July 2009 Archives
The last American president to openly challenge Israel on settlements was George H.W. Bush and we commend President Obama for demanding that Israel halt all new construction. The controversy must not obscure Mr. Obama's real goal: nudging Israel and the Palestinians into serious peace negotiations.
GEORGE MITCHELL is in the Middle East, pressing for peace. His planned itinerary brackets Israel and Palestine with a start in Abu Dhabi and Syria and a conclusion in Bahrain and Egypt. The Obama administration's determination to revivify the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is further indicated by the arrivals in the region next week of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, National Security Adviser James Jones, and special Middle East adviser Dennis Ross. President Obama has replaced the Bush policy of hands-off with a gloves-off readiness to push all parties hard.
By J.J. Goldberg
Published July 29, 2009, issue of August 07, 2009
Alarm bells have been ringing around the neighborhood pretty much nonstop since July 13, when President Obama sat down to talk Middle East policy at the White House with a pack of leaders from a dozen American Jewish organizations.
In Jerusalem, where all planning is strategic and all local issues are international, the development of one property can serve as a political move intended to determine the city's future status.
by Gershom Gorenberg | July 30, 2009 |
Washington, D.C - Americans for Peace Now (APN) today unveiled its new Web site, PeaceNow.org, designed as the most effective place on the Web for information, discussion and action on peace for Israel.
"The revised PeaceNow.org allows our supporters and activists - and anyone else for that matter - to easily get a quick update on what we are doing, what we are saying and what we are following, to easily get the details on the issues, and to interact with us and with others to take action," said Debra DeLee, APN's President and CEO.
Israeli leaders say they're bewildered by the Obama administration's "obsession" with West Bank settlement growth. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was recently quoted asking/grumbling, "What do they want from me?" His aides told reporters and American Jewish leaders that Washington's position on settlements is "childish," "stupid" and "delusional" and that the Obama team should "come to its senses.
The Washington Post reports today that retired U.S. Ambassador Tom Pickering met with two Hamas officials in Switzerland last month. The article makes clear that this meeting was held without the knowledge of the Obama administration, so I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that the Obama administration is about to change course in how it deals with Hamas. Just yesterday, Secretary Clinton reiterated that the administration is sticking with the Quartet conditions.
What the article doesn't mention is that
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Five left-leaning, pro-Israel organizations teamed up to back the Obama administration's opposition to "unilateral actions" in Jerusalem.
A statement released jointly by Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, Meretz USA and J Street says that "issues of borders and sovereignty related to Jerusalem should be determined through negotiations in the context of a regional, comprehensive resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict" and "unilateral actions that inflame tensions, impair negotiations and make the ultimate resolution of issues surrounding Jerusalem more difficult are unhelpful and should be avoided at this particularly sensitive moment."
Washington, D.C. - Americans for Peace Now (APN) today joined other like-minded Jewish organizations in a statement that calls for responsibility and care in words and deeds on the situation in Jerusalem.
Following is a statement on the Obama Administration's policy on Jerusalem issued today by APN, Ameinu, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, Meretz USA, and J Street:
The human rights organization Peace Now hung the posters all over Israel's capital Wednesday, the eve of Tisha B'Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, Ynetnews.com reported.
The following is a statement on the Obama Administration's policy on Jerusalem issued today by APN, Ameinu, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, Meretz USA, and J Street:
In Friday's Legislative Round-Up I highlighted a new letter being circulated in the Senate by Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and James Risch (R-ID). The http://www.aipac.org/Publications/SourceMaterialsCongressionalAction/Bayh-Risch_Letter_on_Normalization.pdf (link has expired) letter, which is the top item on the "Take Action" page on the http://www.aipac.org/694.asp#26653 (link has expired) AIPAC website, focuses exclusively on President Obama's call for Arab states to take steps to normalize relations with Israel, making no mention of the president's call for Israel to stop settlement activity (and implying that steps Israel has already taken - like removing some checkpoints and PM Netanyahu's belated support for the two-state solution - are sufficient demonstration of Israel's commitment to the peace process).
