Obama: Palestinians deserve…

U.S. President Barack Obama, in his annual address to the UN General Assembly, said Wednesday that “Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state”.

As if they don’t know. Or — as if someone else should tell them.

Since their 1988 Declaration of Independence, the Palestinian National Council agreed to form their state with the borders of June 4, 1967 — the eve of the war which saw Israel conquer the West Bank and the Gaza Strip [and the Golan Heights].

In 2008, as the U.S.-brokered Annapolis direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians faltered, then-Secretary of State Condoleezzaa Rice said that defining the borders between them would help define which Israeli Jewish settlements in the West Bank [if any] would be “legal”.

Obama’s words today at the UN go even further…

“One year ago, I stood at this podium and called for an independent Palestine. I believed then – and I believe now – that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences. Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May. That basis is clear, and well known to all of us here. Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.

Later, Obama met Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was very pleased with the Obama statement, and after that, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, with a weary and disillusioned Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who had put his head on the desk in front of him during part of the Obama speech.

Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said later that both men had reiterated their positions.

Haaretz reported later that “U.S. President Barack Obama told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday that UN action would not achieve a Palestinian state and the United States would veto any Security Council move to recognize Palestinian statehood, the White House said. ‘We would have to oppose any action at the UN Security Council including, if necessary, vetoing’, Ben Rhodes, the White House national security council spokesman, told reporters after Obama met Abbas in New York. PLO diplomatic envoy to the U.S. Maen Rashid Erekat told Haaretz that the U.S. President ‘reiterated the commitment of the U.S. to the establishment of the Palestinian state, as part of the two-state solution, and stressed the position of the US that the UN is not the right venue to reach this goal.” This article is posted here.

There were demonstrations in the West Bank on Thursday denouncing the Obama speech, and a number of Palestinian writers found a ready acceptance in American publications for their English-language Op-Ed articles or blog submissions.

But, Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiating team did not escape criticism either, from other articles such as this one published on the Al-Jazeera English-language website, here.

The pressure on Mr. Abbas in New York has been immense, and he has reportedly felt both isolated, and abandoned.

There are rumors that he is preparing to resign when he returns to Ramallah — though from which of his three posts [Chairman of the PLO, President of the Palestinian Authority, leader of the Fatah movement] is not entirely clear.

An extraordinary article in the New York Times today’s paper [Thursday], reported from both a reception in New York and Jerusalem, says that “Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, met secretly with Mr. Abbas three times in recent months in efforts to … avoid a United Nations battle. Mr. Netanyahu ultimately pulled the plug on those talks, leaving Mr. Abbas a sense of having no alternatives. Mr. Peres said in an interview in Jerusalem that he tried to convince Mr. Abbas that United Nations membership would not help because what is needed is independence for the Palestinians and security for the Israelis, and the United Nations can deliver neither. ‘He told me, “I’m alone, betrayed by the United States, betrayed by Israel and by everyone else”, ‘Mr. Peres recalled from a recent conversation. Mr. Abbas echoed those sentiments on Tuesday night. Terje Roed-Larsen, a former United Nations envoy to the Mideast who now leads the International Peace Institute in New York, hugged him and asked for a meeting later in the evening. ‘Tonight our schedule is full with the Americans’, Mr. Abbas replied. ‘They want us to meet, but we don’t, really we don’t want’. Mr. Larsen asked why he was going then. ‘I don’t know why really’, Mr. Abbas said,’I am not happy with anybody, not with the Americans, nor the Arabs. I am fed up with all these people and I don’t know what to do when I return back’.” Abbas’ weary, unguarded, unwise words to Terje Roed-Larsen are published here.

Part of what makes this so interesting is that it is not clear how the NYTimes heard this conversation — was its UN correspondent Neil MacFarquhar standing right beside the two men [Terje Roed-Larsen, former UN Special Envoy, and former Foreign Minister of Norway when he hosted Palestinians and Israelis for talks that led to the Oslo Accords]? Or, did Mr. Roed-Larsen pass this conversation on to the NYTimes?

It is also interesting to recall that Roed-Larsen himself was, in July 2004, once called persona non grata by Palestinian presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh — then working with Yasser Arafat — after Roed-Larsen told the UN Security Council that “The Palestinian leader is under house arrest but this isn’t an excuse for passivity + inaction”.

Continue reading Obama: Palestinians deserve…

Obama announces Osama Bin Laden is dead.

Is the “War on Terror” now over?

Can we go back to life the way it was before?

Because, for sure, there’s no way to ask any questions about this.

[Though, there are probably videos that will be shown later…]

U.S. President Obama said it was a “targetted operation”… which “took care to avoid civilian casualties”.

