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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Jerusalem: We have not given up our 14 year hope: That the US will abide by its own laws

Mr Obama: Next year in Jerusalem.
Last update - 03:40 06/06/2009       
Obama postpones U.S. embassy move from T.A. to Jerusalem
By Haaretz Service
United States President Barack Obama on Friday postponed moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by an additional six months, Israel Radio reported.
A senior White House official said that U.S. policy regarding the status of Jerusalem remains unchanged, and that it is a final-status issue to be resolved within the framework of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The U.S. Congress approved the transfer of the embassy 14 years ago.
Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that all of Jerusalem would always remain under Israeli sovereignty. Netanyahu said he had made the same declaration during his visit to Washington last month when he met with Obama.
"The new U.S. administration informs us with intolerably ease that we have to give up Jerusalem," the premier said during a May ceremony marking Jerusalem Day.
"With all due respect, the U.S. president sees the American interest and does not know that Jerusalem is not a territorial issue, but a much deeper one - 'the hope of two thousand years/the land of Zion and Jerusalem,'" he said, quoting Israel's national anthem.

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Hamas-Fateh war continues

While Barack Obama talks about a two state solution, meanwhile, back in reality, things look different. Perhaps there will be three states between the river and the sea.
Last update - 17:02 06/06/2009       
Fatah: Hamas carrying out mass arrests of our men in Gaza
By Reuters
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction accused Hamas Islamists on Saturday of arresting some 150 of its activists in Gaza, in apparent retaliation for raids that killed four Hamas men in the West Bank this week.
Fahmi al-Zarir, a spokesman for Fatah in the West Bank, said Hamas had made the arrests since Friday. He said some men were being held in schools and hotels in the Gaza Strip, territory the Islamists seized in a bloody 2007 coup from Fatah.
Hamas officials declined any comment, but a statement posted on Hamas's Interior Ministry website said "some" Palestinians loyal to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a Fatah-backed leader, were arrested as suspected informers for Israel.
The arrests came days after four Hamas men and a civilian died in deadly raids by Abbas' Western-backed security forces against Hamas Islamists in the West Bank town of Qalqilya.
These raids highlighted the tensions within Palestinian society over Abbas's efforts to fulfill commitments to rein in militants as part of a long-stalled, U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.
Underlining the growing tension, Hamas had published a "hit list" for security leaders accused of cracking down on its members, and one of the group's preachers in Gaza called for an intifada, or uprising, in the West Bank against Abbas' men.
Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama urged Abbas to press on with his security campaign, which he credited with making "great progress" in the West Bank.
In an address in Cairo on Thursday, Obama urged Hamas to heal the Palestinian rift by putting "an end to violence" and recognizing Israel's right to exist. Hamas calls for Israel's destruction.
Prominent Palestinians have issued a joint plea to "end the bloodletting" and engage in reconciliation talks which were expected to resume in Cairo next month

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Iran to produce new air defense missile

Another day, another Iranian missile. However, it is clearly not a "missile defense system as Jerusalem post claims, but an anti-aircraft missile. The question is not how fast it can travel, but whether or not its radar homing system can be foiled by Israeli countermeasures.
Iran announces missile defense system
Jun. 6, 2009 Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST
Iran has started the production of a new ground-to-air missile system that is able to hit enemy aircraft at supersonic speed, Iranian media reported on Saturday.
"The range of this defense system (missile) is more than 40 km and it is able to pursue and hit the enemy's airplanes and helicopters on a smart basis and at supersonic speed," Iran's Fars News Agency quoted Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar as saying.
According to Reuters, Iranian media reported that the production of the Shahin (hawk) missile defense system was one of the "most important and complex projects" undertaken by the country's defense industry since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Iran's Press TV said all parts of the Shahin missile were produced in the country, which is under UN and US sanctions over its disputed nuclear program.
The announcement, which could be seen as an attempt by Teheran to deter Israel from striking Iran's nuclear facilities, comes less then a week before the country's June 12 elections.

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Lebanon: Shi'ite happens

Walid Jumblatt used to be an outspoken critic of the Hezbollah in Lebanon, but he has learned to live with the Shi'ites in Lebanon. He explains that there is no other choice, as Christrian power is waning, the West is making overtures to the Hezbollah, and nobody will defend the Druze. The so-called Lebanese majority that fought Syrian and Iranian takeover is evidently collapsing as the West and Israel have abandoned Lebanon to its fate.
Walid Jumblatt in Closed-Door Meeting with Druze Sheikhs: :'We Have No Choice But to Coexist with the Shi'ites'

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt recently held a closed-door meeting with a small group of Druze sheikhs loyal to him; the transcript of the meeting was published in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar. In the meeting, Jumblatt conveyed a clear and unequivocal message, namely that in light of the growing power of the Shi'ites in Lebanon and the decline in the power of the Druze, the latter must accept the new reality, stop fighting the Shi'ites, and coexist with them.

In support of this position, Jumblatt cited the demographic and political changes in the country. He said that the Shi'ites are growing stronger, both in numbers and in power, while the Sunnis are "more dangerous" than the Shi'ites and the Christians are "dying out." He also explained that the reality, as well as the attitude towards the Shi'ites, are changing not only in Lebanon but throughout the world, as manifested by Britain's recent contacts with Hizbullah and the U.S.'s dialogue with Iran; consequently, the Druze too must be realistic and think of the future.

The sheikhs clearly had difficulty in accepting Jumblatt's position and the new path he urged them to take, but he repeatedly insisted that there was no other choice.

Jumblatt's statements are a reflection of the current demographic, sectarian and political situation in Lebanon: the waxing power of the Shi'ites, the apprehension this arouses in the other sects in the country, and their attempts to maneuver within this new reality and to deal with it. The Lebanese pro-Hizbullah daily Al-Akhbar, which published the transcript, stated that this document was destined to become a key page in Lebanese history, adding that the sentiments expressed by Jumblatt reflected not only the Druzes' fears, but the apprehensions felt by all sectors in Lebanon in light of the shifting situation in the country. Al-Akhbar added that Jumblatt's considerations were similar to the considerations that had motivated Maronite leader Michel Aoun, head of the large Christian party Free Patriotic Movement, to opt for a political alliance with Hizbullah in 2006.

Jumblatt's statements also shed light on his political course in the past year, which has been characterized by his drawing closer to the opposition, in particular to Hizbullah. This was manifested in meetings held by Jumblatt and his representatives with Hizbullah officials, and in his taking a more moderate and conciliatory tone regarding Hizbullah and its weapons. In recent months, it was even reported in the Lebanese media that Jumblatt means to leave the March 14 Forces and join the opposition. It should be noted that Jumblatt's rapprochement with the opposition became noticeable especially following the takeover of Beirut and of other areas of Lebanon by Hizbullah gunmen on May 7, 2008, which was accompanied by violent clashes between Druze and Shi'ites in the Mount Lebanon region.

Following are excerpts from the transcript of the meeting: [1]

"We [Druze] Must Live with the Shi'ites"; "[In] South Lebanon, They Are the Majority, and We Are in the Middle"

"Today, our alliance with the March 14 [Forces] and with some of the Christian leaders isn't very stable. That does not mean that we want to change things, but it does mean that we need to pay attention… Amir Talal [Arslan] [2] is now [allied] with Syria, while I am against Syria. But we must look to the future. Perhaps the opening provided by Amir Talal will help with Syria and help our people up there [i.e., the Druze in Syria]… Syria will continue to exist, and as for Israel, we shall never turn to it. We never turned to it in the past, and we will not turn to it [in the future]… I am sure that none of us believes that Israel will defend anyone [except for itself]. Israel has its own interests, and does not protect anybody [else]. Therefore, I am going to leave a [parliament] seat in 'Aley [province] for Amir Talal, [and refrain from running a candidate of my own there].

"As for our relations with the Shi'ites… we have extracted ourselves from a dead end, but the atmosphere is still not good, and I need your help. The atmosphere among the Druze is not good. There are still what I call areas of friction. We do not want the areas where we and the Shi'ites live together - such as Shuweifat, Dir Qoubal, and 'Aramoun - to remain areas of friction. In these places, the Druze attitude is still not good.

"The Shi'ite reality has imposed itself through [demography], through money, through [the relations with] Iran and [through the Lebanese Shi'ite diaspora in] Africa. [The Shi'ites] buy land and fill the empty spaces, because nature abhors a vacuum.

"On the coastal plain, there is competition between Sunnis and Shi'ites. There is a Sunni area and a Shi'ite area. But we [Druze] should live together with the Shi'ites. We must live with the Shi'ites… When [the Shi'ites] tried to come to the mountain [regions that are dominated by the Druze], everybody [there] blocked their way. But in the coastal plain we must live together.

"I still notice negative attitudes among some [Druze] circles, both political and religious, and we cannot go on like this. Because last time [there was friction between Shi'ites and Druze], we escaped only by a miracle. We were lucky, [really] lucky. I have seen the [Druze] youth and heard some of the sheikhs declare that they want to kill [Shi'ites] indiscriminately. [By doing this], we would launch a war which has a beginning but no end. I want to remind you that when we started the war against the Maronites in 1975, we finished it [only] in 1989, and in 1991 the Syrians came and put an end to the matter. That war cost us dearly.

"We have no interest in fighting the Shi'ites. To find a way to preserve our existence, we must find a way to hold dialogue with them. How to accomplish this at the present time, I do not know. I know that, at the moment, Syria does not permit Hassan Nasrallah to meet with me. I know this. But we must find ways, [with the help of Shi'ite leader] 'Abd Al-Amir Qabalan and others, [or] through [the leader of the Shi'ite Amal Party, parliament speaker] Nabih Berri. We must communicate.

"Today, Shi'ites constitute one-third of the country; there are 1,200,000 of them. As you know, from the southern border of Syria to South Lebanon, they are the majority, and we are in the middle."

"The Christians Will Never Come Back [to Power]... They Are Dying Out"

"The Christians will never come back [to power]. That's it. They are dying out. The Sunnis are [still] there, but the big Sunni sea is not close to us. It's up there in the north, in 'Akar. Therefore, I want you to help me in easing the hostility [between the Druze and the Shi'ites]. Now is not the time to remember our war with the Shi'ites in the days of Fakhr Al-Din [in the 16th and 17th centuries]… Once, there was a Druze emirate, but [now] it's gone. What can we do?... If we do not communicate with them somehow, what else can we do? Clash [with them]? And then what?... I need your help…"

A sheikh: "We have never attacked them."

Jumblatt: "That's not true. Let me tell you, dear sheikh, there was [a case in which] we attacked them. And I tell you that I expect you to provide guidance [to the public]. I will work with [my] party. I am complaining to you about the Progressive Party, of which I am the head. I am complaining about the sectarian hostility [in my party] against the Shi'ites. We cannot carry on this way. If there is some incident - started by us or by them - it must not take on the nature of a Druze-Shi'ite [conflict]."

"Sunni Fundamentalism is on the Rise, as Is Happening in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan"

"I'll say more than this. With the Shi'ites, you can find a way, even if partial, to deal with the problem, but with the Sunnis it's a different matter. At present, there is S'ad Al-Hariri and what is known as the moderate camp among the Sunnis. But as you know, a new climate is emerging, and as a result, Sunni fundamentalism is on the rise, as is happening in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Sheikh: "This is dangerous."

Jumblatt: Now tell me who is more dangerous. You know [the answer]."

Sheikhs: "Sunni fundamentalism is more dangerous."

Jumblatt: "Good, we should know where we are headed."

Responding to a question about whether establishing contact with the Shi'ites would not expose Druze figures to accusations of treason, Jumblatt replied: "Nobody will accuse anybody of treason. I am asking you to establish contact with the Shi'ites. I will go to Nabih Berri, but I want this atmosphere to percolate down to the people, even if all we ask [of them] is to reduce extremist behavior…

"There are areas that are no longer ours… but there are some areas that we share with the Shi'ites. How shall we continue? Shall each of us bear arms against the other, or shall we reach an understanding? You tell me, what should be done in areas like [these]?... I am willing to buy land there, but there are areas where the Druze and Shi'ite population is [completely] intermingled"…

"What should we do? We must strengthen [the Druze] presence where we live, and we must buy land where we are present. We must [improve] our economic position and strengthen our institutions. However, in those areas where the population is mixed, we must live with [the Shi'ites]. If you have another solution, [you are welcome to] tell me about it… There are mixed [areas], so tell me, what are we to do? Give me an alternative solution, other than coexistence in mutual understanding"…

A sheikh: "But are the Shi'ites ready to coexist with us?"

Jumblatt: "Before we put the question to them, I [need to] ask you if you are ready for coexistence."

Sheikhs: "It wasn't us who who started it. Politics is to blame. Before May 7, [2008], this level of hostility did not exist on our part. We are not the ones who created [the hostility]."

