Of all people, it is Dennis Ross who comes to Netanyahu’s aid

Posted: March 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

800px-Dennis_RossLaura Rozen has an excellent story in Politico.com on the internal battle in the administration regarding how to approach the Israeli government from now on.

Apperantly, while several people close to special envoy George Mitchell believe that the US must continue putting clear demands before Netanyahu’s extreme-right government in order not only to get some results, but also to restore the administrations credibility in the Arab world, some Oslo veterans, led by Dennis Rose, believe that the White House should avoid steps that might put Netanyahu’s coalition in danger. In other words, Dennis Ross actually thinks that the president of the US should be careful not to agitate Eli Yishay or Avigdor Liberman, because that might make the Israeli government fall.

This is what one of Laura Rosens’ anonymous sources had to say:

“He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu’s coalition politics than to U.S. interests… and he doesn’t seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this Administration.”

What some saw as the suggestion of dual loyalties shows how heated the debate has become.

Last week, during U.S.-Israeli negotiations during Netanyahu’s visit and subsequent internal U.S. government meetings, the official said, Ross “was always saying about how far Bibi could go and not go. So by his logic, our objectives and interests were less important than pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi’s coalition’s red lines.”

This development shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who follow Denis Ross closely. While I do think Ross truly whishes end the occupation and advance the two state solution, he is clearly a man living in the past, and his involvement in the Oslo process might stand in the way of his better judgment. He blames the Palestinians and the Palestinians only for the failure to reach peace in the end of the previous decade, and consequently, believes that the US must apply constant pressure on the Arab side in order to get results. This was the exact attitude taken by the Bush administration, and anyone can see where it got us.

Ross dedicated a chapter of his recent book, Statecraft, to the steps which should be taken by the US in order to promote a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinian. His ideas would have won him praises in the AIPAC convention, as they all deal with ways to deal with the Palestinian side. The only thing the administration have to do with regards to Israel, according to Ross, is declare its commitment to the two state solution – something even George W Bush didn’t have a problem saying.

Reading this book, I got the feeling the Denis Ross thinks that the Israeli PM is still Yitzhak Rabin. The notion that US policy should fall in line with a government ran by radical nationalists like Liberman and Yishay is so absurd, that I don’t even understand how he rationalizes it for himself. As Gidon Levi wrote today in Haaretz, President Obama did better service for both Israelis and Palestinians in the last two weeks than any other politician in the last decade. We should all pray he doesn’t let Denis Ross disrupt him.


Fighting Jewish colonization of East Jerusalem

Posted: March 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Settlements, the US and us, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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JERUSALEM – Around 300 people gathered in an unusually cold and rainy afternoon today for the weekly protest in Sheikh Jarrah, the Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem which is the recent target of Jewish colonization. Four Arab families in Sheikh Jarrah have been already evicted to the street with settlers moving to their homes. This week it was announced that 20 more housing unites for Jews are about to be built at the site of the old Shepherds Hotel in the neighborhood.

The attempts to colonize the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem are backed by the city mayor, Nir Barkat, and by the Israeli government. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused president Obama’s demand to halt construction in East Jerusalem until the city’s final statues is decided.

It is important to note that while Israelis are claiming that both Jews and Arabs can live anywhere they like in the so-called unified city, Jerusalem’s Arabs are in fact forbidden from buying houses in most Jewish neighborhoods of the city, due to legal matters concerning their statues is residents, rather than citizens of Israel. You can read a full explanation for this here, and see an extremely well-prepared Sky interviewer pushing Mayor Barkat on this issue in this video:

Among the protesters today were MK Dov Khenin of left wing party Hadash, former Knesset speaker Avrum Burg, and author David Grossman. “[Political] reality has changed dramatically after Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama,” Grossman told Ynet today. “Obama has done at last what he and the US should have done a long time ago.” Read the rest of this entry »


Rahm Emanuel goes after Bibi?

