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Panetta warns Israel against growing isolation

In Israel, News, Palestinian, Politics, Terrorism on October 3, 2011 at 9:27 am

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta answers questions aboard an Air Force plane over the Atlantic Ocean Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011. Panetta is traveling to the Middle East to meet with leaders on various issues related to the region. (AP Photo/Win McNamee, Pool)


The continuing turmoil in the Middle East makes it crucial that Israel finds ways to communicate with other nations in the region if it’s ever going to enjoy peace and stability, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned in a blunt assessment.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday as he traveled to the Mideast and Europe, Panetta said the Jewish homeland is becoming increasingly isolated in the region. He said Israeli leaders need to restart negotiations with the Palestinians and work to restore relations with Egypt and Turkey.

“There’s not much question in my mind that they maintain that (military) edge,” Panetta said. “But the question you have to ask: Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena? Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength.”

Panetta is scheduled to meet this week with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and then travel to a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels. He will also go to Egypt, where he will meet with that nation’s new leaders.

His visit comes as Mideast negotiators push for a peace deal by the end of next year, amping up pressure for the resumption of long-stalled talks.

The Pentagon chief said Israel risks eroding its own security if it does not reach out to its neighbors.

“It’s pretty clear that at this dramatic time in the Middle East, when there have been so many changes, that it is not a good situation for Israel to become increasingly isolated. And that’s what’s happening,” he said.

Panetta said the most important thing now is for Israel and its neighbors “to try to develop better relationships so in the very least they can communicate with each other rather than taking these issues to the streets.”

His visit comes at a particularly critical and fragile time.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has asked the U.N. Security Council to recognize an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. The United States opposed the U.N. bid, saying there is no substitute for direct peace negotiations. But with Israel continuing to build settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, Abbas says there is no point in talking.

Some 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

The United States, Britain, France and other council members are likely to try to hold up consideration of the application while they press for a resumption of long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Panetta is scheduled to meet with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

His visit to Israel comes six months after his predecessor, Robert Gates, traveled to the region to meet with Israeli leaders and make the first journey to the West Bank to talk with Fayyad

Source:  The Associated Press.



Abbas says no talks without Israeli settlement freeze

In Israel, News, Palestinian on September 26, 2011 at 9:38 am

Mahmoud Abbas

By Ali Sawafta, Reuters

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas repeated on Sunday his refusal to talk with Israel without a settlement freeze after international mediators, responding to his United Nations bid for statehood, urged negotiations within a month.

“We have confirmed to all that we want to achieve our rights through peaceful means, through negotiations — but not just any negotiations,” Abbas told a cheering crowd of thousands on his return to the West Bank city of Ramallah.

“We will not accept (negotiations) until legitimacy is the foundation and they cease settlement completely,” he said, two days after presenting the application for Palestinian statehood and addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed a year ago after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month limited moratorium on construction in settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinians say the settlements, built on land Israel captured in a 1967 war, would deny them a viable state. Israel cites historic and Biblical links to the West Bank, which it calls by its Hebrew names, Judea and Samaria.

Netanyahu, who has termed a settlement freeze an unacceptable precondition, gave no indication in his own speech at the U.N. of any change in his position. He urged Abbas to return to peace talks.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has said it will block the statehood move in the Security Council, which is expected to convene on Monday to discuss the application Abbas made after 20 years of failed Israeli-Palestinian talks.


Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have responded formally to a plan from the so-called Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the U.N. — for a return to direct negotiations.

The forum urged Israel and the Palestinians to meet within a month and set a new agenda for talks, with the aim of achieving a peace deal by the end of 2012 that would result in the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Netanyahu welcomed the Quartet’s call but reserved an official reply until he meets with senior cabinet ministers after his return on Monday from New York.

Abbas has said he would discuss the ideas with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leaders and other senior Palestinian officials.

Hours before Abbas returned to the West Bank, Netanyahu’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said there would be “tough repercussions” if the U.N. approved the statehood application {nS1E78L2CV].

