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Blog: December 2009 Archives

Scary stuff

yariv target.JPGI just learned that Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer was on Israeli terrorist Yaakov Teitel's hit list.

According to minutes from Teitel's police interrogations, which were made public today on Israeli news sites Ynet and NRG, Teitel said that he had planned to follow Yariv and possibly attack him.

Deterrence does not secure peace II

Yesterday, I posted some thoughts about the impact of Israel's deterrence vis-a-vis Hamas and Hezbollah. Today, in Haaretz, Israeli political scientist Gabi Sheffer examines the issue of Israeli deterrence, and reaches the same conclusion.

Here is Sheffer's article:

Deterrence does not secure peace

Israel's secret service, the Shin Bet, today published its end of year report, showing that 2009 was one of the quietest years in Israel's security history.

For the first time in over a decade, there were no suicide bombings. Only 15 Israelis were killed by Palestinians, most of them soldiers who took part in Operation Cast Lead in January. Only 234 Israelis were injured by Palestinians, most of them (185) soldiers during the Gaza war in January.


The Shin Bet published its report in Hebrew only. A decent story in English on the report was published by Ynet.

WaPo: Obama Admin agrees with APN - IRPSA is a bad idea

Glenn Kessler has an interesting piece in today's Washington Post talking about the Obama Administration's plans for additional sanctions against Iran (full text after the break).  

Interesting, because Kessler talks to senior Obama Administration officials who make clear that "We have never been attracted to the idea of trying to get the whole world to cordon off their economy."  And who argue that "We have to be deft at this, because it matters how the Iranian people interpret their isolation -- whether they fault the regime or are fooled into thinking we are to blame." Kessler adds that "As a result, top officials show little apparent interest in legislation racing through Congress that would punish companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran. 'Sanctions would not be an alternative to engagement,' another senior official said. 'Our intention is to keep the door open.'"

For anyone who might not have been paying attention, this Glenn Kessler report is completely consistent with what Obama Administration officials have said in the past about IRPSA - most notably in a largely ignored appearance by Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey before the Senate Banking Committee hearing about IRPSA on 10/6/09, and in the letter sent by Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Kerry (D-MA) on 12/11/09.

And again, for anyone who has not been paying attention, APN has opposed IRPSA from the start - generally for the same reasons articulated by Administration officials.  We have been one of the sole voices - and the sole voice in the Jewish community - aligned with the Obama Administration on this issue, and pressing both the House and Senate to reject or amend this very problematic bill (including offering specific amendments to both versions of the bill).

Congress comes back next month, and Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) has already promised to take swift action on IRPSA.  It remains to be seen if the Senate Majority leader will heed the Administration's words -- permitting the bill to be amended in substantively significant ways or slow-walking the bill until such time as the President has implemented his own new sanctions strategy. 

With New Tenders, Bibi Goes Nuclear on Jerusalem (Again)

E Jerusalem Construction Site 186x140.jpgSpecial analysis from Lara Friedman (Americans for Peace Now) and Danny Seidemann (Ir Amim).

Over the weekend the news broke in the Israeli press that the government of Israel had approved the issuance of new tenders for nearly 700 units in East Jerusalem settlements (377 in Neve Yaakov, 117 in Har Homa and 198 in Pisgat Ze'ev). 

Backing education for Gazans

This morning NPR featured the story of a Gazan who is unable to complete her education in Bethlehem because Israeli officials won't let her stay in the West Bank.

It is a difficult story. Berlanty Azzam was expelled from the West Bank and is unable to return to Bethlehem for the two months necessary to complete her BA.

Israeli & Palestinian public opinion

A survey of Israeli and Palestinian public opinion, conducted as a joint project by Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, was released today.

Below are some highlights:

Ambassador Oren's Misstep

Speaking to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's biennial convention on December 7, Ambassador Michael Oren crossed a red line. He described J Street as "a unique problem... when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion. You are fooling around with the lives of 7 million people. This is no joke."

Israel's firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said today that the objective of the partial moratorium on West Bank settlement construction is to allow Israel to build openly and without restriction in ten months, when the moratorium expires.


Lieberman spoke to a crowd of (mostly) settlers in Ariel.


The Israeli news sites earlier today mistranslated Lieberman. I transcribed the relevant quotes from an Israel Radio recording. Here is my translation, with some contextual comments.

Iran is not South Africa

Critics (including this writer) of HR 2194 -- the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA), which was passed by the House yesterday -- have argued that if the US wants to put pressure on the government of Iran, sanctions that deliberately cause suffering to the Iranian people are unlikely to do the job and could well backfire.   During yesterday's House debate on IRPSA, several speakers attempted to refute this criticism by raising the South Africa precedent.  They noted, correctly, that in the South Africa context, crippling economic sanctions worked.   

