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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Something for nothing?

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with US Special Middle East envoy George Mitchell in London on Monday to negotiate the beginning of the end (God forbid) of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. The joint statement issued afterward was not very impressive:
Defense Minister Barak and Special Envoy Mitchell met today in London, following up their June 30 discussion in New York. They covered all aspects of Middle East peace and security. They re-affirmed their commitment to the common objective of a regional peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Syria, and Lebanon and the steps necessary to achieve it. These included measures on security and incitement by the Palestinians; steps by Arab states toward normalization with Israel; and, from Israel, actions on access and movement in the West Bank and on settlement activity. These constructive discussions will continue with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, and other Israeli officials in the near future.
There was apparently even less behind the statement than appeared to be there. One Israeli minister who wished to remain anonymous, called it a 'flop.'
"(Defense Minister Ehud) Barak returned with nothing from his talks with (special US Mideast envoy) George Mitchell; it appears that he offered the dismantling of illegal West Bank outposts in exchange for nothing," a senior minister said Tuesday.

The minister, who asked to remain nameless, was also quoted by his associates as saying, "The inclusion of Syria and Lebanon in the statement on a comprehensive peace agreement that followed the (Barak-Mitchell) meeting is a huge flop."

During their meeting in London on Monday, Barak told the US envoy that "Israel is committed to evacuating the 23 illegal outposts within weeks or months, not years."
My guess is that the 'senior minister' is one of the six in the kitchen cabinet - probably Benny Begin or Boogie Yaalon, who continue to oppose the 'settlement freeze' altogether.
Ministers Moshe Yaalon, Benny Begin and Avigdor Lieberman have tried to obstruct Barak's attempts at reaching a compromise with the US, which demands a complete halt to all settlement construction.

However, Minister Dan Meridor and Netanyahu himself are in favor of finding ways to alleviate the ongoing dispute with US President Barack Obama's administration.
Barak is the sixth member of the 'security cabinet.'

The Americans are trying to win over Netanyahu and Meridor by providing 'gestures' from the Arab states. Haaretz reports on what the US is seeking:
Below are the regional normalization steps U.S. and Western officials say Washington is seeking:
  • Arab countries in the Gulf would allow Israeli passenger and civilian cargo aircraft to fly over their territory. The move would save long detours on flights to Asia, a popular destination for Israeli travelers.
  • Israel would be able to open interest sections in other states' embassies in Arab capitals, such as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Israel had interest sections in several Arab countries but they were closed after the start in 2000 of a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
  • Arab countries would lift bans on the entry of tourists and other visitors whose passports carry Israeli visas or entry stamps. Such a step would facilitate regional travel for tourists and business executives.
  • Arab states would allow Israeli-registered mobile phones to operate on Arab networks, a move that could foster economic contacts.
  • Israel and Arab states would hold cultural exchanges. Arab countries would ease restrictions that prevent their officials from meeting with Israeli counterparts at international events.
A senior Israeli official familiar with Mitchell's talks said Israel was skeptical the envoy would be able to coax Arab states to make concrete normalization commitments if only a temporary settlement freeze was declared.

"Even if the Americans can bring a serious settlement freeze, the normalization steps will be implemented only gradually and based on performance by Israel," the official said.
Wednesday morning's JPost reports that the Americans have given up on getting anything from the Saudis, and are concentrating on countries like Morocco and Tunisia - with whom Israel has had relations in the past (if I'm not mistaken, you can already go to those countries with an Israeli visa in your passport) - and Qatar, Oman and the UAE.
"We're not expecting that the Israelis do something for nothing," a senior State Department official told The Jerusalem Post, following Monday's meeting between US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, which failed to fully bridge the differences concerning settlements.


While there is little expectation that Saudi Arabia would take such steps at this time, the sources said, the idea was that Riyadh wouldn't prevent others from making such gestures; in other words, they want to "prevent the Saudis from being hostile" and using their privileged role to sabotage the nascent peace efforts.

In that vein, the administration has focused on Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa, countries which had ties with Israel that were broken off during the early months of the intifada and never restored, and Qatar and Oman, with whom Israel has had some official relations in the past, and the United Arab Emirates.

One diplomatic official described Morocco as being in the category of "low-hanging fruit" because of its relatively moderate government and previous relationship with Israel.
Why don't they ask Malaysia and Indonesia while they're at it - they're Muslim countries who have nothing to do with the conflict. /cynicism.

