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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

House Committee Detached from Iran Reality

Today's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Iran showcased some reasoned thinking but unfortunately many of the old Neo-con delusions were exhibited by both congressmen and panelists. Four of the six panelists were from Neo-con interventionist think tanks (the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, and the Hoover Institute). Most of the panelists, especially those from the Neo-con think tanks, recommended harsh sanctions on Iran, criticized the administrations approach as being too soft, and repeated the misleading conception that an Iranian bomb would be intolerable. As CNI has said, there is no reason a nuclear Iran could not be contained and deterred and that a nuclear Iran is no more of threat than a nuclear Pakistan, India, or North Korea, let alone nuclear Russia or China.

The effect of the Israel Lobby in warping American thinking was evident, with many congressmen voicing their support of Israel. Rep. John Boozman (R-AR) said he supports Israel "100%", Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) was concerned that Iran would bomb Israel as soon as it had nuclear weapons, despite Israel's nuclear stockpile, and Representative Scott said Iran's nuclear programs and stance towards Israel are what concern the US. It should be clear: Iranian nukes would threaten Israel because it would no longer have the complete military domination over here neighbors that her nuclear stockpile now ensures (which is the reason that Iran wants one). Iranian nuclear weapons would be easily deterred by our overwhelming global nuclear superiority. With sound diplomacy we could also secure our allies, as we have done since the Soviets tested their first nuclear weapon in 1948.

Perhaps just as disheartening as the Israel-first stance of the members was their evident lack of knowledge of the Middle East, including by Rep. Burton, ranking Republican, who noted many Iranians have warm feelings towards American and even "dress like us." We are in great trouble of our elected leaders think wearing blue jeans equals broad support for American polices and practices. Rep. David Scott's (D-GA) question, as to whether the protests meant Iranians were opposed to Ahmadinejad's attitudes towards Israel revealed a man hopeless clueless as to popular attitudes in the Muslim world. Unless we have better analysis and understanding of the Middle East, we will doomed to continue our failed policies that have brought about our present troubles.

Friday, July 17, 2009

An Arab and An Israeli Leader on Middle East Peace

The Washington Post ran side by side op-eds from Israeli former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Bahraini Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa today, discussing Arab Israeli peace. Sheikh Salman emphasized the need of Arabs to talk to Israelis, stop spreading anti-Semetic propaganda, and talked of the great benefits Arab-Israeli trade would bring. However he did not mention any specific policies that Bahrain intended to adopt. Still, perhaps this is a sign that Bahrain intends to take a more active role in promoting a general peace with Israel.

Olmert's column said settlements should not be the main focus of the US-Israeli relationship, which he rightly described as one of Israel's greatest assets. However this is disingenous, as the very existence of settlements (let alone their expansion) is the main sticking point for the Palestinians, who rightly feel that any future state is being wittled away before their eyes.

The Israel Lobby's Orwellian Dictionary

The Israel Project, a pro-Israel non-profit designed to influence journalists, put together a guidebook (or "Global Language Dictionary")on what language and talking points to use in promoting Israel and pro-Israeli policies in the West. While not illegal, this is yet another example of how Israeli-first groups attempt to dominate national public and political dialogues (especially in the US), repress criticism of Israel, and promote pro-Israel policies.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rep. Berman Encourages the Palestinians to Negotiate. Will He Lean on the Israelis to do so in Good Faith?

Representative Howard Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to accept Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's offer of negotiations. While Netanyahu did offer to negotiate with any Arab leader in his June speech, he stipulated that any such Arab leader recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and said any future Palestinian state must have severely curtailed sovereignty and Jerusalem would remain entirely in Israeli hands.

It is encouraging to see an influential congressional committee wading into the Middle East peace process. However, let us hope congressional leaders also pressure Israel to take more realistic and less inflammatory positions. Obama and the Congress should not allow Netanyahu to deflect pressure onto the Palestinians while holding to such outlandish preconditions that effectively scuttle talks before they begin.

Clinton to Push for Mideast Peace and Negotiate with Enemies

Yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out a foreign policy vision both realistic and hard nosed. She said the US would "counter violent extremists while reaching out to Muslims around the world" and "encourage and facilitate the efforts of all parties to pursue a comprehensive peace in the Middle East." She noted that "America’s willingness to talk" even with those who do not "share our values and interests" was not as "a sign of weakness." This gives new hope that the US pursue a realistic policy in defense of our interests.