Lieberman, who heads a far-right party in Netanyahu’s governing coalition, did not spell out what action Israel might take. He said Israel had reservations about the Quartet’s proposal but was “ready to open immediate negotiations” with the Palestinians.

In the past, Lieberman has suggested severing ties with Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, if it wins recognition without a peace deal with Israel.

Israel is concerned that even if the United States vetoes a statehood resolution in the Security Council, the Palestinians could still win approval in the General Assembly for a more limited U.N. membership.

Source: Reuters



Palestinian leader warns of government collapse

In News, Palestinian, Politics, United Nations on September 23, 2011 at 4:52 pm


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is warning that his government could collapse if Israel continues building settlements on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state.

Abbas says settlements are the key obstacle to peacemaking.

Abbas was greeted by sustained ovation and appreciative whistles as he approached the dais to deliver a speech outlining the Palestinian quest to have the United Nations recognize an independent Palestine. The request was formally submitted shortly before Abbas spoke.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Defying U.S. and Israeli opposition, Palestinians asked the United Nations on Friday to accept them as a member state, sidestepping nearly two decades of troubled negotiations in the hope this dramatic move on the world stage would reenergize their quest for an independent homeland.

In the West Bank, the core of that hoped-for state, a Palestinian man was shot dead in a clash with Israeli soldiers and settlers as antagonisms flared over the statehood bid.

Earlier in the week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rebuffed an intense, U.S.-led effort to sway him from the statehood bid, saying he would submit the application to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon as planned.

“We’re going without any hesitation and continuing despite all the pressures,” Abbas told members of the Palestinian diaspora at a hotel in New York on Thursday night. “We seek to achieve our right and we want our independent state.” Shortly before noon on Friday, Ban’s spokesman tweeted, “President Abbas just handed the Palestinian application to the Secretary-General UNSG.”

In his letter to Ban accompanying the application, Abbas asked the U.N. chief to immediately forward the request for full U.N. membership to the Security Council and the General Assembly, according to a top aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the documents were submitted. The General Assembly will likely be asked to approve a more modest status upgrade if the bid in the council founders as expected.

Palestinian officials said they were not authorized to release copies of the document until Ban delivers it to the Security Council at an unspecified time.

To be sure, Abbas’ appeal to the U.N. to recognize Palestinian independence in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip would not deliver any immediate changes on the ground: Israel would remain an occupying force in those first two territories and continue to severely restrict access to Gaza, ruled by Palestinian Hamas militants.

Beyond that, Security Council action on the membership request could take weeks or months.

The strategy also put the Palestinians in direct confrontation with the U.S., which has threatened to veto their membership bid in the Council, reasoning, like Israel, that statehood can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties to end the long and bloody conflict.

Also hanging heavy in the air was the threat of renewed violence over frustrated Palestinian aspirations, in spite of Abbas’ vow — perceived by Israeli security officials as genuine — to prevent Palestinian violence. The death on Friday of 35-year-old Issam Badram, in gunfire that erupted after rampaging Jewish settlers destroyed trees in a Palestinian grove, was the type of incident that both Palestinians and Israelis had feared would spark widespread violence. There were three other incidents of small-scale unrest, but most of the West Bank was quiet.

Yet by seeking approval at a world forum overwhelmingly sympathetic to their quest, Palestinians hope to make it harder for Israel to resist already heavy global pressure to negotiate the borders of a future Palestine based on lines Israel held before capturing the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967.

In recent weeks, international mediators have been furiously trying to piece together a formula that would let the Palestinians abandon their plan to ask the Security Council for full U.N. membership, and instead make do with asking a sympathetic General Assembly to elevate their status from permanent observer to nonmember observer state. The other part of that formula would include the resumption of negotiations in short order.

