It looked this morning like U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was going to have a nice, friendly visit to Israel, even though the government there announced on the eve of his trip that it was approving new construction in an existing settlement bloc in the West Bank.
"The bond between our two nations has been and will remain unshakable," Biden wrote this morning in President Shimon Peres's guestbook. "Only together can we achieve lasting peace in the region." He also praised Peres as "articulate."
The State Department's initial statement on the matter was exceedingly cautious, suggesting that the United States was willing to swallow Israel's argument that the new building didn't violate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's 10-month moratoriumon on new settlement construction.
But then, the Israeli Interior Ministry added another wrinkle, announcing a plan to build 1,600 new homes in hotly contested East Jerusalem. The official story is that Netanyahu didn't know the announcement was coming, and that Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who heads the hard-line Shas Party, was freelancing. Apparently the prime minister's office is looking into the matter.
Biden came out with this harsh statement today:
"I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel. We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them. This announcement underscores the need to get negotiations under way that can resolve all the outstanding issues of the conflict. The United States recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply important issue for Israelis and Palestinians and for Jews, Muslims and Christians. We believe that through good faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem and safeguards its status for people around the world. Unilateral action taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations on permanent status issues. As George Mitchell said in announcing the proximity talks, "we encourage the parties and all concerned to refrain from any statements or actions which may inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of these talks."
UPDATE: Yishai is now saying he didn't know about the 1,600 new housing units either, as it was all just "a technical authorization in Jerusalem, which isn't part of the settlement freeze" and therefore didn't require his signoff. This, frankly, doesn't pass the laugh test.
Nor does this:
"If I'd have known, I would have postponed the authorization by a week or two since we had no intention of provoking anyone," Yishai said. "It is definitely unpleasant that this happened during Biden's visit. If the committee members would have known that the approval would have escalated to such a situation, they would have informed me," Yishai emphasized.
Haaretz also quotes "a high-ranking official in Jerusalem" saying that Netanyahu has "no problem" with the new construction but would have preferred not to embarrass Biden. Nice of him.
So what should the United States do? The danger is that whoever was behind this little maneuver will get what they want -- deep-sixing the recently announced proximity talks -- if the Obama administration moves to somehow punish Israel for this ploy. But the United States is not in the business of punishing Israel for major sleights like this (most likely, Biden's statement was the end of it, and maybe some Israeli officials will have more trouble getting their calls returned for a few weeks). That leaves the unpalatable option of letting the Palestinians walk away from the table before they get there, which is the equivalent of throwing the Israeli hard-liners into ye olde briar patch.
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Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy this morning, gave a tour d'horizon of Israel's current strategic position in the Middle East -- and also managed in the process to draw on some of the best traditions of Jewish comedy.
It all began when Barak took issue with Iranian ambitions in the Middle East, and specifically Iranian President Ahmadinejad's remark in Damascus that Arab nations will transform the region into an area "without Zionists and without colonialists." Barak riffed that Ahmadinejad was "looking for a 'New Middle East' -- it reminds me of [Israeli President] Shimon Peres," playing on the title of his former Labor Party ally's book.
This wasn't the only point where Barak drew a few laughs on issues that are rarely mined for their comedic potential. When tackling the subject of Iranian nuclear ambitions, Barak poured cold water on the idea that Iran would drop a nuke on Israel shortly after constructing its first weapon. "They're radical, but they're not total meshugenahs," he said of the Iranian leadership, proving that the mixture of yiddish and Persian military expansionism, while explosive, is also sort of amusing.
But Barak did not limit his comedic debut to remarks about Iran -- he also took aim at the domestic political opposition in Israel. When asked about the prospects for a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian Authority or Syria, he criticized elements on the Israeli left who were attempting to delay talks because they did not have a role in the current Netanyahu government. He recounted the apocryphal story of an Israeli airman who was cut from the air force; after delivering this bad news, his superiors asked him what service he would like to join, and he stated that he wanted to be a member of the anti-aircraft artillery corps. When asked why, he stated, "'If I can't fly, then nobody can fly." The peace process, Barak was saying, needs supporters -- not more people manning the anti-aircraft guns trying to shoot it down.
These remarks, of course, were all in good fun -- but there's more to it than that. Barak's central message was that Israel will only find peace with its neighbors when it is a strong, self-confident state. It should be capable of possessing a clear-eyed view of the threats it faces, and able to take risks for peace, Barak argued. His point was that, though Israel will no doubt confront a number of difficult challenges in the year ahead, the situation was by no means dire -- it was even possible to make a few jokes about it. By taking this approach, Barak was the latest in a long line of public figures who discovered the serious implications of a little comedic timing. Lenny Bruce would be proud.