Monday, July 13, 2009

UK Withdraws Arms Export Licenses to Israel

This Monday, the United Kingdom revoked arms export licenses to Israel after it was proven in a government review that the criteria for licensing was breached. The British embassy in Tel Aviv claims that it is not a partial embargo, they simply are adhering to their licensing policy.

Of the 182 licenses, only 5 were denied. The revoked licenses authorized the sales of spare parts for Sa’ar 4.5 gunships. The UK administration conducted an inquiry into the uses of British-made equipment by the Israeli military. The results proved that the gunships were used in operation Cast Lead (the three-week war in the beginning of this year). The British government declared this a violation of the security agreement it had with Israel.

The British Embassy in Tel Aviv released a statement explaining their reasoning for revoking the export licenses saying, "Future decisions will take into account what has happened in the recent conflict. We do not grant export licenses where there is a clear risk that arms will be used for external aggression or internal repression.”
“We consistently urge Israel to act with restraint and supported the EU Presidency statement that called the Israeli actions during operation Cast Lead 'disproportionate.'"

The UK is not a large arms dealer to Israel, and the spare parts they denied the Israeli navy will have little impact on its operational capability. This is, however, a very significant political statement. It sets precedence for other nations to also show disapproval of the Israeli military’s actions and encourages them to enforce tighter arms sales restrictions.

Click MORE to read the rest of the article on the CNI website.

American Elder Statesmen Say CNI is Right About Negotiations

Four American elder statesmen, former President Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of State James Baker, and former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski say that President Obama should launch a bold initiative for negotiations with all parties (including Hamas) leading to a final settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

New book addresses attack on U.S.S. Liberty

A new book by journalist James Scott looks at the circumstances surrounding the 1967 Israeli attack on the American ship U.S.S. Liberty. "The Attack on the Liberty" is one of the few instances in which this controversial issue is addressed publically, and tries to figure out whether or not the attack was deliberate or mere coincidence. Although Scott's work does lack a solid Israeli perspective, it is an important work in that it sticks to the facts and asks the questions that need to be asked. Read the Seattle Times book review here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cynthia McKinney: Letter from an Israeli Jail

Follow the link to read Cynthia McKinney's report from an Israeli jail after being arrested by Israeli Forces. She was one of many arrested aboard the Free Gaza boat that was bringing humanitarian supplies into Gaza in defiance of the Israeli blockade.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Repercussions and Implications of an Israeli Strike on Iran

Check out CNI's latest article on why the US should not "green light" an Israeli attack on Iran.

Congressional Hearing on US-UAE Nuclear Cooperation

The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing today on whether or not to approve a nuclear deal with the United Arab Emirates that would allow US firms to sell and operate peaceful nuclear technology in the Persian Gulf nation. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher answered questions on the proposed agreement, which was negotiated by the Bush Administration and signed by the Obama administration. The congressmen's questions focused on the UAE's ability to prevent the acquisition of technology by Iran and terrorist groups and whether it would spark a regional race for nuclear technology. Secretary Tauscher assured them that while some risks of course existed, they were small and far outweighed by the benefits.

Apparently mindful of the hurt and offense caused in the Arab world, and especially the UAE, by the Dubai Ports World scandal, the congressmen were all careful to emphasize their appreciation of American-Emirati friendship and the assistance given by the UAE to US counterterrorism efforts and the Iraq War.

Monday, July 6, 2009

International attention towards Iran increases

By Shane McCarthy, CNI Staff Writer

Ever since it became clear that the fallout from the Iranian election would cause massive unrest and draw world attention to the region, both Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad have continuously warned Western powers to avoid interfering in the political process. For this reason, world leaders (including President Obama) have been careful to put out statements which promote democratic courses of action without seeming too intrusive. However, violence perpetrated against protestors by government and paramilitary forces have given foreign powers a means by which they can express their disapproval as to how this election has been carried out.

In a conference in Treiste, Italy, foreign ministers in the G8 summit released a statement criticizing the post-election violence in Iran and urging the ruling Clerics to make sure that the will of the people is reflected in the ballots. This statement comes after negotiations between the several nations and is especially encouraging because Russia (which had previously expressed congratulations to Ahmadinejad) was included. In somewhat stronger language, French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated that Iranians deserve better leaders.

So far, the United States has been careful to avoid any statements or actions which could be construed as meddling or taking sides on the election results. If the recent arrest of British journalists in Tehran is any indication, the Supreme Leader and Revolutionary Guard are looking for any opportunity to point fingers at Western powers. Despite the deep divisions among the Iranian people which this election has brought to light, it is widely believed that they would rally around the government if there was any real evidence of American interference.

