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Germany Got Israel to Release Funds

The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, is reporting that Germany Chancellor Merkel insisted that Israel release $100 Million of Palestinian funds it was holding before Germany would approve a submarine sale to Israel.

Israel’s decision to release frozen public funds to the Palestinians last week came after Germany insisted it did so as a condition for the completion of the sale of a submarine, a German newspaper reported Sunday.

The Welt am Sonntag quoted sources as saying Germany had told Israel it could not go ahead with the purchase of the submarine unless it made political concessions.

And here we have President Obama adding more funds to the Israeli ‘Iron Dome’ project and getting nothing back from Israel for all-out American support for Israel at the UN.  In contrast, the Palestinians’ money was returned the same day Merkel spoke.


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Israel Shuts Down Dovish Radio

The Israeli Communications Ministry has ordered a peace-oriented radio station broadcasting in Hebrew from the West Bank to shut down.  What’s interesting here is the ham-fisted nature of the shut-down and contradicting reasons being given for it.

According to the Washington Post, the chief of the Ministry said the station was hurting Israeli stations economically!  This is a tactic Israel has used before to stifle the mobile phone industry in the West Bank by forbidding the Palestinian use of a transmission chip used the world over in cell phone technology and blaming it on ‘security’.  Yet, Palestinians can buy phones with similar technologies from Israeli companies.

Regarding the ‘All for Peace’ radio station, right-wing Knesset member, Danny Danon was probably right:

Conservative lawmaker Danny Danon boasted that he had helped close the “All for Peace” radio station. Danon, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, claimed the Communications Ministry shuttered the station at his request, after he claimed it “incited” against Israel.

The station pointed out that it’s been operating since 2004 without any problems with the Ministry and will take the government to court to get the order lifted.







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Fayyad To Quit PA: Unity Government Proceeding

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad will step down to clear the way for the PLO and Hamas to form a unity government of technocrats and prepare for elections next May.  Fayyad said he refuses to be the spoiler of the deal between the two parties, recognizing Hamas’ opposition to his remaining PM.

Haaretz, the left-of-center Israeli newspaper, has an intriguing paragraph in its report:

The planned PA elections will take place a few months after Egypt’s parliamentary election, which has been called for later this month. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot, is expected to do well in Egypt’s election, and by so doing, it will grant Hamas an implicit imprimatur for taking part in a PA government that both recognizes and maintains peaceful relations with Israel.

At least some of the opposition to Palestinian statehood in the Security Council stems from the PA not having authority over Gaza.

The big question?  Will the US recognize a unity government that ‘both recognizes and maintains peaceful relations with Israel’? Or will it insist that Hamas, as an organization, recognize Israel?

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‘West Bank Story’

2011 is the 50th anniversary of the great American musical, “West Side Story”.  In honor of the occasion, RBTL brings you West Bank Story:


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Palestinians Challenge Israel as ‘Freedom Riders’

In another example of a Palestinian turn towards civil disobedience, six Palestinian activists boarded Israeli bus #148 which uses a segregated highway route from Ariel, one of the largest, most  modern Israeli settlements deep within the West Bank, to Jerusalem.  All six were arrested.

The double road networks, one for Palestinians and one for Israeli settlers only, are some of the most flagrant examples of how segregation within the West Bank.  Most Palestinian roads are old; most Israeli ones modern.  Even if it would be faster to get to point B from point A, a Palestinian cannot ride a settler bus.  It is eerie.  You might see a crowded Palestinian road running alongside an empty settler road for miles.

It will be interesting to see what media pick up this graphic picture of dual standards in the West Bank

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Existential Threat to Israel? Netanyahu Government

In another last-minute turn-around, Israeli PM Netanyahu failed to bring Israel’s withholding of Palestinian tax money to a vote by his cabinet.  Defense Minister Barak and officers from the military spoke for releasing the Palestinian money (collected from Palestinian economic activity) immediately and without conditions.  The Israeli military fears that if the PA collapses from a crippling financial emergency, the West Bank will become even more volatile and a real danger to Israel’s security.

PM Netanyahu had signaled he favored releasing the Palestinian money but the ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs opposed the release.  In addition, Haaretz reports that Netanyahu was told the Palestinians had hardened their position regarding peace negotiations, and Netanyahu retaliated by shelving the Cabinet vote to release the funds.  As if the two are related! They are not.

Above the policy implications, Netanyahu’s decision underscores his own mercurial nature and why so many Palestinians and Europeans don’t trust him.

Mr. Netanyahu apparently wants to break the PA and take Israeli/Palestinian relations back to the pre-Oslo period.  He has already negated provisions that two former PMs (Barak and Olmert) negotiated as part of a  ‘final status’ treaty solution and insists that negotiations under his Administration start at zero.

