Netanyahu: Ramallah + Jerusalem are only "ten minutes apart"

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the regular weekly meeting of his Cabinet today (Sunday, 4 July 10) that he hopes direct talks with Palestinian officials will be one of the outcomes of his forthcoming trip to Washington.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday.

“Ramallah almost touches Jerusalem”, Netanhayu told his cabinet. “I have been ready to meet with Abu Mazen since this Government’s first day in office”.

Netanyahu noted that “The main goal of the talks with President Obama will be to advance direct talks in the peace process between us and the Palestinians … On the issue of direct talks, there is no substitute for entering into such negotiations. There is no substitute. One cannot raise ideas in either the media or by other means, and avoid that direct contact, that is the only possible way to bring about a solution to the conflict between us and the Palestinians. We are ten minutes apart”.

This is a slight exaggeration, since Netanyahu has probably not been to Ramallah in a long time, and perhaps never. Traffic is absolutely terrible. And the Qalandia checkpoint will probably have to be completely closed down if Netanyahu were ever to come to visit… as he proposed in public remarks in front of journalists when he was meeting U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell last week [See our previous post on this, here.]

Netanyahu added: “Whoever desires peace will hold direct peace talks. I hope that this will be one of the results of my trip to Washington”.

The Israeli newspaper Maariv is reporting today that after the trip to Washington, Netanyahu will make a visit to Cairo to meet Egyptian President Husni Mubarak. Didi Remez has posted a translation of this report into English (from the original Hebrew) on his website here.

Ma’an News Agency is reporting today that “The Arab League will turn to the UN Security Council to declare a Palestinian state if proximity talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials fail to achieve progress by September, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmad Abul Gheit said Saturday. According to Egyptian news site Al-Masry Al-Youm, Abul Gheit said Arab countries should act while taking into consideration UNSC Resolution 1515, calling for the creation of a Palestinian state in coexistence with Israel, which the Arab League decision is based on”…

UNSC Resolution 1515 was adopted — unanimously — on 19 November 2003, and it endorses the Roadmap presented on 30 April 2003.

Resolution 1515 reaffirms “its vision of a region where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders”. In its operative paragraphs, this resolution “Endorses the Quartet Performance-based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” and “Calls on the parties to their obligations under the Roadmap in cooperation with the Quartet and to achlieve the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security”. This resolution is published by the United Nations, and can be viewed by clicking on the link for Security Council Resolution at this web page here.

The Ma’an report added that “The Arab League endorsed the second round of US-brokered indirect talks with Israel in May, after they were initially derailed in March following Israel’s announcement that an illegal East Jerusalem settlement would be enlarged during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the region. The body gave the talks a four-month deadline and has repeatedly called on Israel to abidoste by its various commitments with regard to occupied Palestinian and Syrian land, threatening to rethink the Arab Peace Initiative on several occasions. Last week, Arab League chief Amr Moussa said an emergency summit will be held in October”… This Ma’an story is posted here .

Obama: "civilian control of the military…is at the core of our democratic system"

The Washington Post reported that U.S. President Barack Obama said, after General Stanley McChrystal’s resignation today as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, that “The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general … It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system“… This is reported here.

This drama happened because of an unbridled article published in the current issue of The Rolling Stone magazine. Before calling McChrystal back to Washington for this resignation, Obama said that remarks made by the General and members of his staff and reported in the article, entitled “The Runaway General“, showed “poor judgment”.

Obama made the announcement in the White House Rose Garden with Vice President Joe Biden (one of the targets of McChrystal’s aides in the Rolling Stone article) standing just behind his right shoulder.

[See UPDATE below — the spin reported in the NYTimes says: “The drama began on Monday afternoon, when Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was flying home from Illinois to Andrews Air Force Base, took an unsettling call from General McChrystal”…]

Continue reading Obama: "civilian control of the military…is at the core of our democratic system"

No mention of Israeli-Palestinian stalemate in Obama speech

In his first State of the Union speech to Congress last night in Washington, U.S. President Obama did not even mention the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, despite the priority he gave the matter upon taking office.