Unfortunately, the continuing turmoil in Iran has greatly set back any intentions that the U.S. had to pursue negotiations over the nuclear issue. Although President Obama has stressed that diplomatic talks must continue, it is now unlikely that Iran would be willing to listen to outside opinion on the matter. To resolve the nuclear dilemma it is likely that the U.S. will need to garner the help of Russia and China, two countries which have historically had the most sway over Iran but who are also the least likely to cooperate on such an issue.

Recent government actions in Iran have given a clear indication that any sort of multi-party negotiations will not happen for some time. In a move which was expected and dreaded by many experts, the Revolutionary Guard has taken control of Iranian national security in lieu of continuing protests and demonstrations for reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Calling their actions a “revival of the revolution”, the elite military branch has pledged to take control of the situation on the ground. It is unclear whether the Guard has any intention of rescinding power once the situation is dealt with, and so for the time being Iran is effectively under the military control.

With this taken into account, the best means for the international community to approach the government of Iran is in solidarity. It is extremely unlikely that the regime will change policy at the behest of a single Western nation (especially the U.S.), and so it must be made clear that the actions being taken are not only damaging to the Iranian people, but also to the world at large. However, it is also important that lines be drawn with regard to intrusion. While outside nations may call on the government to reflect the will of the people, they cannot decide what that will is.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Israeli Navy Starves, Humiliates, and Impoverishes Gazans

Today's Christian Science Monitor published two insightful stories chronicling how the US-subsidized Israeli military's blockade of Gaza is starving Gazans and destroying the economy. They discuss the Israeli navy's turning back ships of humanitarian aid and also their abuse of Palestinian fishermen. Unfortunately, in the minds of the much of the Arab and Muslim world, the US will be seen as just as responsible. Afterall, why would we give the Israeli military billions of dollars annually if we did not approve of their actions?

Monday, June 29, 2009

America's Role in the Settlements

In yesterday's Washington Post, Israeli-American peace activist Ronit Avni outlines the role Americans play in funding and encouraging Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Defense Minister Barak in Washington to discuss settlements

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is set to meet with the U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell in Washington today to discuss Israeli settlements in the West Bank. A source of contention between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the issue of settlements has kept the two nations in a stalemate with regard to aligning policy and promoting peace in the region. Although the Obama administration has been calling for a complete freeze on illegal settlement construction, the right-wing Israeli government has yet to make such a compromise.

Barak is expected to bring to the table a proposal which will call for a temporary construction freeze of three to six months, during which time the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors will be engaged and regional dialogue can continue. Although this plan falls short of what the Obama administration had hoped for, it is the biggest compromise that the Israeli government has made yet and offers the promise of further negotiation and peace talks. Because of the unpopularity of the compromise among Israelis, as of yet no government officials have issued statements on the proposed construction halt. Additionally, this meeting comes on the heels of an announcement that Barak approved the construction of fifty new houses in the settlement of Adam to house evacuees of other West Bank settlements which are being closed down. It is unclear as of yet whether this circumstance will diminish the Defense Minister's credibility.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Settlements First

This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been faced with mounting international pressure to answer President Obama’s call to halt settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza. French Prime Minister Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi echoed these concerns when they met with Netanyahu this past week. And today the G8 and the Quartet of the Middle East peace negotiators will meet with the prime minister and insist on a settlement freeze and a renewed effort towards negotiations.

PM Sarkozy told Netanyahu during their meeting at the Elysee Palace, "You must conduct confidence building measures and the first must be the absolute freeze on construction in the settlements." Israeli settlements are illegal and dangerous to the peace-making process between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Israel agreed to stop building settlements in the Oslo Accord in 1993. Yet, since then there has been more than a 100% increase in the number of settlers in Gaza and the West Bank. 58% of the settlement growth occurred in the fourteen years after Oslo. Two-hundred and eighty thousand settlements stand in the way of any possible peace agreements. Until there is a resolution for dealing with this issue, there can be no productive talks about borders, demilitarization, or refugees.

