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"

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

Facebook friends like this "dissection" of Obama speech at UNGA

Facebook friends are abuzz this morning about Al-Jazeera’s interview with Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah, in which, they say, he “dissects” the speech made this week at the UNGA by U.S. President Barack Obama:

“Well, anyone watching this speech would have to be a cynic”, Abunimah said. There really wasn’t anything really new in the Obama speech, Abunimah stated — adding: “and that bodes very ill for the peace process that he’s so invested in”.

Continue reading Facebook friends like this "dissection" of Obama speech at UNGA

Obama calls Abu Mazen

Haaretz is reporting that U.S. President Barack Obama has phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] on Friday (yesterday) “to brief the Palestinian president on the American leader’s recent meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu … Obama promised Abbas that he would exert every effort to ensure the establishment of an independent Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel”.

The last time we heard about an Obama call to Abu Mazen was on the day after Obama’s inauguration — and his call to Abu Mazen then was his first to a foreign leader after taking office.

Apparently, U.S. Special Middle East envoy will be back in the region soon [either for a sixth round of indirect or “proximity” talks that started in May, or perhaps to transition into the direct mode which is, and always was, inevitable].

How do we know about this? Haaretz wrote that “Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told the Palestinian news agency WAFA following the phone conversation that Abbas expressed his commitment to a serious peace process that would ‘end the occupation’ and result in an independent Palestinian state”. This report can be read in full ,strong>here].

Gideon Levy: "Everybody knows what the Palestinians want"

Writing after the Tuesday meeting in Washington between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — in which Obama said he wants direct talks to start as soon as possible, and certainly by September when a nine-month [the duration was decided after considerable haggling] “settlement freeze”, Gideon Levy said in Haaretz that “When direct talks become a goal, without anyone having a clue what Israel’s position is – a strange negotiation in which everyone knows what the Palestinians want and no one knows for sure what Israel wants – the wheel not only does not go forward, it goes backward”.

This is posted here.

Obama Anxiety – Netanyahu Anxiety

Here, in the region, there is considerable anxiety about Obama, and what he may or may not be just about to do.

About a week ago, as the NY Times reported from Washington on 15 April, Obama said that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “a vital national security interest of the United States”.

As the NY Times wrote: “It was just a phrase at the end of President Obama’s news conference on Tuesday, but it was a stark reminder of a far-reaching shift in how the United States views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how aggressively it might push for a peace agreement. When Mr. Obama declared that resolving the long-running Middle East dispute was a “vital national security interest of the United States,” he was highlighting a change that has resulted from a lengthy debate among his top officials over how best to balance support for Israel against other American interests. This shift, described by administration officials who did not want to be quoted by name when discussing internal discussions, is driving the White House’s urgency to help broker a Middle East peace deal. It increases the likelihood that Mr. Obama, frustrated by the inability of the Israelis and the Palestinians to come to terms, will offer his own proposed parameters for an eventual Palestinian state … Mr. Obama’s words reverberated through diplomatic circles in large part because they echoed those of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the military commander overseeing America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In recent Congressional testimony, the general said that the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for the United States … The glimmers of daylight between United States and Israeli interests began during President George W. Bush’s administration, when the United States became mired in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Three years ago, Condoleezza Rice, then secretary of state, declared during a speech in Jerusalem that a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians was a ‘strategic interest’ of the United States … ‘In the past, the problem of who drinks out of whose well in Nablus has not been a strategic interest of the United States’, said Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel and the vice president and the director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. He said there was an interest now because of the tens of thousands of troops fighting Islamist insurgencies abroad at the same time that the United States was trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. ‘Will resolving the Palestinian issue solve everything? Mr. Indyk said. ‘No. But will it help us get there? Yes’. The administration’s immediate priority, officials said, is jump-starting indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians. There is still a vigorous debate inside the administration about what to do if such talks were to go nowhere, which experts said is the likeliest result, given the history of such negotiations. Some officials, like Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, advocate putting forward an American peace plan, while others, like the longtime Middle East peace negotiator Dennis B. Ross, who now works in the National Security Council, favor a more incremental approach … Several officials point out that Mr. Obama has now seized control of Middle East policy himself, particularly since the controversy several weeks ago when Israeli authorities announced new Jewish housing units in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Mr. Obama, incensed by that snub, has given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a list of demands, and relations between the United States and Israel have fallen into a chilly standoff”… This NY Times article can be read in full here.

