Posted by Joshua on Friday, March 19th, 2010
All indications are that Obama and Netanyahu will try to patch up conditions for resuming proximity talks (which are a farce – read this) and smooth over their disagreements in anticipation of the AIPAC meeting this weekend, however, the larger issue of settlement expansion remains unresolved. Has the US agreed that Israel can build in East Jerusalem? Should Washington follow a policy of “Don’t ask and Don’t Tell” on settlement expansion as it does on Israeli nuclear weapons? These issues will fester – but for the first time, the US military took a stand, blaming some of its difficulties in advancing US policy on Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and the War al-Qaida, on Israeli intransigence and the ill will it stirs up among Arabs and Muslims. Will the AIPAC leaders still be able to focus the meeting on the Iran issue, as was they intended? Oh, and by the way, the US Department of Justice has been formally asked to begin regulating the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as the foreign agent of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Quartet of four nations that monitors the Arab-Israeli peace process, has come out with a somewhat fuzzy statement on Jerusalem, although it leans toward consensus on condemning Israeli expansion. It does, however, make a firm statement on upholding international law and the two state solution. It is hard to see how Israel will get around this legal issue to scuttle the two state solution. With the divestment movement showing some life after the Berkeley student vote and the EU’s decision to consider products manufactured on occupied territory to be non-Israeli and excluded from import agreements, the legal problems for Israel become more complicated. This problem is bound to grow in the future as Israel contravenes more international laws, pursues policies detrimental to the US, and faces the “rise of the rest.”
Israel supporters and Obama detractors are out in force, trying to blame him for the diplomatic flap. Their talking points – Obama chose to make in issue of Jerusalem expansion which is legal and which previous administrations (Bush) recognized as permissible; Obama isn’t hard on dictators, but is hard on its only Mid East friend, Israel. I quote a few below.
Finally, Fawaz Gerges has an excellent article on the Iraqi election results, arguing that fragmentation based on sect trumps party platforms and nation. It is doubtlessly informed by his experience as a Lebanese. Lebanon has proven that democracy cannot always solve national fragmentation – particularly when the fragmentation is re-enforced by religious differences that harden communal identities, when societies have only superficially adopted enlightenment concepts of secularism and division between church and state, and when neighboring states and great powers have penetrated society and political parties deeply, helping to preserve the fragmentation. This is perhaps the leading reason that Lebanese society has been obliged to accepted an overlord or Sultan through much of its history – an overlord that can keep the squabbling sectarian differences from expanding into civil war and total chaos. Gerges’ article raises the question of whether Iraq will be able to emerge as a viable nation with a power-sharing solution or whether it will settle into a Lebanese pattern and be forced to accept an overlord. Of course, Iraq, like Lebanon, is in a key strategic position and will tempt its neighbors to challenge each other for over-lordship. The sects and the divisions between them will be their playground. This reality of fragmentation and national weakness makes authoritarianism rational. It seems better than civil war and marginally less humiliating for its citizens than being subjugated by a foreign power. Is this why Middle Easterners challenge their kings and presidents in such small numbers?
Obama should table a Middle East peace plan
By Philip Stephens
March 18 2010,
Enough of charades. The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu is not interested in two-state solutions. For all his expressed eagerness to negotiate, Mr Netanyahu is unwilling to countenance a viable Palestinian state. His administration wants process, not substance – talks instead of a deal.
If any good is to come from the public humiliation of Joe Biden, the US vice-president, during his recent visit to Israel, it resides in the removal of residual doubts about Mr Netanyahu’s objectives. The Israeli prime minister has clarified things. ….Mr Netanyahu’s administration is fast closing down the already slim chance of a two-state solution. The expansion of settlements will soon make the difficult impossible. Mr Obama may have one last chance to advance the cause of peace. To grasp it he must present his own plan.
The Quartet Statement on Palestine
March 19, 2010
…..The Quartet reiterates its call on Israel and the Palestinians to act on the basis of international law and on their previous agreements and obligations – in particular adherence to the Roadmap, irrespective of reciprocity – to promote an environment conducive to successful negotiations and re-affirms that unilateral actions taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community. The Quartet urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001, and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem. The Quartet also calls on both sides to observe calm and restraint and to refrain from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric especially in areas of cultural and religious sensitivity. Noting the significant progress on security achieved by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the Quartet calls on the Palestinian Authority to continue to make every effort to improve law and order, to fight violent extremism and to end incitement. The Quartet emphasizes the need to assist the Palestinian Authority in building its law enforcement capacity.
Recalling that the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community, the Quartet underscores that the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties and condemns the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem…..
Recognizing the significance of the Arab Peace Initiative, the Quartet looks forward to closer cooperation with the parties and the Arab League and urgers regional governments to support publicly the resumption of bilateral negotiations, ….
2nd mystery ‘hit’
2010-03-19, New York Post:
In a possible sequel to the Dubai assassination, Israeli spy planes flew uninvited and unannounced over Budapest the same day a Syrian man was shot to death in his car, Hungarian media reported yesterday. Two Israeli air force Gulfstream V-type …
The Biden Incident
by Charles Krauthammer
Why did President Obama choose to turn a gaffe into a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations?
And a gaffe it was: the announcement by a bureaucrat in Israel’s Interior Ministry of a housing expansion in a Jewish neighborhood in north Jerusalem. The timing could not have been worse: Vice President Biden was visiting, Jerusalem is a touchy subject, and you don’t bring up touchy subjects that might embarrass an honored guest.
