Friday, May 22, 2009

Netanyahu: Jerusalem will never be divided

From THE JERUSALEM POST, May. 21, 2009, by Etgar Lefkovits:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed Thursday never to divide Jerusalem, and pledged to keep the capital united under Israeli sovereignty.

"Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided," Netanyahu said at the official state ceremony marking Jerusalem Day and the reunification of the capital during the Six Day War 42 years ago.

"Only under Israeli sovereignty will united Jerusalem ensure the freedom of religion and freedom of access for the three religions to the holy places," he added.

The prime minister prefaced his remarks with a reference to his meetings with US President Barack Obama and other American officials earlier in the week, saying he had made the same declarations during that trip.

In an earlier address, President Shimon Peres said that Jerusalem, while sacred to others, is the only capital Israel and the Jewish people have ever known.

"Jerusalem is held sacred by half of mankind [but] it has been and always will be Israel's capital. We never had another and it has never been the capital of any other people."

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat lauded Netanyahu for his opposition to divide Jerusalem.

"With the world examining us let it be said here: We will never divide Jerusalem," Barkat said...

Barack Obama to unveil peace plan in Cairo

From The Australian May 22, 2009, by Abraham Rabinovich, Jerusalem:

US President Barack Obama is expected to outline a far-reaching proposal for a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement in Cairo next month that will flesh out the Saudi-initiated Arab Peace Plan proposed in 2002 in a way that makes it more palatable to Jerusalem but also requires the Jewish state to make major concessions.

Under the Obama proposal, Palestinian refugees would not be permitted to return to Israel, but they would be permitted to return to the Palestinian state that would arise on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Those who continue to reside in Arab countries where they have been largely confined to refugee camps for 60 years would be given citizenship of those countries, ending their refugee status.

On the critical question of Jerusalem, Mr Obama will support the Arab demand that Palestinians be permitted to establish their capital in East Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in the Six Day War in 1967. However, the walled Old City at the heart of Jerusalem, where the principal holy sites of Christianity, Judaism and Islam are located, would become an international enclave and fly the UN flag.

The Palestinian state would be demilitarised, maintaining a significant police force to keep order but not an army that might pose a security threat to Israel.

The pre-Six Day War borders between Israel and the Palestinian territories would be modified, but only by mutually agreed territorial exchanges, not unilateral annexation.

The proposal was reported by the prestigious Arab-language newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, which is published in London. The paper said the plan would be unveiled by Mr Obama when he gives his much-touted address to the Muslim world in Cairo next month.

According to the newspaper, Mr Obama's plan was drawn up in consultation with Jordan's King Abdullah, who was the first Arab leader to be invited by the President to Washington. The two had first met in Amman last year during Mr Obama's tour of the Middle East as part of his presidential campaign.

After returning from Washington three weeks ago, the king spoke to other Arab leaders in the region, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in a rapid shuttle.

He then gave an interview to The Times of London in which he said Israel was in a position to win recognition from all 57 Muslim countries if it came to terms with the Palestinians.

He said that a peace deal to be brokered by the Americans would be the most comprehensive since the Madrid peace conference in 1991. To sweeten the deal, Israel would be offered immediate benefits such as entry visas to all Arab countries and the right of El Al, Israel's national carrier, to overfly Arab territory.

Acceptance of Israel by all Arab states would, the thinking goes, give Israel the confidence to make concessions to the Palestinians, something more difficult to do when it faces a sea of hostile faces around it.

Should Israel choose, however, to procrastinate instead of accepting a two-state solution, it would be likely to find itself at war within 12 to 18 months, the king said.

Israeli officials said yesterday that the details of the Obama plan outlined in Al Quds Al Arabi had not been given to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he met Mr Obama on Monday.
But they did not deny the report's plausibility. It is a measure of the new relationship between Washington and Jerusalem since Mr Obama assumed office that such a far-reaching plan would be run by an Arab leader before it was shared with an Israeli leader.

No less noteworthy is Mr Obama's decision to visit Cairo on his first presidential trip to the Middle East, without visiting adjacent Israel.

Mr Obama has put more distance between himself and Israel than previous US leaders. But his moves are perceived in Israel as understandable - many would even say praiseworthy - attempts to restore US credibility in the Arab world.

A US administration acceptable to the Arab world has a far greater chance of using its good offices to bring about peace in the region.

Mr Obama's speech in Cairo on June 4 will be a major address to the entire Muslim world, and will not focus exclusively on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. It will aim to rebuild US relations with the Muslim world that were knocked askew following the attacks on September 11, 2001.

4 Accused of Bombing Plot at Bronx Synagogues

From The New York Times, May 21, 2009, by AL BAKER and JAVIER C. HERNANDEZ:

Four men were arrested Wednesday night in what the authorities said was a plot to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down military planes at an Air National Guard base in Newburgh, N.Y.

