US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visits Ramallah, hears about Palestinian statehood plans

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Ramallah today, during a trip in an exceptionally tense period to the region.

According to a report in Haaretz, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told Gates that Israel should end the occupation of the West Bank by September.

Almost two years ago, Fayyad announced plans to have the institutions of Palestinian statehood ready by September 2011.

In recent months, with the negotiations towards a two-state solution at a stalemate, Palestinian officials in Ramallah have spoken about going to the United Nations to begin preparations to request admission to UN membership of a new state of Palestine.

The Haaretz report, published here, “Fayyad stressed to Gates the importance of meeting the September deadline set in what he called the ‘Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State’ program, a statement issued by the premier’s office said. According to this two year program, by the end of August the Palestinians would have completed building their state institutions and enforced security on the ground, to allow them to establish their independent state. Fayyad told Gates that Israeli restrictions are obstructing Palestinian efforts to build their state institutions. He also said that Israel’s settlement expansion and military incursions into Palestinian Authority-run cities in the West Bank caused problems”.

Israeli officials are saying that a unilateral Palestinian move would be catastrophic, because it would bring a strong Israeli reaction — but, since they are now convinced of the urgent necessity for any solution to be a two-state model, it’s hard to understand their aversion to the Palestinian leadership’s planned moves — except as a compulsive need to maintain control.

Continue reading US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visits Ramallah, hears about Palestinian statehood plans

USA vetoes draft UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements + takes back its alternative offer, too

The U.S. cast its first veto in the UN Security Council on Friday [18 February] under the Obama administration, according to the Washington Post’s Colum Lynch.

UN photo of US Amb Susan Rice casting veto on 18 Feb 2011

UN photo of US Ambassador Susan Rice casting veto on 18 February 2011

All of the other 14 members of the UNSC voted in favor of the resolution, which would have condemned Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.  At least 120 UN member states co-sponsored the resolution, despite a few last-minute drop-outs…

The draft resolution, if it had passed, would have “demanded that “Israel, as the occupying power, immediately and completely ceases all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and that it fully respect its legal obligations in this regard”.

The British Ambassador later made a point of saying not only that Israeli settlements are illegal, but also added that the three largest EU members hope to see Palestinian State by September of this year. Britain and France are two of the Security Council’s five permanent members who have the power to veto a resolution, and Germany is now one of the Security Council’s ten non-permanent members who have ordinary voting powers — all three voted in favor of the Palestinian-supported draft resolution that the U.S. vetoed.

The U.S. apparently preferred to say only that Israeli settlements were “illegitimate”.

UPDATE: A post on the Arabist blog here highlights this point:
“It’s rather morbid to read the detailed justification for this. From a State Dept. briefing here:
QUESTION: Yes, Ambassador Rice, you say that you reject the continued building of settlements on the West Bank as being illegitimate. Yet you vote that no on a resolution that calls it illegal. Why is that, considering that the State Department, as far back as 1978, considered settlement activities illegal?
AMBASSADOR RICE: The United States has not characterized settlement activity as illegal since, I believe, 1980. And – but what we do believe firmly and have reiterated forcefully, including today, is that continued settlement activity is not legitimate”…

Continue reading USA vetoes draft UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements + takes back its alternative offer, too

State Department: America's "ultimate goal" remains the same

U.S. State Department Acting Spokesman Mark C. Toner told journalists at the daily press briefing on 27 December that U.S. “ultimate goals” — including”an effort that will lead to direct negotiations and ultimately a comprehensive settlement” — remain the same.

And, he said (but only in response to a question) the U.S. is still committed to a Palestinian State “within” the 1967 borders — “with legitimate swaps”…

Here are excerpts from the State Department transcript of the briefing, sent via email:

M. TONER:We continue to work to bring both parties back into direct negotiations and to achieve a comprehensive settlement. And frankly, responding to various comments by various officials or government officials is not an effective way to do that. We’re trying to maintain close consultations with both parties, and again, in an effort that will lead to direct negotiations and ultimately a comprehensive settlement“.

QUESTION: One more. Many countries in South America are recognizing a Palestinian state now in a unilateral way. Are you giving a [yellow] light to these countries…?

