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Entries in Obama Administration (23)


Iran: Why is Israel Now Endorsing the Enrichment Deal?

The Latest from Iran (31 October): Parliament’s Challenge to Ahmadinejad

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ISRAEL IRANOn Friday Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu praised the Obama Administration engagement with Tehran and Washington's plan for "enrichment outside Iran by a third country":
I also wanted to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the president's ongoing efforts to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear military capability.

I think that the proposal the president made in Geneva, to have Iran withdraw its enriched uranium - a portion of it - outside Iran is a positive first step in that direction.

Hmm....Only days ago Israeli officials were declaring their opposition to any thought of enrichment of Iran's uranium, inside or outside the country.

So why the change in attitude? Step up all those who think Israel now believes the talks on enrichment will fail. Once the prospect of agreement is gone, Tel Aviv can pose as a supporter of engagement while heaping blame on Iran for its devious and manipulative approach to all peaceful, freedom-loving nations.

Video & Transcript: Hamas' Meshaal "Peace with Recognition and 1967 Borders"

Israel: Clinton Arrives on Saturday for Talks
Israel-Palestine: Clinton Tries to Help Abbas

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In an interview with the website Palestine Note, Hamas political director Khaled Meshaal commented on Hamas's past in the context of democracy, the Hamas-Fatah tensions, the Goldstone Report on the Gaza War, Hamas' ties to Islam, and the relationship between Hamas and the US Government:
We respect our people's choices and you know freedom is the basis in people's lives. What we are suffering from is the absence of freedom....

The important thing is that there is democracy we depend on, a general law that protects everyone, there is law and freedom, there is diversity and peaceful leadership....

Here's the starting point, and if the Arabs and the Palestinians found seriousness from the American administration in pressuring Israel to withdraw to 1967 borders, and recognize the Palestinian and Arab rights and stops its occupation and aggression, I'm telling you that the Arabs and Palestinians will cooperate with the American administration and there will be peace in the region.

The Full Transcript:

Clemons: Hi, I'm Steve Clemons. I direct the foreign policy programs at the New America Foundation in Washington, and I'm helping a special project for a new blog, called the Palestine Note. And we're here with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal who has been kind enough to invite me in to have a discussion today about his vision and views for Palestine.

Clemons: Thank you so much for meeting with me. It's great to be with you.

Meshal: Welcome.

Clemons: Let me start with kind of an emotional question. Unfortunately I know and I want to express my condolences that your father passed away recently, and I'm sorry for that.

Barack Obama once wrote a book when he was young, called "Dreams from My Father." Of course, his father was from Kenya and had dreams of a better world and a more just world, a world that you know where racism was less of it. It's a very compelling book, and it just made me think that maybe you might have some visions if your very interesting father in the life he live may have shaped how you look at Palestine. Do you have any thoughts, or have you thought about this connection to Obama and his dad and what your father was like?

Meshal: In the Name of Allah. Welcome to you and the respectful viewers.

There is no doubt that every human being is related to his father's experience emotionally and socially. The relationship between the father and his son is spontaneous, in addition to the total experience as the human being learns from his father from the first day, and from his small family. The human being is an extension of his father's experience, ambition and dreams. My father, may God have mercy on him, was a struggler. He fought against the British mandate and the Zionist settlers who came to Palestine.

My father was carrying the ambitions of his people. He was looking forward for the freedom and ridding of the occupation. I acquired this spirit from my father before I read about it in all of the books. I consider myself an extension to my father's experience. And I'm one of the Palestinians whose generation that is an extension to the previous generations, which carried our national concerns and goal.

Now, our generation and the next one are carrying the experience and go on with it and inherit it. This is part of the ingenuity of the Palestinian people. It's a people whose experience is extended: the fathers, the children, the grandchildren and so on until our national goal is achieved. So there is no doubt that president Obama had his experience with his father's dreams. I also have my experience, not only with my father's dreams but also with my father's struggle and his experience. I carry this experience and take it to my sons and then to my grandsons until we get rid of the occupation and achieve our national goal, by God's will.

