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Commentary: The ambiguous Mr. Obama

August 23, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM– More than any other national leader, Barack Obama has a global constituency. The world does not vote in American elections, but his capacity to fulfill his obligations depends on the cooperation of other national leaders, and the opinions of publics that have at least a minimum of influence on them.
Balancing those far flung publics is not easy. The task may have something to do with the 20 percent of Americans who are think that their president is a Muslim, and his forth and back postures with respect to the controversial idea to build a mosque near Ground Zero.
The tensions built into the world context of his presidency also help us to understand his repeated efforts to divorce the concepts of Islam and terror, while he is leading the greatest crusade against Islam since the 13th century.

Politicians lie. Of course. They have to. How else to juggle the multiple obligations they are expected to serve. They say one thing and do something else. The higher the office, the more likely the dissembling. And Obama’s is the highest.

His loyal supporters may already be furious at me. He did not begin the war against Iraq. He has proudly announced the withdrawal of combat troops, but commentators are not confident that he is leaving behind anything close to a victory, or a  regime that can keep things stable. He has adopted and expanded American military efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Barack Obama makes Richard the Lionheart look like a boy who got into a schoolyard brawl.

Guantanomo is still holding jihadists, despite the president’s campaign pledge to close it down. This may not be his desire, but who can be sure about the desires of a politician who has to serve so many interests, and is beholden to Congress, the courts, advisors who may convince him to abandon some commitments, and–in this case–the governments of other countries not enthusiastic about taking some of those prisoners off his hands?

Obama has had a mixed record on Israel, but mixed records are the nature of political leadership.

After his Cairo speech and demanding a freeze of building for Jews in neighborhoods of Jerusalem, only 4 percent of the Israeli Jewish population felt he was supportive. Since then, however, he has backed off from his sweeping demands against the country’s capital city, and his invitation to Israeli-Palestinian talks is close to the Israeli desire of no preconditions.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes what has been seen for some time in Israeli media, that American military aid remains at a high level, with Israeli access to some of the most advanced weaponry, and joint exercises that may surpass what previous administrations have offered. One passage in the WSJ reinforces the image of a crusade against Islamic extremists.

“The intensified partnership is part of the Obama administration’s broader policy of boosting military support for American allies in the Mideast amid heightened tensions with Iran and its allies such as Hezbollah and Hamas . . .”

Judging presidents is a task best left to historians and others with a broad perspective, some years after an incumbent has left office. Archives, memoirs, and contemplation can take the place of partisan passions. Even distance leaves open a number of difficult issues. How much credit should be given to any president for the nature of a national economy that responds to international and non-governmental stimuli, as well as to what the president does on top of what former presidents did? A dispassionate assessment of what came out of Congress and the White House under the heading of health reform might conclude that it is a mess not likely to deal with the self-serving efforts of insurance companies and HMOs, but only a child would think that a president can dictate legislation in such a context, or even maintain control over the details in a bill that grows from 1,000 to more than 2,000 pages.

Obama stirs passions. Soon after his inauguration, there were reports that he was the most threatened president since the Secret Service began its protection after the assassination of William McKinley. More recent news is that the tempo has declined to what has been the norm. 

The President’s 2008 campaign stimulated great emotion, but a careful study of his nomination indicates that it had something to do with the formulas used by state Democratic parties to divide the delegates between him and HIllary Clinton (Mattan Sharkansky, “The Impact of the Electoral System on Delegate Allocations in the 2008 American Primaries,” Representation, 46/2, July 2010). Obama’s victory in November was more clear cut, but we can argue if that was on account of Obama, McCain, or Palin.

Currently the tea leaves do not look promising for his party’s success in the mid-term Congressional elections, and I have not seen any rosy predictions for his success in 2012. That, too, is part of the job. George Washington might have still been a national hero when he left office, but that is not the image of presidents that I have been observing since FDR.

*
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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Palestinian and Israeli visitors ponder business together

August 22, 2010 1 comment

Emad Nuseibeh and Amir Gur-Lavie (Photo: Bonnie Stewart)

By Donald H. Harrison 

Donald H. Harrison

LA MESA, California – Emad Ahmed Fuad Nuseibeh, a major Palestinian grower of vegetables and herbs, and Amir Gur-Lavie, an owner of Zeta, a large distributor of Israeli olive oil, cheerfully agreed to pose together following a dinner at Vine Ripe Market here. Nuseibeh and Gur-Lavie smiled warmly like old friends, whereas, in fact, they had only met a few days before. 

