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?

Netanyahu tries to stop boycott

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu told his government ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday that in his recent visit to the UK, he discussed the calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel because of its military occupation of Palestinian land and Palestinian lives.

Netanyahu said:  “Regarding Great Britain, what bothers me is the spreading boycott policy, both academic and economic.  I received a commitment from him [Prime Minister Brown] that he would act vigorously against this.  I also spoke – by telephone – with Leader of the Opposition David Cameron, who was on vacation, and he underscored this”.

In an interview by Cecilie Surasky conducted probably in July but just posted on 1 September, Canadian author Naomi Klein (Shock Doctrine) and Israeli publisher Yael Lerer explain that they think boycotting Israel will pressure the country to live up to international law:

Question (Surasky): You must have grappled with this idea of a cultural boycott. Many critics would say that it shuts down communication rather than opening it up. What brought you to take this step?

Klein: Well, it has to do with the fact that the Israeli government openly uses culture as a military tool. Though Israeli officials believe they are winning the actual war for land, they also feel that the country suffers because most of what the world hears about the region on the news is about the conflict: militarization, lawlessness, the occupation and Gaza. So the foreign ministry launched a campaign called ‘Israel Beyond the Conflict’, which involves using culture, film, books, the arts, tourism and academia to create all kinds of alliances between Western countries and the state of Israel, and to promote the image of a normal, happy country, rather than an aggressive occupying power. That’s why we are always hearing about film festivals and book fairs with a special ‘Israel spotlight’. And so, even though in general I would totally agree that culture is positive — books are positive and film is positive and communication is wonderful — we have to understand that we are dealing with a state strategy to co-opt all of that to make a brutal occupation more palatable.

Continue reading Netanyahu tries to stop boycott

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.”

Netanyahu presses demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as state of the Jewish people – Fayyad says Jews can stay without discrimination in a future Palestine

It is a slightly but significantly different formulation from the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State.

As Israel’s Prime Minister clarified just days after his recent policy speech at Bar Ilan University (billed as his answer to U.S. President Barack Obama’s address to the Muslim world from Cairo University on 4 June), he is now asking — as he did again today at the weekly Cabinet meeting — for Palestinians to “recognize the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People”.

Continue reading Netanyahu presses demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as state of the Jewish people – Fayyad says Jews can stay without discrimination in a future Palestine

Netanyahu explains his speech: Palestinians must recognize Israel as the national state of the Jewish people

After nearly missing this Sunday’s regular meeting of the Israeli cabinet, reportedly because of something in his eye (which was treated). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed up, and, according to a Cabinet communiqué, Netanyahu elaborated on his speech at Bar-Ilan University last Sunday.

According to the communiqué. Netanyahu said that “… The items that I presented are not conditions for the start of negotiations. We do not condition the start of negotiations on any conditions; on the contrary, we insist that there be no pre-conditions either by our side or by the other side …

“The two main points that I sought to emphasize were: First of all, that we are talking about two states for two peoples and one of these is the Jewish People, and the Jewish People are entitled to a national state of their own. Of course, there are non-Jews in it and they enjoy full civil rights but the state is a state of the Jewish people, with the symbols, language and holidays of the Jewish people, and with the ability of every Jew to immigrate here and become a citizen, what is incorrect regarding the so-called ‘right of return.’ This will not be implemented in the State of Israel.

It was important to me to emphasize that the Palestinian side must recognize Israel as the national state of the Jewish People just as we are being asked to recognize the Palestinian state as the national state of the Palestinian people. Moreover, a peace agreement must put an end to their claims in this regard and to all claims, and put an end to the conflict.
Continue reading Netanyahu explains his speech: Palestinians must recognize Israel as the national state of the Jewish people

Bitter Palestinians joke: Netanyahu wants only a state-and-a-half

“Netanyahu only wants one-and-a-half states”.

Continue reading Bitter Palestinians joke: Netanyahu wants only a state-and-a-half

Are they crazy!!??

This is what people say. here in Israel, if they disagree with somebody else’s proposition: “Are they crazy!!??”

According to an article by Aluf Benn published in Haaretz today, “confidants” and “aides” of Prime Minister Netanyahu said that “Netanyahu believes that U.S. President Barack Obama wants a confrontation with Israel, based on Obama’s speech in Cairo last week … In Netanyahu’s opinion, the Americans believe an open controversy with Israel would serve the Obama administration’s main objective of improving U.S. relations with the Arab world”.

Really, this is too much. After all that Obama said, in his 4 June speech in Cairo! “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable”, Obama said. No one can seriously think that Obama is favoring the Arab world over Israel.

No, this appears to be a manipulative attempt to bully George Mitchell and Barack Obama into backing down in the increasingly confusing confrontation over Israel’s continued settlement activities in the West Bank — which Netanyahu and a number of his appointed government ministers have said they have every intention of continuing.

Continue reading Are they crazy!!??

Mitchell due in Israel today – Netanyahu announces big speech coming this week

Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has announced he will make a big speech this week [UPDATE: at the beginning of next week, Netanyahu’s office confirmed this evening.  FURTHER UPDATE: It will be delivered on Sunday at Bar-Ilan University, as Obama’s speech was delivered at Cairo University. And, by the way, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal will also deliver a speech from Damascus in the coming days, which will reportedly come after Netanyahu’s big speech, but which is also supposed to be a response to Obama].  Netanyahu has said he will present Israel’s idea for “peace”.

Maybe it will even be an “initiative”.

Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar has said, as reported earlier here, that the main Israeli objection to the Arab Peace Initiative is its name. 

Yes, really.