Obama’s big discussion with Netanyahu in the White House was actually a month ago, on 23 March.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Senior U.S. officials said the Obama administration has discussed in recent weeks the possibility of the White House setting out its own benchmarks and timelines for the peace process if current efforts to resume negotiations fail. They said such a step wouldn’t be unlike the steps taken by former President Bill Clinton in late 2000, where he set parameters calling for a Palestinian state based on the pre-June 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital. Still, U.S. officials said such a move by the Obama administration wasn’t imminent. And they stressed that they hoped the Israelis and Palestinians would agree to voluntarily return to direct talks. U.S. officials said Mr. Netanyahu’s government has been communicating much of its position through the White House’s senior Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, at times bypassing the Obama administration’s special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell. That decision has been interpreted by some in the administration as an attempt to sideline Mr. Mitchell in favor of Mr. Ross, who has advocated U.S. cooperation with Mr. Netanyahu, rather than confrontation. Mr. Ross has publicly taken positions in line with Mr. Netanyahu’s government, particularly the centrality of stopping Iran’s nuclear program as a means to underpin Mideast peace efforts … Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conveyed to the White House this weekend his rejection of a U.S. call for a total Israeli construction freeze in East Jerusalem, calling into question the path toward Middle East peace, according to officials briefed on the diplomacy … In an interview with ABC News on Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu said stopping construction in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem ‘is totally, totally a nonstarter’.”  This article is published here.

With characteristic, and delicious, irony, Akiva Eldar wrote in Haaretz today that “The prime minister’s response Thursday on Channel 2 that ‘there will be no freeze [in construction] in Jerusalem’, is like Bill Clinton’s ‘I did not have sex with that woman’. Benjamin Netanyahu did not insist this time that he will continue construction in Ramat Shlomo, Gilo and Har Homa – something he is leaving for Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to do … The two were aware that the moment they were swearing that ‘united Jerusalem’ would never be divided, Barack Obama’s envoys were packing their bags for a visit to the region. The Israelis knew that special envoy George Mitchell was not being sent to the eternal capital just to hear Netanyahu insist on developing the real estate business in East Jerusalem. Mitchell put up with a lot on his way to a peace agreement in Northern Ireland and did not come here to nail shut the coffin of the peace process. He does not want to bury Israel’s relations with the White House.  The signs were thick Thursday that behind the proclamations of a ‘unified Jerusalem’, a quiet accord was in the works with the Americans … The key thing is that the Palestinians don’t read in the paper that the interior minister approved new construction in the Holy City”. This Akiva Eldar report is here.

A few days earlier,  Akiva Eldar wrote this on Israel’s Independence Day celebrations held at the beginning of this week (according to the Jewish calendar, while the rest of the world marks the date as  May 15):  “This was one of our most independent years ever. Completely independently, we decided to welcome the vice president of the United States with an announcement of new construction in East Jerusalem; the deputy foreign minister independently humiliated the Turkish ambassador; the foreign minister independently boycotted the president of Brazil; the Knesset independently sabotaged relations with the European Union via legislation that would limit its donations to human rights groups; the government independently decided to bait the Muslim world by declaring holy sites in the occupied territories as ‘heritage sites’ …  Sixty-two years after Israel declared independence, its right-wing government is entitled to decide that the time has come to annex Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and the Jordan Valley – just as the Labor government did 43 years ago, when it decided to annex a sizable territory to Jerusalem. This year, too, Israeli citizens are entitled to celebrate Jerusalem Day in the only capital in the world that hosts not a single embassy. Benjamin Netanyahu can even propose that U.S. President Barack Obama append his list of questions to the Wye Agreement, the road map and the Annapolis Declaration. After all, Israel is an independent country … The winning phrase of the 62nd year of Israel’s independence is undoubtedly the angry response Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon would make to reports that the Obama administration intends to present its own peace plan. The man who was Israel’s ambassador to Washington said that by doing so, the U.S. would become a ‘party to the conflict’.  In other words, today, the U.S. is not a ‘party to the conflict’. The implication is that in order to respect Israeli independence, the American administration is required to forever put up with the Israeli occupation and ignore the settlements. The U.S. is a ‘party to the conflict’ only when Israel requires an airlift of arms, sanctions against Iran or a veto of unpleasant resolutions at the United Nations.  Shortly after the previous independence day, it seemed that Netanyahu had struck the right balance on how the conflict should be resolved between the particularist worldview he shares with most members of his government and the positions of the world’s major powers. Moreover, it appeared that the support he expressed in his speech at Bar-Ilan University for a solution of two states for two peoples reflected recognition of the fact that Israel’s independence will not be complete until the Palestinians receive their own independent state.  Instead, the Netanyahu government has implemented the views of the majority of independent Israel’s Knesset, which supports the policy of settlements in the West Bank and deepening the Jewish hold on East Jerusalem. To fend off pressure from abroad, Netanyahu has once again transformed the Jewish Diaspora into a defensive army against the might of the nations of the world. The leader of ‘independent’ Israel has transformed Jewish activists into ‘parties to the conflict’ between his government and the American administration (we, of course, are allowed to meddle in American politics)” …  This Akiva Eldar analysis was published here.

