White House Chief of Staff: "We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made"

Almost a week after early general elections in Israel on 17 March resulted in a win for Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu after one of the ugliest campaigns in recent memory — not least of which due to Netanyahu’s election-eve remarks urging his supporters to rush to the polls because “Arabs were voting in droves”, and stating that a Palestinian state will never be established while he’s in office — the White House Chief of Staff strongly reinforced President Obama’s strong message that Netanyahu’s remarks were “troubling”.

“We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made”, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said in an address to the JStreet.org annual conference in New York [#JSt2015].

The text of McDonough’s remarks are now posted on the White House website, here.

Here are some selected excerpts:

    “In his call to congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu last Thursday, President Obama committed to continuing consultations on a range of regional issues, including resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The process of forming a new Israeli government is now underway, and in the coming days and weeks, we’ll see what that looks like…I’d like to share with you how President Obama sees the road ahead.

    “First, no matter who leads Israel, America’s commitment to Israel’s security will never waver. As we all know, Israel faces real dangers in a tough neighborhood. I traveled with then-Senator Obama to Israel in 2008. I will never forget our time in the holy city of Jerusalem and following behind him as he approached the Western Wall—and even in the dark hours of that very early morning, it was a place bustling with energy afforded by one’s faith. On that trip, the President toured Sderot and saw the devastation wrought by Hamas-launched rockets. He met with Israelis living under the threat of rocket attacks. And, since then, I’ve seen President Obama’s personal commitment to increasing our security cooperation with Israel to unprecedented levels.

    Today, our security, military, and intelligence cooperation is stronger than it’s ever been, and that’s not going to change. The U.S.-Israel consultative group will continue to ensure cooperation at the highest levels of our governments. Under President Obama, we’ve spent hundreds of millions helping to develop David’s Sling and the Arrow missile defense systems. I recall very clearly a call with the Israeli Ambassador at 5:00 PM on a Friday evening last July, when he requested – and shortly thereafter the President and Congress delivered – an additional $225 million for Iron Dome missiles and batteries. That on top of the nearly $1 billion we had invested in Iron Dome already, which saved so many Israeli lives during the conflict with Hamas last summer. And, next year, when we deliver the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Israel will be the only country in the Middle East with a fifth-generation aircraft. In other words, we will continue to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge. As the President has said so many times, we have Israel’s back.

    “Second, we continue to believe that the best way to safeguard Israel’s long-term security is to bring about a comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians—two states for two peoples, living side-by-side in security and peace. To achieve this, the United States has long advocated direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. In 2009, Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly endorsed a two-state solution. Over the course of President Obama’s administration, most recently with the tireless efforts of Secretary Kerry, the United States has expended tremendous energy in pursuit of this goal. That is why the Prime Minister’s comments on the eve of the election—in which he first intimated and then made very clear in response to a follow up question that a Palestinian state will not be established while he is prime minister—were so troubling.

    “After the election, the Prime Minister said that he had not changed his position, but for many in Israel and in the international community, such contradictory comments call into question his commitment to a two-state solution, as did his suggestion that the construction of settlements has a strategic purpose of dividing Palestinian communities and his claim that conditions in the larger Middle East must be more stable before a Palestinian state can be established. We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the Prime Minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations.

    “In recent days, some have suggested our reaction to this issue is a matter of personal pique. Nothing could be further from the truth. America’s commitment to a two-state solution is fundamental to U.S. foreign policy. It’s been the goal of both Republican and Democratic presidents, and it remains our goal today…

    Continue reading White House Chief of Staff: "We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made"

Why "Hysteria" in Israel about possible September state [Palestine]? Is it b/c of 1967 borders?

