Avineri: Israel behavior in sharp break with past

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The Israeli government’s rapid expansion of settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank in the wake of the UN vote on Palestine has alarmed Israel’s allies in the United States and Europe and represents a sharp break with Israeli foreign policy strategy in the past, argues Shlomo Avineri in Haaretz:

In responding to the UN vote on Palestinian statehood, the government’s decision to build in E-1 and in East Jerusalem is the exact opposite of the underlying principles of how Zionist and Israeli international policies have evolved over the years. When Israel wins broader and deeper international support, it can achieve its aims, and when it is isolated it fails to achieve them.

What the government is doing now is not successfully challenging the Palestinian leadership. Rather it is engaging in unnecessary quarreling with Israel’s supporters in the democratic world – the United States and the European countries. It is not enough to think you are right and to convince your supporters of that: In the cruel world of international politics, a small nation can achieve its aims only if it is able to forge alliances with the powers-that-be and to ensure their support – not out of love, but because they are convinced there is congruence between their countries’ interests, or their leaders’ considerations, and the aims of, in this case, Zionism and the State of Israel. […] Continue reading

Roundup: Israel chooses Hamas

(Photo: Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal reacts upon his arrival at the Rafah crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip December 7, 2012. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah.)

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US, Israel isolated as UN votes to upgrade Palestine status (Updated)


The United States and Israel appeared headed for a crushing defeat Thursday, as a vast majority of the world’s countries signaled they would vote in favor of the Palestinian bid to receive upgraded non-member observer status at the United Nations General Assembly. But some American diplomats and Israeli politicians said the diplomatic setback could be an opportunity for the Obama administration to rethink the politically cautious approach to the peace process it has taken over the past year.

The United States-Israeli position opposing the resolution appeared to be overwhelmingly isolated, with only around 10 countries expected to vote against the Palestinian measure, compared with some 150 expected to vote in favor.

(Update: As expected, the UN voted to upgrade Palestine’s status, with 138 nations voting in favor, 41 abstentions, and 9 votes against the measure. The no votes were: the US, Israel, Canada, Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Panama.)

Most strikingly, every country in Europe save for one signaled they were likely to abstain or vote in favor of the Palestinian statehood bid, including two of Israel’s closet allies. Germany, which had been expected to vote against the measure, abstained, and Italy, expected to abstain, said Thursday it would vote for the Palestinian status upgrade, along with France, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Ireland, and Austria. Britain abstained. S(o did Australia, following an uproar in the ruling party against Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s original intention to vote against the resolution.)

(Watch the vote at the UN General Assembly live here:)

The US diplomatic defeat could push the Obama administration to reconsider its recent hands-off approach to the peace process, following Israeli resistance to Obama’s first term efforts to bring the parties to the peace table, some American diplomats said. However, they acknowledged, Israel’s leadership showed few signs that it was prepared to reconsider its campaign to portray the moderate Palestinian Authority leadership as recalcitrant, even following the Gaza conflict this month, and Hamas’ growing political clout in the region.

“Look, there is no question this is a diplomatic defeat for the United States cause we tried very hard to postpone [this vote] and push it off the agenda altogether,” former US Ambassador to Israel and Egypt Daniel Kurtzer told Al-Monitor in an interview Thursday. “And one would assume that in the wake of a diplomatic setback, you do a lessons learned, a scrub, and you go back to some of the basics. Not just were the tactics right in trying to do this, was the strategy right.”

Such a review “may lead the President to conclude that what we thought was right thing to do last year in 2011 may not be right thing in 2012,” Kurtzer continued. “The circumstances are different—especially after what happened last week in Gaza, (when) the entire attention of the world was only focused on Hamas…the PLO was not just feeling marginalized, but the built-up frustration of kind of being the good boys.”

“Abbas gets his victory today at the UN. And that is where I think there is some diplomatic opportunity for the United States to help …persuade Abbas to have a timetable favorable to the President in terms of his next moves or non moves,” former Congressman Robert Wexler (D-Florida), a close ally of the Obama White House, told Al-Monitor in an interview Thursday, adding he saw signs that the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah may next move towards a unity government.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in New York Wednesday in an apparent last ditch effort to try to dissuade him from the move. (The photo above suggests the tone of their meeting was rather grim.) Burns “made a personal appeal to … Abbas promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013 if Abbas abandoned the effort to seek statehood,” the Associated Press reported. “The Palestinian leader refused, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.”

