June 2009 Archives
A new Peace Now analysis of Israel's 2009-2010 state budget shows that the Israeli government still grants West Bank settlers preferential treatment.
The new report shows that settlement local councils receive a much higher percentage of financial transfers from the government than the settlers' proportion in Israeli society and that per-capita gross investment in public construction in West Bank settlements (not including East Jerusalem) is more than triple the investment in public construction within the Green Line.
The analysis also shows that at least 16 illegal outposts enjoy support from the Agriculture Ministry's Settlement Division. It shows that Settlers who export goods to Europe receive millions of shekels to compensate for loss of tax discounts in the European Union, which does not recognize exports from as part of the Israeli-European free-trade agreement.
The report shows how the government of Israel grants settlers a variety of benefits, even though most settlers need them less than the larger proportion of low-income Israelis who reside within the state of Israel.
To view the report click here.
The Red Cross published a report yesterday titled "Gaza: 1.5 million people trapped in despair." The report describes Gazans' efforts to rebuild their lives in the wake of Israel's Operation Cast Lead, and the obstacles presented by Israel's policy of economic blockade and restrictions on aid, reconstruction and movement.
The top news story in today's Middle East Peace Report offers a real scoop. Just two days after Netanyahu met with Obama in the Oval Office, Israel approved construction at a new settlement site. While the approval for new construction in the settlements is being reported on in the Israeli press today, nobody else seems to have yet realized that the decision was approved immediately after the Netanyahu-Obama meeting.
On May 23, 2005, the Washington Post ran a an incisive op-ed by former State Department negotiator and Middle East advisor Aaron Miller, entitled "Israel's Lawyer," in which Aaron argued "For far too long, many American officials involved in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, myself included, have acted as Israel's attorney..." I was reminded of that article when I read today's piece by Elliott Abrams in the Wall Street Journal, which should, I believe, have been entitled "The West Bank Settlers' Lawyer."
The following was written by our intern, Dan Fischer:
APN's Ori Nir told me that when he was a teenager in Israel, he used to play with his friends the "ultimate chutzpah" game. They would try to one-up each other by completing the sentence: "The ultimate chutzpah would be..."
Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor "drown them in the Red Sea" Lieberman scored high last week when he complained to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Security Committee that Israel has bad PR internationally.
Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu one-upped even Lieberman Tuesday.
The top headline in this morning's Haaretz is priceless: Netanyahu is arguing that a settlement freeze is a "waste of time" when the important thing is to focus on the real issues: the need for the Palestinians to recognize Israel (which of course they have already done) and the need for the Palestinians and the world to accept that a Palestinian state must be demilitarized (which, again, they have already done). While, of course, Israel will at the same time continue to build in settlements to accommodate "natural growth" - something Netanyahu argues is completely consistent with sending a message that Israel is serious about peace.
All of which would ring hollow under any circumstances, but especially when the headline just a couple below this one reads "Barak Authorizes Construction of 300 Homes in the West Bank."
Last week, my colleague Lara Friedman of APN and Peace Now's Settlement Watch Director Hagit Ofran published an excellent report debunking the common (bogus) arguments made by those who oppose a West Bank settlements freeze.
Following is an article by Talia Sasson, the author of the famous Sasson Report, pointing out the hollowness of Netanyahu's statements in his Bar Illan speech on settlements. Her article is published in today's Yedioth Ahronoth.
Together - perhaps with the addition of Dan Kurtzer recent Washington Post article debunking Netanyahu's contention that there are Israeli-American understandings about continued West Bank settlement construction - these pieces serve to solidify the Obama administration's justified, uncompromising demand for a comprehensive settlement freeze.
For years, APN has pressed the need for a peace process to be credible in the eyes of Palestinians and Israelis. A credible peace process is vital for Israel and for peace, we said.
Earlier today we published our latest edition of Settlements in Focus, "Top 5 Bogus Excuses for Opposing a Settlement Freeze." The response has been tremendous -- clearly, many many people are sick of spin and want real facts.
This response is very encouraging. Also encouraging is the experience of the past two weeks, during which I brought Hagit Ofran - the head of Peace Now's Settlement Watch and the foremost expert on West Bank settlements - and Danny Seidemann of Ir Amim - the foremost expert on everything related to Jerusalem land and settlement issues - to meeting on Capitol Hill and in the Obama Administration. From these meetings - more than 30 on the Hill and with Administration officials - it was clear: this Administration is absolutely serious about Israeli-Palestinian peace. And this Administration is resolute in its demand for a total settlement freeze. And Democrats in Congress are firmly behind President Obama.
So that's another very encouraging sign.
And here's one more: today's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It's a powerful statement, expressing hope for and commitment to Israeli-Arab peace, and making clear that if Israel takes serious steps toward peace (perhaps a settlement freeze?) the Arab world stands ready to reciprocate. It is just one more encouraging sign of the times.
Issues covered include 'Natural Growth', Settlement 'Blocs', Internal vs. External Expansion, Previously approved construction, and Subsidies and incentives...
June 19, 2009
The Israeli Peace Now movement issued the following statement in response to Netanyahu's speech yesterday:
Now that Nethanyahu's speech is behind us, we can prepare for the upcoming Washington visit of Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu's foreign minister.
Lieberman is arriving Tuesday night and will meet here with Secretary Clinton (on Wednesday) National Security Advisor Jones (on Thursday) and with congressional leaders.
