Posts Tagged ‘Settlement Freeze’

Direct Talks: A Path Forward or A Trap?

July 30, 2010

Aaron Miller, long-time State Department official, warns President Obama against pushing so hard for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Lara Friedman, of Americans for Peace Now, explores the tangled web that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will

PA President Mahmoud Abbas

need to walk now that even the Arab League has endorsed direct talks.

The sum of both articles, though, leaves one wondering why Barack Obama is pushing so hard for direct talks.

It’s clear enough why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants direct talks. Israel has done nothing to advance the proximity talks and faced no consequences for it. In direct talks, that will be even truer; holding the talks will satisfy much of the world, and Israel will be able to prolong them indefinitely.

But what exactly does Obama expect to come from direct talks at this stage? Netanyahu is shouting to all that will listen that he can’t even extend the joke of a settlement moratorium or his government will fall (it won’t). So how can we believe he can possibly make the concessions necessary for peace?

That aside, let’s say Abbas and Netanyahu do come to an agreement that satisfies both sides. What happens with Gaza and Hamas? Part of any agreement that the Palestinians can agree to is the affirmation of the principle that the West Bank and Gaza are a single territorial unit.

If such an agreement, then, is not possible, what’s the big rush for direct talks?

It does seem that this is another symptom of the tragic lack of strategy that has dogged Obama’s Mideast efforts from day one. The President has kept this issue on the front burner, and I remain convinced of his good intentions.

But we all know what is said about the road to hell. (more…)

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Webcasting Hasbara

July 12, 2010

The spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister’s office held a webcast today. Mark Regev, who is expert at talking with the media and is specifically geared toward English-speaking audiences, spent half an hour answering questions that had been submitted through Facebook.

If Israel is smart, they’ll have Regev do a lot more of this. He’s very good at it, and his remarkable skill at disseminating

Israeli PMO spokesman Mark Regev

hasbara (propaganda) was on full display. He sticks as best he can to areas where Israel can make a good case and he’s very good at framing his statements to present Israel in the best light possible. But a careful listen shows once again the limits of even the best public relations; you can sell a Honda like it’s a Mercedes for a while, but eventually the quality of the product you’re selling cannot be disguised.

In a mere thirty minutes, Regev could only touch on the subjects that came up, yet the time amply demonstrated both the strengths and weaknesses of Israel’s arguments.

Recognizing the “Jewish State?”

The first statement Regev made which bears examination is when he described the Israeli vision of a demilitarized Palestine that recognizes “the Jewish State.” The first part of that sentence will raise some hackles, but it is a condition which, while it has never been formally committed to, has always been understood to be a part of a final status agreement.

But the idea of Palestine recognizing not only Israeli sovereignty and its right to exist, but recognizing it as a Jewish state is a deal-breaker. It is a willful wrench that has been thrown into negotiations, actually by Ehud Olmert, who first brought the idea to the fore.

Palestinians might be able to live with a demilitarized state. But recognizing Israel as the Jewish State demands that Palestinians drop their objections to the discrimination their fellows who hold Israeli citizenship face. More importantly, it implicitly demands that they acknowledge that the dispossession they have endured for the past 62 years was justified. Whether one believes that Palestinian dispossession was inevitable, criminal, justified by war or a case of ethnic cleansing, surely everyone can agree that asking Palestinians to make such an admission is simply unreasonable.

It’s also unthinkable. Regev, like many other advocates for the official Israeli position, puts this out there as if it is a normal demand. Far from it—no country recognizes another “as” anything. It simply recognizes another country’s sovereignty, with the rights and responsibilities that implies. One of those rights is for any country to define itself, through its own political and social processes. (more…)

The Play’s the Thing for Bibi and Obama

July 6, 2010

DC theater at its best. That’s what we had today as the much-anticipated photo-op meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took place.

Both parties got what they wanted. Obama had a warm press conference with Bibi, sending the message that American-Israeli relations are as warm as ever and reassuring his Jewish Democratic base (which he is more worried about than he needs to be) that he still loves Israel. He got more statements from Netanyahu committing to a general concept of peace and a lot of praise from Bibi about Obama’s concern for Israel.

PM Netanyahu and President Obama at their press conference after the July 6 meeting

Bibi got a good deal more. Not only was he able to show Israel that the relationship with America remains strong, but he got Obama to publicly imply that the US would continue to back Israeli nuclear ambiguity and to say that he would side with Netanyahu on moving to direct talks with the Palestinian Authority despite there being no indication that actions would be taken to make this politically feasible for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

But in the end, it was just a show. Nothing much changed today, though perhaps Bibi’s closing words, urging Obama to visit Israel, set the stage for the next act.

In the next few days we may find out, that something more important happened behind closed doors between the two. But one thing that was anticipated that seems not to have come about is Obama pressing Netanyahu for an extension of the settlement freeze.