AIPAC Distortions

Last night AIPAC hosted an event for Washington interns in which they distorted some basic information about the situation in the Middle East. Director Howard Kohr gave a brief speech and then answered questions from the overwhelmingly pro-Israel crowd. He said repeatedly that Iran was definitely on a "quest for nuclear weapons." However, the consensus view of the 16 agencies of the US Intelligence Community in their most recent National Intelligence Estimate on the topic of Iranian nuclear weapons concluded that Iran had halted their weapons program. There has been no publicly available information to suggest this view has changed. All we have is the "gut feeling" of IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei that Iran "would like to have" nuclear weapons. We have all seen where unproven gut feelings regarding alleged weapons programs got us in Iraq. This is all part of the Israeli whispering campaign on Iran that CNI has documented.

Kohr's distortions did not end there. He went on to say that the Arabs generally "do not seek compromise." This is in spite of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offered normalization of ties with the entire Arab League in exchange for a withdrawal by Israel to her 1967 borders. Israel made no serious move to work toward a compromise with the Arab League over this, preferring to continue her West Bank land grab. Kohr went on to state that he thought the restrictions on the sovereignty of a future Palestinian state were reasonable and realistic. He compared them to the constitutional restrictions the US imposed on Germany and Japan after those countries' aggression and defeat in WWII. Leaving aside the fact that Palestinians have never committed anything like the atrocities and aggression of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, the comparison is false: both Germany and Japan can enter into defense treaties, control their own airspace and borders, and maintain their own militaries. Netanyahu's future Palestinian "state" would be able to to nothing of the sort.

Events on the ground and the status of Iran

By Shane McCarthy, CNI Staff Writer

As the situation in Iran continues to intensify, divisions have become deeper not only between the hard-line Islamists and protestors, but also between different members of the Clerical elite and other ruling factions. As the situation continues to escalate and the number of dead and injured continues to rise, there is growing international attention and concern about not just outcomes for the Iranian people, but also future implications for the entire Middle East and global community. With foreign governments (including the United States) becoming more and more involved in this uprising, the stakes will continue to increase exponentially.

Despite Ayatollah Khamenei’s repeated statements that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the victor in a fair election, evidence continues to pour in that states otherwise. In addition to the hushed discrepancies which have been picked up by most outside observers and news agencies, new evidence is now coming out directly from the top. Iran’s senior election panel has disclosed that in roughly fifty cities the number of votes cast exceeded the number of voters in the area. Although this fact is a major admission on the part of the government, it does not necessarily imply illegality due to the fractured nature of Iranian voting laws (Iranian citizens can vote in places other than where they are registered). However, the final election outcome still rests in the hands of the Ayatollah and the Guardian Council, and a final results announcement is to be made early next week. Judging by their recent statements, there is no reason to believe that the Council will acknowledge any degree of election fraud.

Reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi’s opposition to the election results has seemingly become more revolutionary with the government’s crackdown on demonstrations. It is widely agreed upon that Mousavi has no intention of sparking an uprising or bringing down the government. However, he has started to openly defy Khomenei’s call for an end to protest. Mousavi has appeared at several rallies calling for a continuation of the demonstrations and maintains that the election was stolen from him. He is supported by government elite and fellow former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani is also the head of the Assembly of Experts, a government council with the power to overthrow the Supreme Leader (although a political move that radical is extremely unlikely). Perhaps for this reason Rafsanjani has been under increased pressure from the Guardian Council and security forces, which culminated with the brief arrest of his daughter and several relatives last weekend. It is likely that if Mousavi continues along the same course of action he too will be subject to legal ramifications, which may or may not help his cause.

One aspect which has been recently brought into the open is the status of the Basij, the pro-Khamenei militia which has been carrying out most of the violence against demonstrators. The connections between this group and the government have become more apparent as events continue to unfold. Historically tied to the Revolutionary Guard but not directly associated with any authority, the Basij have been able to aggressively carry out the will of the Guardian Council and Supreme Leader without any accountability. For this reason, much of the violence has been undertaken without ramification or investigation. This makes the situation even more difficult for the U.S. when trying to negotiate an end to hostilities.

What has come as a result of the increasing violence is much greater international attention toward Iran. Although many nations (including the U.S.) have refrained from becoming involved in the actual electoral fallout, they have called on the government to end its brutal responses to protestors. Even Russia, which congratulated Ahmadinejad on his election victory early on, issued a statement condemning the violence. Government elites in Iran are becoming more and more isolated as international pressure grows.