Clemons: Your country today and your government is divided. There is Gaza. There is the West Bank. There is Fatah. There is Hamas. There are independents, I understand. Can you share with our audience what your vision is if you were to help govern a united Palestine. What is the vision for a united Palestine, particularly after the occupation? Is there a positive, constructive vision for Palestine that someone like you in leadership can see and talk about that exists beyond the darker side of the Israeli occupation?

Meshal: Certainly. We are a movement that carries the concerns of its people.

We work hard to end the Palestinian division first so we become one Palestinian side, one authority, one Palestinian leadership, we have one political vision which we work together to achieve. We are going through sad reality. We look forward for a better reality.

Between the current and future reality there is a gap that we seek to fill through struggle and determination. Our goal is to get rid of the occupation: our people live away from occupation, killings, and arrests and the region lives without bloodshed and to have a real peace in the region, a just peace that is fair to our people that provides it with real independence and the complete right of determining the fate so that we live like how the world's peoples live, with no occupation on our land and with real sovereignty and in an independent state with real sovereignty, like all world countries.

That's what we seek. We seek this goal through struggle and cooperation with the international community and the regional surrounding. We want the bloodshed to stop. We want to not have wars in the region, but after our people get their rights. This is the normal situation. Our people look forward to achieve this goal through any peaceful means, but unfortunately our people were affected or let down by many of its surroundings. That's why they sought the struggle through resistance, which is a means not a need. If they found a peaceful ways to get their rights, they will deal with it seriously. In brief, our people seek the freedom and the right of determining the fate.

Clemons: So you are going to Cairo, your people are going to Cairo?

Meshal: No, I will send a delegation.

Clemons: Some people fear that a Hamas-led government hasn't shown the ability to handle diversity, to handle settlements, to handle people that are different. What is your answer to those who think that the code that comes not just the fact that you are less corrupt than Fatah or there is more competence or you have vision in a sense, but there are other parts that certain people fear. Can you govern in what we call a heterodox way where minorities have rights? And the reason that I raise this is that there has been some concern in Gaza that could there be private schools? You know, the women in the hijab, the incidents on the beach without swimming and on. But do you have any response for those who fear on the cultural life style side? What would living under Hamas regime look like?

Meshal: First, Hamas does not seek to run the government individually. Hamas seeks to liberate its land and to restore its people's rights with the help of the other Palestinian political powers. After achieving this goal, we will be partners in ruling the homeland and the forthcoming Palestinian state, by the will of God. So Hamas is not with the individuality, that's first.

Secondly, our vision is to give our people the freedom to choose, like they choose their leaderships through polling boxes, they can choose the freedom of their ruling regime, and their intellectual and social programs. In the essence, we give our people the freedom and our people are aware and know what to choose.

We respect our people's choices and you know freedom is the basis in people's lives. What we are suffering from is the absence of freedom. Consequently our demand is to provide the people with the freedom. And through the history of Palestine and the fact that it's the land of religions and prophets, and this Palestine had all prophets and that's why in it lived the Muslims, the Christians and some Jews and there was a big deal of tolerance and coexistence.

The problem is when Zionism came to invade the land and impose its power by force, but there was no problem to have the Muslim, the Christian and the Jew live together for fourteenth centuries peacefully in Palestine and the other Arab countries. So this diversity is the main component of the social, intellectual and political life in Palestine. We respect that and we will preserve that. Some of what was said about Gaza that there is the subject of Hijab and so on, these are individual practices that we do not order and we do not allow anyone to impose what to eat and wear.

These are people's liberties and we respect the people's choices, and the people have the right to have his own religion or ideology or belongingness. The important thing is that there is democracy we depend on, a general law that protects everyone, there is law and freedom, there is diversity and peaceful leadership of the power. These are the values we believe in. but unfortunately, when Hamas won in 2006 it has not been given the chance to practice its experience in normal conditions. It was subjected to embargo and pressure. Some of the wrong behaviors happen because of the difficult conditions: the embargo, the pressure and starvation like what is happening the Gaza Strip.