The U.S. and Israel have been pressuring Council members to either vote against the plan or abstain when it comes up for a vote. The vote would require the support of nine of the Council’s 15 members to pass, but even if the Palestinians could line up that backing, a U.S. veto is assured.

The resumption of talks seems an elusive goal, with both sides digging in to positions that have tripped up negotiations for years. Israel insists that negotiations go ahead without any preconditions. But Palestinians say they will not return to the bargaining table without assurances that Israel would halt settlement building and drop its opposition to basing negotiations on the borders it held before capturing the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza in 1967.

Israel has warned that the Palestinian appeal to the U.N. will have a disastrous effect on negotiations, which have been the cornerstone of international Mideast policy for the past two decades. Netanyahu, who is to address the General Assembly later Friday, shortly after Abbas makes his own address, opposes negotiations based on 1967 lines, saying a return to those frontiers would expose Israel’s heartland to rocket fire from the West Bank.

He also fears that if that principle becomes the baseline for negotiations, then Palestinians won’t settle for anything less, despite previous understandings between the Palestinians and previous Israeli governments to swap land where settlement blocs stand for Israeli territory.

Talks for all intents and purposes broke down nearly three years ago after Israel went to war in the Gaza Strip and prepared to hold national elections that ultimately propelled Netanyahu to power for a second time. A last round was launched a year ago, with the ambitious aim of producing a framework accord for a peace deal, but broke down just three weeks later after an Israeli settlement construction slowdown expired.

Quartet envoy Tony Blair cautioned that the move at the U.N. must be followed by negotiations.

“You can pass whatever resolution you like at the United Nations, or at the Security Council, and it doesn’t actually deliver you a state,” Blair told BBC Radio. “And if you don’t have a negotiation, whatever you do at the U.N. is going to be deeply confrontational.”

The U.N. recognition bid has won Abbas broad popular support at home, but it is opposed by his main political rival, the Islamic militant Hamas movement that violently wrested control of Gaza in 2007.

Gaza’s Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, accused Abbas on Friday of relinquishing Palestinian rights by seeking recognition for a state in the pre-1967 borders. Hamas’ founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and a state in all of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, though some Hamas officials have suggested they would support a peace deal based on the 1967 lines.

“The Palestinian people do not beg the world for a state, and the state can’t be created through decisions and initiatives,” Haniyeh said. “States liberate their land first and then the political body can be established.”

Source: Associated Press



Palestinians will submit UN membership letter

In News, Palestinian, Politics, United Nations, World on September 19, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, is greeted by Hanan Ashrawi, left, legislator and activist, as he arrives at his hotel in New York, Monday, Sept. 19, 2011, to attend the 66th General Assembly session of United Nations, which begins Tuesday, Sept. 20. The United States and Europe scrambled Sunday, Sept. 18, for a strategy that would help avoid a showdown over whether to admit an independent Palestine as a new United Nations member. (AP Photo/David Karp)


The Palestinians say they will submit a letter formally requesting U.N. membership after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Friday.

Any candidate for U.N. membership must first submit a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stating it is a “peace-loving” state and accepts the U.N. Charter.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, told reporters after Abbas met Ban that the Palestinian leader would submit the letter after his speech to the 193-member General Assembly.

Ban is expected to examine the letter and then send it to the U.N. Security Council which must give its approval before an assembly vote. The U.S. has said it will veto the membership bid.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday he won’t be deterred from seeking U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine, despite what he said was “tremendous pressure” to drop the request and instead resume peace talks with Israel.

Abbas spoke to reporters en route to New York, where he is to seek U.N. membership for “Palestine” in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War. The U.S. and Israel oppose Abbas’ bid, saying a state can be established only through negotiations.

Abbas has said that negotiations remain his preference, but that they must be based on the pre-1967 war lines and include a halt of all Israeli settlement construction on occupied land.

Abbas said Monday that even if Israel were to agree to those two demands, “we will go to the U.N. because there is no contradiction between negotiations and going to the U.N.”

