Friday, September 03, 2010

Cautious optimism about the Israel-PA talks

From The Australian, September 3, 2010, by Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council:

YESTERDAY in Washington, President Barack Obama formally launched the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians   ...International expectations for the talks are low because there appear to be a number of factors that make peace breakthroughs seem unlikely. Yet other factors offer room for cautious optimism for modest progress.

On the negative side, Abbas was essentially dragged to the table under pressure - despite a previous 18 years of near continuous Israeli-Palestinian direct engagement...

Abbas's ability to make a final deal stick is also in doubt. He certainly cannot claim to make commitments on behalf of the Palestinians of Gaza... But even in the West Bank, Abbas's ability to bring the population with him is unclear. First, his original term in office expired last year, and thanks to the split with Hamas, no new elections have been held.

...anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement in Palestinian media and schoolbooks remains a constant problem.  ...the incessant encouragement of hero-worship for Palestinian "martyrs" who committed terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, do not encourage support for peacemaking.

...Meanwhile, according to polls, the Israeli public overwhelmingly wants a negotiated, peaceful resolution of the conflict that ends in two viable states -and this is now the publicly stated position of all Israel's three major parties.

On the Palestinian side, there are also positive factors.  ...the past few years have seen the West Bank flourishing economically. Hopefully, it has been demonstrated to Palestinians that when they pursue peace with Israel, their economy, freedom of movement and wellbeing improve dramatically...

Admittedly, it is hard to envisage a deal on all the elements of what a final peace would require - especially Jerusalem, refugees, and recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. On the other hand, some sort of incremental agreement on West Bank borders and security arrangements looks plausible, according to most experts.

Thus the key to a more optimistic outlook on the renewed talks is for the parties and Washington to take advantage of the positives. The talks cannot be an all-or-nothing effort to reach a final deal - they must break the problem up into "bite-size pieces". For instance, there are certainly synergies between Netanyahu's ideas about building peace "from the bottom up", Fayyad's efforts at state-building and the call in the 2003 roadmap for peace for a transitional stage involving a "Palestinian state with provisional borders".

Despite the obstacles, there is a great deal that can be discussed positively - if the talks are approached with balanced perceptions of regional realities, realism, good will and creativity.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Fayyad: Murder "runs counter to Palestinian interests"

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is quoted "condemning" the terrorist murder in Hebron, which killed four civilians including a pregnant woman, and left 10 children orphaned, as follows:

"What happened tonight in Hebron was timed to coincide with the PLO's decision to engage in negotiations to end the occupation and achieve freedom and independence for our people ...We condemn this operation, which runs counter to Palestinian interests and against efforts of Palestinian leadership to mobilize international support for the rights of our people ...Our people know through extensive experience what serves practical and higher national interests..."

Any MORAL issues here Fayyad???????????

When the West Bankers Arrive in Washington…

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 113, September 1, 2010, by Hillel Frisch, Associate Professor of Political Science at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Research Associate at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Substantive progress in the peace process is hardly what Mahmoud Abbas is seeking to achieve in Washington. While he wishes to maintain an appearance of movement in the negotiations, he cannot yet afford to lose the Israeli army presence in the West Bank as the threat of a Hamas takeover there still looms. While all of the major political actors involved concur on this point, the pretense of peace talks is essential to keeping the Arab world at bay.

When Abbas arrives in Washington, he and his retinue will be focused on exclusively three issues – making sure that the settlement freeze continues, that aid which covers over 70 per cent of the Palestinian Authority budget will continue to flow into its coffers, and that there will be sufficient "momentum" in the peace process to placate the "Arab street." Any meaningful progress towards peace is simply beyond these West Bankers’ hopes or capabilities. Oddly enough, this very low threshold of expectations is supported by the only states that matter to the West Bankers – the United States, Egypt (and far less importantly, the other moderate Arab states) and of course Israel. The fanfare of appearances in Washington, then, is calculated to make up for the absence of substance.