M. TONER: “That’s okay, Samir. We’ve been very, very clear about our concerns regarding unilateral actions by either party that would in any way jeopardize what remains our ultimate goal, which is to return to direct negotiations and to reach a final – or a comprehensive settlement, a peace settlement. So – and we’ve said on the record many times that we would believe that Palestinian efforts for unilateral independence would fall into that category“.

QUESTION: Sorry, Mark. A follow-up on one of the previous Middle East peace process questions. Is the U.S. still committed to a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders?

M. TONER: “Yes. I don’t have the chapter and verse in front of me, but I believe that’s the – with legitimate swaps. I’d have to check the wording, so I’m hesitant to say on the record because I don’t have the wording in front of me. But we’ve said it many times on the record, and I just would refer you to previous statements by Senator Mitchell“.

DPB # 210

Robert Malley + Hussein Agha mix metaphors: without "seismic shift", we've reached the "end of the road"

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, a team who have written a number of key and informed articles for intellectual media about how the U.S. conducted the unsuccessful Camp David negotiations (hosted by U.S. President Bill Clinton) in late July 2000 between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, have written today in The Guardian that “amid speculation over how Israelis and Palestinians might now resume their talks, a reality is taking hold: the point is fast approaching where negotiations between the two will be, for all practical purposes and for the foreseeable future, over. As emissaries are dispatched and ideas explored, discussions could well carry on. But they will have lost all life, energy or sense of purpose”.

This piece of analysis is rather trite in describing the motives and situation of Israel’s current Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. It is better at taking on the current Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

They write: “Two years ago [when Barak Obama had been elected and his transition team was putting together his new administration] Abbas also harboured a faith of sorts. Part of it was fuelled by a lifelong belief that Israelis could be persuaded by sheer force of reason and logic of the need for compromise. He also invested high hopes in President Obama and, based on precedent, had little cause to believe a rightwing Israeli prime minister would necessarily be worse than a centrist or leftwing one. What optimism there was did not last long, replaced by a growing sense of dejection. Abbas faced a heroic task for which he needed help from all. He got it from virtually none. Belief in the United States soon started to fade, a victim of Washington’s serial tactical misjudgments and inability to live up to its promises. Abbas felt betrayed too by Arab regimes that had pledged their support only to desert him at the first opportunity. On the domestic front, there is no political weight or momentum behind the negotiations. Not unlike Netanyahu, the Palestinian president emerged profoundly discouraged from their meetings, shaken by his counterpart’s demands, staggered by the chasm separating their respective positions. For Abbas, who has staked all on negotiations, the realisation was especially deflating. His rejection of violence is heartfelt and not something he is about to revisit. Yet only now is he coming to terms with its practical consequences, with no viable alternative to the failed diplomatic diplomatic strategy”.

Continue reading Robert Malley + Hussein Agha mix metaphors: without "seismic shift", we've reached the "end of the road"

Akiva Eldar, too: the new U.S. position offers "an alibi for deepening the occupation"

Akiva Eldar wrote in Haaretz today — after the U.S. declared last week that it would no longer press Israel to reinstate even its porous settlement “moratorium”, and after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a speech at the Saban Forum over the weekend that she was encouraging both sides to come up with a model for their favorite solutions to the “core issues” of the conflict — that “the focus on the final-status talks offers an alibi for deepening the occupation. The high and mighty words about two states for two peoples silence the protest voices of a nation that for more than 43 years has lived under the occupation of another nation … Contrary to the impression that government spokesmen are trying to create – that Israel is gradually withdrawing from the territories based on the necessary caution dictated by security needs – the soldiers [who gave their personal testimony to the Israeli organization Breaking the Silence] describe a steadfast effort to tighten Israel’s hold on the West Bank and the Palestinian population. … It says in the [new] book [published by Breaking the Silence] that the continued construction in the settlements is not only about stealing land whose future the two sides are meant to decide through negotiations. The increased presence of a Jewish population brings with it an increase in security measures such as the policy of ‘separation’. The testimonies show that this policy practically serves to control, plunder and annex the territories. It funnels the Palestinians through the Israeli control mechanism and establishes new borders on the ground through a policy of divide and rule. These borders mark the ‘settlement blocs’, which Israeli politicians argue are part of Israel (greater Ariel and the areas around Ma’aleh Adumim ). Soldiers who served in the Civil Administration say the settlers play an active role in imposing military rule over the Palestinians. The settlers hold public positions and are permanent parties to the discussions and the decisions by the army on matters concerning the Palestinians in areas where they live. Settler violence against the Palestinians is also used to control the Palestinian population. Stories about ‘economic prosperity’ in the West Bank create the impression that life under foreign occupation can be tolerable and even not so bad. So it’s not so bad that negotiations continue for a year or two. But the soldiers who have served at the checkpoints or the fence crossings describe how they decide who will pass, which goods may move from one city to the next, who may send his children to school or make it to university, and who will receive medical treatment. The book has testimonies about the confiscation of homes, agricultural land, vehicles and even farm animals, sometimes for security reasons, but often because annexation is the motive. Sometimes the Israel Defense Forces also ‘confiscates’ people too, for ‘training’. They break into a house at night and take someone into custody until the end of the exercise”… This Akiva Eldar analysis is posted here.