The men, all of whom live in Newburgh, about 60 miles north of New York City, were arrested around 9 p.m. after planting what they believed to be bombs in cars outside the Riverdale Temple and the nearby Riverdale Jewish Center, officials said. But the men did not know the bombs, obtained with the help of an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were fake.

The arrests capped what officials described as a “painstaking investigation” that began in June 2008 involving an F.B.I. agent who had been told by a federal informant of the men’s desire to attack targets in America. As part of the plot, the men intended to fire Stinger missiles at military aircraft at the base, which is at Stewart International Airport, officials said.

...Law enforcement officials identified the four men arrested as James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, all of Newburgh. [Corrected report: One is a Haitian immigrant and the other three are African-Americans; none are of Arabic descent.] At least three were United States citizens, according to officials. They are all Muslim, a law enforcement official said.

...Political leaders responded to the news of the arrests with statements expressing relief.

“This was a very serious threat that could have cost many, many lives if it had gone through,” Representative Peter T. King, Republican from Long Island, said in an interview with WPIX-TV. “It would have been a horrible, damaging tragedy. There’s a real threat from homegrown terrorists and also from jailhouse converts.” ...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

State Department Islamist Outreach

From IPT News, May 17, 2009 [excerpt only, with my emphasis added ...follow the link to read the full original piece - SL]:

New booklet, "Being Muslim in America," taps the wrong messengers

With the United States battling Islamist extremists, making America's case to Muslims around the world has never been more of a priority for policymakers. Unfortunately, the State Department continues to take a counterproductive approach: serving as a veritable infomerclal promoting Islamist organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) while giving the back of the hand to the very anti-jihadist Muslims that Washington should be cultivating. The latest example is a State Department booklet issued in March titled "Being Muslim in America."

It is part of an outreach effort that began under President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and is moving forward under President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The goal behind publication of the 64-page booklet is laudable: to arm consular officers and diplomats with information they can take to Muslims around the world to rebut slanders about U.S. "persecution" of Muslims. The booklet deluges readers with color pictures, statistical tables and individual profiles in an effort to show the world that American Muslims are a success story, noting that they have become entrepreneurs, professional athletes, entertainers, doctors, soldiers, firefighters, politicians, fashion designers, and pianists.

...many slanders against the United States come from the same groups that are portrayed favorably in the State Department booklet.

...The purpose of publishing "Being Muslim in America" is "to disabuse people of wildly false myths of the United States -- that 'Muslims are repressed, marginalized...' " according to Michael Friedman, division chief of print publications with the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs, which is overseeing distribution of the publication.

...Asked whether similar booklets had been produced for other faiths, Friedman said no. With limited funding available, decision was made to produce a publication on American Muslims because "the struggle against Islamic terrorism is a struggle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world," he said.

...Unfortunately, the substance of the booklet is so flawed that it could undermine the struggle against this form of radicalism. It perpetuates the mythology that American Muslims are united in the belief that law enforcement and the public are willing to flout innocent Muslims' civil rights post-September 11...

...From reading it, one would have no idea that there have been numerous convictions and guilty pleas on terrorism-related charges since September 11 that involved Muslims living in the United States, including terrorist plots to attack the military base at Ft. Dix, N.J., to create a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon and to attack U.S. military and Jewish targets in California.

Also omitted from the booklet is the fact that organizations like CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) were listed by the government as unindicted co-conspirators in the federal government's prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) -- in which the Justice Department won convictions of five former HLF officials for providing money to the terrorist organization Hamas.

...from reading ..."Being Muslim in America," one would get the impression that public concern about Islamist terror has no basis in reality and is merely the result of backward Americans' "discrimination and resentment."

...In reality, CAIR was created as a front for Hamas and it has defended radical Islamists since 1994. See the IPT dossier on CAIR

CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad typifies this see-no-evil attitude toward jihadist terror. He has repeatedly defended the HLF. At a May 2003 forum at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, an audience member commented that the Justice Department has released reams of information showing that the HLF and another charity whose assets were frozen "have direct connections and in fact their leadership was the leadership of al Qaeda and Hamas." Awad replied: "I am sure if we…put under the microscope, every major civic or political organization in this country, including the Red Cross, you will see that some dollars went here and there in some country, but you don't shut down the entire operation of the Red Cross."

CAIR officials dismissed the verdict of 12 jurors in HLF's Hamas-financing trial as "based more on fear-mongering than on the facts" and predicted it would be overturned on appeal.

Awad has steadfastly defended Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) supporter Sami Al-Arian, despite evidence that Al-Arian served on the PIJ governing board. Al-Arian is fighting a criminal contempt charge, triggered by his refusal to testify before a federal grand jury investigating terror financing in Virginia despite a grant of immunity. He claims his 2006 plea agreement to conspiring to provide goods and services to the PIJ absolved him of any future testimony, be it voluntary or compelled by subpoena. The plea agreement itself contains no such language. U.S. District Judge James S. Moody blasted Al-Arian as a "master manipulator" at his sentencing in the PIJ support case, saying Al-Arian lied to the public about his PIJ support.