For the most part, the evenhanded approach which the United States has been taking has been applauded by both domestic citizens and foreign powers. President Obama has made it clear that this election is an issue which must be worked out by Iranians themselves, and yet has also been fervent in his condemnation of suppression and police brutality. The worst possible thing that America can do is give authenticity to Khamenei’s claims of “Western meddling” in the post-election process. So far, this administration has been successful in establishing itself as an outside observer. However, it will be necessary to wait until the Guardian Council’s decision is made before deciding what our future foreign policy should be.

Obama to send ambassador to Syria

After a four year diplomatic hiatus, President Obama announced Tuesday that he would be sending an ambassador to Syria. The decision came several weeks after special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. One senior administration official stated that Syria was a necessary partner at the table if comprehensive dialogue and peace processes were to be conducted in the Middle East. President Bush first removed the ambassador to Syria in 2005 in response to the assassination of then-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, an action which the government believes Syria to be involved in. No one has been selected for the post yet, and any appointment must be confirmed by the Senate. Read the full article here.

NPR interview with Mohsen Sazegara

Earlier today NPR conducted an interview with Mohsen Sazegara, one of the founding members of the Revolutionary Guard and former Deputy Prime Minister in Iran. Sazegara, who was one of the original architects of the 1979 Revolution, is now one of the principle dissenters to the hard-line regime. He was arrested in 2003 for speaking out against the government, and now lives in self-imposed exile in Washington D.C. In the interview, he discusses the history of the Revolutionary Guard and how they may be using this election to stage a military coup. According to Sazegara, the Guard knew that the election was rigged from the beginning and had been planning to use the fallout to their advantage all along. Listen to the entire interview here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

House Committee Budget has Full Aid for Israel

Tuesday night the full House Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2010 State and Foreign Operations Appropriation Bill, which includes the full complement of military and economic aid to Israel. The bill contains $2.22 billion for Israel, which combined with the $555 million being forward by a special FY 2009 appropriation, comes to $2.777 billion for 2010. This is the full amount for FY 2010 as agreed to in a 2007 Memorandum of Understanding between the US and Israel, meaning the Appropriations Committee does not feel Israel's intransigence over West Bank settlements merits any American rebuke. This will not go unnoticed in the Middle East, where it will be seen as the latest symbol of American hypocrisy.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds Iran roundtable

Capitol Hill – Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a roundtable discussion among a panel of experts and several Senators to confer over the recent events in Iran. Moderated by Chairman Kerry, the group focused on what implications the election fallout holds for the future of Iran as well as what actions (or lack thereof) the U.S. should take.

According to the panel, the recent demonstrations clearly display the societal rift which has been growing between the revolutionary hard-liners and the new “post-revolution” generation who seek a way forward. Additionally the demonstrations have caused the often behind-the-scenes leader Ayatollah Khomenei to come forward and get involved in the action directly, a move which is calling into question the role of the Supreme Leader. The panel was in agreement that the actions taken thus far by President Barack Obama have been evenhanded and “well calibrated”, and that the United States should be very careful as to not become too directly involved in Iranian affairs. It would be very easy for the Iranian government to point to the sordid history of U.S.– Iranian relations in order to regain support should the U.S. become involved, and so it is in the best interest of the President to tread lightly. The Guardian Council in Iran will decide on the final status of the election on Monday.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Truth on Settlements

NYU-based British historian Tony Judt has an excellent editorial in today's New York Times, explaining the true nature of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. He notes that they are not small bands of pioneers working the land, but massive towns and cities, subsidized by American tax dollars, and that all settlements in the West Bank violate international law. Judt suggests the United States "dismiss Mr. Netanyahu for the cynic he is and remind Israelis that all their settlements are hostage to American goodwill."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Unspoken hurdles to a real peace

BY FREDERICK BUTLER, CNI Communications Director

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have both publicly spoken about the future of the Middle East peace process. Their approaches were somewhat refreshing however, there are issues that remain unaddressed

Netanyahu's claim that Jerusalem remain as the "united capital" of the Jewish state of Israel is sure to provide more fuel for driving tension. What about the refugees, checkpoints, borders and the wall? Opening up the Gaza crossings (wherever those might be) should be step one and part of the reconciliation process.

In his recent trip to Gaza Former President Jimmy Carter stated that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are being "treated more like animals than human beings."

How can a people treated like dogs negotiate with choke chains around their necks?

On a visit to the enclave, Carter condemned Israel's January bombardment and its continuing blockade, which he said forbids even children's toys.

"I understand that even paper and crayons are treated as a security hazard," he told Gazans at a local United Nations office. "I sought an explanation of this when I met with Israeli officials and I received none, because there is no explanation."

