Saturday, 13 February 2010

Israel Matzav: China coming around on Iran sanctions?

China coming around on Iran sanctions?

Is China coming around on sanctions that would seek to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons? Maybe.

China's silence sometimes speaks volumes, and with growing international momentum for new sanctions on Iran, Beijing's recent reticence suggests it may give ground if it can insulate its oil and business ties.

China has repeatedly said in recent months that expanded U.N. sanctions on Iran are not the way to draw Tehran into serious talks about curtailing its uranium enrichment programme, which Western powers say could lay the groundwork for a nuclear weapons capability.

Not of late.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi last week urged more diplomacy with Iran, but did not say whether China backed or opposed fresh sanctions.

At two Chinese Foreign Ministry briefings this week, spokesman Ma Zhaoxu avoided extensive comment, positive or negative, about the sanctions proposed by the West.

"On sanctions, our position has been consistent and clear," Ma told reporters on Thursday. "We are willing, together with the international community, to continue playing a constructive role in pushing for a resolution of the Iran nuclear issue."


"China's silence says it isn't strongly opposed to a new United Nation's resolution," said Yin Gang, an expert on the Middle East at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a prominent state think-tank in Beijing.

"Given Iran's increasingly hard line on the nuclear issue, China feels it can't stand in the way of some sort of international response," he added.

But don't expect China to back any response that is likely to be effective. While China may fear an Israeli attack on Iran, it fears losing its oil supply more. It will back sanctions that are just enough to prevent an Israeli attack, but which aren't likely to be enough to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Israel Matzav: China coming around on Iran sanctions?

Israel Matzav: Gazans getting the message?

Gazans getting the message?

Could it be that Gazans are finally getting the idea that to improve their lives, they must throw off Hamas rule? Maybe.

At the preschool she runs for 130 poor children in this refugee camp, Abir Salah, a tall, imposing woman, says she feels suffocated. Last summer, one of her sons, who lives in Croatia, got married. She and her daughter had their suitcases packed so they could attend the ceremony, but they were unable to get an Israeli permit to leave Gaza.

"We tried Hamas, but now we have to get rid of them and change them for someone else," she said. "We're tired of everything. And because of Hamas, the international community has imposed a siege on us."

She then abruptly ended the conversation, saying she was worried that Hamas might hurt her or her children.


Taxi driver Iyad al-Shafi says that he voted for Hamas in 2006 but that if elections were held today, he would look for another party to support. "The truth is that Israel is the basis for all of our problems here," he said. "And nobody likes Fatah because they're corrupt. But when Fatah was in charge here, people were working and had money. There were no shortages, and, most important of all, we could leave Gaza."

I wouldn't hold my breath expecting a revolution in Gaza anytime soon, but if Gazans are starting to attribute some responsibility for their predicament to Hamas that would be progress. On the other hand, most of them still blame Israel.

Israel Matzav: Gazans getting the message?

Israel Matzav: Prank calls that could kill you

Prank calls that could kill you

You're a police operator. The phone rings and the person on the other end reports that a terror attack is taking place. Would it ever occur to you that the call might be a prank? Well, if you're working in Israel's Judea and Samaria police department, the odds are pretty high that it might be a prank.

Judea and Samaria Police receive between 30,000 and 40,000 abusive calls from Palestinians every month, The Jerusalem Post has been told.

Police operators at the Judea and Samaria phone center undergo special training to learn how to distinguish between abusive and real calls, and a computerized phone system is used to screen out the bogus callers, Ch.-Supt. Nir Carmeli, head of Judea and Samaria Police’s Control Room at district headquarters in Ma’aleh Adumim’s E1 (Mevaseret Adumim) neighborhood, said on Thursday.

“Without the screening, we would be getting 90,000 to 100,000 bad calls a month,” Carmeli said. The calls range from personally abusive to threats of terrorist attacks, he added.

“We often hear people cursing our sisters and mothers. Sometimes we get callers threatening to blow us up or carry out a suicide bomb attack,” he said. “When that happens, we treat the call as a real threat. We pass a warning on to the IDF and Shin Bet. It goes through intelligence, and the security forces are alerted. We know it could be bogus, but we don’t take chances,” Carmeli said.