Meantime, several key Israeli politicians, including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, urged Israel and the US to support the Palestinian measure, noting it was headed for certain victory anyway, and that the resolution’s text essentially supports the vision for a two state solution that was once the consensus position of the Israeli (and American) mainstream. Continue reading

No clarity yet on dates for new Iran nuclear talks


Diplomats from six world powers, meeting in Brussels last week (Nov. 21), called for new talks with Iran as soon as possible.

But as yet, there is no clarity about when the next round of P5+1 Iran talks will happen, diplomats from the United States and Europe told Al-Monitor on Wednesday. “All dates circulating are speculation,” a European diplomat told Al-Monitor Wednesday. “No clarity yet” about a new meeting date, a US official said.

From Washington’s perspective, the feeling is that it’s better to meet as soon as possible. While Israel is currently distracted ahead of Israeli elections in January, there’s a sense in Washington that there’s not very many months to try to get an interim deal before there’s the likelihood of renewed Israeli pressure for possible military action, not to mention that Iran goes into its own campaign mode in the spring ahead of its presidential elections in June.

But chief international negotiator Catherine Ashton’s early December schedule is already pretty booked up, and Iran is due to hold meetings with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Iran December 13th, making it seemingly unlikely a meeting will happen before then. Ashton, just back from Central Asia, where chief US Iran negotiator Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman was also traveling this week, is also due to attend a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels next week.

“I think the problem is that scheduling this thing is just logistically tough,” a Washington non-proliferation expert said, noting that western governments effectively shut down on December 17 for the rest of the year for their holidays, then in early January the Russians shut down for Orthodox calendar holidays. Continue reading

Eutelsat pulls plug on Iran state media


The Iranian government has frequently jammed international satellite broadcasts of western media into the country, most recently blocking BBC and VOA Persian broadcasts of currency protests in Tehran.

But on Monday, it was not the Iranian government but European satellite provider, EutelSat, which claimed responsibility for 19 Iranian state-run television and radio stations abruptly going dark.

“Viewers in the Middle East, Iran’s main cornerstone of influence, and Europe as well as those inside Iran who accessed the channels through the popular Hotbird satellite no longer have access to the channels,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday:

Eutelsat Communications said it stopped broadcasting the Iranian channels in light of European sanctions approved in March and a French regulatory decision. …

Though Eutelsat’s decision to remove Iran’s government-owned channels isn’t related to the nuclear standoff, the move serves to isolate the Islamist Republic further. Continue reading

Netanyahu lashes out at US: No “moral right to place red light” on Israel


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unleashed a stunning tirade against the United States and European allies Tuesday, lambasting “world” leaders for not publicly setting “red lines” or “deadlines” on  Iran, while urging Israeli restraint on military action.

“The world tells Israel: ‘Wait, there’s still time,'” Netanyahu said at a press conference Tuesday, the New York Times reported. “‘And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’”

“Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel,” he continued.

“Netanyahu is going berserk,” a former Israeli official told Al-Monitor Tuesday. “By asking for red lines publicly, dialoguing with Obama through the media,” and by doing it on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The Israeli leader’s latest broadside against the United States appeared to be set off by comments made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday, that the United States is “not setting deadlines” on Iran diplomacy.

“We are not setting deadlines,” Clinton said in an interview with Bloomberg News Sunday. “We have always said every option was on the table, but we believe …the diplomatic effort …but also pressure …[are] by far, the best approach to take at this time.”

The comment appeared to infuriate Netanyahu, who spoke in English as he lambasted international calls for Israeli restraint at a press conference with visiting Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov Tuesday. His tirade also followed the urging of restraint and vows of international resolve by a parade of European foreign ministers to Israel in recent weeks.

“Now if Iran knows that there is no red line, if Iran knows that there is no deadline, what will it do?” Netanyahu said.

But former Israeli Defense Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dan Halutz, speaking Tuesday in Washington, said that it would be a mistake to publicly spell out “red lines” on Iran–as Israeli political leaders are imploring the White House to do.

“Red lines are red the moment one is drawing them,” Halutz said at the Brookings Institution Saban Center for Middle East Studies Tuesday. “But at the time to take a decision, the color is not red. The situation is changing all the time. We live in a very dynamic world….You cannot stick to the decision to act accordingly later.” Continue reading

EU-3 call for toughening sanctions on Iran amid diplomatic stalemate

The British, French and German foreign ministers called Friday for intensifying European Union sanctions on Iran, as western powers sought to show resolve in the face of Iran’s nuclear defiance and deter possible Israeli military action.