Jumblatt: "They are the ones who started it in Dir Qoubal. [3] Okay, [but] now can we put an end to it? Or do you want us to create a Druze Karbala? [4] The Sunnis have [already] invented [their own] new Karbala. There was the [original Shi'ite] Karbala of Hassan and Hussein, and now the Sunnis have created a new Karbala called May 7 [out of] the three people who were killed in Beirut. I ask you: shouldn't we Druze put an end to this matter? They have killed some of our people, and we have killed some of theirs. Shall we stop, or shall we continue the killing? That is the question"…

"On May 7, 2008, the Sunnis Brought in 1,000 Men from [the North]; They Did Not Last More than 15 Minutes [Against Hizbullah] - We Cannot Start a Religious, Psychological and Political War with the Shi'ites"

"[In 2007-2008, when we argued about who would replace Emil Lahoud as president]... I met with what's-his-name, [Maronite military leader] Samir Geagea. He wanted war. The Christians wanted us to start a war with the Shi'ites so that they could look on from the sidelines, and even some of the Sunnis wanted there to be a confrontation between the Shi'ites and ourselves. We saw the Sunnis in Beirut [on May 7, 2008]. They brought in 1,000 men from 'Akar, but they did not last more than 15 minutes [against Hizbullah]. We cannot [afford to] start a religious, psychological and political war with the Shi'ites. Look at those [fundamentalist Sunni Islamists] who shave their mustaches and grow their beards…"

Sheikhs: "They are more dangerous [than the Shi'ites]."

"Britain Has Launched [a Dialogue] with Hizbullah, and America with Iran... So Let's Be Realistic"

Jumblatt: "Islamic Beirut is all around us. What can we do? Up in the mountains, things are still under control, but on the coast, what can we do?"

A sheikh: "That's the reality. We should work to change it."

Jumblatt: "There will soon be elections, [but] they will bring no essential change. Our tragedy today is that Walid Jumblatt is unable to form a [candidate] list in the Shouf Mountains, because the fanatic separatism has come back, and those wretches [i.e. the Maronites] unfortunately remain wretched. If anyone knows the Maronites, it is we Druze and [especially] the Jumblatt family. Isn't that right?

"As for the Shi'ite issue, you need to understand the current situation: Britain has launched [a dialogue] with Hizbullah, and America has launched [one] with Iran, because they [both] need to confront the danger of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [Likewise, Saudi] King 'Abdallah has started negotiating with Syria. So let's be realistic...

"I wish [Amir Talal] had strength and supporters like mine. But we must support him, because he [provides] an opening [to Syria], and will help to protect the Druze in Syria. [Even] I am saying this - I, Walid Jumblatt, who is against the Syrian regime. We must think in a way that takes into consideration the interest of our people up there [in Syria]… So here's the question. Will we turn the page on May 7 or not?"

A sheikh: "True, but the Shi'ites must [also] understand this. They are making fierce attacks on our areas."

Jumblatt: "So what are we to do? [Even] in our own regions, our numbers are dwindling, while the Shi'ites and the Sunnis [are growing]. Look at the 'Aramoun and Bishamoun [areas]. Today there are Shi'ite and Sunni areas [in these areas]. What are we to do? We have no choice but to live together, because of the geographical [reality] and the expansion of the Shi'ites. The source of their power is not only Iran. [Look at] Beirut, which we call 'Sunni Beirut.' Nothing is left of [Sunni Beirut] except New Road. If we go to Al-Hamra Street, which use to belong to the Armenians and [Maronite] Christians, [we find that] it is now Shi'ite… [The Shi'ites] are buying land and real estate… They also have bases of influence and power in West Africa, from Nigeria to Sierra Leone, and they have a lot of money. They work there and have high incomes.

"Things are changing, even in Beirut... I am not looking for a magic solution. I am looking for a way to communicate [with the Shi'ites] and to reduce the hostility between us…"

Fighting the Shi'ites "Means Entering a Cycle of Bloodshed without End"

A sheikh: "…But the Shi'ites have a grand plan [to take over Lebanon]. It's not a temporary issue that can simply be bypassed. They have attacked our areas, and there is blood between us… Thank God, we have managed to confront them and break their skulls…"

Jumblatt: "So what now? Excuse me, is this a military matter or a political one? If it is merely a military [matter], it means that we are entering an endless cycle of bloodshed. It will destroy our areas, our economic standing, and our institutions. This whole campaign has no future.

"I fought in the war. I was with you. I secured the road from the Soviet Union through Syria, Hamana, and Al-Mukhtara to Beirut. [But] today, the equation has changed. We are in favor of protecting our honor, but at the same time handling matters with political prudence. There is a reality that must be faced, and it is an Islamic reality, both Sunni and Shi'ite. It is not only Shi'ite…

"Let me say something. We have fulfilled our obligation towards ourselves and [former Lebanese prime minister] Rafiq Al-Hariri. As for the international tribunal, nobody knows how it will rule, but we mustn't continue to make a bigger and fiercer issue [out of this]. The tribunal will rule whether [Syrian President] Bashar [Al-Assad] is responsible [for Al-Hariri's murder,] or else is innocent. This is for the tribunal to decide.

"Furthermore, what did Sa'd Al-Hariri say? He said: 'If the Syrian regime turns out to be innocent, I will be willing to apologize.' Okay, he is [Al-Hariri's son]. I for my part am not going to apologize. [As for the] issue of [my father] Kamal Jumblatt [who was assassinated by Syria] - I closed the book on it a long time ago. I went and shook the hand of [former Syrian president] Hafez Al-Assad for the sake... of the Arab identity of the Druze, and for the sake of our [continued] existence.

"Amir Talal is pursuing a wise policy and we have to help him, because by helping him we are helping ourselves. We should work to strengthen [him], so he will protect us. Even I [now] say this."

[1] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 28, 2009.

[2] Talal Arslan, a Druze leader from the Lebanese opposition, was Jumblatt's rival until a few years ago. Following the violent clashes of May 2008 in Beirut, Jumblatt decided to reconcile with him in order to unite the ranks of the Lebanese Druze. As part of this move, he gave up a ministerial position in the cabinet reserved for one of his representatives in favor of one of Arslan's representatives, and promised to give up running a Druze parliamentary candidate in the Aley province in favor of an Arslan candidate. Arslan, for his part, has been mediating between Jumblatt and figures in the opposition, especially in Hizbullah, and, according to reports, he has also been mediating between Jumblatt and Syria.

[3] This probably refers to the Shi'ite attacks on the Druze in Dir Qoubal as part of the May 2008 Hizbullah takeover of Beirut and other areas of Lebanon.

[4] The Battle of Karbala (680 AD), in which Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson and the son of Caliph 'Ali bin 'Ali Talib, was murdered, is a seminal event in Shi'ite history and a symbol of martyrdom.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Friday, June 5, 2009

More traces of uranium in Syra

Last update - 01:14 06/06/2009       
IAEA: New traces of uranium found in Syria
By News Agencies
The United Nations nuclear watchdog has discovered traces of processed uranium at a second site in Syria, the agency said on Friday, heightening concern about possible undeclared atomic activity in the Arab state.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has been examining U.S. intelligence reports that Syria had almost built a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor meant to yield weapons-grade plutonium before Israel bombed it to rubble in 2007.
Inspectors who found uranium particles at the remote desert site a year ago also found similar traces at a small research reactor in the capital Damascus, which the IAEA knew about and checks once a year, an IAEA report said. These traces were different from Syria's declared nuclear material inventory.
The IAEA said in February that inspectors had found enough traces of uranium in soil samples taken from the bombed site a year ago to constitute a significant find.
Friday's report, obtained by Reuters, said "anthropogenic natural uranium particles" had also turned up in environmental swipe samples taken from hot cells of the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR) facility in Damascus.
Syria, told of the IAEA's discovery last month, sent a written response to the IAEA on Monday. But this did not address the presence and origin of the particles and the UN watchdog was investigating a possible connection with the uranium particles found at the bombed site, the report said.
The IAEA has said in the past that satellite pictures taken before the Israeli bombing revealed a building resembling a reactor.
But the new report said Syria, citing national security, was still ignoring IAEA requests for wider access and documentation to back up its assertion that Israel's target at Dair Alzour was a conventional military building.
The IAEA again urged Syria to provide additional data and trips to Dair Alzour and other allegedly related locations to allow test-sampling of destroyed or salvaged equipment and debris removed before investigators were let into the country.
"It is clearly in Syria's interest to render to the agency the necessary cooperation and transparency if it wishes the agency to be able to corroborate its assertion about the nature of the Dair Alzour site," the report said.
Syria's only declared nuclear site is the old research reactor and it has no known nuclear energy-generating capacity.
The report said Syria was also refusing to discuss satellite pictures the IAEA had offered to share with it.
Syria had provided information regarding procurement of certain equipment and materials including a large quantity of graphite and large quantities of barium sulphate," a compound sometimes used as a radiation shield in nuclear structures.
Syria had indicated the procurement efforts were civilian and non-nuclear, relating to water purification, the steel industry and shielding material for radiation therapy centers.
Syria has said the uranium particles retrieved from samples taken at Dair Alzour came from depleted uranium used in Israeli munitions, an assertion dismissed by the IAEA.
Syria has also suggested IAEA analyses were faulty and that satellite imagery Washington gave to the IAEA was fabricated.
Vienna diplomats said in March that Syria had told the IAEA it had built a missile facility on the desert tract hit by Israel, a disclosure apparently meant to reinforce the Syrian refusal to grant more IAEA access on national security grounds.
IAEA: Iran expands uranium enrichment to 5,000 centrifuges
A separate IAEA report said that Iran is continuing to expand its uranium enrichment, despite three sets of prohibitive UN Security Council sanctions.
International Atomic Energy Agency report said Iran had increased its rate of production of low-enriched uranium (LEU), boosting its stockpile by 500 kg to 1,339 kg in the past six months.
Iran's improved efficiency in turning out potential nuclear fuel is sure to fan Western fears of the Islamic Republic nearing the ability to make atomic bombs, if it chose to do so.
Oil giant Iran says it wants a uranium enrichment industry solely to provide an alternative source of electricity.
But it has stonewalled an IAEA investigation into suspected past research into bomb-making, calling U.S. intelligence about it forged, and continuing to limit the scope of IAEA inspections.
Commenting on the Iran report, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, a think tank that tracks proliferation issues, said that at the present pace of production of enriched uranium, Tehran could make two nuclear weapons - should it choose to do so - within eight months.
David Albright, of the Institute for Science and International Security, said Iran now had accumulated enough LEU to convert into high-enriched uranium (HEU) sufficient for one atom bomb.
This would require reconfiguring Iran's centrifuge network and miniaturizing HEU to fit into a warhead -- technical hurdles that could take 1-2 years or more - and would not escape the notice of UN inspectors unless done at an undeclared location.
There are no indications of any such secret site.
"Still, Iran is ramping up enrichment to reach the point of potential nuclear weapons capability. They haven't made a political decision to do that. But their lack of constraint is disappointing given [U.S. President Barack] Obama's effort to start negotiations," Albright told Reuters from Washington.
The UN nuclear watchdog report said Iran had 4,920 centrifuges, cylinders that spin at supersonic speed, being fed with uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) for enrichment nonstop as of May 31, a jump of about 25 percent since February.
Another 2,132 machines were installed and undergoing vacuum tests while a further 169 were being set up - bringing Iran's total number of deployed centrifuges at its underground Natanz enrichment hall to 7,231 -- with 55,000 eventually planned.
The IAEA had told Iran that given the burgeoning numbers of centrifuges and increased pace of enrichment, "improvements to the containment and surveillance measures are required in order for the agency to continue to fully meet its safeguards objectives", the report said, referring to basic inspections.
Senior inspectors were discussing solutions with Iran.
"There is now a forest of 7,000 machines, that's quite a lot, it's a very impressive place, and they will be installing more which could mean 9,000 (soon)," said a senior UN official who asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
"That makes it increasingly difficult to do the surveillance [to ensure no diversions for bomb-making purposes elsewhere]. We are reviewing [the angles] of our cameras, walking rules [for workers handling equipment], where things are being kept."
At a separate pilot plant in Natanz, Iran continues to test small numbers of a more sophisticated centrifuge than the 1970s vintage it is now using. These models could refine uranium 2-3 times as fast as the P-1, analysts say.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has urged Iran to engage with the United States, "grasp the hand that Obama is extending to you", and negotiate over its nuclear program to ensure it remains civilian under effective monitoring.
But little progress in coaxing Iran to open up to IAEA investigators and grant more wide-ranging inspections is likely without a major thaw in Tehran's relations with Western powers.
"The Iran file has been on the table for six years. It's high time to sort it out. We hope Iran and international community get to the table and start to come up with solutions so we can do our [non-proliferation] job," said the senior U.N. official.
Obama has set a rough timetable for negotiating results with Iran, saying he wanted serious progress by the end of the year. He has underlined that any U.S. overtures will be accompanied by harsher sanctions if there is no cooperation.

