of ‘bad for American security’), because Biden and Petraeus are right: America’s perceived support of — or at least acquiescence in — Israel’s more inflammatory policies endangers American troops abroad. In the long run, it will also endanger American civilians at home, funneling more terrorism in their direction.

The flip side of this coin is that policies that would be truly good for Israel (e.g., no more settlements) would be good for America. In that sense, there’s good news for Bauer and Boot and Foxman: one of their common refrains — that Israel’s and America’s interests are essentially aligned — is true, if for reasons they don’t appreciate.

Sadly, the Bauer-Boot-Foxman definition of “pro-Israel” — supporting Israel’s increasingly hard-line and self-destructive policies — is the official definition. All major American newspapers, so far as I can see, use the term this way. AIPAC is described as “pro-Israel”, but the left-of-AIPAC J Street isn’t, even though its members, like AIPAC’s, favor policies they consider good for Israel.

No doubt this twisted use of “pro-Israel”, and the implied definition of “anti-Israel”, keeps many critics of Israeli policies from speaking out — Jewish critics for fear of seeming disloyal, and non-Jewish critics for fear of seeming anti-Semitic.

So, if I’m right, and more speaking out — more criticism of Israel’s current policies — would actually be good for Israel, then the newspapers and other media outlets that sustain the prevailing usage of “pro-Israel” are, in fact, anti-Israel. I won’t mention any names.

Postscript: It has been reported that, notwithstanding accounts in Israel’s media, Biden did not, in fact, complain to Netanyahu in private about the threat of Israel’s policies to American troops. Perhaps predictably, the journalist who first reported this is the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who has been described by one New York Times columnist as Netanyahu’s “faithful stenographer.” I don’t doubt that Goldberg found an administration source who downplayed Biden’s remarks to Netanyahu; obviously, once tensions started to subside, and the goal of both America and Israel was to smooth relations, it wasn’t going to be hard to find an administration official who would do that, regardless of the truth about what Biden said. So I attach little significance to the administration’s revisionist account of what transpired between Biden and Netanyahu — especially given the heat the administration no doubt took over the original account of what transpired.

Middle East Inside Line: Britain Expelling Israeli Diplomat, Cost of Settlements, Israel on Rising Insecurity

London Expels Israeli Diplomat over Dubai Assassination: Britain is expelling an Israeli diplomat over the use of forged British passports in the assassination of Hamas chief Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, according to a British Foreign Office official.

The British Foreign Office said Foreign Secretary David Miliband is making a statement on the matter at 1530 GMT.

The Cost of the Israeli Settlements: According to a study by the Macro Center for Political Economics, Israeli settlements in the West Bank encompass 12 million square meters of roads, homes and factories that cost more than $17 billion to build.

Macro director general Dr. Robi Nathanson said: "The logic behind the economic calculation is to assess the cost of construction and infrastructure in the settlement enterprise. This isn't market value, but rather the cost of building infrastructure."

The Israel Air Force bombed a Gaza City weapons storage facility overnight Monday. On Tuesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said, "The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm the citizens of the State of Israel and will continue to operate firmly against anyone who uses terror against it."

On Tuesday, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi briefed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the security situation along Israel's border. He talked about three topics: the Iranian nuclear issue, increased firing of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip, and Hezbollah's situation in Lebanon.

On the Iranian nuclear issue, he said: "The Iranians are pressing ahead with their nuclear program. I hope that the trilateral sanctions will prove effective." He also added that it would be a mistake to rely on the opposition within Iran to neutralize the program's progress, as "the [Iranian] regime is strong and effective".

As for the northern border, he said that it is quiet "but that could change" since "Hezbollah is deploying more forces north of the Litani River."

Ashkenazi stated that Hamas was not behind the attacks from Gaza but added that the IDF will retaliate against Hamas targets since they see Hamas as "the sovereign group" in the territory.

Meanwhile, the IDF is investigating two West Bank incidents in which Israeli soldiers shot dead four Palestinians in less than 24 hours.