Wednesday, September 23, 2009

64TH UN General Assembly: No Peace Deal, Settlement on (illegal) Settlements

(WASHINGTON, DC) September 23, 2009 –President Barack Obama‘s speech at the 64th UN General Assembly meeting displayed evidence that a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians has made no new ground. If anything, the speech indicated the President’s plans to restart negotiations and retract his demand for Israel to end construction of illegal colonies.

"The time has come to re-launch negotiations - without preconditions - that address the permanent-status issues: security for Israelis and Palestinians; borders, refugees and Jerusalem," Obama said in his first address to the world body since assuming office in January.

For weeks rumors swirled with claims that Obama would unveil the plan for a US brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace deal this week. But, with Obama’s promise to re-launch peace talks all signs indicate that those plans have stalled.

The President claimed that talks should resume without preconditions, leaving many to wonder if the US imposed precondition of ending illegal Israeli settlement expansions are included.

"We continue to call on Palestinians to end incitement against Israel, and we continue to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," Obama told world leaders at the UN.

The Presidents call for a cease in settlement expansion was countered with Israel’s approval of new Israeli colonies in the occupied West Bank. Palestinian leadership has mirrored the President's call for an end to settlement expansion as a precondition for their participation in US-led peace talks..

"I will not waver in my pursuit of peace," Obama told the UN General Assembly in New York. "I am not naïve. I know this will be difficult. But all of us must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we only lend it lip-service."

Try hard not to diverge into the “lipstick on a pig” metaphor. But, if the United States were to sell the Palestinians a seat at the negotiation table after backing down from Israeli resistance to cease settlement expansion, a small degree of cosmetic enhancement would be needed for the United States’ position as a "truly" honest broker.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

World Powers to Hold Discussion with Iran

CNI Staff Writer

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili have agreed to open talks between the six world powers and Iran on October 1. The meeting will bring together representatives of the UK, China, Russia, France, the US, and Germany with top officials from Tehran in a location yet to be decided.

The news came less than a week after Iran submitted a new package of proposals to representatives of the UK, China, France, Russia, the US, and Germany. While the proposal outlined several political, economic, and security-related issues, it did not specifically mention Iran’s uranium enrichment program. A spokesman for the US State Department stressed that the blueprint for the talks does “not address our nuclear concerns,” but said that the US was ready to “test Iran’s willingness to engage.”

Also on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that now is the time for more “effective” actions against Iran including “harsh sanctions.” While these comments did appear to indicate that Israel has not given up on international diplomacy regarding Iran’s nuclear program, wide speculation remains that Israel could carry out airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Iran has insisted that its enrichment program is solely for civilian energy production and not for weapons development and declared the issue closed. Over the weekend, however, Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, “[S]hould conditions be ripe, there is a possibility of talks about the nuclear issue.” The presence of Jalili at the talks also bolsters the potential for discussion on that topic.

In a report released last month, the IAEA noted encouraging signs in Iran’s nuclear program. Representatives of the UN nuclear watchdog have gained greater access to some officials and facilities, though more transparency is needed. The same report also called on Tehran to provide evidence to counter “credible” allegations and intelligence that Iran has explored non-peaceful uses for its nuclear program.

When the report was release, Israel accused the IAEA and its director-general Mohamed ElBaradei of covering up incriminating evidence of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. ElBaradei hit back, saying the “threat has been hyped” and declaring that the facts do not support the idea that Iran is close to developing an atomic weapon. A 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate also concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Israel remains the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, though that capability remains undeclared and Israel has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Eugene Bird Antiwar Radio with Scott Horton and Charles Goyette

Click the link below to hear CNI President Eugene Bird's interview with radio! President Bird discusses the state of the peace process, and the supposedly leaked Obama Peace Plan!

Eugene Bird « Antiwar Radio with Scott Horton and Charles Goyette

Shared via AddThis

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Brown holds talks with Netanyahu

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is due to hold talks with Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on the future of the Middle East peace process.

During a Downing Street meeting, Mr Brown is likely to push for a halt to Israeli settlement building.

Mr Netanyahu is also due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell.

The Israeli leader is taking part in a four-day tour of Europe, having arrived in the UK on Monday.

Mr Brown has repeatedly called for a freeze on settlements, warning that the issue is an obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

He told Ehud Olmert, Mr Netanhayu's predecessor, last year in Downing Street that the settlements issue was a "barrier" to peace which must be overcome.