After 9/11, our time of grief, Americans came together, Obama said. “We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice. We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda, an organization headed by Osama Bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. So, we went to war against Al-Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends and our allies … In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government which had given Bin Ladan and Al-Qaeda safe haven and support, and around the globe, we worked to capture or kill scores of Al-Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot”, he said. “Shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the Director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of Osama Bin Laden the top priority in our war against al-Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle or defeat his network”…

Obama never once said the word “terrorist” or “terror” [this was one of the significant style changes in his administration]. No, this is a war against Al-Qaeda, Obama said, several times.

“There is no doubt that Al-Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us”, Obama added, so the U.S. “must be vigilant, at home and abroad”…

The U.S. then issued a worldwide travel alert and advisory to all U.S. citizens.

A warden message received on Monday afternoon from the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem says: “Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations … We urge U.S. citizens to keep in regular contact with family and friends”.

In his announcement, Obama also said that Bin Laden’s “demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity … justice has been done”.

Osama Bin Laden has been killed, somehow, in a “showdown with U.S. forces” in a luxurious villa in a heavily-fortified compound in Pakistan — a country which insisted he was not there, and where U.S. forces have been operating for years, while supposedly searching for Osama Bin Laden and his amorphous Al-Qaeda Organization, which any misfit or rebel who wanted to antagonize could claim to be part of (whether true or not, claims were accepted, usually without question, if convenient).

The villa was reportedly in, or on the outskirts of, Abbotabad, about two hours north of Islamabad. [And, the villa was reportedly about 800 yards from the Pakistan Military Academy.]

According to a report in The Guardian, here, the villa was identified last August, the U.S. was certain in February that Bin Laden and family were there, and Obama gave the order to get him on 29 April.

The same report added that “It was a surgical operation, he said, carried out by a small team and lasted only 40 minutes … The US force ran into a problem with one of their helicopters which had to be abandoned, but only after being destroyed by explosives set by the American troops”.

Some Pakistani forces reportedly accompanied the U.S. soldiers.  Now, they say they’re not sure who fired the shot that actually killed Osama Bin Laden.  But, there can never be another autopsy, a forensic examination, because, the U.S. says, his body has been “buried at sea” — according to Muslim tradition (which is NOT to bury a dead person at sea, but in the earth).

This happened within a very few hours — at 0200 in Washington DC time — and that would be according to Muslim (and Jewish) tradition which prefers burial (in earth) within 24 hours. The military operation apparently started just after 8pm, and Obama made his announcement after 10:30 pm, the time it was supposed to take place …

The U.S. took charge [“custody”, Obama said] of the body, and then said no country was willing to take the body for burial…

That’ll make it easy, they must have thought.

UPDATE: At a White House briefing after 9pm Monday night (Jerusalem time), with the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and John Brennan of the President’s National Security team, Brennan said that “we were able to monitor it [the operation] in real time”. He said the COAs [Course of Actions] were determined over the past couple of months: if he’s captured, what do we do with him? And, if he’s killed what do we do. Arrangements for the burial were ready. The appropriate people were there. A decision was taken that the burial in the way it was done was the appropriate thing to do. He would not say exactly where it happened. He said that there have been differences between the U.S. and Pakistan on counterterrorism policy, and that the Pakistani authorities were briefed immediately after the operation. They were appreciative of the fact that there were no Pakistani casualties”.

Brennan, a “counterterrorism” advisor, said that “we are talking to the Pakistanis” about the location where Bin Laden was found, but initially “they seemed as surprised as we were”…

Brennan said that Bin Laden did participate in the firefight when the U.S. raid occurred, but when asked specifically, Brennan said he didn’t know if Bin Laden got his hand on a weapon or fired any rounds.

Others died, too, including “the two al-Qaeda facilitators” [two brothers], one of his sons [Khaled], and “a woman being used as a hostage shield”… presumed to be one of Osama Bin Laden’s wives, Brennan later said, adding that he did not know how it was she was interposed in the line of fire in front of Bin Laden, including whether she put herself in that position herself.

It is not clear whether Bin Laden was buried alone, at sea, or with this wife, and his son…

But, in the best post-Second-World-War American tradition, the U.S. is leader of “the free world”, and no questions can be asked.  [Or, as happened on Monday evening, there will be a press conference with dozens of questions, and not too many full answers…]

There will be no trial.  Osama will not be water-boarded in Camp Guantanamo to extract “the facts” in a full investigation.  We will never know what really happened, and we will believe what suits us.

There is no body to show = no need to know:  just accept our word, we’re the “good guys”?

Just trust the leaders. Or, what’s wrong with you — get the hell out! Go… to Gaza!

On Twitter, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, tweeted (@husainhaqqani) just after 1:15 in the afternoon, Jerusalem time:
**”Official Pakistan statement being released in Islamabad on our US bringing Osama bin Laden to justice 14 minutes ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®”
**”Pak statement: In intelligence driven op, Osama Bin Ladin was killed in the surroundings of Abbotabad in the early hours of Mon morning”
**”Operation was conducted by US forces in accordance with declared US policy”
**”Earlier 2day, President Obama telephoned President Zardari on the successful US operation which resulted in killing of OBL”
**”Al-Qaeda had declared war on Pakistan. Scores of Al-Qaeda sponsored terrorist attacks resulted in deaths of 1000s of innocent Pakistanis”

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A Point of No Return?