It is clear why supporters of IRSPA want to focus on South Africa:  this is the only example in recent history where sanctions similar to those being proposed for use against Iran achieved their intended purpose.  

But those raising the South Africa ignore a key fact:  while the sanctions may be similar, their justification and intended purpose are not.  These differences render the comparison specious and the conclusion - that sanctions that worked in South Africa will work in Iran - dubious.

Iran Wrap-up/Grab-bag, 12/15/09

- Today the House Committee on Oversight and Reform's Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs held a hearing entitled "Iran Sanctions: Options, Opportunities and Consequences." Witnesses were Dr. Suzanne Maloney, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution (text of prepared testimony); Dr. George Lopez, Professor of Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame (text of prepared testimony); Robin Wright, Jennings Randolph Fellow, U.S. Institute of Peace (text of prepared testimony); and Ambassador James Dobbins, Director, RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center (text of prepared testimony). In addition, NIAC's Trita Parsi was invited to provide a statement for the hearing. For a summary of the hearing - which included all four witnesses saying that if they were voting, they would vote "no" on IRPSA - can be viewed here.

-  Surprising absolutely nobody, the House voted this afternoon to suspend the rules and pass HR 2194, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA), by a vote of 412-12, with 4 voting "present."  The full roll call vote can be viewed here.  Voting "No" were:  Baldwin (D-WI), Blumenauer (D-OR), Conyers (D-MI), Duncan (R-TN), Flake (R-AZ), Hinchey (D-NY), Kucinich (D-OH), Lynch (MA), McDermott (D-WA), Moore (D-WI), Paul (R-TX), and Stark (D-CA).  Voting "Present" were:  E.B. Johnson (D-TX), Kilpatrick (D-MI), Lee (D-CA) and Waters (D-CA).  Friday's Round-Up will include excerpts from key floor statements and statements inserted into the record. 

- As the House was getting ready to move on the very misguided and potentially counter-productive IRPSA, yesterday (12/14/09) two new Iran bills were introduced.  These two bills embrace a much different approach: targeting Iranian government officials with sanctions and proposing tangible things to support the Iranian people.  APN strongly supports both of these bills and is urging members of Congress to cosponsor and support them.

- The first bill is HR 4301, introduced by Reps. Moran (D-VA), Inglis (R-SC) and Delahunt (D-MA).   Entitled the Iran Digital Empowerment Act (IDEA), this bill would ensure that the Iranian people have access to software and related technology crucial to internet communications amongst themselves and between Iran and the outside world.  It would also ensure that Iranian private citizens have access to tools that allow them to circumvent Iranian government efforts to stifle and monitor internet communications.  At present, US sanctions - which have not been updated recently and have thus been overtaken by technology - has already resulted in some such tools and services being unavailable to Iranians.  

- The second bill is HR 4303, introduced by Reps. Ellison (D-MN) and Delahunt (D-MA).  Entitled the Stand with the Iranian People Act (SWIPA), this bill would (a) bar the issuance of visa to or entry into the US of any Iranian government official credibly alleged to have involvement in human rights abuses; (b) prohibit US procurement contracts with companies that have aided Iranian government efforts to stifle free speech by providing censorship or monitoring technology; and (c)  authorize US non-profit organizations' activities in Iran for the provision of humanitarian and people-to-people assistance.

New sanctions could undermine Iran effort

Here is an Action Alert I just sent out.

For anyone who missed it, the Cable posted this exclusive story on Friday, reporting on the much-rumored State Department letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) regarding S. 2799, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2009.  As noted last week, there was a surprise push to fast-track S. 2799, accompanied by intense speculation over whether this would force the Obama Administration to weigh in on a piece of legislation that directly conflicts with its current effort to mobilize international support for a multilateral approach to (and increasingly, multilateral sanctions against) Iran.  That speculation ends with this letter, sent on Friday (Dec. 11) from Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.  In the letter Steinberg notes that  "I write to express my concern about the timing and content of this legislation..."  He goes on to note that:

"we are entering a critical period of intense diplomacy to impose significant international pressure on Iran.  This requires that we keep the focus on Iran.  At this juncture, I am concerned that this legislation, in its current form, migth weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts.  In addition to the timing, we have serious substantive concerns, including the lack of flexibility, inefficient monetary threshhold and penalty levels, and blacklisting that could cause unintended foreign policy consequences..."

