I have suspended writing new posts for this blog. I watch the Republican presidential debates and listen to the debate about bombing Iran and am speechless. There is hardly anything left to say.
Sequence of actions:
1. Palestinians fail to get a nine vote majority for statehood through the Security Council. Disunity between Gaza and the West Bank a major issue.
2. Europeans go into crisis mode: get agreement from Palestine and Israel that each submit its concept of border within three months, in attempt to get sides to establish border and security arrangements before proceeding to other ‘final status’ issues.
3. Quartet asks Israel to stop settlement building to allow talks. Israel declines.
4. State Department says parties have to be in direct talks before approaching borders/security.
5. Palestinians say the Quartet envisioned dealing with the security/border issue outside direct talks.
6. Borders/security not addressed.
What’s wrong with this picture?
It was my understanding, and I’m sure more than just mine and the Palestinians (!), that the Quartet proposal was to avoid the entire issue of ‘direct talks’ at this time. So why did the State Department butt in and essentially derail the Quartet (of which the US is a member) goal?
Diplomacy in the Middle East is a joke.
Granted, the process is confusing and everyone who comments on the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN will slant comments towards their own position. But the way PM Abbas is handling the UN bid is not in conflict with US demands that only a negotiated peace between the two sides will last. He has said all along, he wants to negotiate. And that is what the Quartet is trying to foster.
So where is Obama on this?
Tony Blair will meet with Palestinian President Abbas today in Aman to present the latest European consensus on the Palestinians UN bid for statehood. They are asking Abbas and the PLO to forgo a vote on statehood in the Security Council, which the US has promised to veto. Instead, the Europeans would support a vote in the General Assembly which would give the PLA ‘observer-state’ status, equal to the Vatican. The PA would participate in UN bodies and could sponsor resolutions.
“We don’t intend to confront the U.S., or anyone else for that matter,” he added. “We want to present the United Nations vote as an opportunity for all of us to preserve the two-state solution.”
Observer-state status could facilitate the Palestinian Authority in taking legal action against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Even without the European votes, the PA would easily win such status in the General Assembly. Also, according to the Times:
In Congress, senior Republican lawmakers have introduced language in an appropriations bill that would sever American aid to the Palestinians if they proceeded with the vote.
It remains unclear whether Representative Granger, chair of the appropriations subcommittee refers to the Security Council or General Assembly vote or both. Word has it many in Congress are confused about what each of the two options mean.
Updated to correct spelling errors
Over 250,000 Israelis hit the streets Saturday in a continuation of massive protests against the high cost of housing, education and food staples. What began with one young woman putting up a tent on Tel Aviv’s fashionable Rothchild Avenue to protest the high cost of living, then blossomed into ‘tent cities’ in Tel Aviv and 0ther cities, has grown into a protest movement including middle class families, retirees and students. Haaretz reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu chewed out Likud cabinet members and other officials for not helping to develop a solution to the crisis.
Protesters span the left and right and insist on staying away from politics. They rejected PM Netanyahu’s offers of subsidies to students and do not accept ‘settlements’ in the West Bank as a resolution. They also reject moving to poor suburbs of the cities which cannot provide jobs, transportation or a modern infrastructure to their residents.
The growing gap between rich and the middle class and poor also drive the ‘housing protests.’
Like the Arab autocrats, PM Netanyahu and his government seem taken by surprise at the outpouring of domestic discontent. While the protests don’t include expansion of settlement activity in Palestinian areas of the West Bank, the refusal of the demonstrators to consider the settlements as a solution to their problem presents a long-term problem for the Israel government.
Netanyahu is caught in a vise of international pressure on a state for Palestine and unprecedented pressure from ordinary Israeli citizens over domestic issues. Stay tuned.
In a not very surprising announcement, talks between the PLA and Hama have been postponed by PLA President Abbas until after a September UN vote on Palestinian statehood. Earlier in the week, Abbas canceled a meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal amid disagreement on who should be appointed to head a unity government. Abbas insists on current PLA PM Fayyad who is vociferously rejected by Hamas. Hamas accuses Abbas of caving into US and Israeli pressure, the former threatening to cut off funds for the PLA.
Other divisions were the PLA security forces arrest of Hamas operatives in the West Bank:
Hamdan also attacked Abbas for his remarks in an interview with a Lebanese TV station about the arrest of Hamas supporters in the West Bank. In the interview, Abbas said that Hamas men were being arrested not because of their political affiliation, but for committing criminal offenses such as smuggling weapons and money laundering.
With the rejectionist Netanyahu government leading Israel and the rejectionist Hamas refusing to take steps important to Palestinian credibility, it appears no action from President Obama will be coming down the pipe soon.
Peter Beinart in the Daily Beast is astounded at Netanyahu’s behavior and tin ear towards the politics swirling around him:
“A sailor throws a drowning man a life preserver. How dare you, screams the man. Because of you, people are going to think I can’t swim.
That about sums up the relationship between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. In a few months, the U.N. General Assembly will vote, probably overwhelmingly, to recognize a Palestinian state along Israel’s 1967 borders. No one knows exactly what will happen after that, but from the Israeli government’s point of view, it won’t be good. According to international law, Israel will be occupying a sovereign nation. The result will likely be a bonanza of lawsuits, divestment campaigns and cancelled business deals. Israelis will feel more and more besieged. More and more of the country’s educated, tech-savvy young will realize you can get pretty good falafel in Menlo Park.”
Foreign Policy magazine hosts Middle East commentators and academics on their responses to Obama’s speech:
President Obama’s Middle East speech couldn’t possibly have — and almost certainly didn’t — please all of its potential audiences. His comments, however, were refreshingly honest in acknowledging the limitations of American power and influence and even broke new ground on a number of important subjects. – Hussein Ibish
While many are focused on the nuanced shift in U.S. policy with regard to Israel and the Palestinian territories expressed toward the end of the address, by far the most significant shift in U.S. policy within the speech was its shift in emphasis. No more is U.S. policy going to be dominated by Iraq or Afghanistan. Terror and Iranian nuclear proliferation and Israel and Palestine are important but they will all be viewed in a broader context of resetting America’s relations with the people of the region. This speech was truly Cairo Two, as some have already called it. While the president clearly acknowledged the impossibility of cookie-cutter approaches to each of the conundrums the region presents, he knit those approaches together by identifying and emphasizing our common aspirations with the majority of average citizens in the region. The U.S. will deal with leaders as we must but, acknowledging both the region’s volatility and the legitimate right of its people to representative government, we will seek wherever practicable to avoid being trapped as we have been into false trade-offs between stability and repression. – David J. Rothkopf
The president laid claim to “a new chapter in American diplomacy,” which he described as “shifting our foreign policy after a decade of war.” But the vision he now endorses for the universality of American values has actually been the basis for our foreign policy in the Middle East for several administrations, most stridently that of his immediate predecessor — it was President Obama’s policies that had sought to tone down the emphasis our values in order to work more constructively with the repressive governments of Iran and Syria, as well as the repressive governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. - Kori Schake
What’s more, the nods in the speech to global solutions will count for little given what the president said about the U.N.’s role on Israeli-Palestinian peace. Earlier this week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas heralded a diplomatic push for a vote on Palestinian statehood during September’s U.N. General Assembly meetings. In response, Obama was caustic. “Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September,” he warned, “won’t create an independent state.” It was an all-but-explicit promise to veto Palestinian recognition. Should it come to that, Washington will almost certainly be isolated not just from the broad U.N. membership but also from its Western allies.
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