Yet, during an August 2008 forum on the contempt case, Awad argued it was motivated by bigotry against Muslims:

"And I believe he's being punished for this, belonging to a minority – Palestinian, Arab, Muslim in America is not like the best thing to be in America today. So he's being the victim of this malicious misunderstanding in this midst of increased Islamophobia in America."

Ignoring Moderate Muslim Viewpoints
Zuhdi Jasser, a Phoenix, Arizona doctor who heads the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, likened the booklet's depiction of Muslim life in the United States to Cold War-era propaganda falsely portraying Communist dictatorships as "worker's paradises" in which everyone was working toward a common goal and factionalism didn't exist. American Muslims are divided between Islamists seeking to establish a caliphate and non-Islamists who want to live under the American Constitution on equal terms with non-Muslims, Jasser said. And similar divisions exist in the Middle East between non-Islamists and Islamists.

"In some ways, it's insulting to Muslims in the Middle East -- if we need to portray Muslims as being 'normal' in America," Jasser told IPT News. "It's almost as if we have something to be sorry for in America." Jasser said he would prefer that the State Department not be in the business of distributing a booklet about Islam in this country. "But if they decide to get into it, they need to talk about the ideological differences" among Muslims in the United States, he said. If State fails to do this, Muslims reading this booklet around the world "will wonder why State won't talk about the real schisms in Islam -- schisms they see in their own lives."

No less disturbing is the fact that time and again, "Being Muslim in America" confers undeserved legitimacy on radical Islamist groups and individuals, while whitewashing radical groups. For example, Muslims pictured under a CAIR banner are described as marching "to support volunteerism." On the same page, Salam Al-Marayati of MPAC is cited as an authority on "the American Muslim identity." NYPD Muslim Chaplain Khalid Latif, who helped quash a debate on a college campus over the controversial Danish Muhammad cartoons, is also the subject of a glowing profile. Ingrid Mattson's election as ISNA president in 2006 is included as part of a "Timeline of Key Events" in American Muslim history.

No mention is made, however, of questionable statements and activities of Islamist groups and persons receiving favorable treatment in the booklet. CAIR officials' past statements in support of Hamas and CAIR's connections with the Muslim Brotherhood are ignored. Readers are left in the dark about Al-Marayati's statement during a September 11, 2001 appearance on a Los Angeles radio program, where he suggested that Israel might have been behind the attacks on America earlier in the day:

"If we're going to look at suspects, we should look to groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the state of Israel on the list because I think this diverts attention from what's happening in the Palestinian territories so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies."

In March 2003 MPAC issued a counterterrorism policy paper advocating the removal of Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad from the U.S. government list of designated terrorist organizations.

In a January 19, 2009 Los Angeles Times op-ed, Al-Marayati attacked Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca for supporting Israel's military operation against Hamas' terror infrastructure in Gaza. As American public officials endorse Israel's "disproportionate military attacks against the Palestinians – put alongside images of carnage and destruction in Gaza," Al-Marayati wrote, they create "the best possible propaganda for fueling anti-Americanism in the Muslim world."

...And nothing was said about Latif's threatening March 2006 letter to NYU President Johan Sexton in which he suggested there would be trouble if the controversial Danish Mohammed cartoons were displayed. ISNA President Mattson's 2007 remarks rationalizing violent extremism as possibly "the only rational choice" to effect change in repressive states also didn't make the cut.

...Non-Islamist Muslim organizations like Jasser's AIFD and Muslims Against Sharia were ignored in the State Department booklet, while Islamist groups and individuals, including organizations like CAIR, MPAC and ISNA, got what amounted to an infomercial.

...Non-Islamist Muslims who have read the document strongly disagree.

Khalim Massoud, president of Muslims Against Sharia, said the State Department booklet "absolutely" legitimates Muslim Brotherhood-type organizations and undermines non-Islamists like him. "It boggles my mind how people who are supposed to protect us (the government) are advancing our enemies' agenda," he told IPT News.

According to AIFD's Jasser, by quoting Islamists like Mattson, the State Department is "reinforcing continued denial from Muslims that we have any role to play in a counter-jihad within Islam." When the State Department gives a platform to members of organizations like CAIR and ISNA (while ignoring the other side), "it sets things back, telling Muslims they don't have to reform their own house," Jasser said. "You tell Muslims these [Islamists] are the people we need to deal with."

And "Being Muslim in America" is not the only example of the messages of weakness that the State Department sends to the Muslim world. Elsewhere at, the State Department's Middle East & North Africa section of the site is replete with items like the transcript of a press conference in which Obama and Jordanian King Abdullah suggest that Israel and the Palestinians are equally responsible for the failure to achieve peace; a speech in which Vice President Biden urges Israel to end settlements and back a "two-state solution;" and a January 9, 2009 statement warning Israel of the consequences of misusing U.S- supplied weapons. Rather than telling the truth about the central role of Islamist radicalism in sabotaging peace, the State Department seems to waiver between moral equivalence and blaming Israel.