“Efforts to trace the call continue until we can determine whether it is a real threat or not,” he added.

With 50-60 percent of all calls coming into headquarters being abusive, and operators fielding an average of 1,500 bogus calls a month, Carmeli said the problem has “really harmed our ability to respond to calls. New operators are insulted when they’re told to screw their sisters. Years ago, we would answer the calls by introducing ourselves, but this has stopped because harassers would call back pretending to be friends and asking for operators by name, and it became uncomfortable.”

Now operators give their first name only after a call is identified as legitimate.

Read the whole thing. For those who are interested, you may even learn how to curse in Arabic.

Israel Matzav: Prank calls that could kill you

Love of the Land: Going Left on J Street

Going Left on J Street

Lenny Ben-David
National Review Online
12 February '10

When 54 congressmen sent a letter to President Obama on January 21 asking him to press Israel (and nominally Egypt) to lift the blockade on Gaza and provide “immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza,” I looked for J Street’s fingerprints. Since its inception two years ago, the well-heeled PAC has rarely missed an opportunity to attack the policies of the Olmert and Netanyahu governments: It criticized Israel’s military operation in Gaza, held out the option of negotiating with Hamas, called for freezing all Israeli building in east Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank, refused to support sanctions against Iran, and more. But, lo and behold, there was nary a word about the Gaza relief letter on the J Street website or in the press materials of the supposedly “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization.

Others, however, did credit J Street with supporting the letter, and even with sponsoring it. According to Ha’aretz, “In addition to members of Congress, several leftist organizations also signed the letter, including Americans for Peace Now and J Street.”

Wrote Michael Rosenberg, one of Israel’s harshest critics, “The [54 members of Congress] deserve our thanks as does J Street and Americans for Peace Now which pushed the letter.”

And who appears first on the Minnesota Independent’s list of the letter’s backers? “Among the groups supporting the letter: J Street, The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), The American Near East Refugee Association (ANERA), The Methodist Church, The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), and Rabbis for Human Rights.”

With the exception of the rabbis, none of J Street’s colleagues on the letter are known for their fraternal feelings toward Israel.

(Read full article)

Love of the Land: Going Left on J Street

Love of the Land: The Human-Rights Organizations That Cried Wolf

The Human-Rights Organizations That Cried Wolf

Evelyn Gordon
12 February '10

An appeal filed to Israel’s Supreme Court this week provides a good example of just how morally warped some Israeli human-rights groups have become — and why those who truly need them are suffering as a result.

The appeal was filed on behalf of Gaza resident Atsem Hamdan, who sought permission to enter Israel for medical treatment unavailable in Gaza. The relevant Israeli authorities refused, and a district court upheld this decision. Hamdan, it said, could seek treatment in another country; Israel is not obliged to provide medical care for every resident of a hostile entity, which Hamas-led Gaza certainly is.

In their appeal, Haaretz reports, Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel argue that in fact, Israel is “obligated to see to the welfare and health of residents of the Gaza Strip. … This obligation is a result of the state of warfare, Israel’s control of the border crossings, and the Gaza Strip’s dependence on Israel due to the long years of occupation.”

The sheer absurdity of these claims is mind-boggling. First, if Israel retains responsibility for Gaza’s residents even after having withdrawn every last soldier and settler, merely because it used to occupy the Strip, what incentive would it ever have to quit any “occupied” territory? If Israel is going to be held responsible for the residents’ welfare whether it goes or stays, it may as well stay and at least enjoy the benefits of occupation — like being able to crack down on Hamas’s rocket-manufacturing industry.

(Read full post)

Love of the Land: The Human-Rights Organizations That Cried Wolf

Love of the Land: Another Tack: Beit El’s mystery guest - guess who

Another Tack: Beit El’s mystery guest - guess who

The same Barak who told Beit El residents that "under no circumstances will we return to the ‘67 lines" spoke differently at the Herzliya Conference.

Sarah Honig
Another Tack/JPost
12 February '10

Which right-wing extremist do you suppose said the following?

“From here in Beit El to the people of Beit El and to all the citizens of the State of Israel: My party and I have clear red lines. We will remain in Beit El forever.... A united Jerusalem must remain under full and unequivocal Israeli sovereignty.... Under no circumstances will we return to the 1967 lines and there will be no foreign army west of the Jordan River.”

