Netanyahu throws the table over

Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, back from the US + the UN where he insisted on even-more-than-full implementation of Security Council demands on Iran, went this evening to Bar Ilan University [where he sort of endorsed something that he hoped at the time could be construed as a two-state solution to the conflict with Palestinians] and threw it all over.

In an unusually-strongly-written piece, Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid reported here that:

“Almost four and half years after he stood at the podium at Bar-Ilan University and delivered a moderate speech in which he recognized for the first time the two-state solution, Netanyahu returned to the same spot to give a hawkish address in which he did everything except announce that he is reneging on his agreement in principle to Palestinian statehood. ‘Unless the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state and give up on the right of return there will not be peace’, he said in his address.

The prime minister went on to say that even if they do agree to these conditions, it will not be sufficient. ‘After generations of incitement we have no confidence that such recognition will percolate down to the Palestinian people’, he said. ‘That is why we need extremely strong security arrangements and to go forward, but not blindly’.

Netanyahu went on to emphasize that the ‘occupation and settlements’ are not the core of the conflict. Netanyahu used the word ‘occupation’ with a mixture of disdain and abhorrence. ‘The conflict, if I have to choose a date when it began in earnest, began in the year 1921, on the day Palestinian Arabs attacked the immigrants’ house in Jaffa. This attack, of course, had nothing to do with the territories or settlements. It was against the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel. Then came the Partition Plan in 1947, with the suggestion of an Arab state alongside a Jewish state’, he continued. ‘The Jews agreed, the Arabs refused. Because the issue was not then the question of a Palestinian state – the issue was and remains the Jewish state. Then 19 years later came the stranglehold around us aimed at uprooting us. And why? After all, then there was no occupation’.”

Netanyahu’s speech came only hours after, as Barak Ravid also reported, in an earlier article posted here, “Housing Minister Uri Ariel on Sunday demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provide the cabinet with weekly reports on the negotiations with the Palestinians, fearing that Netanyahu might spring an ‘all or nothing’ solution too far to the left…’It can’t be that the cabinet isn’t kept up to date on such negotiations [Ariel said]. In the end you’ll bring for a cabinet vote a finished product in the style of all or nothing. This can’t continue. I demand information’. Netanyahu did not respond. After not receiving an answer, Ariel said he intends to repeat his demand every week”.

And Netanyahu’s speech preceeded by a day a previously-postponed reciprocal visit to Ramallah, as the Times of Israel reported here, of a group of Israeli MPs [or MKs, Knesset members] dissatisfied with Netanyahu’s approach to negotiations. The Israeli Knesset members have formed a caucus, and had in July hosted, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, a small group of Palestinians designated by President Mahmoud Abbas to make contacts with Israelis.

The Times of Israel reported that “caucus chair MK Hilik Bar (Labor) told The Times of Israel on Sunday [before the Netanyahu speech] that: ‘We have a government that has promised to pursue the two-state solution and a majority in the Knesset for two states, despite the rhetoric on the right. We want to show Abu Mazen that we’ll do everything in our power to advance peace, and the Palestinian Authority has to do the same’.”  Referring to an attack on a 9-year-old Israeli girl in the “Jewish community” of Psagot, adjoining Ramallah-AlBireh, Bar added:  ‘We’re not achieving anything when we stop the negotiations because of these horrific, evil attacks. There have been attacks on Jews for decades. Only a final peace agreement that ends the conflict will end the attacks’.”

Netanyahu’s new tone also followed a two-day conference held at the Eretz Israeli Museum in Tel Aviv organized by the Israeli organization Zochrot, aimed at reducing fear of discussion of the Palestinian Right of Return. Gideon Levy, who addressed the conference, also reported on it, in an article Haaretz published here.

Continue reading Netanyahu throws the table over

U.S. Secy of State John Kelly on new efforts to improve the Palestinian West Bank economy

This is not a new idea, of course.

In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is one of its main proponents… It’s just that the time was never ripe, before. Or, that the Palestinians were doing something to prevent implementation of Netanyahu’s good intentions [which Palestinians believe is a way of distracting them from pursuing their political goals, such as self-determination].

In any case, here is an excerpt from remarks U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport just before leaving after a 42-hour visit to meet officials in Ramallah + Jerusalem. It was his first on-the-ground effort to prepare the way for eventual resumed Israeli-Palestinian talks:

“It’s our intention, and we all committed to this, every party, to continue our intensive discussions with the belief that they are constructive and they are in good faith, and that we intend to try to create the conditions for peace so that we can resume negotiations between the parties in a clear and precise, predetermined manner.

