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Friday, October 01, 2010

'Peace process' about to collapse? Bibi blows off Obama!

Some of you may be wondering how I could have put up so many posts since the holiday ended without once mentioning the 'settlement freeze extension.' Well, frankly, it's not news here in Israel - there's been almost nothing about it on the radio tonight. But there was some news about it over the holiday so let's catch up with that.

On Wednesday, President Obama met with the members of the unofficial 'Jewish caucus' in Congress. Of course, that's limited to Jewish Democrats - Eric Cantor (R-Va), for example, is excluded, and I assume that Mattie Fein (R-Ca 36) and Joel Pollak (R-Il 09) will both be excluded as well if they win their respective races. The Jewish Democrats were briefed by Dennis Ross and Susan Sher (Michelle Obama's chief of staff).
The U.S. has proposed various packages to Israel -- the latest being a 60 day extension of the partial freeze accompanied by U.S. pledges on Israeli security and political matters -- but to date Israel has not agreed.

Ross told the lawmakers that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had expressed his appreciation for the series of proposed U.S. offers to Israel that include "American pledges of support to Israel on certain political and security objectives in the course of the negotiations," one lawmaker who attended the briefing told POLITICO Wednesday.
But Prime Minister Netanyahu apparently realizes that President Obama needs this 'peace process' much more than he does.
"Dennis said, 'Bibi understood and really appreciated how much we put together [in] this package ... but felt it just wasn't enough,'" the lawmaker said.

The U.S. and Israel "are still talking," he said.
And there's very little the US can do.
Ross told the lawmakers that the United States and the Palestinians understood the "political necessity" for Netanyahu to honor his pledge not to extend the ten-month freeze, the lawmaker said, adding "just as the United States and Israel understand the political necessity for [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas of honoring his pledge to secure a meaningful or significant settlement construction halt."

By not taking quick action after the settlement freeze expired, Abbas "demonstrated Palestinian understanding" of Netanyahu's political position, Ross said, according to the lawmaker.
Yeah, sure. Over at Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin points out that the 60-day extension may not accomplish much.
If Netanyahu accepts the deal, which he has shown no public signs of doing, negotiations begun by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sept. 1 would likely proceed past the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 2. It is still unclear what exactly would be different on the Israeli or Palestinian sides after the 60 day period expired that would allow the process to move forward from there.
So does this mean that the Obama administration finally understands that the borders question cannot be resolved in 60 days and cannot be resolved independently of other issues. Who knows?

Meanwhile, a lot more details of Obama's letter to Bibi were released by David Makovsky.
According to senior U.S. officials, the administration's efforts culminated in a draft letter negotiated with Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak and chief Israeli peace negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, and ultimately sent from President Obama's desk to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

At its core, the draft letter offers a string of assurances to Israel in return for a two-month moratorium extension. More specifically, U.S. officials indicate that the document makes commitments on issues ranging from current peace and security matters to future weapons deliveries in the event that peace-related security arrangements are reached.

Regarding policy issues, the draft letter guarantees that Washington will not ask for a moratorium extension beyond sixty days. Rather, the future of settlements is to be settled at the table as part of territorial negotiations. Second, the draft letter promises that the United States will veto any UN Security Council initiative -- Arab or otherwise -- relating to Arab-Israeli peace during the agreed one-year negotiating period. Third, Washington pledged to accept the legitimacy of existing Israeli security needs and not seek to redefine them. In this context, the draft letter explicitly mentions the need to ensure a complete ban on the smuggling of rockets, mortars, arms, and related items, as well as the infiltration of terrorists into Israel. This touches on one of the most sensitive aspects of negotiations: averting infiltration into Israel from the eastern border of a Palestinian state. In this context, the draft letter offers to help maintain a transitional period for Jordan Valley security that is longer than any other aspect of a negotiated peace -- an apparent allusion to keeping Israeli troops in that region for an extended period of time.

Finally, Washington pledges to engage Israel and Arab states in discussions of a "regional security architecture," addressing the need for more consultations on Iran. Although such a structure would not be formalized until a peace deal is reached, the United States would begin preparing the groundwork in advance. These efforts would not constitute commitments on the part of the PA or Arab states, but they would be important for Israel as unambiguous articulations of U.S. policy, which could in turn bear heavily on how the peace talks unfold.

Finally, the draft letter explicitly discusses the need to enhance Israel's defense capabilities in the event that the parties reach security arrangements. Even if a security deal fails to materialize, Washington's offer creates the baseline for Israel's defense needs in a post-peace era. These needs reportedly include a range of missile systems and aircraft (e.g., additional F-35s), layered missile defense, and multiplatform early warning means, including satellites. The Obama administration realizes that these needs would mean an unspecified increase in U.S. security assistance to Israel once a peace agreement is concluded.
The White House has since denied that any such letter was issued.
The White House's Tommy Vietor writes further Thursday, in reference to the U.S. offer as described by Makosvky above: “No letter was sent to PM Netanyahu. We’re not going to comment on sensitive diplomatic matters.”