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The latest Twitter fail comes courtesy of the Israeli Mission to Britain. The Thursday tweet included a link to a story about Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer's advancement to the quarterfinals of the Dubai Championship, but also seemed to jokingly reference last month's killing of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, which Mossad is suspected to have committed.
It seems the message was particularly poorly-timed, as London asked the Embassy about the use of faked British passports during the Dubai operation on the very same day. The Guardian first reported the posting, but Ynet News grabbed a screenshot of the Tweet itself. It reads:
You heard it here first: Israeli tennis player carries out hit on #Dubai target http://ow.ly/18A79
The message was removed within minutes of its posting. A response was put out by the Israeli Mission today:
Naturally, messages on the Twitter network are characterized with a great deal of creativity. In this case the creativity was undoubtedly inappropriate. The ambassador told off the employee who wrote the message and it was removed.
One would have loved to be a fly on the wall during that telling off. ("WHO'S THE GUILTY TWEETER?")
For all the grief I gave Andrew Sullivan the other day, I have to admit: He's the unquestioned master of his medium. In the days since Leon Wieseltier's hit piece, Sully has curated a wide-ranging debate about himself and the thorny subject of Israel, and it's made for pretty good reading.
Still, some nuance would be helpful. Here, for instance, is a point I partly agree with:
I believe, after the last year, that it is in the interests of the United States to use serious leverage to get Israel to get serious about ending settlement construction permanently and beginning the dismantling and removal of these impediments to any serious progress in the region.
The settlements are a real problem. But I have grave doubts, especially after what has transpired in 2009, that allowing them to become the focus of negotiations is helpful. Instead of backing Benjamin Netanyahu into a corner and making Israelis fear for the future of their alliance with the United States, the issue got his hackles up and let his allies paint Obama as pro-Arab to an already suspicious Israeli public. And instead of buying goodwill from the Palestinians, it made them grow intransigent in the hopes of pocketing a more substantial settlement freeze. A lot has changed since the 1990s, notably the Israeli public's lurch rightward and the Hamas takeover of Gaza. Our analysis of the situation needs to change, too. (One thing that hasn't changed: AIPAC still gets what it wants in Congress.)
Maybe, as some have suggested, it would be better to forget about a lasting peace for now and go for a cease-fire in the hopes that moderates on both sides would gain strength over time. Another approach might be to focus on improving the lives of Palestinians and avoid the kind of high-stakes diplomacy that has tripped up all efforts to date. Maybe.
Here's the thing about Israeli-Palestinian peace, though: Nothing works. We can try to draw lessons from past agreements, like the 1978 Egypt-Israel accords at Camp David, the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace deal, or the various interim agreements between Israel and the Palestinians that ultimately led nowhere in the 1990s. But none of them prove anything about a final-status deal over the West Bank and Gaza. For Israelis and Palestinians, things that sound stupid to most of us -- like fighting over flower pots and patches of infertile desert -- are a matter of life and death. All this makes the ins and outs of this conflict endlessly debateable, but also maddeningly difficult to solve.
Here's the quick and dirty summary: Wieseltier uses a W.H. Auden quote as a framing device for long, tedious, and link-free article that paints Sullivan as an anti-Semite. Sullivan fires back with a rebuttal of Wieseltier's interpretation of the quote and shows the original email exchange that prompted Andrew to use it. He follows up a while later with a 2008 quote from Wieseltier explicitly saying Sullivan is NOT an anti-Semite. More is soon to follow. [UPDATE: Here's Sullivan with more. Much, much more.]
So far, I'm not impressed by any of it. Wieseltier does catch Sullivan writing some weird and sloppy things about Jews, and Andrew should be much more careful in criticizing Israel. But Wieseltier is equally sloppy and careless with his language, sweepingly accusing Sullivan of "venomous hostility toward Israel and Jews." The whole thing is pretty tiresome, and the fracas as it plays out will do little to enhance the discussion about Israel and the Palestinian question (and just wait until Marty Peretz throws his hat in the ring), or either man's image, for that matter.
Having read both TNR and Sullivan's blog for years now, I feel well-qualified to make a few unsolicited observations. First, Sullivan is no anti-Semite. He doesn't really have a set ideology, though he claims to be a conservative. His worldview seems to be determined not by deep, core beliefs, but by an innate sense of what his audience wants to read at any given moment. He's wildly successful as a blogger in part because he shifts with the political winds -- witness his conversion from a fanatical enthusiast for George W. Bush's war on terror to a strident critic of "enhanced interrogations," or his sudden passion for Iranian dissidents. It's probably not an accident, either, that he spent much of 2008 pumping up the ludicrous, but Web-driven Ron Paul candidacy while writing obsessively about the Google-riffic Sarah Palin.