“We also spoke about other steps that could be taken in order to facilitate this process and to make it more conducive to success. Specifically, we agreed among us – President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and ourselves – that we are going to engage in new efforts, very specific efforts, to promote economic development and to remove some of the bottlenecks and barriers that exist with respect to commerce in the West Bank, to move very rapidly towards increased business expansion and private sector investment in the West Bank, all of which, we are convinced, will help improve the economic security of the people living there as well as improve the security of the people of Israel. Economic growth will help us be able to provide a climate, if you will, an atmosphere, within which people have greater confidence about moving forward. But I want to emphasize – I emphasize this very strongly: This is not in lieu of, or an alternative to, the political track. It is not a substitute. The political track remains the primary focus. But this is in addition to, in a way that could help to facilitate that track, and I believe will begin to take hold immediately. I held discussions regarding these efforts with both Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as with the Quartet representative Tony Blair, and other private sector business people. And this will be a focus of our work over the course of the next months in a very intensive way, and I will have more to say about this in the very near future…”
Kerry’s remarks at the airport before leaving the region today are posted here.

Continue reading U.S. Secy of State John Kelly on new efforts to improve the Palestinian West Bank economy

We've heard it before: Netanyahu reportedly ready to offer Palestinians an old Israeli proposal of temporary or interim agreement [which the Palestinians have previously rejected]

In advance of U.S. President Obama’s planned visit to the region on 20-22 March [during which Obama will reportedly spend about 3 hours in Ramallah, as compared to 45 hours in Israel] Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is reportedly planning to offer a “new” plan for arranging things with the current Palestinian leadership.

This has been heard before.

Meanwhile, the New U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, in a joint press conference in Washington with Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, that he and President Obama were planning to visit the region in order to “listen”.

This has also been heard before.

Kerry bravely proceeded, anyway, saying that “the President is not prepared, at this point in time, to do more than to listen to the parties, which is why he has announced he’s going to go to Israel. It affords him an opportunity to listen. And I think we start out by listening and get a sense of what the current state of possibilities are and then begin to make some choices. It would be a huge mistake, almost an arrogant step, to suddenly be announcing this and that without listening first, so that’s what I intend to do, that’s what the President intends to do”.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Judeh said: “The most important thing is to have results. And I think that we’ve seen failed approaches, false starts, media events. I think we have to look at all of this and put it in perspective and see how we can produce results in the next phase. The Secretary and I are in full agreement that the window of opportunity on this is closing fast, and that makes it all the more important for us to work together in addressing this issue”.

[ Ynet is reporting here that on Thursday morning March 21, “Obama will depart for Ramallah to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama will return to Jerusalem by noon, when he will be taken by Netanyahu to examine a model of Second Temple Period Jerusalem. They will continue to the Shrine of the Book, where Netanyahu will show him the Dead Sea Scrolls”… and so on].

Akiva Eldar reported in Al-Monitor here that high-level Likud officials believe that Netanyahu “really appears to want to jump-start diplomatic negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen in an attempt to bring about a long-term interim agreement. This, he feels, is because a final status settlement is not achievable in the coming years.”

Again, this has been heard before.

Not least of all when the same view was recently expressed by Netanyahu’s previous Foreign Minister, Alexander Lieberman.

The thing is, none of the Palestinian leadership, from Mahmoud Abbas to Khaled Meshaal of Hamas, will accept an interim or temporary agreement. They believe that Israel will continue to create facts on the ground, mainly in settlements in the West Bank, that will make the Palestinian state — and any solution — non-viable.

So, this will be an extremely irritating move, at least for the Palestinians — and, at best, a waste of time.

The UN Human Rights Council [HRC] in Geneva has just received a tough report that relies on international law to say that Israel’s settlements are illegal and must be evacuated.

We reported on reaction to this HRC report in late January on our sister blog, here.

Continue reading We've heard it before: Netanyahu reportedly ready to offer Palestinians an old Israeli proposal of temporary or interim agreement [which the Palestinians have previously rejected]

Netanyahu + his cabinet react to the Palestinian achievement of state status [non-member observer] in the UN

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said at the regular meeting of his cabinet on Sunday — after the cabinet announcement on Friday that 3000 new settlement units would be built + the E-1 area east of Jerusalem would now be developed — that “Today we are building and we will continue to build in Jerusalem and in all areas that are on the map of the strategic interests of the State of Israel”.

