Israel Intel Minister: Not pessimistic about Iran deal

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Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said Tuesday that he believes Iran is “serious” about wanting to make a nuclear deal to save its economy. But he pressed for no let-up in economic pressure unless Iran agrees to terms for a deal that many US national security experts believe could preclude a diplomatic compromise.

“I think they are serious,” Steinitz, speaking to al-Monitor in an interview Tuesday, said of the Iranians. “They want an agreement.”

But the deal they are aiming for, he said, is a “North Korea-type,” under which Iran would freeze, rather than dismantle, major elements of its nuclear program, and offer “better inspections procedures.”

“Nuclear energy without enrichment is the only reasonable compromise,” he said.

Steinitz was in Washington leading an Israeli delegation attending two days of high-level talks with US counterparts as part of the US-Israel Strategic Dialogue. US Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman addressed the gathering Wednesday, the State Department said.

Sherman led the US delegation to P5+1 talks with Iran in Geneva last week in which the Iranians “were saying they are ready to discuss” various elements of a potential nuclear compromise, Steinitz said. Though their proposal was not very detailed, Steinitz said he understood, he said he did not interpret that necessarily as a sign of lack of seriousness.

“I am not pessimistic,” Steinitz said. Iran's economic problems have brought Iranian leaders to realize they have a “dilemma,” he said. “If it’s put to them, ‘Look, the time to maneuver… is over. After ten years of negotiations… enough is enough. You have to make a decision. You want to save the Iranian economy? You have to give up your military nuclear project on all its components. You choose to continue with your military nuclear program? You will destroy the Iranian economy,” or face possible military action.

Steinitz, in the interview, argued against any sort of interim deal that might offer Iran an easing of sanctions in exchange for nuclear concessions. The concern, he said, is that once any sanctions are eased, the entire sanctions regime will crumble, and won’t be able to be ramped back up if Iran backslides on the agreement.

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Israeli lawmakers, in letter, throw support to Kerry peace efforts


The head of a coalition of some three dozen Israeli lawmakers has written U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praising his Middle East peacemaking efforts and urging him to persevere, despite push-back from some members of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

“We are writing to you to inform you of the formation of the Knesset Caucus for Ending the Israeli-Arab Conflict, and to convey our gratitude and support to you for your continuing diplomatic effort to revitalize the Arab-Israeli peace process,” Israeli deputy speaker of the Knesset Hilik Bar wrote in the letter to Sec. Kerry, dated June 5th. The Caucus, formed last month, “stands ready as your willing and able partner in our shared mission to get to Two States for Two Peoples.”

Kerry, in remarks to the American Jewish Committee (AJC) this week, “asked the audience there to 'seize the moment'…; we here in the Knesset aim to do just that,” Bar's letter continued. “As you articulated so eloquently…Israel’s survival as a secure, democratic and Jewish homeland depends on the realization of a final-status agreement that creates two-states for people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”

Bar's letter, published in full below the jump, comes as a counter-point to remarks by Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon Wednesday, warning that the Israeli government would vote to reject any two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

“If you will bring it [the two state solution] to a vote in the government…you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it,” Danon said in an interview with the Times of Israel Wednesday.

“What happens in the coming days will dictate what happens in the coming decades,” Kerry told the AJC in a speech Monday (June 3rd). “If we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.”

The Knesset pro two-state coalition currently counts about 40 members, from the Labor, Hatenu'a, Shas, Yesh Atid, Hadash, Hatnua and Meretz parties, according to a list provided to Al-Monitor. It has the support of Israeli cabinet ministers Tzipi Livni, Yaakov Perry and opposition chair and Labor party leader Shelly Yechimovich.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a query about whether Kerry had received the letter, or his reaction to it.

Kerry is expected to travel to Israel, Ramallah and Jordan yet again next week – his fifth trip to the region since becoming Secretary of State. Kerry, in his remarks to the AJC, highlighted the Arab League's reissuing of the Arab Peace Initiative last month, and its new position endorsing possible land-swaps in an agreement on the borders for a Palestinian state.

