Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

July 14, 2010

180° from Cairo to Washington

Last June, in the famous address at Cairo University, President Obama promised the world that “America will not turn [its] back on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own” and argued that two viable states living side-by-side is in America’s, as well as Israel’s, best interests. On July 6th, however, Obama made a complete about-face in a highly theatrical meeting with PM Netanyahu, retreating from pressuring Israel on its peace-hindering settlements.

During their “excellent conversation” that Tuesday, the President took pains to assure Netanyahu of the United States’ unconditional support for Israel, despite a growing disparity in the countries’ strategic interests. This fissure has become more visible recently, especially on the topic of non-proliferation. Concerned with preventing nuclear proliferation, the United States recently signed a UN document that singled out Israel for refusing to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But, in last Tuesday’s meeting, President Obama backtracked from this stance, instead implicitly allowing Israel to keep building its undeclared nuclear arsenal by pledging that “efforts for weapons control and decommisioning nuclear weapons will not harm Israel’s security.”

On the topic of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a source of contention that led to March’s chilled White House reception for Netanyahu, Obama decidedly avoided the issue. In response to a reporter’s inquiry, according to the Washington Post, the President finally acknowledged the subject, but only by declining to say that Israel should extend its West Bank settlement building moratorium which will expire in September. Settlement construction, however, is a clear impediment to any meaningful peace talks, as well as the formation of a viable state for Palestinians. Thus, Obama’s retreat on this issue discredits any hoped-for direct negotiations.

A week after this disappointing meeting, the on-the-ground reality is quickly reflecting Obama’s new stance. Just this Tuesday, July 13th, a Palestinian home was demolished in East Jerusalem for the first time in eight months. Since November Israel had not implemented any standing house demolition orders in this area due to pressure from the US. But now, given America’s changed attitude, Israel can feel confident in continuing actions, such as house demolitions in highly-contested East Jerusalem, which directly harm the peace process.

The hope and change rhetoric of Cairo now appear almost gone. The ‘peace process’ is moving further away from a two-state solution in which each state is a viable one, signaled by Netanyahu’s refusal to even utter the phrase ‘two-state solution’ on July 6th while discussing peace. By surrendering to domestic pressures which demand unconditional support for Israel, President Obama is now agreeing to support a stance which could ultimately hurt Israel’s and America’s security and international standing.

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June 10, 2010

The Separation Barrier

A mix of Palestinians, West Bank settlers, environmentalists and developers, have all united in opposition to the construction of the separation barrier in an area around Jerusalem (Haaretz).

Environmentalists and settlers of Gush Etzion are opposed to the destruction of the natural landscape.  Also, a development company called Givat Yael, though self-interested, drew up an alternative route that Israel rejected.  The alternative would have met security goals, had a smaller impact on the Palestinian village of Al-Walaja, and allowed the company to continue with its development plans (Haaretz).  Israel’s rejection of the alternative gives more credence to the idea that the wall is not motivated by security, but rather demographics, as the proposed placement of the barrier blocks off the village. (more…)

June 8, 2010

Rising Jewish Extremism

In the media, extremism is often associated with the Muslim world.  Rarely is it ever associated with Jews in Israel.  However, recent events demonstrate not only how extremism is infiltrating Israel, but how such a trend threatens even more the unstable social fabric of the region.

Just today, while trying to appear as if Israel is enforcing a building freeze in the West Bank, security forces clashed with settlers in the settlement of Beit El over the demolition of an illegal structure.  About 100 teenagers tried to block the forces and threw rocks, against the advice of their rabbi. And one officer was injured.  The fact that the next generation is so unyielding in their views that they are willing to fight, even their own people, is very worrisome. (more…)

May 25, 2010

An Update on Negotiations

As George Mitchell has returned fruitless from the first round of proximity talks, prospects for success of the four month long project have already dwindled.  A bleak atmosphere of cynicism surrounds Israel and the West Bank, as both Jews and Palestinians believe the talks will be exercises in futility.

The proximity talks seemed doomed from the beginning.  The spirit of negotiations was  dampened  months ago, when in March Netanyahu  announced the building of 1,600 new homes in an East Jerusalem settlement, and President Abbas retaliated by announcing that negotiations with Israel would not take place unless there was a freeze on settlement building.  However, the subsequent scolding and cajoling by the U.S. resulted in both men decreasing the intensity of their agendas, for the sake of possible negotiations. (more…)

May 18, 2010

Nonviolence: a feasible strategy?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.” But can nonviolence be the answer to the contentious issue of occupation in the West Bank?