Meanwhile, just to be perfectly helpful, Netanyahu has made a proposal that he knows perfectly well Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected for years. As Haaretz reported Friday, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is amenable to an interim agreement in the West Bank that would include the establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders. Netanyahu considers such an interim step a possible way to unfreeze the stalled political process that was created because of the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to resume talks on a final settlement. However, the prime minister insists on delaying discussion on the final status of Jerusalem to the end of the process, and refuses to agree to a freeze on Jewish construction in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu and his aides have held intensive contacts in recent days with representatives of the U.S. administration in an effort to contain the crisis in the relations between the two countries … The formula of a Palestinian state within temporary borders was included in the second stage of the road map of 2003, but the Palestinians, and Mahmoud Abbas at their head, opposed it then and oppose it now, considering it a recipe for keeping Israeli occupation of the territories in place. Three Israeli politicians – Defense Minister Ehud Barak, President Shimon Peres and MK Shaul Mofaz of Kadima – tried to advance the idea of a Palestinian state within temporary borders during the past year, as a reasonable recipe for breaking out of the current political stalemate that was created since elections in Israel. Netanyahu is now leading toward their view, after losing hope of moving toward a permanent settlement with Abbas. If this initiative progresses, it is expected to result in objections from the parties on the right, who oppose any concession to the Palestinians. Establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank, or even a partial framework with temporary borders, will require Israel to withdraw from more territory and perhaps even evacuate settlements. But if the Palestinians reject the idea – as is expected – Netanyahu will be able to claim that they are once more missing an opportunity for a settlement by being stubborn and rejectionist”… This Haaretz report can be read in full here.

Giora Eiland: Obama ended ambiguity about a two-state solution

In an article published by YNet, an Israeli former National Security adviser, Giora Eiland, wrote that “When one of the sides, and especially if it’s a superpower, decides to call a spade a spade, a new reality emerges … In December 2000, President Bill Clinton presented his plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It was not a list of abstract principle, but rather, concrete geographical, technical, and numerical proposals for resolving each of the core issues – borders, security arrangements, Jerusalem, refugees, and so on.   Ever since then, the notion of the two-state solution in the eyes of any US Administration, and certainly a Democratic one, has been a codename for Clinton’s plan. Its essence is as follows: Two states between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, with the border between them premised on the 1967 boundaries (with minor changes,) a divided Jerusalem, limits on the Palestinian state’s militarization, and no return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.  To the Americans, as well as to the parties to the conflict, it’s clear that a final-status agreement on the basis of two states is the Clinton plan with minor adjustments, regardless of who the negotiators are.  For nine years – George W. Bush’s eight years in office and Obama’s one year – the Americans and Israelis preferred to make do with agreement on the ambiguous principle of two states. Both Prime Minister Sharon and PM Netanyahu were able to live with this abstract concept. It was convenient for both the US and Israel to explain that the nature of the final-status agreement is unknown, and it will be subject to negotiations between the two sides.  Yet recently, Obama decided to no longer make do with the codename and ensure that Netanyahu also understands and agrees that endorsing the ‘two-status solution’ means endorsing Clinton’s plan. This caused great embarrassment. PM Netanyahu assumed that real answers, if at all, will be needed only during the negotiations, yet he was asked to provide them here and now … Netanyahu thinks that the Clinton plan is bad for Israel; he also knows that he cannot implement it even if he wished to do so.  [Yet] … Instead, Netanyahu officially endorsed the Clinton plan (which, as noted, is the only American interpretation of the ‘two-state solution’.) Yet when Obama asked him to say explicitly what he seemingly said in his Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu found it difficult to speak.  The American conclusions of this are grim: Firstly, Israel has no alternate ideas.  Secondly, the Clinton plan is the only solution and there is nothing else.  Thirdly, Israel’s prime minister is an unreliable person.  The distance from these conclusions to a situation whereby the US dictates a plan, including a binding timetable, is short. Ironically, we can assume that the main possibility to get out of this problematic situation stems from the fact that the Palestinians also cannot accept the Clinton plan (recognition of a Jewish state, a declaration that they have no more demands, and renunciation of the right of return.) In fact, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was not willing to even discuss the Clinton model with PM Olmert”.   This opinion piece by Giora Eiland can be read in full on YNet here