Posted: January 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

I didn’t like the “disengagement” threats that supposedly came from Rahm Emanuel last week. Thomas Friedman had the same idea a few weeks ago. It seemed weird back than, and it doesn’t sound any better coming from the White House now.

For those who missed the story, it all started when the daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported last week that Rahm Emanuel had a message for both Israelis and Palestinians:

“The US administration is tired of you, the Israelis and Palestinians. You’re wasting precious time and are missing an opportunity to make peace. There is going to be a stage in which we’re simply going to give up on this endless conflict and leave you alone.”

Soon enough, the American media caught up with the story, what caused Emanuel to claim he was misquoted.

The real problem, however, is not with the undiplomatic tone of Obama’s chief of staff, or with him threatening both sides publicly, but rather with the fact that this threat is actually no threat at all: Netanyahu’s greatest hope is that the administration would get off his back. If the US was to put the diplomatic effort on a hold, most of the Israeli prime minister’s immediate political problems would be solved. Emanuel acts like a parent demanding his 8 year old kid to stop beating up his younger brother, “or else,” he threatens, “I will go to my room.”

If the US was considering abandoning all of its interests in the region, it would have been another story. If the White House was threatening to stop the economical and military aid to Israel, Jerusalem would have had something to worry about. But this is clearly not the case. The current administration is committed to maintaining Israel’s military superiority over its neighbors, and Emanuel knows more than anybody what backlash the White House will suffer if it would even consider cutting some of the 3 billion dollars the US hands Israel every year (That’s why the right wing cheered Emanuel’s idea. Here is an example, on no else than the political blog of Israel’s best Basketball referee ever).

These kind of statements by Obama’s chief of staff looks, more than anything, like a sign of frustration, and it comes pretty early in the game. I don’t get this. After all we have been through, with all the damage of the lost eight years of George Bush, did the new administration really think that reigniting the process will be that easy?


End of the wasted decade / slightly optimistic analysis of the current moment in Israeli politics

Posted: December 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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Almost two weeks of intense political maneuvering ended yesterday. Many people on the Left got worried by Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to split the opposition Kadima party or to have it join his coalition. Both options, it seemed, would have made the PM even stronger, and everything that’s good for Netanyahu is surly bad for the peace process. Or isn’t it?

While I write here regularly against the current Israeli policies, and consider myself to be a part of the Left, I think that the last year have moved us closer to the end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, possibly also to the end of the siege on Gaza. The current political circumstances are pretty favorable, to the point that if I could have replaced Netanyahu with other Israeli leaders – say Livni or Barak – I probably wouldn’t go for it.

To understand why, we need to dive into the depth of the complex political dynamics in Israel.

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If left to do as he wishes, I have no doubt PM Benjamin Netanyahu wouldn’t make one step towards the end of the Israeli occupation. His ideological background is one that views the West Bank as part of the land of Israel; he believes that an independent Palestinian state would put Israel’s national security in danger; and his political base has always been on the Israeli right.

But political leaders have to consider political circumstances and limitations, and Netanyahu – unlike the two other PMs from Likud, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon – is extremely sensitive to outside pressure. And pressure came from the first moment Netanyahu entered his office.

First, there was the new approach from Washington. It’s not just Obama, but the whole backlash against the Middle East policy of the Bush administration. Furthermore, the world knew Netanyahu, and remembered him as the man who succeeded Yitzhak Rabin and almost single handedly buried the Oslo accord. And if somebody was ready to consider the idea of “a new Netanyahu”, along came the appointment of Avigdor Liberman to the Foreign Office and fixed the image of this government – quiet rightly, I must say – as the most extreme Israel ever had. Even Israel’s supporters are having troubles in the last year explaining the PM’s fondness for settling in the West Bank or defending the daily gaffe by the Foreign Minister.

And there was the war in Gaza. It’s hard to grasp how differently the international community and most Israelis view operation Cast Lead. Israelis see the war as a justified, even heroic, act against Hamas’ aggression – which was the Palestinian response to the good fate we showed in withdrawing from the Gaza strip – while most of the international community sees Cast Lead as a barbaric attack on (mostly) innocent civilians. And while the Goldstone report might never be adopted by the UN Security Council, the respond it initiated made it clear that in the near future – and unless something very dramatic happens and change everything (we always have to add this sentence in the post 11/9 world, don’t we?) – there won’t be another Cast Lead. The world won’t allow it.