Of course, the one thing that should be discussed - but is not - is the 'Palestinians' fulfilling their obligations under the road map. After all, if the claim is that Israel must freeze 'settlements,' the 'Palestinians' are first (yes, that's the sequence) supposed to fight terrorism and end incitement. Here's a recent interview on PA television with the 'Palestinian Authority’s chief religious justice, Tayseer Tamimi, in which he teaches Arab residents that the Koran states that Jews have been evil throughout their history, that Jerusalem has no Jewish holy sites and that the Israeli government is trying to destroy the foundations of the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount.

Let's go to the videotape.

Why isn't the US government pressing the 'Palestinians' to abide by their road map obligations? Well, the State Department claims that it is. This is a quote from State Department spokesman Ian Kelly:
“You have heard me say many times from this podium that we believe that all parties have to meet their obligations under the Roadmap. And of course, you know for the Israelis, that means a stop to settlements, which means a freeze of all activity, including natural growth. The Palestinians have their own obligations under the Roadmap, and that’s stopping incitement and proving that they can improve security. We also have made it clear to Arab states in the region that they should take steps towards normalization.”
But as Arutz Sheva points out:
However, most of the meetings by senior Obama officials, primarily U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, have been held with Defense Minister Ehud Barak over the issue of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
The public pressure is all on Israel. And as the 'gestures' being demanded from the 'Palestinians' Arab states become less and less meaningful, when and if Israel (God forbid) gives a 'settlement freeze' it really will be giving something for nothing.

One final point. Some of you may be wondering why pliable Defense Minister Ehud Barak is negotiating with Mitchell rather than Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (you also may be wondering why Prime Minister Netanyahu is meeting with Mitchell at all - I discussed what should be done about that here). On Monday, Lieberman told a Yisrael Beiteinu faction meeting that he's not meeting with Mitchell because he's afraid that as a settler revenant, he will be accused of thwarting an agreement.
"People are asking why the defense minister is holding negotiations with the Palestinians. Why is he meeting with Mitchell? And why isn't the Foreign Ministry dealing with the Palestinian issue?

"I can give you a diplomatic answer: Naturally, the Palestinian issue is being handled by the Defense Ministry. The person who eventually signs is the defense minister, and the entire issue of the roadblocks and humanitarian aid passes through the Defense Ministry, and therefore this is natural."

He went on, however, to offer an "undiplomatic" explanation, related to the fact that he is a settler.

"There is clearly a conflict of interests here. For me to deal with this issue – it's clear there is an absolute conflict of interests here. I wouldn't want to be accused of intentionally thwarting negotiations.

"With all the affairs of honor of one minister or another, I believe our relations with the United States are much more important than the honor of the State of Israel's foreign minister."
I would think that no one could better sell the need for a 'settlement freeze' to the revenants than one of their own. If the Americans really want the Israelis to buy into this, shouldn't they want Lieberman selling it for them?

I have an even more 'undiplomatic' explanation for why Lieberman is not involved in the negotiations: The Americans are afraid that Lieberman will make Mitchell look like a fool as he did to Hillary Clinton in Washington three weeks ago.

If I were French President Sarcozy, I would learn something about my standing from the fact that Barak is negotiating rather than Lieberman. When Sarcozy suggested to Prime Minister Netanyahu that he ought to get rid of Lieberman, the Netanyahu government ignored it and swept it under the rug. But when the Obama administration insists that Lieberman not be involved in negotiations, the Netanyahu government asks how high it has to jump to keep him out. That's not a good sign for France or for Israel.


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At 8:56 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

In other words, more unilateral concessions. In exchange for what? Ties with Arab countries Israel already has contacts with? That's not enough to justify the abrogation of Jewish national rights in Eretz Israel. The price is just too high.

What could go wrong indeed

At 5:18 PM, Blogger R-MEW Editors said...

George Bush personally pushed for Saudi membership in the WTO as a "reward" for their efforts in fighting terror (if you can believe that). Yet, the Saudis continue to flout WTO rules by boycotting trade with Israel.

The US cannot even get the Arabs to comply with long-established rules associated with an international trade organization like the WTO; what chance does the Obama administration have in securing anything near "normalization" (whatever that is).


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