Israel has also been under strong pressure from the US administration on this issue.

At his first press conference since returning from holiday, Mr Brown is also likely to be asked for his reaction to the release of the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

Mr Brown has been criticized for not commenting on the Scottish government's decision to free Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds, allowing him to return to Libya.

Opposition parties have accused him of a "deafening silence" on the issue but No 10 has insisted it is a matter for the devolved administration in Edinburgh.

Iran discussion

The Israeli prime minister will meet President Barack Obama's envoy George Mitchell in London on Wednesday.

Mr Obama is working on a Middle East peace plan which is due to be unveiled this autumn.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told the BBC he wanted those meeting Mr Netanyahu this week to leave him in no doubt that Israel has to stop building homes on occupied land.

Mr Netanyahu can expect criticism of Israel's West Bank settlements from Gordon Brown. But this will be criticism delivered sotto voce. British officials don't want to upset negotiations, which are at a very delicate stage. And while Britain sees the settlements on occupied land as a breach of international law, it still counts itself - in Mr Brown's words - a "true friend" of Israel.

The US has been calling for a freeze in settlement building. Mr Netanyahu's important meeting in London, therefore, will be on Wednesday, with the US special envoy George Mitchell.

There will be other things to talk about at the Downing Street meeting. Mr Netanyahu will be looking for British help in keeping the pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme. He has often said that he sees no greater threat to Israel - and the peace of the wider world - than a nuclear-armed Iran. Britain, too, has been in the lead in taking international action over Iran. How, though, will Mr Brown respond if the Israeli prime minister demands a 'Plan B', should economic and diplomatic sanctions against Iran fail?

"Unless we do this decisively and convincingly, how are we to expect people on both sides of this divide to buy into this process?" he said.

The BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen said reports in Israel suggested some sort of settlement freeze could be close, perhaps in return for concessions from Arab states.

"But before he left Israel, Mr Netanyahu said he would not allow anything to compromise Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, part of which is also claimed by the Palestinians as a capital," he said.

He added the Israeli PM would be pressing Downing Street for the toughest measures necessary to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons.

Mr Netanyahu said on Sunday that stalled peace talks between his government and the Palestinian Authority could resume in September.

The Israeli government is currently not issuing tenders for housing on settlements in the occupied West Bank. Officials have said this does not amount to a settlement freeze.

Israeli groups that monitor settlement building say that settlement activity may have actually increased in recent months.

On the ground, construction continues at government-fundedprojects, by private sector companies and at unauthorized outposts, the groups say.

About 500,000 Jews live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements, which are illegal under international law, among 2.5 million Palestinians.

The land was captured by Israel in the 1967 war and Israel insists its undecided status means the settlements are legal. But Palestinians view them as constituting the theft of their homeland, while new settlement building further jeopardizes their prospects of establishing an independent state.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bibi the happy juggler

Aug 20th 2009 | JERUSALEM
From The Economist print edition
Binyamin Netanyahu soaks up the pressures from abroad and at home

IT HAS been a good summer for the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Five months into his term, his centre-right coalition looks solid, and he himself exudes an air of confidence. But more anxious times lie ahead as the Obama administration prepares to publish its own plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. A first draft will be unveiled in September, according to Egyptian officials who travelled with President Hosni Mubarak to Washington this week. Mr Netanyahu’s team expect the moment of truth in October. They are not looking forward to it.

For now though, Mr Netanyahu’s optimism stems from the fact that he is getting the domestic politics right. None of his coalition partners is threatening to walk out on him, an unusual bonus in Israeli coalitions where the partners-cum-rivals are forever eyeing alternative alliances. The fractured arithmetic of the present Knesset has led the politicians to conclude that Mr Netanyahu is the only realistic option, other than elections which no one wants to trigger so early in the term.

Mr Netanyahu has reinforced this reality by ramming through the Knesset a law that would enable seven members of a large party to secede as a block, and to take their state financing with them. It just so happens that Mr Netanyahu believes that seven members of Tsipi Livni’s Kadima, the main opposition party, may secede and join his coalition. Mr Netanyahu brushes aside accusations of unfair play. He says Ms Livni would do the same to his Likud if their roles were reversed.

