Israel Makes Little Progress with Palestine and Its Neighbors

In June, Hamas and Fatah wholly rejected Netanyahu’s stipulated version of a two-state solution, and violence has since escalated at the 500-mile “barrier” that separates the West Bank from Israel.

The Associated Press reports,

Palestinians have been staging weekly demonstrations at both sites to protest the barrier’s route, which crosses through the villages and cuts farmers off from hundreds of acres of agricultural fields.

Israel says the barrier–a mix of towering concrete walls and electronic fences–is needed to stop Palestinian militants from crossing into Israel to carry out attacks. Palestinians call it a land grab because parts of it jut deep into the West Bank, cutting them off from territory they claim for a future state.

Israel has classified the protest areas as closed military zones and troops have clashed frequently and increasingly violently with protesters, some of whom hurl rocks at the soldiers.

In May, Israel’s Justice Ministry opened a criminal investigation into the firing of tear gas shells at the demonstrations. Tear gas shells struck one of the two Palestinian demonstrators killed recently and injured the American.

The AP reported Saturday that Israeli Defense Forces sprayed a “putrid” substance on protesting Palestinians and sent plainclothed Palestinians across the border.

Confrontations over the barrier have become increasingly violent, with two Palestinian demonstrators killed in recent months and an American supporter seriously injured.

Video footage of one incident at the West Bank village of Naalin showed three masked undercover agents surrounding a shirtless Palestinian demonstrator, throwing him to the ground and then calling for backup by uniformed soldiers.

Several rocks hurled by protesters struck the ground near the troops and one of them pulled a pistol and fired in the air as Palestinians fled the scene. Two Palestinians were arrested, the military said.

In his June 4th address in Cairo, President Obama said the Palestinian experience has been defined by “the daily humiliations…that come with occupation,” and he has since pressured Israel to neogitate with Fatah and Hamas. Under these conditions, the failure of negotiations is lamentable and is fortified by ongoing violence on the ground and by Israel’s seizure of humanitarian aid groups, including the “Spirit of Humanity,” which carried US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

Prospects for peace have also been wrecked by Israel’s diplomatic relations with neighboring Arab states. In recent months, both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have sent an ambassador to Syria. The former after five years and the latter following a lengthier inter-country contention from the 2005 assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafiki Al-Hariri to disparate support from Hamas and Hizbollah.

According to the Obama administration, establishing diplomatic relations with Syria may weaken its support of Hizbollah and unabashed support of Iran. However, Israel has instead preferred to mobilize military against Iran and has refused to send an Israeli ambassador to Syria because of Syria’s singular demand for Israel to withdraw form the Golan Heights. According to the AP, Syria has refused peace talks with Israel since the latter annexed the area in 1981.

The Associated Press reports,

Syrian forces used the strategic plateau to shell nearby Israeli communities before 1967, and Israel fears those communities will once again become vulnerable should the Heights be ceded. Israeli officials also argue that holding the area gives Israel early warning of Syrian military moves and a buffer zone in case of attack.

The area is also home to crucial water sources, a profitable Israeli winery, and Israeli settlements with about 18,000 residents. About 17,000 Druse Arabs loyal to Syria also live there.

Senior adviser to the Middle East envoy George Mitchell and U.S. diplomat Frederick Hoff went to Israel this week, ostensibly, to shore up talks between Israel and Syria. Hoff will meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barack and other senior military advisers.

Ha’aretz writes, “The Americans believe the crisis in Iran has created an opportunity for the United States to draw Syria closer and resume Israel-Syria negotiations.”

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10

Abbas Turns Down Netanyahu’s Overture

Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu invited Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas to discuss peace today, but was refused for his failure to halt the settlements under the 2003 U.S.-initiated “roadmap” to peace.

Abbas said last month and again on Sunday in a letter to President Obama that he will not discuss “key issues” unless Israel stops the growth of settlements in the West Bank.

Reuters reports,

[Palestinian chief of the PLO Saeb] Erekat was responding to reports that Israel and the United States were discussing a compromise that would allow some building in existing settlements under what Israel terms “natural growth” to accommodate expanding families.

A U.S. official denied on Wednesday a report in the Israeli daily Maariv that the Obama administration agreed work could continue on 2,500 housing units whose construction had begun, despite its call for a total freeze to spur peace efforts.