Haaretz has reported that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that the Palestinian Authority might “collapse” if Israel applies sanctions in a pre-emptive effort to avoid a Palestinian move at the UN in September. The meeting was held on Wednesday, and lasted four hours, Haaretz said. Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman did not attend, but some 30 political and military officials did: “in addition to Netanyahu, Steinitz and Barak, also present were Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz … Several of the ministers urged preemptive sanctions against the Palestinian Authority in an effort to pressure PA President Mahmoud Abbas to back down, but Defense Minister Ehud Barak objected, warning that it could lead to the collapse of the PA. Haaretz learned that the discussion also dealt with possible Israeli responses following the vote in the UN General Assembly, which is expected to recognize a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders by a large majority. Among the preemptive sanctions discussed was a proposal by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz to stop transferring the customs duties that Israel collects at its ports on the PA’s behalf. The PA is suffering a severe cash shortage and is having a hard time paying its employees; the taxes Israel passes over are used to pay the lion’s share of those salaries. F or this reason, Barak vehemently objected to the measure, saying it could lead to the PA’s collapse, which would leave the territories in a state of anarchy. Representatives of the Justice Ministry and the military prosecution also warned against taking such unilateral steps”. This report is posted here.

An editorial published in Haaretz on Friday said that “As the UN vote on Palestinian statehood within the June 4, 1967 borders approaches, Israel’s government is showing increasing symptoms of hysteria … [Recently] Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened that Israel would revoke the Oslo Accords. This week Lieberman proposed severing all ties with the Palestinian Authority to preempt the wave of violence he says will erupt the day after the UN declaration”.

The Haaretz editorial, which can be read in full here, also notes that “It’s hard to think of a more dangerous and foolish move than destroying the PA and cutting off the livelihood of tens of thousands of security personnel and officials who depend on it for their wages. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak said at the debate, this move would lead to anarchy in the West Bank, making Israel responsible for the welfare of 2.5 million people”.

Continue reading Why "Hysteria" in Israel about possible September state [Palestine]? Is it b/c of 1967 borders?

If Palestinians want UN membership, they will be punished + fined

A report published by PNN here says that first the Executive Committee and then the Central Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] met in Ramallah and agreed to approve the proposed “UN bid” for full UN membership of the State of Palestine at the United Nations in September. PNN reported tht Mahmoud Abbas, head of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said that “the US has not officially announced its opposition to the Palestinian effort, despite widespread belief that they will veto the proposal at the Security Council. Abbas said 122 countries have already recognized the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. On another matter, Abbas said the Palestinian national authority is facing a great economic crisis.
The PLO central committee demanded Arab nations provide the needed financial support to the Palestinian Authority due to the financial crisis and its inability to pay the salaries of its employees. Bilal al-Shakhshier, from the Palestinian national council, told PNN that the financial crisis the Palestinian Authority is suffering from is due to pressures some countries are implementing to force the Palestinian leadership from going through with the state bid in September”.

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Meanwhile, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported from Ramallah that “The Palestinians will approach the UN Security Council in September to seek full membership in the global body, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said on Wednesday. ‘We are going to the Security Council through a request to the secretary general of the United Nations to seek full membership in the UN and recognition of Palestine on the 1967 borders’, he said … ‘The choice of peace is our choice … Our first, second and third choice is peaceful negotiations … But after the failure of the Quartet to lay out foundations for the negotiations, which are a halt to settlement building and using the 1967 borders as a basis for the Palestinian state, it is now too late for negotiations … It is too late, there is no time — we are going to the UN’. The meeting of the PLO Central Council comes five days after Abbas convened a gathering of Palestinian diplomats in Istanbul to finalise the strategy for the membership bid. The Central Council is the PLO’s most important decision-making body in the absence of the Palestinian National Council, the parliament-in-exile which rarely meets. Palestinian officials say they are not planning on unilaterally proclaiming a state as they did in Algiers in 1988, nor will they seek recognition from the UN as a whole. Instead, they will continue to work for endorsement on a state-by-state basis, while applying for membership in the global body. Approaching the Security Council would be the only way for the Palestinians to gain full membership in the UN. But officials in Ramallah have indicated that they might also consider seeking General Assembly backing for an upgrade from their current observer status to that of a non-member state.
Such an upgrade would allow the Palestinians to join all the UN agencies, including the World Health Organisation, the child welfare agency UNICEF and the world heritage body UNESCO. It could also provide an alternative for the Palestinians if the United States vetoes its bid for membership in the Security Council, as Washington has already threatened to do”…

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And, the U.S. Congress is moving to fine the Palestinians if they seek membership in the UN.