Now, after provoking most of the world into a tizzy by [rather recently] refusing to endorse a two-state solution, analysis and multiple leaks to the media suggest that Netanyahu believes he has gotten the American administration to agree to some kind of less-than-state for the Palestinians.  The model mentioned today is Andorra (no longer Hong Kong or Singapore, or even Switzerland).

Netanyahu may want an “initiative” to supersede the 2003 Road Map.

Members of Netanyahu’s new government have spoken against the Road Map, but voices are now being heard extolling the advantages of this document to which former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon affixed some 13 or 14 reservations.

Even though Phase I has not been fulfilled in the six years since the Road Map was launched in 2003, the supposed benefits of Phase II, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian “State” with provisional — not final — borders, are now coming under renewed examination.

(In addition, Phase II also calls for the Palestinian “State” to take its full place in the United Nations, where it is at presented only represented by an “Observer” mission.)

Over the weekend, interesting reports in the Israeli media suggested that Mitchell might push for an immediate designation of “provisional” borders. which would be in accordance with the Road Map’s Phase II (and should therefore accordingly accompany the creation of a Palestinian state), in order to know where settlement activity would be legal or not.

The notion that agreement on borders would clarify settlement activities originated in the Bush administration during the 2008 Annapolis process of negotiations, and was publicly articulated by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezzaa Rice. However, she did not mention “provisional” borders — which is something that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has firmly opposed.

Continue reading Mitchell due in Israel today – Netanyahu announces big speech coming this week

Israeli official to the NYTimes: "Not everything is written down" in the Road Map

Revelations are emerging from the ping-pong of news developments as revelations in the Israeli media spur publication of reports by American correspondents based in Israel which are in turn picked up by the Israeli media.

At the end of May, according to the Israeli media, there were reportedly talks in London between Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, attorney Yitzhak Molcho [who apparently is Netanyahu’s man in charge of Palestinian “matters”],  National Security Advisor Uzi Arad and the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Ministry of Defense Mike Herzog — and the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell.

One Israeli publication (I think it was Haaretz, but — sorry — I lost the reference!!) reported last week that the U.S. Special Envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell “emphasized that the U.S. does not accept the concept of ‘natural growth’ for the settlements. ‘We did not hear from the Bush administration about any of these so-called understandings with Israel on the settlements – all of which were supposedly oral understandings between different people every time’, said one senior American official. ‘But we’ve never heard a thing about them – they certainly weren’t formal agreements between our governments. The Israelis want us to commit to oral understandings we have never heard about, but at the same time they are not willing to commit to written agreements their government has signed, like the road map and commitment to the two-state solution’. The disagreement over the understandings concerning the settlements produced an embarrassing encounter in London last week during a meeting between Mitchell, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor and a number of Netanyahu’s advisers. At the meeting, the Israelis claimed there was a letter between former president George W. Bush and former prime minister Ariel Sharon stating that the settlement blocs would remain in Israeli hands, so construction is permitted there. Mitchell showed the Israelis that one of the letter’s sections discusses the principle of two states for two peoples. ‘That is also written in the letter – do you agree to that?’ he asked”.

Pretty good.

Then, the NY Times correspondent in Jerusalem, Ethan Bronner, reported that “Senior Israeli officials expressed irritation on Wednesday that President Obama had declined to acknowledge what they called clear understandings with the Bush administration that allowed Israel to build West Bank settlement housing within certain guidelines while still publicly claiming to honor a settlement ‘freeze’ … The Israeli officials said that repeated and ongoing discussions with Bush officials starting in late 2002 gave unambiguous permission to build within the boundaries of certain settlement blocs as long as no new land was expropriated, no special economic incentives were offered to move to settlements and no new settlements were built”. The NYTimes reported that an Israeli official who asked for anonymity said that “When Israel signed onto the so-called roadmap for a two-state solution in 2003, which says its government ‘freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)’ … it was after a detailed discussion with Bush officials that laid out those explicit limits. ‘Not everything is written down’, said one of the officials. He and others said that Israel agreed both to the roadmap and to move ahead with the removal of settlements and soldiers from Gaza in 2005 on the understanding that settlement growth could continue”.

The NYTimes checked this with American officials and former officials, and then reported that “a senior official in the Bush administration disagreed, calling the Israeli characterization ‘an overstatement’. ‘There was never an agreement to accept natural growth’, the official said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter. ‘There was an effort to explore what natural growth would mean, but we weren’t able to reach agreement on that’. ..

Continue reading Israeli official to the NYTimes: "Not everything is written down" in the Road Map

Are the Americans serious this time?

The international press is writing that it seems different this time, that this new American administration may be serious this time — about stopping Israeli settlement-building, expansion, and whatnot. But, that’s what sells newspapers.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and company were received at the White House in Washington on Thursday 28 May. Obama is the leader, here, talking with dominant body language.

The protocol is interesting: on the couch beside Obama are (No. 1) Special MidEast envoy George Mitchell, (2) U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton (the one in the more colorful clothing), and (2) VP Joe Biden.

On the couch beside Abbas are PLO Executive Secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo (who is also now apparently in charge of media for the PA), long-time negotiator Saeb Erekat, and someone I can’t immediately identify who is writing on a notepad (very similar to the one the interpreter is using in the photo below).

A portrait of the U.S. “founding father”, George Washington, is over the no-frills mantle decorated with Republican greens (no floral arrangements, but why not herbs that can be replanted later in Michelle’s garden?). And Abraham Lincoln is prominently displayed in the upper left side of the photo.  The Palestinians would probably have been happy if there were also a portrait of Martin “I-have-a-dream” Luther King, but the Israelis might have freaked out…

The expanded meeting between Obama and Abbas at the White House on 28 May 2009

Continue reading Are the Americans serious this time?