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Clinton denies US approval of settlement growth

Background: In 1956, the United States promised publicly and in writing that Israel had a right to navigation in international waters and freedom of navigation in the straits of Tiran. When Egyptian President  Nasser closed the straits of Tiran, the United States nonetheless found a way to weasel out of its commitment. The letter of George Bush regarding the future of the Settlement blocs is a matter of public record. (see Ariel Sharon's Disengagement Plan). It is not credible that the US would make such a commitment without understanding that these areas at least would continue to grow. However, the Zionist movement has a long and sad education in the evanescence of promises made by great powers.
Last update - 01:52 06/06/2009    
By Reuters 
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed on Friday reports that Israel and the Bush administration had an understanding under which Israel could keep expanding settlements on the West Bank.
Dov Weisglass, chief of staff to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said in an op-ed piece published this week in Yedioth Aharonoth that the Bush administration and Israel had an understanding under which Israel could expand settlements within their existing boundaries.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, Clinton sought to undercut Weisglass' argument, saying there was no acknowledgment of any such agreement in the official negotiating record between Israel and the Bush administration.
"There is no memorialization of any informal and oral agreements. If they did occur, which of course people say they did, they did not become part of the official position of the United States government," Clinton said at a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
"And there are contrary documents that suggest that they were not to be viewed as in any way contradicting the obligations that Israel undertook pursuant to the road map," Clinton added. "And those obligations are very clear."
Clinton's hard line suggests that U.S. President Barack Obama has no intention of relenting on his call for a settlement freeze by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The United States wants Israel to keep its commitment under the 2003 "road map" peace plan to halt all settlement activity, including so-called "natural growth," under which new homes are built within existing enclaves for growing settler families.
Netanyahu on Monday defied the U.S. demand, saying Israel would keep building in existing settlements on territory Israel captured during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Apartheid Bosnia: No Jews or Roma need apply

Europeans who are so fond of worrying about human rights of Palestinians should be looking in their own back yard. It seems that not only Bosnia, but also other European countries have laws that arbitrarily restrict the rtights of miniorities.
Last update - 16:19 05/06/2009       
Bosnia Jew seeks to reverse ban on running for president
By Reuters
A Bosnian Jew and an ethnic Roma have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn laws that prevent them from running for president.
Under the Dayton peace agreement that ended Bosnia's 1992-95 war, only Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats may run for the office.
The constitution envisaged 14 years ago sought to stop the war in which 100,000 people died and granted political rights only to ethnic groups that fought each other.
"This closed the door to all those who do not declare as members of one of these three constituent peoples," said Jakob Finci, head of the Jewish community and Bosnia's ambassador to Switzerland.
Minorities and those from ethnically mixed marriages, which were commonplace in Bosnia during Yugoslav times, also do not have the right to run for the national parliament's upper house.
The European Court of Human Rights heard the case this week brought by Finci and Dervo Sejdic, a member of Bosnia's Roma Council, which alleges Bosnia's constitution violates the European Convention on Human Rights and United Nations conventions and international treaties.
"I think it's high time to step away from ethnic patterns that were necessary to stop the war," Finci told Reuters by telephone from his office in Bern. "It's time for Bosnia to enter its European phase."
The court is expected to issue its ruling in September.
The Minority Rights Group International said in a statement the case marked the first time the Strasbourg-based court has considered the application of the Council of Europe's anti-discrimination laws in member states.
"If the court rules in favor of the applicants, it could provide a far-reaching judgment which can be used by other minorities who lack electoral rights in other European states," said Lucy Claridge, the group's legal director.

Minorities and those from ethnically mixed marriages also do not have the right to run for the national parliament's upper house.

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Obama running for office in Egypt?

This is the key point that has to be true:

Barack Obama's speech in Cairo is one of the most bizarre orations ever made by a U.S. president, not a foreign policy statement but rather something invented by Obama, an international campaign speech, as if his main goal was to obtain votes in the next Egyptian primary....

"But if Obama, as it appears, is running to be the region's favorite politician... "


That is precisely what Obama is doing, because being a politician is what he knows how to do best. He wants to be, in a way,  El Rais Obama..


Speaking Flattery to Power

By Barry Rubin*

June 5, 2009

Barack Obama's speech in Cairo is one of the most bizarre orations ever made by a U.S. president, not a foreign policy statement but rather something invented by Obama, an international campaign speech, as if his main goal was to obtain votes in the next Egyptian primary.

That approach defined Obama's basic themes: Islam's great. America is good. We're sorry. Be moderate (not that you haven't always been that way). Let's be friends.

Here, Obama followed the idea that if you want someone to like you agree with almost everything he says. Obama also gave, albeit with some minor variations, the speech that the leader of a Third World Muslim country might give, justifying it in advance by claiming America is a big Muslim country, after all.

Of course, the speech had tremendous—though temporary—appeal combined with its counterproductive strategic impact. It will make him more popular. It may well make America somewhat less unpopular. But its effect on Middle East issues and U.S. interests is another matter entirely.

The first problem is that Obama said many things factually quite untrue, some ridiculously so. Pages would be required to list all these inaccuracies. The interesting question is whether Obama consciously lied or really believes it. I'd prefer him to be lying, because if he's that ignorant then America and the world is in very deep trouble.

If he really believes Islam's social role is so perfect, radical Islamists are a tiny minority, Palestinians have suffered hugely through no fault of their own, and so on, then he's living in a fantasy world. Unfortunately, we are not. The collision between reality and dream is going to be a terrible one.

The second problem is the speech's unnecessarily extreme one-sidedness. Obama portrays the West as the guilty party. Despite a reference to September 11—even that presented as an American misdeed, unfair dislike of Islam resulting—he gave not a single example of Islamist or Muslim responsibility for anything wrong in the world.

Obama could easily have made the same points in a balanced way: you've made mistakes; we've made mistakes. You've done things to us; we've done things to you. And having established that I respect you, let me tell you how Americans feel and what's needed.

But that's not how he chose to do it. So afraid was Obama of giving offense—and thus not maximizing his popularity-at-all–costs mission—he did the political equivalent of scoring an own-goal. President Bill Clinton said, "I feel your pain." In effect, Obama declared, "We're your pain."

So if Muslims are always the innocent victims, isn't Usama bin Ladin and others correct in saying that all the violence and terrorism to date has been just a "defensive Jihad" against external aggression and thus justifiable? Why should anything change simply because Obama has "admitted" this and asked to start over again?

When he cited examples of oppression, Obama listed only Bosnia (where he didn't even mention the U.S. role in helping Muslims), along with Israel, and also the Muslim-on-Muslim violence in Darfur. He didn't mention terrorist violence and mistreatement of non-Muslims by Muslims in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Sudan, the Gaza Strip, against Israel, Europe or even Egypt itself.

This is a hallmark of the kind of thinking dominating much contemporary Western thought extending something that works in their own societies-- where self-criticism, apology, and unilateral concessions really can lead to the other side forgiving and compromising--to places where it doesn't work.

In the Middle East if you say you're to blame, that communicates to the other side that their cause is right and they're entitled to everything it wants. If you apologize, you're weak. Sure, some relatively Westernized urban liberals will take what Obama said that way, I doubt whether radical states and political forces, as well as the masses, will do so.

The main ingredient in the Obama speech was flattery. There is a bumper sticker that says: Don't apologize. Your friends don't need to hear it and your enemies don't care.

Obama's situation might be described as: Don't grovel. It scares the hell out of your friends and convinces your enemies you owe them big time.

As a result, the mainstream in the region will say, "We were right all the time. Obama admitted it!" While more extreme radicals say, "We've won and America's surrendering."

But if Obama, as it appears, is running to be the region's favorite politician, he'll find he—not to mention America's allies--has to give up many more things to win that dubious honor.

Third, Obama undermined the existing states. True, to Obama's credit, he did talk about reform, democracy, and equal rights for women. Yet the speech suggests to listeners is: democracy plus Islam equals solution. If Islam is so perfect and has such a great record—except for a tiny minority of extremists—why shouldn't it rule? And since the extremists are presumably al-Qaida, Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarians in the audience must have found a lot to applaud.

How will this go over with the rulers Obama wants as allies?

Finally, Obama played into the stereotype that Israel is the central political issue in the region. Others, of course, are happy to find the usual scapegoat. An Associated Press headline reads, "Obama's Islam Success Depends on Israel." Is the entire "Muslim World" just waiting for Israel to stop building a few thousand apartment units a year before deciding that America is great, reform is needed, and moderation wise.

Obama's phrases were carefully crafted. He called on Palestinians to stop violence, show their competence in administration, and accept a two-state solution, living in peace alongside Israel. Hamas was commanded to be moderate. Yet he in no way seemed to condition Palestinians getting a state on their record. His administration may think this way but he didn't make that clear.

Middle Eastern ears won't hear this aspect--which is part of the reason they may cheer the speech—in the way Washington policymakers intend. Inasmuch as the United States now has more credibility for them it's because they hope it will just force Israel to give without them having to do much. When this doesn't happen, anger will set in, intensified by the fact that the president "said" the Palestinians are in the right and should have a state right away.

Everything specific concerning Israel's needs and demands--an end to incitement, security for Israel, end of terrorism, resettlement of refugees in Palestine—weren't there. While Israel was specifically said to violate previous agreements on the construction within settlements issue—an assertion that's flat-out wrong—there was no hint that the Palestinians had done so.

I can't shake the image of Obama as the new kid in school, just moved into the neighborhood, fearful of bullies, who says anything to ingratiate himself and is ready to turn over his lunch money.

There's a famous line in "Citizen Kane" where one characters says that it's very easy to make a lot of money….If all you want to do is make a lot of money. It's also easy to make a lot of popularity, if that's all one wants to do.

An American president has to do more, a lot more.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to

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Mr Obama, we are no here on sufferance

Abe Foxman has made a very important point. The Mandate of the League of Nations, a document of international law, promised a national home for the Jewish people long before the Holocaust, and the rights of the Jewish people to the land wer recognized by several US presidents. When my ancestors came to the land over 100 years ago, they didn't do it because of the Holocaust. European Anti-Semitism and Pogroms dictated the urgency of implementing the Zionist program and helped both to mobilize the Jews and to influence world opinion, but that is not what gave the Jews the right to self determination. Not every group  that suffers gets a state, and not every people that got a state had to go through a Holocaust. to get it.
Obama's error, however well meant, played into the hands of Al-Qaeda and Ahmadinejad.
Obama In Cairo: An Error of Omission

Op-Ed By Abraham H. Foxman

New York, NY, June 4, 2009 -- In an otherwise insightful and balanced address in Cairo, President Barack Obama made one egregious error which plays into the hands of the most extreme elements of the radical Muslim world.

In the course of his remarks, the President, appropriately, addressed a number of issues about Israel and Jews which Muslims need to deal with.  Included were references to anti-Semitism, to Holocaust denial, and to terrorism against Israeli civilians.  He also called on Muslims to accept Israel's legitimacy, in my view, one of the most important things the President had to say.

Unfortunately, in doing so he did it in a way that, ironically, gave fodder to the many in the Arab world who argue against the legitimacy of Israel.

He said, speaking of America's ties to Israel, that it is based on the "recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied."  He then went on to talk about anti-Semitism in Europe for centuries which "culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust."

It is good that the President addressed these themes but it sends the wrong message to base Israel's legitimacy simply or essentially on this suffering.  The Arab world for decades has argued that Israel was an illegitimate entity imposed on the Arab Middle East by the Europeans who, they claimed, were trying to atone for the murder of six million Jews on European soil.  The Arabs argued, Why should they pay the price for what the Europeans did to the Jews.

It is a phony argument which is not sustainable because the Jewish claim to Israel doesn't rest on the Holocaust, even if that tragedy played a role in the climate surrounding discussions about the idea of a Jewish state.  Israel's legitimacy rests on the unbroken connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, a physical connection, a religious connection, a cultural connection, an existential connection.  It is hardly too much to say that the Jewish people would not exist today as a people had we not held hope alive for 2,000 years about the return to Zion.  In other words, there was Herzl before there was the Holocaust.

It is no accident that when the Zionist movement early in the 20th century was considering other options for a Jewish home, all were rejected because Israel was the true Jewish home and only a movement aspiring to build a modern Jewish state in the Holy Land could gain the support of the Jewish people and could be sustained through an uphill struggle.

So here it was, that unique moment where the President of the United States had the ear of the Muslim world in a way that few, if any, have ever had, and he failed to drive home the critical point that, in fact, Israel was legitimate because it is the historic essence of Jewish peoplehood.  If he had stated that clearly and honestly, that would have gone a long way toward addressing so many of the Muslim claims which are used not to accept Israel, not to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, not to see Israel as a permanent part of the region but as a colonial implant.

All of this comes at a time when the anti-Israel forces in the world see a window of opportunity, based on their reading of the changes in American Middle East policy, to transform the discussion about Israel in America the way they have succeeded in Europe and elsewhere around the world.  That is why it is particularly disappointing that the President did not use this unique moment to clearly state the essence of why the Muslim and other attacks on Israel's legitimacy are false.

The President spoke very well when he said that, "America's strong bonds with Israel are well known," and "This bond is unbreakable."  He'll need now to find another occasion to make clear that Israel is legitimate because of the Jewish people's historic connection to the land, not because of Jewish suffering in Europe.


Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of "The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control."