There was more: “I came here to see how the settlements have developed. It is heartening to see that there is so much growth and progress. There are beautiful projects here – the beauty isn’t only in the projects but is connected to the soul, to the soul of Israeli society.”

As The Jerusalem Post’s then-political correspondent, I was there on May 12, 1998. I heard Beit El residents suggesting – not entirely in jest – that they find a home for their visitor inside the settlement. As predictable, Peace Now excoriated him, issuing a statement that expressed “shock and dismay” at his heresy.

Puzzled? Here’s a further clue. Beit El’s mystery guest was the same one who at the recent Herzliya Conference sternly warned that “lack of a solution to the problem of border demarcation within historic Eretz Yisrael – and not an Iranian bomb – is the most serious threat to Israel’s future.” In other words, failure to cede to Ramallah’s flimsy make-believe regime whatever it wishes – Beit El included – is a greater threat to Israel than Iranian nukes. No less.

(Read full story)

Love of the Land: Another Tack: Beit El’s mystery guest - guess who

Israel Matzav: Human Rights Watch 'repenting'?

Human Rights Watch 'repenting'?

Shavua tov, a good week to everyone.

YNet reports that 'Human Rights Watch' may be recognizing the need to restore its 'moral standing' by taking a more unbiased view of Israel.

One such sign was evident in Iain Levine’s Tel Aviv press conference presenting HRW’s 2010 World Report. Levine focused on Israel’s potential as a moral advocate on the issue of banning “blood diamonds” mined under abusive conditions in Zimbabwe. He also noted Israel’s “positive movement” toward investigating Gaza war operations, especially as compared to Hamas’ lack of initiative.

While he repeated allegations about the “increasingly disastrous blockade of Gaza” and IDF misuse of white phosphorous, Levine also mentioned rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, brutal internal repression by Hamas under the cover of war, and the endemic lack of accountability for torture in the Palestinian Authority.

A week after the Tel Aviv press conference, HRW announced that James F. Hoge Jr. will replace Jane Olson as the chair of HRW’s board. Choosing a leader with expertise on China may signify a shift in HRW’s obsessive attention on the Middle East. Perhaps, under Hoge, HRW will devote more of its resources to substantively addressing severe human rights abuses in that emerging Asian superpower.

In contrast to HRW’s disproportionate criticism of Israel in 2009, the organization issued a more even-handed press release following the publication of Hamas’ response to the Goldstone Report: “Gaza: Hamas Report Whitewashes War Crimes” (January 28, 2010).

"Hamas can spin the story and deny the evidence, but hundreds of rockets rained down on civilian areas in Israel where no military installations were located," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW. This condemnation received wide media coverage.

Of course, not all the news is positive.

When UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared that Israel’s investigation system for alleged violations of the Law of Armed Conflict is comparable to the systems in leading democratic nations, HRW quickly criticized Israel and Ban. Senior researcher Fred Abrahams accused Ban of avoiding the issue, and HRW continued to call for an “independent investigation”. Levine’s praise of “positive movement” was swept under the rug.

Read the whole thing.

I don't expect HRW to become pro-Israel any time soon. In fact, I doubt they'll even become unbiased. But if they'd shift their focus elsewhere, that would be a major improvement.

By the way, I understand that Garlasco's name no longer appears on HRW's web site, but HRW has had nothing to say about him. Hmmm.

Israel Matzav: Human Rights Watch 'repenting'?

RubinReports: Does the Obama Administration Define U.S. interests as Protecting its Allies?

Does the Obama Administration Define U.S. interests as Protecting its Allies?

Please subscribe for unique, detailed, and real-time analysis.

By Barry Rubin

Foreign policy is often a matter of wording. When a government is careless about analysis and definitions it sets up a very dangerous situation that might end up killing people and overthrowing governments.

Historians believe that an errant American statement mistakenly leaving South Korea out of the U.S.-protected security zone back in 1949 helped persuade the Soviets and Chinese that a North Korean invasion of the South would not be met by a strong U.S. response. It is clear that a parallel mistake in 1990 was interpreted by Iraq as a sign that if it invaded and annexed Kuwait Washington would do nothing.