Now that the dust has settled what can be done now to solve these problems? What, if anything, should President Obama mandate as a precursor to negotiations between the Israeli's and the Palestinians?

In regards to the division of Jerusalem, the President should adopt a policy of working representatives of all three major religions in the United States and the Holy Land.

We also suggest the president advocate the present ten acre United Nations Headquarters in East Jerusalem, formally known as the Government House of the British Mandate for Palestine as a suitable site for the government of Palestine.

Netanyahu hasn't precluded the return of refugees to the West Bank and Gaza. Over a period of time some refugees should be absorbed into Israel.

Many of the current settlements have staked out large areas beyond the building line for future growth. Returning currently vacant land at this moment to the government of Palestine would assure that the Jewish colonies would not expand --keeping in line with President Obama's demands. Discussion should also include a broad transportation corridor between Gaza and the West Bank.

The first step should be the opening of the Gaza crossings. Not allowing the people of Gaza to travel in and out of their country is not only violates human rights, but is in some ways criminal. America promotes freedom as its most important value, and denying a people this basic human right denigrates our claim as a morally just nation.

Without ending the siege of Gaza and providing real evidence that Israel will end expansion of settlements, there will be no peace.

Dennis Ross put in “Time-out”?

BY FREDERICK C BUTLER, CNI Communications Director

WASHINGTON, DC (June 18, 2009) –President Obama’s decision to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict prior to Iran’s nuclear proliferation as a first step to a Mid-East Peace Policy has caused a “rift” between the Israeli coalition government and the US administration.

But, recent activity within the administration may suggest that the “rift” has found a new home –in the White House.

Iran Special Envoy Dennis Ross was relieved of his duties and reassigned to a post in the National Security Council at the White House.

Ross, who co-authored the book Myths, Illusions & Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, argues that tougher policies toward Iran — "either militarily or meaningful containment" — will be easier to sell if diplomacy is attempted first. The book also implies that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have no bearings over the problem with Iran whom the US should deal with independently.

These comments are similar to the stance of Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on his trip to Washington supplied the same rhetoric. However; the Obama administration believes that a peaceful Holy Land will isolate Iran and the rest of the Muslim world giving the US more authority in future negotiations with the Islamic Republic.

Iran has persistently refused to accept Ross as a U.S. emissary given the diplomat's Jewish background as well as his purported pro-Israel leanings. Ross is known to maintain contacts with numerous senior officials in Israel's defense establishment and the Israeli government.

According to Time magazine, behind the scenes senior officials in several branches of the Administration confirm the move and knock down speculation that it is a demotion in response to concern over Ross's positions on Iran. "Everybody knew his positions," said an official.

But, Ross’ new post as senior advisor to the National Security Council (NSC) will pit the diplomat closer to the President’s ear. But, there are already senior officials in place at the in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Gulf and Iran affairs –all areas of Ross’ expertise.

So, is this move an effort by the administration to prevent the hawkish diplomat from spoiling the peace process? Or is this just another opportunity for Ross to gain greater influence over Obama’s Mid-East policies?

The window of opportunity for peace in the volatile region is slowly closing. If the President wants to ensure peace in the region, and subsequently US national security, he will need to act swift and smart. Hopefully, this move is the administration doing just that.

When He Says Yes – What Does He Mean?

By Uri Avnery

“YOU MUST be celebrating,” the interviewer from a popular radio station told me after Netanyahu’s speech. “After all, he is accepting the plan which you proposed 42 years ago!” (Actually it was 60 years ago, but who is counting?)

The front page of Haaretz carried an article by Gideon Levy, in which he wrote that “the courageous call of Uri Avnery and his friends four decades ago is now being echoed, though feebly, from end to end (of the Israeli political spectrum).”

I would be lying if I denied feeling a brief glow of satisfaction, but it faded quickly. This was no “historic” speech, not even a “great” speech. It was a clever speech.

It contained some sanctimonious verbiage to appease Barack Obama, followed right away by the opposite, to pacify the Israeli extreme right. Not much more.

NETANYAHU DECLARED that “our hand is extended for peace.”

In my ears, that rang a bell: in the 1956 Sinai war, a member of my editorial staff was attached to the brigade that conquered Sharm-al-Sheikh. Since he had grown up in Egypt, he interviewed the senior captured Egyptian officer, a colonel. “Every time David Ben-Gurion announced that his hand was stretched out for peace,” the Egyptian told him, “we were put on high alert.”