In short, the State Department continues to send foolish - - even dangerous -- messages to both friends and enemies of freedom in the Muslim world....

US senators to Obama: Consider risks to Israel

From Ynet News, 20/5/09, by Yitzhak Benhorin [my emphasis added - SL]:

As Netanyahu's visit draws to a close, Republican, Democratic senators send President Obama letter calling on his administration to push peace process forward while 'continuing to insist on absolute Palestinian commitment to ending terrorist violence'

WASHINGTON – A group of 76 US senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama Tuesday in which they expressed their "desire to see peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors" while stressing the need to take into account the "risks the (Jewish state) will face in any peace agreement."

The letter, signed by senators from both the Republican and Democratic parties, does not mention the disagreements between Obama and visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the peace process, but does state that " without a doubt, our two governments will agree on some issues and disagree on others, but the United States friendship with Israel requires that we work closely together as we recommit ourselves to our historic role of a trusted friend and active mediator."

The letter was sent shortly before Netanyahu was scheduled to conclude his visit to Washington. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) supported the senators' letter, which also called on Obama's administration to "continue to insist on the absolute Palestinian commitment to ending terrorist violence and to building the institutions necessary for a viable Palestinian state living side-by-side, in peace with the Jewish state of Israel.

"The more capable and responsible Palestinian forces became, the more they demonstrate the ability to govern and to maintain security, the easier it will be for them to reach an accord with Israel. We encourage you to continue programs similar to the promising security assistance and training program led by Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, and hope that you will look for other ways to improve Palestinian security and civilian infrastructure," the letter read.

The senators concluded by expressing their hope that Obama "will promote far greater involvement and participation by the Arab states both in moving toward normal ties with Israel and in encouraging moderate Palestinian elements. Everyone in the region has a stake in the success of these negotiations and should contribute to a lasting and comprehensive resolution."

A similar letter is being circled in Congress, and so far 200 representatives have signed it.

Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu met with members of the US House Foreign Relations Committee. The prime minister said he told the senators who participated in the meeting that the threat from Tehran remains a strong part of any equation for negotiations...

It's RECIPROCITY...stupid

From Crikey, Tuesday 19 May 2009, by Bren Carlill, Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council policy analyst [my emphasis added - SL]:

...newspapers will carry stories apparent rift between [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's and US President Barack Obama] ... In short, Obama strongly backed the need to establish a Palestinian state. Netanyahu refused to say the same thing.

People might ask, if international opinion is in favour of establishing a Palestinian state, and if the last three Israeli prime ministers likewise supported such an outcome, why is Netanyahu being so stubborn?

The answer comes from studying recent history. Netanyahu thinks that if Israel gives the Palestinians something they want, such as land, the Palestinians should give Israel something Israelis want, such as peace. It's how he understands the land for peace framework. [It's called REPCIPROCITY ...I said RECIPROCITY - SL]

Netanyahu saw that in the first few years of the peace process Israelis handed over lots of land, but got an increase -- not decrease -- in terrorism. So when he became prime minister in '96, he put the brakes on the peace process. He made it clear -- Palestinians would get no more land 'til Israelis got some peace. The peace didn't come; the process stopped.

After his '99 election loss, he saw how Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and how rockets increased after that withdrawal.

A decade later, Netanyahu's hands are once again guiding the Israeli ship of state. He'll be damned if he'll give the Palestinians statehood unless and until they are willing and able to run such a state and not use it as a garrison from which to stage attacks on Israel.

So, what's he doing about it?

He's continuing the program championed by Quartet envoy Tony Blair, to have an American general in the Palestinian Authority (PA) properly train Palestinian security services. The program has been a huge success, with law and order restored to a handful of Palestinian cities and more forces on the way.

He also believes endemic Palestinian corruption must end if Palestine is to be viable. The international community is in a prime position to help, by ensuring (not just demanding) that aid given to the Palestinians is accountable, and dependent on the PA ending anti-Israel incitement.

... checkpoints are being slowly, carefully, lifted. Combined with the newly trained Palestinian police, there is a slow, careful change in Palestinian governance and economy.

Netanyahu a pragmatist. He sees the Israeli control of Palestinians as a millstone around his country's collective neck. He wants it to end, but he knows if it ends without foundational planning, the result will be more poverty and more deaths (on both sides), with peace further away and harder to reach. History has proved this to be the case. Twice.

The most important issue vis-à-vis the Palestinians is that the West Bank does not become Gaza. If Israel were to pull out of the West Bank tomorrow, rockets would follow. Unlike Gaza, which is on Israel's periphery, the West Bank embraces Israel's industrial and civilian heartland. Rockets from the West Bank would shut down Israel's economy and bring about a massive military response. No one, except Hamas, wants that...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In their own words

From the transcript of the press conference with President Obama and PM Netanyahu, published in THE JERUSALEM POST, May. 18, 2009 [my emphasis added - SL]:

...OBAMA: ...I think we had a (sic) extraordinarily productive series of conversations...
Obviously, this reflects the extraordinary relationship, the special relationship between the United States and Israel. It is a stalwart ally of the United States. We have historical ties, emotional ties. As the only true democracy in the Middle East, it is a source of admiration and inspiration for the American people.