Over the past few months, a grassroots boycott of settlement-produced goods has gripped Palestinians in the West Bank.  The boycott has recently become more organized, with volunteers (mostly students) campaigning door-to-door, distributing brochures, and burning settlement-products.  So far, the boycott of over one thousand products has resulted in the destruction of $5 million worth of settlement products.  It is estimated that $200 million worth of settlement goods are sold in the West Bank each year, which is a small portion of to Israel’s $200 billion GDP.  Although the economic effects of the boycott have been relatively minimal, it is the social and political effects that are crucial. (more…)

April 6, 2010

Israeli Peace Process: Who is to Blame for the Delay?

While the Obama Administration has been pushing for a resumption of peace negotiations in recent weeks, Israeli and Palestinian officials have rebuffed these efforts and refused to cooperate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to bow down to international pressure to halt settlement building in East Jerusalem and Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority will not come to the table until Israel vows to do so.  The stubborness of both sides has put peace negotiations on hold. But who is really to blame?

The Obama Administration has made it clear to Israel that it must stop settlement construction, and its their refusal to do so will be disastrous to the negotations. And the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has met with American diplomats in Israel in an attempt to encourage the US to continue pressuring Israel. (more…)

March 30, 2010

Congress: Obama should not be allowed to make peace

During Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington this week, the Israeli PM met with members of Congress as part of a PR offensive to marginalize recent criticism from the Obama Administration over the announced East Jerusalem settlements. In sharp contrast to the insulted frustration echoed by Administration officials in recent weeks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood by Minority Leader John Boehner and the Israeli Prime Minister while declaring; “We in Congress stand by Israel..In Congress we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel.” Obama later met with Netanyahu at the White House without posing with the Israel PM for the cameras.

The House leadership’s public posture shows a clear divide between the Obama Administration’s approach to dealing with Netanyahu and that of Congress. While Administration officials directly deal with the diplomatic consequences of Israeli expansion into Palestinian areas, the House leaders pay lip service to ‘furthering the peace process’ while allocating $3 billion annually to help Netanyahu expand and maintain the settlements. (more…)

March 19, 2010

AIPAC to Obama: “Halt public criticism of Israel”

As AIPAC’s annual public policy conference looms in an atmosphere of public tension between Israel and the US, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) issued a press release urging the Obama Administration to keep any criticism of Israel out of public eye.

After last week’s public relations disaster during Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel, AIPAC has thrust itself into the diplomatic fray between the Obama Administration and Israel’s Likud dominated Government. After heavy criticism from the US Vice President and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the announced Israeli expansion into East Jerusalem, AIPAC is taking exception with the unusual reprimand directed towards the Netanyahu Administration.

AIPAC will be gathering in Washington this Sunday for their annual policy conference, where both Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu are scheduled to speak. In order to defuse any tension casting a cloud over the meeting, AIPAC issued its statement to ensure that US officials refrain from public criticism of Israel, regardless of state policy or action:

“The Obama Administration’s recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern. AIPAC calls on the Administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish State…The Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests.”

The statement later implores the Administration to discuss and work out any disagreements behind closed doors, fearing a serious long-term rift unless differences can be smoothed over. Congressman Eric Cantor blamed the Obama Administration for ignoring recent ‘Palestinian provocations’ and stated that the recent outrage directed towards the announced East Jerusalem housing units was ‘irresponsible’.

Despite the official backlash against Israel’s provocative expansion, Prime Minister Netanyahu is attempting to maintain the facade of ‘business as usual’ by continuing the Israeli expansion into East Jerusalem. Israel’s Ambassador in Washington Michael Oren admitted to Israeli diplomats last Saturday that ties between Israel and the United States are at their lowest point in 35 years.

(more…)

March 10, 2010

Biden angered by Israeli decision

Vice President Joe Biden is begining a five day Middle East tour to discuss the current status of peace negotiations. On the same day that the Vice President met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Haaretz reported that Israel’s Interior Ministry has approved the construction 1,600 new homes inside East Jerusalem.