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Palestinian Authority distorts Obama speech into racist apartheid harangue

Most people who heard President Obama's speech in Cairo thought it was an inclusive message of peace and brotherhood. President Obama said, inter alia,
All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.
Not everyone understood that.  According to the official PLO WAFA news agency, Palestinian Presidency spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeina :
...pointed [out] that the US President's call for Israel to stop colonization and for establishing a Palestinian state, and that Jerusalem is for Muslims and Christians...
Perhaps something got lost in the translation, due to cultural differences.
Ami Isseroff

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US to Israel: "We can work this out"

Having done the damage, Washington is now trying to beat a somewhat clumsy retreat, anticipating domestic flak from pro-Israel elements in the Demoratic party.
US official to 'Post': We can find deal on West Bank settlements
Jun. 5, 2009
HERB KEINON and Jerusalem Post staff , THE JERUSALEM POST
Washington feels "an arrangement that works" can be hammered out with Israel on the settlement issue, a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, indicating the US recognizes some wiggle room in defining a "settlement freeze."
"There's a professional, constructive dialogue on this issue," the official said, shortly after US President Barack Obama delivered his speech in Cairo. "We have differences, but believe we can find an arrangement that works."
The official said that some of the comments reportedly made on the issue by anonymous officials both in Israel and the US had been "heated" and not always credible.
"We're working this through, consistent with the relationship between strong allies," he said.
Israeli officials, meanwhile, were struggling to understand what precisely Obama meant when he discussed the settlement issue in his speech.
"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace," he said. "It is time for these settlements to stop."
One diplomatic official said the construction of this paragraph seemed intentionally vague, enabling further discussion on the matter with the US.
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Tuesday, to continue discussing the matter.
The senior US official said Washington and Jerusalem were also continuing to have a conversation about a two-state solution, something Obama forcefully backed in Cairo but which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has still not endorsed.
The official stressed that Obama's speech was not a one-time effort at outreach to the Islamic world, and that the idea was now for continuous dialogue with Muslims. He added that this candid dialogue would help the US "get a fair hearing" in the Islamic world regarding its "unshakable" backing for Israel.
The official acknowledged that Obama may have missed an opportunity during his speech to speak about the Jews' historical connection to Israel, framing Israel's legitimacy instead only within the context of persecution and the Holocaust.
He stressed that Obama had spoken about the Jews' historic connection to the land in the past.
"It was certainly not a deliberate omission this time," he said.
This article can also be read at

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Obama: The speech is the message

 It is not what he said, but how Barack Obama said it and who he is that determine the effectiveness of a speech that was meant to reach out directly to the people of the Middle East.

El Rais Obama?


Those looking for definitive policy statements in Barack Obama's Cairo speech will be mostly disappointed. Barack Obama's Middle East policy is still relatively unformulated or unannounced. If he has a detailed plan for foiling Al-Qaeda, for meeting the challenge posed by Iran and for bringing peace to the Israelis and Palestinians, he has not told us about it.

There was at least one great departure from traditional US policy, couched in most peculiar and ungrammatical language, but clear enough:

The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Presidential speech writers must know that "settlements" are not a verb, and they cannot stop. There are no new settlements, and in fact, it is disputable whether or not the construction violates any agreements. The point is however, that this is the first time a US official has questioned the legality of settlements or settlement activity. The writing is clearly on the wall for settlement construction, if not for the settlements themselves.

Obama talked about "Palestine" rather than a "future Palestinian state," which might also be a departure. Other than that, there was not much new. He reaffirmed US support for a two state solution, hardly a surprise, and included the ritual condemnations of terror. He kept a low profile regarding Iran, and while one might think that the North Korean nuclear test would have implications for US policy everywhere, Obama wasn't about to mention it. Nothing else he said that related to policy was really surprising, including his statement that Iran should have access to nuclear materials.

Continued: El Rais Obama?

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60% of Israeli Jews do not trust Barack Obama

60% of Israelis don't trust Obama
War and Peace Index reveals 55% of Israeli Jews believe US president leans in favor of Palestinians, while only 5% say he supports Israeli position. Majority of respondents say Netanyahu's Washington visit was unsuccessful Ynet Published: 06.04.09, 15:13 / Israel News

Even before Barack Obama's historic "reconciliation speech" in Cairo on Thursday, the majority of the Israeli public - 55% - felt the US president leans in favor of the Palestinians.

Only 5% said Obama supports the Israeli stance, while 31% said they feel he is neutral, a poll published on Thursday showed.

Sixty percent of Israelis don't trust the president to consider and protect Israel's interests during his efforts to improve relations between America and the Muslim world.

The War and Peace Index, published on Ynet once a month, showed that 65% of the respondents feel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to Washington was unsuccessful, while 19% feel it was successful.

Nonetheless, the majority of the respondents - 56% feel the stance Netanyahu presented to the US was neither too rigid, nor too lenient, but just right. Thirteen percent said the prime minister's position was too rigid, while 9% said it was too lenient. The rest said they didn't know.

The sweeping majority (67%) of the Jewish public in Israel still believes there is not chance for an agreement with the Palestinians that doesn't include the two states for two people's formula, while only 18% think there is a chance for an agreement without this formula.

The Jewish Israeli population is spilt on the matter of settlements, with a small majority of 48% saying they weaken the Israeli interest, as opposed to 43% who said settlements actually contribute to the State's interests.

A majority of 53% said Israel should not agree to evacuate all settlements, even if a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians depended on
it, while 41% said they support evacuation.

A breakdown to the types of settlements in question yields different results. With regards to illegal outposts and isolated settlements located in the heart of the Palestinian population, as opposed to the major settlement blocs, 53% of the respondents said Israel should agree to
evacuate them. Only 29% disagreed.

The survey is funded by two academic bodies belonging to Tel Aviv University: The Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research and the Evens Program in Mediation and Conflict Resolution. The surveys are conducted by the B. I. Cohen Institute of Tel Aviv University. The joint academic responsibility for the project, including formulation of the questionnaires and analysis of the findings, is held by Prof. Ephraim Yaar of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Tamar Hermann of the Open University.

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Survey: Israeli Jews oppose settlement freeze and evacuation of outposts

A majority of Israeli Jews oppose both the settlement freeze and the removal of illegal outposts, in precisely equal numbers: 51% opposed, 40% in favor, 9% have no opinion. This is somewhat surprising, because the removal of illegal outposts and enforcement of the law might be thought to be a matter of consensus. Most Israelis (64%) believe US pressure will not bring down the Netanyahu government. Surprisingly, Israelis are undecided about US President Barak Obama's peace initiative, 30% in favor, 30% opposed, whle 23% are ambivalent and 17% have no opinion. Those who are against the settlement freeze are in part not opposed to the peace initiative, even though it includes a demand for a settlement freeze. It is not the firs time that a poll produces contradictory results.

Poll: 64%:22% American pressure won't bring Netanyahu Government down
Dr. Aaron Lerner Date 4 June 2009

Poll of representative sample of Jewish Israeli adults carried out by Geocartography Knowledge Group -  Dr. Rina Degani - this week for Israel's
Public  Television Program " 2009.
Should the Government evacuate unauthorized outposts?
Yes 40% No 51% No opinion 9%

Should the Government meet the American request to freeze settlements?
Yes 40% No 51% No opinion 9%

How do you perceive the Obama Middle East initiative?
Favorable 30% Negative 30% Ambivalent 23% No opinion 17%

Will American pressure lead to the fall of the Netanyahu Government?
Yes 22% No 64% No opinion 13% [adds up to 99%]

IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis

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Obama in Cairo - We've got plenty of nothing

The full text of US President Obama's speech in Cairo is here among other places. Below are the highlights. This is the first time that a U.S. President has used the word "legitimacy" about Israeli settlements, but regarding both the Israeli-Palestinian issue, as with the Iranian and other problems, Obama offered no plan - just finely balanced rhetoric that will either please everyone or make them angry. Each media outlet will choose to highlight whatever seems important to them: Here is the Israeli-Palestinian nugget:

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights... That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true

What does "continued Israeli settlements" mean? Is it a deliberate imprecision? Does he mean continued settlement, or the continued existence of settlements? Is Jerusalem a "settlement?" If he is referring to existing settlements, then Obama's speech directly contradicts the letter of Predident Bush given in 2004. It did take some courage to say, in Cairo, addressing the Arab world, that the bond between israel and the United States will never be broken. This was not a AIPAC meeting after all.

Ami Isseroff

Obama: I'll personally pursue two-state solution
By Haaretz Service

In his long-anticipated Cairo address to the Muslim world, U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed Washington's strong backing for a Palestinian state, highlighting his administration's commitment to follow through on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While reaffirming Washington's "unbreakable bond" with Israel, Obama said that there can be no denying of the right of Palestine to exist, and that he would "personally pursue" the realization of a Palestinian state "with all the patience that the task requires."

"Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's," Obama said.

The president also issued a blunt repudiation of Israel's settlement enterprise in the West Bank, an issue that has strained Washington's ties with Jerusalem.

"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," Obama said. "This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."

"The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear," Obama said, referring to the multi-stage peace plan agreed to by Israel and the Palestinians during the Bush presidency. "For peace to come, it is time for them - and all of us - to live up to our responsibilities."

"If we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth," Obama said. "The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security."

"That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest," the president said.

In addressing the Iranian nuclear program, Obama acknowledged longstanding Muslim accusations of Washington's double standard in objecting to Tehran's drive for nuclear weapons while tolerating Israel's alleged possession of atomic bombs.

The president reiterated his desire to see a world free of nuclear weapons.

"I understand those who protest that some countries have [nuclear] weapons that others do not," Obama said. "No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons."

Obama conceded that Iran has rights to nuclear energy "if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."

Obama said his government will close the gap between public pronouncements and difficult truths that are often acknowledged behind closed doors in the halls of power throughout the Middle East.

"America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs," Obama said.

Obama urged Muslims around the world to acknowledge Jewish suffering and to repudiate Holocaust denial. The Arab and Muslim world ought to reconcile with the existence of Israel, the president said.

"Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve," Obama said.

The president also noted the plight of the Palestinians, who "have suffered in pursuit of a homeland" and who "endure daily humiliations ... that come with occupation."

"Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead," Obama said. "So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own."

The president urged the Palestinians to draw upon the example of African slaves in the United States, arguing that a "peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding" had led to their gaining civil rights.

"Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed," Obama said. "For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights."

Obama said the Palestinians "must focus on what they can build." He urged Hamas to accept the Quartet's preconditions for international recognition - recognition of past signed agreements with Israel, recognition of Israel's right to exist, and a renunciation of violence.

"I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect," Obama said.

Obama offered the Arabic greeting of assalaamu alaykum, or "peace be unto you", in the early part of his speech. He also quoted a passage from the Koran and cited his father's Muslim background in a bid to highlight his sensitivity to Islamic grievances against the West.

"America is not and never will be at war with Islam," Obama said. "We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security."

"The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars," Obama said. "Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims."

"Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President," Obama said. "But my personal story is not so unique."

Obama is delivering his long-anticipated speech seeking to turn a new page in Washington's relations with the Arab and Muslim world.

Obama arrived in Egypt hours before giving long-promised speech in Cairo, the ancient seat of Islamic learning and culture.

The U.S. president is hoping to usher in a new era in the United States'
relationship with the world's 1.5 billion Muslims. Aides say Obama will blend hopeful words about mutual understanding with blunt talk about the need for Muslims to embrace democracy, women's rights and economic opportunity.

Obama met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key American ally, at his palace in the capital.

"We discussed how to move forward in a constructive way to bring peace and prosperity to people in the region," Obama told reporters after talks with Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt since 1981 and kept a tight lid on opposition.

"I emphasized to him that the U.S. is committed to working in partnership with countries in the region so all people can meet their aspirations," he said before heading to a mosque in a quarter of Cairo that is full of Islamic architectural gems.

The mosque is a 600-year-old center of Islamic worship and study called the Sultan Hassan mosque. Obama will then tour the Great Pyramids of Giza on the capital's outskirts.

Obama arrived in Egypt from Saudi Arabia, where he stayed overnight at King Abdullah's horse farm in the desert outside Riyadh.

In his Cairo address Thursday, Obama called on Israel and the Arab states to change their approach to the Middle East peace process.