A Congressional “Subcomm markup” [not Approps full committee] has drafted legislation proposing that “none of the funds appropriated under this heading may be made available for the Palestinian Authority unless the Secretary of State certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that the Palestinian Authority is not attempting to establish or seek recognition at the United Nations of a Palestinian state outside of an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians”. This is posted here, and “is subject to change as a result of Committee action”.

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On top of all that, Israel has threatened to “cancel” the Oslo Accords if the Palestinian leadership goes ahead with planned moves at the UN. Barak Ravid reported in Haaretz that “A team headed by National Security Adviser Ya’akov Amidror is looking into calling off the Oslo Accords in response to the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral plan to gain United Nations recognition for an independent state … A senior Israeli official said that three weeks ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Amidror to start drafting day-after plans with other government bodies … Israel is concerned that the Palestinians may use the General Assembly resolution in order to launch a legal fight in the International Court at the Hague, or to try to alter the economic and security arrangements reached over the past 18 years. NSC officials told representatives of the various government and military bodies that Israel would not initiate such a move, but may do so in response to the Palestinian actions … ‘Netanyahu is opposed to actions such as annexing settlements to Israel in response to a Palestinian move at the UN’, said an Israeli source familiar with the discussions. ‘Therefore, the NSC is evaluating other possibilities, one of them being voiding the Oslo Accords. In any case, there is no decision yet’ … Doing away with the accords would require reexamining key issues, primarily the status of the PA in the West Bank. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had mentioned doing away with the Oslo Accords during a meeting with European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton on June 17. Even though Lieberman supports such a response to a unilateral Palestinian move, officials at the Foreign Ministry consider such action ‘counterproductive’.”
This is reported here.

But, Akiva Eldar commented in Haaretz that “If the Oslo Accords did not exist, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have had to invent them. The document, and in particular the section that confiscates 60 percent of the Palestinians’ land in the West Bank (Area C ) and grants Israeli settlers exclusive access to it, should be placed in a safe by the right-wing and guarded by an elite army unit. And this is why this childish ‘threat’, which has been hovering in the air ever since Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman first waved it at European Union Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton a month ago, is not making much of an impression on Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen ); the Palestinian president continues to gather international support for the UN vote expected to take place in September … In an article published over the weekend in the online journal, Foreign Policy, Daniel Levy, a senior member of the Washington think tank, the New America Foundation, discloses that in a meeting of the leaders of the Quartet last week in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requested of the UN secretary-general and her colleagues in the European Union and Russia to support a general declaration of ‘two states for two people, Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people’. Levy, whose information stems from a source at the highest levels of the Quartet, adds that Clinton did not stop there. At a time when Palestinians were hanging onto Obama’s May 19 speech at the U.S. State Department (the June 4, 1967 borders and territory swaps by agreement as the basis for negotiations ), the U.S. secretary of state instead presented the Quartet with the president’s speech that he gave a few days later to a conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC: ‘Israelis and Palestinians will negotiate a border that is different to the one that existed on June 4, 1967 … and allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides’. This version is nearly identical to [the wording in ] a letter sent by former President George W. Bush to Ariel Sharon in return for the disengagement from Gaza. Obama offered this to Netanyahu for free. As a bonus, the Americans asked the Quartet to declare that the solution of two states for two nations not be achieved by a process taking place at the UN, and that it should not be expected that a state would conduct negotiations with a terror organization sworn to destroy it. And what did the U.S. offer the Quartet in place of a UN vote and Palestinian reconciliation? ‘A call to the sides to return to direct negotiations, to start with preparations to maximize chances of success’.” Akiva Eldar’s report is published here.

Michael Sfard on some consequences of the Palestinian State

Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer who specializes in human rights and military matters, and who is legal adviser for the organization Yesh Din among others, wrote an article published in Haaretz yesterday predicting that if a Palestinian State is admitted into the UN in September (or anytime soon), then “The mechanisms of legal defense that it [Israel] built since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to combat the ‘danger’ of international jurisdiction about its conduct toward millions of people who are under its control” are about to collapse.