Newly joining Frank Lowenstein in aiding Kerry’s efforts in the State Department office of the Middle East peace envoy is former Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Pentagon Middle East advisor Ilan Goldenberg, sources tell the Back Channel.

Full letter from MK Hilik Bar to Sec. Kerry, not previously published, below the jump: Continue reading

Roundup: Kerry for Secretary of State

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Wieseltier: Losing hope on Israeli-Palestinian peace

Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of the New Republic who has long pro-Israel ties, captured the sense of despair among some in Washington at the direction of Israeli politics in the wake of Israel’s decision to build in the sensitive E1 corridor and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s uncomfortable presentation to the Saban Forum earlier this month:

I no longer believe that peace between Israelis and Palestinians will occur in my lifetime. I have not changed my views; I have merely lost my hopes. [...]

In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu petulantly responds to the General Assembly vote with an outrageous proposal for Jewish housing in the area east of Jerusalem known as “E1,” which would scuttle any cartographically meaningful state for the Palestinians. He allies his party with the party of Avigdor Lieberman, the fascist face of Israel, who has proposed loyalty oaths for Israeli Arabs, and then his party, I mean the Likud, demotes its moderates and promotes the odious likes of Moshe Feiglin, who refers to Arabs as Amalek and advocates their “voluntary transfer” from Israel. As these anti-democratic maniacs flourish in Netanyahu’s base, one increasingly hears in those quarters the ugly old refrain that Jordan is the Palestinian state. And there is no significant opposition to Likud [...] People assure me that all this can change if there is the political will to change it; but I do not detect the political will. So what if the two-state solution is the only solution, when nobody is desperate to solve the problem?…

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who announced upon his return to Israel from the United States this past week that he will not run in elections next month, warned that Israel's E1 building policies are further isolating Israel from the rest of the world, including its friends in the United States.

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Israel unity government unravels over draft law

Israel’s two-month old unity government appeared to be dissolving Tuesday, as Shaul Mofaz, the leader of centrist Kadima party, said talks had failed on a law on drafting Israel’s ultra-Orthodox into the military.

“Netanyahu has chosen to side with the draft-dodgers,” Mofaz said after a Kadima meeting Tuesday, Haaretz reported. “I have reached an understanding that the prime minister has not left us a choice and so we have responded.”

Mofaz rejected a compromise proposal submitted Tuesday morning by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which would have called for ultra Orthodox Israeli males to be subject to conscription from 18-23 years old. After 23 years old, they would be directed to the civil service. Continue reading

Israel’s Netanyahu, Mofaz said to form coalition, cancel early elections

In a surprise move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz have reportedly agreed to form a coalition government, cancelling plans for early elections that had been expected to take place on September 4.

A spokeswoman for Netanyahu’s Likud party said that Netanyahu and Mofaz would formally announce the unity government deal at a press conference Tuesday at 10:30 am in the Knesset, the Jerusalem Post’s Gil Hoffman wrote on Twitter.

The Times of Israel’s David Horovitz reports on the political calculations that may have made such a unity government deal attractive for Netanyahu:

…At the eleventh hour, just before his colleagues were set to vote the 18th Knesset into history, Netanyahu achieved a whole slew of tactical victories. He widened his coalition to include the largest party in parliament, signing the deal with Mofaz that he and the former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni could not bring themselves to ratify, no matter how beneficial each might have believed it to be for their parties and the nation. He now heads a vast coalition, in which the minor parties immediately muster less influence, and have consequently less capacity to try to manipulate the national agenda for their narrower needs. [...]

 

In Mofaz, he has a partner who demonstrably wants to sit in government, and with whom he quite plainly can find a common and expedient language. … The last thing Mofaz wanted was to face the voters with Kadima heading for only 12 or so seats. [...]

The deal also shows that Netanyahu “hates taking chances,” writes Haaretz editor in chief Aluf Benn: Continue reading