Archive for March 16th, 2010
Final destination Iran?
Exclusive: Rob Edwards
Published on 14 Mar 2010
Hundreds of powerful US “bunker-buster” bombs are being shipped from California to the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for a possible attack on Iran.
The Sunday Herald can reveal that the US government signed a contract in January to transport 10 ammunition containers to the island. According to a cargo manifest from the US navy, this included 387 “Blu” bombs used for blasting hardened or underground structures.
Experts say that they are being put in place for an assault on Iran’s controversial nuclear facilities. There has long been speculation that the US military is preparing for such an attack, should diplomacy fail to persuade Iran not to make nuclear weapons.
Although Diego Garcia is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, it is used by the US as a military base under an agreement made in 1971. The agreement led to 2,000 native islanders being forcibly evicted to the Seychelles and Mauritius.
The Sunday Herald reported in 2007 that stealth bomber hangers on the island were being equipped to take bunker-buster bombs.
US Israel criticism ignites firestorm in Congress
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration’s fierce denunciation of Israel last week has ignited a firestorm in Congress and among powerful pro-Israel interest groups who say the criticism of America’s top Mideast ally was misplaced.
Since the controversy erupted, a bipartisan parade of influential lawmakers and interest groups has taken aim at the administration’s decision to publicly condemn Israel for its announcement of new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting on Tuesday and then openly vent bitter frustration on Friday.
With diplomats from both countries referring to the situation as a crisis, the outpouring of anger in the United States, particularly from Capitol Hill, comes at a difficult time for the administration, which is now trying to win support from wary lawmakers — many of whom are up for re-election this year — for health care reform and other domestic issues.
And those criticizing the administration’s unusually blunt response to Israel say they fear it may have distracted from and done damage to efforts to relaunch long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“It might be well if our friends in the administration and other places in the United States could start refocusing our efforts on the peace process,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Monday.
“Now we’ve had our spat. We’ve had our family fight, and it’s time for us now to stop and get our eye back on the goal, which is the commencement of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks,” he said.
McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., both urged the administration to ease the tone of the dispute, which they said was demonstrating disunity and weakness to steadfast allies of Iran.
“Let’s cut the family fighting, the family feud,” Lieberman said. “It’s unnecessary; it’s destructive of our shared national interest. It’s time to lower voices, to get over the family feud between the U.S. and Israel. It just doesn’t serve anybody’s interests but our enemies.”
At least eight other lawmakers have offered similar concerns, and more are expected to weigh in after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton upbraided Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the housing announcement in a tense and lengthy phone call on Friday and White House officials repeated the criticism on Sunday’s talk shows.
“It’s hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace,” said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. He complained that the administration was attacking a “staunch ally and friend” when it should be focusing on the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear problem.
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., accused administration officials of using “overwrought rhetoric” in suggesting that the east Jerusalem housing announcement threatened U.S.-Israeli ties.
“The administration’s strong implication that the enduring alliance between the U.S. and Israel has been weakened, and that America’s ability to broker talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities has been undermined, is an irresponsible overreaction,” she said.
With tensions still high, former Sen. George Mitchell, the administration’s Mideast peace envoy, has delayed his departure to the region, where he is scheduled to hold separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, a U.S. official said.
Mitchell had been scheduled to depart Washington on Monday night. He still intends to go, but the timing is uncertain, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations.
The State Department on Monday said it was still awaiting a formal response from Israel to Clinton’s call and, while repeating elements of the criticism, stressed that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security remains “unshakable.”
But spokesman P.J. Crowley also said a lot is riding on whether Israel agrees to take steps suggested by Clinton to underscore its commitment to the peace process and strong relations with America.
“We will evaluate the implications of this once we hear back from the Israelis and see how they respond to our concerns,” he told reporters.
Reaction to the administration was particularly intense from pro-Israel groups.
Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was “shocked and stunned at the administration’s tone and public dressing down of Israel on the issue of future building in Jerusalem.”
“We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the United States,” Foxman said.
Associated Press writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.
US envoy cancels Mideast trip amid US-Israel feud
JERUSALEM – A U.S. envoy’s postponement of his Mideast trip appeared Tuesday to deepen one of the worst U.S.-Israeli feuds in memory — even as Israel’s foreign minister signaled his government had no intention of curtailing the contentious construction at the heart of the row.