Gershon Baskin's take on possibly "the most serious crisis" + Hussein Ibish's advice to the Palestinians

We have covered the developments blow-by-blow at www.un-truth.com. In brief, U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell had been moving toward an announcement that “indirect” talks would begin, under U.S. auspices, with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators — in an effort to move toward the direct talks that will be necessary to resolve all final status issues and arrive at a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

But, when U.S. Vice President was on an official three-day visit to Israel and the region, there were serial announcements about an increase of housing units in areas of Jewish population concentration (ok, let’s call them “settlements”) in what was the West Bank before the Israeli occupation in the June 1967 war, but which Israel insists is its unilaterally-defined “Greater Jerusalem Municipality” which will be eternally united [except for areas that Israel will unilaterally decide to cut off by The Wall, because of their dense Palestinian population].

The U.S. Administration was not amused — and let this be known both privately and publicly.

Gershon Baskin writes, in an email he sent around today, that “The facts of what really transpired are not completely known to the public. There are rumors and only limited clear facts really known. The following is what I have been able to piece together – with a clear reservation that if this scenario is incorrect then the projections may also be incorrect; however, if it is correct the situation is in fact the most serious crisis in Israel-US relations, perhaps, ever. Prior to the decision of the Arab League to support the launching of the proximity talks, the PLO presented Mitchell with a three page document with questions and firms positions regarding the beginning of the negotiations. The Palestinian paper included: negotiations will be based on the green line, the negotiations should begin where the Olmert proposal to Abbas ended, the negotiations must include all of the permanent status issues and there must be a total settlement freeze, including Jerusalem, throughout the course of the negotiations. I was told by someone who is usually a reliable Palestinian source that Senator Mitchell gave Abbas a paper with the US responses include [sic – it should probably read including, or requiring] US assurances that the Israeli building in East Jerusalem would be frozen during the period of the negotiations. If this is true, I can only assume that Netanyahu agreed to it, although he probably also agreed that there would be no Israeli announcement of this policy. Again, if this is true, then advancing the planning process of the 1600 units in Ramat Shlomo and other plans that were advanced in the District and Local planning committees at the same time is a direct breach of trust with the US and is therefore, much more serious than a bureaucratic mishap or a simple decrease in trust between the parties prior to negotiations. The depth of the breach also determines to a certain extent the depth of the policy options”.

Gershon continues: “Certainly Netanyahu’s announcement in the Knesset in front of the Brazilian President that regardless of the mishap, Israel would continue to build in all parts of East Jerusalem is a clear sign of the decision of this government to go head-to-head with President Obama. Netanyahu’s announcement followed the Clinton-Netanyahu 43-minute phone call reported in depth by Clinton and by the State Department spokesperson to the world. Clinton include three demands to Israel: (1) the withdraw the plan for the 1600 units in Ramat Shlomo, (2) to provide serious gestures to the Palestinians such as a prisoner release and checkpoint removals; and (3) to announce that all permanent status issues would be on the table during the negotiations. Netanyahu’s statement that the building in Jerusalem would continue following the US demands is a direct frontal attack on the Obama administration and cannot be viewed in any other terms”.

Then, Gershon wrote: “As I read the Israeli political map, Netanyahu, in coordination with his allies in Congress, AIPAC, and other US Jewish organizations have made a decision that President Obama will be, as far as they are concerned, a one term President. In this respect, they seek to weaken the President, regardless of the repercussions in the international community. Mid-term Congressional elections are only eight months away and the strategic map of key Congressional races has been mapped out with the goal of winning those races in Congress with the most pro-Obama members that are vulnerable. The challenge to the President by the Israeli government on the issue of building in East Jerusalem is one that will largely determine if the President is perceived in Israel , the region and the world as weak or strong. If the US administration gives in to the Government of Israel after making this such a pinnacle issue, the prestige, power and reputation of the President will be severely damaged. Ironically, Israel needs a strong US President to take on the international community vis-à-vis Iran and the Israeli challenge could in fact weaken the President and the United States . The Government of Israel does not perceive that it is the party that has climbed high up the ladder. In fact, I have been asked in the past 2 days, by the Israeli national Security Advisor and the Director of the Policy Planning Research department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel: ‘what will bring the Palestinians down from the top of the tree?’ ” …