The market and restaurant is part of a chain co-founded by Ali Baba Abdallah, a Palestinian refugee who had lived in Jordan and Lebanon before immigrating in 1982 to the United States, where he built a successful career as a grower and marketer.  

The two men were among a group of Palestinians and Israeli Jews brought together through the combined efforts of the Peres Peace Center in Jaffa, Arab businessman Sam Husseini of Jerusalem, and the Hansen Institute for World Peace at San Diego State University.   They and others met to discuss and to refine an idea that the Peres and Hansen groups have been developing over several years now: creating a blended olive oil made from Israeli and Palestinian olives to be sold as a “peace product” in U.S. stores. 

Ali-Baba Abdallah (Photo: Bonnie Stewart)

 If the project comes to fruition, the new brand may have a ready customer in Abdallah, whose store specializes in foods from the Middle East, both Arab and Jewish.  Abdallah explained that in San Diego there are many immigrant communities who hunger for foods from home, and he makes it his business to satisfy their tastes.  The chance for Arabs and Jews to peacefully mingle together as customers in his store is a side benefit paralleling the joint goals of the Peres Peace Center, the Hansen Institute and Husseini’s Lion Heart business development company, a new partner in the peace consortium. 

As Abdallah had tray after tray of Middle Eastern appetizers, salads and entrees brought to the long table in a patio area alongside his market on Fletcher Parkway, the meeting was one for socializing amid the familiar tastes and aromas of the guests’ Middle Eastern homes.   

The Palestinian and Israeli business people on that day had toured such markets as Ralphs, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Henry’s and now Vine Ripe, to gain an insight into California food consumer tastes.  The tour followed days of lectures and panels at San Diego State University on trends in the American food industry, as well as a visit to the Temecula Olive Oil groves in Aguanga, California.  The group also had some recreational outings together, including the San Diego Zoo, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, La Jolla and on the following day would visit the Star of India at the Embarcadero. 

When the meal was done, Nuseibeh and Gur-Lavie both agreed to share their impressions with this reporter. 

Like the other Palestinians at the meeting, Nuseibeh lives in East Jerusalem, now claimed by Israel  but which could possibly  become the capital of a new Palestinian state, depending on how direct peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials —scheduled to begin next month—settle the volatile question.  Nuseibeh also owns a large farm near Jericho, where he grows various desert produce, and another where he produces herbs sold directly to the U.S. market. 

The San Diego trip “was a great experience for me,” said Nuseibeh.  “We have met great people who in fact are our neighbors but we didn’t know them until we reached here in the States.   I hope that, after knowing them, how they are thinking and what kind of businesses they have, that we can do some business together, in order to cut, or break the obstacles that have prevented us from working together.” 

Asked about creating special olive oils, that might blend Israeli and Palestinian varieties, and maybe even some of Nuseibeh’s herbs, Nuseibeh responded: 

“I think it is a good idea to start a business together, but there are a lot of obstacles, a lot of problems,” that must be resolved first, he said. “We have to do things here in the States, a lot of work, a lot of research, and I don’t think at this moment that we as Israeli and Palestinian business people can  come up with the money.  I hope we can find a source for finance, and I think that with these ideas that we have—to work with good-willed people—we will be able to succeed.” 

The Nuseibeh Agricultural Co. for Marketing and Production (NAMP) has for over a half century exported oranges to the United Kingdom, as well as a variety of citrus and bananas to Jordan and to the Gulf countries.  When exports to Jordan slowed down, Nuseibeh developed herb products, which he sold to the Israeli market.  Initially, sales to the U.S. market went through Israel, but now NAMP is shipping about $1 million annually in herbs directly to the United States. 

The joint meeting in San Diego with Israeli agriculturalists was not limited to olives, Nuseibeh said.  

“We are thinking of ways to combine the Israeli produce and the Palestinian produce,” and to devise “new ideas in order to work together for their benefit and our benefit,” he said.  “At the end, it is business.  So we are trying hard to find new things, new ideas.  It may not be in olives, or vegetables, or herbs; maybe it is a new idea that could succeed.” 