In terms of policy, Mr Netanyahu has managed to juggle pressures from America and political pressures at home into a convenient holding pattern. An early confrontation with President Barack Obama over settlements has softened over the summer into an ongoing negotiation with the president’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, over how long and how extensive an Israeli building freeze might be. Building, by private contractors, goes on meanwhile in many of the settlements. Yet Mr Netanyahu won praise from Mr Obama on August 18th for an unannounced suspension of government-sponsored building projects. This was “movement in the right direction,” the president said, as was Israel’s removal of some of the checkpoints that hamper free movement for Palestinians on the West Bank.

Mr Obama also pointed to “increased economic activity” on the West Bank and praised the efforts of the American-trained Palestinian security forces which, he said, had “inspired confidence not just among the Israeli people but among the Palestinian people.” A steep decline in terror attacks against Israelis has boosted Mr Netanyahu’s standing at home and contributed to a widespread feeling that the conflict with the Palestinians is being contained and the dispute with Washington successfully smoothed over.

However, an Obama peace plan could sharply disturb Mr Netanyahu’s mood of calm. Just how sharply was signalled this week by four of his more hawkish ministers who chose to tour several of the “illegal” settlement-outposts on the West Bank which the government has pledged to dismantle. These settlements were not illegal, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party declared. Moshe Ya’alon of the Likud, one of Mr Netanyahu’s two vice-prime ministers, said the government should seriously consider restoring the settlement of Homesh which Israel dismantled as part of Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank in 2005.

Mr Netanyahu’s office said nothing. Officials there would like the summer never to end.


(ANSAmed) - TEL AVIV, AUGUST 19 - Israeli President, Shimon Peres, does not exclude that the presentation of the new American peace plan for the Middle East, announced for September yesterday, could end with a three member summit with the US President, Barack Obama, the Israeli Premier, Benyamin Netanyahu, and the president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen). ''The parties are ready'' for restarting ''real dialogue'', said Peres from Russia, where he is currently on a visit, according to the Israeli media. He added that he has had the occasion to meet with various Arab representatives recently and to be ''very encouraged by what he has heard'' from them. The prospect of a new peace plan was announced yesterday from Washington during a meeting between Obama and the Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarack, during which the president of the United States mentioned steps forward by Israel on the difficult question of ending Jewish settlements in the Palestinian Territories, solicited by the White House as a premise for re-launching the negotiation process.(ANSAmed).

Monday, August 17, 2009

An Israeli lobby Panic

by Rami G. Khouri

BEIRUT -- Is the Israeli lobby in the United States in panic mode? The Obama administration hit the ground running when it took office in January, quickly appointing George Mitchell as a special envoy to Arab-Israeli peace-making, and making it clear that President Obama himself would devote time and energy to the goal of a comprehensive peace plan.

Not surprisingly, an American-Israeli disagreement on Israel’s settlements in occupied Arab lands materialized quickly, and may well expand into a full-blown showdown. The United States says it is making equal demands of Arabs and Israelis. But Israel and its zealot-like allies and proxies in the United States argue that Washington is putting undue pressure on Israel alone.

The unknown wild card in this is “The Lobby” -- the pro-Israel lobby in the United States -- a combination of American formal organizations and individual politicians who argue Israel’s case so strongly that they are often seen as putting Israeli interests ahead of their own American interests. It remains unclear how the pro-Israel lobby will kick into action to shield Israel from the increasingly vocal demands in the United States that Jewish settlements and the Zionist colonization enterprise in occupied Arab lands must stop in order to allow the peace negotiations to start.

When it used its immense firepower to stop the nomination of Chas Freeman for a senior US intelligence post a few months ago, the pro-Israel lobby showed how it can achieve its ends by a combination of public character assassination and some behind the scenes subtle blackmail of certain Congressmen and women -- those who would expect to lose their position in the next election if they did not go along with the pro-Israel line. That was probably a warning signal that the pro-Israel groups remain strong, and will flex their muscles again and continue to assert their traditional control of American policy in the Middle East whenever they feel the time is right.

Then, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington recently, he was apparently shocked by the strong consensus in Congress supporting Obama’s demand for Israel to freeze its settlements and colonies. Congress is the key instrument and victim of the Israeli lobby, which is mostly handled by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Other pro-Israel groups in Washington, like the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also play a role in promoting a pro-Israeli position by the US government and in the public debate.

These and other groups that comprise the pro-Israeli lobby are successful because most American public officials are too fearful to fight back -- for they know from experience that they would be likely to lose their positions were they to do so. But when the American president asserts that a certain policy is in the strategic national interest of the United States, the pro-Israel lobbyists tend to lose their firepower, and find it difficult to oppose official US policy.