Indeed, just as the meeting began, Americans for Peace Now (APN) delivered a petition with nearly 16,000 signatures urging President Obama to press for that extension. I applaud APN’s effort, and the petition was the right thing to do. But I am also relieved that, apparently, Obama did not heed that call. (more…)

Gaza: A Kadima-Made Quagmire

June 22, 2010

The political mudslinging between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni over the failure of Israel’s siege of Gaza would be amusing if it were not so disturbing.

The exchange basically comes down to Bibi saying that he inherited the Gaza siege from the previous government and Livni responding that under their version of the siege, the world wasn’t condemning Israel for it.

We’ll get back to Bibi in a moment, but let’s look at the depths of Livni’s disingenuousness.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni

Livni is not just the current head of Kadima; she was Foreign Minister when the siege was enacted and when Israel wreaked havoc in Operation Cast Lead. Unlike Avigdor Lieberman, the FM in the current government, Livni was at the very heart of policymaking under Olmert. She cannot duck responsibility for Gaza.

Under the watch that Livni was a central part of, Israel enacted a policy that was needlessly cruel and ultimately self-defeating. For three years, the civilians in Gaza have been devastated. They, not Hamas, bore the brunt of Israel’s policies. They, not Hamas, were impacted by Israel barring all sorts of household items, cleansers, foodstuffs, coffee, cigarettes, and other consumer products.

These effects were far from unexpected; they were the sole intent of the policies. This was the very definition of collective punishment. (more…)

Making Bibi Sing

April 23, 2010

In my latest piece for Zeek Magazine, I explore the question of temporary borders for a Palestinian state, and the Obama Administration’s determination to make a peace process work.

The Crisis of Jewish Democracy

April 2, 2010

In my latest piece in Zeek, I look at the new clarity of so-called “pro-Israel” voices which are not actually pro-Israel but rather anti-peace. These voices are taken to represent Israelis and American Jews and in fact are not at all representative of either group, but stand for views that the majority of those groups reject.

Readers may also want to check out MJ Rosenberg’s latest piece, which appeared just after I posted mine. It’s got a similar theme.

At War With America

March 26, 2010

Sometimes an authority figure – a parent, a sober friend to an alcoholic, a supervisor or a senior partner – has to make it clear that there are consequences to someone’s actions. This has been the missing piece from the United States’ “special relationship” with Israel for a very long time. Barack Obama understands this very well.

Steadily, over the course of the Clinton and W. Bush Administrations, Israel has gotten more and more comfortablewith obstructing the possibility of a two-state solution. Over that time, and far more than in the 25 years between 1967 and 1992, successive Israeli governments have expanded the settlement project massively and tightened the physical hold on East Jerusalem.

Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush looked the other way. They did that for different reasons; Clinton felt it was too much to take on with a peace process so recently started and Bush simply supported Israel’s attempt to create Greater Israel. (more…)

Jerusalem, the Capital of War

March 19, 2010

In my latest piece for Zeek Magazine, I continue to follow the developments in the US’ conflict with Israel over East Jerusalem, and how important it is that the US stand fast on the new reality here: that the world can no longer tolerate Israel treating what even they agree as a final status issue as having already been decided.

Obama Starts Rising to the Challenge

March 15, 2010

Well, color me stunned.

In my most recent article, I described Benjamin Netanyahu as having won his roll of the dice in the wake of the Israeli announcement of new Jerusalem building while Joe Biden was trying to restart the peace process.

I spoke too soon. Perhaps one can say my expectations of the Obama Administration had been lowered and so the recent developments come as a pleasant surprise. But pleasant it is, and the welcome stance from Washington is going to force some recalculations in Israel. How much of a recalculation is going to depend on how steadfast Obama can remain in the face of what is likely to be a growing backlash.

Obama is explaining things these days to Netanyahu

The Obama Administration may have accepted the excuse that the timing of the announcement of 1,600 new housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo was a bureaucratic foul-up. But the Israeli apology, which went out of its way to make it clear that it was only the timing that was seen to be at fault, was not sufficient for Washington.

By stressing that the only problem was the fact that the announcement came while Joe Biden was in Israel trying to start “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel put the Obama Administration in a bad position. If Washington accepted the apology and let the matter go, the talks were doomed because it would have meant, to the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, that the US was not objecting to the expansion of a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. Even if they had continued, American credibility would have been so low as to make the talks pointless.

It is almost certain that such would have been precisely the course the Clinton or Bush, Jr. Administrations would have followed. But, recalling the early days of his administration, Obama broke that pattern. (more…)

Bibi The Conquerer and his Pyrrhic Victories

March 12, 2010

In my latest piece for Zeek Magazine, I look at the ramifications of Israel embarrassing Vice President Joe Biden this week.