So consider the following statement in the new assessment by the director of national intelligence concerning Hizballah:

“We judge that, unlike al-Qa'ida, Hizballah, which has not directly attacked U.S. interests
overseas over the past 13 years, is not now actively plotting to strike the Homeland. However, we cannot rule out that the group would attack if it perceives that the U.S. is threatening its core interests.”

The key problem here is the phrase “U.S. interests.” To be fair, if one focuses on the word "'directly," as in "has not directly attacked U.S. interests," it is these indirect attacks that threaten the U.S. strategic position in the region.

If the U.S. intelligence community believes that the Iran- and Syria-backed Lebanese Shia group Hizballah is not going to launch a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, they are no doubt correct. It can also be argued, though with less assurance, that Hizballah is not going to kidnap or kill American citizens or attack U.S. embassies.

There is, however, information, ignored in the report, of Hizballah involvement in preparing and helping terrorists going into Iraq to kill Americans. In addition, the role of Hizballah in kidnapping and murdering Americans in the past, as well as in the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Beirut and the Marine headquarters there, has never been punished. When President Barack Obama commemorated the anniversary of that attack, he didn’t mention Hizballah’s role at all or give any sense of who had killed 241 U.S. military personnel. Trying to prove Hizballah isn't a threat is leading to ignoring cases where Hizballah is a threat.

Recently, a newspaper close to Hizballah and its Syrian allies implied that the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon might have to be "silenced" if she continues to "interfere in Lebanese politics." There have also been frequent threats that if the UN forces in Lebanon probe too deeply about Hizballah activities--massive imports of equipment from Syria and building up its capability for future war--they might be attacked, threats which have successfully intimidated them.

But this evaluation of whether or not Hizballah has attacked Americans recently is less important than the phrase “U.S. interests,” which is supposed to mean far more than an attack on American personnel or property. It also should mean an attack on U.S. allies and damage to U.S. positions on key issues. In the case of Hizballah the organization still is pursuing some very serious goals against U.S. interests, including:

--To destroy moderate, pro-American forces in Lebanon, notably the alliance of Sunni Muslims, Christians, and Druze called the March 14 Coalition.

--To take over Lebanon and deliver it into the Iranian-led bloc, while promoting Tehran’s interests and extend its power in every way possible.

--To destroy Israel including launching attacks on it when it is deemed worth doing.

--To drive American influence out of Lebanon.

The two men most responsible for this assessment are likely to be the director of national intelligence Dennis Blair and the president’s advisor on terrorism John Brennan. This duo is by far the most ignorant and dangerous of Obama’s foreign policy appointees. Brennan is on record as saying Hizballah is no longer a terrorist group in part because its members include lawyers.

There are two possibilities in explaining this phrase about “U.S. interests.” The first is that it was careless phrasing, a sign of low competence.

The second is that it does reflect a thinking which conflates defining any force that poses a threat to U.S. interests with identifying a force that seeks a direct attack on the U.S. homeland. After all, the Obama Administration only views itself as being at war with al-Qaida because al-Qaida wants to attack New York or Detroit and--though they don't necessarily seem clear on this point--Fort Dix.

But what signal does this send to U.S. allies? That Hamas, Hizballah, Pakistani-based terrorists striking against India, Syria which is subverting Iraq, Iran’s growing power, or countries like North Korea or Venezuela are no big problem?

This may seem a minor problem in Washington but it is a huge concern in dozens of other countries. And if the administration is hazy on this point, it is some day going to find itself in a much weaker position in terms of both America’s friends and enemies.

RubinReports: Does the Obama Administration Define U.S. interests as Protecting its Allies?

Love of the Land: The limits of American engagement with Iran

The limits of American engagement with Iran

Elie Fawaz
NOW Lebanon
12 February '10

There is nothing solid to the eloquent words US President Barack Obama uses to address the many crises his country is experiencing, especially in the Middle East. By now it has become obvious for enemies and allies of the United States alike that this American administration has no foreign policy at all, and this is a luxury that the United States cannot afford, especially when it comes to the Middle East – the home of 70% of the oil reserves in the world – unless it has decided to cease being the world super power and is instead gunning for the Miss Congeniality title.