Officials from the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — have been holding talks in recent days in hopes of persuading the Palestinians to drop the U.N. bid and instead resume peace talks with Israel.

Another Quartet meeting was planned for Monday, officials said, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton might present more ideas to Abbas later in the day.

The Palestinian leader said, “Last week, there was tremendous pressure to return to negotiations on a new basis,” but that the proposals for a new framework for talks were unacceptable.

Full U.N. membership can only be bestowed by the U.N. Security Council, where the recognition bid could be derailed if fewer than nine of the 15 members vote in favor or if the U.S. uses its veto, as it said it would.

U.S. officials believe six other members may vote against or abstain, meaning the Palestinians would fall short. That tally could not be immediately confirmed. An Israeli official said it’s too early to say how the votes would go, while a senior member of Abbas’ delegation said he believes 11 Security Council members will back the Palestinians.

In Warsaw, Poland, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, said it was seeking member consensus on the Palestinian bid for independence. Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said the EU’s position would depend on the wording of the Palestinian request, which is not yet known. Neither Britain nor France, both permanent members of the Security Council, have said how they will vote.

While the U.S. can derail the Palestinian bid at the Security Council in any scenario, the breakdown of the votes is key to both sides. Nine or more votes for the Palestinians would signal broad support for their statehood quest, while the U.S. image in the Arab world would suffer another blow if it uses its veto in this case.

Abbas said his plan, for now, is to go to the Security Council, but suggested he might change tactics at the last minute and go for the lesser option of General Assembly approval of Palestine as a nonmember observer state. Chances for success are much higher in the General Assembly, which Abbas is to address Friday.

“From now until delivering the speech at the General Assembly, we have no thought except going to the Security Council,” he said. “Then, whatever the decision is, we will sit with the leadership and decide.”

A nod from the General Assembly could give the Palestinians access to international judicial bodies such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.

The Israelis fear such courts would target them unfairly. The Palestinians are “going to the U.N. to get this state not to make peace but to challenge Israel’s legitimacy in international arenas and to try to undermine the peace process,” Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, told CNN. His comments reflected Israel’s concern about further isolation and underscored the country’s mistrust of the United Nations.

Abbas, meanwhile, said he was warned by American officials that “things will be very difficult after September.”

“We don’t know to what extent,” he said. “We will know later.”

Some members of Congress have been threatening to punish the Palestinians.

“Current and future aid will be jeopardized if you abandon direct negotiations and continue your efforts,” Reps. Kay Granger, Republican chairwoman of the House of Representatives Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, and Democrat Nita Lowey, the panel’s senior Democrat, wrote to Abbas this summer, echoing a plea they made to the Palestinian leader in an April letter.

Concerning the possibility of mass protests in the Palestinian territories, Abbas said, “All our people will do is demonstrate peacefully inside the (Palestinian) cities.”

Israeli security forces have been preparing for possible West Bank violence, but Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, played that down. “I am not identifying energy for violence and terror,” he told reporters.

Abbas, however, holds no sway over the Gaza Strip or its rulers from the violently anti-Israel group Hamas, which drove out forces loyal to Abbas during a power struggle in 2007. Hamas opposes the U.N. initiative.

Source: Associated Press



For Obama at UN, another troubled Mideast moment

In Barak Obama, News, Palestinian, United Nations on September 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm


United Nations


Dreaming big, President Barack Obama once envisioned this would be the moment when world leaders would gather to herald a new state of Palestine.

What waits for him instead at the United Nations this coming week is closer to a diplomatic nightmare that may isolate the United States, anger Congress, deepen the Mideast divide and cloud the rest of his agenda.

Fed up with failed talks with Israel, Palestinians plan to appeal directly to the U.N. for statehood. Obama is adamant that that approach will undermine the chances of a Palestinian state by ignoring the unresolved issues with Israel. So now he is in the unenviable spot of opposing an effort whose goals he supports and he’s nearly standing alone in doing so.