A few hours after emphasizing the ‘unshakeable’ ties between the U.S. and Israel, the Vice President issued an unusual public rebuke to the Israeli Government on the issue of the illegal settlements. Biden is planning to meet with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank who had agreed last week to indirect talks with the Israelis prior to this latest announcement.

This expansion into Palestinian territory continues a repeated diplomatic pattern by the Netanyahu Government of publicly declaring the desire to renew peace talks while systematically undermining the talks through official state policy. The lack of good faith gestures on the part of the Israelis has suceeded in its aim to stalemate the latest round of talks, while simultaneously embarrassing the Vice President ahead of his visit with Arab leaders.

January 31, 2010

“Jerusalem’s Ground Zero”: Friday in Sheikh Jarrah

Filed under: Israeli peace activists,Israeli settlements,Jerusalem — Katya Reed @ 3:19 pm

~ From Katya Reed

Just last week CNN called Sheikh Jarrah “Jerusalem’s ground zero”.  On Friday I joined 300 Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals to protest the ongoing evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, and the takeover of this East Jerusalem neighborhood by Jewish settlers.

Sheikh Jarrah, which lies just outside the Old City, has attracted global outrage as settler organizations have made legal claims to the property allegedly owned by Jewish individuals or associations prior to 1948.  As noted by UN-OCHA in their damning fact sheet on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, “Israeli courts have ruled in favor of such claims while failing to recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees to reclaim lost land and property.”  UN-OCHA estimates that the implementation of the Israeli government’s comprehensive settlement plans for Sheikh Jarrah will place “475 Palestinians at risk of forced eviction, dispossession, and displacement”.  Like all settlements in occupied territory, the Sheikh Jarrah settlement is a violation of international law.

300 protesters against house evictions in foreground; settlers stage counter-protest in background holding Israeli flags

The stand-off during Friday’s demonstration was electric in its intensity.  300 protesters were on one side of the street and on the other side, a dozen settlers and several dozen police and medical personnel fanned out across the entrance to the homes under eviction orders.  The Jerusalem magistrate court had dealt a blow to the police the day before, ruling that public demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah were legal so long as they didn’t disturb the public order or disrupt traffic.  Despite a vow from the police to squash protests despite the court order, this time no one was arrested.

The whole scene created an arresting visual effect peopled by the three clear categories of uniformly dressed settlers, police, and medical personnel on one side of the street, while the hundreds of protesters on the other side drew a stunningly diverse crowd.  Kippa-wearing men mingled among Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah residents while a young activists’ drumming circle led Hebrew University professors to join in protest chants.  Meretz MK Ilan Gilon showed up, while last week MK Mohammed Barakeh and former Knesset members Avraham Burg, Uri Avnery, and Yossi Sarid attended.  Bernard Avishai reported on his blog that Oslo negotiator and head of the Peres Center Dr. Ron Pundak joined the protest along with the highly acclaimed Israeli author David Grossman.

EVICTEE: “THEY WOULDN’T EVEN LET HIM TAKE HIS SHOES”

Nasser Gawi, also at the protest, was a member of one of the first families to be evicted from Sheikh Jarrah.  He now lives in a tent outside of his former home, which he fears could be destroyed at any moment by settlers or the police.  He told me the protests are very important to him because they showed that Israelis and people from all over the world supported him and his family and their neighbors.  “The protests are a first step in the 1,000 kilometers we have to go towards an Israeli state on one side and on the other a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

He described what happened on August 2, 2009 when he was evicted along with 52 other refugees – 20 of them children – from Sheikh Jarrah following a court ruling.  These families had been forced out of their homes in 1948 and given homes in Sheikh Jarrah by the UN and Jordan.

“They broke the windows and blew up our door.  They destroyed our furniture and they beat my children.”  Gawi explained the soldiers invaded their home at 5:30 A.M., and kicked his children in their beds and ordered them to leave.  “One of my sons wanted to take his shoes before he left.  They wouldn’t even let him take his shoes.”

ISRAELI PROTESTER: “IT REMINDED ME OF STORIES OF JEWISH FAMILIES EVACUATED IN VIENNA”

I asked one Israeli protester, Eva Ferrero, why she came to the protests.  “It makes it known what they are trying to do in silence,” Ferrero responded.  Ferrero comes regularly to the Sheikh Jarrah protests and visits the families who were evicted.

(more…)

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