If you look closely at what Makovsky writes, he says, "According to senior U.S. officials, the administration's efforts culminated in a draft letter negotiated with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and chief Israeli peace negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, and ultimately sent from President Obama's desk to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu." (emphasis added).

Will poke around but imagine one plausible scenario is the draft letter outlining the U.S. package was delivered to Netanyahu, for instance, by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak upon his return from Washington at a meeting at Netanyahu's Caesarea residence Monday, and therefore not "sent" to Netanyahu.
Talk about splitting hairs.

Paul Mirengoff terms Obama's offer 'pathetic.'
Obama's alleged offer appears to be an act of desperation, and a ridiculous one at that. What does Obama believe will be accomplished in two months? If the parties were within striking distance of a deal, Israel presumably would have extended the moratorium itself or, alternatively, the PA would be willing to continue talking notwithstanding the end of the moratorium. Instead, both parties are acting with indifference to the impending breakdown of the talks. That's good evidence, if any were needed, that the talks are going nowhere. Only the U.S. has any strong desire for them to continue.

From an Israeli perspective, moreover, it's not clear how much the U.S. assurances are worth. Reportedly, the assurances are (1) that Washington will not ask for a moratorium extension beyond 60 days, (2) that the United States will veto any U.N. Security Council initiative -- Arab or otherwise -- relating to Arab-Israeli peace during the agreed one-year negotiating period, and (3) that Washington will accept the legitimacy of existing Israeli security needs and not seek to redefine them.

The first assurance doesn't offer Israel anything affirmative; it is a limitation on the underlying U.S. demand, not a reason to accept the demand. The second assurance matters only to those who think the U.N. matters. Moreover, to extend the moratorium in order to avoid the implied threat of anti-Israeli screeds by the U.N. is, in effect, to give the U.N. control over Israeli housing policy. Even if the U.N. matters, it does not matter that much.

The third assurance - that Washington will accept the legitimacy of existing Israeli security needs and not seek to redefine them - is offensive, and should make Israelis think twice about proceeding with any Obama administration peace efforts. The implication of this assurance is that, presently, Obama does not necessarily accept the legitimacy of existing Israeli security needs and may well redefine them. But Obama has no right to judge, much less redefine, Israel's security needs. Since it has become obvious that Obama claims that right - at least in the absence of Israeli concessions - Israel should no longer accept his legitimacy as an intermediary.

And now you know why I haven't discussed the 'settlement freeze extension' in ten previous posts since the holiday ended: There isn't going to be one.

Meanwhile, the 'Palestinians' continue to threaten that without an extension of the freeze, they will walk away from the 'direct talks.'
Hanna Amireh, a member of the PLO body, said there was widespread opposition to resuming talks without a settlement curb.

"The consensus is that since the entire world is in favor of a Palestinian state and against settlements, then let us throw this problem in the face of the world and see what they can do about it," Amireh said.
And the truly ugly Catherine Ashton (go to that last link if you can bear it) agrees:
Also on Wednesday EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said that the recently expired settlement construction moratorium must be extended if the peace talks are to have any hope of succeeding

Ashton made the comments after a Washington meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ashton announced an imminent trip to Israel, where she is expected to land on Thursday. Ashton said she was heading to the region "as a matter of priority" after talking to Mitchell and international Mideast envoy Tony Blair.

She reiterated in a statement that the European Union regrets Israel's decision not to extend a 10-month-old moratorium on West Bank housing starts that expired this week.
So it looks like the 'direct talks' are over. An election is a lousy reason to start a 'peace process' anyway, especially when the election isn't being held by either of the parties to the 'peace process.'


At 9:14 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - you didn't mention it but its important to remind your readers again the Palestinians didn't want direct talks but where pressured by Washington to show up.

And while Israel has called for the talks, the constant Palestinian threats and preconditions have meant holding them now are a waste of time. Its significant that Netanyahu did not bother to dispute Foreign Minister Lieberman's analysis of their likely outcome. Nothing is going to happen in 60 days or even in a year's time.

As Lieberman pointed out at the UN, the Palestinians don't want peace and there is no making that elephant in the room go away no matter how much the US and Israel would like it to.

So yes, the peace process is going nowhere but any one with half a brain knew that over a year and a half ago when the current iteration of it began.

At 11:23 PM, Blogger DavidD6 said...

Carl, there's an additional Republican of the Jewish faith ( he's Orthodox ) who is running for Congress and is on the November 2, 2010 ballot. His name is Asher Taub and is running for the New York 6th Congressional District seat. This district is exclusively in the NYC Borough of Queens. It's a heavily Democrat District, with a long time incumbent ( Gregory Meeks ).


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