I have said from the outset that when it comes to my policies towards Israel and the Middle East, that Israel's security is paramount, and I repeated that to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

It is in US national security interests to assure that Israel's security as a (sic) independent Jewish state is maintained.

One of the areas that we discussed is the deepening concern around the potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon by Iran....

...Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would not only be a threat to Israel and a threat to the United States, but would be profoundly destabilizing in the international community as a whole and could set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that would be extraordinarily dangerous for all concerned, including for Iran.

We are engaged in a process to reach out to Iran and persuade them that it is not in their interest to pursue a nuclear weapon and that they should change course. But I assured the prime minister that we are not foreclosing a range of steps, including much stronger international sanctions, in assuring that Iran understands that we are serious...

...We also had an extensive discussion about the possibilities of restarting serious negotiations on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians. ... it is, I believe, in the interests not only of the Palestinians but also the Israelis and the United States and the international community to achieve a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side by side in peace and security.

We have seen progress stalled on this front. And I suggested to the prime minister that he has a historic opportunity to get a serious movement on this issue during his tenure.

That means that all the parties involved have to take seriously obligations that they've previously agreed to. Those obligations were outlined in the road map. They were discussed extensively in Annapolis.

NETANYAHU: President Obama, thank you....I was particularly pleased in your reaffirmation of the special relationship between Israel and the United States. We share the same goal and we face the same threats.

...the worst danger we face is that Iran would develop nuclear military capabilities. Iran openly calls for our destruction, which is unacceptable (inaudible). It threatens the moderate Arab regimes in the Middle East. It threatens US interests worldwide.

...I very much appreciate, Mr. President, your -- your firm commitment to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear military capability, and also your statement that you're leaving all options on the table.

I share with you very much the desire to move the peace process forward. ...we don't want to govern the Palestinians. We want to live in peace with them. We want them to govern themselves absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel.

And for this there has to be a -- a clear goal. The goal has to be an end to conflict. There'll have to be compromises by Israelis and Palestinians alike. We're ready to do our share. We hope the Palestinians will do their share as well.

If we resume negotiations, as we plan to do, then I think that the Palestinians will -- will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; will have to also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself.

If those conditions are met -- Israel's security conditions are met, and there's recognition of Israel's legitimacy -- its permanent legitimacy, then I think we can envision an arrangement where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in dignity, security and in peace...

...QUESTION: Mr. President ... about Iran's nuclear program. Your program of engagement -- policy of engagement, how long is that going to last? Is there a deadline?

OBAMA: You know, I don't want to set an artificial deadline. ...Iran is in the midst of its own elections. ... election time is not always the best time to get business done.

...I believe it is not only in the interests of the international community that Iran not develop nuclear weapons; I firmly believe it is in Iran's interest not to develop nuclear weapons, because it would trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and be profoundly destabilizing in all sorts of ways.

Iran can achieve its interests of securing international respect and prosperity for its people through other means. And I am prepared to make what I believe will be a persuasive argument that there should be a different course to be taken.

...we're not going to have talk forever. We're not going to create a situation in which the talks become an excuse for inaction while Iran proceeds with developing a nuclear -- and deploying a nuclear weapon. ...We should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction and whether the parties
involved are making progress and that there's a good-faith effort to resolve differences.

...QUESTION: Aren't you concerned that your outstretched hand has been interpreted by extremists, especially Ahmadinejad and (inaudible) Mashaal (ph), as weakness?

And since my colleague already asked about the deadline, if engagement fails, what then?

OBAMA: Well, it's not clear to me why my outstretched hand would be interpreted as weakness. ...We have put forward a clear principle that where we can resolve issues through negotiations and diplomacy... it's very important for us to give this a chance. Now, understand that part of the reason that it's so important for us to take a diplomatic approach is that the approach that we've been taking, which is no diplomacy, obviously has not worked. ...Nobody disagrees with that. Hamas and Hezbollah have gotten stronger. Iran has been pursuing its nuclear capabilities undiminished (ph). And so, not talking, that clearly hasn't worked. That's what's been tried.

And so what we're going to do is try something which is actually engaging and reaching out to the Iranians. The important thing is to make sure that there is a clear timetable, at which point we say, "These talks don't seem to be making any serious (inaudible)."

... by the end of the year I think we should have some sense as to whether or not these discussions are starting to yield significant benefits, whether we are starting to see serious movement on the part of the Iranians.

If that hasn't taken place, then I think the international community will see that it's not the United States or Israel or other countries that are seeking to isolate or victimize Iran. Rather, it is Iran itself which is isolating itself by (inaudible) -- being unwilling to engage in serious discussions about how they can preserve their security without threatening other people's security, which ultimately is what we want to achieve.