Why is the U.S. so oblivious to all of this? Why does it think that it is tolerable for people (Palestinians, in this case) to have to live under these conditions, under this occupation?

Continue reading Akiva Eldar, too: the new U.S. position offers "an alibi for deepening the occupation"

Jeff Halper: The peace process is over…

Jeff Halper, author of the “Matrix of Control” (of the West Bank, by Israel), and of the more recent essay, “Warehousing the Palestinians”, has just written:
“Struggling as I have for the past decades to grasp the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and find ways to get out of this interminable and absolutely superfluous conflict, I have been two-thirds successful. After many years of activism and analysis, I think I have put my finger on the first third of the equation: What is the problem? My answer, which has withstood the test of time and today is so evident that it elicits the response…’duh’…is that all Israeli governments are unwaveringly determined to maintain complete control of Palestine/Israel from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, frustrating any just and workable solution based on Palestinian claims to self-determination. There will be no negotiated settlement, period. The second part of the equation – how can the conflict be resolved? – is also easily answerable. I don’t mean entering into the one state/two state conundrum and deciding which option best. Under certain circumstances both could work, and I can think of at least 3-4 other viable options as well … That leaves the third and most intractable part of the equation: how to we get there? Employing the linear analysis we have used over the years, you can’t. In those terms we are at a dead-end of a dead ‘process’. Israel will never end its Occupation voluntarily; the best it may agree to is apartheid, but the permanent warehousing of the Palestinians is more what it has in mind. Given the massive ‘facts on the ground’ Israel has imposed on the Occupied Territories, the international community will not exert enough pressure on Israel to realize even a two-state solution (which leaves Israel on 78% of historic Palestine, with no right of refugee return); given the veto power over any political process enjoyed by the American Congress, locked into an unshakable bi-partisan “pro-Israel” position, the international community cannot exert that required pressure. And the Palestinians, fragmented and with weak leadership, have no clout. Indeed, they’re not even in the game. In terms of any sort of rational, linear, government-led ‘peace process’, we have arrived at the end of the road”.

Still, Halper writes, he sees two possibilities ahead — one (the second one) far more difficult than the other:

Continue reading Jeff Halper: The peace process is over…

U.S.: Middle East peace is still a priority, still working on "direct" negotiations

The U.S. State Department’s Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner told journalists in Washington on Friday that America would “discourage frankly” anything that might affect resumption of “direct” Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Here are some excerpts from Toner’s exchange with journalists:
“QUESTION: Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator was quoted yesterday that the U.S. asked the Palestinians to give them two more weeks to try to convince Israel to freeze settlements. And the Arab League gave the U.S. a one-month period which will end on Monday. [n.b. – as we reported yesterday, the Arab League appears to have already extended this period for another month…]

MR. TONER: Well —

QUESTION: And can you comment on this?

MR. TONER: I really can’t. As we’ve said time and time again from this podium as well as Senator Mitchell and Secretary Clinton, we’re not going to talk about the details. They did meet yesterday. He did meet with Senator Mitchell. But I’m not going into what they discussed. But obviously, we remain hard at work and our priority remains getting the two sides back in direct negotiations.