Obviously the myriad envoys coming to the region with the mantra of engagement without coercion has sent the wrong message and has so far led the region to the edge of a destructive war. This became clear during the American presidential campaign, when America’s enemies and allies understood that an Obama victory would mean the undoing of everything George W. Bush did for the past eight years, regardless of the consequences.

The enemies of the United States had to be a little patient, the allies weary. Undoing Bush’s policies in the Middle East meant giving the region up to the next strongest power. It happened in the 1980s, when Iran and its allies decided to push America out of the region successfully, but with the small difference that at the time America’s allies were by far stronger, and Iran wasn’t going nuclear.

(Read full article)

Love of the Land: The limits of American engagement with Iran

Love of the Land: What Is To Be Done About Nuclear Iran?

What Is To Be Done About Nuclear Iran?

Roger L Simon
11 February '10

Click here to watch the second part of Roger’s interview with Israeli ambassador to the United States. (View Part One here.)

A transcript of the entire interview appears below:

MR. SIMON: Ambassador Oren, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule for PJTV. And before we get into the real subject of this discussion on Iran, I can’t resist asking you to comment on the events yesterday at UC Irvine. Was it really as bad as Judean Ramallah or not as bad?

AMBASSADOR OREN: First of all, pleasure to be here, Roger. As to what happened yesterday in UC Irvine, I was giving a presentation on the state of US Israel and Israel-Middle Eastern relations, and a group of several hundred students kept on disturbing me, calling out rather, you know, various curses and expletives, none of them deleted, and basically, violating the most fundamental law on an American campus, indeed, outside of American campus in this country, and that’s the right of free speech. And from my perspective, it was a great squandered opportunity for them. Here, they had an opportunity to hear a different perspective, perhaps not a perspective they agreed with or like, but — and a chance to exchange ideas, and that, I think, is what universities are about, but they’ve blocked this. And unfortunately, this has happened at several campuses to several Israeli speakers, but not only to Israeli speakers. Last week, down at Georgetown campus, General Petraeus was subject to the same type of interference. So I think it’s the beginning of a trend that we have to watch very, very carefully, a trend to sort of bring the Middle East, where there is no freedom of expression, onto American campuses. And I think we have to be very vigilant, indeed, to prevent that from happening.

MR. SIMON: It’s not just American campuses, though, unfortunately. My nephew is a student at the London School of Economics, and the same thing happened there. And he wrote about it for Pajamas Media. But let’s move on to Iran, here.

(Read full transcript)

Love of the Land: What Is To Be Done About Nuclear Iran?

Love of the Land: 5 Questions on Vote Rigging at Palestinian Journo Union

5 Questions on Vote Rigging at Palestinian Journo Union

Honest Reporting/Backspin
11 February '10
Posted before Shabbat

The PA hijacked recent elections held by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate to ensure key positions for Fatah cronies.

Ramallah journo Hani al-Masri told the Jerusalem Post :

About 300 “journalists” who participated in the election had nothing to do with journalism, he said. “Some of them were members of the Palestinian security forces, while most of the journalists who were registered as members of the syndicate’s generals assembly were actually employees of the Palestinian Authority or political activists,” he added.

The Maan News Agency further adds:

Another scandalous flaw blemishing the new Union is the so-called quota system which means that the union seats are divided among PLO factions in accordance with an anachronistic system dating back to the early 1980s.

Pursuant to this system, Fatah receives the lion’s share of the seats, followed by the PFLP and its former ideological sister, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), followed by a myriad of small factions, most of which have few followers and supporters on the ground.

(Read full post)

Love of the Land: 5 Questions on Vote Rigging at Palestinian Journo Union

Love of the Land: Calls for the destruction of Israel in SOAS lecture

Calls for the destruction of Israel in SOAS lecture

"What is so terrorist about Hamas?"

Marcys Dysch/Robyn Rosen
11 February '10
Posted before Shabbat

(With all due apologies to Benny Morris, being accused of Islamiphobia is far more serious than advocating terrorism and anti-semitic incitement.)

Palestinian academic Azzam Tamimi, who has advocated suicide bombing, has told students he “longs to be a martyr” and that Israel “must come to an end”.

Dr Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London, spoke to students at London’s School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) on Tuesday. On Monday, he addressed Cambridge University’s Islamic Society and is also due to speak at the Federation of Student Islamic Societies’ Palestine Week at Manchester University this weekend.