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa (former Foreign Minister of Egypt, and before that Ambassador to the UN in New York) said at the opening of an Arab Summit meeting in Sirte, Libya, today that “We must prepare for the possibility that the peace process will be a complete failure … This is the time to stand up to Israel. We must find alternative options, because the situation appears to have reached a turning point”.  This was reported both in Haaretz here, and in the Jerusalem Post here.

Earlier, Akiva Eldar also wrote, in Haaretz, that this is a point of no return: “The strife between Israel and the United States concerns something far bigger than the proximity talks with the Palestinians.  As far as President Barack Obama and his senior advisers are concerned, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to blame for nothing less than damaging the standing of the U.S.in the Middle East and the Muslim world. Just as Netanyahu received his standing ovation at the AIPAC conference, Obama and his advisers were ruminating over an altogether different convention – the Arab League begins a meeting Tripoli on Saturday. For the Americans, Netanyahu’s Likudnik speech and the Shepherd Hotel project [20 apartments approved last Thursday — 100 were originally planned — in this strategic location on a lovely hillside between Sheikh Jarrah and the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital on  Mount Scopus…] matched in embarrassment the scandalous announcement of construction in East Jerusalem during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit here…”

On the Shepherd Hotel project, Sima Kadmon wrote in YNet that “For two weeks now, the government has been preoccupied with efforts to mitigate the conflict that erupted in wake of the announcement of Ramat Shlomo construction during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit in Israel. Netanyahu made an effort to convince the Americans that he didn’t know. He begged for a meeting with the president and paid with major diplomatic currency.  What is the probability that under such circumstances, a similar event will take place? Logically speaking, you would think that there would be a zero chance for a repeat. Yet reality is stronger than fiction and logic … For months now, the US Administration has shown great sensitivity to the Shepherd Hotel compound in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. The hotel was built on the home of Mufti Sheikh Amin al-Husseini and was purchased by far right billionaire Irving Moskowitz more than 25 years ago. Moskowitz planned to build a Jewish neighborhood at the site, yet for many long years the Jerusalem City Hall and Israeli government did everything in their power in order to delay construction.  Several months ago, the US and British governments exerted their influence in order to prevent construction at the site. The Americans even summoned Israel’s ambassador in Washington and demanded explanations. Moskowitz, who planned to redesign the compound and build about 100 housing units realized it won’t be possible and decided to make do with 20 units. If you enter the Jerusalem City Hall website these days and look into the status of Moskowitz’s construction requests for the compound, you will discover that the obstacles for construction that persisted for dozens of years had been lifted.  When did it happen? That’s right, on Thursday of last week, in the midst of Bibi’s great efforts to appease the US Administration, when a meeting with President Obama was still a craving. Precisely at that time, someone in the Jerusalem City Hall decided to remove the last obstacle to the problematic construction project at the disputed site.” Sima Kadmon’s article can be read in full on YNet here.

A comment by Jason in Haifa, posted below her article, states, however, that “This project started under [the previous Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert in 2007 and it was completed and the only obstacle left was to be paid for and the computer once paid for allows it to go ahead. Also it was the week before and Peace Now leaked it”.

Here is a video — with adequate English subtitles — made by Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Director Hagit Ofran with long-time settlement and land expert Meir Margalit, an opposition member of the Jerusalem City Council.  It is sometimes confusing (Margalit seems to jump between Sheikh Jarrah just north-west of the Old City, and the City of David project which is squeezing Silwan on the south-eastern side of the Old City of Jerusalem) — and does really seem to require some knowledge of the terrain, but is nonetheless very interesting and useful.

The video appears to be directed at an Israeli audience. It says, cautiously, that the City of David is a national park — not that it is a new national park implanted in a crowded Palestinian neighborhood.  However, it does a good job of explaining that a core of settlers are here, surrounded by a new “national park” and protected by a large number of private as well as public security and Israeli government forces.  Still, this video could really benefit from 1.) having a version in English, and 2.) more graphics, especially maps.   And, it gives a good idea of the reach of Jewish expansion at the expense of Palestinian areas in an arc around the eastern side of the Old City.

How can it be, for example, that a private settler organization (Elad) is allowed to conduct its own excavations from its City of David back up the hill, and under the walls of the Old City — as well as under the esplanade that Israelis call the Temple Mount [where the Second Jewish Temple and possibly/probably also the first were located before their destruction, the last time in 70 A.D.] ?  For Palestinians, this same site is known as the Haram as-Sharif, where the extremely important Al-Aqsa Mosque (one of the earliest and most sacred in Islam) and Dome of the Rock (built between 685 and 691 A.D) have been situated and in continuous use for prayer and worship for over 1,400 years (almost all of this time for Muslim prayer, though for about 80 years during the Crusades the Dome of the Rock was used as a Church, and Al-Aqsa was twice destroyed by earthquakes before being rebuilt).

