Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hillary Clinton piles pressure on Israel over East Jerusalem settlements.

Hillary Clinton made it clear to Israel yesterday that the Obama administration are not backing down from their demands that Netanyahu desist from settlement building in East Jerusalem.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, today demonstrated a new-found steeliness towards Israel by making it clear she was expecting it to back down in the row between the two countries and offer concessions needed for a resumption of Middle East peace talks.

As rock-throwing Palestinians clashed with Israeli forces in Jerusalem in protests dubbed "a day of rage", Clinton sent a double-edged message to Israel.

She softened the tone of remarks coming from the Obama administration over the last few days by talking about the deep bonds between the two countries. But she combined this by firmly placing the onus on Israel to make concessions needed to get the Palestinians back into talks.

Clinton told reporters at the state department that the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, had to take action to show he was serious about a peace process. She said: "We are engaged in very active consultations with the Israelis over steps that we think would demonstrate the requisite commitment to the process. It's been a very important effort on their part as well as ours. We know how hard this is. This is a very difficult, complex matter. But the Obama administration is committed to a two-state solution."

As Netanyahu's government is made up of a coalition of extreme right wing nutcases, I doubt very much that he is going to willingly comply.

Responding to Clinton, his words did not suggest a readiness to bow to US demands, at least in public. In a statement issued by his office, he said: "With regard to commitments to peace, the government of Israel has proven over the last year that it is committed to peace, both in words and actions."

He cited the removal of hundreds of roadblocks across the West Bank and a temporary freeze on construction of settlements on the West Bank. Middle East analysts in Washington said the Obama administration was not trying to engineer the collapse of the coalition but, if it happened, would welcome a more moderate one that might emerge.

The notion put forward by Netanyahu, that Israel under his leadership is "committed to peace, both in words and actions" is laughable. It is simply untrue. He has paid lip service to peace, just enough to keep Obama off of his back, but has demonstrated no serious commitment to a two state solution.

He's offered empty words, and even they came with many caveats.

Even Knesset speaker "Ruby" Rivlin admits that Netanyahu has been speaking "with three tongues":
Rivlin: To the right he said we're going to freeze the settlements, but only for 10 months so as to demonstrate goodwill. To the Americans, he said, "I'm the first prime minister to freeze construction. What else can you ask of me? After all, none of my predecessors did so." And to the Palestinians he said, "Nu, now let's see you."

When you speak in three tongues, then from an intellectual point of view, there's something missing here. If you say "I'm freezing [construction] in order to begin negotiations, and apparently the negotiations will be renewed within 10 months and afterward I'll start building again," there's an internal contradiction, because if you're willing to stop construction for the purpose of beginning negotiations, what will you say later, when the negotiations are in full flow? How will you resume construction?"
Netanyahu is now running out of space to manoeuvre. And reasonable Israelis are realising this. Ha'aretz newspaper are today running with an leader headlined, "It's time for Netanyahu to say yes to Obama."
In order to rescue the proximity talks and resolve the crisis in relations with the United States, the Obama administration has made three demands of Netanyahu: cancelling the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee's decision to approve for presentation building plans for Ramat Shlomo, a "significant" gesture to the Palestinians and a public statement that the indirect talks will deal with all the core issues, including Jerusalem.

Obviously, the United States expects Israel to maintain the status quo in East Jerusalem and refrain from establishing new facts on this sensitive ground. The American demands are reasonable and fair. The procedure for approving the Ramat Shlomo building plan will take five years or more; it will not come to fruition in the coming months. Netanyahu can transfer lands in Area C to the Palestinians, release prisoners and lift roadblocks.

Israeli agreement to discuss all the core issues, including Jerusalem, derives from the Oslo Accords and the road map, to which the government is committed. Even without the heavy cloud hovering over relations with the United States, an Israeli government that is really and truly interested in ending the conflict must act to strengthen the status of the Palestinian partner, avoid provocative decisions and renew talks on the core issues from the point they stopped a year and half ago.

There is nothing that Obama and Clinton are asking for which is not perfectly reasonable. They are asking that Netanyahu show that he is serious about the peace that he tells us he is committed to "in words and actions".

Jonathan Freedland has an interesting take on why Obama is now insisting that talks must include all core issues:
Instead of using the Biden flap simply to assert his own macho credentials – "Don't cross me" – Obama might be grasping hold of it as a rare chance to revive the near-dead peace process.

His critics say that Israel never responds to pressure, that it only makes compromises when it feels secure. Only with the full backing of George W Bush did Ariel Sharon feel able to disengage from Gaza. But the Bush Sr experience tells a different story: that it was US pressure which dragged Israel to the peace table in Madrid in 1991, spawning the Oslo accords two years later.

With that precedent in mind, Obama could dispense with the endless talks about talks that were about to get under way, shifting the ground away from process and procedure – the terrain on which Bibi is most comfortable – and to substance instead. He should do it, demanding both sides – Israeli and Palestinian – present their vision of the endgame, their statement of how they finally see this conflict being resolved. It would have to cover everything, even the most difficult areas: borders, refugees, Jerusalem. Netanyahu always says he is serious about peace. This exercise would force him, and his Palestinian counterparts, to say how serious.
Of course, if Netanyahu shows this commitment, then there is every chance that his right wing coalition will collapse.

But it was Netanyahu's decision to align himself with these extremists. If he wants to hold on to power, and if he wants peace like he says he does, he can always form a coalition with Kadima and create a national unity government. But, in order to do so, he would have to actually want peace.

And that's the claim he makes which I find impossible to buy.

Click here for full article.

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