This morning, APN sent a message to every Senate office urging Senators to refrain from signing the letter unless and until it is amended to also reflect the real steps to achieve peace the President Obama has asked Israel to take. Full text of the APN letter to the Senate after the jump.
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Americans for Peace Now is urging U.S. senators not to sign a letter encouraging the Arab world to normalize ties with Israel because it does not mention efforts to halt Israeli settlements.
The bipartisan letter to President Obama, circulated by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and James Risch (R-Idaho) and backed by the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, is "unhelpful" because it "seems to make a straightforward and reasonable demand for the Arab world to normalize relations with Israel," but "the subtext of the letter directly contradicts and undermines the efforts" of the Obama administration "to promote Middle East peace."
In Friday's /roundup.asp?rid=&cid=6460 (link has expired) Legislative Round-Up I highlighted a new letter being circulated in the Senate by Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and James Risch (R-ID). The letter, which is the top item on the "Take Action" page on the AIPAC website, focuses exclusively on President Obama's call for Arab states to take steps to normalize relations with Israel, making no mention of the president's call for Israel to stop settlement activity (and implying that steps Israel has already taken - like removing some checkpoints and PM Netanyahu's belated support for the two-state solution - are sufficient demonstration of Israel's commitment to the peace process).
This morning, APN sent a message to every Senate office urging Senators to refrain from signing the letter unless and until it is amended to also reflect the real steps to achieve peace the President Obama has asked Israel to take. Full text of the APN letter to the Senate:
2. Senate Defense Authorization
3. New Bayh-Risch Letter on Arab Normalization
4. Q&A on Jerusalem/Shepherd's Hotel
Water is a big problem in the Middle East. Israel doesn't have much, and some of what it does have is a source of great dispute
In May, on a visit to Jerusalem, I spent half a day in Silwan, where an extremist settlers' group runs and profits from an archaeological site - arguably the most sensitive and most politically-charged archaeological dig in the world.
The group, Elad, is busily Judaizing Silwan, turning it into "Ir David," (the "City of David") both by turning it into a site that exclusively champions the Jewish narrative of Biblical Jerusalem and by settling extreme right-wing Jews in this vast, densely-populated Palestinian village.
How did it happen that the government of Israel officially sub-contracted to an extremist settlers' organization
one of the most sensitive sites in Israel, a stone's throw from the world's most sacred site to Jews and the third
most sacred site to Muslims? How did it happen that the government appointed the cat to guard the cream?
This post was written by APN Intern Elizabeth Goldstein
The issue of water in Israel may be back in the public conscience. Last week, New York Times op-ed contributor Stanley Weiss wrote about the effect that water crises have had, or could have on the political climate of the region. Such news is not often reported on, but Israel's problem with water and the heavy effect the issue may have on the Arab-Israeli conflict is not one that should be disregarded. Amidst all the talk about a settlement freeze and the occasional reminders that the blockade on Gaza is ongoing, I offer a reminder that this issue also deserves attention.
Testimonies about the IDF's conduct during the Gaza War by 54 Israeli soldiers have renewed debate in Israel about the moral toll of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Israeli society.
According to the website of "Christians United for Israel" (CUFI) a number of members of Congress, Jewish community officials, and even a senior Israeli diplomat are speaking at their conference this week.
This is disturbing, because CUFI advocates policies that are bad for Israel, bad for America, and bad for peace.
For years, Israelis and opponents of Middle East peace efforts accused Yasser Arafat of speaking out of both sides of his mouth - saying one thing in English, when the whole world was listening, and saying something else in Arabic when addressing Palestinians and the Arab world. They used this as evidence of Arafat's untrustworthiness as a "partner" for peace negotiations.
What do these same people make of the fact that today it is Israeli officials who are talking out of both sides of their mouths? Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak (not to mention their loyal advocate in the US, Elliot Abrams) are arguing publicly that Israel wants only to continue settlement construction according to the alleged "understandings" achieved with President Bush - "natural growth" to permit "normal life" through construction only in settlement blocs, only on the Israeli side of the barrier, and only within the existing footprint of settlements. But at exactly the same time. Israeli government officials are telling the Israel's High Court of Justice a very different story, and they are doing so in statements to the court.