Akiva Eldar’s analysis in Haaretz today also maintains that: “This year’s Arab League summit will be the scene of struggle between the allies of Iran and the allies of America, and the violation of the status quo in Al Quds – Jerusalem – has direct implications for the balance of power between the sides.  Over the last few weeks, Americans have been giving life support to the Arab Peace Initiative, born at the League’s summit in Beirut 2002 and set to be on the agenda this week … Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decisively supported General David Petraeus, the first American military man in years to describe Israel as a strategic burden on the U.S.   Gates said America’s rivals in the Middle East are abusing the standstill of the political process between Israel and the Arabs.  He stressed that he had no doubt a lack of peace in the region was influencing American interests there.  Netanyahu had been hoping to buy time until November’s Congressional elections, which coincide with the deadline he set for the settlement freeze.  But with America’s strategic interest on the line, Bibi’s favorite political game (playing the Jewish community and Congress against the White House and the State Department) isn’t working anymore. Obama decided his moderate Middle East coalition is more important than Netanyahu’s extremist one. This is a point of no return”.   Akiva Eldar’s analysis can be read in full here.

Uri Avnery wrote in his weekly article that this is “not just a ‘crisis’ anymore. It is something really momentous: a basic change in the policy of the US”.

Another report in Haaretz says that the Israeli government has issued a clarification following surprising statements made in Israel on Friday claiming that the American administration might have switched course and decided to stop objecting to settlement expansion in East Jerusalem. Now, the Israeli government has clarified that “any understanding with the U.S. did not mean American backing for Israeli construction in east Jerusalem”. As this story reported, “Netanyahu’s seven-member inner cabinet, which he consults on major policy decisions, met on Friday to discuss ‘understandings’ with the U.S. reached during the prime minister’s trip to Washington” — but a “senior official at the prime minister’s bureau said Thursday that it was unlikely the forum would reach a decision in its first meeting on the issue. ‘It will probably take two or three meetings before any kind of consensus is reached between the seven over the American demands’, the official said”. Meanwhile, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said: “Obviously, in the region we are approaching kind of a holiday period … We’ll continue our contacts informally with the parties. But we’ll probably go through a period now of a week to 10 days where everyone’s assessing where we are and still trying to construct the most effective path forward”. This Haaretz report is posted here.

But, the U.S. may not be sitting still, in the meantime. McClatchy Newspaper Group is reporting that “After 14 months of frustration over the moribund Mideast peace process and nearly three weeks of open confrontation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama shows no sign of backing down — and may be about to double his bets. The administration is said to be preparing a major peace initiative that would be Obama’s most direct involvement in the conflict to date, and would go far beyond the tentative, indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks that were torpedoed earlier in the month. ‘It is crystallizing that we have to do something now. That this can’t go on this way’, said one of the officials who, like the others, wouldn’t speak for the record because of the issue’s sensitivity … Because of the U.S. political calendar, Obama has limited time to press Israel before it becomes a major domestic political issue during midterm elections … Now, trust between the two sides seems to be at a very low ebb. ‘There’s not a great deal of trust that he believes deeply in the two-state solution’, a former senior U.S. official in touch with the White House said of Netanyahu. ‘There’s a belief that he’s a reluctant peacemaker here’. The Obama administration is said to believe that Netanyahu has more control over Jewish settlements than he admits, and political flexibility to dump his right-wing partners and form a government with the moderate Kadima party if he chose … Netanyahu turned aside a U.S. demand last year for a comprehensive settlement freeze, offering a 10-month moratorium that excluded East Jerusalem … Senior U.S. officials are said to debate whether the unveiling of the 1,600 new apartments at Ramat Shlomo was a deliberate attempt by Netanyahu to avoid peace negotiations, or merely symptomatic of his tenuous control over his own government … Either conclusion bodes poorly for Obama’s attempts at diplomacy. At the White House, however, distrust of Netanyahu ran deep. Maps were prepared, showing how Israel had all but encircled Jerusalem’s Old City with Jewish settlements and even religious theme parks — ‘facts on the ground’ that would preclude a peace deal … By all accounts, the White House meetings went badly, both in substance and tone, as the Obama team pressed Netanyahu to make concessions on Jewish settlements and other issues. Netanyahu balked at some of the requests, which the administration hasn’t made public.
Now, the ball is in his court”. This report from Washington can be read in full here.

A point of no return? A turning point?

What will Palestinians do now? U.S. reportedly accepted Israel's position…

According to a report compiled by three senior Haaretz correspondents (Barak Ravid, Akiva Eldar, Avi Issacharoff) published today, U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, who met with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah yesterday after two days of talks in Israel, “told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during talks this week that the understandings reached following the 2007 Annapolis Conference are non-binding in the current round of negotiations, Haaretz has learned.