And indeed, that was Ben-Gurion’s method. Before every provocation he would declare that “our hands are extended for peace”, adding conditions that he knew were totally unacceptable to the other side. Thus an ideal situation (for him) was created: The world saw Israel as a peace-loving country, while the Arabs looked like serial peace-killers. Our secret weapon is the Arab refusal, it used to be joked in Jerusalem at the time.

This week, Netanyahu wheeled out the same old trick.

I DO NOT underrate, of course, the significance of the chief of the Likud uttering the two words: “Palestinian state”.

Words carry political weight. Once released into the world, they have a life of their own. Unlike dogs, they cannot be called back.

In a popular Israeli love song, the boy asks the girl: “When you say no, what do you mean?” One could well ask: When Netanyahu says yes, what does he mean?

But even if the words “Palestinian state” passed his lips only under duress, and when Netanyahu has no intention at all of turning them into reality, it is still important that the head of the government and the chief of the Likud was compelled to utter them. The idea of the Palestinian state has now become a part of the national consensus, and only a handful of ultra-rightists reject it directly. But this is only the beginning. The main struggle will be about turning the idea into reality.

THE ENTIRE speech was addressed to one single person: Barack Obama. It was not designed to appeal to the Palestinians. It was quite clear that the Palestinians are only the passive object of a discussion between the President of the USA and the Prime Minister of Israel. Except in some tired old clichés, Netanyahu spoke about them, not to them.

He is ready, so he says, to conduct negotiations with the “Palestinian community”, and that, of course, “without preconditions”. Meaning: without Palestinian preconditions. On Netanyahu’s part, there are plenty of preconditions, every one of which is designed to make certain that no Palestinian, no Arab and indeed no Muslim will agree to enter negotiations.

Condition 1: The Arabs have to recognize Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” (and not just “a Jewish state”, as many in the media erroneously reported.) As Hosny Mubarak has already answered: No Arab will accept this, because it would mean that 1.5 million Arab citizens of Israel are cut off from the state, and because it would deny in advance the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees - the main bargaining chip of the Arab side.

It should be remembered that when the United Nations resolved in 1947 to partition Palestine between a “Jewish state” and an “Arab state”, they did not mean to define the character of the states. They were just stating facts: there are two mutually hostile populations in the country, and therefore the country has to be divided between them. (Anyhow, 40% of the population of the “Jewish” state was to consist of Arabs.)

Condition 2: The Palestinian Authority must first of all establish its rule over the Gaza Strip. How? After all, the Israeli government prevents travel between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and no Palestinian force can pass from one to the other. And the solution of the problem by establishing a Palestinian unity government is also ruled out: Netanyahu flatly declared that there would be no negotiations with a Palestinian leadership that includes “terrorists who want to annihilate us” – his way of referring to Hamas.

Condition 3: The Palestinian state will be demilitarized. This is not a new idea. All peace plans that have been put forward up to now speak about security arrangements that would protect Israel from Palestinian attacks and Palestine from Israeli attacks. But that is not what Netanyahu has in mind: he did not speak about mutuality, but about domination. Israel would control the air space and the border crossings of the Palestinian state, turning it into a kind of giant Gaza Strip. Also, Netanyahu’s style was deliberately overbearing and humiliating: he obviously hopes that the word ‘demilitarized” would be enough to get the Palestinians to say “no”.

Condition 4: Undivided Jerusalem will remain under Israeli rule. This was not proposed as an opening gambit for negotiations but presented as a final decision. That by itself ensures that no Palestinian, nor any Arab or even any Muslim, could accept the proposal.

In the Oslo Agreement, Israel undertook to negotiate about the future of Jerusalem. It is an accepted legal rule that if one undertakes to negotiate, one accepts to do so bona fide, on the basis of give and take. Therefore, all peace plans provide that East Jerusalem - wholly or partly – will be returned to Arab rule.

Condition 5: Between Israel and the Palestinian state there will be “defensible borders”. These are code-words for extensive annexations by Israel. Their meaning: no return to the 1967 borders, not even with a swap of territory that would allow for some of the large settlements to be joined to Israel. In order to create “defensible borders”, a major part of the occupied Palestinian territories (which altogether make up just 22% of pre-1948 Palestine) will be absorbed into Israel.