Dozens of masked Palestinians also hurled rocks at police and set tires ablaze across the holy city’s volatile eastern sector, as the deployment of thousands of Israeli security personnel entered its fifth day.
The diplomatic crisis erupted last week after Israel announced during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden that it would build 1,600 apartments for Jews in disputed east Jerusalem, the sector of the holy city that the Palestinians claim for a future capital.
The announcement enraged Palestinians, who have threatened to bow out of U.S.-brokered peace talks that were supposed to have begun in the coming days. The Obama administration, fuming over what it called the “insulting” Israeli conduct, demanded that Israel call off the contentious project.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio that demands to halt Israeli construction there “are unreasonable as far as we are concerned.” And he predicted that the diplomatic row with the U.S. would blow over, saying neither side had an interest in escalation.
But Washington notified Israel early Tuesday that envoy George Mitchell had put off his trip. The visit will be rescheduled at an undetermined time, officials on both sides said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized for the timing of the project’s approval, but he has not said it would be canceled. On Monday, backed by his hawkish coalition, he defended four decades of Jewish construction in east Jerusalem and said it “in no way” hurts Palestinians.
The feud is feeding already high tensions in east Jerusalem, where Jews and Palestinians live together uneasily. Some 3,000 Israeli police officers were deployed in the east Jerusalem area on Tuesday, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Early Tuesday, masked Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli police and burned tires in multiple areas. Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said police fired stun grenades to disperse dozens of protesters at one site, and that village elders helped to end protests at another. No injuries were reported in those disturbances.
At another site, rioters on a road strewn with rocks, tires and a charred garbage bin were dismantling a public bus stop. Police said 15 Palestinians have been arrested so far.
Palestinian access to a disputed hilltop shrine holy to both Jews and Muslims remained limited to men 50 and over, Rosenfeld said.
Palestinians are protesting the rededication of a historic synagogue in the Jewish quarter of the Old City, amid rumors of plans by Jewish extremists to take control over a hilltop complex at the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The rededication has stoked periodically recurring rumors that Jewish extremists are planning to take over the shrine known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, home to the Al-Aqsa mosque complex.
Temple Mount, where the biblical Jewish temples stood, is Judaism’s holiest site. The Al-Aqsa complex is Islam’s third-holiest shrine.
Palestinians summoned by their leaders to defend the compound run afoul of Israeli checkpoints limiting access to the site, creating an environment for clashes.
Palestinians, who number about 250,000 in east Jerusalem, see the building of new settlements and the presence of some 180,000 Jews there as a grave challenge to their claims to the territory.
Jerusalem is the most explosive issue in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. At the emotional and religious center of the dispute is Jerusalem’s Old City, with shrines holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem after capturing it from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. Most Israelis accept the Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem as part of Israel, and previous peace proposals have allowed them to remain in Israeli hands.
But the international community does not recognize the annexation or distinguish the Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem as different from West Bank settlements, seen internationally as illegal.
The rift has presented Netanyahu with a predicament. If he doesn’t make gestures toward the U.S. and the Palestinians on east Jerusalem, he will likely further antagonize Israel’s most important ally. But Netanyahu, who historically has taken a hard line against territorial concessions to the Palestinians, could see his hawkish governing coalition crumble if he compromises on Jerusalem.
Biden Affair Undercuts Two-State Peace Charade
Monday, March 15, 2010 7:08 PM
From: “Stephen Sniegoski”
To: “Stephen Sniegoski”
The Biden affair in Israel brings out an obvious fact that back and forth debates on Israel’s actual intent tend to obscure. In short, whether Israel intended to humiliate the US or not, it does intend to continue building homes in East Jerusalem. Moreover, the Obama administration is politically unable to make an effort to stop the new settlement construction, but does not want it to be so blatant. The Palestinians, however, will never accept a “state” that does not include East Jerusalem.
As Israeli writer Uri Avnery points out: “That is clear to anyone who has dealings with this region. No peace without an independent Palestinian state, no Palestinian state without East Jerusalem. About this there is total unanimity among all Palestinians, from Fatah to Hamas, and between all Arabs, from Morocco to Iraq, and between all Muslims, from Nigeria to Iran.”
Avnery goes on: “Quite simply: anyone building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is announcing in advance that there is no chance for an agreement. After all, no sane Israeli would invest billions in a territory he intends to turn over to the Palestinian state.”