Continue reading What will Palestinians do now? U.S. reportedly accepted Israel's position…

Goldstone to Washington: what's wrong with report on Gaza war

Both the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon — a cautious bureaucrat if ever there was one — and the more-willing-to-take-risks UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have backed the Goldstone report on last winter’s Gaza war that at least two (or three) and perhaps four (or all five) of the UN Security Council’s Permanent Members don’t want to discuss.

This is an unusual situation.

The UN Security Council is not on the immediate horizon in any case — the Goldstone report itself has recommended that both Israel and Hamas be given six months to set up their own independent investigations before the UN Security Council would be asked to get involved. So far, the U.S., Russia, and now reportedly China are now opposed to discussing the Goldstone report in the Security Council. The UN Security Council could, if it agreed, eventually ask the International Criminal Court in the Hague to look at certain aspects of the Israeli military operation, and of the Palestinian firing of rockets, mortars, and missiles at Israeli territory from Hamas-controlled Gaza.

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva voted last week to “recommend” the Goldstone report to the UN General Assembly, which may consider the matter before its current session is adjourned in December.

South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, who worked against the apartheid system through the country’s legal system, and who subsequently was appointed by the UN as a former prosecutor for the International Tribunals on the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, was working under a mandate from the UN Human Rights Council when he headed its Fact-Finding Mission into the Gaza war.

Continue reading Goldstone to Washington: what's wrong with report on Gaza war

Iran pledges to cooperate fully and immediately with IAEA – Obama says this must be within two weeks

After talks in Genthod, in the Geneva countryside today, the AP reported, “senior EU envoy Javier Solana said Iran had pledged to open its newly revealed uranium enrichment plant to International Atomic Energy Agency inspection soon … Solana said Iran had pledged to ‘cooperate fully and immediately with the IAEA’, and said he expected Tehran to invite agency inspectors looking for signs of covert nuclear weapons activity to visit ‘in the next couple of weeks’. At the United Nations, the Iranian Foreign Minister confirmed the plant would be opened to inspectors. ‘The letter from the IAEA to the Islamic Republic of Iran, in response to the information we have provided in this respect, and with regard to the new facilities that are under construction, indicate the fact that the agency has appreciated Iran’s move and dialogue for arranging a visit by the IAEA official is under way’, Manouchehr Mottaki said”. The AP report can be read in full here.

Then, for some reason, U.S. President Barack Obama decided to talk somewhat tough, according to a report published in the Jerusalem Post: “Now that Iran has agreed to open its newly disclosed nuclear enrichment facility to international inspectors, it ‘must grant unfettered access’ to those inspectors within two weeks, Obama said. ‘Talk is no substitute for action’, Obama said at the White House after talks ended earlier in the day in Switzerland. ‘Our patience is not unlimited’. Obama said that if Iran follows through with concrete steps ‘there is a path to a better relationship’ with the United States and the international community. He said that Iran’s promise during the talks to transfer some of its low-enriched uranium to another country for processing is an example of such a step. The uranium would be used in a medical-research reactor”. This JPost report can be read in full here.

Saying one thing, doing another

The AP’s Karin Laub, who normally works from Ramallah, is in New York to cover the Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy going on at the sidelines of the high-level segment of the annual UN General Assembly debate. Today, she wrote a report (based on an interview published in the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat — which she did not of course need to be in New York to read) that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has said that “The Palestinians cannot return to peace talks at this time because of ‘fundamental disagreements’ with Israel on what should be on the agenda … Abbas rebuffed an appeal by President Barack Obama that both sides get back to the table promptly”.

Meanwhile, Palestinian and Israeli teams are supposed to meet today (in NY, each separately with U.S. officials, but not all together) to work out how to re-start negotiations. Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat reportedly said “we agreed to continue dealing with the Americans until we reach the agreement that will enable us to relaunch the negotiations”.

Haaretz’s Avi Issacharoff also wrote about Mahmoud Abbas’ interview with Al-Hayat: “Abbas called the Netanyahu government ‘a real problem’ … ‘The Netanyahu government is a real problem and there is no common ground for negotiations with it. Construction in the settlement is continuing, Netanyahu is declaring Jerusalem and [Palestinian] refugees topics not up for negotiations, so what is there to talk about?’ The Palestinian leader added that he could not agree to Israel’s compromise for a partial settlement freeze, which he said inherently implied continued construction. Abbas reiterated his stance that peace negotiations must resume from where former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government left off and insisted they include the core issues. Some stride was made during talks with the Olmert government, said Abbas, adding: ‘There were maps drafted by both sides and proposals for territorial exchanges, and thus we cannot return to point zero.”