In his enthusiasm to defend this latest Irving Moskowitz project (the same Irving Moskowitz who was a key player in Netanyahu's Hasmonean Tunnel debacle), Netanyahu gushed:
Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu argued passionately in the Israeli cabinet meeting that Israelis have the right to live anywhere in Jerusalem. In his enthusiasm to defend this latest Irving Moskowitz project (the same Irving Moskowitz who was a key player in Netanyahu's Hasmonean Tunnel debacle), Netanyahu gushed:
"This has been the policy of all Israeli governments and I would like to say that it is indeed being implemented because in recent years hundreds of apartments in Jewish neighborhoods and in the western part of the city have been purchased by - or rented to - Arab residents and we did not interfere. This says that there is no ban on Arabs buying apartments in the western part of the city and there is no ban on Jews buying or building apartments in the eastern part of the city."
The problem with this argument is that it isn't true. Israeli lawyer and Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann sets the record straight with the following points:
There is an important op-ed by Nahum Barnea on page 1 of today's Yedioth Ahronoth (translation by Israel News Today - INT).
Excerpt: "Torn between the pressures from Washington and the pressures from the right wing branch of his party and his coalition, Netanyahu chose the easy solution: Jerusalem. Like then, in the Western Wall tunnel affair, he thinks that the magic word "Jerusalem" will rally behind him not only the right wing in Israel, but also the political center in Israel, a majority of US Jewry and a majority of the members of Congress. In other words: He wishes to divert the clash with the Obama administration from the question of construction in the settlements, where he does not enjoy real support, either here or there, to a more convenient playing field. This could have been brilliant if it were not so transparent. [read on for full text]
The lead editorial in Haaretz today offers a great analysis into the current controversy over the Shepherd's Hotel.
Playing with fire
The controversy surrounding the plan to create a Jewish enclave in the heart of the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem is not another routine expression of the U.S.-Israel dispute over the settlements. The timing of the decision to build dozens of housing units in the Shepherd Hotel complex, at the height of efforts to reach an agreement on limited construction in the settlements, casts doubt over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's willingness to enter serious negotiations on a final-status agreement. The support he granted the construction project yesterday, despite the vehement condemnations of America and Britain, show he is prepared to endanger Israel's most essential foreign relations for a provocative initiative led by Irving Moskowitz, the patron of right-wing organizations in East Jerusalem.
BitterLemons-International today published this article by Debra DeLee, APN's President and CEO:
Obama means what he says
Israeli leaders say they're bewildered by the Obama administration's "obsession" with West Bank
settlement growth. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was recently quoted asking/grumbling "what do they want from
me?" His aides told reporters and American Jewish leaders that Washington's position on settlements is "childish",
"stupid" and "delusional" and that the Obama team should "come to its senses."
Last night I got an email from an APN activist who raised some concerns about how a settlement freeze would be enforced. The activist was responding to APN's call to action. Her email raises an important question that I thought was worth raising in this forum:
APN President and CEO Debra DeLee met this afternoon with President Barack Obama. She was part of a small group of Jewish leaders who were invited to the White House.
Immediately following the meeting, DeLee said "President Obama and his team are doing all the right things to generate progress towards peace for Israel. We will continue to support these efforts."
Today in Haartez, veteran military correspondent Amos Harel reports on the fact that the US is apparently no longer accepting the Roadmap formula regarding the number of outposts Israel has to remove. Harel makes the case that this is further evidence of the Obama Administration's "unyielding" approach on the settlements issue.
Which may be true. But Harel fails to note a simpler explanation for why, regardless of other aspects of the administration's policy on settlements, the Roadmap formula -- under which Israel is responsible for evacuating only those outposts established during Sharon's time as Prime Minister -- is no longer the exclusive measure of Israeli responsibility vis a vis outposts.
The reason? Because the other outposts - the ones not established under Sharon's watch, were established during periods when two other men served as Prime Minister. And those two men -- Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak -- are again running the show today.