Sullivan's criticism of Israel ought to worry defenders of the Jewish state, then, because he is a bellwether for a broader shift in American media and society that has happened over the last few years. Israel is using up a lot of the goodwill it had built up in the 1990s, when eminent statesmen like Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres made good-faith efforts toward peace with the Palestinians. Since then, the country has been governed by a series of unimaginative right-wing leaders who have pandered constantly to their settler base and chosen to solve political problems through the use of force. Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party may have their fingers on the pulse of their public right now, but their agenda is not one that appeals to most Americans, who strongly support Israel's right to exist but have little interest in underwriting the permanent occupation of the West Bank.
Tired old arguments like "but the Palestinians are worse!" may win debate points, but they aren't a good way to rebuild the widespread support for Israel that existed in Bill Clinton's time. Only wise and far-sighted Israeli leadership can do that, and self-styled friends of the Jewish state might want to think about ways they can help nudge the Israeli political class in a more productive direction, rather than publishing 4,000-word essays about ... bloggers.
UPDATE: Jeff Goldberg chimes in with a few additional thoughts:
What Israel needs is a leader who will step forward and say, "Here is the way things should look," and then present an outline for the creation of a viable Palestine. The settlers will go nuts, but that's what they do. Hamas will go nuts, because that's what it does. But Hounshell is right: What is needed is a Rabin.
The territorial issues surrounding the village of Ghajar are probably understood well by only a few hundred Americans -- and, truth be told, the village's history is not known all that much better in Lebanon. Nevertheless, there have been three stories on Ghajar in major U.S. publications in the past week: The Wall Street Journal released their article last Friday, the New York Times published their piece today -- and, of course, Foreign Policy produced the best article on Ghajar, which we put out last night.
This is curious because Israel administers the village as a military zone -- foreign correspondents need the IDF's permission to enter the village, and are escorted by the Israelis as they do their reporting. It is one of those issues where Israel is able to shape pretty easily what media accounts, if any, come out of the area.
So, why would the Israelis open the floodgates to Ghajar reporting at this time? As you'd know by reading our article, Israel is currently in negotiations with the United Nations and Lebanon over returning the northern part of the village to Lebanese sovereignty, while the area would be administered by soldiers from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Those talks have currently hit a few snags: Israel is leery of the precedent set by a deal which would place Israeli citizens under international control. By letting reporters interview the village residents, who oppose the deal because they want to be reintegrated with Syria, not Lebanon, the Israelis could be attempting to gin up public pressure which will give them a reason to drag their feet further on negotiations.
LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed his views in Tel Aviv today on Israeli security, and he certainly made them interesting:
It must be understood that if between the Jordan [River] and the [Mediterranean Sea] there is only one political entity called 'Israel,' it will by necessity either be not Jewish or not democratic, and we will turn into an apartheid state.
The use of apartheid is a rarity among Israeli officials, but Barak was underscoring what he believes to be Israel's most serious threat:
The lack of defined boundaries within Israel, and not an Iranian bomb, is the greatest threat to our future.
JIM HOLLANDER/AFP/Getty Images
Aluf Benn argues in Haaretz that the upset in Massachusetts is a victory for Israel's prime minister:
Over the past nine months, Netanyahu has managed to curb pressure from Obama, who enjoys a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. Now, however, Obama will be more dependent on the support of his Republican rivals, the supporters and friends of Netanyahu.
No Israeli politician matches his steps to the political goings-on in the U.S. as much as Netanyahu. He dragged out negotiations over the settlement freeze and then decided it would last for 10 months and end in September - just in time for U.S. Congressional elections in which Democrats are expected to suffer heavy losses. [...]
Proponents of the peace process will view this as a missed opportunity for Obama, who spent his first year in office on fruitless diplomatic moves that failed to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinians. From now on, it will be harder for Obama. Congressional support is essential to the political process and in the current political atmosphere in the U.S. - in which the parties are especially polarized - Netanyahu can rely on Republican support to thwart pressure on Israel.
I'm don't quite buy the premise of this. It's been pretty clear for the last year that the Obama administration doesn't have a whole lot of leverage over Netanyahu with a Democratic supermajority. The direct effect of losing one Senate vote is going to be pretty negligible.
That said, if Stephen Walt is right and the administration will back away from its ambitious agenda and focus on fewer problems in its second year, perennial issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict are likely to take a back-seat to more immediate national security challenges.
Israeli ambassador Michael Oren attacked the dovish lobbying group J Street this week in far more explicit terms than he has previously:
Addressing a breakfast session at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s biennial convention December 7, Ambassador Michael Oren described J Street as “a unique problem in that it not only opposes one policy of one Israeli government, it opposes all policies of all Israeli governments. It’s significantly out of the mainstream.”
After a speech that touched on the spiritual basis for and the threats to the state of Israel, Oren issued an unscripted condemnation of J Street.
“This is not a matter of settlements here [or] there. We understand there are differences of opinion,” Oren said. “But 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.”