We want to achieve a situation where all countries in the region can pursue economic development, commercial ties and trade, and -- and do so without the threat that populations are going to be subject to bombs and destruction.

That's what I think the prime minister is interested in. That's what I'm interested in. And I hope that ends up being what the ruling officials in Iran are interested in as well.

QUESTION: Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister, can you each react to (inaudible) statement about a week ago that we really are at a critical place in the conflict and that if this moment isn't seized and if a peace isn't achieved now, soon, that in a year, a year and a half we could see renewed major conflict and perhaps more? And do you agree with that assessment?

NETANYAHU: I think we have to seize the moment.

I think we're fortunate in having a leader like President Obama and a new government in Israel, and perhaps a new understanding in the Arab world that I haven't seen in my lifetime.

You are very kind to me calling me young, but I'm more than half a century old. And in my 59 years, in the life of the Jewish state, there's never been a time when Arabs and Israelis see a common threat the way we see it today, and also see the need to join together in working towards peace, while simultaneously defending ourselves against this common threat.

NETANYAHU: I think we have -- we have ways to capitalize on this sense of urgency, and we're prepared to move with the president and with others in the Arab world, if they're prepared to move as well.

...OBAMA: Look, I think there's an extraordinary opportunity (ph). The prime minister said it well. You have Arab states in the region -- the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the Saudis -- who ...share concerns about Iran's potential development of a nuclear weapon.

...there is a recognition that the Palestinians are going to have to do a better job providing the kinds of security assurances that Israelis would need to achieve a two-state solution...The other Arab states have to be more supportive and be bolder in seeking potential normalization with Israel.

...Israel is going to have to take some difficult steps as well. And I shared with the prime minister the fact that under the road map, under Annapolis, there is a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements; that settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward.

...OBAMA: ...I recognize Israel's legitimate concerns about the possibility of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons when they have a president who has in the past said that Israel should not exist. That would give any leader of any country pause.

...To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians -- between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian threat.

Netanyahu: Israel retains right to defend itself against Iran

From Ynet News, 19/5/09, by Yitzhak Benhorin:

Although Obama refused to set deadlines for diplomacy with Tehran, Netanyahu says the two agreed in principle that Iran must not be allowed to obtain military nuclear capability. As for the two-state solution? 'First we must see if we're talking about a Hamas state,' says PM

WASHINGTON – "Israel has the right to defend itself," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday evening to reporters following his meeting with US President Barack Obama earlier in the day.

Netanyahu said that the US president "understands" that Iran must not be allowed to obtain military nuclear capability.

"There is no green light or red light. There is a principle we agreed on. The important thing said is that there is a commitment to an outcome where Iran does not develop military nuclear power. (President Obama) expressed that very clearly," the prime minister said.

Netanyahu failed to persuade the US president to set a timetable for the diplomatic efforts with Tehran.

Obama said he does not see the need for any "artificial" deadline for the talks with the Islamic Republic. He said however that Washington was interested in seeing progress on this front by the end of the year.

The US president said he expects a positive response from his diplomatic outreach to Iran on stopping its nuclear program by the end of the year. He said the United States wanted to bring Iran into the world community but declared "we're not going to have talks forever." Obama said he was not closing off a "range of steps" against Iran, including sanctions, if it continues its nuclear program.

Netanyahu acknowledged the importance of the meeting with the US president, which lasted for over four hours – an hour and 45 minutes of it a private discussion between the two leaders. The prime minister characterized the meeting as positive and amicable, and said both leaders believed they could work with one another. "He expressed a deep commitment to Israeli-US ties, and a commitment to Israel's security," Netanyahu said.

On the Palestinian track he added that in addition to demanding "concrete moves on Israel's part," Obama recognizes that the Arab world most also do the same towards Israel.

Netanyahu said that he told the US president the Palestinian Authority could have control over everything save for an army of its own or the ability to bring in weaponry. "If there is an understanding about the fundamentals, the other problems will be solved," he said.

The prime minister said he was confident in the steadfastness of the bilateral relations between Israel and the United States.

He also discussed the American demand that Israel freeze all construction in the settlements, saying such a move "would need to be realized as part of the commitments made by both sides. Israel went beyond (just freezing construction) in the Gaza Strip by dismantling settlements, and instead of dismantling terrorism, (the Palestinians) built a terror infrastructure in Gaza."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama, Netanyahu Agree on Peace, Differ on Priorities

From, Monday, May 18, 2009:

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree peace needs to come to the Middle East but their visions may differ, as the U.S. leader called Monday for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians and Netanyahu made no mention of a nation for the Arab people.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he is ready to restart Mideast peace talks right away as long as Palestinians immediately recognize the Jewish state.

Meeting with President Obama at the Oval Office, the new prime minister -- on his second tour as head of the Israeli government -- said he wants the Palestinians to have the powers to govern themselves, save for a few security measures that threaten Israel.

Netanyahu also appeared to differ from Obama, who on Monday called for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu made no specific mention of a separate nation for the Arab people.

