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Entries in Robert Gibbs (3)


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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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."

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-Palestine: Have New Settlements Threatened "Proximity Talks"?

Another develepment on the Israel-Palestine "proximity talks" (see related analysis by Sharmine Narwani). On Tuesday, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved a new plan to build 1,600 more housing units in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

White House's spokesman Robert Gibbs, condemned Jerusalem's announcement from the White House. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said:
I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units. The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.

The European Union's foreign-policy director, Catherine Ashton, said on Wednesday, "May I join Vice-President Biden in condemning the decision to build 1,600 new houses."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned Israel's plan. Then, according to the Ma'an news agency, the Palestinian Authority's leader Mahmoud Abbas warned that the move would derail negotiations before they had even begun and said:
It is apparent that the Israeli government does not want negotiations, nor does it want peace. The American administration must respond to this provocation with effective measures.

Israel's Interior Minister Eli Yishai apologized on Wednesday for causing domestic and international distress and stated that he was uninformed of the district committee's plan, because the matter was simply a routine, technical authorization. Yishai added:
If I'd have known, I would have postponed the authorization by a week or two since we had no intention of provoking anyone. It is definitely unpleasant that this happened during Biden's visit. If the committee members would have known that the approval would have escalated to such a situation, they would have informed me.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured his guest Biden that the programme, which had been drafted three years ago and only received initial authorization that day, could take several months to be granted final approval.