Netanyahu pointed out that Rabin did the same. He quoted Rabin as saying: “The response to the attack on Zionism and the State of Israel must reinforce and underscore the implementation of the settlement plan in all areas in which the Government decides regarding settlement”. Netanyahu went on: “These are not my words. These are the words of the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and this is the language of the Cabinet’s 1975 decision in the wake of the UN decision that equated Zionism with racism”.

Netanyahu also said: “There will be no Palestinian state without an arrangement in which the security of Israeli citizens will be ensured. There will be no Palestinian state until the State of Israel is recognized as the state of the Jewish People. There will be no Palestinian state until the Palestinians declare an end to the conflict. Israel will not agree to Judea and Samaria becoming a base for Iranian terrorism, as happened in the areas we evacuated in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon”.

Concerning the UN vote on Thursday to upgrade Palestine to state status [albeit still a non-member observer], Netanyahu said: “The Palestinian Authority’s one-sided step at the UN constitutes a gross violation of the agreements that have been signed with the State of Israel; accordingly, the Government of Israel rejects the UN General Assembly decision. I would like to thank US President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper, Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas and the leaders of the other countries that voted against the proposal at the UN. History will favorably judge those countries that lined up on the side of truth, on the side of peace and alongside Israel at this time”.

Netanyahu also said: “the Cabinet will be briefed on the incitement that the Palestinian Authority is leading against Israel. I must say that in addition to this report, there is, to my regret, Abu Mazen’s sharp incitement speech at the UN, in which he incited against IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens while using lies and historical distortions. I must note that Abu Mazen did not see fit to say even a single word about the terrorism and rocket fire being directed against Israeli citizens; this is not the talk of a man who wants peace”.

War [on Iran] is postponed as Palestine waits

Veteran Israeli political activist + commentator Uri Avnery has just written in one of his latest weekly columns that war with Iran is postponed — until next spring or summer — unless, of course, as Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz today {see below}, this is a “brilliant ruse” to put us off-guard on the eve of an imminent attack, perhaps during the U.S. interregnum transition from Presidential election to inauguration.

Just four years ago, in another of the very same interregnum periods, Operation Cast Lead took place in Gaza — and a cease-fire was imposed just hours before Obama took the oath of office in Washington D.C.].

Avnery wrote, here, that Netanayhu signalled in his UN General Assembly “red line” speech that “The ‘inevitable’ attack on Iran’s nuclear installations to prevent the Second Holocaust was postponed to next spring or summer. After blustering for months that the deadly attack was imminent, any minute now, no minute to spare, it disappeared into the mist of the future. Why? What happened? Well, one reason was the polls indicating that Barack Obama would be reelected. Netanyahu had doggedly staked all his cards on Mitt Romney, his ideological clone. But Netanyahu is also a True Believer in polls. It seems that Netanyahu’s advisors convinced him to hedge his bet. The evil Obama might win, in spite of the Sheldon Adelson millions. Especially now, after George Soros has staked his millions on the incumbent…Obama has told Netanyahu in no uncertain terms: No attack on Iran before the elections. Or else… THE NEXT President of the United States of America – whoever that may be – will tell Netanyahu the same after the elections…”

Avnery continued: “Recent I was asked by a foreign journalist if Netanyahu could survive the elimination of the “military option” against Iran, after talking for months about nothing else. What about the Iranian Hitler? What about the coming Holocaust? I told him not to worry. Netanyahu can easily get out of it by claiming that the whole thing was really a ruse to get the world to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. But was it? People of influence in Israel are divided. The first camp worries that our Prime Minister is really off his rocker. That he is obsessed with Iran, perhaps clinically unbalanced, that Iran has become an idée fixe. The other camp believes that the whole thing was, right from the beginning, a hoax to divert attention from the one issue that really matters: Peace with Palestine. In this he has been hugely successful. For months now, Palestine has been missing from the agenda of Israel and the entire world. Palestine? Peace? What Palestine, What peace? And while the world stares at Iran like a hypnotized rabbit at a snake, settlements are enlarged and the occupation deepened, and we are sailing proudly towards disaster”.

