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WikiFakes watch: Russia

Pakistan isn't the only country where the media is playing fast and loose with WikiLeaks "scoops," Radio Free Europe's Claire Bigg reports:

According to the magazine "Russky Reporter," for example, the famous walkout by Western diplomats during Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's speech to the United Nations in September 2009 was not spontaneous and had in fact been planned by Washington.

The magazine, citing WikiLeaks documents, claimed in a December 2 article that U.S. officials gave detailed instructions to EU representatives on when to leave the room during Ahmadinejad's speech. The claim, if substantiated, could be deeply embarrassing to the United States.

But unlike other media reporting on the WikiLeaks revelations, "Russky Reporter" provided no documents to back up its allegations. An extensive search of the WikiLeaks database fails to yield relevant U.S. cables, causing some analysts to suggest the magazine might be exploiting WikiLeaks to propagate false information.

 

It's a good catch, but I have to say that if I were a Russian propagandist, I might aim a little higher. Why not allege that the U.S. plotted the Orange Revolution? Or that Russian opposition leaders are on the U.S. payroll? Or that the proposed missile defense shield in Eastern Europe is indeed targeted at Russia not Iran? The Ahmadinejad walkout was a significant gesture but not exactly a historic turning point. Perhaps they were trying to avoid the Pakistani mistake of making the deception too obvious.

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

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You can't avoid settlements

Critics of the Obama administration's approach to Middle East peace, a group that includes just about everyone who is paying attention, say that focusing on Israeli settlements for the last 2 years -- as opposed to "core issues" -- was the key mistake that hindered potential progress in other areas.

Instead, these folks say, Obama & co. should have focused on borders, because once the Israelis and Palestinians agreed on the outlines of a future Palestinian state, it would be clear what was a "settlement" and what was merely a suburb of Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put himself in this camp Monday, dismissing settlements as a "marginal" issue and calling instead for negotations to focus on -- you guessed it -- "core issues."

"To reach peace, we need to discuss the issues that are really hindering peace, the question of recognition, security, refugees and, of course, many other issues," he reportedly said in a speech just hours before meeting U.S. envoy George Mitchell.

One way to read those remarks is that Netanyahu is ready to roll up his sleeves. More likely, he has no intention of meeting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's demand to get serious and lay his cards on the table. Note that he did not mention borders at all. Instead, he appears to be reiterating his position that the Palestinians must explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which they refuse to do, that Israel needs to have control of the Jordan Valley, another nonstarter for the Palestinians, and that the Palestinians need to give up the "right of return" (this one is more reasonable) before he'll even think about trading land for peace.

In other words, don't expect the new, settlement-free U.S. approach to yield any more progress than the old one. What's more, even if the talks did focus on borders, where the parties are supposedly closer together, it wouldn't take very long for them to come back to areas where they're further apart... namely settlements and Jerusalem. Israel won't freeze the former, and Netanyahu has said he won't divide the latter, while Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their future capital.

The lesson here is that it's devlishly complicated to jerry-rig negotiations to avoid the tough topics, especially when neither side seems especially eager to do a deal. One can come up with all kinds of sophistry justifying one U.S. tactic or another, but if Israeli and Palestinian leaders aren't serious, and aren't feeling pressure from their own publics to make peace, then nothing will work.