This may be happening now in Washington, as Obama’s team pushes ahead with its insistence on a total colonization freeze by Israel, and the traditional pro-Israeli Congressional voices are heard to be supporting the president. It is difficult for pro-Israeli forces to oppose a very popular president who defines his Middle East policy in terms of promoting a fair peace between Arabs and Israelis because this is good for both parties and is also in the national interest of the United States.

An interesting new case suggests that some pro-Israeli maniacs in Washington are losing their cool -- this comes in the form of their opposition to Barack Obama bestowing the Presidential Medal of Honor on Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and a widely respected international human rights advocate. Some Jewish groups and members of Congress feel that Robinson has shown a persistent anti-Israel bias in her work as a human rights advocate. US Representatives Eliot Engel and Shelley Berkley, among others, feel that during her days as UN human rights commissioner she was one-sided in her criticism of Israel and allowed the global debate on human rights to include anti-Israeli sentiments (such as at an anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, which included widespread criticism of Israel by national delegations, causing the American and Israeli delegations to walk out).

The Anti-Defamation League and AIPAC have also criticized the award to Robinson. She told an Israeli newspaper this week that she was “surprised and dismayed” by the protests, which she called “old, recycled, untrue stuff.”

She is universally admired for her commitment to universal human rights, and her criticisms of Israelis and Arabs alike reflect her sense of an obligation to speak out whenever fundamental norms of law and decency are broken by states or non-state groups. For key elements in the pro-Israel lobby in the United States to attack such an internationally respected individual as Mary Robinson is a pretty strong sign of panic.

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

AIPAC's Proxy War on Obama

By James Zogby

Founder and president of the Arab American Institute
Posted: August 13, 2009 02:53 PM

On August 12, 2008, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom, our nation's highest civilian honor, to 16 individuals whom he described as "agents of change". Among the awardees were: Senator Edward Kennedy; former Congressman and Cabinet Secretary, the late Jack Kemp; and Grameen Bank founder, Muhammed Yunus.

One of the recipients, Mary Robinson, Ireland's first woman President and world renowned advocate for human rights, was singled out for attack by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and AIPAC. They argued, on the flimsiest of grounds, that Robinson was biased against Israel (though for the ADL and AIPAC, anything short of effusive praise for Israel is seen as evidence of bias).

The case they built against her was based largely on her chairing the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in her capacity as High Commissioner of the UN Human Rights Commission. The Durban Conference has been criticized by supporters of Israel for its harsh criticism of Israeli policies. There is, however, clear evidence that Robinson played an important moderating role in tempering the language of the conference, especially when it came to upbraiding those conferees who crossed the line into anti-Semitism. She was praised for her efforts by prominent Israelis, including Shimon Peres. None of this, however, has deterred Robinson's detractors. When faced with the facts which rebut their charges, they simply ratcheted up their rhetoric. A recent piece in the Jerusalem Post, for example, makes an absurd charge, blaming Robinson "for the destruction of the universality and moral foundation of human rights".

Despite the harshness of these attacks, and the hurt, no doubt, they have brought to Ms. Robinson, I am convinced that this entire episode had less to do with her than it does with the President. And the charges against this distinguished Irish leader though not only wrong headed, hurtful to her, and unfair, were also a case of political misdirection.

What first aroused my suspicions was ADL's and AIPAC's silence about the fact that South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu had also been tapped by the President to receive a Medal of Freedom. Unlike Robinson, who has only expressed general concern about Palestinian rights and temperate criticism of Israeli policy, Tutu has been a harsh critic, comparing Israeli practices in the occupied lands to Apartheid. How to explain this uproar over Robinson, and not a peep about Tutu?

It is known that some groups, like the ADL, have targeted Robinson for years, objecting, for example, each time she received an honorary doctorate. But for AIPAC, and its coterie of Congressional acolytes, to have gotten into the fray, established that this was a political "inside the Beltway" fight. The goal here was not to deny an award, but to send a message of displeasure to President Obama, prompted more by his persistent pressure on Israel to freeze settlements, then his choice of awardees. AIPAC appeared to believe that an attack on Robinson was a safer route to take to send this message than going after Tutu--and with less negative fallout.