The article, published here also says that “Together with the diplomatic ‘tsunami’ that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has forecast, Israel can expect a legal tsunami, which for the first time will claim a price for violating human rights in the occupied territories. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories that Israel conquered in 1967, are not an internal Israeli issue. This is an international conflict in which the international community has a legitimate interest. However, during the years of the occupation the state of Israel has repelled the professional legal mechanisms of the United Nations, that deal with protecting human rights, from discussing its actions there…”.

Sfard’s argument continued: “In the territories Israel refused to apply the various human rights treaties that deal, inter alia, with discrimination against women; rights of the child; racial and other discrimination; and torture. Some of Israel’s most talented advocates were sent to Geneva to claim that these treaties were not binding on Israel beyond the Green Line. Israel considers itself the representative of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, and as such was one of the initiators of the establishment of an international criminal court for war crimes. The height of jurisdictional isolation came when Israel decided not to ratify the court’s statute so as not to grant it authority to investigate and discuss crimes that, allegedly, were/are being carried out by Israeli officers and soldiers. Over the course of 44 years, Israel has succeeded in putting the job of judging its actions in the occupied territories in the hands of [Israel’s own Supreme Court, the] High Court of Justice, which approved almost every policy and practice of the army in the territories, deepening the occupation and making possible massive violations of human rights under its patronage. Israel succeeded in leaving the investigations of its crimes to [Israel’s] military advocates/attorneys who made sure that the policy of investigation would be such that enforcing the rigor of the law on soldiers and officers who had violated it would be a sort of miracle. All of this is about to come to an end”.

He wrote that “The significance of a Palestinian state joining the UN is that, for the first time, it will be the Palestinians who will decide what the international legal framework is that is binding in their territory. After more than 40 years in the wilderness of the occupation, the Palestinians will have the possibility of influencing their fate through legal means”.

This is because, he noted, “the significance of accepting Palestine as a member of the UN is that the new member will be sovereign to sign international treaties, to join international agreements and to receive the jurisdictional authority of international tribunals over what happens in its territory”.

Continue reading Michael Sfard on some consequences of the Palestinian State

Egyptian FM Nabil ElAraby says unity was needed for Palestinian state recognition

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post here about the surprise announcement on Wednesday of a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah [for more information, see our post on our sister blog, here], “Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby said the agreement was aimed at paving the way for the Palestinians to seek UN recognition in September of an independent state on the 1967 lines. ‘Palestinian divisions can’t continue while efforts are being made to ensure recognition of a Palestinian state’, Elaraby said, adding that he planned to visit Ramallah soon for talks with Palestinian Authority officials on this and other matters”.

Nabil ElAraby’s appointment as Egypt’s new post-Mubarak Foreign Minister is one of the most interesting developments in the whole Arab Spring.

The Guardian newspaper published an article this week by Jack Schenker that argued that even though Egypt was putatively handling reconciliation negotiations between Israel and Hamas for years, “Israel and Washington had no genuine desire to see a unified Palestinian government, and Egypt’s thinking followed suit – until, that is, nationwide protests erupted against the regime in late January, and Suleiman was promoted to vice-president in a failed attempt to shore up Mubarak’s position. Given the country’s internal chaos, few expected his replacement, Murad Muwafi, to devote much energy to the issue of Palestinian factionalism, but in fact Muwafi took the issue seriously – so seriously, in fact, that no fewer than five Israeli delegations were dispatched to his offices in the space of a few weeks in an effort to ward off any unity deal. Muwafi’s stance was shaped partly by the ascendancy of the career diplomat Nabil el-Arabi to the position of foreign minister in Egypt’s interim government. Arabi had a reputation for saying some decidedly undiplomatic things regarding Egypt’s close alliance with Israel under presidents Mubarak and Sadat, and as part of an internal battle to wrest control of some policy issues away from the secret services – where they had drifted under Mubarak – and back under the auspices of the foreign ministry, he began making loud and relatively critical noises about Israel, marking an important shift in rhetoric. ‘It is time to stop managing the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, it’s time to end the conflict” he said earlier this month. Egypt’s foreign minister will now travel to Amman and Ramallah next month to continue promoting the deal and, although few will admit it publicly, both Hamas and Fatah are optimistic that the new Egyptian government will do a better job of resisting Israeli pressure to scupper the agreement than Suleiman and Mubarak would have managed”. This article is published here.