Indicating other Palestinians and Israelis seated at the table,  Nuseibeh added:  “Everyone has their own experience. Some of us have experience in marketing or in finding finance; others have experience in growing and having good, high quality produce, and so the thing is we have to find something that can work in order to succeed in this.” 

Whatever products are eventually developed, Nuseibeh said the meetings are a harbinger of what real peace between Israelis and Palestinians might mean.  “We need it for both of us, the Israelis and the Palestinians,” he declared.  It is a need, it is a must.  And when we are doing this, maybe it is a small step, but everyone profits, the Israelis and the Palestinians.  You are going toward the same light at the end of the tunnel.  Maybe what we are doing is a small step, but at the end, Palestinians and Israelis are people who want to reach that same light and to get to the end of this mess we have.  It might help, this thing we are doing. We are not going against anyone.  The peace process is going on; maybe it (the San Diego meeting) is a mile out of the million, but it is a mile.” 

Gur-Lavie is the owner of Zeta in the Galilean town of Mitzpe Hila – known throughout Israel as the hometown of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held in captivity for several years by the Hamas government in Gaza.  Besides owning the company which produces three million bottles a year of olive oil, Gur-Lavie serves on a committee with Shalit’s parents trying to keep the issue of ending Shalit’s captivity before the world. 

About the San Diego meetings, Gur-Lavie said: “I don’t know what will be the result, but the main goal we have already reached.  It was wonderful. We (Palestinians and Israelis) had the possibility to sit together and to think together, and anyhow we have new friends, and we hope also to have new products for the grocery market.  We need to find the way to do it.  I am sure that we will find the way to do something—perhaps small, perhaps big—but actually the biggest thing, we already have done. 

Bentzi Elisha, who is the chief executive officer of Zeta, added.  “Sometimes we have to come to the States to find that we can be together and talk about everything, and laugh about the same things – really, because we became friends.” 

The Hansen Institute has been quietly bringing Arabs and Israelis together—even in the absence of diplomatic relations between their countries – since the time following the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.  

Bonnie Stewart, the executive director, has witnessed a process many times in which the Arabs and Israelis first regarded each other with suspicion and had to air out some of their political differences before getting down to business discussions. 

Not so this meeting, commented Gur-Lavie.  “We had heard this would happen… but we didn’t feel that, even at the airport.  We started with friendship.   Look, we also talk very openly about the problems. We know we can’t avoid the problems but we think that with friendship we are able to talk about it … We know that is from business that maybe we will be able to make the peace sooner. If we wait for the conflict to be solved, and then talk about business, maybe it will take 100 years.” 

While creating a peace product is a relatively new idea, Gur-Lavie said that his company has been bottling both Israeli and Palestinian olive oils for years.  Noting that his company recently won four Gold Medals in an international olive oil competition, he expressed confidence that something “unique and of a very high quality” eventually can be created and marketed. 

Both Gur-Lavie and Nuseibeh had praise for San Diego State and the Hansen Institute specifically, and for San Diego generally. 

Said the Israeli of San Diego: “It is a very nice and pleasant place to be.  I have been in many places in America, but such a nice hospitality!  All the Americans we are with from the Hansen Institute and the University are doing an excellent job.  They believe that it is important to help us bring the peace, and I really just want to say thank you.” 

Nuseibeh concurred, saying: “People in the Middle East know Americans in two or three things, in their bullets, in their bombs that say ‘made in the U.S.A.,’  and in their vetoes in the U.N.  They don’t know the people, but this time and my last visit to the U.S., I met a lot of people and I found something else.  I found people  who want to help, people…who need to know how they can make the people in front of them as happy as they are…. If someone here is convinced by a cause, he will devote his life, money, fortune and time to the cause.  And it doesn’t matter how much effort it will take.   There are many people in the Middle East who do not know the Americans well; they should see the people, the American people.” 

Besides Nuseibeh and Sam Husseini, other members of the Palestinian delegation included Abdel Muti Qutob, whose businesses include agriculture produce in the Auja region near Jericho, as well as real estate development elsewhere; and Rami Assali, financial and administrative manager for Search for Common Ground, a non-governmental agency in Jerusalem.