Gershon asks: “Why did Netanyahu make the challenge? One, because this is his ideological position. Two, because of the coalition pressure, especially from Lieberman and Shas who have turned the issue of Israel standing up against the world in to the new Israeli worldview. Lieberman says it everyday, we will no longer give into to any international pressure, we will make the world respect Israel ! And with a not to distant leadership crisis in Shas, Eli Yishai is building his leadership around the issue of Jerusalem as the Jewish Protector of Jerusalem. Three, there is the scenario spelled out above of a determined course to weaken the President and to ensure that he will not have a second term”.

Then, he says: “With the current Israeli coalition, there is no chance at all of moving forward on the peace process with the Palestinians. It is not at all sure that it is possible to move forward as long as Netanyahu is at the head of the government. There is hope, however, that the same dynamic that has influenced other Israeli leaders to radically change their positions could also happen to Netanyahu – as Rabin, Sharon and Olmert all stated: what you see from here is different than what you see from there”.

As Gershon sees it, for the U.S.:

1. Backing down is not an option. If the US were to give into Israeli pressure, the US administration would be perceived as weak, inconsistent with their own policies, and ineffectual. The prestige of the Office of the President would be compromised and Obama as an individual would be seen as a push-over which would have deep repercussions for the US foreign policy throughout the world and especially in the Middle East . US backing down would also strengthen the myth of the power of the Jewish Lobby in the United States and would probably lead to a direct rise in anti-Semitism throughout the world. So it is essential for the President that at least the three demands issued by Secretary Clinton are met by Israel . It is likely that Secretary Clinton’s position will be strengthen from the Quartet principles meeting in Moscow today.

2. An Israeli government shuffle could be a positive outcome of the crisis. A government made up of Likud (27), Kadima (28) and Labour (13) with 68 seats, even with some trouble making back-benchers in Likud and Kadima could, in principle, move faster than the current coalition. Moving Lieberman, Shas, United Torah, and Habayit HaYehudi into the opposition (there is a chance that United Torah with their 5 seats would remain in the coalition) would enable Netanyahu a lot more domestic room to maneuver into a real peace process (if he wanted to, of course). There is a possibility for the US to have influence in bringing about such a scenario through behind the scenes contacts, first, perhaps with leaders of Kadima and with others in the Likud including a direct conversation with the Prime Minister. Of course, US fingerprints on this should be completely invisible. To the best of my understanding the US has already been advancing this scenario.

3. Another possible outcome could be the opening of a secret back channel for negotiations – but only if Netanyahu was serious about moving forward. In fact, this would be recommended even if the official proximity talks do get underway. The question is how to break the current deadlock. Here I would propose the idea which I already presented months ago – an imposed process – not an negotiation on the process. In other words, the US would issue a document, in public or in secret, that would outline the negotiations process, the parameters of what the sides will talk about and the mechanism for the talks – either proximity or direct talks or a process of moving from proximity to direct talks. Those parameters would include statements such as: the negotiations will be conducted for a permanent status agreement between Israel and the PLO on the basis of previous agreements that would bring about the complete cessation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and be based on the two-states for two-peoples formula. The negotiations will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel . The territorial dimensions of the agreement will be based on the 1949 armistice green-line with agreed upon territorial swaps on a 1:1 basis. All permanent status issues will be on the table including Jerusalem, borders, refugees, security, water, economic relations, etc. The United States will serve as a mediator in the talks and when deemed necessary by the mediator, will submit bridging proposals to the parties for their consideration. The United States is commitment to a positive outcome to these talks and see their successful conclusion as a major policy objective of the Obama Administration. The letter of invitation to the first round of talks is issued by President Obama himself. Let’s see if Netanyahu or Abbas will refuse to show up. (It is essential that the US impress upon the parties the consequences of not showing up before the invitation is issued.