In an unfortunate coincidence of timing, Oren's words came on the same day that J Street came out in favor of strict petroleum sanctions on Iran.
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It hasn't been a great year for Israeli-Swedish relations. First there was the controversy over an anti-Semitic article about Israelis stealing organs in a Swedish tabloid, which both governments blew up into a much bigger issue than it needed to be. Then this week, Sweden, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, issued a proposal calling for the EU to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. EU foreign ministers adopted a somewhat watered-down version of the draft today, but the war of words between Israel and Sweden continues:
"The peace process in the Middle East is not like IKEA furniture," one official said, making a reference to the do-it-yourself Swedish furniture chain. "It takes more than a screw and a hammer, it takes a true understanding of the constraints and sensitivities of both sides, and in that Sweden failed miserably."
The Foreign Ministry said that Tuesday's EU statement was substantially softer than Sweden's initial draft, once again demonstrating Sweden's failure as the rotating president of the union. "Sweden has done nothing over recent months to advance the Middle East peace process," the Foreign Ministry officials said. "The EU's only saving grace is that some of its members are responsible and moderate nations that didn't support the Swedish draft, which looked like something taken out of the Fatah platform at the Bethlehem conference."
Please. The original draft praises both Israel's settlement freeze and U.S. mediation efforts. You can debate whether or not it's productive for Sweden to be issuing proclamations on where the Palestinian border should be drawn, but in the end, these declarations have only about as much weight as the parties involved choose to give them. Which, judging from the righteous outrage out of Avigdor Lieberman's shop, seems to be quite a lot. This sort of thing might play well to Lieberman's political base, but internationally it just gives the EU's East Jerusalem critique way more publicity than it would have had before.
I got something a sinking feeling when I saw the front-page headline of today's New York Times: "Prisoner Swap Appears Near In the Mideast -- Israeli Soldier May Be Released by Hamas." Sure enough, the online version of the story has been updated to include a statement from Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu, saying, “There is still no deal, and I do not know if there will be one.”
It isn't that I'm not hopeful for the release of Sgt. Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier who's been held by Hamas for over three years. It's just that, as I've written recently, we've been here before. Every few months bring a new round of talks that are "close to a deal" on a prisoner-swap for Shalit's release... or at least "close" according to negotiators looking to affect the outcome through strategic leaks. The reports usually hit the Israeli papers first, before getting picked up internationally.
Even in the original Times story, reporter Ethan Bronner doesn't even seem all that confident in the quality of the information he's getting and quotes Israeli Intelligence Minsiter Dan Meridor saying, "Those who don't know can talk, those who know should keep silent."
But those who are talking, (who, apparently, don't know anything, according to Meridor), are also throwing out the tantalizing possibility that the prisoner exchange could include the popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti. Barghouti is considered be a strong contender to succeed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with the small problem that he's currently serving five life sentences. As Blake Tweeted, his release would be a game changer in the peace process.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) Barghouti's release appears about as likely as Shalit's. That is, we have no idea. Danny Danon's assurances that there is a "serious chance" of Barghouti being part of the deal is followed immediately by deputy prime minsiter Silvan Silvan Shalom's assurances that there isn't.
So, once again, we know that there are talks in Cairo which involve a possible deal for Shalit and may or may not be close to a resolution. Every possible fact presented by one Israeli government official seems to be contradicted by another. In other words, we know next to nothing. And previous experience with Shalit talks should indicate that we probably know even less than we think we do.
So why does the international media keep getting burned by this story?
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images
Guido Westerwelle is currently visiting Israel for his first official trip as Foreign Minister. His last visit, in 2002, didn't go so well:
Westerwelle's trip follows another he made to the region in May 2002 when he was criticized by top Israeli politicians for failing to condemn anti-Israeli comments by his FDP party deputy, Juergen Moellemann.
Moellemann had sympathized openly with Palestinian suicide bombers and had invited Green party member Jamal Karsli, who had expressed anti-Israeli sentiments, to join the FDP.
Moelleman had angered Germany's the Jewish community -- a taboo if there ever was one, for German politicians -- by voicing support for Palestinian suicide bombers and accusing German Jewish leader Michel Friedman of contributing to anti-Semitism. Westerwelle's response to the controversy didn't exactly help:
Westerwelle said that Friedmann had "no higher moral authority" in the debate. When asked about his position on Germany's Nazi past during a visit to Israel, Westerwelle said: "We want to ask questions in a different way and answer them differently." He neglected to explain what he meant.
In response, Westerwelle endured the public criticism of Sharon during a joint press conference.
Westerwelle has changed his tune since then, emphasizing Germany's "special responsibility" to Israel as he tured Jerusalem's Yad Vashem this week. Hardline Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was also the first of Westerwelle's counterparts to call to congratulate him on his appointment. It seems possible that Westerwelle's visit was a way for Angela Merkel's new foreign minister to bury the hatchet with the Israel's before she meets with Benjamin Netanyahu in Berlin next week.