Amos Harel wrote something similar [though he omitted the Palestine angle] in Haaretz, published today, here, saying that “it wasn’t just American opposition that kept Netanyahu from military action; domestic opposition did as well…

Continue reading War [on Iran] is postponed as Palestine waits

The Quartet's 3-month "deadline" comes + goes

Today is the three-month marker of the Quartet plan presented to the Palestinian leadership after their “UN bid”, the formal request for admission of the State of Palestine as a full member of the United Nations, made on 23 September 2011 at UN Headuarters in New York.

The Quartet Plan was presented to stop the P.L.O. from pursuing their “UN bid”, or pressing it for a vote, because Israel was terribly upset, and the U.S. threatened to use their veto power to block it in the UN Security Council.

At the first 3-month mark, the two parties were to have met, and they were to have exchanged ideas on what the borders for a two-state solution should look like, and on security arrangements.

So, what has happened?

In December, the Palestinians let it be known that if Israel doesn’t present its idea of borders for a two-state solution by this date, the “hudna” or “truce would be over, and the Palestinians would again unleash all efforts for international recognition and admission to the international organization.

In a calm and rather leisurely reaction, the U.S. State Department said a few days later that the three-month marker was not a rigid or fixed “deadline” … and urged efforts to continue to bring the parties back to the table for direct negotiations.

[Only the Palestinians were refusing, saying it would be useless, mainly because Israeli settlement-building activities continued, while Israeli officials said to anyone who would listen that they were ready for direct talks, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even repeated his offer to go anywhere, almost anytime — even to Ramallah…]

Then, King Abdullah II of Jordan flew by helicopter over the Israeli-controlled West Bank and landed in the refurbished helicopter pad at Ramallah Presidential Muqata’a for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — a day before Abbas himself was due to travel through Jordan, on his way to another session of Palestinian reconciliation talks with Hamas officials in Cairo… Little was revealed publicly about that meeting, and some diplomatic sources suggested that the real purpose was that Abdullah needed help and had panicked, and was really asking Mahmoud Abbas for help .

What is more significant is that U.S. State Department envoy David Hale, who had met Abbas the evening before, was back in Jerusalem to meet Israeli PM Netanyahu just before Abdullah II landed in Ramallah. Then, Hale drove overland to Amman, and met Abdallah II back in Amman that evening.

Not long afterwards, Jordan announced that it would be hosting talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Amman — which would include direct meetings for the first time since September 2010. Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh announced that further contacts would be held — but not announced.

The U.S. Secretary of State then announced the date of the second meeting, in early January…

There was criticism from different Palestinian political groupings, from Hamas to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP], and Palestinian “youth groups” organized a couple of demonstrations outside the Muqata’a to protest.

A total of five meetings were held in Amman, prior to today’s deadline.

The Palestinians presented their maps and border proposals in an early meeting.

It was not until the last meeting of negotiators [the P.L.O.’s Saeb Erekat, and Israel’s Yitzhak Molcho] that the Israeli delegation screeched up to the meeting, just hours before the deadline, with a kind of power-point presentation about its general ideas — but reportedly without any very specific indications of what Israel thought the borders for a two-state solution should be… and not much indication about security, either.

Continue reading The Quartet's 3-month "deadline" comes + goes

Mahmoud Abbas tells visiting American Congressmen that negotiations blocked by Israeli demand for military presence in Jordan Valley

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that an Israeli demand to keep a military presence in the Jordan Valley was one main reason that negotiations with Israel are now blocked, according to a story in the Jerusalem Post today.

The JPost report said that Abbas told a group of visiting American Congressmen, including Steny Hoyer of Maryland [Democratic Party whip in the House of Representatives], that “there are no negotiations now because Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has placed pre-conditions, specifically a demand that there be an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley. Abbas told the delegation that the discussions he has had with Netanyahu in the past ‘have led nowhere, because unless we agree to be occupied by IDF troops, he doesn’t want to talk about anything in the next step’. Abbas, according to Hoyer, said he met with Netanyahu last year, but that those talks ‘went nowhere because Netanyahu only wanted to talk about security, and that the implementing of that security was deployment of IDF troops in the Jordan Valley’.”

It is clear that there is a clear battle, now, for the Jordan Valley — a battle as big as that over Jerusalem.

See a related story posted on our sister blog,, here.

Netanyahu made his first qualified acceptance of the idea of a Palestinian state in his Bar Ilan University speech in 2010 (in answer to U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo some weeks earlier) that a future Palestinian state must be demilitarized.

Hoyer is leading a group of 26 U.S. Congresspeople from the Democratic Party on a week-long trip sponsored by what the JPost described as “the American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee”. The JPost says that 55 U.S. Congresspeople from the Republican Party will be coming on two other trips in the coming weeks.