We need our people to be granted full freedom by choosing its governing system, its democracy, its parliament representatives and leaders. I'm sure the Palestinian people that includes Hamas, Fatah and all the powers will behave the good way.

Clemons: You have been, Khaeld Meshal, very critical of your partner in government now, Mahmoud Abbas and his position on the Goldstone report and America's position on the Goldstone report and here you have a critique by a very well-known jurist, human rights jurist who found war crimes issues in Israel and Hamas related to the Gaza incursion and Gaza crisis in the beginning of last year.

And one of the questions that I have is that your criticism is so profound and many people have heard it and felt it that Mahmoud Abbas is waffling has made you look like more a champion of Palestinian broader interest, but it raised a really interesting legal question about whether Hamas sees itself as a binding bi-systems of transnational international law, and thinking, one of the concerns of the Goldstone report was the targeting, the purposeful targeting by Israel of civilian infrastructure. How do you think this relates to Hamas and how it's evolving and thinking about international law, you know innocent civilians and what, obviously I'm talking about rockets and how they fit? Is your own thinking evolving because of the Goldstone report?

Meshal: First, we criticized Mahmoud Abbas because he fell for the American pressures and others to withdraw the Goldstone report. This is opposite to the benefits of the Palestinian people. There was a chance to condemn Israel for its crimes in Gaza. That's the reason behind Hamas's anger and the Palestinian people's anger and you realized that. Then he had to re present the report to the human rights committee in Geneva. This is an important correction of the mistake.

When the report was issued yesterday, we welcomed the human rights committee in Geneva reading it. When Hamas deals seriously with the Goldstone report, with some reservations on it, this is evidence that Hamas respects the international law and is ready to cooperate with this law. If the report or any other side has any reservations on Hamas' actions, we are ready to explain them and we will form an honest and neutral investigative committee in Gaza to give Goldstone and its committee and the international community the facts.

Hamas does not aim to kill civilians. Hamas does not want to target the civilians. Hamas defends itself, but because it has simple abilities and its rockets are inaccurate in targeting, so it reaches the civilians, but we do not intend to do that. That cannot be compared. We are the victims. Hamas, the resistance powers and the Palestinian people in Gaza and West Bank, we are the victims. When the victim defends itself, even if some unintentional mistakes happen, this cannot be compared with crime Israel is committing.

It is the occupying and attacking state which possesses a huge military arsenal and has the most modern weapons which it can target away from civilians. But Israel is intends, just like what happened during the Gaza war, killing the civilians, the women and children. Third of the victims in Gaza war or half of them were civilians. It destroys the schools, mosques and universities.

This is a very dangerous issue. Consequently there is no comparison between Hamas and Israel. Hamas and the Palestinian people are the victims and Israel is the hangman, the occupier and the attacker. As a result, Goldstone's report is important because for the first time the Palestinian people felt there is an international side that was fair to the Palestinians and accused who should be accused, which is Israel.

Clemons: Mr. Meshal, one question people have is Khaled Meshal is a Palestinian patriot or a Muslim patriot and when of the things that happened recently is we saw in Gaza Hamas take action against other Salafist groups that were creating difficulty and I think it will be very interesting for the people to know how you see Hamas characterized by in the media and how it's differentiated from other Islamic radical and Salafist groups out there. And obviously from an American perspective too many Americans look at all those groups, Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbullah, Hamas and they say it's all al-Qaeda, which I find, I know it's wrong but I would like to hear how you characterize this.

Meshal: First, We, Hamas is a movement of national liberation. Its program is based on resisting the occupier and achieving the national goals of the Palestinian people. Yes, we carry Islamic culture. We adopt the Islamic thought, because we are part of this nation, this region, the region that is Arab and Muslim. This is a normal thing, just like when there is a movement in Europe it is Christian. This is not strange. We are a liberation movement but we are an Islamic movement too because we are part of this region naturally.