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It appears astrophysics isn't a good prerequisite for espionage. Hot off the heels of this month's arrest of an alleged al-Qaeda operative at the CERN lab, a U.S. scientist was brought down yesterday for trying to sell state secrets to Israel.
Stewart David Nozette, third from the left in the photo, once had top security clearance during his tenure with both the U.S. Department of Defense and NASA. While he worked in the George H.W. Bush administration, he had access to top secret and secret information about U.S. satellites. When approached by an undercover FBI agent, he offered to spill this information if Israeli intelligence could pony up the cash. (The sting's details are here)
The Department of Justice says Israel is in no way implicated in the sting, however Politico points out that Nozette said he expected to be contacted by Mossad at some point, and his former company, Israel Aircraft Industries, has had several employees charged with espionage.
In a statement, Nozette said he thought he was already working for Israeli intelligence while employed by Israel Aircraft Industries, as he thought they were a front. He will be in court today; if convicted, he could face life in prison.
These recent scientist-turned-spy stories remind one of when the two professions interfaced seamlessly.
I expect there will be many more members of Congress who were likewise "unaware" that their names were being used to boost the credibility of a group that supports engagement with Hamas, opposes sanctions on Iran (only six members of the House share that position), and believes the primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East is Israeli settlements.
These ideas actually aren't so bad! There are strong cases to be made that Hamas is a rational actor that can be negotiated with (and in fact even Israel negotiates with Hamas from time to time), that sanctions on Iran would only empower the Revolutionary Guards, and that settlements are in fact the main obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace.
I think members of Congress would benefit from an open debate on these topics, and it wouldn't hurt Israeli Amb. Michael Oren -- who controversially declined an invitation to attend -- to hear some other points of view.
According to the Forward, however, some members of the American Jewish community apparently think otherwise:
Shunning J Street may be a result of domestic Jewish politics as much as an expression of foreign policy. A diplomatic source told the Forward that Israeli officials received calls from Jewish organizations stating that they "have a problem" with J Street. The groups, which the source would not name, argued that J Street's criticism of other Jewish organizations should not be endorsed by the government of Israel.
The Anti-Defamation League has raised the alarm over the use of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric by supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya:
These statements include Zelaya's unsubstantiated claim that Israeli mercenaries were attacking the Brazilian embassy where he has taken refuge. Venezuelan Hugo Chavez has also falsely claimed that Israeli is the only country that has recognized the coup government. More disturbing was a rant from David Romero, news director of the pro-Zelaya Radio Globo, who described Jews as "people that do damage in this country" and mused, "After what I have learned, I ask myself why, why didn't we let Hitler carry out his historic mission?"
"From President Zelaya himself down to media pundits and political activists, there has been a troubling undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the situation in
," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "We know from history that at times of turmoil and unrest, Jews are a convenient scapegoat, and that is happening now in Honduras , a country that has only a small Jewish minority." Honduras
It's 1993. The Oslo Accords have just been signed, and your wealthy Palestinian family has money for new business ventures. Why not a brewery?
Yes, fifteen years on from its official founding, Taybeh Brewery is still going strong. The conditions may not be ideal: as the Guardian points out,"the population is predominantly teetotal Muslims. It operates in bleak economic conditions, with high unemployment and the extra costs and challenges of dealing with the checkpoints and delays that make up Israel's military occupation. And, on top of that, they have to market their Palestinian beer to Israeli customers."
But the brewery, run by Nadim Khoury, who learned to brew beer at home while living in the US, has overcome these obstacles and even harder times (business almost completely died off during the Second Infitada) on its way to being the first Palestinian product in Germany, and a popular beer in Japan. Their latest venture is a non-alcoholic variety marketed at young Palestinians. With the Palestinian economy recovering slightly, Khoury hopes the brewery can continue to show that "we have a right to enjoy life. Enough is enough with the fighting."
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images
This is a major shift:
The UN nuclear assembly voted on Friday to urge Israel to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and place all atomic sites under UN inspections, in a surprise victory for Arab states.
The resolution, passed narrowly for the first time in nearly two decades, expresses concern about "Israeli nuclear capabilities" and calls on International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei to work on the issue.
The Middle East resolution, sponsored by Arab states, was backed by 49 votes to 45 against in a floor vote at the IAEA's annual member states conference. The vote split along Western and developing nation lines. There were 16 abstentions
This is a major victory as the Israel's representative on the council has already promised to "not cooperate in any matter with this
resolution which is only aiming at reinforcing political hostilities
and lines of division in the Middle East region." It also probably won't do a whole lot for the credibility of the IAEA to have one more country over which it is powerless to enforce its rulings.