At SOAS, he praised Hamas and said: “Today Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation because that’s what the Americans and Israelis and cowardly politicians of Europe want, but what is so terrorist about it? “You shouldn’t be afraid of being labelled extreme, radical or terrorist. If fighting for your home land is terrorism, I take pride in being a terrorist. The Koran tells me if I die for my homeland, I’m a martyr and I long to be a martyr.”

He criticised calls for a two-state solution and said: “Why are the Jews superhuman and better than anyone else that God would give them a homeland? Is God a racist? A god who would prefer people because of their race is not a god I want to associate with. Claiming they are being given the land of God is a racist idea.

(Read full article)

Love of the Land: Calls for the destruction of Israel in SOAS lecture

Love of the Land: An answer from the Reform movement

An answer from the Reform movement
11 February '10
Posted before Shabbat

Recently I posted a copy of a letter I wrote to the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the Reform movement in America, which criticized it for its support of the New Israel Fund (NIF). I was very pleased to receive a reply from a URJ official which explained its position.

Unfortunately, I don’t have permission to publish the statement. But I can reproduce my response (with some minor editing), which I think will make clear why I was not convinced.

Dear _______,

Thank you for the long and considered response. You are right that you haven’t convinced me. Here’s why:

1) Let’s dismiss some straw men. I don’t know who said it, but the idea that ‘without the NIF there would be no Goldstone report’ is preposterous and I certainly don’t hold this position. I also do not think that nothing the NIF does has value; they do make grants to numerous worthwhile groups in addition to the 16 in question. Finally, I was very happy to see Rabbi [Eric] Yoffie’s denunciation of the Goldstone report, and do not doubt your love of Israel or commitment to Jewish values.

2) Regarding the numbers, I deliberately didn’t mention the 92% figure in my letter in order to avoid getting into an arithmetic contest. What Im Tirtzu claimed was that 92% of the footnotes from non-governmental Israeli sources which were judged negative, came from the 16 NGOs. This is correct — or if it’s wrong, we can still say ‘the great majority’. No, they were not entirely responsible for the Goldstone report — but they contributed mightily, especially when you consider the extra weight given to an Israeli source accusing the IDF of crimes.

(Read full post)

Love of the Land: An answer from the Reform movement

RubinReports: Obama Administration Whispers its Total Turnaround on the Israel-Palestinian Issue

Obama Administration Whispers its Total Turnaround on the Israel-Palestinian Issue

Read the "PS" at the end of this article and you'll see why you should subscribe.

By Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has issued a nominally routine communiqué after her meeting with Tony Blair, former prime minister of Great Britain and now messenger of the Quartet on matters Israel-Palestinian. Does this two-paragraph document of February 11, 2010, indicate the new direction of U.S. policy on Israel-Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict issues?

First paragraph:

“This Administration has, from the beginning, worked to bring about comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On that issue our approach has been three-fold: (1) to help build the economy and capacity to govern of a Palestinian state; (2) to renew political negotiations to enable the earliest possible establishment of that state; and (3) to achieve these in a manner that ensures the security of Israel and of the Palestinians.”

Wait a minute. Note the shift in priorities, very subtle but very important. Up until now, in every statement made by the Obama administration, item 2 has been in the top position. Last September, the president of the United States announced that intensive talks to reach a comprehensive peace agreement would start in early November! Three months later they aren’t even in sight. So now the administration has shifted gears and the main priority is a process of state-building and community organizing among the Palestinians to get them ready for the grand opening ceremonies. That makes sense as far as it goes.

Notice it doesn't even say the "earliest possible" renewal of political negotiations but implies that the economic and infrastructure change--not talks--will achieve the "earliest possible establishment" of a Palestinian state.

In light of this shift, the second paragraph reads:

“Consistent with Prime Minister Fayyad’s plan for a future Palestinian state, Tony Blair, as the Quartet representative, will intensify his partnership with Senator Mitchell in support of the political negotiations. In his role as Quartet Representative Tony Blair will continue, with full support by and coordination with Senator Mitchell, to mobilize the efforts of the international community: (1) to build support for the institutional capacity and governance of a future Palestinian State, including on the rule of law; (2) to improve freedom of movement and access for Palestinians; (3) to encourage further private sector investment; and (4) to bring change in the living conditions of the people in Gaza.”