In our Islamic thought, we adopt the moderate Islam, the in-between Islam, that is far from extremism. We are against extremism in the Islamic thought. We support the moderation, and this is the real Islam as we see it. We carry out the resistance but we do not practice violence. We do not open general violence. We carry out legitimate resistance against the occupier. We do not carry out these abroad, but we carry it out in Palestine against the Israeli occupier. This part of the reality of Hamas and its moderation. We are also not against any other Islamic group that opposes our thought, be it Salafist or any other movement.

This is part of diversity and freedom. However, some of the groups that became against the law and carried out violence internally against the innocent and the civilians inside Palestine because they oppose this group, here it was necessary to put an end to this group, but we do not fight everyone who opposes us. No. this is freedom available to everybody. So, this is the philosophy of Hamas. Hamas is a national liberation movement that carries the Islamic thought; the moderate thought that deals with tolerance and openness with all of the Palestinian and regional components. And we are also open to the world and we work with tolerance and openness and we believe in dialogue between civilizations and not through the clash of civilizations. We are part of this greater village in the world and we cooperate with everybody, but we want everybody to respect the other and not to attack its rights.

With the end of the occupation and the wars, the people will get the chance to live in peace and cooperate for the sake of humanity prosperity and achieving the goodness for it.

Our Islam which we adopt is moderate and we believe that Islam is moderate

Clemons: Khaled, in the ...

Meshal: This is the last question?

Clemons: Yes, this is the last question, a very big question. One is, can Hamas, without denying its character, without denying its basic DNA, can it be part of a unity government, a combined government in Palestine that if the United States and Europe and the Arab League and other states that can be involved in more responsible ways that can be more effective than they are right now, from my own point of view, can Hamas be an active and constructive player in peace negotiations or even equilibrium negotiations with Israel, in a way, or does that undo your basic charter.

And let me add the second part of the question: the question is if you were to give smart council to president Obama and his team on how to reach this region in a more effective way, a way that generates more results that are fair a long some of the lines that you shared with us today. What would be some of the things that you would share with the president?

Meshal: The first part: Hamas, we had announced, that is ready to cooperate with the law and with any international or regional effort or Arab, certainly to reach real peace in the region. We and all the Palestinians and Arabs accepted the borders of June 4, 1967. The problem is not with the Palestinians, Hamas, Fatah or the Arab.

The problem is with Israel. The problem is not whether we accept or not, but the question is does the Obama administration and the international community has the will, the desire and the ability to pressure Israel to force her to accept that? We have a big question mark. The Obama administration tried to force Netanyahu to freeze the settlements in order to start the negotiations, but he refused. So if neither the Obama administration nor the international community were able to freeze the settlements for a period of one year, how will they force him to withdraw from the 1967 borders? Whether with the Palestinians or with Syria, how are they going to force him to recognize the Palestinian rights in Jerusalem and the right to return and the land? As a matter of fact, the problem is with Israel and the problem is there should be an international will, led by the Obama administration to force Israel not to rebel against the international law.

What I advice the Obama administration to do is that president Obama and his administration to better know the region, the psychology of this region, the history, and the roots of the problem that was initiated in Palestine because knowing the history is important to create the present and the future. That's what's important. Secondly, they should realize that the entry to change the current scene in the region- to take the region from wars and struggle to peace- is not by pressuring the Arabs and Palestinians again.

The successive American administrations have pressured the Arabs and Palestinians a lot and the result they could not achieve peace because the problem is not here. Thus, the strategy must change, which is pressuring the right entry, which is Israel. Israel is the obstacle. Pressuring Israel is what will change the scene.

Here's the starting point, and if the Arabs and the Palestinians found seriousness from the American administration in pressuring Israel to withdraw to 1967 borders, and recognize the Palestinian and Arab rights and stops its occupation and aggression, I'm telling you that the Arabs and Palestinians will cooperate with the American administration and there will be peace in the region. Without that, the struggle will remain and all the American and international attempts will fail because in brief they're not moving in the right direction. This is my advice if the American administration wanted to see different results than those resulted by the Bush administration and the ones before it.