This is a major victory as the Israel's representative on the council has already promised to "not cooperate in any matter with this resolution which is only aiming at reinforcing political hostilities and lines of division in the Middle East region."
It also probably won't do a whole lot for the credibility of the IAEA to have one more country over which it is powerless to enforce its rulings.
While I would take any new reports about the hijacking of the Arctic Sea with a heaping barrelful of salt, some of the latest theories are at least interesting. In an interview with Time this week, the European Union's rapporteur on piracy said Israeli intelligence likely intercepted the ship, which was carrying a secret shipment weapons to the Middle East:
[H]e says only a shipment of missiles could account for Russia's bizarre behavior throughout the monthlong saga. "There is the idea that there were missiles aboard, and one can't explain this situation in any other way," he says. "As a sailor with years of experience, I can tell you that the official versions are not realistic."
Kouts says an Israeli interception of the cargo is the most likely explanation. But this theory, which some Russian analysts put forward in the days after the Arctic Sea was rescued and which Kouts agreed with in his interview with TIME, has been vehemently denied by Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, who says Kouts should stop "running his mouth."
The theory is supported by the fact that Israeli President Shimon Peres made a surpsie visit to Moscow the day after the ship was rescued.
Not so fast say repoters from Israel's YNet, who find the admiral's theory implausable. According to their anonymous sources, the Arctic Sea made a stop in Kaliningrad -- a Russian military outpost popular with arms dealers -- before picking up its stated cargo of timber in Finland:
Sources say the Arctic Sea docked in Kaliningrad in June to undergo various repairs. The same sources say a deal was previously struck between Russian and Middle Eastern businessmen, agreeing on the sale of some of the S-300 missiles located at the port.
Some sources claim the Russian military's weapons industry was implicated in the deal and transferred a number of new missiles, including the X-500, to the port to be included in the sale. However the Kremlin was uninvolved, and apparently the deal was carried out in secret between businessmen from the private sector.
After the deal was executed, an intelligence agency whose identity so far remains unexposed learned of the ship's departure with the weapons in tow towards Algeria, a country located on a regularly used route for the transfer of weapons to Iran and Syria. The intelligence agency then transferred an anonymous tip to the Russian authorities, according to the investigation.
According to Russian sources the "hijackers", who in actuality were Russian intelligence officers, remained on the ship and reported to their superiors that they had found the missiles on board. On August 12 Russia announced it had sent naval officers to rescue the vessel and its crew.
The sources say the period of time between the hijacking and the Russian rescue mission was due to the Kremlin's desire to capture the ship away from the eyes of the media, in order to avoid an embarrassing incident that may have harmed its relations with Iran and Algeria.
Again, I'm not endorsing any of these theories, but the story just gets more fascinating.
Ricky LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and Republican presidential hopeful, has never been known for his foreign-policy prowess. Wonder why?
At a junket hosted by a far-right Israeli religious group, he rejected a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict. The two-state solution both Israeli and Palestinian leaders say they want. The two-state solution virtually every U.S. politician, conservative or liberal, supports. The two-state solution essentially the entire world agrees offers the best hope for peace.
No, this is not a Mel Brooks movie:
On Monday morning an Arkia airlines plane took off from Ben Gurion Airport carrying rabbis and kabbalists and flew over the country in a flight aimed at preventing the swine flu virus from spreading in Israel through prayers.
"The purpose of the flight was to stop the epidemic, thus preventing further deaths," explained Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri whose father, Rabbi David Batzri had initiated the flight. "We are certain that because of our prayers danger is already behind us," he added.
During the flight the passengers blew the shofar seven times and said prayers intended for abolishing illnesses.
There have been over 2,000 recorded cases of swine flu in Israel.
Hat tip: On Deadline
Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is planning to attend a gala at the controversial Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem. The Obama administration has condemned Israeli plans to renovate and construct housing on the site of the hotel, which is located in a Palestinian neighborhood:
Huckabee will be joined at the hotel dinner by over a hundred guests, including prominent Jewish and Republican activists from the United States.
Huckabee is also planning to visit the Jewish section of Hebron, Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and Ma'aleh Adumim, the largest settlement in the West Bank.
Huckabee's trip is sponsored by Ateret Cohanim, an organization that runs a religious-Zionist Yeshiva in East Jerusalem, and works to encourage Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.
The Christian conservative Huckabee has been nicknamed "Huckabee the Maccabbee" for his strong support of settlements and an undivided Jerusalem. Gershom Gorenberg recently provided some background on the Shepherd controversy in the American Prospect. And M.J. Rosenberg wrote about the Netanyahu government's courting of U.S. evangelical support on ForeignPolicy.com last month.
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images
Tel Aviv has been dealing with the recent opening of the vegan Rogatka Bar, an establishment in which one can drink green beer and schmooze with left-wing activists. Founded by the self-proclaimed "anarchist collective" that has run other alternative Tel Aviv hot spots, the bar bans Israel Defense Forces soldiers in uniform, the carrying of weapons, and products made in West Bank settlements.