The letter closes with a plea to delay consideration of the bill until the new year, so as not to undermine the Administration's diplomacy at this critical juncture." [bold added by APN]

Another Deplorable Act of Jewish Extremists in the West Bank

Today, as Jews worldwide commemorate the desecration of the Temple and celebrate its rededication, Jewish extremists, most likely West Bank settlers, desecrated a mosque in a Palestinian village near Nablus.


The mosque, in the Palestinian village of  Yasuf, was torched. Copies of the Koran were burnt. Hateful graffiti in Hebrew was sprayed at the site referring to the settlers' "Price Tag" vigilante operation to attack Palestinians and Israeli security forces to deter Israel's authorities from enforcing the law on the settlers.


This is not the first time that Jewish extremists intentionally desecrate a Muslim house of worship in order to foment violence. It is a deplorable tactic that should be confronted decisively by the Israeli authorities. There should be zero tolerance when it comes to such hate-crimes that might ignite violence throughout the West Bank and the region.


We are gratified that Israel's Peace Now movement will send a delegation to the village of Yasuf over the weekend, to express solidarity and denounce the settlers' ongoing violence. We are also happy to see that the Anti Defamation League issued a strong condemnation.


We urge other American Jewish groups to do the same.

On this Hanukkah, lets all think about the importance of fighting hatred and fanaticism and about the imperative of pursuing peace.

Unilateral Palestinian Statehood: Not a Good Idea - New Op-ed

Unilateral Palestinian statehood?

Ori Nir
Special to WJW

Twenty-one years ago, as a journalist, I was arrested in the West Bank while covering Palestinians celebrating their declaration of independence.

While I was detained for a technicality - violating a "closed military zone" order - hundreds of Palestinians were detained that day for rejoicing. The Israeli military governor of the West Bank and Gaza issued stern orders at the time, outlawing any expression of happiness. No singing. No dancing. The Israel Defense Forces imposed a curfew on almost all of the West Bank population, and cut the electricity to most Palestinian towns to prevent people from watching, on TV, the Palestinian National Council in Algiers declaring Palestinian independence.
As everyone who follows this issue knows, last week House leadership decided that it was time to move ahead with far-reaching, probably counter-productive Iran sanctions (HR 2194 - for APN's view on this bill, click here). 

As of yesterday afternoon, the popular wisdom (including among many House supporters of that bill), was that this is a risk-free strategy -- in terms of putting the Obama Administration in an awkward position, given that its end-of-year deadline for progress in negotiations has not yet passed, and given the Obama Administration's assumed preference for pursuing multilateral sanctions at the present time.  It was assumed to be risk-free because it was assumed that the Senate was not going to move on its own version of IRSPA any time before the new year.

Well, popular wisdom was wrong.

Fight escalation of sanctions against Iranian public

Moments ago I sent out this call to action to APN's activist list.

Why APN Opposes IRPSA (and How IRPSA Could be Fixed)

As noted in last Friday's Round-Up, the House is getting set to vote on (and inevitably pass) the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA), probably next week.  As also noted in the Round-Up, APN opposes this bill.  We opposed it when it was introduced and have opposed it every step of the way.  Our opposition has never been about timing or political considerations, but about principle: this is bad legislation.  Well-intentioned, no doubt, but still bad.

Today we sent a message to every House office articulating, again, our opposition to the bill.  In addition, we sent along a handy-dandy (or even fancy-shmancy) table laying out our specific concerns with the bill and suggested amendments.

Israel's Strategic Hysteria over Draft EU Jerusalem Position

On November 17th Danny Seidemann and I wrote about how Netanyahu had chosen the "nuclear option" when it came to Gilo.  We meant that in this instance, when the issue of the approval of new settlement construction in East Jerusalem came up, he and his government opted for a strategy that was guaranteed to cause the biggest possible explosion politically, leaving diplomatic scorched earth in its wake.
Today we have another example of Israeli officialdom "going nuclear" on Jerusalem, this time in response to a leaked EU draft document that (gasp) implies that under a peace agreement the capital of a Palestinian state would be East Jerusalem.  As quoted in Haaretz, the draft EU document notes:
 "The Council is deeply concerned about the situation in East Jerusalem.  In view of recent incidents, it calls on all parties to refrain from provocative actions.  The Council recalls that it has never recognized the annexation of East Jerusalem.  If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the capital of two states.  The Council calls for the reopening of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem in accordance with the Roadmap.  It also calls on the Israeli government to cease all discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem."