Obama said in his early days in office that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in the United States’ national interest.

Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, launched the “Annapolis” process of negotiations in late November 2007 that was supposed to create an independent Palestinian State by the end of 2008 – or at the very latest, by the day that Obama was sworn into office in January 2009. The Annapolis process produced no results, and the negotiations were called off by the Palestinian leadership when Israel unleashed an unprecedented military operation in the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008.

However, in last night’s State of the Union speech, Obama mentioned Haiti [“10,000 Americans are now working there” to deal with the earthquake disaster] and Afghanistan [“we are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces”] , Iran [Iran’s leaders will face growing consequences as “they continue to ignore their obligations” ] and Iraq [where all U.S. combat troops will be out by the end August] — and even Guinea — but not here in Israel and Palestine, either in American diplomacy or in what has been happening on the ground, in what many believe to be the heart of the Middle East conflict.

Juan Cole pointed this out just hours after the speech, in an analysis he wrote called, “Foreign Affairs in Obama’s State of the Union: Caught between the Utopian and the Propagandistic”, posted on his Informed Comment blog.

Obama’s statement that the U.S. is “working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science, education and innovation” was just “a soft throw-away line”, Juan Cole commented.

By contrast, he argued, “What would improve US relations with Muslims would be a swift movement toward a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine and an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza’s children. A frank acknowledgment that the US has been powerless to make headway on this essential issue would have been welcome. So too would be an acknowledgment by the president of the justice of the letter calling on Israel to desist from its blockade of Gaza circulated by 54 Democratic members of the House of Representatives, in a rare act of defiance toward the powerful Israel lobbies”.

UPDATE: In answer to a question from a young woman [reportedly a university student, Leila Abdulaziz] at a townhall meeting in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, asking “Last night in your State of the Union address, you spoke about America’s support for human rights. Then, why have we not condemned Israeli and Egyptian human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian people…?“, Obama replied that “Look … Here’s my view: Israel is one of our strongest allies … It’s a vibrant democracy, it shares links with us in all sorts of ways. It is critical for us, and I will never waiver from ensuring Israel’s security, and helping them secure themselves in what is a very hostile region … What is also true is that the plight of the Palestinians is something that we have to pay attention to, because it is not good for our security, and it is not good for Israel’s security, if you have millions of individuals who feel hopeless, who don’t have an opportunity to get an education or get a job or what-have-you”… [Well, successive American administrations have repeated this formula that Palestinians need, first of all, is apolitical — jobs, to support their families, etc. The business about ending the occupation is rarely mentioned, and the call for a Palestinian state is formulaic…] Obama also said, true to form, in answer to this question in Tampa, that “We are seeking a two-state solution in which Israel and the Palestine can live side by side in peace and security. In order to do that, both sides are going to have make compromises … We are working to strengthen the ability of both parties to sit down across the table and to begin serious negotiations”…

UPDATE: Thanks to Tamer Halaseh on Facebook, there’s a link to a better video (via the advertisement-laden Huffington Post, here ) showing Leila Abdelaziz introducing herself and asking her question:

Continue reading No mention of Israeli-Palestinian stalemate in Obama speech

Obama's Executive Order to close Guantanamo expired yesterday

“One of US President Barack Obama’s most publicized and internationally applauded first acts upon coming into office was his executive order to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay within a year”, as Sara Kuepfer Thakkar wrote in an analysis for the Zurich-based ISN Security Watch, but “The deadline for closing Guantanamo, which expires today [this was published yesterday, Friday 22 January 2010], has not been met”.

The Guantanamo Naval Base Detention Facility was opened on 11 January 2002, to imprison suspects in George W. Bush’s War on Terror.

At the time that this War on Terror was declared, experts warned that it could be a long time before it could be declared over — a fact which could create multiple problems, including what to do with the detainees being held in various covert facilities around the world.

President Obama has ordered an end to the terminology (“War on Terror”), but it seems that the policies and practices die harder.