QUESTION: Mind if I have a follow-up?

MR. TONER: Yeah, Michelle.

QUESTION: He also talked about one option that the Palestinians are weighing seriously is going to the United Nations and asking for a UN to declare a Palestinian state.

MR. TONER: And again, we —

QUESTION: What’s your position on that?

MR. TONER: Well, we talked about this yesterday. Our goal remains getting both sides back into direct negotiations. It is ultimately the only that all of these outstanding issues are going to be resolved. And so anything that might affect getting those – getting both parties back into direct negotiations, we would discourage frankly…

Continue reading U.S.: Middle East peace is still a priority, still working on "direct" negotiations

Arab League Ministers give another month for U.S. efforts to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

This is the second renewal of a deadline.

Arab League Ministers have just extended for another month a deadline set on 8 October — after a unilateral settlement “moratorium” declared by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu expired on 26 September without renewal — to give American officials one more month to try to get things going again.

Arab League officials have (1) threatened to remove the Arab Peace Initiative from the table — it basically offers full recognition of, and normalization with, Israel, in exchange for an Israeli agreement to withdraw to the 1967 borders — and (2) hinted that they might withdraw backing for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under American auspices, if Israel does not cease its settlement activities.

Netanyahu is going to the U.S. next week, and Israeli officials have hinted that important moves may be made during Netanyahu’s meeings in Washington. So far, he is only scheduled to see American Vice President Joe Biden — whose visit to Israel last March was marred by Israeli announcements of movement in settlement construction in Ramat Shlomo on West Bank land adjacent to East Jerusalem.

U.S. State Department officials have indicated that efforts are underway to find a time for Netanyahu to meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Sari Nusseibeh – again, on the two-state vs one-state solution

Former New York Times man Bernard Gwertzman, now a Consulting Editor with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, has just published an interview with Sari Nusseibeh, President, Al-Quds University in Jerusalem — and a former Palestinian representative in Jerusalem — in which Nusseibeh has repeated again his support, and preference, for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nusseibeh told Gwertzman: “I believe a two-state solution, if it’s realizable, is probably the best kind of option. It would involve compromises from both sides. The alternative is not really doable through negotiations. For example, if you think about a one-state solution, it’s not going to happen through negotiations because the majority of Israelis would probably be against it. And if you think of any other scenarios, again, you’ll find that most people will probably be against it. So we have a situation where if we are left without a two-state solution, then we’re going to be in for a long haul. I don’t want to overdramatize it, but it’s not going to be beautiful, or a good situation for either side”…

What does he mean by “in for a long haul”? Hasn’t it already been a long haul?

It seems what he means is, there needs to be a better occupation until the two populations can be separated…

Continue reading Sari Nusseibeh – again, on the two-state vs one-state solution

"An eye for an eye"… and a unilateral move for a unilateral move?

Is there anything new on the “peace talks”?

In response to questions from journalists in Washington yesterday, U.S. State Department Spokesperson, Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley, said:

“I have nothing specific to report to you. We continue our contacts with the parties, and I don’t have anything to report”.

The “direct talks” process that the U.S. launched in September, after “indirect talks” failed in March have all fizzled out. Only a bold few are now venturing to say that the effort is dead, but nothing is happening except behind the scenes contacts.

Everything is on hold until the U.S. mid-term Congressional elections in early November.

Then. another journalist put a follow-up question to Crowley:

QUESTION: On the peace process, President Abbas has said yesterday that Israel has been taking unilateral steps for decades by building settlements. So the Palestinians might take one of their own, asking the United Nations to recognize their independent state.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think our position has been pretty clear. We continue to encourage the parties to avoid unilateral steps on one side of the ledger or the other. Our position on settlements has not changed, and we continue to encourage the parties to resume direct negotiations as the only mechanism to resolve these myriad of issues.

Pretty mild, actually…

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu offered, a few weeks after his unilateral ten-month settlement “moratorium” expired on 26 September, to resume the “moratorium” for an indefinite time period if the Palestinian leadership would recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. The Palestinians recoiled and shreiked.

Now, Netanyahu is reportedly considering another unilateral three-month extension…