Obviously, Obama and his Middle East advisors know all this. The peace talks are thus nothing but a charade—providing an image that the Obama administration is working for a just peace in the Middle East. From the perspective of image, the Israeli announcement of increased settlement building during Biden’s visit was embarrassing. But the Israeli announcement did not change the reality. Settlement building is a reality that the Obama administration is not able to stop–which means that there will be no two state solution.
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_ The Palestine Peace Charade, March 2010 Edition By Alex Kane March 9, 2010 | Posted in Alex Kane , IndyBlog , Palestine | Email this article
The endless “Palestine peace charade,” as we here at the Indypendent termed it in December 2007, has returned to the forefront of discussions about Israel/Palestine.
Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel yesterday, meeting with Israeli leaders as he said that ties between Israel and the United States were “unshakeable.”
Biden’s visit coincides with the announcement of “proximity talks” between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, which will see the Obama administration’s Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell shuttle back and forth between the two sides. The indirect talks are the first since the brutal Gaza onslaught of 2008-2009.
Palestinians will not meet directly with Israel as long as Israel continues building illegal Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land, which is in direct violation of numerous United Nations resolutions and the Geneva Conventions Biden is in Israel to primarily discuss Iran’s nuclear program, according to Palestinian politician Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, who told Al Jazeera that, “the peace effort seems to me is not a primary issue on the agenda.”
But for Mitchell, the so-called “peace process” is his territory. However, what we can be sure of is that the spectacle of indirect talks for four months won’t mean anything and will not advance justice for the occupied Palestinian people, and will result in another failure by Mitchell and the Obama administration to stand up to the illegality of Israeli moves.
These latest round of talks are the continuation of a process that began in the early 1990s, when, most prominently, the Oslo Accords were signed. During the Oslo years leading up to the Second Intifada in 2000, “the number of settlers illegally living on Palestinian land had risen…from 80,000 to 150,000—even though the Israelis, as well as the Palestinians, were forbidden take ‘unilateral steps’ under the terms of the agreement,” as the journalist Robert Fisk writes in his book The Great War for Civilization.
Currently, there are 500,000 Jewish colonizers on occupied Palestinian land, including in East Jerusalem, which is supposed to be the future capital of a Palestinian state.
“Negotiating over how to divide a pie while the Israeli side is busy devouring it via annexation and settlement is an exercise in futility,” said Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University and a former adviser to Palestinian negotiators. “There is no reason to expect a better outcome from these negotiations between the most intransigent Israeli government ever and a weak and divided Palestinian leadership.”
Israel has already spit in the face of the Palestinians, even before the indirect talks get off the ground.
Yesterday, as Biden arrived in the region, Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the construction of 112 apartment units in an ultra-Orthodox settlement in the West Bank for “safety issues.” The State Department barely flinched, and spokesman P.J. Crowley claimed that the move did not violate a previously announced “settlement freeze,” although there was no mention of the illegality of the settlements. Crowley instead urged both sides to be “cautious.”
And today, in an even more provocative move, Israel’s Interior Ministry approved the construction of 1,600 new homes in Arab East Jerusalem, enraging the Palestinian. The Palestinian Authority said, “Israel’s decision to approve new East Jerusalem houses effectively prevents any peace negotiations from taking place,” Haaretz reported this morning. Recently, East Jerusalem has been the site of more ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where Palestinians have been kicked out of their homes to be replaced by Jewish settlers.
While the settlements and the illegal separation barrier continue to cut and carve up Palestinian land, the two-state solution has gone to the wayside, despite rhetoric from the Obama administration. The only question is when the struggle will shift towards an anti-apartheid, one person, one vote movement of Palestinians.
“These proximity talks are a charade to cover up the complete failure of Obama’s peace strategy to date and the weakness of the US-backed Palestinian Authority leaders. Talks are meaningless while Israel is engaged in full-speed colonization of East Jerusalem and the West Bank – despite a so-called ‘freeze’ – and even more so without the participation of Hamas,” said Ali Abunimah, the co-founder of Electronic Intifada.
Special thanks to the Institute for Middle East Understanding for providing the above quotes by Rashid Khalidi and Ali Abunimah for publication.
Last update – 22:00 11/03/2010
Deputy FM tells U.S.: Israel won’t make any more concessions By Natasha Mozgavaya, Haaretz Correspondent and News Agencies
Ayalon: U.S. anger over East Jerusalem building due to timing; PA: Peace talks off until plan shelved.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Thursday defended Israel’s decision to approve construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, saying sovereignty over the capital has never been negotiable and that Israel would not make any more concessions for peace.