It's nothing personal, but ideological," [soldiers] were told by Rogatka employees. "Your uniforms symbolize genocide and violence, and the violence that the IDF perpetrates is the reason for ongoing violence." [...]
The restaurant-bar's policies have begun to elicit a backlash both online and in the Knesset... MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) told the Post on Tuesday that while he was not mulling any formal moves against the bar, "a society that is embarrassed by its soldiers is not a normal society...
This is a symptom of the new Left in this country, as opposed to the old Left of the Labor party. The new left is anti-Zionist, they are against the Jewish state, and while they are a small group, they're very aggressive."
One of the bar's founders, Adi Vinter, justified Rogatka's practices:
"Rogatka" means slingshot in Russian and refers to the slingshots used by Palestinian youth in the first Intifada.
We can't hold views against discrimination and oppression, while at the same time support the infrastructure that exploits human beings and other animals. We wanted to show it's possible and even worthwhile to live differently."
What will those nefarious geniuses at Mossad think of next?
Hamas suspects that Israeli intelligence services are supplying its Gaza Strip stronghold with chewing gum that boosts the sex drive in order to "corrupt the young," an official said on Tuesday.
"We have discovered two types of stimulants that were introduced into the Gaza Strip from Israeli border crossings," Hamas police spokesman Islam Shahwan told AFP. [...]
The story came to light after a Palestinian man filed a complaint that his daughter had experienced "dubious side effects" after chewing the offending gum, Israeli media reported.
Not to dwell too much on this, but given the already explosive population growth in Gaza, if Israel were really going to do something like this, wouldn't they be more likely to use a chemical that would discourage young Palestinians from having sex?
Nicolas Sarkozy may want to keep his opinions to himself next time Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Paris -- that is, if he ever wants to come back.
Israel's foreign ministry has accused France of unacceptable meddling in its internal affairs over a reported comment by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
He was quoted by Israeli TV calling for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who leads a far-right party, to be sacked.
The plea, which has not been confirmed nor denied by officials, was allegedly made during a meeting with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu last week.
Israeli Arab leaders have accused the foreign minister of anti-Arab racism[...]
Israeli Channel Two reported that President Sarkozy advised Mr Netanyahu to "get rid" of Mr Lieberman during their meeting in Paris.
He also suggested that his predecessor Tzipi Livni be restored to the post, according to the report.
"You need to get rid of this man... You need to remove him from this position," Mr Sarkozy reportedly said, to which Mr Netanyahu replied that "in private [Mr Lieberman] is pragmatic".
Sarkozy also compared Lieberman's private pleasantness to French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has often been attacked for anti-Semitic comments. Regardless, given that the meeting was private, it would be interesting to learn who leaked the details to Israeli TV.
GERARD CERLES/AFP/Getty Images
I was a little perplexed on my Metro ride to work today to read a headline on a local tabloid saying, "Israeli PM endorses Palestinian state" with the subhed "Palestinians reject conditional offer."
In reality, we learned very little from Netanyahu's "major policy address" except that he is a very, very smart politician. (Even this isn't really news.) It takes skill to give a speech that offers no concessions on territory, refugees, settlements, or Jerusalem, but still gets interpreted as a "major reversal" because he endorsed Palestinian statehood under conditions that he knows the Palestinians will never accept.
We also learned that Daniel Levy is a very, very prescient analyst. Check out his advice for George Mitchell from April, in which he describes a tactic he calls the "say the magic words" game:
Thus far, Netanyahu is refusing to explicitly endorse the two-state formula. This is being nicely set up to become a rather large red herring, whereby diplomatic attention becomes focused on teasing out a linguistic formula to claim that Israel's premier is indeed a "two-stater." Last Friday's headline in the Israeli daily Ma'ariv even suggests that Netanyahu is planning for a dramatic climb-down gesture during his first visit with U.S. President Barack Obama (now postponed from early May to possibly later in the month), during which he would declare acceptance of the two states position. What a colossal distraction and waste of time.To paraphrase what always used to be said of former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat --what matters are his actions, not his words. Saying the magic words is of minor import. Ending the occupation and actually delivering on a two-state solution is what should matter to the Mitchell team. The latest ruse to apparently come out of the Netanyahu-Mitchell meeting was an Israeli demand that the Palestinians first recognize Israel as a Jewish state (something that neither Egypt, nor Jordan, did in their respective peace treaties with Israel) -- a meaningless diversionary tactic.
Sounds about right.
The Washington Times's Eli Lake reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will say in his speech this weekend that he is prepared to accept Palestinian statehood under the following conditions:
• Any Palestinian state must be demilitarized, without an air force, full-fledged army or heavy weapons.