Judging from the Israeli reactions of shock, dismay, and outrage, an ignorant (or forgetful) observer might assume that nobody had ever suggested such a thing in the past.  
That observer would of course be grossly mistaken.  What we have here is not the case of anything remotely new or shocking being said by the EU (or of the EU trying to prejudge the outcome of final status talks, as opposition leader Tzipi Livni stated, apparently viewing EU words as more problematic than Israeli settlement activity and home demolitions in Jerusalem -- Tzipi, meet irony. Irony, meet Tzipi.  You clearly are not acquainted.).  What we have here is a cynical Israel reaction designed, it would seem, to re-set the diplomatic clock back by at least a decade, to a time when politicians and negotiators were still forced to speak in code (not referring explicitly to the fact that a peace agreement would mean the creation of a Palestinian state, let alone the location of its capital). 
Below is a compendium of Jerusalem-related data points, drawn mainly from the not-at-all-lefty Jewish Virtual Library, for those who are following this and care about the facts involved. 

The proof of the Israeli government's decision on a (partial) settlement freeze will be in its implementation, and the implementation will be very difficult, said Talia Sasson, a former legal adviser to the Israeli government who perhaps knows more than anyone about the complexities of enforcing the law on Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Can't let the spoilers decide

In East Jerusalem, the spoilers are trying to undermine the prospects for peace.

(Normally I would save something like this for Friday's Round-Up, but this is just too galling to sit on for a whole week...)

In what is perhaps the most outrageous grandstanding on Israel witnessed to date in the 111th Congress, on Monday afternoon Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, circulated a Dear Colleague urging members to join her in sending a letter to President Obama defending Israel's aid program. The implication being, of course, that the Obama Administration is actually considering attacking this aid - an implication that is totally divorced from reality.  And it also implies that House Republicans (abetted by a Democrat - Sherman (D-CA) - who one can only guess is feeling pretty silly right now about lending his name to this effort) are stepping up to defend aid because Democratic colleagues have failed to do so.  Hilarious.  Straw men arguments are certainly common in politics, but this seems to be taking it to an extreme.... (full dear colleague and letter to the President after the break...)

From: e-Dear Colleague
Sent: Monday, November 30, 2009 6:06 PM
Subject: Intelligence: Dear Colleague: Keep America Safe: Sign Letter to the President Supporting Continued Security Assistance to Israel

Keep America Safe: Sign Letter to the President Supporting Continued Security Assistance to Israel
From: The Committee on Foreign Affairs - Minority Staff
Sent By:
Date: 11/30/2009

Keep America Safe:

Support Continued Security Assistance to our Ally Israel

Dear Colleague:

As our nation faces increasing challenges to both our economy and our security, it is incumbent upon us to make difficult choices and establish priorities for limited taxpayer funds, such as continued robust security assistance to the State of Israel - funding that both advances our national security interests and is mutually-reinforcing.  For this reason, we ask that you sign the attached letter to the President requesting that he fully implement our security assistance agreement with Israel and allocate the necessary resources to fulfill this commitment.

The U.S.-Israel alliance is particularly important because both nations are democracies facing the common security threat of rogue regimes that pursue deadly weapons, and that sponsor violent Islamist groups which target both Americans and Israelis.

The Iranian regime - which repeatedly calls for a world without the U.S. and Israel - continues to advance its uranium enrichment efforts and could have nuclear weapons capabilities as soon as next year.  To deliver those weapons and make good on its threats, Iran possesses and is further developing an arsenal of missiles that can strike Israel, U.S. forces in the Middle East, and parts of Europe.  Iran and its fellow dictatorship Syria also continue to sponsor Hezbollah and Hamas, which continue to threaten Israel from the north and south.

Israel is on the front lines of our struggle against these mounting threats, and that nation has proven itself to be an indispensable ally, sharing her extensive experience in battling militant extremists domestically, militarily, and diplomatically.  Israel's qualitative military advantage has, and continues to act as a force-multiplier in the region, thereby playing a vital role in aiding U.S. forces in the Middle East, and beyond.  That is why successive Administrations have supported a robust U.S.-Israel alliance. 

But to address these growing threats, Israel must spend more proportionately on defense than any state in the Western world - paying for increasingly sophisticated, varied, and costly weapons systems needed to maintain its qualitative military edge.  Therefore, in 2007 the U.S. and Israel concluded an agreement to increase U.S. security assistance to Israel over the next decade. 

Because the international community has failed to apply strong sanctions to compel the Iranian regime to change course, the threat to our security - and Israel's very existence - has never been greater.  Therefore, the attached letter asks the President to fully implement our security assistance pact with Israel, ensuring that both of our nations can protect ourselves and each other against this threat.

To co-sign the letter, please contact Alan Goldsmith or Matthew Zweig at X68467.


ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN                                        
Ranking Member                                                         
House Committee on Foreign Affairs

House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade

Peace Now brings transparency to settlements

My colleague Ori Nir just finished an interview with Yariv Oppenheimer, the director general of the Israeli Peace Now movement.