But it was no more than a gaffe. It was certainly not a policy change, let alone a betrayal. The neighborhood is in Jerusalem, and the 2009 Netanyahu-Obama agreement was for a 10-month freeze on West Bank settlements excluding Jerusalem.
World Citizen: Is Obama Anti-Israel?
By: Frida Ghitis | World Politics Review
Does President Barack Obama harbor anti-Israel sentiments? The question has gnawed at supporters of Israel ever since then-Sen. Obama became a credible presidential candidate.
LA Times [Reg]: No way to treat a friend
It is nice to see a real display of emotion from the normally dispassionate Obama administration. Unfortunately, if predictably, its ire is directed not against America’s enemies but against one of our closest friends. Vice President Joe Biden, in …
“…. Looks to me like the dog’s being walked back, veteran Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller writes. “The administration is keeping its powder dry (for now). They will push Bibi hard when it comes to the issue of an agreement — which is a decent strategy,” he said. “Unless he has given her a real nothingburger of a response in the call yesterday. Unless they want …regime change instead of behavior modification, this could be the smartest thing (the live to fight another day strategy) that they’ve done on this issue.”
The Israeli media is giving Netanyahu a very hard time over the answers he provided Clinton, an Israeli reader said. “He is taking [Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak [to Washington Sunday] with him to ensure that A) He gets some meetings and B) to possibly avoid a new round of hostilities with the administration. In their [Israeli media] words, he again is all about buying some time for no apparent reason or objective.”
Iran’s Opposition Seeks More Help in Cyberwar With Government
By NAZILA FATHI, NYTimes, March 18, 2010
At a time when the Obama administration is pressing for harsher sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program, democracy advocates in Iran have been celebrating the recent decision by the United States to lift sanctions on various online services, which they say only helped Tehran to suppress the opposition.
But it is still a long way from the activists’ goal of lifting all restrictions on trade in Internet services, which opposition leaders say is vital to maintaining the open communications that have underpinned the protests that erupted last summer after the disputed presidential election. In recent months the government has carried out cyberwarfare against the opposition, eliminating virtually all sources of independent news and information and shutting down social networking services.
The sanctions against online services — provided through free software like Google Chat or Yahoo Messenger — were intended to restrict Iran’s ability to develop nuclear technology, but democracy advocates say they ended up helping the government repress its people. “The policies were contradictory,” said Ali Akbar Moussavi Khoini, a former member of Parliament who now lives in Washington, where he pressed for the change.
The new measure will enable users in Iran to download the latest circumvention software to help defeat the government’s efforts to block Web sites, and to stop relying on pirated copies that can be far more easily hacked by the government.
But the government’s opponents say they need still more help in getting around the government’s information roadblocks.
“The Islamic Republic is very efficient in limiting people’s access to these sources, and Iranian people need major help,” said Mehdi Yahyanejad, the founder of one of the largest Persian-language social networking Web sites, the United States-based Balatarin. “We need some 50 percent of people to be able to access independent news sources other than the state-controlled media.” ….
Iraq’s fragmented democracy
Far from a triumph, Iraq’s national elections have created a constitutional and leadership vacuum as sectarianism prevails
Fawaz Gerges in Guardian
Sect, ethnicity, and tribe trumpeted other loyalties, including the nation.
For the foreseeable future, Iraqi politics will be toxically fragmented along sectarian, ethnic, and personality lines, though fear of all-out civil war is unwarranted. A week after the balloting, prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition and the cross-sectarian Iraqiya coalition, headed by ex-premier Iyad Allawi, were projected to win roughly the same number of seats – about 87 each – in Iraq’s 325-member parliament.
The Iraqi National Alliance (INA), a grouping of Shia religious parties closely linked to Iran, is set to come a close third with 67 seats, while the powerful main Kurdistan alliance of President Jalal Barzani and Massoud Talabani led as expected in Erbil, the autonomous Kurdish region, with 38.
Far from a triumph for democracy, the results threaten to plunge Iraq into a constitutional and leadership vacuum. With Maliki and his main rival, Allawi, falling short of the 163 seats needed to govern alone, they will probably need to ally with one or two blocs to form a coalition government – a complicated negotiating process fraught with security risks and that might last months, putting sectarian leaders back in the driving seat.
After the last parliamentary poll in 2005, sectarian violence erupted as political leaders clashed for more than five months in an effort to form a government. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed, plunging the country to the brink of all-out civil war.
Although the security situation has improved today, the next few weeks will test Iraq’s fragile institutions to breaking point. Unless Iraqi political leaders build a reformist, cross-sectarian government, they could squander precious security gains made over the last three years.
Early signs are not reassuring…..By honouring its commitment to withdraw American troops from Iraq, the Obama administration will begin the process of repairing the damage done by its predecessor and building a new relationship based on mutual interests, not domination. Iraqis must take ownership of their country, security and their future.
START PACKIN’: Anna Sui will be off to Syria Friday with her friend Keith Johnson for an upcoming episode of his Sundance Channel show “Man Shops Globe.” The pair plan to scour the grand souks in Aleppo and Damascus, which are supposed to be “more untouched” than those in Istanbul and Cairo, Sui said. Keen as the designer is to visit the land of “Lawrence of Arabia” creator T.E. Lawrence, she also has a few things on her wish list. “Dream items? I remember in the Iris Apfel show, she had some harem jewelry from the 19th century with parts that trembled. There were a lot of rococo pieces with hand-set diamonds. I like it when diamonds are not perfect — when they are hand-chipped,” Sui said. “I think Iris got them in Turkey, but maybe they have them there.” — Rosemary Feitelberg