4. There is also the Thomas Friedman option – leaving the parties to stew in their own juice. This may very well be the preferred option of the Administration. It requires the least amount of effort and perhaps has the smallest damage on the President’s prestige, but it is also the most dangerous of options. There is a grass-roots campaign all over the West Bank to launch the “white intifada” of massive civil disobedience and direct confrontation with the occupation. It is very unlikely that such a new intifada would remain non-violent and it more than certain that the IDF will respond with a massive amount of force. The entire project of Salam Fayyad’s government would be at risk and all of the achievements of the past two years would disappear overnight. The right wing in Israel would grow in strength and there would be increasing alienation between the US and Israel .

5. There is another US policy option which is to embrace the Fayyad plan and government even more strongly than currently done. There are ways for the US to support the Fayyad plans economically and politically that would send a very clear message to Israel and to the world and would continue to advance regardless of the lack of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The US could exert pressure on Israel to transfer more parts of area C to the Palestinian Authority and to work with the rest of international community in preparing Palestine for Statehood. This could also have international consequences such as not vetoing a Resolution for granting Palestine UN membership in the Security Council.

There is no option for the US to do nothing. It would be advised that whatever the US does, it should be done in coordination and in full collaboration with the full Quartet”.

UPDATE: Obama has invited Netanyahu to meet him in Washington next Tuesday…

UPDATE TWO: The American Task Force on Palestine’s Hussein Ibish (who happens to be Lebanese) has posted some advice to the Palestinians on his blog (Ibishblog.com):
“The Obama Administration and the Netanyahu Cabinet, especially its right wing including Interior Minister Yishai of Shas who made the decision and the announcement, have been on a collision course for many months. Their visions of long-term peace and short-term negotiation strategy are totally incompatible, and as I’ve noted in the past, we now find ourselves in a most unusual situation in which the American position is closer to the Palestinian perspective on both of these registers than to the Israeli view. The added complication is that because of domestic political considerations, the United States is still politically much closer and provides much more support to the side in the Middle East conflict it now disagrees with more. In other words, yet again, there is a fairly radical gap between policy and politics that is rendering the quest for a reasonable peace agreement, and even reasonable terms for the resumption of negotiations, dysfunctional. For the Palestinians in this situation, obviously less is more. The controversy has had a life of its own, and the less Palestinians did and do to stoke the flames, at least in any obvious way, the more traction it will have for them. When other people (in this case the Israeli government) are doing your heavy lifting for you, sit back and let it happen. For the most part, Palestinians have done and said what they should have: very little. For those who are wondering why the Ibishblog has been silent on this controversy until now, consider the usefulness sometimes of saying little to nothing, and the silliness of a knee-jerk and adolescent impulse to always want to comment on everything right away, when sometimes judicious silence can be the most effective commentary of all. Netanyahu has managed to dig himself a remarkably deep hole, and it is imperative that Palestinians do not, as they have so many times in the past, pull him out of it through their own miscalculations. This can be done by incautious words as well as ill-considered deeds. What has happened that is so useful for the Palestinians is that American and international perceptions, especially in Washington, have now been reoriented in an extremely healthy manner” …

Ibish concluded: “Palestinians need to take a very sober and cautious approach to dealing with the ongoing US-Israel confrontation over settlements. If they overplay their hand, they will fail to reap any political or diplomatic benefits from what is an extraordinary opportunity. Not only do they have to not overreact, and to cast themselves as helpful and constructive in contrast to the defiance and obduracy of the Israeli cabinet, they have to understand what is genuinely useful to them and what is not. Palestinians DO benefit from a measure of tension between Israeli and American positions that allows the United States to be more evenhanded and to use its leverage and special relationship with Israel to push Israeli policies in the right direction. However, Palestinians WILL NOT benefit from a boiling over of US-Israeli tensions that produces a level of mistrust that, while not affecting the broader strategic special relationship, prevents any serious US influence on Israeli policies, and, worse, that might induce an administration to actually walk away from the issue and abandon peace efforts. There is no point in hoping for an end to the US-Israel special relationship, since there is no way of achieving this in the foreseeable future, and no need to achieve it in order to realize an end to the occupation. Palestinians can and should look for opportunities to leverage the special relationship and use it to pursue a goal that is in not only the Palestinian and American national interests, but in Israel’s as well, even if the present Netanyahu government does not fully understand this. That’s an achievable aim, and the present US-Israel confrontation offers a rare and extraordinary opportunity to push the ball towards that goal line”. This post can be read in full here.

Is there a "White Intifada"? Are negotiations on "maintenance"?