“There is no doubt that the Palestinians will try to use this to either stop the upcoming indirect peace talks, or to extort more concessions from us, and I have explained to U.S. government officials that there will be no more concessions,” said the deputy minister.
According to Ayalon, the United States’ condemnation on the matter was due to the timing of the announcement and not the content of the issue.
Israel declared its approval of the construction just 24 hours after U.S. envoy George Mitchell announced that Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to begin indirect peace talks and in the midst of a visit to the region by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
“We were severely criticized by the State Department,” Ayalon told Haaretz during a visit to Washington. “I explained that Jerusalem has always been out of the question.”
“The criticism was mainly about the timing of the announcement, and I told them that it was poor timing, but it was not planned and it was a serious mistake which is currently being probed in Israel,” Ayalon told Haaretz.
Ayalon said that despite the uncomfortable diplomatic circumstances he has found himself in due to the issue, his visit to Washington has been “essentially good” and has allowed him to reach “concrete achievements.”
Biden issued his Israeli hosts with a sharp rebuke upon hearing that the East Jerusalem construction had been approved. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was not informed in advance of the decision, announced by the interior ministry.
The prime minister summoned Interior Minister Eli Yishai Wednesday morning and reprimanded him for the decision’s “wretched, displaced, insensitive” timing.
The 1,600 homes will be built in Ramat Shlomo, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in northern Jerusalem, near the Palestinian village of Shuafat.
The neighborhood lies within the municipal boundaries drawn up by Israel after it annexed East Jerusalem following its capture in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said earlier Thursday that Palestinians would not begin indirectpeace talks unless the Israeli government annuled the decision to build in East Jerusalem.
“We want to hear from [United States envoy George] Mitchell that Israel has canceled the decision to build housing units before we start the negotiations,” Erekat said.
His remarks follow comments by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who told Biden Wednesday that it was not enough for the Israeli decision to be condemned, it also had to be canceled.
Biden Brouhaha: Just a Matter of Bad Timing?
Posted By Uri Avnery On March 14, 2010 @ 11:00 pm In
Some weeks the news is dominated by a single word. This week’s word was “timing.”
It’s all a matter of timing. The government of Israel insulted the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, one of the greatest “friends” of Israel (meaning: somebody totally subservient to AIPAC), and spat in the face of President Barack Obama. So what? It’s all a matter of timing.
If the government had announced the building of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem a day earlier, it would have been OK. If it had announced it three days later, it would have been wonderful. But doing it exactly when Joe Biden was about to have dinner with Bibi and Sarah’le – that was really bad timing.
The matter itself is not important. Another thousand housing units in East Jerusalem, or 10,000, or 100,000 – what different does it make? The only thing that matters is the timing.
As the Frenchman said: It’s worse than criminal, it’s stupid.
The word “stupid” also figured prominently this week, second only to “timing.”
Stupidity is an accepted phenomenon in politics. I would almost say: to succeed in politics, one needs a measure of stupidity. Voters don’t like politicians who are too intelligent. They make them feel inferior. A foolish politician, on the other hand, appears to be “one of the folks.”
History is full of acts of folly by politicians. Many books have been written about this. To my mind, the epitome of foolishness was achieved by the events that led to World War I, with its millions of victims, which broke out because of the accumulated stupidity of (in ascending order) Austrian, Russian, German, French, and British politicians.
But even stupidity in politics has its limits. I have pondered this question for decades, and who knows, one day, when I grow up, I might write a doctoral thesis about it.
My thesis goes like this: In politics (as in other fields) foolish things happen regularly. But some of them are stopped in time, before they can lead to disaster, while others are not. Is this accidental, or is there a rule?
My answer is: there certainly is a rule. It works like this: when somebody sets in motion an act of folly that runs counter to the spirit of the regime, it is stopped in its tracks. While it moves from one bureaucrat to another, somebody starts to wonder. Just a moment, this cannot be right! It is referred to higher authority, and soon enough somebody decides that it is a mistake.
On the other hand, when the act of folly is in line with the spirit of the regime, there are no brakes. When it moves from one bureaucrat to the next, it looks quite natural to both. No red light. No alarm bell. And so the folly rolls on to the bitter end.
I remember how this rule came to my mind the first time. In 1965, Habib Bourguiba, the president of Tunisia, took a bold step: he made a speech in the biggest refugee camp in Jericho, then under Jordanian rule, and called upon the Arabs to recognize Israel. This caused a huge scandal all over the Arab world.