During the past few months, as Obama has continued to raise the heat on Israeli P.M. Netanyahu, AIPAC has been noticeably quiet. They have neither criticized nor challenged the President directly, nor did they mount a campaign to defend Israeli settlements. Instead, they took a more indirect route, opting to support Congressional sign-on letters, praising Israel's commitment to peace and calling on the President to ease off pressure on Israel and direct pressure, instead, on Arab states to normalize relations with Israel, as the first step in the peace process.

In the end, that was what this gratuitous "Medal of Freedom" shot across the White House bow was all about--not a concern over anti-Israel bias (or else Tutu would have been raised), but a not so subtle jab at Obama and a reminder, by AIPAC, of the controversy they can manufacture.

In this case their efforts failed. Many Irish and Irish Americans were outraged, human rights organizations world-wide, including those in Israel, came to Robinson's defense, and the President dismissed the protests and went ahead with the award.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Israeli paper says strike on Iran could delay bomb

JERUSALEM, Aug 12 (Reuters) - A major Israeli newspaper ran a front-page story on Wednesday quoting an unidentified "senior defence official" as saying Israel believed a military strike could disrupt what it says is an Iranian nuclear arms programme.

Under a photograph of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sitting the previous day in the cockpit of an F-15I long-range fighter-bomber, mass-selling Maariv quoted the official as saying Israel could carry out such a strike without U.S. approval but time was running out for it to be effective.

Neither the official nor the paper made any comment on the likelihood of Netanyahu ordering such an operation, speculation over which remains a major risk factor in investors' assessments of the Middle East region and in energy markets globally.

Israel rejects Tehran's assurances it is developing only civilian nuclear facilities and refuses to rule out armed force to stop its Islamist enemy acquiring atomic weaponry that the Jewish state says would threaten its very existence.

Israeli air strikes could "significantly delay" such an arms programme, Maariv quoted the official as saying. That is in line with previous, independent analysts' assessments.

Israel has backed efforts by U.S. President Barack Obama to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear programme.

Maariv said the official added there was "no point" in a strike in the near term, before such discussions had fully begun and before the Americans "despair of the effectiveness of the talks".

The official said: "The Iranians are creating fortifications and camouflage to defend against a strike from the air."

The official added: "The military option is real and at the disposal of Israel's leaders, but time is working against them."

(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Sophie Hares)

Losing Patience with Israel

via Palestine Monitor on 8/8/09

Not since the days of Henry Kissinger's Mid-East shuttle diplomacy in the 1970s has America's foreign policy toward Israel been characterized by such an attitude of unsentimental realism.

By Robert Kaplan

After eight years of fighting, the stalemate in Afghanistan and the loss of 4,000 American troops in Iraq – not to mention the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – has rendered the search for stability, rather than democracy, paramount, and created a climate in which interests are to be valued far more than friends.

Indeed, having sacrificed so much for the sake of the Middle East's future, America will not think twice about asking its friends—especially the one it bankrolls, and which is occupying densely Arab-populated land—to sacrifice, too. Many, both in the Administration and in the wider Washington establishment, have simply lost patience with what they see as Israeli intransigence over settlements in occupied territories. This may not be fair, or even wholly logical, for the issue of settlements is highly complex. But the reality is that Washington's quiet passions have turned decidedly against Israel.

Israel's supporters believe that because both the U.S. and Israel are democracies, the two countries share identical national interests. But Israel is half a world away from America, virtually surrounded by enemies on land, while America is an island nation bordered by two vast oceans. Because a nation's interests are governed to a great extent by its geographical situation, it's simply impossible for the two countries' interests to neatly overlap. Take the dilemma of Iran's nuclear program. Iran threatens Israel much more than it does America. It may very well be in Israel's best interest to attack Iran. But it is probably not in America's for Israel to do so, given America's exposure in Iraq. And an Israeli attack could destroy President Barack Obama's efforts to reach out to the Muslim world. If you think the tension between the U.S. and Israel is high now, just wait until there's a significant spike in casualties in Iraq following an Israeli strike on Iran.

In the weeks after 9/11, there were a number of terrorist attacks in Israel, which inspired a certain sympathy in Washington. That's why, at the time, calls for Israel to make concessions as a means of fixing America's relationship with the Muslim world fell on deaf ears. But terrorist attacks in Israel are rarer now, and Israel's incompetent war in Lebanon in 2006 and its inconclusive one in Gaza last winter have made it look like the boorish regional aggressor. Moreover, in the past, America's military establishment admired Israel for its military innovation and derring-do. But Israel's inability to cope sufficiently with unconventional enemies in Lebanon and Gaza has reduced its appeal.