From the U.S. perspective, the options are not good.

Should the Palestinians press their case for full U.N. membership to the Security Council, as seems likely, the U.S. will veto it.

If the Palestinians go before the General Assembly for a lesser but still elevated form of member recognition, the U.S. lacks a veto there and will simply vote against it, placing it firmly in the minority and perhaps inflaming the Arab world.

American diplomats were making a furious effort to sway the Palestinians to drop their bid and restart talks with Israel over borders and security. But as the time grew short ahead of Obama’s scheduled arrival in New York on Monday, his administration already was trying look beyond any U.N. action in hopes of influencing whatever comes next.

“This is lose, lose, lose,” said Andrew Exum, a senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security. “A resolution before the U.N. Security Council will hurt the United States with the Arabic-speaking world if Obama is seen as standing in the way. The Israeli government and the state of Israel will feel more isolated. And Palestinian frustration will only grow.”

That frustration is surely felt at the White House, too.

Obama is facing questions about his commitment to Israel and his support among Jewish voters despite a record of support for Israel that analysts say has been strong and fair.

He has not been able to sway Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to abandon a bid that Obama calls a distraction. Members of Congress are angry about what they see as the Palestinians’ end-run around Israel and warning of intervening themselves. The world has watched as Obama’s domestic fights with lawmakers have undermined the standing of them all.

“There’s no question that he comes in with a perception, globally, that his hands are tied,” said Shibley Telhami, a scholar of Middle East policy and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

On the sidelines of the gathering, Obama will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in hopes of finding a way to restart Mideast negotiations. The White House said it had no such talks to announce with Abbas.

Even if the U.N. action on the Palestinian bid takes place after Obama departs New York, it is already casting a shadow over his broader message.

Over a busy stretch of meetings and speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday, Obama will give attention to the uprisings that have tossed aside dictators and sped hope for democracy across North Africa and the Middle East. The president and the U.N. itself want to hold up the international intervention in Libya as a success story of unity and strategic might.

Yet Obama steps back on the world stage under the weight of Mideast peace expectations that he himself set with his U.N. address of last year.

“We should reach for what’s best within ourselves,” Obama said last September in pushing for negotiated agreement on a sovereign Palestinian state. “If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations.”

Instead, Israeli-Palestinian talks collapsed.

Obama tried in May to inject some life by spelling out terms that could get both sides back to talking. He endorsed ironclad Israeli security and an independent Palestine that would be on the borders that existed before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, as adjusted by land swaps agreed upon by both sides.

Obama intends to stick with those principles and keep pushing for direct talks.

U.S. and European diplomats have been scrambling for the past week to craft a formula to bring the two sides together and avert the U.N. showdown. Their efforts have thus far come to naught. But envoys from the international group of Mideast negotiators — the U.S., the U.N., Russia and the European Union — planned to meet again Sunday in New York.

“It’s a hard problem that’s taken, of course, decades to address,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said. “But I think our fundamental message is going to be if you support Palestinian aspirations, if you support a Palestinian state, the way to accomplish that is through negotiations with Israel.”

Most member-states at the U.N. hold such strong views on the Palestinian pursuit of statehood that it is hard to see how a speech by Obama will make much of a difference, said Mark Quarterman, a former U.N. official who studies global response to crises at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“There might be frustration, but no shame, in not making the progress you think you should make,” he said. “The problem is now the Palestinians seem to have lost patience and are moving forward through another avenue. It’s not a diminishment of the United States. It is a difficult process is moving very slowly for a variety of reasons, some of which the United States has very little control over.”

Obama will address the world body on Wednesday.

He told a group of reporters recently that the fundamental challenge is the same: Neither side has made the compromises necessary to achieve peace.

“This issue is only going to be resolved by Israelis and Palestinians agreeing to something,” he said. “What happens in New York City can occupy a lot of press attention, but it’s not going to actually change what’s happening on the ground.”

Source:  Associated Press

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