To achieve new results, you should have, we need, another approach, different approach.

Clemons: We are out of time. I want to thank you so much for giving the opportunity to the Palestine Note and the readers of the blog an opportunity to spend some time with you. Thank you so much.

Meshal: Welcome. I am happy to see you. Thank you very much. And see you later, Inshallah.

Video and Transcript: Obama "I Will Never Rush" on Afghanistan (26 October)

Afghanistan: Resignation Letter of US Official Matthew Hoh
Understanding “Mr Obama’s Wars”: Five Essential Analyses on Afghanistan and Pakistan

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Keeping you strong takes something else—a country that never forgets this simple truth. It’s not the remarkable platforms that give the United States our military superiority. Although you have some pretty impressive aircraft here. It’s not the sophisticated technologies that make us the most advanced in the world, although you do represent the future of naval aviation.

No, we have the finest Navy and military in the world because we have the finest personnel in the world. You are the best-trained, best-prepared, best-led force in history. You—our people—are our most precious resource.

We were reminded of this again, with today’s helicopter crashes in Afghanistan. Fourteen Americans gave their lives. And our prayers are with these service members, their civilian colleagues and the families who loved them.

And while no words can ease the ache in their hearts today, may they find some comfort in knowing this: like all those who give their lives in service to America, they were doing their duty and they were doing this nation proud.

They were willing to risk their lives, in this case, to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for al Qaeda and its extremist allies. And today, they gave their lives to protect ours.

Now, it is our duty, as a nation, to keep their memory alive in our hearts and to carry on their work. To take care of their families. To keep our country safe. To stand up for the values we hold dear and the freedom they defended. That is what they dedicated their lives to. That is what we must do.

So I say to you and all who serve: of all the privileges of serving as President, I have no greater honor than serving as your Commander-in Chief. You inspire me. And I’m here today to deliver a simple message—a message of thanks to you and your families.

By being here, you join a long, unbroken line of service at Jacksonville—naval aviators from World War II to Korea to Vietnam, among them a great patriot named John McCain. You embody that sailor’s creed: the “spirit of the Navy and all who have gone before”—Honor, Courage, Commitment.

In recent years, you’ve been tested like never before. We’re a country of more than 300 million Americans. But less than one percent wears the uniform. And that one percent—you and all those in uniform—bear the overwhelming burden of our security.

After months of exercises in the Pacific and stopping narco-traffickers off South America, you—the “Mad Foxes”—joined the recovery of that Air France crash off Brazil.

After hundreds of combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan…when Somali pirates kidnapped Captain Richard Phillips, you—the “Fighting Tigers”—were first on the scene. And others among you—the “Nightdippers”—were part of the carrier group that brought our captain home.

You’ve delivered medical care to people around the world, as my wife Michelle saw this summer when she welcomed back to port the Comfort—including those of you from Naval Hospital Jacksonville.

And like thousands of sailors in today’s Navy, you’ve gone ashore to meet the missions of our time, like the “Desert Lions” who served in Iraq.

Today, we also send our thoughts and prayers to all the folks from Jacksonville on the front lines at this very moment: pilots and aircrews around the world, Navy corpsmen on the ground in Afghanistan. And those of you—the “Dusty Dogs”—who’ll deploy next month to the Persian Gulf. You’re going to make us proud.

But there is no service without sacrifice. And though few Americans will every truly understand the sacrifices that you and your family make—day in day out, tour after tour, year after year, I want you to know this.

Your dedication to duty is humbling. Your love of country is inspiring. The American people thank you for your service. We honor you for your sacrifices. And just as you have fulfilled your responsibilities to your nation, your nation will fulfill its responsibilities to you.