One striking indication of the extent to which Israel has lost American sympathy was the publication in 2007 of The Israel Lobby, a controversial book by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. The book alleges that it was Israel's supporters in America who played a pivotal role in influencing the Bush Administration to go to war in Iraq in 2003. Their argument has several flaws and was roundly denounced by a majority of reviewers, but the fact that two highly distinguished political scientists—one from Harvard and the other from the University of Chicago, who have contributed significantly to their field in their other works—felt confident enough to go so far out on a limb on this sensitive issue is telling. Nobody takes such a risk without outside encouragement. Indeed, it is in the nature of these things that, for every reviewer's condemnation, one can assume that many others are quietly nodding their heads in agreement with the authors.

As for the matter of Israel's influence on U.S. policymaking, that will only wane as a new generation of immigrant elites – from Asia, the Muslim world, and the Indian Subcontinent – take their places inside America's civilian bureaucracy and military ranks. Israel is not central to the analytical concerns of these young, newly minted Americans. To them, it is just another country with which America must engage according to its interests. If anything, for this new generation—and, in fact, for the Obama Administration – it is countries like China, India, and Indonesia that are becoming the principal areas of focus. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's two trips to Asia in the first six months of her tenure were arguably the Administration's most important expression yet of what it sees as the new geopolitical locus of the 21st century. The Israeli-Palestinian problem is increasingly becoming seen as a leftover irritant from a passing era.

All of this leaves Israel in an increasingly lonely position. With whom can it negotiate? With Fatah, which is relatively moderate, but lacks support among Palestinians themselves? With Hamas, which has support, but which demonstrates no proclivity to make peace?

Both politically and demographically, time is not on Israel's side. Now that Iran is weakened by domestic turmoil, it may actually be in Israel's best interests for America, Saudi Arabia, and other moderate Arab states to impose a peace agreement by leaning hard on the Palestinians, as America twists Israel's arm. The result would be the return of almost all of the West Bank to a fundamentally demilitarized Palestinian state, even as many Israeli settlements are dismantled. What other resolution can there be?

Friday, August 7, 2009

American Spooks: Iran not Making a Bomb

The Federation of American Scientists yesterday released a copy of the written responses of the Office of the Director of National to questions given during the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's annual threat hearing, held in February. The biggest news is that Iran, while seeking all the component parts of a bomb (fissile material, missile systems), it is unlikely to have the highly enriched uranium until 2013 and the US Intelligence Community does not believe the political decision has been made to begin this enrichment process, a necessary prerequisite for a bomb.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Israel Lobby Kicks into High Gear

The Israel Lobby has been stepping up their attacks and disinformation campaign this week. First came AIPAC's condemnation of first female Irish President Mary Robinson's Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. Robinson headed the UN Commission on Human Rights after serving as Irish president, and because she and the UNCHR criticized Israeli policies during her tenure the Israel Lobby feels it appropriate to slander this respected international stateswoman.

Next came today's full page ad in the New York Times from the Anti-Defamation League, which blamed "Arab Rejection" and not Israeli settlements for obstructing peace. This is absolutely false. The Palestinian Authority has acknowledged Israel's right to exist in three quarters of historic Palestine since 1993. In 2002, every Arab government in the world offered to recognize Israel within the 1967 borders and normalize relations if Israel ended the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Both Israel and the Bush administration ignored the offering, embarrassing key US allies Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the process. Last week, Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal said Hamas would recognize Israel within the 1967 borders, only the most recent of such offers by the Islamist group. Instead, Israel has refused final status negotiations since the Oslo accords, and demonstrated that they intend to annex ever more Arab land by building ever more settlements and evicting Arab families on the West Bank. And onnce again, the Israel Lobby lies to American to promote Israeli interests at the expense of America.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Fatah Hamas Divide

Last week Howard Schneider, the Washington Post's Jerusalem bureau chief, named the Hamas-Fatah/Gaza-West Bank divide as the single biggest impediment to Arab-Israeli peace. With rival Palestinian governments there are no common positions and no one else knows who to talk to. Israeli hardliners use it as an excuse to avoid peace talks altogether, saying there is no partner to negotiate with. It is widely believed that support for Hamas has ebbed since the 2006 parliamentary victory, their violent takeover of Gaza, and the Israeli blockade and attacks on the Gaza Strip. With elections supposed to be held next January, there is hope that a strong Fatah showing may reenergize prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.