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Bush agreed to West Bank Settlement Growth

June 4, 2009
Israelis Say Bush Agreed to West Bank Growth
JERUSALEM — Senior Israeli officials accused President Obama on Wednesday of failing to acknowledge what they called clear understandings with the Bush administration that allowed Israel to build West Bank settlement housing within certain guidelines while still publicly claiming to honor a settlement "freeze."
The complaint was the latest in a growing rift between the Obama administration and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how to move forward to achieve peace in the Middle East. Mr. Obama was in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and is scheduled to address the Muslim world from Cairo on Thursday.
The Israeli officials said that repeated discussions with Bush officials starting in late 2002 resulted in agreement that housing could be built within the boundaries of certain settlement blocks as long as no new land was expropriated, no special economic incentives were offered to move to settlements and no new settlements were built.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity so that they could discuss an issue of such controversy between the two governments.
When Israel signed on to the so-called road map for a two-state solution in 2003, with a provision that says its government "freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)," the officials said, it did so after a detailed discussion with Bush administration officials that laid out those explicit exceptions.
"Not everything is written down," one of the officials said.
He and others said that Israel agreed to the road map and to move ahead with the removal of settlements and soldiers from Gaza in 2005 on the understanding that settlement growth could continue.
But a former senior official in the Bush administration disagreed, calling the Israeli characterization "an overstatement."
"There was never an agreement to accept natural growth," the official said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter. "There was an effort to explore what natural growth would mean, but we weren't able to reach agreement on that."
The former official said that Bush administration officials had been working with their Israeli counterparts to clarify several issues, including natural growth, government subsidies to settlers, and the cessation of appropriation of Palestinian land.
The United States and Israel never reached an agreement, though, either public or private, the official said.
A second senior Bush administration official, also speaking anonymously, said Wednesday: "We talked about a settlement freeze with four elements. One was no new settlements, a second was no new confiscation of Palestinian land, one was no new subsidies and finally, no construction outside the settlements."
He described that fourth condition, which applied to natural growth, as similar to taking a string and tying it around a settlement, and prohibiting any construction outside that string.
But, he added, "We had a tentative agreement, but that was contingent on drawing up lines, and this is a process that never got done, therefore the settlement freeze was never formalized and never done."
A third former Bush administration official, Elliott Abrams, who was on the National Security Council staff, wrote an opinion article in The Washington Post in April that seemed to endorse the Israeli argument.
The Israeli officials acknowledged that the new American administration had different ideas about the meaning of the term "settlement freeze." Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have said in the past week that the term means an end to all building, including natural growth.
But the Israeli officials complained that Mr. Obama had not accepted that the previous understandings existed. Instead, they lamented, Israel now stood accused of having cheated and dissembled in its settlement activity whereas, in fact, it had largely lived within the guidelines to which both governments had agreed.
On Monday, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel "cannot freeze life in the settlements," calling the American demand "unreasonable."
Dov Weissglas, who was a senior aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, wrote an opinion article that appeared Tuesday in Yediot Aharonot, a mass-selling newspaper, laying out the agreements that he said had been reached with officials in the Bush administration.
He said that in May 2003 he and Mr. Sharon met with Mr. Abrams and Stephen J. Hadley of the National Security Council and came up with the definition of settlement freeze: "no new communities were to be built; no Palestinian lands were to be appropriated for settlement purposes; building will not take place beyond the existing community outline; and no 'settlement encouraging' budgets were to be allocated."
He said that Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser at the time, signed off on that definition later that month and that the two governments also agreed to set up a joint committee to define more fully the meaning of "existing community outline" for established settlements.
In April 2004, President Bush presented Mr. Sharon with a letter stating, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."
That letter, Mr. Weissglas said, was a result of his earlier negotiations with Bush administration officials acknowledging that certain settlement blocks would remain Israeli and open to continued growth.
The Israeli officials said that no Bush administration official had ever publicly insisted that Israel was obliged to stop all building in the areas it captured in 1967. They said it was important to know that major oral understandings reached between an Israeli prime minister and an American president would not simply be tossed aside when a new administration came into the White House.
Of course, Mr. Netanyahu has yet to endorse the two-state solution or even the road map agreed to by previous Israeli governments, which were not oral commitments, but actual signed and public agreements.
In his opinion article in The Washington Post, Mr. Abrams, the former Bush official who was part of negotiations with Israel, wrote: "For the past five years, Israel's government has largely adhered to guidelines that were discussed with the United States but never formally adopted: that there would be no new settlements, no financial incentives for Israelis to move to settlements and no new construction except in already built-up areas. The clear purpose of the guidelines? To allow for settlement growth in ways that minimized the impact on Palestinians."
Mr. Abrams acknowledged that even within those guidelines, Israel had not fully complied. He wrote: "There has been physical expansion in some places, and the Palestinian Authority is right to object to it. Israeli settlement expansion beyond the security fence, in areas Israel will ultimately evacuate, is a mistake."
Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.

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Teheran is closer than we think

According to Ha'aretz, Hamas dismissed two military commanders because of their performance during the recent  Israeli Operation Cast Lead. It shows us who really won in Gaza, and it also shows that Iran micromanages Hamas. For all intents and purposes, we have Teheran in Gaza, a few miles from Tel Aviv:
Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal recently relieved two brigade commanders in the Gaza Strip on Iranian recommendations, Palestinian sources said Wednesday. The two officers, Bassam Issa and Imat Aakel, were removed from their positions following the recommendation of Iranian Revolutionary Guard officials who participated in the investigation of the perceived Hamas military failure during Operation Cast Lead. The two officers have been known to lead military wing formations in two of the Strip's refugee camps, Nuseirat and Bureij, and became brigade commanders when the Hamas regular military force was established.
During Operation Cast Lead, Hamas forces avoided confrontation with the IDF and did not incur great casualties among the Israeli troops. Because of the perceived failure, the organization's leadership decided to initiate a thorough investigation of the conduct of its men during the operation.
Palestinian sources said Meshal consulted Hassan Mahdawi, commander of the "Jerusalem Column" in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a unit stationed in Lebanon. After the investigation was concluded, the Hamas leadership decided to change the organizational structure of the military wing and remove a number of field commanders.
Issa and Aakel have also recently been at odds with Hamas' new interior minister, Fathi Hammad, who had tried to extend his authority over the organization's military wing. The ongoing disagreements between the Hamas government and senior commanders in the military wing resulted in the unauthorized firing of a Grad-type rocket at Ashkelon about three months ago. The launch was carried out as a protest by the military wing against the constraints set by the government.
Palestinian sources said Hammad decided to prosecute any persons involved in criminal activity, including activists from the military wing. He also banned the use of dark windows in all Gaza vehicles - popular among Hamas activists. The sources said Hammad enjoyed the support of the commander of the military wing, Ahmed Al-Jabari, while some local commanders, like Aakel and Issa, disagreed. Fatah sources claim Hamas' internal crisis was further aggravated by other senior leadership figures, who blame their lack of recent promotion on Hammad.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Obama doesn't see serious problem with Israel

Obama Plays Down Divide With Israel
Helene Cooper, Alan Cowell
The New York Times
June 2, 2009 - 12:00am
On the eve of a visit to the Middle East and Europe, President Obama on Tuesday played down a dispute with Israel over his demand for a suspension of further Jewish settlement in the West Bank but reiterated his call for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians that Israel's hawkish leaders have not accepted.
Mr. Obama said that he believed the United States was "going to be able to get serious negotiations back on track" between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli officials have publicly rejected Mr. Obama's call for all expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank to be frozen, saying natural expansion of the settlements should be permitted.
In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Obama also said he hoped to achieve progress by the end of the year on the dispute over Iran's contentious nuclear activity through "tough, direct diplomacy." He insisted that Iran "set aside ambitions for a nuclear weapon." Tehran says its nuclear enrichment program is solely for civilian purposes.
The president is to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and deliver a keynote speech to the Muslim world from Cairo on Thursday. He then plans to travel to France for the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944 that turned the tide of World War II in Europe.
The visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt will be his first as president. In an earlier visit to the region in April after the Group of 20 summit in London, he traveled to Turkey and Iraq.
On Monday, President Obama indicated that he would be more willing to criticize Israel than previous administrations have been.
"Part of being a good friend is being honest," Mr. Obama said in an interview with NPR News. "And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory, in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests.
"We do have to retain a constant belief in the possibilities of negotiations that will lead to peace," he added. "I've said that a freeze on settlements is part of that."
His comments were made as Israeli officials dug in their heels against a settlement freeze. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that halting construction in settlements in the West Bank would be equal to "freezing life," and, therefore, "unreasonable."
In the 15-minute interview on Tuesday, broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Today program, Mr. Obama said the "conversation" with Israel was at an early stage — both on the settlement issue and on the demand for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
"Not only is it in the interest of the Palestinian people to have a state, it's in the interest of the Israeli people to stabilize the situation there," he said.
"And it's in the interest of the United States that we've got two states living side by side in peace and security."
Referring to the debate about settlements, he said: "Diplomacy is always a matter of a long hard slog. It's never a matter of quick results."
He also said it was "in the world's interests for Iran to set aside ambitions for a nuclear weapon."
"Although I don't want to put artificial time tables on that process, we do want to make sure that, by the end of this year, we've actually seen a serious process move forward," he said.

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Israel needs a peace plan

Barak Obama is not going to let go of his peace initiative, and is challenging Israel to come up with a plan... 

Despite all the hype about the US - Israel split, nobody really knows if there is one, as the Jerusalem Post and others have pointed out several times. Most of the supposed and rumored snubs never occurred or are unproven. Nobody knows what Rahm Emmanuel said or didn't say about Netanyahu or about linkage between peace and Iran, though rumors abound. A claim that the US was considering withdrawing support from Israel at the UN was quickly denied. A surprise meeting between Barack Obama and Ehud Barak seems to have gone well. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton's remarks about settlement expansion are certainly a matter of public record. The US is opposed to an Israeli attack on Iran, and this policy has not changed since the Bush administration. Since Avigdor Lieberman insists Israel has no plans to attack Iran, that is a point of doubtful significance at present.

If there is a "break," President Obama has thus far left the sparring to underlings and has been careful to maintain warm relations and make the right noises. The major sources of rumors about a break and pressure on Israel are extremists of left and right, who either want to show up Israel as an obstacle to peace, to show that the Netanyahu government cannot deal with the United States (Tzipi Livni is supposedly waiting in the wings) or want to generate partisan political propaganda in the United States. None of these points should be of specific interest for those who are worried about Israel as such.

What should Israel and the Israeli government do? "Just say no" is only going to accomplish the goal of those who want to isolate Israel and show that Israel is an obstacle to peace. There is a peace offensive underway, and as I noted in detail some time ago, peace offensives (see Danger- Peace Offensive) can be potent weapons for destroying the other side. Obama is rumored to be pressing Israel to come up with a peace policy by July - and that is precisely what Israel has to do.

Saying "Iran comes first" and nothing else is not an option for Israel. Nobody is going to listen if Israel is unresponsive to the US diplomatic offensive. The fact is, that nobody has a realistic plan for dealing with Iranian nuclear weapons, or for that matter, with North Korean nuclear weapons. The whole topic doesn't seem to interest Americans and there is not much that we, or the worried Asian allies of the US, can do about it. The North Korean nuclear test demonstrates that the way of diplomacy and quiet persuasion does not work, but the United States seems determined to stay on the same course, and there is nothing that any friend of Israel can do about it. North Korea was evidently building a reactor for Syria when they were rudely interrupted by an Israeli raid. But they tried once, and they will try again. If and when North Korea begins peddling nuclear weapons to terror groups and perhaps to Iran and Syria, the issue of Iran becomes secondary. At some point, some U.S. government is going to have to tear itself away from domestic concerns and face reality, but we cannot do much to change those ideas. We certainly can't do anything as long as our warnings look like lame excuses for not engaging in the peace process.

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Ahmadinejad's welcome to Obama: More Holocaust denial

Last update - 17:33 03/06/2009    
It really doesn't look like Iran is going to budge from its positions. Ahmadinejad will be reelected and Obama's peace offensive will be rebuffed.
By The Associated Press and Haaretz Service
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has once again called the Holocaust a big deception in his latest denunciations of Israel and its allies.
The comments come amid a fierce election campaign in which his firebrand style has come under attack from challengers.
Late last week Ahmadinejad told a radio program in Tehran that "the Holocaust is the West's Achilles heel and its biggest weakness," Israel Radio reported.
"We will never surrender to bullying powers, and those who think that we might make any compromise and give in to Western pressures and psychological war are badly mistaken," Ahmadinejad said.
"The West has taken the issue of the Holocaust to expose a hypocritical innocence and oppress other nations, but I have effectively attacked this weak point of the West."
Remarks by Ahmadinejad such as eradicating Israel from the Middle East, relocating the Jewish state to Europe and the United States and questioning the historic dimensions of the Holocaust caused widespread international condemnation.
Ahmadinejad, who is seeking a second four-year term in next month's vote, also rejected any compromise with world powers in the nuclear dispute.

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Israel asked to respond to Obama peace initiative

Barack Obama will pressure Israel for a "peace policy" by July (see  Obama to tell Israel: Form new peace policy by July)  The problem seems to be that the Arabs have been turning down Obama's approaches at the threshold, so it is not clear what Israel has to respond to. Palestinians are not willing to soften their position on Jerusalem or right of return, Arabs say the peace initiative is enough and rebuff Obama's attempts to turn the Arab peace initiatve itno a realistic plan. Egypt turned down Obama's requests for further normalization steps with Israel by Arab states:
In an interview with the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, Aboul Gheit said that U.S. officials had asked him what the Arab response would be if Washington pressured Israel to reach a peace agreement. He responded that after the Oslo Accords were signed, some Arab states allowed Israeli offices to open in their territory, but today, the Arab world insists on seeing concrete Israeli action before making any further gestures.

If Israel accedes to international demands, he continued, "the Arab states could accede to gradual normalization, each according to its own considerations."