The mission of Blair and Senator Mitchell, the U.S. envoy, is defined as being, “Consistent with Prime Minister Fayyad’s plan for a future Palestinian state.” That means, despite the mention of “political negotiations,” the Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister’s two-year plan to build the Palestinian state economically and institutionally so it can be launched in 2012.

The implications of the Fayyad approach are that negotiations with Israel will be required only when everything is already prepared. This gives the administration the rationale to get nothing done in the meantime on the diplomatic level. It is thus—despite some boiler-plate language—a complete reversal in practice of the administration’s previous policy. The U.S. government can “look busy” while doing precisely what its predecessor did: realize nothing much is possible at the present while awaiting some future opportunity.

The emphasis is on helping the Palestinians and not pressing them to give Israel anything. At the same time, however, there is not going to be a big emphasis on pressuring Israel except on two points. One is the “freedom of movement” issue, which means asking Israel to dismantle more roadblocks. That will depend, of course, on the security situation.

The other is the phrase, “To bring change in the living conditions of the people in Gaza.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean overthrowing Hamas and freeing Gazans from that dictatorship of genocidal-minded terrorists. Rather, it implies more pressure on Israel to reduce embargos on the Gaza Strip without removing Hamas, blocking arms-smuggling, or forcing any change in Hamas’s plan for future attacks on Israel and indeed the extermination of that country and its people. In other words, still another Israeli concession, though Israel will keep it to a minimum.

Meanwhile, the United States won’t push the PA to come to the negotiating table, or reduce incitement, or really convey to its people the need to give up hope of wiping out Israel and taking all the land, or punish terrorists. Trying to do these things would make the PA unhappy; stir up Arab and Muslim complaints, and not work anyway. Of course, failing to do these things will also make any real progress on peace impossible as well.

Fayyad is only kept in office because the United States and European donors, not the Fatah leaders, want him there. His two-year plan will fail completely. Fayyad is too weak to strengthen Palestinian institutions; the regime is too corrupt and incompetent (and massive violence could break out at any moment) to attract foreign investment. Any serious examination of the, albeit welcome, Palestinian economic boom shows it is based on two ultimately unproductive pillars--the aid money and real estate speculation.

In this context, the administration has made its choice, though it would never admit to that fact: maximum popularity, minimum friction, no real change. That is a reasonable choice under the circumstances. It is also in real terms the same policy as the Bush administration adopted.

All this greater recognition of reality—whatever the rhetoric employed--should be accompanied with a corresponding shift in the wider public understanding. Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict is not the key to the Middle East. There isn’t going to be any peace or even diplomatic advances in that direction. The reason is internal Palestinian politics. The leadership is still radical, more eager to reconcile with Hamas than to make peace with Israel. The world view is extremist and geared toward total victory. PA media and clerics encourage violence and teach that Israel is temporary and illegitimate.

Overall, the picture is not so bad, especially given what one might have expected from the administration’s first months in office. It does seem as if the administration has reached some realization of the fecklessness of the PA, the difficulty of making peace, and is thus reluctant to commit too much effort and political capital to the issue.

Instead, it will try to prove that it loves the Palestinians while trying to keep things quiet as it deals with other things, ranging from domestic issues to Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. The Obama administration has been turned on this issue from self-proclaimed pouncing lion to a lounging pussycat though it still tries to make its meow sound like a roar.

PS: Note that the response to this story of the Associated Press is precisely the opposite of my analysis. The AP dispatch did not mention a single one of the points made in this article (which is why you should be reading this blog, by the way). Here's their lead:

"Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is going to play a bigger role in efforts to get Israel and the Palestinians back to peace talks by intensifying his partnership with special U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell."

The communique's key phrase is a description of what U.S. policy is, not the request for Blair to work with Mitchell, which means nothing in practice.

In other words, they view this as just a further intensification of the peace-process-as-usual drive for negotiations. Much of the media and public debate has the peace process so much on the brain that the cliche about not seeing the forest for the trees is inadequate. One should rather say that they look at the Sahara desert and see a forest.

RubinReports: Obama Administration Whispers its Total Turnaround on the Israel-Palestinian Issue
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