The report followed talks in London last week between George Mitchell, Obama’s special Middle East envoy, and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak aimed at healing a rift over continued settlement activity.

… 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in a 1967 war. Palestinians say Jewish settlements, deemed illegal by the World Court, would deny them a viable and contiguous state.

Western officials said the United States was moving in the direction of making allowances so Israel could finish off at least some existing projects which are close to completion or bound by private contracts that cannot be broken.

Israel estimates that 2,500 units are in the process of being built and cannot be stopped under Israeli law.

In an interview with Ha’aretz, Netanyahu’s national security adviser called the Palestinian government a stooge, or rather a “disorderly constellation of forces and factions.” Of Abbas he said, “But even with him I don’t see a real interest and desire to arrive at the end of the conflict with Israel. On the contrary, he is preserving eternal claims against us and inflaming them.”

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10

Iran Has Deals in the Works

Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said today that the government will prepare a package of deals on issues of economy, security and international affairs.

The omission of nuclear activity is not a smart one. Prior to the G-8 summit this week,  Israel was successful in pushing three European superpowers to back a military amendment to the IAEA on Iran in September, and despite President Obama’s decision to refrain from military action, he has warned Iran of the September “deadline” for nuclear talks.

In April, the West presented its own package to Iran in which it provided incentives for nuclear non-proliferation, and it was well-received by President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad who said that it respected the nation’s sovereignty. Unfortunately, diplomatic relations have all but severed in the post-election backdrop, and the president has accused the West of trying to undercut Iran and of even inciting the street protests.

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10

Israel Elbows US as Iran Does Things the Hard Way

The Obama administration has always preferred bilateral diplomacy, but the administration is tightening its breeches.  Iran continues to advance its nuclear program and its post-election crackdown, including its prosecution of citizens who cooperate with satellite news programs.

In recent weeks, President Obama has threatened American companies that service the Iranian government  and rescinded invitations to Independence Day celebrations from Iranian diplomats. Now, according to Haa’retz, Israel is pushing its superpower allies to take on a more forceful Plan B.

According to the rationale of Israeli senior officials, the unrest in Iran permits “harsher steps” in the form of stiffer sanctions.

Israel has also been communicating with Germany, France, Russia and Japan on Washington’s persistence with the current path and on securing a military appendix to the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran.

The news follows London’s Sunday Times allegations that Saudi Arabia will allow Israel to use its airspace in military assault against Iran and American vice president Joe Biden said that military action against Iran is within Israel’s right as a sovereign power.

Ha’aretz reports,

In an interview with ABC television, Biden said: “Israel can determine for itself – it’s a sovereign nation – what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else. Whether we agree or not. They’re entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that.”

Biden insisted that pressure from Israel or other countries would not affect American’s planned dialogue with Iran. “There is no pressure from any nation that is going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed,” he said, adding that Washington believes this dialogue serves America’s interests, as well as those of Israel and the rest of the world.

Biden’s sentiment was only slightly undercut by President Obama’s insistence Tuesday that Israel does not have a green light to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The Jerusalem Post reports,

The president said that Biden had simply been stating the “categorical fact” that “we can’t dictate to other countries what their security interests are. What is also true is that it is the policy of the United States to resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear capabilities in a peaceful way through diplomatic channels,” he said.

Nevertheless, the IDF has taken into consideration the possibility that it will not receive US permission to fly over Iraq on the way to Iran, and has drawn up an operational plan for this contingency. While its preference is to coordinate with the US, defense officials have said in the past that Israel was preparing a wide range of options for such an operation.

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10

SBY Takes Landslide Victory

According to Voice of America, an international broadcasting service funded by the US government and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, unofficial results for the Indonesian presidential elections reveal a landslide victory for incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

As is typical of Indonesia, the opposition have made allegations of voter fraud, but the country’s analysts and the Foreign Correspondents Club in Jakarta expect the final count to corroborate independent surveys, which predicted a 60% win for SBY.