While Defense Minister Barak argued that continued withholding of Palestinian revenue adds to the increasing friction between the two sides and Israel’s negative reputation in the international community, Netanyahu signaled he doesn’t really care about those consequences.

Does Netanyahu care if the PA collapses?  Apparently not.  He released hundreds of PA prisoners, including known terrorists and sent some back to the West Bank, the rest to Gaza, where some will once again be tempted towards violence.   Either West Bank violence or the PA’s collapse would draw immediate Israeli retaliation up to and including the return to full occupation of Gaza and the West Bank with full Palestinian dependency on Israel.

Netanyahu’s vision of the immediate future looks increasingly like a lurch into the pre-Oslo past.  If so, all bets are off and all restraints will be removed in the Middle East.  And this is a man in charge of over 200 nuclear missiles!  No wonder Iran wants its own bomb.





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US Demands UN Abide by US Law

It’s ironic.  The US was the key architect and founder of the United Nations after WW2 to mediate conflicts between nations before they developed into bloodshed.  The organization was founded on a structure that gave the UN Security Council final say on most major decision it made.  With 10 rotating members and 5 permanent ones (US, Britain, France, Russia, China) – each of whom can veto any action taken by the SC – the UN was pretty much stacked for the Cold War era, when the key conflict was between the US and USSR and the tug of war centered on Europe.

Now, the US is victim of its own success.  The inevitable tension between the big nations that founded and wield power in the UN and dozens of newly independent, post-colonial and emerging nations who now comprise the majority is a serious factor in most of the UN’s deliberations today.

Enter the Palestinians in September 2011, late bloomers in the nation-state cycle, fed up with a stalled peace process and seeking UN recognition of statehood to push Israeli and Palestinian negotiations forward.  At no time have the Palestinians said their UN bid was meant to replace negotiations with Israel on borders and the other ‘final status’ issues.  As of this week, the Palestinians don’t have nine votes to pass statehood in the Security Council, and even if they did, the US would veto it.

Nevertheless, UNESCO’s recent acceptance of Palestinian membership is triggering a 1994 US law that  prohibits US funding of any UN agency that allows Palestinian membership.  The US immediately cut off its funding, including this quarter’s projected $60 million contribution to the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural work.  In essence, the US Congress is punishing the UN for following UN rules and procedure, as well as majority rule

As ridiculous as this seems, enforcing this retribution law has bipartisan support in Congress, and the Obama Administration has no intention of seeking its removal.  This means that if the Palestinians go on soliciting recognition from various UN agencies, they will be blamed for causing financial troubles, if not doom, for the UN.  Even the General Secretary has said the Palestinian plan for recognition is not good for Palestine or the UN.

Yet, all claim to want a two-state solution.  Up until the Palestinians presented their bid for statehood to the UN, however, the peace process was hopelessly stalled.   Israel refused to stop settlement building on Palestinian land, and without such a moratorium, the Palestinian leadership cannot return to the bargaining table and expect it still represents the Palestinian people.

Since September, the oversight of the peace process has shifted from the US to the broader alliance of the EU, US, Russia, Britain, the Quartet. Both principals have promised the Quartet to outline the future boundaries of Israel and Palestine, as each would see them.  The Quartet gives them 90 days to deliver the maps.   From there, the Quartet will lead the principals into the next small step of the process, as yet undefined.

Does this mean the peace process is still alive and running?  I think it does.  But there is absolutely no other effort being made towards peace, nor does it seem likely to come from either the Israelis or Palestinians any time soon.

For too long, the US and other Western countries have insisted that Israel and Palestine negotiate a treaty directly.  In the end, they will have to.  But that shouldn’t exclude auxiliary steps aimed at jump-starting and maintaining a meaningful process now.  All parties should cool off, including the PA and US Congress.  The UN can delay or suspend its votes (as a whole and its agencies).  Let the Quartet process play out.

I’m reminded of those old Westerns where one gunslinger is about to shoot another one in the heart – until the first realizes the buddy of his intended victim also has a gun and it’s aimed at the first guy’s head.  Who will shoot first?  Will they all three be dead in a game of real-life roulette?  Or will they call it a draw and buy each other beers at the saloon?

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IAEA Report November 8th Raising Jitters

The International Atomic Energy Agency will report on new evidence that Iran is building a nuclear bomb, several news outlets report.   In addition, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and the UK’s Guardian report new information regarding a possible US or Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.  It appears President Netanyahu is coming closer to getting his cabinet to agree on a strike and the British military is increasing its preparation for support of any US strike.

Rumors of an imminent attack surface every six months or so, but Israel began a full court press diplomatic offensive a in September,  sending each of its foreign envoys instructions for explaining Israel’s latest thinking to their host governments.  Iran has warned the West of havoc should Iran be attacked.  At the same time, the Tehran hierarchy seems split over domestic issues and vulnerable.

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