“It is necessary to increase pressure on Iran, to intensify sanctions, to add further to EU sanctions that are already enforced,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters ahead of an informal meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Cyprus Friday, Reuters reported.

“Sanctions are necessary and soon. I can’t see there is really a constructive will on the Iranian side for substantial talks,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Reuters.

The United States has also prepared a new file of sanctions that are aimed at squeezing Iranian financial reserves, diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor.

The show of resolve came as nuclear negotiations between six world powers and Iran remain at an impasse. Three rounds of meetings this year, and European oil sanctions that went into effect in July,  have so far failed to persuade Iran to agree to international demands that it “stop, ship and shut” its higher level 20% uranium enrichment activities and close its fortified Fordow enrichment facility. Iran has said it would be willing to discuss ending its 20% enrichment but wants recognition of its right to lower level enrichment for energy purposes, and sanctions relief.

Political directors from the P5+1, conferring in a conference call last week, decided not to hold another P5+1/Iran meeting at this time, the diplomatic sources said.

Of the six nations that make up the group–the United States, UK, France, Germany, China and Russia–only Moscow’s envoy expressed support for another meeting, a western diplomatic source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “Even the Chinese opposed” a meeting now, as no success is expected.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told foreign ministers she’d urged Iran, in a phone call with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator early last month, “to look very carefully at the proposals that have been put forward by the E3+3, so that we can now move forward.”

“Some ministers discussed the possibility of further sanctions,” an EU diplomat told Al-Monitor Friday. “I guess we will come back to this issue as not all ministers spoke, so it’s hard to judge whether there’s consensus or not.”

The EU-3 foreign minister statements Friday were largely intended to rally internal European resolve. They are “a joint reminder…that pressure is needed at the highest level…and to keep all of them motivated despite the adverse economic effect,” a second European diplomat told Al-Monitor Friday on condition of anonymity. “In terms of new sanctions, the thinking is in progress …In the meantime, we need to make sure there is no loophole.”

Efforts by the UN atomic watchdog agency to get access to an Iranian military base are similarly at an impasse. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in August that Iran had been engaging in an extensive clean up at the Parchin base, which some agency inspectors suspect may have been previously used to test a nuclear explosive device. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes.

“Basically the IAEA track is stuck and very much linked to progress in P5+1 talks,” the diplomat said. “The “Iranians are blocking everything on the IAEA track.” Continue reading

Iran envoy blames Israel for Bulgaria bus bombing


Iran’s UN envoy denied on Wednesday that Iran had any role in the July 18th Bulgaria bus bombing that killed five Israeli tourists, and charged Israel with plotting the attack. His comments came as Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor was in Israel to discuss the bombing probe, and as the chairman of the House intelligence panel said he believed Hezbollah carried out the attack under the direction of Iran.

“I believe there were certainly elements of Hezbollah [involved] and I believe it was under the direction of their masters in Iran,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) told The Hill newspaper Wednesday.

“I think the president needs to call Iran on the carpet very publicly and tell them what we know,” Rogers added. “This is his time to stand up and do something bold.”

Iran’s UN envoy Mohammed Khazaee said Iran condemned the Bulgaria bus bombing but then suggested it was part of an Israeli plot to blame Iran.

“The representative of the Zionist criminal regime leveled baseless allegations against my country on the issue of recent terrorist attack in Bulgaria and Iran’s peaceful nature of nuclear activities,” Amb. Mohammad Khazaee said at a UN meeting on the Middle East Wednesday, according to a statement sent to Al Monitor by the Iranian mission to the UN.

“Such terrorist operation could only be planned and carried out by the same regime whose short history is full of state terrorism operations and assassinations aimed at implicating others for narrow political gains.”

Israel’s deputy UN ambassador Haim Waxman said the comments are “appalling, but not surprising” coming “from the same government that says the 9/11 attack was a conspiracy theory,” UN correspondent Colum Lynch reported.

A spokeswoman for US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the office had no immediate comment. “Our position on the Bulgaria attack has been well documented so far I think,” Erin Pelton, a spokeswoman for Rice, said by email.

Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor John Brennan met with Israeli officials in Jerusalem Wednesday to discuss the Bulgaria bus bombing probe. Earlier in the week he  traveled to Bulgaria for briefings on the investigation. While he deferred to Bulgarian authorities to announce any findings to date, he did add that “there are clear indications that Hezbollah and Iran have been involved in terrorist plotting against innocents in many parts of the world,” he said at a news conference with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov July 24, the New York Times reported.

Analysts said Iran’s use of terrorism had become more aggressive over the past year. Continue reading