Twenty-four hours after the announcement of the reconciliation agreement, ElAraby said in an interview with Al-Jazeera on Thursday that “The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza will open on a permanent basis within seven to ten days … He said during the interview that steps would be taken in order to alleviate the ‘suffering of the Palestinian people’.” These remarks to Al-Jazeera were published in the Jerusalem Post here.

The Israeli Project (TIP) sent out an email on Friday worrying that “Egypt plans to open its border with Gaza on a permanent basis, allowing in people and goods through Rafah without supervision by Israeli authorities, Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi said Friday”. It cites as its reference a report in Haaretz by correspondent Avi Issacharoff published here — which said that this would be a violation of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, finally hammered out in November 2005, two months after Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “disengagement”, which set up a force of EU monitoring personnel known as EUBAM, who were also under Israeli supervision.

The agreement, however, was barely implemented because of constant Israeli closures of the Rafah crossing [mostly, Israel did this by telling the EUBAM people to stay home].

However, the Israel Project email noted that “Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Menha Barkhoum said details of the Rafah opening were still being hammered out but that ‘We’ll open the crossing point for individuals in a continuous way’.”

Here is a graphic of the Gaza Strip sent along with the email from The Israel Project:
graphic by The Israel Project

The straight line in the lower left-hand corner of the Gaza Strip is the twice-destroyed-by-Israeli-bombing Yasser Arafat International Airport. The Kerem Shalom crossing which Israel has always preferred, despite all Palestinian objections, is just over border at the point where Gaza, the Israeli Negev desert, and the Egyptian Sinai all meet.

It is from Kerem Shalom that the Israeli military and security agencies carried out, by real time closed-circuit TV or video monitoring, their supervision of all activities at the Rafah crossing, including their monitoring of EUBAM…

Under the 2005 Agreement, however, the Rafah crossing has been closed far, far more than it was ever open…

IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit was seized very near Kerem Shalom in a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants in June 2006, shortly after a similar operation by Hizballah along the Israeli-Lebanese border to the north which sparked the summer 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon (which is called, in Israel, the Second Lebanese War).

Shalit has been held in captivity, presumably in Gaza, since then — even during the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009.

UPDATE: There was a report in the London-based Arabic-language Al-Hayat paper on Saturday, picked up by correspondent Avi Issacharoff in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz here, that “Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabri is in Egypt for talks with current Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate Murad Muwafi about abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, London-based Arab daily Al-Hayat reported on Saturday. According to the report, Jabri has been in Egypt for several days, during which he held talks with Muwafi about the stalled negotiations between Israel and the Hamas for Shalit’s release … Negotiations have stalled numerous times. Hamas last year accused Israel of changing its stance over points to which it had already agreed. Hamas sources have said that Israel is delaying the completion of the Shalit deal by refusing to release 50 Hamas officials it holds in its jails. Speaking to Israel Radio, a top Hamas official refused to comment on the report”.

The Israeli human rights organization GISHA, which has led a sustained challenge in the Israeli court system to the Israeli military-administered sanctions against Gaza, commented Friday that “Since Israel closed Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters and all but closed Erez Crossing to Palestinians, Rafah Crossing has become the gateway to the outside world for 1.5 million Palestinian residents of Gaza. Crossing via Erez (on the border between Gaza and Israel) is limited to ‘extraordinary humanitarian cases, especially urgent medical cases’, preventing Palestinians from traveling between Gaza and the West Bank.   Rafah was closed following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006 and remained mostly closed until June 2010, when Egypt opened it in the wake of the flotilla incident. Between June 2010 and January 2011, 19,000 people per month on average crossed Rafah in both directions, 47% of the number of people who crossed monthly in the first half of 2006.   Today, passage through Rafah is limited to holders of foreign citizenship or residence, holders of visas (including students studying abroad) and those seeking medical attention or study in Egypt. Crossing for Palestinians is limited to those listed in the Israeli-controlled population registry. Since the regime change in Egypt, the number of people permitted to leave Gaza via Rafah has been limited to 300 per day. The crossing is currently open five days per week. Since the 2005 ‘disengagement’, goods have not been permitted to pass via Rafah, except for humanitarian assistance which Egypt occasionally permits through Rafah“.