"We don't want to govern the Palestinians, we want to live peacefully, we want them to govern themselves absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel. And to this end there is a clear goal, the goal has to be an end to conflict," Netanyahu said while taking questions from reporters in the Oval Office.

"We're ready to do our share. We hope the Palestinians will do their share as well. If we resume negotiations, as we plan to do, then I think that the Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, will have to also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself. If those conditions are met -- Israel's security conditions are met, and there's recognition of Israel's legitimacy -- its permanent legitimacy, then I think we can envision an arrangement where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in dignity, security and in peace," he said.

Obama said the Israelis must stop building settlements in the West Bank and should follow the outline from the Annapolis Conference convened during the Bush administration that laid out a "roadmap" to peace.

"I have said before and I will repeat again that it is, I believe, in the interests not only of the Palestinians but also the Israelis and the United States and the international community to achieve a two-state solution," Obama said.

"There is no reason why we should not seize this opportunity and this moment for all parties concerned to take seriously those obligations and to move forward in a way that assures Israel's security and stops the terrorist attacks that have been such a source of pain and hardship," he continued.

Before his Feb. 10 election, Netanyahu derided the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which stalled late last year, as a waste of time. Also raising hackles among Palestinians and the U.S. has been increased settlement activity, with settlers announcing Sunday that government officials have begun taking bids to build infrastructure for a fledgling Jewish community deep in the West Bank.

On the other hand, Israel's president, Shimon Peres, said Sunday in Jordan that Netanyahu would abide by agreements signed by his predecessors, including the U.S.-backed Mideast peace plan calling for a two-state solution to the conflict with Palestinians.

Peres said progress depended on an end to attacks by Hamas militants and greater Palestinian efforts to ensure Israel's security. Netanyahu said he does not want another Gaza on Israel's border, where rockets frequently rain down on Israeli towns.

Meanwhile, sources close to the Israeli government recently told FOX News that Netanyahu was to seek assurances from Obama that neighboring Arab nations will back the weak Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas in concessions for peace.

Netanyahu said realities on the ground are changing.

Why Netanyahu and Obama see key issues differently...

An Analysis in THE JERUSALEM POST, May. 18, 2009, by GIORA EILAND, a retired major-general and former head of the National Security Council; currently a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies [posted here verbatim]:

Three issues will be a likely source of dispute in Monday's meeting between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The first relates to Iran, the second relates to the Palestinian question and the third concerns the linkage between the two.

Israel is not disturbed by a US-Iran dialogue, but rather by what the United States may agree to as a result.

The United States's consistent position has been that to guarantee that Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons, Iran must cease its uranium enrichment program. Israel is concerned that Iran and the US will agree on the following formula: Iran will continue to enrich uranium (ostensibly for peaceful purposes) but will assure the US that it will not exploit its control over the nuclear fuel cycle to advance to the next stage and manufacture a bomb.

Israel will be hard-pressed to accept a formula of this sort, since de facto permission to enrich uranium leaves Iran the ability to channel it toward a military purpose whenever it likes, on short notice, and without advance warning to outside observers.

Regarding the Palestinian question, the assumption in the United States that there is only one solution to the issue, namely, the two-state solution, has intensified of late. The two-state solution, as it was conceived since Oslo (1993) through Camp David (2000) and Annapolis (2007), is as follows:

a. The Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea are the (only) possible borders for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

b. A Palestinian state will be established in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip based on the 1967 borders, with minor changes.

This solution is not attractive to either side (the Palestinian side must of course take into account the Hamas position) and is difficult, if not impossible to implement (it would require the evacuation of over 100,000 Israelis, at a cost of $30 billion).

Even if it is implemented, it does not ensure stability. On the contrary: Israel will not have defensible borders, and the Palestinians will not have the necessary conditions to create a viable state.

This solution rests on a number of assumptions, some of which are not correct now, and some of which were never correct.

Certainly the argument that this is the only potential solution must first of all explain why it has failed consistently, from 1937 through 2007, and especially why it failed in 2000, when conditions for implementation were far more auspicious than conditions today.

Israel's prime minister does not object to a political solution, and he quite understands that a political solution will compel Israel to cede control of most of the West Bank.

Yet unlike his predecessor, Netanyahu insists on the need to examine some of the assumptions underlying "two states" before engaging in serious negotiations on a permanent agreement. An examination of this sort may suggest different alternatives, or at the very least, improvements to the formula now on the table.

The third issue in dispute involves the linkage between the previous two issues. The United States contends that to isolate Iran, it needs the support of the Arab world, and in order to enlist the support of the Arab world (particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia), the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be resolved.

Israel feels otherwise, and for several reasons.

First, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan share a supreme interest in blocking Iran, and therefore they need no recompense in Israeli-Palestinian terms for something that is of the utmost importance in any event.

Second, to exert sufficient pressure, Iran must be isolated politically and economically. This can be achieved with help from Russia and China, and not with help from the Arab states. Enlisting the support of Russia and China brings with it a high price tag, but progress on the Israeli-Palestinian question is not the right currency.