All these elements – the change in Washington, the suspicious welcome the world gave Netanyahu and the respond to the war in Gaza – are forcing Netanyahu to do something he never planned to – at least with regards to the Palestinians: to act. That’s why he announced the settlement moratorium, and that’s why he is willing, according to today’s reports, to negotiate a Palestinian state on the 67′ borders, and even to talk about Jerusalem’s statues. And this is the man that won the 1996 elections after he accused Shimon Peres of agreeing to divide the Israeli capitol.

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Yes, I would have preferred a Hadash-Meretz government. But this isn’t, and won’t be an option in this generation. Right now, the political leaders with a shot at the PM office are Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, maybe Shaul Mofaz, and god forbid, Avigdor Liberman. Next in line after them are people with basically the same agenda.

I don’t trust Ehud Barak. I don’t know what drives him, I don’t think anyone understands what his views are, and I believe he has at least partial responsibility for the failure of the Camp David summit and the negotiations with the Syrians – and all that followed this failure.

With Kadima and Livni, it’s even worse. Under Ehud Olmert, this party brought to perfection the art of talking about peace and declaring wars. Read the rest of this entry »


Haaretz: Jerusalem hoped Obama fails to pass health care reform

Posted: December 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Akiva Eldar revels in Haaretz that Benjamin Netanyahu’s people and possibly even the PM himself were following up close the battle over the health care plan in the senate last week (my Italic):

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no stranger to internal political wrangling in the United States and how that relates to America’s international standing.

An American president who fails in the domestic arena will find it difficult to garner support in Congress and the court of public opinion for important issues abroad.

Health care reform was a kind of entrance exam for Obama before tackling the Mideast. Netanyahu and his aides did not conceal their hope that Obama would slip up and lose prestige at home and abroad.

They assumed that a stinging defeat in this important area would tie Obama’s hands and force him to spend more time shoring up his position and the strength of his party.

Akiva Eldar – who is known for his good connections in the American embassy, not in the PM office – does not reveal his source for this item, which was published on the news section of the paper, and not as commentary piece. Personally, I don’t think someone in the PM office would be foolish enough to go public against the White House on what is a strictly domestic issue, but given the known hostility of Netanyahu’s people to the new administration, I agree that they wouldn’t have been too sad had the president suffered a blow on this one.


It’s the occupation, stupid / some thoughts on the Intifada’s 22ed anniversary

Posted: December 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »
Hebron, 1990 (photo: Nathan Alpert)

Hebron, 1990 (photo: Nathan Alpert)

Last week marked 22 years to the first Intifada, the Palestinian popular uprising which broke in Jebalia refugee camp following a deadly car accident near the Erez Crossing on December 8th, 1987.

Surprisingly enough, I hardly saw any mention of this on the Israeli media. It is not one of this nice “round’ anniversaries that editors love, like 10 or 25 years, but given the importance of the Intifada – alongside with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, it’s probably the central event of the decade in the Middle East – you would expect something.

On second though, perhaps this momentary amnesia is understandable. There is something about the first Intifada which doesn’t fit the Israel narrative regarding the relations with the Palestinians. We tell again and again the story of the peace-seeking-Israelis and the Arab-rejectionism, yet prior the first Intifada Israel had 20 years to hand the Palestinians some rights, but we didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Israel did promised to hand the Palestinians autonomy – not even independence, just a chance to manage their own business – as part of the 1979 peace agreement with Egypt, but when the moment came to deliver, we chose instead to built more settlements.