GISHA’s Executive Director. Attorney Sari Bashi added, in the response to news that Egypt will open the Rafah crossing, that “Gisha expresses hope that Egypt will expand the ability of Gaza residents to travel abroad via Rafah Crossing, which has become Gaza’s gateway to the world, in light of Israel’s closure of Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters and restrictions on travel via Erez Crossing.  Gisha notes the need also to permit passage of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, recognized by Israel as a single territorial unit whose integrity is the basis for a two-state solution.   Gisha notes that since June 2007, Israel has prevented Gaza residents from transferring goods for sale to Israel or the West Bank, as part of a policy to separate Gaza from the West Bank. Security concerns cannot explain the ban, as Gaza residents are permitted to sell limited quantities of agricultural products to Europe – via Israel and Israeli security checks. Gaza, Israel and the West Bank are part of a single customs envelope, in which free trade is to take place and in which customs regulations are to be uniform.  Any arrangement for permitting goods to cross via Rafah should consider the need to maintain the unity of the Palestinian economy, existing in Gaza and the West Bank”.

UPDATE TWO: Haaretz reported on Saturday here that “Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces General Sami Anan warned Israel against interfering with Egypt’s plan to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, saying it was not a matter of Israel’s concern, [Israeli] Army Radio reported on Saturday”.

According to a report in Ahramonine, Anan did this on his Facebook page. Ahram online reported: “Israel does not have the right to interfere in Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah border crossing, says Sami Annan, the chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces. ‘Israel does not have the right to interfere in Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah border. This is an Egyptian-Palestinian issue’, wrote Anan on his Facebook page. Anan also thanked the Egyptian intelligence for the role it played in the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas”. This is posted here.

UPDATE THREE: The Wall Street Journal (online) has reported here that Israel is vexed by these Egyptian moves: “Israeli officials said they were seeking to clarify Mr. Al Araby’s remarks with Egypt. Mindful of the instability, government officials have been reluctant to openly criticize the new government”…

The WSJ report noted that “In January 2008, tens of thousands of Palestinians broke down the border fence at Rafah and crossed into Egypt to buy goods kept out by the Israeli siege, but Egypt eventually resealed the border”,  but that “In recent years, Egypt and Israel have cooperated to fight the tunnel trade.  And at the end of 2009, Egypt even began building an underground wall [ n.b.- with U.S. help] to block the subterranean commerce.   Egypt has kept the border closed out of concern that an open border could saddle Cairo with responsibility for security in Gaza … Last year Cairo lengthened the hours of the border crossing in response to international pressure after Israel’s deadly interception of a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists”.

But, as GISHA complained, the extended opening hours were not nearly enough.

Bashi later told Time Magazine’s Karl Vick “If Egypt wanted to be more generous, they’d go back to what the situation was in 2005 and 2006”. Vick noted that “In those years, any Palestinian with an Israeli-approved ID could come and go through Rafah. But, Bashi says, ‘we don’t know what the Egyptians have in mind’.” This is posted here.

The WSJ article quoted an Israeli official as saying: “In the past, despite the effort of the government of Egypt to prevent it happening, Hamas was able to build in Gaza a formidable military terrorist machine”…

According to the WSJ report, a senior Israeli official said on Friday: “We are troubled by recent developments in Egypt … These developments can affect Israel’s national security at a strategic level”.