Lieberman is a man on a mission. His goal: to improve Israel's image abroad. Last Tuesday, I kid you not, Lieberman was quoted as telling the Knesset's Security and Foreign Affairs Committee that Israel "cannot continue with a successful foreign policy without changing the way we are perceived" internationally. He lamented: "We have a fundamental problem: we are not perceived well."
Could it be that Mr. Lieberman, Israel's number one PR agent, has something to do with this image problem?
For those who need a reminder, here is my colleague Lara Friedman's compilation of Lieberman's greatest hits:
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did indicate his willingness to accept a demilitarized Palestinian state today, his http://www.pmo.gov.il/PMOEng/Communication/PMSpeaks/speechbarilan140609.htm (link has expired) speech overall missed the opportunity to move Israel closer to peace.
[this was posted today on the Washington Post - Newsweek PostGlobal]
The Speech Netanyahu Won't Give
By Ori Nir
Here's what Benyamin Netanyahu should - but most likely won't - say in his much-anticipated policy speech on Sunday.
The polls cited today in the Associated Press story (and carried by Haaretz, JTA and others) which allegedly found that most Israelis back continued settlement construction, were commissioned by a far-right Israeli organization and by the settlers' University of Ariel. The questions - surprise, surprise - are skewed accordingly.
Unfortunately, AP neglected to mention who commissioned the poll and neglected to quote the actual questions.
Israel's Channel 2 Hebrew-language news just aired the story that Prime Minister Netanyahu is considering adopting a temporary freeze in settlement activity. Hebrew speakers can listen to the broadcast here.
Since we are lucky enough to have Peace Now Settlement Watch director Hagit Ofran in the office right now, we thought we'd interview her for her reaction to the report and her analysis of what it means.
In case there was any question about how low the right will go to stop President Obama from making any progress towards peace for Israel, here's one example:
In the lead-up to Netanyahu's foreign policy speech next week, it is clear that the Middle East is hungry for a new course.
Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's largest circulation newspaper, today publishes an interesting investigative piece on the state of settlement construction in the West Bank. If you closely follow Peace Now's reports on settlement construction, you are probably familiar with the data -- at least with the general trends.
Here is Yedioth's story:
You've got to read it to believe it: An American Jewish settler, Aaron U. Raskas, sitting at the poolside, at his settlement of Rimonim near Ramallah, marveling at the sight of little settler kids splashing water, and telling fellow Americans that West Bank settlements do no damage to Palestinians.
The Washington Post got it spectacularly, shamefully wrong on settlements this weekend. In its Sunday lead editorial, the WP called on Obama to back down on the demand for a settlement freeze, arguing in essence that (a) no Israeli government could agree to totally freeze settlements, and (b) in any case, the Palestinians have already agreed that Israel will ultimately keep many settlements, so it makes no sense to use up political capital demanding that Israel stop construction in such areas. Both arguments are wrong and the policy the WP suggests - that Obama give up the demand for a settlement freeze, is misguided in the extreme.
The following entry was prepared by Dan Fischer, an intern in APN's Washington office:
Last week, Agivdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party and Netanyahu's cabinet championed a series of proposals which threatened Israelis' freedom of speech and appeared to target Israel's Arab population. This legislation is in deep discord with the values that Israel was founded on.
I just read this important and insightful reaction to President Obama's Cairo speech, entitled (on the NYT website) "Forcing Clarity on Israel." The short essay (and I recommend reading the whole thing) concludes as follows: "Once Israelis grow accustomed to the new tenor emanating from Washington, we may see today's speech in a different light. Barack Obama may or may not bring peace to the Middle East, but he may well force clarity, and perhaps disciplined policy, on an Israeli society that has long desperately needed it."
What is even more remarkable than the content of this essay is the source:
Here are some interesting findings from a public opinion poll published in Israel today by Yedioth
With the pro-settler spin machine running at full power trying to make the case that support in Congress for Obama's Middle East policies is beginning to crumble, members of Congress are pushing back.
On the heels of this morning's historic Obama speech in Cairo, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) -- the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia -- issued a statement this afternoon entitled "ACKERMAN URGES FREEZE ON SETTLEMENT CONSTRUCTION, NOT GROWING FAMILIES." (the text is not yet available online, so the document is copied at the end of this post).
Reacting to President Obama's speech in Cairo today Debra DeLee said that the president "made a compelling connection between political interests and moral values, between pragmatism and tolerance. It is in this mindset that the parties to the conflict should act, using the services of a resolute, popular American president, to push for peace. Israelis, Palestinians and Arab leaders know what they ought to do to generate progress toward peace. It's time for them to transcend the zero-sum mentality that is so prevalent in the region and work toward peace."
The JTA's Ron Kampeas has posted an excellent blog piece on the issue of natural growth - or more precisely, why there is nothing "natural" at all about "natural growth" of settlements. His commentary complements a great short piece in today's Haaretz by Akiva Eldar. Both Ron and Akiva focus on the population numbers, underscoring the inescapable fact that new babies being born to settlers cannot possibly account for the massive growth of the settler population (both in the West Bank and East Jerusalem). No, this growth reflects, above all else, Israeli government policies that have long encouraged Israelis to move into settlements, including the planning, construction, and subsidizing of housing for them in these areas. Demanding new settlement housing to accommodate this entirely unnatural population boom is nothing more or less than settler chutzpah -- chutzpa that for some reason many seem to be buying.
But both Ron and Akiva omit another important - and I think glaringly obvious - problem with the demand for settlement expansion to accommodate "natural growth."
In an interview broadcast by NPR this morning, President Barack Obama spoke about his commitment to peace for Israel, about the need for a settlement freeze, and about the need for the Palestinians to continue their progress on security matters.