Some time later, the correspondent of an Israeli paper reported that in a press conference at the UN headquarters, Bourguiba had called for the destruction of Israel. This sounded strange to me. I made inquiries, checked the protocol, and found out that the opposite was true: the reporter had mistakenly turned a no into a yes.
How did this happen? If the journalist had erred in the opposite direction and reported, for example, that Gamal Abd-el-Nasser had called for the acceptance of Israel into the Arab League, the news would have been stopped at once. Every red light would have lit up. Someone would have called out: Hey, something strange here! Check again! But in the Bourguiba case nobody noticed the mistake, for what is more natural than an Arab leader calling for the destruction of Israel? No verification needed.
That’s what happened this week in Jerusalem. Every government official knows that the nationalist prime minister is pushing for the Judaization of East Jerusalem, that the extreme nationalist minister of the interior is even more eager, and that the super-nationalist mayor of Jerusalem practically salivates when he imagines a Jewish quarter on the Temple Mount. So why should a bureaucrat postpone the confirmation of a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem? Just because of the visit of some American windbag?
Therefore, the timing is not important. It’s the matter itself that’s important.
During his last days in office, President Bill Clinton published a peace plan, in which he tried to make up for eight years of failure in this region and kowtowing to successive Israeli governments. The plan was comparatively reasonable, but included a ticking bomb.
About East Jerusalem, Clinton proposed that what is Jewish should be joined to the state of Israel and what is Arab should be joined to the state of Palestine. He assumed (rightly, I believe) that Yasser Arafat was ready for such a compromise, which would have joined some new Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to Israel. But Clinton was not wise enough to foresee the consequences of his proposal.
In practice, it was an open invitation to the Israeli government to speed up the establishment of new settlements in East Jerusalem, expecting them to become part of Israel. And indeed, since then successive Israeli governments have invested all available resources in this endeavor. Since money has no smell, every Jewish casino-owner in America and every Jewish brothel-keeper in Europe was invited to join the effort. The Biblical injunction – “Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the Lord thy God, for any vow; for even both these are abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 23:18) – was suspended for this holy cause.
Now the pace is speeded up even more. Because there is no more effective means of obstructing peace than building new settlements in East Jerusalem.
That is clear to anyone who has dealings with this region. No peace without an independent Palestinian state, no Palestinian state without East Jerusalem. About this there is total unanimity among all Palestinians, from Fatah to Hamas, and between all Arabs, from Morocco to Iraq, and between all Muslims, from Nigeria to Iran.
There will be no peace without the Palestinian flag waving above the Haram al-Sharif, the holy shrines of Islam which we call the Temple Mount. That is an iron-clad rule. Arabs can compromise about the refugee problem, painful as it may be, and about the borders, also with much pain, and about security matters. But they cannot compromise about East Jerusalem becoming the capital of Palestine. All national and religious passions converge here.
Anyone who wants to wreck any chance for peace, it is here that he has to act. The settlers and their supporters, who know that any peace agreement would include the elimination of (at least) most settlements, have planned in the past (and probably are planning now) to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount, hoping that this would cause a worldwide conflagration which would reduce to ashes the chances of peace once and for all. Less extreme people dream about the creeping ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem by administrative chicanery, demolition of houses, denying means of livelihood, and just making life in general miserable for Arabs. Moderate rightists just want to cover every empty square inch in East Jerusalem with Jewish neighborhoods. The aim is always the same.
This reality is, of course, well known to Obama and his advisers. In the beginning they believed, in their innocence, that they could sweet talk Netanyahu and Co. into stopping the building activity to facilitate the start of negotiations for the two-state solution. Very soon they learned that this was impossible without exerting massive pressure – and they were not prepared to do that.
After putting up a short and pitiful struggle, Obama gave in. He agreed to the deception of a “settlement freeze” in the West Bank. Now building is going on there with great enthusiasm, and the settlers are satisfied. They have completely stopped their demonstrations.
In Jerusalem there was not even a farcical attempt – Netanyahu just told Obama that he would go on building there (“as in Tel Aviv”), and Obama bowed his head. When Israeli officials announced a grandiose plan for building in “Ramat Shlomo” this week, they did not violate any undertaking. Only the matter of “timing” remained.
For Joe Biden, it was a matter of honor. For Mahmoud Abbas, it is a matter of survival.