The Economist was less optimistic about these projections, citing SBY’s failure to deliver on the majority of his campaign promises. The article entitled “More of the Same,” claims the following:

Only a quarter of the measures he promised in 2004 to improve the investment climate have been implemented. Desperately needed infrastructure development has been sluggish. Legal and judicial reforms have been patchy. Little progress has been made on improving labour-market regulation. The armed forces are so under-financed that aircraft crashes have become a monthly occurrence.

Meanwhile official poverty and unemployment rates, at 14.2% and 8.2% respectively, are much higher than he promised when he was first elected. Health-service delivery is widely considered woeful. Religious minorities believe they are more fiercely persecuted than five years ago. Then there is the minor matter of the world’s worst recession in decades, which has taken its toll throughout South-East Asia’s export-oriented economies.

They attribute his victories to “luck and skill,” particularly his resurgent direct cash transfers to families, the his opponent’s poor campaigning, and the rather conciliatory nature of the democratic system.

Nevertheless, Yudhoyono’s first term has been a watershed administration in terms of its success of anti-corruption and a persistent growth rate of at least 4%. His re-election may bouy the national economy and the image of majority-Muslim nations.

Columnist and public-affairs show host Wimar Witoelar told VOA, “Now he can, together with our Barack Obama, build a new world on tolerance, on ethnic diversity and all the good things we have sought.”

If SBY is in fact a decisive a winner. There will not be a run-off election in September and SBY will greet President Obama when he arrives in Asia later this year.

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10
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Iraqis Unmoved by US Pull-out

The withdrawal of American troops from Iraq June 30th was celebrated with an almost-hysterical show of joy on the streets by law enforcement officers. However, according to the Associated Press, National Sovereignty Day passed without revelry among civilian Iraqis, many of whom recognize that 130,000 troops will remain until 2011, ostensibly.

The Associated Press reports,

“The celebrations were contrived, almost like a farce,” said Salman Hassan, who runs an electrical supplies store in eastern Baghdad. “The Americans did not go anywhere far, they are on the outskirts of our cities.”

Like many others in Baghdad, Hassan says he will not remember the Americans kindly. But, ironically, he says he finds comfort in the fact that the Americans remain close.

“Our forces are not ready yet to take sole responsibility. They need two more years to be ready to defend us.”

Iraq’s security forces, which number 650,000, have spent years in the shadow of their better equipped and more disciplined U.S. mentors, learning counterinsurgency tactics, intelligence gathering techniques and combat skills.

But the Iraqis continue to struggle with logistics and professional conduct. It is not uncommon to see soldiers at checkpoints speaking on their mobile phones or dozing off while sitting aside in the shade.

They also lack reliable networks for fuel distribution, equipment repairs and salary payments. Chipping away at the public’s confidence in their abilities is the adoption by some of the younger soldiers of an “American look”-dark, wraparound sunglasses, bandanas and knee and elbow pads-accessories Iraqis see as alien to their military traditions.

Many Iraqis also see hints of sectarian bias in the Shiite-dominated security forces, particularly the national police, and a disregard for human rights. There have been numerous reports in recent weeks about the torture of detainees in jails run by Iraq’s interior ministry, which oversees the police, but the government insists that offenders risk the full weight of the law.

In the days approaching withdrawal, insurgents attacked cities with renewed force, killing 30 in pre-dominantly Kurdish and oil-rich Kirkuk.

President Obama told CNN, “The Iraqis are rightly treating this day as a cause for celebration,” Obama said Tuesday. “The very fact that Iraqis are celebrating this day is a testament to the courage, the capability and commitment of every single American who has served in Iraq…. Through tour after tour of duty, our troops have overcome every obstacle to extend this precious opportunity to the Iraqi people.”

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10
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Obama and Medvedev Hold More Substantial Talks

President Obama is meeting with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev today to discuss shared political interests, including nuclear non-proliferation and if the U.S. will use Russia’s airspace to reach Afghanistan.

This meeting comes two months after the presidents committed to reducing thier respective nuclear arsenals and at a time when Russian approval of the Obama administration stands at a lowly 15%, reports the Huffington Post.

Nevertheless, the meeting is especially important as Medvedev undertakes his own pathway to peace in the Middle East. In June, Medvedv held talks with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarack to discuss a two-state solution and settlements. According to Al Jazeera, Russia will host a peace summit later this year.

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10