Substantive progress in negotiating peace is hardly what Abbas and the West Bankers want, let alone feel they can get. The real reason for their reticence in making such progress since 2007 is related to the danger Hamas poses to the West Bank leadership. Though the number of West Bankers arrested by Israeli forces declined from 8,000 in 2006 to 5,000 in 2009, their sheer numbers still indicate that Hamas, and to a much lesser extent, Islamic Jihad, remain a substantial threat to Abbas, and that the threat of a Hamas takeover in Judea and Samaria has yet to dissipate.

Dealing with this threat entails good security cooperation between Abbas and Israeli security forces – an arrangement in which Israel deals with the Hamas terrorist infrastructure by night while Abbas’ security forces harass Hamas terrorists Israel releases by day – as well as the dismantling of social infrastructure that Hamas has created painstakingly over the years.

Abbas is essentially using the IDF to gain the kind of political and security foothold Arab leaders recognize as being essential to the art of ruling. He is also assuming the role of the traditional Arab ruler – controlling all the funds, avoiding elections (which will only be held if the outcome is a foregone conclusion), reducing the regime’s party to an arm of the executive, allowing no opposition, and making sure that his picture appears daily on the front page of the media. Only such a ruler qualifies as a member of the quintessential Arab leaders’ club.

...a Hamas takeover in the West Bank must be averted at all costs. This means, then, that no substantial progress in the peace talks can be made before such a danger is dealt with.

At the same time, the Iranian and Islamist threat to the “Western” alliance requires ...the impression of movement in the negotiations between Abbas and Netanyahu. This is necessary in order to placate the “Arab street” – to prevent it from threatening the moderate governments or feeding the ranks of the radicals – and to create the kind of political environment that would allow the United States and Israel to deal with the far more imminent Iranian nuclear threat.

Israel must not be diverted from pursuing its national interests by the “Arab street” argument. The Arab states, including Yemen and even the major political forces in Iraq, will fight to the death to maintain their privilege to rule....

 ...While it is true that bolstering the Arab state system is the bulwark against both the Iranian and Islamist threat, Israel must challenge the idea that this is predicated on the creation of a Palestinian state. No matter how adept Abbas becomes at ruling the West Bank, he is incapable of bringing the Gazans into the peace process. If ever a peace treaty were signed between Israel and Abbas, we can be assured that Hamas will launch Qassam rockets to make sure that the conflict is not terminated.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Four Murdered in Arab Terror Attack

From, 31 August 2010, by Gil Ronen, Hillel Fendel and Elad Benari:
Palestinian terrorists murdered four Jewish civilians in a shooting attack at the Bani Naim junction just south of Hevron Tuesday evening. Emergency service paramedics could do nothing to save the victims whose bodies were riddled with bullets.
The terrorists had reportedly made sure their victims were dead by shooting them from close range after the initial fusillade, as terrorists have done in prior attacks on unarmed civilians and children. The victims are a husband and wife, parents of six, and two passengers. Their names were cleared for publication Tuesday night by local police:
  • Yitzhak and Talya Imes
  • Kochava Even Chaim
  • Avishai Shindler
...Yitzhak and Talya Imes were the parents of six children ...Talya Imes was nine months pregnant when she was killed by the terrorists.
Kochava Even Chaim was a teacher in Efrat. She left behind her husband and an 8 year-old daughter. Her husband,one of the first Zaka first aid volunteers to arrive at the scene, discovered suddenly that his wife was among the victims.
Avishai Shindler had only recently moved to [the area] with his wife.
...Hamas took "credit" for the terror attack, while PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the attack and said that it is against Arab interests. [any other reason to condemn the murder, Fayyad??? - SL]
Fayyad added that the PA will act to prevent additional acts of terror, however he did not explain how it would do so in the future any better than it has up to now.
... The terror attack is typical of Arab "resistance" attacks that intentionally target civilian victims.
A survey carried out by a PA organization in early August found that among the Arab public in the Palestinian Authority,
  • over 55% view violence as either essential or desirable,
  • nearly 31% see it as either acceptable or tolerable, and
  • only 13.7% say it is unacceptable.
The attack was probably timed to coincide with and affect the direct talks between Israel and the PA in Washington, D.C., that are to begin Thursday. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said upon landing in Washington that the talks would proceed as planned, despite the murders, evoking memories of PM Yitschak Rabin's term "sacrifices for peace" for the post Oslo accord terror attacks, which cost tens of Israelis their lives....