Israel, in fact, feels that any potential connection between the issues should be reversed: In order to create the conditions for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and Syria, Iran's nuclear ambitions must first be blocked.

There is no reason that these differences of opinion should lead to a crisis. The Obama administration has not had any sort of dialogue yet with Israel's new government, and it is important to give this first meeting a chance.

The bottom line is that the United States's principal interests are not that far removed from Israel's. Both countries want to block Iran and both are interested in stable relations between Israel and its neighbors.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

World Watches for Washington Shift on Mideast

From The New York Times, May 17, 2009, by HELENE COOPER:

...will ...Mr. Obama ...take a different tack from his predecessors in his dealings with Israel?

That question...will take center stage on Monday, when Israel’s hawkish prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has his first face-to-face meeting with Mr. Obama since he became president.

In an interview broadcast Saturday on Israeli television, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, said he believed that in the meeting, Mr. Netanyahu would signal a significant policy shift for his new government and endorse the creation of a Palestinian state — perhaps reflecting uncertainty about whether Mr. Obama would accept an Israeli hard line.

...Mr. Obama’s past suggests why, four months into his presidency, the answer to the question remains elusive. His first book, “Dreams From My Father,” delves deeply into matters of race and nationality and the need to belong somewhere, issues that permeate the Arab-Israeli conflict. But in the book Mr. Obama does not address specifically how he views Israel and the plight of the Palestinians.

As a state senator in Chicago, Mr. Obama cultivated friendships with Arab-Americans, including Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American scholar and a critic of Israel. Mr. Obama and Mr. Khalidi had many dinners together, friends said, in which they discussed Palestinian issues.

During the 1990s, Mr. Obama also attended tributes to Arab-Americans, where he often seemed “empathetic” to the cause of Palestinians, said Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian-American journalist in Chicago.

This contrasts with ...many of Mr. Obama’s predecessors brought ...

“I think this president gets it, in terms of the suffering of the Palestinians,” said Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former United States ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “He gets it, which is already light years ahead of the average elected American politician.”

...“I think that Barack Obama, on this issue as well as many other issues, brings a fresh approach and a fresh background,” Mr. Levy said. “He’s certainly familiar with Israel’s concerns and with the closeness of the Israel-America relationship and with that narrative. But what I think might be different is a familiarity that I think President Obama almost certainly has with where the Palestinian grievance narrative is coming from.”

...During the campaign he struck a position on Israel that was indistinguishable from those of his rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain, going so far as to say in 2008 that he supported Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. (He later attributed that statement to “poor phrasing in the speech,” telling Fareed Zakaria of CNN that he meant to say he did not want barbed wire running through Jerusalem.)

Still, many Palestinian-Americans who hoped that Mr. Obama would come into office and quickly seek to press the Israeli government on Palestinian issues have been disappointed.

“In practice, despite the hype, there is much more continuity with previous administrations,” Mr. Abunimah said. “People get carried away with the atmospheric change, but the substance of the U.S. policy towards Israel has been the same policy.”

Last year, for instance, Mr. Obama was quick to distance himself from Robert Malley, an informal adviser to his campaign, when reports arose that Mr. Malley, a special adviser to Mr. Clinton, had had direct contacts with Hamas, the militant Islamist organization that won the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and that controls Gaza. Similarly, he distanced himself from Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser who was often critical of Israel, after complaints from some pro-Israel groups.

And Mr. Obama offered no public support for the appointment of Mr. Freeman to a top intelligence post in March after several congressional representatives and lobbyists complained that Mr. Freeman had an irrational hatred of Israel. Mr. Freeman angrily withdrew from consideration for the post.

But Mr. Freeman, in a telephone interview last week, said he still believed that Mr. Obama would go where his predecessors did not on Israel. Mr. Obama’s appointment of Gen. James L. Jones as his national security adviser — a man who has worked with Palestinians and Israelis to try to open up movement for Palestinians on the ground and who has sometimes irritated Israeli military officials — could foreshadow friction between the Obama administration and the Israeli government, several Middle East experts said.

The same is true for the appointment of George J. Mitchell as Mr. Obama’s special envoy to the region; Mr. Mitchell, who helped negotiate peace in Northern Ireland, has already hinted privately that the administration may have to look for ways to include Hamas, in some fashion, in a unity Palestinian government.

Mr. Obama’s meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, while crucial, may only preview the beginning of the path the president will take, Mr. Freeman said.

“You can’t really tell anything by what happened to me and the fact that he didn’t step forward to take on the skunks,” he said, referring to his own appointment controversy and Mr. Obama’s silence amid critics’ attacks. “The first nine months, Nixon was absolutely horrible on China. In retrospect, it was clear that he had every intention to charge ahead, but he was picking his moment. He didn’t want to have the fight before he had to have the fight.”

“I sense that Obama is picking his moment,” Mr. Freeman said.