However, Israeli officials have said on several occasions in recent months that Abbas did not respond to Olmert’s offer, and that the Palestinian side did not present any maps of its own …

Issacharoff also reported that “Abbas and members of the Palestinian delegation to the UN were pleased with Obama’s statement that Washington is pursuing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, as Abbas has that diplomatic talks with Israel with Israel cannot begin unless it is clear that the 1967 lines are the goal.
But the officials expressed displeasure with Obama’s declaration that negotiations with Israel should begin without preconditions. Yasser Abed Rabbo, who heads both the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee and the PA negotiating team [?], said the PA was pleased with Obama’s decision to hold another round of
preliminary talks in the interest of bridging the gaps between the parties. ‘Still, our message is clear – we have not retreated from our demands, and relinquishing them will lead to a diplomatic disaster’, he said”. Issacharoff’s article can be read in full here.

Meanwhile, Karin Laub’s story for AP continues: “The Palestinian leader said he wants to avoid a crisis with the Obama administration at any cost, but stressed that ‘there is no common ground for discussion’ with Israel’s hardline leader, Benjamin Netanyahu … Abbas, who is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, said that even at the risk of alienating Obama, he cannot return to talks without a clear agenda. ‘In all honesty, we want to protect our relations with President Obama under any conditions … We don’t want to come out with a crisis with the Americans, or create a crisis. But in the meantime, we can’t go on unless there is a clear path. The road must be defined so we can know where we are going’ … Abbas said in the interview that only a complete freeze [on Israeli settlement activities] will do. ‘We can’t accept the status quo because a partial halt means a continuation of settlements … Even if it is halted by 95 percent, it is still a continuation of settlement activities.” Abbas said that despite ‘fundamental disagreements’ with Netanyahu over the terms of negotiations, he will keep talking to Israel about day-to-day issues that concern the Palestinians, including security and the economy. ‘We don’t reject the principle of talks and dialogue’, he said. In Jerusalem, Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon suggested the Palestinians are wasting time by insisting on a settlement freeze. He noted that when required to do so in the past — as part of a peace deal with Egypt and the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza — Israel has uprooted settlements”. Karin Laub’s report can be read in full here .

What is Danny Ayalon doing here? If Israel is prepared to uproot settlements, as Ayalon suggests, why doesn’t it say so clearly, now? To the contrary, Prime Minister Netanyahu is publicly saying the opposite.

Haaretz reported today that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Haaretz on Wednesday that he would not agree to the Palestinian demand to accept the 1967 borders as a condition for renewing peace negotiations. Netan Barayahu also said that U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday was ‘positive’ because ‘he also said something we had been seeking for six months, that we have to meet and begin the diplomatic process without preconditions’. Obama had spoken clearly about Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people’, said Netanyahu. ‘I believe that disagreement about this is the root of the conflict’ … Netanyahu also told Israel Radio on Thursday that he would never drop his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. ‘I told Abu Mazen [Abbas] I believe peace hinges first on his readiness to stand before his people and say, “We … are committed to recognising Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people”,’ Netanyahu said … ‘I will not drop this subject and other important issues under any final peace agreement’, Netanyahu added … [He suggested there can be peace] if the Palestinian leadership says we want peace, we recognize Israel as the Jewish state, the nation state of the Jewish people, just as we’re asked to recognize the Palestinian state as the nation state of the Palestinian people’. The prime minister concluded by saying that Israel wanted ‘a real peace … Israel wants both recognition and security from its neighbors, and this will be the task of the negotiations in the coming months’.”

As noted in our blog post yesterday, Israelis have not yet done a convincing job of explaining to Palestinians what, exactly, the demand for recognition of Israel as the “state of the Jewish people” means. Nor have Israelis made any effort to address or allay Palestinian fears that this phrase is just code for prohibiting the return of Palestinian refugees, and also the possible expulsion of Israel’s Palestinian-Arab citizens. This Israeli position was first made public in Ariel Sharon’s 13 or 14 reservations on the Road Map. Then, it was raised by the previous Israeli government, headed by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, at the launch of the Annapolis process of negotiations in November 2007. Now, Netanyahu is saying that this a demand he will never drop, that peace hinges on this issue, that this is the root of the conflict.

The Haaretz report stated that Netanyahu, in his interviews in New York, also stated concerning Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly that: “The things he said about the occupation are not new. He also said them in Cairo, and in fact that is the formula adopted by the road map — and it does not say we have to go back to the 1967 borders. This is the formula adopted by governments before the one I head, which did not agree to go back to the 1967 borders. We certainly would [also] not agree to that. In the matter of the settlements he also said nothing new. These disagreements should not prevent the beginning of the process which, among other things if it is successful, will also decide this issue”.