That implies that Egypt does not see the Arab peace initiative as requiring Arab states to normalize relations with Israel uniformly and simultaneously. Rather, normalization is something each country would institute at a time it deems appropriate.

Aboul Gheit also rejected Jerusalem's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, saying this would endanger Israel's Arabs - "especially when Israel has a foreign minister who calls for expelling the Arabs to Palestine, or outside of Israel ... It is also impossible to rule out the possibility of an Israeli leader arising one day and saying, 'the number of Arabs in the state has risen, and we must reduce their demographic weight to maintain Israel's Jewish character.'"

It is not possible to rule out the possibility that some Arab leaders would arise who would kick all the Jews out of their countries. Oops, I forgot, they already did that! It is not possible to rule out the possibility that territory turned over to Palestinians could be used as a base for terror attacks against Israel. Oops, I forgot, that already happened too. What Gheit really said is that the Arab peace initiative does not obligate Arab states in any way. Israel is supposed to make concessions, Arab states can then do what they feel like doing. Each country does what seems appropriate when it seems to them to be appropriate, which is never. That's the end of the 57 state solution. That is not a peace plan, is it?  

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Is the US - Israel confrontation mostly media hype?

One really gets the impression that the break between Israel and the United States may be mostly media hype. On the other hand, the technique seems to be for Obama to maintain a pleasant atmosphere and leave dirty work to underlings.
Haaretz Correspondents and The Associated Press
United States President Barack Obama held a "very pleasant" and practical discussion with Ehud Barak on Tuesday, aides to the defense minister said after the pair held an unscheduled meeting in the White House.

"This is part of a long dialogue that began with the prime minister's visit to Washington. [It was] very pleasant and warm," one said.

The aides said there was a large gap between how the media was portraying Israel's relations with the U.S. and how they felt the ties really were, and that this was evident in the meeting between Barak and Obama.
They added that the pair discussed a number of subjects during the meeting, which took place shortly before the U.S. leader was set to leave on a trip to the Middle East.

"The president and the minister didn't go down to details... it was just the beginning of the dialogue, at the level of an understanding of the process," a Barak aide added.

Obama spoke for about 15 minutes with Barak, who was meeting with National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones at the time. While Obama's official schedule did not include a meeting with Barak, he has in the past dropped into other officials' meetings with international figures.

The unplanned encounter came a day after senior American officials harshly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his policies, causing tensions between the Obama administration and Israel's government to near crisis levels.

During Barak's meeting with Jones, the defense minister said both Israel and the U.S. were faced with great challenges and opportunities. He added that intimacy, candor and cooperation with the U.S. formed the cornerstone of Israeli policy, both in regard to security threats and to the peace process.

The purpose of Obama's Middle East trip is to repair badly frayed U.S. relations with Muslims and their nations; he plans to visit Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and deliver a much-anticipated speech aimed at Muslims Thursday in Cairo. Obama, however, does not plan to visit Israel.

Obama dispatches envoy to Israel to discuss settlements

Obama, meanwhile, is dispatching Mitchell to Israel in order to hear official responses to U.S. demands for a halt to West Bank settlement building.

Mitchell will arrive for a two-day visit next week on Monday evening, during which he will visit both Jerusalem and Ramallah. He will meet with Netanyahu on Tuesday, with whom he will also discuss the premier's reluctance to declare support for a two-state solution.

According to a political source in Jerusalem, Mitchell is likely to also seek answers on matters raised during meeting meetings he held with Netanyahu's aides in London last week, where there was significant disagreement over settlement construction.

Mitchell will visit the Palestinian Authority and meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

It is still unclear whether the envoy will visit Syria for a meeting with its president, Bashar Assad, before or after the trip to Israel. Mitchell and his aides have been holding contacts with Syrian officials over the possibility of such a visit.

On Monday, the envoy told Barak that the U.S. was no longer willing to return to the understandings between the Sharon and Olmert governments and the Bush administration, which allowed continued settlement construction.

News of Mitchell's planned visit emerged Tuesday a day after Obama told a U.S. radio network in an interview that the U.S. would be more blunt in raising objections to Israel's settlement policies in the Palestinian territories than previous administrations.

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Obama courting political problems over pressure on Israel

At what point will Israel's allies in the Democratic party began to apply the brakes to Obama's pressure on Israel?
Pressure On Israel Draws Dem Criticism
Politico: Obama Insistence That Israel Freeze Growth In Settlements Has Made Israel's Allies In Congress Concerned
June 2, 2009
(The Politico)  This story was written by Ben Smith.
As President Barack Obama prepares to depart for his first trip to the Arab world, the administration's escalating pressure on Israel to freeze all growth of its settlements on Palestinian land has begun to stir concern among Israel's numerous allies in both parties on Capitol Hill.
"My concern is that we are applying pressure to the wrong party in this dispute," said Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.). "I think it would serve America's interest better if we were pressuring the Iranians to eliminate the potential of a nuclear threat from Iran, and less time pressuring our allies and the only democracy in the Middle East to stop the natural growth of their settlements."
"When Congress gets back into session the administration is going to hear from many more members than just me," she said.
Presidents from Jimmy Carter to George H.W. Bush saw attempts to pressure Israel draw furious objections from Congress, but members of Congress and observers say Obama will most likely prevail as long as he shows that he's putting effective pressure on Israel's Arab foes as well.
But even a key defender of Obama's Middle East policy, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), is seeking to narrow the administration's definition of "settlement" to take pressure off Obama. And the unusual criticism by congressional Democrats of the popular president is a sign that it may take more than a transformative presidential election to change the domestic politics of Israel.
Other Democrats, in interviews with POLITICO, raised similar concerns. While few will defend illegal Jewish outposts on land they hope will be part of a Palestinian state, they question putting public pressure on Israel while - so far - paying less public attention to Palestinian terrorism and other Arab states' hostility to Israel.
"There's a line between articulating U.S. policy and seeming to be pressuring a democracy on what are their domestic policies, and the president is tiptoeing right up to that line," said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who said he'd heard complaints from constituents during the congressional recess. "I would have liked to hear the president talk more about the Palestinian obligation to cut down on terrorism."
"I don't think anybody wants to dictate to an ally what they have to do in their own national security interests," said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who said he thinks there's "room for compromise."
"I have to hear specifically from the administration exactly how they define their terms and is there room for defining the terms," he said, referring to the terms "settlement" and "natural growth."
Republicans have been more sharply critical of the pressure on Israel.
"It's misguided. Behind that pressure is the assumption that somehow resolving the so-called settlements will somehow lead to the ultimate goal" of disarming Iran, said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House minority whip. "A backward assumption is being made that if we deal with the Israel-Palestine question, somehow all the problems in the Middle East will be solved," he said.
So far, Obama isn't backing down. He told National Public Radio Monday that he believes the U.S. must be "honest" with Israel about how the situation in the region needs to improve. He also renewed his call for a freeze on all Israeli settlements, and said the Palestinians must do more to improve security.
"I don't think we have to change strong support for Israel," Obama said. "We do have to retain a constant belief in the possibilities of negotiations that will lead to peace. And that's going to require, from my view, a two-state solution."
"Part of being a good friend is being honest," Obama said. "And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory, in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests. And that's part of a new dialogue that I'd like to see encouraged in the region."
The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC last week got the signatures of 329 members of Congress, including key figures in both parties, on a letter calling on the administration to work "closely and privately" with Israel - in contrast to the current public pressure. On his recent visit to the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressed Obama to take on Iran first and argued that a weakened Iran would set the stage for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Obama administration, however, appears to have rejected that view and believes the appearance of American pressure on Israel, and progress in peace talks, will make it easier to wring concession from Arab allies on both Iran and on Israel.
On his upcoming trip to Riyadh this week, Obama is expected to press Saudi Arabia, along with other Arab states, to move toward normalizing relations with Israel, a breakthrough that might satisfy Israel's domestic allies and allow him more room to push the question of settlements, analysts said.
"If he gets the Arabs to stand up and produce normalization, it becomes easier for him to create a decision point for the Israelis and to outmaneuver his domestic political critics," said Aaron David Miller, a veteran former Mideast negotiator under Republican and Democratic administrations.
Despite the administration's efforts to make clear, public demands that Netanyahu freeze all settlement growth, however, the administration's allies have sought to loosen that commitment. One key question is what the Israelis call "natural growth," in which new buildings are constructed within existing settlements to accommodate, for instance, growing families.
Critics say it's a loophole that's been used for dramatic expansion, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explicitly ruled out making an exception for natural growth last week.
"I think that most people could understand somebody having a child and their child living with them, as long as it's not a ruse to expand" the settlement, said Ackerman, who said two of a dozen questions to Netanyahu during a meeting with members of Congress had concerned settlements.
Wexler, an early Obama ally and a staunch defender of his Middle East policy, said in his view, the settlement freeze should apply only to settlements outside Israel's security fence, or wall, and should exclude territory that appears likely to ultimately remain part of Israel.
"To expect Israel to have the same policy outside the security fence as inside the security fence is unrealistic; it's counterproductive," he said. "I don't think [the administration's] public statements have been specific enough" to resolve the question of whether they were referring to all settlements or only settlements outside the barrier, Wexler said.
"I'm comfortable with the whole package," Wexler said, pointing to pressure on Iran and demands for "visible and concrete steps toward normalization" and improved security in the Palestinian territories, as well as demands for a settlement freeze.
"Bibi Netanyahu can't be expected to perform his obligations if the broader Arab world is not willing to take serious steps toward normalizing relations with Israel," he said.
Other Democrats allied with Israel didn't respond to questions about Obama's policy, however. And the rhetoric, even from Obama's critics, remains relatively sedae compared with the open insurrection other presidents, from Carter to the elder Bush, have triggered with attempts to apply direct pressure on Israel.
"There's such a desire for him to be successful that he's lived this charmed life that most politicians, and most presidents, dealing with Israel wouldn't have," said one congressional Democrat. "In the early months, the finger is off the hair trigger on these issues."
By Ben Smith
Copyright 2009 POLITICO

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Case of the purloined Jerusalem rock: Behold thy God O Israel

The Israel antiquities authority has the fascinating story of a 21 KG rock that was returned by a repenant N.Y. clergyman. Here is his story:
"I came to Israel on an organized trip. As a student of archaeology, I was very excited when we visited an excavation south of the Temple Mount. I asked how I can purchase a stone from the excavation because I wanted a souvenir with which to pray for Jerusalem and was told it was not possible. On the last day of the trip our Israeli tour guide approached me and took the stone fragment from inside his coat. 'Take it', he said. 'It's a present from me'. I asked him how he obtained the stone and he replied, 'It's okay; don't worry'.
With all due respect to the reverend, it is hard to believe that tour guides walk around with 21 kg (about 50 pounds)  rocks routinely kept under their coats, just in case they might be needed. The rock was from an Ummayad era column, which is not necessarily a proper object of veneration for Jews and Christians. In any case, while I know little about religious matters, I thought only Muslims pray to the Kaaba stone. Jews and Christians are not supposed to pray to objects, are they? Is there a political moral here too? You decide.
Jerusalem Holy Rock
Jerusalem rock: "Behold thy God, O Israel"?
הינה אלוהיך ישראל? 

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Anti-semitism: Down in US, but perhaps rising elsewhere.

According to the ADL, 'Anti-Semitic incidents in the US are declining'. But elsewhere, there are disquieting sings. Hungarian police have legitimized anti-Semitism, for example. Here's the Hungarian story in brief, first:
"Given our current situation, anti-Semitism is not just our right, but it is the duty of every Hungarian homeland lover, and we must prepare for armed battle against the Jews."

This quote appeared in a newsletter published by an organization calling itself "The trade union of Hungarian police officers prepared for action"....

... It is little wonder, given the fact that the union has signed a cooperation agreement with the radical right wing Hungarian party "Jobbik" (Movement for better Hungary) which backs and operates the extremist paramilitary movement "Hungarian Guard" and warns against the "gypsy crime" - in effect trying to terrorize Hungary's gypsy community, as well as its Jewish community or anyone else they don't like.
To anyone vaguely familiar with the history of Hungary in the 1930s, the above is worrisome, to say the least. And here is the report from the US:

The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States declined for the fourth consecutive year, according to statistics issued by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Monday.
The ADL's annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents counted a total of 1,352 incidents of vandalism, harassment and physical assaults against Jewish individuals, property and community institutions in 2008, representing a seven percent decline from the 1,460 incidents reported in 2007.
The report identified 37 physical assaults on Jewish individuals, 702 incidences of anti-Semitic vandalism, and 613 cases of harassment in 2008. They included acts against high-profile Jewish community institutions and communal properties, such as the repeated vandalism of the San Francisco Holocaust Memorial, and the desecration of dozens of graves at a Jewish cemetery in Chicago with swastikas and hate group symbols.
Of the total 1,352 incidents, 42% occurred at homes, private buildings or businesses, and 23% took place in educational establishments, including public and private schools and universities.
"It is encouraging that the number of anti-Semitic incidents continues to decline, but the sheer volume of incidents reported and the violent nature of many of the physical assaults is a reminder that we cannot be complacent," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director, mentioning the recent alleged terrorist bombing plot against synagogues in Riverdale, New York.
The report comprised data from 44 states and the District of Columbia, including official crime statistics as well as information provided to ADL's regional offices by victims, law enforcement officers and community leaders. The report identified criminal acts, such as vandalism, violence and threats of violence, as well as non-criminal incidents of harassment and intimidation, including hate propaganda, leafleting and verbal slurs.
Anti-Semitic incidents last peaked in 2004, when the ADL reported 1,821 incidents in the US.