That’s the message that I offered to the inspiring Gold Star families I met with a few moments ago—families who have made the ultimate sacrifice and whom we honor. And that’s the message I bring to you and all our forces, families and veterans—around Jacksonville and across America.

You’ve made the most profound commitment a person can make—to dedicate your life to your country. And perhaps give your life for it. So as your commander-in-chief, here’s the commitment I make to you.

To make sure you can meet the missions we ask of you, we’re increasing the defense budget, including spending on the Navy and Marine Corps. This week, I’ll sign that defense authorization bill into law.

To make sure we’re spending our defense dollars wisely, we’re cutting tens of billions of dollars in waste and projects that even the military says it doesn’t need—money better on spent on taking care of you and your families and building the 21st century military that we do need.

To make sure we have the right force structure, we’ve halted reductions in Navy personnel and increased the size of the Marine Corps. And this year—the first time in the history of the all-volunteer force—the Navy and every component of every branch of the military, Active, Guard and Reserve, met or exceeded their recruiting and retention goals. Yes, that’s due in part to tough economic times. But I say it’s also a testament to you and everyone who volunteers to serve.

To make sure you’re not bearing the burden of our security alone, we’re enlisting all elements of our national power—diplomacy, development and a positive vision of American leadership in the world.

And while I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this—and this is very important as we consider our next steps in Afghanistan:

I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way. I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up. Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That’s the promise I make to you.

As you meet your missions around the world, we will take care of your families here at home. That’s why Michelle has been visiting bases across the country. That’s why the Recovery Act is funding projects like improvements to your hospital and a new child development center at Mayport. It’s why we’re increasing your pay, increasing child care and helping families deal with the stress and separation of war.

Finally, we pledge to be there when you come home. We’re improving care for our wounded warriors, especially those with Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injuries. We’re funding the Post-9/11 GI Bill—to give you and your families the chance to pursue your dreams. And we’re making the biggest commitment to our veterans—the largest percentage increase in the VA budget—in more than 30 years.

These are the commitments I make to you; the obligations that your country is honor-bound to uphold. Because you’ve have always taken care of America, and America must always take care of you. Always.

You know this. It’s the spirit you live by every day. It’s the pride—and yes, the anxiety—when you wave goodbye to your loved ones on the tarmac. It’s the joy—and relief—when they come home safe. And it’s the dignity and respect you show every fallen warrior who comes home to Jacksonville, like the navy aviator you honored two months ago.

Navy Captain Michael Scott Speicher. The kid from Orange Park. Loving husband. Devoted father. Based at Cecil Field not far from here. Then, on the first day of Operation Desert Storm, he was taken from us. And in the long years that followed, a Navy family and this city would endure the heartache of the unknown.

Through all those years, no one missed Scott more—or fought harder to bring him home—than his wife Joanne. His friend and former Navy pilot Buddy Harris. And their children: Meghan, Michael, Madison and Makenzie. They were among the Gold Star families I met with, and we thank them for being here with us today.

Then, this summer, the news came. After 18 years, after all the dashed hopes, we found him. Scott’s remains were finally coming home. The evening news and morning papers told the story of that day. But few told the story of the days that followed.

It’s the story of how you greeted the plane upon landing—hundreds of sailors—and escorted his flag-draped casket to your chapel. How Navy honor guards kept constant vigil, through the night, as so many of you passed by to pay your respects. How thousands of you—sailors and civilians—lined the streets of this base as you gave Scott back to the city he loved. That’s what you do, not only for Scott, but for all the fallen warriors you bring home.

It’s the story of how that procession retraced the steps of Scott’s life. Past the Jacksonville veterans memorial that now bears his name. Past the church where he worshiped, the high school where he excelled and Cecil Field where he served.

It’s the story of how Jacksonville seemed to come to a standstill as people lined street after street to honor one of their own. Scott’s friends and total strangers. Police and firefighters standing at attention. Small children holding American flags. Graying veterans giving a firm salute. And then, as Scott was finally laid to rest, a final fitting tribute—his old squadron roared overhead, high across the sky.