Under intense pressure from the Americans and their agents, the rulers of the Arab countries, Abbas was obliged to agree to negotiations with the Netanyahu government – though only “proximity talks,” a euphemism for “distance talks.”
Clearly, nothing will come out of these talks except more humiliation for the Palestinians. Quite simply: anyone building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is announcing in advance that there is no chance for an agreement. After all, no sane Israeli would invest billions in a territory he intends to turn over to the Palestinian state. A person who is eating a pizza is not negotiating about it in good faith.
Even at this late stage, Abbas and his people still hope that something good will come out of all this: the U.S. will acknowledge that they are right and exert, at long last, real pressure on Israel to implement the two-state solution.
But Biden and Obama did not give much cause for hope. They wiped the spit off their faces and smiled politely.
As the saying goes: when you spit in the face of a weakling, he pretends that it is raining. Does this apply to the president of the most powerful country in the world?
March 14, 2010
Israel’s PM urges calm as US tensions boil over
By Gavin Rabinowitz (AFP) – 7 hours ago
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged calm on Sunday as an angry Washington said it was insulted by Israel’s “destructive” announcement of plans to expand settlements in east Jerusalem.
The rift is seen by many in Israel as the greatest crisis to hit the two close allies in decades, and it appeared to be deepening as senior US officials continued to berate Netanyahu despite his public apology on Thursday.
“We opened the papers this morning and saw the analyses and reviews. I suggest we not get carried away, and calm down,” Netanyahu said ahead of a weekly cabinet meeting.
“We know how to deal with situations like these, calmly, responsibly and seriously.”
Israel had thought the crisis — provoked by an announcement of plans for 1,600 new settler homes in mostly Arab east Jerusalem during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden — was over following the apology.
But the United States has signalled over the weekend that things were far from business as usual.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton berated Netanyahu in a 43-minute phone conversation before telling the press the move was “insulting,” and sent a “deeply negative signal” about Israel’s ties to its top ally. Related article: Palestinians hail rare US condemnations of Israel.
On Sunday David Axelrod, one of President Barack Obama’s closest advisers, echoed Clinton’s remarks, saying the announcement was an “insult” to the United States and “very destructive” to the peace process.
“The crisis is still in full force and has reached new heights. It appears to be far more severe than anything we’ve known in the past decade, and perhaps even longer,” Israel’s Maariv newspaper said in an editorial.
Its front page showed a cartoon of Obama boiling Netanyahu in a large pot, under a banner headline, “In flames.”
Israel has long viewed the United States as its most important ally and a crucial partner in confronting Iran’s nuclear drive, which the Jewish state sees as its greatest strategic threat.
“We are heading into crucial days. The Iranian nuclear threat requires a prime minister who is the US president’s darling,” the Maariv editorial said.
“Instead, we have gotten ourselves a prime minister who is very close to being persona non grata in Washington.”
Analysts said the crisis was a result of Netanyahu trying to manoeuvre one too many times between his mostly rightwing governing coalition and the United States, which has been pushing him toward peace talks with the Palestinians.
“It is a very serious crisis. During his first year Netanyahu manoeuvred in a very sophisticated way, walking on a tightrope like acrobat, and I think this is the first time he fell from the rope,” said Alon Liel, a former director of Israel’s foreign ministry.
“It still remains to be seen how painful it will be,” he told AFP. “We have come to a moment of truth and Netanyahu has to make up his mind if he is serious about honestly responding to US and international demands.”
Last week’s announcement over the settlements dealt a heavy blow to months of US-led efforts to relaunch peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians that were last suspended during the December 2008 to January 2009 Gaza war.
Media reports said the United States and Israel had reached a secret understanding that the latter would refrain from announcing new east Jerusalem building projects during the talks, in conjunction with an already agreed public commitment to freeze new building starts in the West Bank for 10 months.
The presence of nearly half a million Israelis in more than 120 settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank including east Jerusalem has long been a major obstacle to the peace process.
In an attempt at damage control, Netanyahu set up a committee to investigate the settlement announcement, allegedly made without his knowledge, and prevent its recurrence.
He also told his ministers to refrain from talking about the issue and further inflame tensions.
However, the orders apparently failed to trickle down to Danny Danon, a junior lawmaker in Netanyahu’s Likud party, who called Clinton’s comments “gratuitous and frankly annoying.”
“This is yet another in the disturbing series of counter-productive declarations from the Obama administration,” Danon said in a statement.:
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Israel’s Dubai Hit Continues the Country’s Moral Decline