This Haaretz article also duly noted that on the specifics of Israeli settlements, Netanyahu told American TV interviewers that “Israel was unwilling to freeze ‘life’ in West Bank settlements. NBC interview Matt Lauer that he was ‘willing to make gestures to help the peace process’. When asked how big a gesture Israel intends to make, the premier said ‘we’ll get there very soon, I suppose’. ‘But I’ll tell you one thing I’m not willing to do. I can’t freeze life’, Netanyahu added, referring to a possible West Bank settlement freeze, insisted on by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. ‘There are a quarter of a million people there, in these communities which are called “settlements”, although really most of them are bedroom suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’ … ‘There are a quarter of a million people living in these communities. You know, they need kindergartens. They need schools. They need health clinics … They’re living. I’m committed not to build new settlements. I am committed not to expropriate additional land for existing settlements. But people have to live. You can’t freeze life’.” This Haaretz article can be read in full here .

Continue reading Saying one thing, doing another

Abu Mazen gives special interview to Palestine TV about UN meeting

Palestine Television aired a rather poorly-staged interview with a stiff and ill-at-ease Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) this evening, with a shiny Palestinian flag partly draped across the background.

The angles and the lighting was not good, and at one point the camera cut away to a shot of the Palestinian flag by itself, while Abu Mazen was talking.

Abu Mazen sent his holiday (Eid al-Fitr) greetings to the Palestinian people, and then explained that he had only accepted the trilateral meeting held yesterday at the periphery of the high-level event of the annual UN General Assembly at the call of U.S. President Obama, and out of respect for him.

Abu Mazen said that he repeated the same thing before, during and after the meeting. He said that Israel should return all Palestinian land occupied on or after 4 June 1967, including East Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, and East Jerusalem’s Old City’s mosque esplanade known as the Haram as-Sharif.

Palestinians were not sympathetic to Abu Mazen’s having caved in and changed his position to accept “Obama’s call”.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) said in a report carried by The Forward that “The meetings ran overtime, and Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t stop arguing even after he stepped into a room full of cameras. Reporters could not make out exactly what was exercising the Palestinian Authority president in his exchange with President Obama, but fist pounding isn’t usually a sign of things going well”. This report can be read in full here.

Continue reading Abu Mazen gives special interview to Palestine TV about UN meeting

Israel authorizes settlement increase — before agreeing to temporary freeze?

Eight months after Barack Obama was sworn into office last January (and made his first phone call to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — urging him to resume negotiations that Palestinians cut off when Israel launched a massive military assault on Gaza on 27 December), the Israeli government has thrown down the gauntlet and defied the Obama Administration’s cautionary advice against continued settlement activity.

In a direct challenge to American efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, the Israeli Defense Minister — who apparently rules the occupied West Bank — has just authorized construction of some 455 new Jewish homes there.

There are Israeli suggestions that this will be followed later this week by a U.S-Israeli agreement on a temporary settlement freeze.

But would the current United States administration, led by Barack Obama, really be so willing to go along with this?

Today is the Labor Day holiday that marks the end of summer in the USA. Obama is making a big speech, and is embroiled in a controversy about health care. George Mitchell is due in the region later this week. So, the reaction appears to be muted, at least for the moment.

But, the Israeli move on settlements shows that U.S. diplomacy is not overwhelmingly effective at the moment.

Continue reading Israel authorizes settlement increase — before agreeing to temporary freeze?

Nabil Shaath: Israel must stop all settlement activities including in Jerusalem — without loopholes

The recent Fatah General Conference held in Bethlehem was very important, and the results were “good, but not excellent”, Shaath said. “You can’t get excellent results with a 20-year hiatus (from the last general conference)”. Shaath said “it was not really a coup d’etat … and not an indicator there was a revolt, but an indication of the need to rejeuvenate using the wisdom of the older members”. He noted that “probably the average age of the Central Committee members dropped from 63 to 57 — we’re talking about very experienced people”.

Shaath revealed that “there is a planned trip to Gaza soon of some of the new Fatah Central Committee members, including me — but as Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) said, [this should not be a one-time event, and] the Central Committee should be in and out of Gaza all the time”. This trip could even be before the end of Ramadan, Shaath said.

And, Shaath said, there will be a big Palestinian delegation at the UN General Assembly high-level debate in mid-September, and “we will be moving on all fronts, making efforts to get the American government, Europe, Russia, China, and Japan” to put pressure on Israel in order to bring about a “categorical stop to all Israeli settlement activities [in Palestinian land seized in 1967], including in Jerusalem” — and “without any loopholes”.

“We are not going to consider any limited settlement freeze, or any nuanced cessation, or any regional implementation — i.e., excluding Jerusalem”, Shaath said.

Shaath said that he was in complete agreement with the article by Akiva Eldar published in Haaretz today, in which Eldar wrote “If there is any truth in the reports that came out of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Europe – that the United States agreed Israel can go on building in East Jerusalem – the headlines should have read ‘Obama has pulled out of the Middle East peace process’.”

