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Middle East Peace Report- March 22, 2010

Vol. 11, Issue 21

Clinton Speaks Frankly; Israelis Disillusioned with Netanyahu; American Public Supports Settlement Stop; Time for an East Jerusalem Settlement Freeze?; Will Palestinian Fatalities Lead to an Intifada?

Clinton Speaks Frankly: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a much-anticipated speech at the AIPAC policy conference Monday. 
 
She addressed the Obama administration's confrontation with Israel over its approval of 1600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. "New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need," Clinton said.
 
She added: "It undermines America's unique ability to play a role - an essential role, I might add - in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don't agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally."
 
Clinton also made clear that the peace process can save Israel from the existential threat it faces:  "The inexorable mathematics of demography are hastening the hour at which Israelis may have to choose between preserving their democracy and staying true to the dream of a Jewish homeland. Given this reality, a two-state solution is the only viable path for Israel to remain both a democracy and a Jewish state."
 
Clinton also spoke of the American national security interest at stake. "The status quo strengthens the rejectionists who claim peace is impossible and weakens those who would accept coexistence. That does not serve Israel's interests or our own. Those willing to negotiate need to be able to show results for their efforts. And those who preach violence must be proven wrong," she said.
 
"All of our regional challenges - confronting the threat posed by Iran, combating violent extremism, promoting democracy and economic opportunity - become harder if rejectionists grow in power and influence," she explained. "Conversely, a two-state solution would... undermine the appeal of extremism across the region." (PeaceNow.org, 3/22/10)
 
Israelis Disillusioned with Netanyahu: In the wake of the tensions between Israel and the United States sparked by the announcement of a plan to expand a settlement in East Jerusalem, Israeli public opinion appears divided as to where to place the blame.
 
69% of Israelis see President Barack Obama's approach to Israel as matter-of-fact (51%) or friendly (18%), according to a poll released Friday by Haaretz.
 
Only 37% believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acted responsibly in the matter, the same poll found. 42% said that Netanyahu behaved irresponsibly.
 
A poll published by Tel Aviv University found that 62% of Israelis do not believe Netanyahu when he claims that he was not aware of the plan to announce the 1600 new housing units during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel.
 
The Tel Aviv University poll also found that 54% of Israelis believe that Israel should give weight to Washington's stance on the expansion of settlements, even when that includes not expanding settlements due to "natural growth."
 
It appears that the Netanyahu government is losing its public support. The Tel Aviv University poll found that only 34% of Israelis want this government, in its current form, to continue. Similarly, the Haaretz poll found that Netanyahu suffers from poor job approval rating. 44% of Israelis are not satisfied with Netanyahu's functioning as prime minister. 42% are satisfied.
 
A third poll, published by Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday, probed deeper into the Israeli dissatisfaction with Netanyahu. It found that 64% of Israelis believe that the Israeli government does not represent them.  59% think that the current government is incapable of reaching a breakthrough with the Palestinians. 60% do not think that it can reach a breakthrough on the Syrian track.
 
The Yedioth Ahronoth poll also asked "Who is to blame for the crisis with the United States?" 35% said Israel. 37% said the United States. The rest were undecided.
 
Analyzing this poll's findings, Yedioth Ahronoth's Sima Kadmon writes that "in another two weeks, the Netanyahu government will have checked off its first year in office. Even those who were never aboard as supporters admitted that they were hopeful. That, despite the heavy doubts that accompanied [Netanyahu's] first term, that in their hearts they hoped against hope, that this time it would be different. That he'd changed, matured, learned...  But even the worst of the naysayers didn't imagine that within one year Israel's standing in the world would deteriorate so precipitously. That its representatives and spokesmen would be humiliated and besmirched in places that were once considered bastions of friendship. That a year would pass and nothing would happen. That time would stop, and the peace process would be in the deep freeze, and there would be worrying signs of a third Intifada..." (Haaretz, 3/19/10; Ynet, 3/22/10; Yedioth Ahronoth, 3/19/10)
 
American Public Supports Settlement Stop: Only 22% of Americans think that Israel should not be required to stop building new settlements as part of a peace deal, according to a poll of likely American voters published Wednesday by Rasmussen Reports. Half of those polled said that Israel should stop settlements.
 
The poll also marked a dramatic drop in the number of Americans who classified Israel as an American ally. 70% said Israel was an ally in an August poll. That number dropped to 58% in last week's poll.
 
55% said that they have followed the news stories about Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Israel somewhat closely or very closely. (Ramussen Reports, 3/17/10)
 
Time for an East Jerusalem Settlement Freeze? The leader of the largest Jewish movement in North America called on Israel to enact a construction freeze in East Jerusalem.
 
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), told members of URJ's board of trustees on Thursday that it is "not prudent or wise" for Israel to build "in Arab sections of Jerusalem in the current political climate."
 
"This decision to build in eastern Jerusalem is one that is not supported by any Israeli ally, including the United States and Canada," Yoffie added.
 
He explained that "there are many reasons why Israel should consider a temporary moratorium on all such building. Such a step would strengthen relations with the United States at a moment when those relations have been frayed; it would be greeted enthusiastically by other strong and loyal allies, such as Canada, that were angered by Israel's recent action; it would demonstrate a firm commitment on Israel's part to the American-sponsored peace negotiations; and it would, potentially, breathe life into those negotiations and turn the attention back to where it is most needed - moving forward to a lasting, meaningful peace. Nothing should divert us from this goal."
 
The URJ represents an estimated 1.5 million Jews. (JTA, 3/19/10)
 
Will Palestinian Fatalities Lead to an Intifada? Four Palestinians were killed in clashes with the Israeli military in a 24 hour window this weekend.
 
Two Palestinians, 17 and 18 years old, were killed Sunday after they were stopped by the Israeli military with pitchforks near a settlement outpost south of Nablus. While the military force was awaiting instructions, one of the two allegedly attempted to stab a soldier with a bottle, prompting one soldier to open fire. The other Palestinian then allegedly made a threatening move and was also shot.
 
On Saturday, another two Palestinian teenagers were shot by an Israeli military force that was trying to prevent a clash between settlers and Palestinians. One Palestinian died immediately. The other died the next day. The Israeli military maintains that its forces used rubber bullets, although Palestinians claim that live ammunition was used. The Israeli human right group B'Tselem sent an investigator to the hospital and confirmed that the casualties were the result of live rounds.
 
The Israeli Peace Now movement called on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to investigate the use of deadly force. The authorities should examine whether IDF forces hurt teenagers even when they were not facing genuine life-threatening situations, Peace Now Director Yariv Oppenheimer said.
 
Haaretz military-affairs Correspondent Amos Harel writes Monday that these deaths "raise the heat of the West Bank barometer." He warns that more violence may be imminent.
 
"Unlike in previous periods, including the terrible days of the Second Intifada of the early 2000s, it now appears that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have a shared interest in controlling the flames," Harel observes. "This can be seen in several attempts at restraint, executed with improved security coordination, and even in a joint investigation conducted Sunday regarding one of the shooting incidents."
 
Nevertheless Harel worries that the West Bank may soon reach a tipping point: "Security coordination can only work to a certain point. When conditions on the ground give rise to incidents such as the two near Nablus, and with a lack of a significant diplomatic horizon, a far larger and more fateful upsurge could well erupt within the next few months."  (Ma'ariv, 3/22/10; Haaretz, 3/21 & 3/22/10; Ynet, 3/20/10)