By today’s standards, the first Intifada was almost a peaceful struggle. There were violent demonstrations and stones throwing, as well as cases of stabbings, but rallies and general strikes played an important part in the protest. In the first few days, even weeks, the Intifada had no leaders – certainly not the PLO, who was just as surprised as Israel by the events. The Israeli Right likes to see every Arab move as part of “the phased plan” against Israel, but no reasonable person can find in the first Intifada this sort of well orchestrated attempt to destroy the Jewish state. It was a popular uprising. A violent one, perhaps, but given the living conditions of the Palestinians (Jebalia Camp, where the Intifada started, is said to be one of the most crowded places on earth, if not the crowded), the twenty years of military rule they suffered, the taking of their lands, and the total lack of hope that things might get better – the Intifada was justified.

It was not about destroying Israel. It was about the occupation.

More than ever, it is important to remember this fact. when it comes to the Palestinian problem, Israeli governments have been raising all sort of Issues, demands and sub-narratives, sometimes very successfully.  But in the last forty years, the fundamental problem is not security, because Israel wasn’t willing to leave the West bank or give the Palestinians their rights even when there wasn’t terrorism; it is also not some Arab governments’ refusal to normalize relations with Israel; it is not Iran or Syria, and it is not the lack of water or the question of access to holy places. All these are important issues that influence and are influenced by what’s happening between Israelis and Palestinians, but the heart of the matter is that Israel is keeping millions of people for 42 years now without civil rights, and without offering any serious solution to this problem.

Here is a naïve question: why is it the world that has to beg Israel to freeze the settlements or hand the Palestinians their rights? Don’t Benjamin Netanyahu or Ehud Barak – who take pride in “the only democracy in the Middle East” – understand that you can’t keep people with no rights for decades, so they must have Barack Obama explain that to them? And if Obama didn’t exist, and Netanyahu could have gotten everything his way, what does he think should be done with the Palestinians?

Me and some other reporters tried to ask Netanyahu this when he came to my paper just before the elections. He didn’t come up with a serious answer.

It’s not about Obama, It’s the occupation, stupid. Read the rest of this entry »


Bill Clinton: If there won’t be peace, it’s because of “political complexity of Israeli government”

Posted: December 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

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Former US president, Bill Clinton, thinks there is a chance for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians this year. This is from his interview at Foreign Policy:

“I think that the long-term trend lines are bad for both sides that have the capacity to make a deal. Right now, Hamas is kind of discredited after the Gaza operation, and yet [the Palestinian Authority] is clearly increasing [its] capacity. They are in good shape right now, but if they are not able to deliver sustained economic and political advances, that’s not good for them. The long-term trends for the Israelis are even more stark, because they will soon enough not be a majority. Then they will have to decide at that point whether they will continue to be a democracy and no longer be a Jewish state, or continue to be a Jewish state and no longer be a democracy. That’s the great spur.”

What’s even more interesting is the reason Clinton is giving for why there might not be a peace agreament after all:

“I think one of the surprising things that might happen this year [2010] is you might get a substantial agreement. Nobody believes this will happen, and it probably won’t, because of the political complexity of the Israeli government.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Two things to watch in the next few weeks (and a good word for pro-Palestinian activism)

Posted: December 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

After PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced his partial settlement moratorium, many observers were right in noting that Israeli leaders had no problems declaring a settlement freeze in the past and than doubling their building efforts in the West bank and East Jerusalem. Therefore, monitoring what’s happening on the ground will play a major role in the months to come.

Before we can hope for renewal of negotiations, there are political developments that will have to play out on both Israeli and Palestinian side. This might take between few weeks, even months.

On the Israeli side, we will have to see if Netanyahu will actually stop construction in the West Bank, or if this is just another one of the Israeli stalling games we have seen before. As I wrote, I don’t trust the PM, but constant pressure from the US and from Labor might actually make him turn his back to the settlers. There is already some minor protest from the right against the moratorium, and it remains to be seen whether this is a real split between Netanyahu and the “ideological right” or just a show for the media. We have known this before as well.