Condition 6: The refugee problem will be solved “outside the territory of Israel”. Meaning: not a single refugee will be allowed to return. True, all realistic people agree that there can be no return of millions of refugees. According to the Arab peace initiative, the solution must be “mutually agreed” – which means that Israel has to agree to any solution. The assumption is that the two parties will agree on the return of a symbolic number. This is a highly charged and sensitive matter, which must be treated with prudence and the utmost sensitivity. Netanyahu does the opposite: his provocative statement, devoid of all empathy, is clearly designed to bring about an automatic refusal.

Condition 7: No settlement freeze. The “normal life” of the settlers will continue. Meaning: the building activity for the “natural increase” will go on. This illustrates the saying of Michael Tarazy, a legal advisor to the PLO: “We are negotiating about sharing a pizza, and in the meantime Israel is eating it.”

All this was in the speech. No less interesting is what was not in it. For example, the words: Road Map. Annapolis. Palestine. The Arab peace plan. Occupation. Palestinian Sovereignty. Opening of the Gaza Strip border crossings. Golan Heights. And, even more important: there was not a hint of respect for the enemy who must be turned into a friend, in the words of the ancient Jewish saying.

SO WHAT is more important? The verbal recognition of “a Palestinian state” or the conditions which empty these words of all content?

The public response is interesting. In an opinion poll taken immediately after the speech, 71% supported it, but 55% believed that Netanyahu just “gave in to American pressure”, and 70% did not believe that a Palestinian state would really come about during the next few years.

What exactly do the 71% support? The “Palestinian state” solution or the conditions which obstruct its implementation – or both?

There is, of course, an extreme right-wing minority which prefers a head-on collision with the United States to giving up any territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Along the road to Jerusalem one can see large posters showing a manipulated photo of Obama wearing an Arab headdress. (It sends a shiver down the spine, because it reminds us of seeing exactly the same poster with Yitzhak Rabin under the keffiyeh.) But the great majority of the people understand that a break with the US must be avoided at all costs.

Netanyahu and the right-wing hoped that the Palestinians would reject his words outright, thus painting themselves as serial peace refusers, while the Israeli government would be seen as taking the first small but significant step towards peace. They are sure that this could be achieved for nothing: the Palestinian state will not be set up, the Israeli government will not give up anything, the occupation will remain, settlement activity will go on and Obama will accept all this.

SO THE main question is: how will Obama react?

The first reaction was minor. A politely positive response.

Obama is not seeking a frontal collision with the Israeli government. It seems that he wants to exert “soft” pressure, vigorously but quietly. To my mind, that is a wise approach.

A few hours before the speech, I met with ex-President Jimmy Carter. The meeting took place at the American Colony hotel in East Jerusalem. It was organized by Gush Shalom, with several other Israeli peace organizations taking part. In my opening remarks, I pointed out that we were in exactly the same room where 16 years ago, while the Oslo agreement was being signed in Washington, Israeli peace activists and the leaders of the Palestinian population in Jerusalem met and opened bottles of champagne. The euphoria of those moments has disappeared without leaving a trace.

Israelis and Palestinians have lost hope. On both sides, the overwhelming majority wants an end to the conflict but do not believe that peace is possible – and each side blames the other. Our task is to rekindle the belief that it is indeed possible.

For this there is a need for a dramatic event, a kind of invigorating electric shock – like the historic visit of Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem in 1977. I suggested that Obama should come to Jerusalem and speak directly to the Israeli public, perhaps even from the Knesset rostrum, like Sadat.

After listening intently to the participants, the former President encouraged us in our activities and put forward some proposals of his own.

THE DECISIVE point at this moment is, of course, the matter of the settlements. Will Obama insist on a total freeze of all building activity or not?

Netanyahu hopes to wriggle out of it. He has now found a new gimmick: projects that have already started must be allowed to be finished. One cannot stop them in the middle. The plans have already been approved. The tenants are waiting for their apartments, and they must not be made to suffer. The Supreme Court will not allow a freeze. (A particularly ridiculous argument, like the court allowing a thief to spend some more of the money he has stolen before passing sentence.)

If Obama falls for this, he should not be surprised to find out belatedly that these projects include 100,000 new housing units.

This brings us to the most important fact of this week: the settlers did not raise hell after Netanyahu’s speech. On the contrary. Here and there some feeble criticism could be heard, but the large and armed settler population kept remarkably quiet.

Which brings us back to the unforgettable Sherlock Holmes, who explained how he solved one of his mysteries by drawing attention to “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“But the dog did nothing in the night-time!” someone objected.

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Holmes.