Sara Kuepfer Thakkar wrote in her ISN analysis that “The prison at Guantanamo Bay had become a symbol of American abuse of Muslims, a convenient recruiting tool for al-Qaida, and thus a real liability for a war that ultimately can only be won by securing the support of Muslims around the world …

Continue reading Obama's Executive Order to close Guantanamo expired yesterday

Abbas offers new explanation of Goldstone report fiasco

Maan News Agency reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told a meeting of Fatah Revolutionary Council at the Presidential headquarters compound, the Muqata’a, in Ramallah, that “To keep you updated, when the Goldstone report was released, we agreed on it and welcomed it. Arab countries proposed a high-level project to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, that protects our rights and it was opposed by Europe, the US, China, and Russia. Then the US suggested a very low-level project which holds us responsible for the war on Gaza. Neither project was passed. It was necessary to find a compromise. We found that it would be better to defer discussion of the report. Well, we are not a full member of the Human Rights Council, and we can’t submit, or withdraw, or delay a proposal. Everybody was silenced. Then some began accusing us of erring. Who read the report anyway? Those who were in Geneva did not read the report, because it needed to be translated … Let’s assume we saw the report. Where did we err? Why do we say that? Everybody says we erred. Unfortunately, the fuss about the report started here in Palestine. They said, this is your opportunity to attack them fiercely. I have all the names who contacted the fact-finding mission to talk to them. The least I can describe this is shame. Is the mission an opportunity to attack us? For what? I accepted the commission, and I am the one in charge. Nobody operated without my approval. It was I who made evaluations. I gave directives to [Ambassador] Ibrahim Khreisha to find a way to re-submit the Goldstone report, and a week later he did. The report was discussed, and was approved. Where is treason they accuse us of?” This report is posted here.

This is almost incomprehensible — it’s hard to tell if there are errors in translation, a problem with editing, or something else Palestinians did not read the report because it was not translated? Deferring discussion of the report was a compromise?

Abbas was speaking a a three-day meeting of the new Fatah Revolutionary Council that was elected at the movement’s 6th general conference in Bethlehem last August.

In the absence of news to the contrary, it must be assumed that the Palestinian Investigative Committee that Abbas formed to look into what happened concerning the Goldstone report fiasco is still doing its work.

Continue reading Abbas offers new explanation of Goldstone report fiasco

Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize – Positive Reinforcement Therapy

After just nine months in office, U.S. President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2009.

As CNN reported, there were gasps in the room when the head of the Nobel prize committee made the announcement this morning.

The head of the Nobel prize committee explained that Obama won for his extraordinary efforts to improve the international climate and strengthen international diplomacy within the framework of international institutions (e.g., the United Nations).

(He added in a later interview on CNN that “of course, other people have to respond positively” – then he indicated that Obama’s distinction is due to his having given diplomacy a central position.)

The announcement also noted that Obama has revived global hopes of creating a world without nuclear weapons.

Continue reading Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize – Positive Reinforcement Therapy

Not "LIKE swatting a fly" – it's Obama, really swatting a fly

The President of the United States (POTUS) took time out, during a television interview, to deal with a fly that was bothering him., here .

The new entirely-internet-based Christian Science Monitor, here , calls this “an amazing show of athleticism”.

Certainly, it’s fast reflexes.

American morning television programs joked: one mentioned “no-fly zones”, another said it was the “first expose on bugging in Washington”, while yet another called it a cold-blooded killing.

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!!??

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?

Former top officials urge Obama to contact Hamas

Former U.S. National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, are among the ten authors of a newly-revealed letter handed to Barack Obama just before his inauguration, urging the new president-elect to change policy and make contact with Hamas.

This was revealed today in a story published by the Boston Globe, which reported that “Nine former senior US officials and one current adviser are urging the Obama administration to talk with leaders of Hamas to determine whether the militant group can be persuaded to disarm and join a peaceful Palestinian government, a major departure from current US policy…
Continue reading Former top officials urge Obama to contact Hamas