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lebanon, Turkey, and next Iraq...?

From American Thinker, August 21, 2010, by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, intern at Middle East Forum:

With the official end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq, what bodes for Iraq's future in terms of its relations to other nations in the Middle East? One useful way to examine this question is through the lens of what Daniel Pipes describes as the present "Middle Eastern Cold War."

This new Cold War represents the current ideological division in the Middle East between the "revolutionary bloc," led chiefly by Iran, Syria, and more recently Turkey, and the "status-quo bloc," led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. While most Sunni Arab states align themselves with the "status-quo bloc," there are notable exceptions in that Qatar and Oman back the "revolutionary bloc," while Libya simply sits on the sidelines.

...the most recent sign of this Cold War could well lie in Iraq as Saudi Arabia and Iran jostle for influence. With the ongoing political stalemate that has created a power vacuum, it is Saudi Arabia's hope that the current Shi'a Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki does not retain his position in power for fear that he will tilt Iraq towards Iran's regional bloc. Meanwhile, Iran not only wishes for him to remain as prime minister, but also hopes for Maliki's State of Law (SOA) coalition and the Sadrist Iraqi National Alliance (INA) to form the backbone of a new government, whereas the U.S. views a coalition between SOA and Iyad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc as the best option.

Indeed, on repeated occasions, Saudi officials have been open in expressing their dislike for Maliki. For instance, in May, former Saudi intelligence chief Turki Al-Faisal accused Maliki of attempting to "deny the Iraqi people their legitimately elected government," meaning that Allawi should be given the right to form a government.

In addition, the Saudi government has made a series of goodwill gestures, including receiving several Iraqi politicians such as Allawi and the president of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani on visits to Riyadh in an attempt to contain Iran's influence in the country. Winning over the latter is viewed as especially important since the Kurdish parties are reported to have extensive economic ties with Iran that date back at least two decades, above all in the smuggling of oil and other refined petroleum products to Iran.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia has been trying to take advantage of recent, tougher sanctions against Iran to expand its influence in Iraq through economic cooperation with the country. For example, in July, a Saudi airline launched the first direct flights to Iraq in almost twenty years, having been suspended in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1991. Furthermore, Saudi food firms like Almarai have become involved in the export of foodstuffs to Iraq via Kuwait and Jordan.

Simultaneously, however, Saudi Arabia is concerned that Iraq's aspiring potential to produce some 10-12 million barrels of oil a day could dislodge it from its position as a leader of the OPEC cartel. Hence, cooperation in the field of oil production is nonexistent.

Despite these measures undertaken by Saudi Arabia, Iran and the "revolutionary bloc's" influence on Iraq is all too evident. Iran has repeatedly urged the Shi'a parties in Iraq to put aside their differences and form a ruling Shi'a-led government, fearing that allowing Allawi's Iraqiya bloc to form a government will lead to a resurgence of Sunni minority rule and Baathism. Also noteworthy, besides Kurdish smuggling of petroleum to Iran, are the already close economic ties between the key players of the "revolutionary bloc" and Iraq that will likely grow in the future as Iran, Turkey, and Syria continue to restrict Iraq's water supplies through building dams on the Tigris and Euphrates and diverting water for irrigation projects. This could create future "oil for water" trade schemes. Moreover, there are the Iranian-backed "Special Groups" like the Kataib Hezb'allah that can resort to insurgent-style attacks to quash any efforts by the Sunni Arabs to exert their diminished political influence and tilt Iraq towards the "status-quo bloc."