When even Jimmy Carter says Gush Etzion should remain in Israeli hands, there's no need anymore to discuss whether we're going to hold onto the large settlement blocs, including the "new" neighborhoods of Jerusalem, in any final peace agreement.
This is territory we've insisted on in the "land swaps" we've been negotiating with the Palestinians since Camp David. They accept the principle of land swaps across the Green Line, the Israeli peace camp insists on it, the Clinton and Bush
If you haven't already, you must see this video of our very own Yossi Alpher (APN's guest author of Hard Questions/Tough Answers) and Ghassan Khatib sitting down for an interview with international superstar Sacha Baron Cohen, whose new movie "Bruno" debuts today in theaters worldwide.
Click here if you're having
trouble viewing the video
Be sure to leave your very own "Tough Question" for Yossi on how to achieve peace in the Middle East or on the health benefits of hummus.
Israeli diplomats were recently instructed not to use the term "natural growth" in reference to West Bank settlement expansion. Instead, Israeli spokespersons must talk about the need to provide and maintain "normal life" for the settlers.
The following report was written by Adie Angrist, a student at the University of Michigan (originally from Brookline, MA), who has been volunteering with Peace Now in Israel this summer:
It was the muggiest day of the week in Tel-Aviv and Noa's car was a sauna. But we had an important mission to accomplish and thank goodness for that.
The US has officially denied an Israeli press report to the effect that the US has agreed that Israel can continue some settlement construction. Reuters is reporting:
"Asked in Washington whether the report was true, State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly replied: 'No, that report in the Israeli media outlet is incorrect. Our bottom line is -- is the same. It has not changed. And that's that all parties in the region have to honour their obligations. And you know what our position is regarding settlements. This activity has to stop,' Kelly said."
No doubt the last word on the subject has not yet been said.
Herb Keinon , THE JERUSALEM POST
Israel would lose nothing, and potentially gain everything, by agreeing to a temporary moratorium on construction in the settlements for a short period of time, Congressman Robert Wexler, a close political ally of US President Barack Obama and a stalwart Israel supporter, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Last week, and again today, the Government of Israel sent a very clear message about how seriously it is taking US demands to freeze settlement construction and remove illegal outposts. The gist of that message: Israel is not taking these demands seriously at all.
(This post was written by APN intern Elizabeth Goldstein)
On Thursday, July 2nd, Americans for Peace Now held the first of its "Summer Intern Events." Two international journalists came to the Rayburn House Office Building to talk about their perspectives as reporters on the status of events in the Middle East, including - but not limited to - the Arab-Israeli Conflicts.
Some stunning footage just became available of a settler attacking a team of Peace Now activists who were surveying West Bank settlement construction.
The assault took place at the settlement of Dolev. The incident was captured on video and reported by Israel's Channel 2 Television, whose news team was documenting Peace Now's work, and was also assaulted.
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.
by Talia Sasson
Attorney Talia Sasson filed the settlement outpost report to the Sharon government [and is now a Meretz member]
Netanyahu mentioned three points in the Bar Ilan speech with regard to the continuation of construction in the settlements: There will be no confiscations of private Palestinian land; no new Israeli settlements will be established in the West Bank; the needs of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank must be met. What do these statements mean?
The new resolution that the Union of Reform Judaism that was just adopted by the URJ's Board of Trustees meeting in New Orleans shows just how supportive most American Jews are of President Obama's push for Mideast peace.
It is significant that the organization representing the largest Jewish denomination in the U.S. comes out with such language on Obama's regional policy, on his Cairo speech, on settlements and on settler violence.
Please check out my latest op-ed:
Yesterday, volunteers with Peace Now in Israel fanned out into 5 teams to survey the extent of recent settlement construction in the West Bank.
(This blog was authored by APN Intern Elizabeth Goldstein)
The Jerusalem Media & Communications Centre conducted http://www.jmcc.org/publicpoll/results/2009/index.htm (link has expired) two polls this year of Palestinians: one in late January, one in late June. The surveys indicate that in general Palestinians seem to feel better about their leaders and the U.S. role now than earlier in the year. At the same time, indifference and distrust for all politicians is prominent when it comes to local politics, U.S. relations, and relations with Israel.