Eldar also wrote that “During the negotiations with Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, the Palestinians agreed to exchange the territory of the settlements that are adjacent to the eastern side of the Green Line with territory on the western side of the line. On the other hand, the sensitive issue of sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem and the city’s holy sites, as well as the fate of a quarter-million Palestinians who were ‘annexed’ unilaterally into the State of Israel (as permanent residents) remains in dispute. The American position has been and remains that East Jerusalem is occupied territory whose future will be decided in negotiations between the two sides. Like the other countries of the world, and the UN Security Council, the United States has never recognized Israel’s decision to annex 64.4 square kilometers of the West Bank and join them to the 6.5 square kilometers that were part of Jerusalem’s administrative authority under Jordanian rule … We think that if we say ‘united Jerusalem, the capital of Israel’ frequently enough, the world will get used to the fact that this territory is ours (the semantics have led to a report on the Voice of Israel on the rise of Israeli exports to ‘Judea and Samaria’). It has not happened yet, and that is a good thing. Two U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, did not approve the resolution passed by Congress in 1995, declaring that ‘unified Jerusalem’ is the capital of Israel. They stated that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem will undermine the chances for a permanent resolution to the conflict, and thus harm the national security of the United States. Unfortunately, both turned a blind eye to construction in the West Bank settlements and the Palestinian neighborhoods that Israel defines as ‘East Jerusalem’.”

Eldar said in his article that during Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous tenure as Prime Minister, “In July 1997 he decided to stop construction at a Jewish site in the heart of the neighborhood Ras al-Amud, and to evacuate the families who moved in … The head of the Shin Bet security service at the time, Ami Ayalon, warned the prime minister in a report that Jewish construction in the neighborhood would stir riots in the territories. Since the current Palestinian leadership has renounced violence, it is possible that an American acquiescence to the continued Jewish penetration into Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem will pass peacefully. However, a substantive change of such magnitude in the U.S. position regarding a national/religious issue that is so explosive would cause the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, among other efforts, to crash and burn … We must hope that the news that Obama has backtracked on East Jerusalem is merely the wishful thinking of opponents to a compromise that come from the western part of the city”. This Akiva Eldar article can be viewed in full on the Haaretz website here.

[However, settlement expansion is continuing in Ras al-Amud today. The former police station — which has now been moved to the E-1 area at the beginning of the year, despite Israeli assurances to former U.S. Secretary of State lin mid-2008 that the move was in the far distant future — has been prepared for demolition, with the windows and doors removed, a Palestinian resident of the area said. And there is evidence of preparation to expand the “Maale Zeitim” settlement housing. “Then, the two areas will be joined”, this man said — and his house would be surrounded. “I am now convinced that the Israelis see no future with Palestinians in this land”. ]

Shaath, in his remarks to members of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) at a briefing today at the Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah, said that “Abu Mazen is ready for these negotiations and is not putting precondition, but he is calling on the Israeli government to avoid “a repetition of its shameful way, as [former Prime Minister Ehud Barak] did in 1999, when he renegotiated agreements previously made by Netanyahu then he did the same thing concerning Syria first in Shepardstown and then in Geneva, and then also to the Palestinians at Camp David”.

No, Shaath said, what should be done is either you finish up previous business and go on to a new stage, or any efforts will be “as fruitless as everything since Camp David”, and there would be another nine years without any progress or results.

However, Shaath said, Netanyahu’s current offer “to restart negotiations ‘without preconditions’ is a horrible thing, because it means starting anew again” — which he said the Palestinians were unwilling to do.

The election of Barack Obama to replace George W. Bush has brought “hope for a fresh re-start to the peace process”, Shaath said,

“We want Obama to come with a clear sentence repeating what is in the Road Map and in the Annapolis Declaration: ‘there should be absolutely no settlement activity, including natural growth, and this does not allow continuing what is already under construction’,” Shaath said.

But, he said, “to bank on the fact that violence has been defeated is very stupid”.

The Mitchell report blamed Israeli settlement activity and the resulting violence, for the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, Shaath said, and “it’s ridiculous to go on with talks now … while the land is vanishing every day”.

Shaath said that “We would [only] accept a temporary freeze if it is related to the signing and implementation of a peace agreement that would mean an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 border with some minor negotiated swaps”.

“This is the policy of the new Fatah Central Committee, of the new Executive Committee of the PLO, it is in the political program agreed at the Fatah Conference in Bethlehem, and this is the policy of the entire Palestinian people”, Shaath told the journalists.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the regular meeting of the Israeli government on Sunday, as reported in the cabinet communique, that “On the diplomatic issue, my meeting with [former Senator] Mitchell, contrary to the rumors, stories and reports that I am not responsible for, but I am responsible for what I am telling you now, there are no agreements or decisions; there is an attempt to bridge between the two goals that we would like to hold to and maintain simultaneously: The first is to launch a peace process, a diplomatic process
between us and the Palestinians that will – of course – also include the Arab countries. The second as to do with our desire to see to the minimal existential needs of the settler public. As to this, there are all sorts of attempts to reach an understanding and reduce gaps but we are not there yet.”