P.J. Crowley: U.S. is in no position to stop UN General Assembly recognition of Palestinian State

P.J. Crowley, former State Department spokesperson who recently resigned after criticizing detention conditions for Private Bradley Manning, accused of leaking classified U.S. military and cables to Wikileaks, has just spoken to Salon.com about his Twitter activity. The interview is posted here.

Here is what he said concerning expected Palestinian moves to seek UN recognition of their state:

Question: Jumping over to Israeli-Palestine, the Palestinian Authority is now talking about going to the U.N. in September, either through the Security Council or the General Assembly, and seeking recognition as an independent state. News reports suggest that the Obama administration has tried to dissuade them, but it seems like they’re going forward. How do you think the [U.S.] administration would handle that move if the Palestinians do try to do this?

P.J. Crowley: Well if the Palestinians go to the United Nations General Assembly in September to seek some kind of recognition, the United States is in no position to stop it. We don’t have a veto in the General Assembly. The real question is, will it make any difference? And the answer is no. The administration has long held that this move would be not productive and probably counterproductive for the Palestinian cause. That has been our advice to the Palestinians publicly and privately, and I don’t see that changing. There’s still time to try to get a direct negotiation restarted, but there’s little evidence that there’s the kind of productive dynamic between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu that would give a lot of hope. There are speeches coming up — the prime minister is coming to the United States to talk to Congress. Secretary Clinton has indicated the president may give an address on the situation sometime soon, but the real problem is not a [lack of] desire by the United States to push this forward, the problem really is the lack of any rapport between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority that would give you any hope of progress.

Question: Even if President Obama gives a speech, are you expecting to see any sort of major initiative from the administration on this, or do you think they’re in a holding pattern?

P.J. Crowley: My personal view is that Prime Minister Netanyahu, recognizing that a Palestinian move at the U.N. in September would put Israel in a difficult political situation, has to be the first to try to change perceptions of where things are now. He may try to do that in his upcoming address in the United States. A lot of people are pointing to his speech here, but if he’s actually going to put on the table a dramatic move, he would do that before his own people, not before the American people. I personally don’t see any immediate prospect for a breakthrough.

EU + UN: institutions of Palestinian state ready

Catherine Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission hosted a regular twice-yearly meeting on 13 April of the donor coordination group [Ad Hoc Liaison Committee or AHLC] for the occupied Palestinian territory in Brussels. The meeting was presided over by Norwegian Foreign Minister Støre in his capacity as chair of the AHLC, and was attended by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad, as well as Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair, and officials from the Israeli Foreign Ministry — and, though we wouldn’t have known it from the AHLC or Blair websites [see instead link below to a Haaretz story], also present was the IDF officer in charge of the Israeli military-administered sanctions on Gaza, Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot [whose title is “Coordinator of {Israeli} Government Activities in the {occupied Palestinian} Territories”, a Defense Ministry unit otherwise known as COGAT, which also controls quite a lot in the West Bank as well as in Gaza].

It was, apparently, the first in a series of donor meetings planned for 2011.

The next planned donor conference is scheduled to be held in Paris in June 2011, to support “the Palestinian national development plan for 2011-2013”.

{The UN describes the AHLC here as “a 12-member committee that serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people. The AHLC is chaired by Norway and cosponsored by the EU and US. In addition, the United Nations participates together with the World Bank (Secretariat) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The AHLC seeks to promote dialogue between donors, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Government of Israel (GoI)”. The Portland Trust, which seems to set the policies that Tony Blair follows, notes here that “The AHLC was established on 1 October 1993 (this is two weeks after the signing of the first of the Oslo Accords) . It serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people. Norway is the chair of the committee, the World Bank acts as secretariat and the EU and US are co-sponsors. The members are: the Palestinian Authority (PA), Government of Israel (GoI), Canada, Egypt, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Japan, Jordan, United Nations (UN), Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia”. It is worth noting that the Portland Trust’s publication, Palestinian Economic Bulletin, is prepared by the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) in Ramallah.}

The Norwegian Chairman reportedly said that “the international donor group in support of the Palestinians (AHLC) welcomed reports that the Palestinian Authority has crossed the threshold for a functioning state in terms of its successful institution building. This was the assessment of the Palestinian Authority’s performance in key sectors studied by the World Bank, the IMF, and the UN. Moreover, according to the IMF, the Palestinian reforms have come so far that not only is the public financial management system ready to support the functions of a state; it has even become a model for other developing countries”. These remarks are posted here.