Thus, it is possible that Iraq will emerge as a sort of theatre of proxy warfare between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the near future.

Nevertheless, it is improbable that the struggle will be prolonged, as Iran, the leader of the "revolutionary bloc," and most of the Shi'a population of Iraq share the goal of ensuring Shi'a dominance in the country, such that Iraq, under a Shi'a-led government, will likely become an auxiliary for the "revolutionary bloc." This outcome becomes much more conceivable when one considers that Iran could well have nuclear weapons in the next few years, which will make it much harder for its rivals to contain Iranian influence in Iraq.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Netanyahu: Looking foward to peace and resumption of building

From JPost, 30 August 2010, by HERB KEINON:

...Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made clear on Sunday he did not back various compromise proposals regarding settlement building ...The government, he said, decided last year to declare a 10-month settlement construction moratorium. That moratorium was due to expire on midnight on September 26.

“There is a government decision to freeze construction only for 10 months, and when that period ends, the decision is no longer valid,” he said.

...The prime minister’s comments came as various Palestinian spokesmen continued to posit this as the central issue in the talks, threatening to walk out of the negotiations if Israel restarts settlement building.

Netanyahu has said that Israel’s position is that this would be one of the core issues to be discussed in the negotiations, and he would make no declarations before then.

Diplomatic sources in Washington downplayed on Sunday Palestinian threats to bolt the talks over this issue, saying that after it took so long and so much effort to get the sides to the table, the Obama administration would not allow either side to torpedo the talks so soon after they began anew, and certainly not before the US midterm elections on November 2.

Netanyahu, at the outset of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, said his goal was a peace agreement based on the following principles:

“The recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people,

the end of the conflict and of claims on Israel, that will stem from recognizing it as the national state of the Jewish people, and

the establishment of tangible security measures on the ground so as to ensure that there will not be a repeat in Judea and Samaria of what happened in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip after Israel withdrew from these areas.”

He said that there would obviously be many other issues, but that those were the “basic components” of Israel’s approach to the talks.

...“There shouldn’t just be a tactical halt between two wars or two outbreaks of terrorism, but a peace based on recognition, security, stability and economic prosperity between the two peoples that will endure for us and our children,” the prime minister said. “This is my goal and I very much hope that it is the goal of the Palestinian leadership as well.”

Netanyahu said that in addition to meeting with US President Barack Obama, he also hoped to meet in Washington with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah II...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Iran backing Shi'ite rebels in northern Yemen

From a World Tribune INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING, Friday, August 27, 2010:

JERUSALEM — Israel has determined that Iran is acting to destabilize Yemen.

The Israeli intelligence community was said to have confirmed reports that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was helping Shi'ite rebels in their war against the regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Officials said IRGC was relaying weapons and training to the Believing Youth, which operates in northern Yemen near the border with Saudi Arabia.

"Even now it [Iran] controls bodies that function as a state within a state, in Lebanon, Yemen, the Palestinian Authority, and other places," Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon said.

..."The Iranian regime spreads instability, supports terror, and oppresses its own people," Ayalon said. "It is impossible to accept atomic weapons in the hands of such a regime."

Officials said Ayalon was reflecting the assessment of the Israeli intelligence community that IRGC has established a presence in Yemen as well as in neighboring Eritrea. They said IRGC was using the Believing Youth to infiltrate neighboring Saudi Arabia, 10 percent of whose population is Shi'ite.

"There's also a possibility that Iran will make a military move against the Arab Gulf states and harm the flow of oil to the world, in which case the entire situation will degrade into widespread confrontations," Ayalon said.

Officials said Ayalon's address was meant to assure Iranians that Israel was a friend and that the Teheran regime marked a regional threat. They said Ayalon's broadcast was widely heard in Iran and the rest of the Gulf region.

"Israel bears no animosity towards the Iranian people," Ayalon said. "We have deep respect and aspire to cooperate with them to bring about a better reality in the region. The problem is intrinsic to the Iranian regime and its conduct, particularly regarding the nuclear issue."