Aluf Benn has written in an article published in Haaretz this evening that “The Palestinian Authority is conducting a campaign to isolate Israel, based on the Goldstone report and the hatred for the Netanyahu government. Political scientists Shaul Mishal and Doron Mazza are calling it ‘the white intifada’, which is aimed at enlisting international support for a unilateral declaration of independence in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. In a document they distributed last week, they warn of Israeli complaisance and present a disturbing scenario: The Palestinians declare independence, and Israel refuses to recognize it and is faced with a boycott. Regardless of whether it yields or reacts with force, Israel cannot win, and will also lose control of the process. Therefore the two scholars recommend a preemptive diplomatic move … Obama’s approach – to ‘park’ the diplomatic process for lack of achievements and to concentrate on domestic issues – has not surprised Netanyahu. Three months ago, a senior Israeli official said the Obama administration would probably put off the Israeli-Palestinian problem to his second term, explaining: ‘Now they’re weak, they have unemployment and the economic crisis, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, and they aren’t emerging from that. They don’t have the strength to complete an agreement. In the meantime, the maintenance will continue.” U.S. officials are hoping talks will be renewed within six months. The main thing is that there be some negotiations. They have no expectations of more than that … In the coming weeks Israel apparently will request an American veto in the Security Council again, in order to bury the Goldstone report. Netanyahu is planning a fourth meeting with Obama, concerning the nuclear security conference in Washington on April 12 and perhaps even before then. The agenda will center on Iran – or ‘the new Amalek‘, as Netanyahu called it in Auschwitz on Wednesday. The question is whether alongside his demand that Obama take action against Iran, Netanyahu will also tell him that in exchange, Israel will take some sort of initiative vis-a-vis the Palestinians. This would be in an attempt to persuade the world to believe him and ameliorate Israel’s increasing diplomatic isolation”. This article can be read in full on Haaretz’s website here.

According to another report also posted this evening in Haaretz. “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday that he was considering the U.S. proposal to start indirect talks with Israel. Abbas was referring to a proposal made by U.S. Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, who suggested that negotiations between Israel and the PA would take place in the format of proximity talks, similar to the indirect negotiations that Israel held with Syria under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert” …

Continue reading Is there a "White Intifada"? Are negotiations on "maintenance"?

Sari Nusseibeh: stop negotiations immediately – they have become useless

Lawrence of Cyberia has translated an interview with Palestinian intellectual and dormant politican Sari Nusseibeh, head of Al-Quds University (now cut off by The Wall) in East Jerusaelem, that was published on 17 January in French in Le Figaro newspaper.  Here are a few excerpts from the Lawrence of Cyberia blog:

Why have the Palestinians failed?

We failed, it is true, partly because of our inability to negotiate or to understand negotiating, and partly because of our corruption. Still worse, while playing politics, while running after a state, we allowed the living conditions of our people to deteriorate significantly. Twenty years ago, Palestinians in Gaza had no political rights, but they could travel to the West Bank, or even to Tel Aviv, to work there, go to the beach, to the restaurant. But we also failed because of the other party, which didn’t want to give us anything. Today, the Israeli dynamic goes against any concession. They no longer see the need for a compromise. The Israelis think more than ever in a Machiavellian way, believing that force is the only thing that matters, that it is the only guarantee of survival. Why would they be interested in negotiations?…

What do you recommend today?

The latest plan I have proposed is a letter I sent six months ago to Obama and George Mitchell. I suggested they should immediately stop the negotiations, which have become useless; all the issues have been more or less settled, only the unsolvable points remain. Instead, the United States should propose its own solution to the remaining problems. Each side would put forward this plan to its own people in a referendum. The vote would take place on the same day, and the result would be conditional upon the acceptance of the other party”

These excerpts are from the translation posted on the Lawrence of Cyberia blog here.  The full original text, in French, is published here.


[Another exchange from the interview with Sari Nusseibeh published by Le Figaro that Lawrence of Cyberia posted, which shows a slightly less pessimistic attitude, is this:

What will happen to the Palestinians without a state?

We are still there, and that’s the paradox: in 1948, the Israelis wanted to create a state without Palestinians, and they almost succeeded in driving them out.  In 1967, their victory reunited the refugees with those who had remained in Israel. We were scattered, they brought us back together. The Israelis are sowing their own failure by their success. The colonization of Jerusalem and the West Bank, which makes impossible a two-state solution, will force Israel to live with a sizeable Arab population and to reconsider its democratic system“.