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The battle for Jerusalem 2009 is joined

Building in Jerusalem is the key problem in the U.S. demand for a settlement freeze, and it is the one that will generate the greatest Israeli solidarity against implementing US demands.
Last update - 02:48 02/06/2009       
U.S. demands halt to hotel at E. J'lem wholesale market
By Akiva Eldar
Washington is furious over the Interior Ministry's anticipated approval of a plan to build a new hotel in East Jerusalem, just 100 meters from the Old City's walls. The plan, which would see the demolition of a wholesale market and kindergarten, is slated to be approved today.
In conversations with Israeli officials, senior American officials have made it clear that they want Israel to freeze all plans for expanding the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem, and especially in the Holy Basin - the area adjacent to the Old City.
The regional planning and building committee for Jerusalem will discuss the plan today. It was submitted by the Jerusalem municipality, which owns the land on which the hotel is slated to be built, and the state-owned Jerusalem Economic Corporation, which will actually construct it.
The site in question is in the wholesale market, just east of the Rockefeller Museum.
The Interior Ministry's district planning office told Haaretz that it will recommend the plan's approval.
The plan calls for a 200-room hotel that will be nine stories tall on its eastern face (where the ground is lower). It will also include a commercial building, which will be five stories tall on its eastern face, plus another three stories underground.
The plan will require the existing wholesale market to be demolished, along with a Palestinian kindergarten.
The hotel plan is only one of several proposals for expanding the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem. Another, which would involve evicting hundreds of Palestinians from King's Valley, on the outskirts of Silwan, was approved yesterday by the Jerusalem municipality's planning committee despite the opposition of the city's legal advisor, Yossi Havilio.

Continued (Permanent Link)

A drill, sort of, in Israel

This drill had limited utility. Everyone knew the precise time of the "attack" and was presumably prepared, so most shelters were open. Still, I know of at least one shelter in Rehovot that was not open. The point of the drill should be to determine what happens under real conditions. War is different when the other guy plans it.

Sirens sound across Israel as home front drill reaches peak

Jun. 2, 2009

Air raid sirens sounded across the country at 11 a.m. on Tuesday as part of a week-long, country-wide war drill dubbed "Turning Point Three."

When the sirens went off, citizens made their way to designated safe rooms, while schoolchildren were led to bomb shelters and shown a 20-minute film on safety procedures. At a beachfront Tel Aviv hotel, employees were given three minutes to move to the building's shelters but guests were not included.

Members of the public were asked to listen for the siren and to make contact with the Home Front Command if the siren cannot be heard clearly. The IDF expressed satisfaction with the public's reaction to the drill, Israel Radio reported.

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said on Monday evening that the siren was "aimed at influencing the awareness of the Israeli public."

Vilnai went on to say that "every citizen in the State of Israel must know that anywhere in the country, at any time, an emergency scenario can materialize, and one must know how to act."

He added, "We expect the general public to take an active part in the drill. We have learned from the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead that those who prepare themselves and practice know how to act during a real situation."

Vilnai said the first two days of the drill, which simulated chemical and conventional missile attacks on the whole of Israel, accompanied by a range of terrorist scenarios, had gone "very well." There was "excellent cooperation" between the National Emergency Authority, government offices and local authorities, he said.

"There is no doubt that the drill will teach us additional lessons on Israel's preparedness for emergencies," he said.

"We are preparing ourselves for the most severe incident."

The deputy defense minister said a war drill planned for 2010 would incorporate civilians "in a more intensive manner."

Vilnai visited Magen David Adom's new national command and control center on Monday afternoon in preparation for Tuesday's alarm drill.

The MDA command center on Tel Aviv's Derech Yigal Allon is protected by the best new technologies available worldwide and is one of the most technologically advanced in the country, MDA said.

The drill has been described as a "key exercise" to practice different systems and improve the country's national preparedness and response on a systematic level, based on inter-organizational coordination and combined virtual and field exercises.

Together with the other security and rescue organizations, MDA will cope with a long list of emergency situations such as missile attacks on all parts of the country, use of unconventional weapons against the civilian population and an attack on infrastructure and essential facilities.

The command and control center will make it possible to track different teams in the field drills as well as provide a fast and effective response to the commanders managing the drills and coordinate among them. It will also test the functioning of the different systems - from the national level down to the field forces.

AP contributed to this report


Continued (Permanent Link)

No teeth? 'US never threatened Israel with punitive steps'

Do the U.S. demands have teeth?

'US never threatened Israel with punitive steps'

Jun. 1, 2009

Israeli government sources downplayed reports Monday that the US was considering taking punitive measures, such as decreasing its support for Israel at the UN, if Jerusalem didn't comply with demands to freeze settlements.

The officials said it was much too early in the debate over the issue for the Americans to threaten sanctions, with Israeli sources noting that while US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had both recently called for a settlement freeze, they had not included an "if not" clause in their statements.

When asked about The New York Times story, which said the US might not always veto UN Security Council resolutions opposed by Israel, State Department spokesman Robert Wood declined to discuss the details of conversations occurring between the two countries.

He did stress, though, that "the president and the secretary have made clear that all the parties have responsibilities to fulfill to give Middle East peace efforts a chance to succeed."

But he added that, "We've long worked to ensure that Israel is treated fairly at the United Nations. That will continue. And as you know, Israel is a close friend and ally, and we remain committed to its security."

One Washington observer pointed out that the UN session was nearing its end, and others expressed skepticism that the US would change its pro-Israel posture at the international body.

More controversial moves, such as conditional American loan guarantees, were not on the table, according to the story.

And the conventional wisdom in Jerusalem is that the measures are ones that could be taken at the end of a debate on the issue, not during the middle.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Office have repeatedly said discussions with the US were still underway regarding what exactly is meant by a "settlement freeze." Still, that interaction has become increasingly tense as the US pushes Israel to halt even "natural growth" in West Bank settlement blocs Israel expects to retain under any peace agreement.

Israel sees that stance as contradicting previous understandings with the US, while the US is at the same time demanding Israel fulfill previously agreed on obligations.

On Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu characterized the US demands to freeze all building east of the Green Line as "unreasonable," adding that he was "still unclear" as to what exactly the United States was demanding of Israel regarding construction in the settlements.

The prime minister, briefing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on his recent trip to Washington, said, "it is likely that we are not going to reach an agreement with the Americans" regarding settlement construction, but did his best to portray his meeting with US Obama in a positive light.

One source in Jerusalem said it must be clear that the "proposed settlement policy of the Netanyahu government is more or less identical to that of previous governments, and that if someone is changing the ground rules, it is not Israel."

The source, alluding to understandings on settlement construction that existed at the time of Bush administration, said if on the one hand Washington was calling on Israel to abide by all previous understandings, then "shouldn't the person asking be abiding by previous commitments and understandings as well?"

At his briefing, Wood was pressed on this point as reporters asked whether the letter former president George W. Bush wrote to then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2004 speaking of expectations that Israel would retain these blocs still applied.

"The United States lives up to its obligations," he said. "Right now, we are focused on, as I said, trying to get both sides to adhere to the road map so that we can move forward toward that two-state solution. And it's not going to be easy, as you know. We've spoken to that many times. And we're going to continue to try to do that."

Asked again if the Bush letter was binding, Wood said, "This administration has, as I said, laid out its proposals, its strategy for moving forward. And that's about the best I can help you with on that."

At a press conference last week, Clinton responded to a similar question by referring to the policy review and conversations with the parties that US Middle East envoy George Mitchell was involved in. When pressed a second time, she said, "We are looking at all of that."

After meeting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak deflected questions about whether Israel would freeze settlement expansion, a major issue to emerge from recent talks between Netanyahu and Obama.

"Toward the end of the visit, I'd be better equipped to respond to your questions," Barak said, referring to upcoming meetings with US officials in Washington.

Barak also did not clarify the Israeli government's position on a two-state solution that the Obama administration supports. He said only, "Israel looks for making peace with our neighbors."

E.B. Solomont contributed to the report.

This article can also be read at

Continued (Permanent Link)

Great satan invites mullah regime officials to celebrate US independence

Somehow, this is like inviting Eichman to a bar mitzvah. Do they get to chant, "Death to America!" as they do in Iran? Let's hope they don't take any hostages.

US invites Iran envoys to July 4 parties

Jun. 2, 2009
Associated Press , THE JERUSALEM POST

In a new overture to Iran, the Obama administration has authorized US embassies around the world to invite Iranian officials to Independence Day parties they host on or around July 4th.

A State Department cable sent to all US embassies and consulates late last week said that US diplomats could ask their Iranian counterparts to attend the festivities, which generally feature speeches about American values, fireworks, hot dogs and hamburgers.

The notice, sent on Friday, said that the posts "may invite representatives from the government of Iran" to the events, a State Department official said Tuesday, quoting from the document. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an internal communication.

It was not immediately clear how many embassies and consulates would actually invite Iranian diplomats to the July 4 parties or whether any Iranians would accept the invitations.

The cable was first reported by The New York Times.

The move comes amid the administration's ongoing efforts to engage Iran in variety of venues, including formal diplomatic meetings over its nuclear program, violence in Iraq and the situation in Afghanistan.

But Iran has given mixed responses to the overtures, which began early in the administration when President Barack Obama recorded a videotaped greeting to the Iranian people and its leaders for their new year.

Since then, the administration announced that it would be a full participant with Iranian officials in six-nation talks aimed at getting Iran to address concerns about its suspect nuclear program. The US and others accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran maintains it is only interested in a civilian atomic energy program and has refused to accept a package of incentives offered by the US and its partners to get it to stop enriching uranium, a process that can produce the fuel for a nuclear weapon.

The US also ensured that Iran was invited and attended an international conference on Afghanistan at which US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke and an Iranian official had a brief exchange with a senior American diplomat.

During that meeting in The Hague, U.S. delegates passed an informal note to Iranian officials seeking information about three Americans then missing or detained in Iran.

Last month, Iran released one of the Americans, Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who was tried and convicted of spying for the United States.

Obama and other US officials have said they do not expect to see much movement from Iran until after the country holds presidential elections in the middle of the month, but have sketched a rough deadline of the fall by which they hope to see positive responses to their overtures.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Obama: Honesty with Israel is the best policy - Go for it!

President Obama has said that the 'U.S. Must Be More 'Honest' With Israel. He said there should be no equivocation. That's a really good idea. Let's start with an unequivocal statement that says the United States will honor its written commitments and past agreements, because without that, there isn't going to be any basis for going forward. It doesn't seem to be forthcoming.
Here's part of an interchange with State Department Spokesperson Robert Wood:
QUESTION: The United States, in the form of a letter that President Bush sent to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, made certain commitments to the Israeli state. I have tried to ask whether or not the Obama Administration feels bound by the commitments that President Bush expressed in that letter, which the Israelis would certainly feel comprise obligations on the part of the United States that we have made. Does the United States regard itself as - right now, as being bound by those commitments that President Bush made?

MR. WOOD: Look, what we are trying to do, James, is to get both parties to implement their obligations, written obligations in the Roadmap. We're trying to get those implemented. Our vision for a two-state solution cannot happen if these obligations are not, you know, held to. And so what Senator Mitchell has been trying to do is to work with the two sides. Both sides have an interest in meeting these obligations. They both want peace. We have said we will be a partner in trying to help them implement them - implement their obligations.

QUESTION: What about the letter?

MR. WOOD: Well, I - look, I speak for this Administration. I've told you exactly what we are doing with regard to trying to get both parties to live up to their written obligations.

QUESTION: What about our written obligations? Do we live up to the ones that we set?

MR. WOOD: Look, we - the United States lives up to its obligations. Right now, we are focused on, as I said, trying to get both sides to adhere to the Roadmap so that we can move forward toward that two-state solution. And it's not going to be easy, as you know. We've spoken to that many times. And we're going to continue to try to do that.

QUESTION: Is the letter binding or not on this Administration?

MR. WOOD: Look, what I'm saying to you, James, is we have - there are a series of obligations that Israel and the Palestinians have undertaken.

QUESTION: I haven't asked about their obligations and what they've undertaken. I've asked about a letter that this country sent to Israel. I'd like you to address that letter.

MR. WOOD: Well --

QUESTION: Is it binding on this Administration?

MR. WOOD: Well, this Administration is - as I said, has laid out its proposals, its strategy for moving forward. And that's about the best I can help you with on that, James.

QUESTION: Does it entail that letter?

MR. WOOD: I've said what I can say on this right now.