That’s the spirit we see here today. You, men and women devoted to each other—and to your country. A proud country devoted to you. And the example you set for us all: that if you can come together—from every corner of America, every color and creed, every background and belief—to take care of each other, to serve together, to succeed together, then so can we. So can America.

Thank you for your service. And thank you for reminding us of the country we can and must always be. God bless you Jacksonville. And God bless the United States of America.

Israel-Palestine: Space for a US-Brokered Solution Narrows

Bring It On: Israel Counter-attacks UN over Gaza Enquiry
Palestine: Suffering Life at Israeli Checkpoints

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Is there any space left for the US as the "honest broker" of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks?

On Tuesday night, President Obama declared, on the eve of Israeli President Shimon Peres's Facing Tomorrow Conference in Jerusalem, that Israeli-US relations were "more than a strategic alliance." In a speech full of praises on Peres, he added:
Our moment in history is filled with challenges that test our will and invite pessimism. We can choose to defer action, to sustain a dangerous status quo, or we can meet the challenges of our time head-on. Like you, I believe now is the time to act.


Obama's speech was undercut, however, by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ostensibly, he was calling for "peace", by putting the burden upon Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas:

Now it is your turn to say the truth about peace, the need for it and the true way to achieve it. What is important is to do it publicly, not just behind closed doors; to say the truth about peace publicly, to our people and to the Palestinian people.

The problem is that Netanyahu's demands comes in the context of a series of Israeli conditions on the talks, including the dispute over expansion of settlements and Tel Aviv's insistence on addressing of specific economic and security issues rather than the general recognition of a Palestinian state. So PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, who happened to be in Washington, pointedly said, "There's no agreement" and accused Israel of feigning interest in negotiations while claiming the Palestinians were preventing progress.

Israeli representatives were unable to reach common ground with Palestinians over three demands put by the latter: the start of the negotiations would be accompanied by a statement saying the goal was to reach an agreement within two years; the goal would the establishment of a Palestinian state with permanent borders based on an Israeli withdrawal; and there would a complete halt to construction of settlements, including in East Jerusalem. Late Tuesday, Israeli sources stated that negotiations failed.

Still the US persists. On Wednesday, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice told Israelis to "relaunch Middle East talks now" At Peres's conference, she said: "As President Peres always reminds us, being serious about peace means taking risks for peace. Being serious about peace means understanding that tomorrow need not look like yesterday."

That is enough for now, it appears, to keep the idea of a negotiation alive. After the message of the Obama Administration, One Israeli official said, "There appears to be a meeting of the minds and hopefully the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue will be able to re-start in the near future." Another explained under the prospective deal, on which Palestinians have not yet commented, the negotiations could be held on the basis of two UN Security Council resolutions, 242 and 338, from the 1960s and 1970s.

The resolutions call for "withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict"; however, each party interprets this in its own way. For Palestinians, it obliges Israelis to withdraw unconditionally to pre-1967 borders, whereas Israel interprets this as a partial withdrawal.

So far from making Washington's task easier, the border issue may bring talks to a critical stage. Unless Israel is willing to drop its step-by-step approach in favour of a grand resolution, or conversely the Palestinians are willing to compromise on a de facto Israeli occupation while other issues are considered, there will be a stalemate, if not a dramatic collapse. Saed Erekat's words, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepared her detailed report on talks to Obama, laid the foundation for blame rather than agreement, "The report would identify the spoiler in the talks."

Turkey's Ambitions and US Plans: Obama Draws the Line on Israel

Israel-Turkey Crisis: Obama Intervenes

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turkey-usaIn January, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked out of a session at the Davos Summit after telling off Israeli President Shimon Peres over Israel's invasion of Gaza. That was the most striking picture of Turkey’s so-called “strategic depth strategy”, developed by Ahmet Davutoglu, a personal advisor to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan before he was appointed Foreign Minister in May.