Khalil Shikaki, a respected pollster at the Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research, regularly polls Gaza and the West Bank. His most recent poll, while a bit dated (it is from the end of May, before Obama's Cairo address, amongst other things), is perhaps the most reliable data we have. It shows that support for Fatah and the West Bank administration of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad is increasing, while support for Hamas has fallen. Still, Abbas and Fayad are not especially popular and Hamas still retains a lot of support.

Had the elections been held in May, 41% would have supported Fatah and 33% Hamas, with 49% supporting Abbas in a Presidential contest and 44% Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Both Palestinian parties have credibility issues. Hamas won a plurality in 2006 not due to their Islamism or violence, but from their "throw the bums out" anti-corruption message. Almost 42% of Palestinians felt that the short-lived Hamas government of all Palestine was either "good" or "very good." But since then has come a disastrous conflict with Israel this past winter and a crippling blockade in Gaza.

Fatah is seen as being perhaps a bit too close to Israel and the West. Palestinians were especially disappointed by the performance of Abbas, Fayad, and Fatah generally during Israel's winter attack on Gaza, with over 40% feeling each handled themselves negatively during the crisis. Corruption in the Fatah administration, a major driver in Hamas' electoral victory, is still seen as being prevalent by over two thirds of Palestinians, with almost half believing it will only worsen.

Fatah's West Bank governing apparatus has been making reforms. These, coupled with loosened Israeli restrictions, have been helping return a sense of normalcy to the West Bank that stands in contrast to isolated Gaza and may bolster Fatah's position. An increasingly professional police force, trained in Jordan by the US and EU, now have unity of command and are keeping order, while neutralizing remaining Hamas elements. Israel has removed many checkpoints, turned more areas over to Palestinian control, and plans to soon open the Allenby Bridge to Jordan permanently.

All this should make the lure of moderation that much stronger. Schneider believes this may be the way some settlement does come about: not by a big break through, but incremental, confidence building steps, something Schneider likens to a "bureaucratic process" towards peace.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Our so-called "Friends"

Our annual $3 billion gift of money and weapons to Israel, the largest recipient would seemingly generate goodwill. But no, Israelis are determined to continue their aggressive policies, not pursue a serious peace agreement with the Palestinians, or make any significant concession to the positions of the US. The NY Times, no foe of Israel, showcases the anti-American (and some racist attitudes toward our President) of some Israeli colonists on the West Bank.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Iranian Influence Eclipsing American in Iraq

For the second day in a row, Iraqi forces clashed with members of an Iranian exile and opposition group that was long sheltered by the US military. The Iraqi entered the camp yesterday, killing a number of people and harassing many more. Many see this as the latest incidence of Iraqis defying US wishes and the increasing power of Iran in Iraq as US forces withdraw. The provocative nature of the raid was highlighted by the fact that it coincided with Defense Secretary Gate's visit to Baghdad. The US military apparently had no warning of the operation.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Secretary Gates meets with Ehud Barak in Jerusalem, once again gets distracted by Iran

By Shane McCarthy, CNI Staff Writer

The disparity between American and Israeli interests was once again illuminated in a recent meeting between Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Jerusalem. In a joint news conference at the King David Hotel, Mr. Barak stated that he did not approve of America’s willingness to begin dialogue with Iran but also acknowledged that he was in no position to dictate to the United States. Additionally, Mr. Barak maintained Israel’s hardline stance by stating that all options were still on the table in terms of dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, alluding to a possible military strike.

Although Ehud Barak has made clear that political efforts and economic sanctions should continue to be the preferred course of action, it is clear that Israeli patience with the diplomatic process is wearing thin. Recently, the Israeli military conducted a number of military exercises which suggest a preparation for the type of strike on Iran that they have been threatening.

President Obama, who from the onset of his presidency has sought out diplomatic dialogue with Iran, is hoping for a formal response from the Islamic Republic by the time that the United Nations General Assembly meets in late September. In early June, the White House received back-channel contact from Ayatollah Khamenei indicating a willingness to hold talks. However, the recent election turmoil and continuing human rights abuse allegations against Iran have made the possibility of a formal discussion more and more tedious.

Israel and the United States are aware of the possibility that Iran is simply trying to buy time to further develop its nuclear program. However, it also seems very likely that Israel is also trying to buy time. It was made apparent that in Secretary Gates’ meeting with Minister Barak (and subsequent meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu) that the majority of the conversation focused on the Iranian threat. Once again, Israel has demonstrated its uncanny ability to use the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran to distract the conversation away from other contentious issues, namely settlement construction and their own human rights violations.