On the Palestinian side, we have yet to find out the effect of the Shalit deal on the relations between Fatah and Hamas. If Abu-mazen does resign in two weeks or so, anything can happen. It can pave the road for negotiations with Israel under a new Palestinian leadership (perhaps Marwan Barguti. there are contradicting reports on the possibility of his release), or it can lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and an end to the peace process as we know it. Read the rest of this entry »


What moratorium? Netanyahu playing games

Posted: November 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The top news item this evening on walla.co.il – Israel’s most popular web site – reads as follows: “Netanyahu in a message to Obama: Abu-Mazen has no more excuses”. I think this sums it all up. The settlements moratorium PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced was never intended to re-ignite the peace process. It’s not a step toward the Palestinians. It is, as Netanyahu all but put it himself, a message to the White House, asking it to get off our back, and start blaming the Arabs for the occupation, like they did until a year ago.

Netanyuahu and Barak know very well that the Palestinians won’t settle for this. A moratorium that does not include Jerusalem, does not include public buildings, does not include projects already under construction, does not include “security needs”? – what is it exactly that it does include? No wonder all the Right wing’s ministers but one voted for it!

In the State Department’s briefing today, George Mitchell was walking a thin line: wanting to praise Netanyahu, but at the same time being very careful not to say that the Americans got what they asked for:

The steps announced today are the result of a unilateral decision by the Government of Israel. This is not an agreement with the United States, nor is it an agreement with the Palestinians. United States policy on settlements remains unaffected and unchanged. As the President has said, America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.

We recognize that the Palestinians and other Arabs are concerned because Israel’s moratorium permits the completion of buildings already started and limits the effect of the moratorium to the West Bank – concerns which we share.

As to Jerusalem, United States policy remains unaffected and unchanged. As has been stated by every previous administration which addressed this issue, the status of Jerusalem and all other permanent status issues must be resolved by the parties through negotiations.

And if the US thinks that’s not enough, how can a Palestinian leader agree to negotiate with Netanyahu now? It will be as if he is saying “go ahead, do your stuff in Jerusalem. I’m cool with that.”

Abu-Mazen can barley hold on to his post right now, with Israel is doing all it can to undermine him. This week Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman declared again that the Palestinian Authority asked Israel to invade Gaza. Imagine what happens to the Palestinian president if he sits to talk with Netanyahu and Liberman, when they not only humiliate him this way, but declare that they will go on settling East Jerusalem?

Here is a naïve question: why is it the world that has to beg Israel to stop building the settlements? The whole goal of this 42 years old project was to prevent the establishing of a Palestinian state or handing back the West Bank to Jordan (it was funny to hear Sarah Palin says that the settlements has something to do with housing needs for Jews. Then again, I wonder if she can find the West Bank on a map, or the entire Middle East for that matter). Now, if Israel is going to evacuate most of the area anyway – and Netanyahu said so himself, didn’t he? – Why go on building there? Why move there people that you will have to evacuate and compensate in a few years?

Israel is playing games, and it’s all too familiar. Read the rest of this entry »


WH about to make disastrous mistake? Yossi Beilin thinks so

Posted: November 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Yossi Beilin, the former head of Meretz party, who is known for his good sources on both Israeli and Palestinian sides, believes the current path the US administration is taking in its effort to restart negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians might lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

“I’m afraid we are facing disaster,” Beilid said.

Ynet’s Attila Somfalvi reports:

During a ceremony at the Jaffa residence of French Ambassador Chritophe Bigot (…) Beilin said he has learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to declare a 10-month settlement freeze. According to him, the Palestinian will not accept such a move and may dissolve as a result.

Beilin said the construction freeze will not include Jerusalem or building in the West Bank that is aimed at accommodating “natural growth” within the Jewish communities there.

“The Americans will say they had nothing to do with the declaration but that it indicates major progress and will call for resuming peace negotiations. The Palestinians will say, ‘No’,” according to Beilin.

“Such an announcement will create a vacuum, because the Palestinians will say that this marks the first time that the Americans recognize Israeli construction in the territories,” said the former Knesset member, “This may lead to the PA’s collapse.”

Read the rest of this entry »