Turkey’s initiative to consolidate its "relative autonomy" was far more than an effort to appear pro-Palestinian in the eyes of Middle Eastern people. It came as the United States was suffering from the complications of military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and from the tensions of its political conflict with Iran. The emerging financial crisis was bringing new troubles for Western powers, especially Washington. This, to be blunt, was a Turkish effort, led by Erdogan, to establish its independence of action at a conjunction of international and regional events.

Ironically, Turkey’s interest in strengthening its authority in its region, even though it was propelled by American weakness, was not unwelcome to the US. The Obama Administration was grateful for Ankara’s initiatives in mediating talks between Damascus and Tel Aviv, for its bridging role between the West and Iran, and for the willingness to host Israeli and Palestinian leaders. While Turkey was establishing independence, it was not being "revisionist" to the point where it  threatened Washington's position. The US would have reason to worry if Turkey's approach shifted from a stimulus for the peace process to pressure that would limit and gradually erode Israel's position.

Still, there were always the problems of symbolism.

The walkout in Davos was the first and most sensational image of a putdown for Tel Aviv. Obama was able to calm the situation when he spoke in Ankara in April:
In the Middle East, we share the goal of a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. The United States and Turkey can help the Palestinians and Israelis make this journey. Like the United States, Turkey has been a friend and partner in Israel’s quest for security. And like the United States, you seek a future of opportunity and statehood for the Palestinians.

However, Davos was not forgotten by the Netanyahu Government. That is why apparently minor "cultural" incidents, such as the broadcast of a Turkish series portraying Israeli soldiers as evil creatures shooting innocent children, as well as the political snub of cancelled military exercises has elevated tensions dramatically. And it is why Obama has had to make another intervention, this time through a phone call to Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

So why would Turkey, having made its point at Davos, risk a conflict with the US through renewed public animosity vis-a-vis Israel?Foreign Minister Davutoglu offered the answer in an interview with CNN. Just as Gaza War propelled Turkey's strategy for "strategic depth" because of the political advantage it offered in talks with Middle Eastern countries, so the renewal of the Gaza issue --- this time over the Goldstone Report and the continued Israeli obstacles to political and economic development in the area --- presented another opportunity:
We hope that the situation in Gaza will be improved, that the situation will be back to the diplomatic track. And that will create a new atmosphere in Turkish-Israeli relations as well. But in the existing situation, of course, we are criticizing this approach, [the] Israeli approach.

However, Turkey's decision to risk causing the US a bit of discomfort can be explained by other issues: the dialogue with Armenia and the Kurdish problem. Washington, long plagued by the complications of the two situations for Turkey's place in the "West", wanted resolutions. As long as Ankara moved toward settlements --- which it did with the signing of the Armenian protocols last week, then the US would be satisfied with the big victory and could ignore the lesser challenge regarding Israel.

The Israeli reaction to the Turkish series, however, was too much for the US to ignore, especially given Netanyahu's public criticism. The tension between Washington's two democracies in the region was now jeopardising the US vision of the peace process. Israeli decisionmakers were using the “anti-Semitic” atmosphere, particularly after the endorsement of the Goldstone Report by the UN Human Rights Council, to justify a halt to talks, and Turkey's activities were offering support for that pretext.

And it appears that the Obama phone call is already having the desired effect. While there is still tension with rumors that Israeli ministers will not attend Turkish Ambassador's 29 October celebration of Turkish’s foundation in 1923, Tel Aviv's also announced that it will buy water from Turkey amidst reports that Israeli reserves will soon be exhausted. Israeli Army Radio is also reporting that Ankara is sending a new ambassador to Israel to improve the diplomatic atmosphere.

Up to now, Washington has been content with Turkey’s non-revisionist expansion of its regional position, even if this was propped up by symbolic snubs of Israel. Ankara crossed a line, however, and had to be told so by the US President: Turkey's postures stop when they threaten the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Presumably, with that Obama reminder, Turkey can return to the proper strategic path in the Middle East, even if there are periodic objections from Benjamin Netanyahu.