President Obama is planning to send several more envoys to Jerusalem over the next few weeks, including NSC staffer Dennis Ross and special envoy George Mitchell. If any progress is to be made at all in the peace process, it is going to be necessary to take control of the conversation. Iran must be firmly dealt with, but much to the chagrin of Ehud Barak it is not the only issue on the table.

UK Parliamentary Committee: Talk to Hamas

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons recommended in a report released today that Britain engage in talks with moderate elements of Hamas, noting that the current Israeli and Western approach of shunning the Islamist militant has not achieved any success. The committee also expressed regret that British-supplied weapons were used by Israel in the attack on Gaza this past winter. The House of Commons members, representing all three major British parties, join a former US undersecretary of state Thomas Pickering and a quartet of American elder statesmen--former President Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of State James Baker, and former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski--in calling for talks with Hamas.

The British speak from experience here. Britain long denounced the Irish independence party Sinn Fein and its military wing, the Irish Republican Army, as "terrorists" who could not be negotiated with. But informal contacts with the IRA in the late 1980s led to open talks in the 1990s and then the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement. Since then, British controlled Northern Ireland has enjoyed peace and increasing prosperity, while the province's long-suffering Catholics have achieved far greater political and social rights. There have been steps toward intercommunal reconciliation and greater trust building between all sides. In the past few years, the British army has withdrawn many of their forces from Northern Ireland while the IRA has announced that the armed struggle is over and destroyed its weapons. Such an outcome in the Middle East seems unthinkable today, but it did in the north of Ireland two decades ago too.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Middle East Awaits Deeds, Not Words, from Obama

The most recent report of the Pew Global Attitudes Project was released Thursday revealing that the world's image of America has improved significantly since Barack Obama's election. In the Middle East, only Lebanon showed substantial increase in the image of the US, while their was slight improvement of America in the other Middle East countries surveyed Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories. (Israel was surveyed also and there was a slight decline in the image of the US since the last survey.)

Many around world placed great hope in Obama, especially in the Muslim and Arab worlds, given his Muslim middle name (Hussein) and time living in Indonesia as a kid. And while his address in Cairo was well received,many are still waiting to see what he does. As CNI stated at the time, unless his powerful rhetoric is matched by strong action vis-a-vis Israel and Palestine, Obama's historic opportunity will be squandered.

Clinton Moves to Contain Iran and Bolster Gulf Security

As recommended by CNI, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is moving to extend the American nuclear and security umbrella to American allies in the Persian Gulf, including increased arms sales and military aid. It is hoped that the prospect of an Arab and American arms build up in the Gulf may bring cash-strapped Iran back to the negotiating table. Israel fears this means the US may be willing to live with a nuclear Iran, and Israeli intelligence Minister Dan Meridor slammed Clinton in a radio interview.

CNI wrote a week ago how extending the American nuclear umbrella and smart diplomacy, especially with our Gulf Arab allies, (and doing everything possible to restrain Israel) would allow the US to live with a nuclear armed Iran. Israel would not happy, as it would no longer have a nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. But the consequences of a third war in the region would like be worse than a nuclear armed Iran.

Israel Slights Arab Israelis

Israel has decided to remove references to its founding as "al-nakba" or "the catastrophe" in its Arabic textbooks, which is the common word for Israel's founding in the Arab world, especially amongst the Palestinian diaspora. Israel is also considering removing street signs in Arabic and English that list Israeli place names and substituting Arabic and English transliterations of Hebrew names. While it is understandable that a country would not refer to its founding as the catastrophe, the proposed street sign change seems designed only to offend Israel's Arab minority. Both moves would serve to increase tensions in the already fraught relationship between the Jewish majority and Israel's Arab minority.

These actions underscore the inherent contradiction between Israel's claim to be both a Western-style liberal democracy and a Jewish state. It also shows the extent to which Israel does not share America's values of secularism and equality. Sixty-five years after Brown v. Board of Education, Israel maintains a "separate but equal" society, in which Arab citizens do not serve in the military and have their civil law cases tried in separate courts, in addition to widespread social discrimination. Israel is a Jewish state, and a Jewish democracy, but it is not a secular one and these two actions highlight how its values are very different from America's.