• Palestinians may not sign treaties with powers hostile to Israel.
• A Palestinian state must allow Israeli civilian and military aircraft unfettered access to Palestinian airspace, allow Israel to retain control of the airwaves and to station Israeli troops on a future state's eastern and southern borders.
• Palestinians must accept Israel as a Jewish state, a nod to the hawkish side of Mr. Netanyahu's governing coalition that has raised concerns that the Palestinian Authority, which nominally governs the West Bank, does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Lake characterizes this recognition by Netanyahu as a "major shift," while Spencer Ackerman quips that the prime minister is "stepping boldly into 1993."
The third paragraph is likely to be the most contentious condition, and creates a brand new issue for negotiations that didn't really really need any new issues. I think accepting a Palestinian state is indeed a major shift from Netanyahu, though crucially, it's one that doesn't really require him to do very much while deflecting attention away from the one active thing that Israel hasn't done since 1993, freezing settlement growth in the West Bank.
Starting negotiations over a new set of conditions before taking action on a previous set isn't exactly progress. Hopefully Obama doesn't fall for it, as Gershom Gorenberg writes in a new piece for FP:
Most previous U.S. administrations have avoided confrontation over settlements if peace talks were in progress. Obama is right to avoid this mistake, because construction is aimed at preempting the negotiations.
Unintentionally, Wallerstein made the point clear in his radio interview. There are already 300,000 Israelis living in the West Bank, he noted. (The figure doesn't include the Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.) If we really make peace, he said, it won't matter if the number has risen to 325,000. A few seconds later, he recalled the trauma to Israeli society caused by evacuating 9,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
The classic definition of chutzpah is murdering your parents and begging for the mercy of the court because you're an orphan. Adding thousands of settlers to existing communities so that later you can claim that evacuating them would be too great a trauma could be another definition.
Every three weeks or so, within a few hours of one Israeli leader or another making a statement about the threat of Iran's nuclear program, my phone starts lighting up. It's never the press, which has become inured to Israel's periodic warnings. Rather, it is nervous hedge fund managers and securities research analysts calling to find out if this is "it." Are the Israelis on the verge of attacking Iran's nuclear facilities? No doubt, should Israel launch airstrikes against the Bushehr reactor or the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz, it would be a market-shaking event. "No," I assure the financial whiz kids on the other end of the line, explaining that "if Israel's leaders were going to strike, they would not be broadcasting it to the world." The phone will then go quiet for a few weeks until the next time Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, an Israeli security consultant, or my cousin Ari warns that time is running out.
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In his speech in Cairo today, Barack Obama addressed the militant group and political party Hamas directly, acknowledging the support it receives from many Palestinians, but urging it to “put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.”
Shortly after the speech, Hamas’s political leader Khaled Meshaal shared his reactions with freelance journalist Helena Cobban in Damascus. It's reprinted here with her permission:
Of course I listened to the speech. The words are different from those used by Bush. The speech was cleverly written in the way it addressed the Muslim world-- using phrases from the Holy Kor'an, and referring to some historical events. And also, in the way it showed respect to the Muslim heritage. But I think it's not enough!LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images
What's needed are deeds, actions on the ground, and a change of policies.
For example, if the Palestinians today don't find a real change from the situation of siege in Gaza, there's no point; the speech by itself doesn't help them. What they're looking for is an end to the siege and an end to occupation.
We want to see practical steps by the United States such as ending Israel's settlement activity, putting an end to Israel's confiscation of Palestinian land and its campaign to Judaize Jerusalem; an end to its demolitions of Palestinian homes; and the removal of the 600 checkpoints that are stifling normal life in the West Bank.
Rather than sweet words from President Obama on democratization, we'd rather see the United States start to respect the results of democratic elections that have already been held. And rather than talk about democratization and human rights in the Arab world, we'd rather see the removal of General Dayton, who's building a police state there in the West Bank.
In the speech, Obama talked about the Palestinian state, but not its borders. He didn't mention whether it should comprise all the Palestinian land that was occupied in 1967, or just part of it, as Israel demands.
He made no mention of Jerusalem or the Right of Return.
Yes, he spoke of an end to settlement activity; but can he really get them to stop?
Without addressing these issues, the speech remains rhetoric, not so very different from his predecessor's.
Ethan Brommer tells you all you need to know about the Israeli government's disingenuous argument about the "oral understanding" it reached with the Bush administration on settlement growth:
Of course, Mr. Netanyahu has yet to endorse the two-state solution or even the road map agreed to by previous Israeli governments, which were not oral commitments, but actual signed and public agreements.
I know it's how Israel's defense minister spells his name, but still...
An Israeli right-wing activist holds a sign during a protest outside the US consulate in Jerusalem on the eve of US President Barak Obama's trip to Egypt on June 3, 2009.
GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images
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