QUESTION: Robert, do you realize that by not saying yes, indeed the U.S. Government continues to be bound by the letter that former President George W. Bush sent, you are leaving open in the air the possibility that it does not see itself as bound?

MR. WOOD: I don't believe I'm doing that at all. What I'm saying to you is we have had a series of discussions with our Israeli and Palestinian partners. We've had discussions about their obligations and what both sides need to do. Both sides are well aware of what they need to do, and they know that we are trying to help them meet their obligations. And we'll continue to do that.

And I'm just not going to get into the substance of what a previous administration may have agreed to. I'm focused on what this Administration is trying to do right now. And that's where we are.
Do you understand what U.S. policy is from the above? I don't. Is it unequivocal? If the Bush letter is to be honored, how can the U.S. ask for a complete settlement freeze? What happened to honesty and not equivocating?
Ami Isseroff

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Continued (Permanent Link)

New York Times versus the truth about Israeli settlements

In the New York Times, Isabel Kershner wrote:
If Israel built all the housing units already approved in the nation's overall master plan for settlements, it would almost double the number of settler homes in the West Bank, according to unpublished official data provided to The New York Times. (emphasis added).
The assertion is not true. What she is referring to is an Haaretz report about a Peace Now now claim that Israel plans to build 73,300 housing units. The article states:
Peace Now estimates that if all of the units are built, it would mean a 100-percent increase in the total number of Israeli settlers.
However, the Peace Now report contradicts its own claim. As the article states:

According to the report, approval has already been granted for the construction of 15,000 housing units... and some 9,000 units in total have already been built.
Of the planned units, only about 15,000 were approved and 9,000 of those were already built, leaving about 6,000 units approved and yet to be built of the total 73,300 planned. That is about two years worth of buildng, and it would allow for an increase of about 20,000-30,000 settlers, roughly 5-7% of the current total including Jerusalem.
Print journalists complain that they are being unfairly neglected in favor of bloggers. They insist that commercial news outlets provide a unique service: accurate news that costs money to gather. But in fact, they are often giving the public warmed over fibs, leaving humble bloggers to point out the truth. Why pay for fabrications, when you can get the truth for free?
Ami Isseroff

Continued (Permanent Link)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Portrait of an anti-Zionist presentation

"Israel is an abomination", say 'activists'

This afternoon I attended the "Free Gaza" presentation at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Fresno, the presentation that I wrote about last week ("Pro-Hamas activists to speak in Fresno"). About 50 people, mostly church members, attended.

Donna and Darlene Wallach

I stood at the door before the event and handed out flyers, which read in part:

The speakers today will tell you that they are fighting for the Palestinian people. But their actual goal is to assist the genocidal Hamas organization.

The Gaza Strip is currently ruled by Hamas (The Islamic Resistance Movement) which took control of the area from the Palestinian Authority in a violent coup in 2007.

Hamas' reason for being is to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic state. Its methods are the most violent possible. Since 2000, Hamas has murdered hundreds of Israeli civilians by bombings, shootings and rocket and mortar attacks.

The 'occupation' they talk about is the 'occupation' that began with Israel's creation in 1948, not the 1967 war.

The so-called Free Gaza Movement is part of a propaganda apparatus which tries to portray the Iranian-financed proxy war being fought against Israel by Hamas and other extremist groups as a human rights issue. It is not – it is an asymmetric war in which the concept of human rights is cynically used by some of the world's most intolerant, hateful extremists to try to prevent Israel from defending herself.

What you will hear and see today will be a combination of exaggerations, lies, and – most importantly – partial facts presented without context.

I followed this with some excerpts from the Hamas Covenant, so everyone would know who Hamas is.

The presentation was strange, sort of a throwback to a 1950s anti-communist B-movie. The room was festooned with Palestinian flags, the lectern draped with a keffiya. Donna and Darlene were, if anything, more robotic and humorless than their picture suggests.

It began with two music videos, one sort of lyrical, praising the courage of the Palestinian people and predicting their ultimate triumph (in nonspecific terms), the other a hip-hop rant:

Israel is a terrorist state!

Free Palestine!

Free Palestine!

More: "Israel is an abomination", say 'activists'

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Continued (Permanent Link)

US holds up Apache Helicopter sales to Israel

Wednesday, May 27, 2009
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has blocked Israel's request for advanced U.S.-origin attack helicopters. 
Government sources said the administration has held up Israel's request for the AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter. The sources said the request was undergoing an interagency review to determine whether additional Longbow helicopters would threaten Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.
"During the recent war, Israel made considerable use of the Longbow, and there were high civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip," a source close to the administration said.
The sources said Israel has sought to purchase up to six new AH-64Ds in an effort to bolster conventional and counter-insurgency capabilities. They said Israel wants to replenish its fleet after the loss of two Apache helicopters in the 2006 war with Hizbullah.
The Israel Air Force has also requested U.S. permission to integrate the Spike extended-range anti-tank missile into the AH-64D. Spike ER, developed by the state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, has a range of eight kilometers and was installed on the Eurocopter Tiger and AgustaWestland A129 helicopters.
The sources said the deployment of Spike would require integration into the Longbow's millimeter-wave fire control and acquisition system. They said this would require permission from both Boeing and the U.S. government.
Israel's Defense Ministry and air force have discussed procurement of additional Longbows with the U.S. firm Boeing. But the sources said the Longbow as well as other defense requests have been shelved by the administration amid its review of the potential use of American weapons platforms by Israel.
During his visit to the United States, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also sought to win approval from the Defense Department for the installation of Israeli-origin electronic warfare systems in the Joint Strike Fighter.
Netanyahu was said to have met Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a review of Israeli defense programs with the United States. Defense Minister Ehud Barak was scheduled to meet Gates in Washington in early June

Continued (Permanent Link)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tens of thousands in US Salute to Israel

The annual Israel day parade gives a different perspective on actual support for Israel in the US.
May. 31, 2009
Tens of thousands of supporters of Israel crowded New York's Fifth Avenue on Sunday as part of the annual parade celebrating the birth of the Jewish state in 1948.
This year's parade also commemorated the centenary of the city of Tel Aviv. One contingent wore I (heart) Tel Aviv T-shirts, and another group rolled a giant birthday cake up the avenue.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was an honorary grand marshall and donned a pair of "100" glasses in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the largest city in Israel.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson led off the parade, followed by floats blasting Israeli pop music and teenagers from yeshivas and Jewish day schools.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon also participated in the march.
Florence Keusch of Paramus, N.J. was watching for the group from North Shore Hebrew Academy on Long Island, her grandchildren's school.
"I'm waiting to see them and enjoying this gorgeous day," she said on sun-slashed Fifth Avenue.
Marching with SAR High School from the Riverdale section of the Bronx, senior Jon Greenberg said the May 20 arrests of four men charged with plotting to bomb synagogues there was "scary."
"We felt kind of protected," he said. "But it was scary because that kind of thing does happen."
Lazar Karalitzky, of Queens, waved a blue and white Israeli flag and said he attends the parade almost every year.
"I came to support Israel," Karalitzky said. "We just hope that there should be peace."
Some spectators were wondering what role President Barack Obama will play after he challenged Israel last week to stop building West Bank settlements.
"I don't think Barack Obama should be strong-arming the Israeli government," said Darren Peister of New Rochelle, NY.
But his wife, Jayne Peister, said Obama brings "a different perspective" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"For 60 years we've not had peace," she said. "Maybe this different perspective can bring peace to Israel."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Palestinian lack of moderation is the fault of Israel, NYT

Why Isn't the Palestinian Authority Moderate? Why don't Arab Leaders Obey the New York Times?

Barry Rubin
So dreadful was the performance of Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas during his meeting with President Barack Obama that even the New York Times took notice. Usually, the Palestinians are exempt from any hint of the real world criteria applied to others.

But according to the May 30, Times editorial, the meeting was "a reminder of how much the Palestinians and leading Arab states, starting with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, must do to help revive foundering peace negotiations."

The peace negotiations, of course, foundered almost a decade ago when then PA leader Yasir Arafat rejected a two-state solution, an historical fact that the Times and much of the Western political elite seems not yet to have absorbed. Indeed, it was that very fact that has led to the failure of any peace process and all the bloodshed since.

Naturally, given its peculiar view of the world, the Times cannot quite blame anyone but Israel and George W. Bush for this failure:

"We have sympathy for Mr. Abbas, the moderate-but-weak leader of the Fatah party. Israel, the Bush administration and far too many Arab leaders have failed to give him the support that he needs to make the difficult compromises necessary for any peace deal."

This is the kind of paragraph by the way that should lead to reflection by anyone who was actually serious and not blinded by the strange brew that passes for the dominant ideology in Western intellectual circles nowadays. It is after all a set of beliefs which insists that Abbas—who wrote a doctoral dissertation denying that the Holocaust happened and prefers demanding all Palestinians can go live in Israel even if this stance prevents them from getting their own independent state—is better than Netanyahu. Abbas is branded "moderate" while Netanyahu is always called hardline.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Racism in Turkey - 64% do not want Jewish neighbors

A delightful finding from the Middle East's only (nominally) secular state with a Muslim majority. 64% don't want Jewish neighbors. Three out of four respondents would not like to live next to atheists or people who drink alcohol.  The margin of error for a survey of that size is about 2.5%, though AP writers don't seem to know that. Here's to the Democratic Secular State (I hope that's grape juice you're drinking, neighbor.)
A new study published in a Turkish newspaper Sunday said 64 percent of Turks would not want Jewish neighbors.
The study also suggested Turks had a low tolerance for diverse lifestyles in general, as three in four respondents said they would not want to live next to an atheist or anyone drinking alcohol.
The study by Istanbul's Bahcesehir University was meant to gauge radicalism and extremism in Turkey.
Results published in Sunday's Milliyet also stated that 52 percent would not want Christian neighbors, 67 would not want to live next to an unmarried couple and 43 percent would not want American neighbors.
The survey is based on interviews with 1,715 people selected randomly from 34 cities between April 12 and May 3. No margin of error was given.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Israel Transportation Minister: Government will not agree to total settlement freeze

Last update - 14:42 31/05/2009       
Top minister: Israel won't accept total settlement freeze
By Barak Ravi, Haaretz Correspondent and News Agencies
Israel will not accept a U.S. demand to halt all activity in West Bank settlements, an associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
"I want to make it clear that the current Israeli government will not accept in any way the freezing of legal settlement activity in Judea and Samaria be frozen," Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz told Army Radio, referring to the West Bank.
Tensions between Washington and Jerusalem are growing after the U.S. administration's demand that Israel completely freeze construction in all West Bank settlements.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Sunday told cabinet ministers that the U.S. demands on settlement activity were tantamount to "expulsion."
Israeli political officials have accused the administration of taking a preferential line toward the Palestinians with this regard.
Some officials expressed disappointment after Tuesday's round of meetings in London with George Mitchell, Obama's envoy to the Middle East. "We're disappointed," said one senior official. "All of the understandings reached during the [George W.] Bush administration are worth nothing."
Another official said the U.S. administration is refusing every Israeli attempt to reach new agreements on settlement construction. "The United States is taking a line of granting concessions to the Palestinians that is not fair toward Israel," he said.
The Israeli officials attributed the unyielding U.S. stance to the speech
Obama will make in Cairo this Thursday, in which he is expected to deliver a message of reconciliation to the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Mitchell was joined at the London talks by his deputy David Hale, Daniel B. Shapiro (the head of the National Security Council's Middle East desk), and State Department deputy legal adviser Jonathan Schwartz.
The Israeli delegation consisted of National Security Adviser Uzi Arad,
Netanyahu diplomatic envoy Yitzhak Molcho, Defense Ministry chief of staff Mike Herzog and deputy prime minister Dan Meridor.
Herzog spoke to Mitchell and his staff about understandings reached by former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon with the Bush administration on allowing continued building in the large West Bank settlement blocs. He asked that a similar agreement be reached with the Obama government.
Meridor spoke of the complexities characterizing the coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and said Washington's demands of a complete construction freeze would lead to the dissolution of the Netanyahu government.
The Israeli delegates were stunned by the uncompromising U.S. stance, and by statements from Mitchell and his staff that agreements reached with the Bush administration were unacceptable. An Israeli official privy to the talks said that "the Americans took something that had been agreed on for many years and just stopped everything."
"What about the Tenet Report, which demanded that the Palestinians dismantle the terror infrastructure?" said the official, referring to former CIA director George Tenet. "It's unfair, and there is no reciprocity shown toward the Palestinians."
The Israeli envoys said the demand for a total settlement freeze was not only unworkable, but would not receive High Court sanction. Tensions reportedly reached a peak when, speaking of the Gaza disengagement, the Israelis told their interlocutors, "We evacuated 8,000 settlers on our own initiative," to which Mitchell responded simply, "We've noted that here."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak will travel to Washington on Sunday in an attempt to put further pressure on the Obama administration.
"We want to reach an agreement with the United States on ways to advance the peace process," said a senior Jerusalem official. The U.S. stance, he said, "will stall the process and bring about tension and stagnation, which will hurt both Israel and the United States."

Continued (Permanent Link)

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