The JPost article is published here.

The story noted that “Hoyer, who co-authored a Congressional resolution last month with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) against a Palestinian unilateral move at the UN, said that he and some other members of the delegation told Abbas they felt a move at the UN would be a ‘destabilizing effort’, and that both Israel and the Palestinians agreed in the past that the only way to solve difference was through bilateral negotiations. Hoyer said that the delegation ‘indicated’ that a PA decision to go to the UN ‘would be unwise and that the Congress would be very concerned about that happening, and might take action’. When asked what kind of action, Hoyer said ‘funding’. Hoyer held out the possibility that while budgetary funding to the PA might be stopped, it might not be stopped for security training. A judgment would have to be made, he said, whether cutting off funding for security might not be ‘cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Undermining security in the West Bank may have an adverse consequence in Israel’.”

Netanyahu to Knesset: Palestinian state will not (even) be contiguous

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a Knesset Committee on Wednesday. according to a report in the Jerusalem Post today, that “The prime minister laid down what he called a ‘framework’ Israel must bring to negotiations, including insistence on a unified Jerusalem, maintaining large settlement blocs located beyond the Green Line under Israeli sovereignty, an Israeli presence on the Jordan River valley, and a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue outside Israel proper. He said the Palestinian state will be ‘broken up’ but will have clearly demarcated borders [emphasis added here]”.

This is published here.

American policy has continued to emphasize that a future Palestinian state must be “contiguous”, as U.S. President Obama said in a couple of statements a few weeks ago.

Obama also said that the U.S. believes direct negotiations should be renewed, and the starting point should be the 1967 borders, with agreed swaps. Netanyahu and the Israeli government then said this raised questions which needed clarification about U.S. support for a 2004 letter of assurances sent by U.S. President George W. Bush, which mentioned demographic realities on the ground — a formula taken to mean some kind of acceptance of large Israeli “settlement blocs” in occupied Palestinian territory.

The JPost report added that “The prime minister, reiterating the platform he laid out before the US Congress last month, said that negotiations for a two-state solution with Israel fully recognized as a Jewish state would lead to peace, and not unilateral moves. He said he had received support from the US Congress, US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and ‘other European leaders’.”

Israeli PM Netanyahu says his very clear policy is the same … maybe

The Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) sent around via email to journalists this transcript of selected remarks made in an interview yesterday of Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, as interviewed by Israel’s Channel 10 TV:

Prime Minister Netanyahu: I have set very clear policy; I did this in my 14.6.09 Bar-Ilan University speech. [The full transcript in English-language translation is posted here] There I said as follows: If the Palestinians recognize a Jewish State, if they shelve the idea of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, if they have a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state – I tell you here and now that I will go with this to the end and that no coalition consideration will stop me, and I have no doubt that a majority will support me.

Question: “Then perhaps [Foreign] Minister [Avigdor] Liberman is correct when he says, ‘Let us go for a long-range interim agreement and not a permanent agreement immediately, within a year, like you want?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu: “If we get into this discussion, we will likely hit a wall; a wall named Jerusalem, perhaps a wall named refugees. It could be that the result would be an interim agreement. It’s possible. I do not rule this out, including in the talks that we have held. I said that it’s possible. If we say this in advance, it is not certain they will come so easily. But it could be the result of a diplomatic process; I am not certain that it should be its primary goal.”

Question: “Are you indicating a possible change in policy, which says that there will be additional phases, the transfer of additional areas to the Palestinians, as you have already done in the past?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu: “I am not going into details on this.”

Ma’an News Agency reported later that “A spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas shot down the suggestion. ‘For the Palestinians, any suggestion of reaching an interim agreement is unacceptable because it omits Jerusalem and the issue of refugees’, he said. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat also dismissed Netanyahu’s suggestion, saying: ‘interim solutions are rejected part and parcel … It’s now time for final solutions that include Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security, settlements, water and the release of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails’, he said … Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the first for nearly two years, began in Washington on September 2. But they stalled when a partial 10-month freeze on Israeli settlement building expired on September 26. The Palestinians refused to resume negotiations without a new moratorium and Washington admitted on December 7 that it had failed to convince Israel to renew the building curbs. Palestinian negotiators have emphasized a set of alternatives to new talks, including seeking recognition of a Palestinian state along the borders that existed in 1967, before the Six Day War”. This was reported here.

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.