This report also reported that Støre said: “many donors noted that the lack of political progress leaves the negotiating track out of sync with the far advanced state-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority. This is why all parties concerned must stand firm behind the stated goal of negotiating a framework agreement on permanent status and a subsequent comprehensive peace treaty by the agreed target date in September”.

Continue reading EU + UN: institutions of Palestinian state ready

European Union Foreign Ministers say they are ready to recognize a Palestinian State "when appropriate"

European Union (EU) Foreign Ministers issued a statement on Monday, at the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting held in Brussels on Monday, repeating the conclusions they reached a year ago: “We reiterate those Conclusions. The EU will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties. This could include agreed territorial swaps. A way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states. The EU calls for an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee question. A negotiated settlement must allow the two States to live side by side in peace and security”.

The EU council of Foreign Ministers also “reiterates its readiness, when appropriate, to recognize a Palestinian state. We welcome the World Bank’s assessment that ‘if the Palestinian Authority maintains its current performance in institution building and delivery of public services, it is well positioned for the establishment of a State at any point in the near future’.”

When appropriate…

Actually, something not too different was mentioned at the end of the first World War, just before the League of Nations authorized Britain to manage the Palestine Mandate … which was categorized as a Class A Mandate, over a people who were almost ready for independence…

"Direct" talks on life support as Israeli settlement "moratorium" nears end

Just hours before the Israeli unilaterally-declared settlement “moratorium” expires on 26 September, the U.S. and the parties involved are looking for a way to keep the talks going.

U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State [Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs] Jeffrey Feltman told reporters in New York on Friday, where world leaders are still hanging around the margins of the UN General Assembly, that “Yes, we are urging Israel to extend the moratorium. Yes. And we also are making clear to the Palestinians that we do not believe that it is in their interest to walk out of the talks. We do not believe that it helps them achieve their national goals if they would walk out of the talks. But we – but at this point, we are urging both sides to create the atmosphere that is most conducive to reaching a successful conclusion for negotiation and for both sides to take the negotiation process seriously … [W]e we want to see a two-state solution that’s an anchor for comprehensive peace. The best way to get to a two-state solution is through negotiations. The Palestinians and the Israelis have started a serious process. It is a process that is not going to be without difficulties. The gaps on some issues are quite wide. But it’s nevertheless the – a promising way for the Palestinians to achieve their goal of statehood, for the Palestinians to have a state that they can call their own”.

Asked by a journalist if “it’s counterproductive for every time Abbas sees something that he doesn’t like to walk out of the talks”, Feltman replied: “We don’t think either side should be using the threat to walk out to interrupt a process that has the promise of bringing Israel security and bringing the Palestinians a state”.

Continue reading "Direct" talks on life support as Israeli settlement "moratorium" nears end

Danny Ayalon gives a glimpse of what Israel officials mean by "a state for the Jewish people"

One of the main points that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu raises, when talking about what it would take to achieve success in “direct” negotiations with the present Palestinian leadership, is the necessity for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “state for the Jewish people”.

This is an improved formulation over the earlier version (which former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon included in Israel’s 14 reservations to the U.S.-backed Road Map in 2003) of requiring acceptance of a “Jewish State”.

However, there is no real clarity about what, exactly, that would mean. Palestinians fear it is formula to withdraw rights and citizenship from the one million or so (20-25% of Israel’s population) who are Palestinian Arabs, and that it also means agreement acquiescence in wiping out any and all residual claims of some 4 or 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants living in a diaspora around the world.

So far, it is a dialog of the deaf.

Palestinians of almost all political views react with outrage, anger… and smoldering fury.

Continue reading Danny Ayalon gives a glimpse of what Israel officials mean by "a state for the Jewish people"