Israelis in addition to Gur-Lavi and Elisha included Ofer Ensher, managing director of Hefer Systems & Controls, which is a large company in the fields of water and waste water processes; and the following staff members of the Peres Center for Peace: Roi Dai, the finance director; Oren Blonder, director,  and Moran Diment, manager, in the agriculture, water and environment department. 

Numerous Americans interacted with the two delegations.  Among those who participated in seminars with them were  Stewart, the director of the Hansen Institute; Sanford Ehrlich, Qualcomm Executive Director of Entrepreneurship at SDSU’s Entrepreneurial Management Center (EMC);  Alex DeNoble, chair of the Management department of SDSU’s College of Business Administration;  Bernard Schroeder, director of EMC programs; Evan Schlessinger, president of the Springboard Company, which helps bring new products and innovations to market,  and Marvin Spira, president of Marketing Consultants, International, which specializes in the marketing of food products. 

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.

Intimidation persuades many Arabs to never cross the party line

August 21, 2010 Leave a comment

By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA — Heartwarming words from Sarah Shiha, a student at Ain Shams University in Cairo: “Apart from the political issues, we are humans. I respect your religion, you respect mine.”

Her next comment, on Israel, sounded more robotic than humane: “What we see is that we had a land, and that people came and took this land. Now they want to stay here, and every day they are killing more and more of our siblings.”

Shiha is among 20 students from Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon who participated in a five-week program sponsored by the U.S. State Department to learn how religious pluralism is among America’s great strengths, according to an article in The Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia.

It seems that Shiha and her associates could have been a tad more diplomatic, especially since her inflammatory comment might be read by thousands of American Jews. She could have easily sidestepped the question by insisting she needed to learn more about the Israeli/Arabic conflict, couldn’t she? She might have faced more than verbal disdain back home. She might be murdered by her own people.

In the Middle East, free speech can carry a fatal price. Arabs have murdered their own who were suspected of collaborating with Israel, and Arab leaders who suggested or acted upon peaceful existence with Israel. Remember Anwar el-Sadat?

Yasser Arafat indicated that he feared a comparable fate if he assented to the peace plan offered during the Camp David summit 10 years ago. In his book “The Missing Peace,” Dennis Ross (then President Clinton’s Middle East envoy) relates a conversation in which Arafat asked then secretary of state Madeleine Albright if she wanted to attend his funeral. This comment came out of left field, but why else would he say this?

Arafat’s comment could invite some sarcastic responses – such as, his funeral was long overdue. I think his top motive for rejecting the plan was fear that other Arabs would kill him because they refused to accept any peace settlement.

It is clear that many Arabs keep silent because they fear retaliation. Of course, it is impossible to determine how many Arabs really loathe Israel and those who follow the script to protect themselves and their families.

Examples do abound. Before returning to his current prime minister post, Benjamin Netanyahu was asked by a television interviewer to identify Arab businesspeople with whom he communicates; he refused because, he said, it would jeopardize their lives. I recently read a report of an Arab man who saved Jews during World War II and told them to say nothing about his help. Israeli leaders claim that Arabs who sold land to Jews denied doing so because they could be harmed.

Some months ago, a native Iranian on a German sports team refused to play against an Israeli team. He did not offer this as a reason, but he still had family in Iran who could be endangered by his participation in that game.
 

The Arab and Muslim world is tightly controlled in parts. Putting Israel aside, ordinary Arabs and Muslims must worry about violent feuds between families and tribes, honor killings of women and conflicts with the ruling class. On Aug. 8, an Iranian attorney fled to Norway after he defended a woman who faced being stoned to death because she allegedly committed adultery. An Afghan couple were stoned to death, on Taliban orders, because they allegedly cheated on his wife and her family-chosen fiance.

Those familiar with the Middle East attest that roughly half of Turkish and Iranian citizens are sensible people who yearn for more moderate leaders. Egyptian businesspersons worked well with their Israeli counterparts, and Turks in the military oppose their ultra-religious regime. 

Tom Friedman of The New York Times reported on a Gazan woman whose son’s life was saved by a Jewish physician at an Israeli hospital. Now she wants her son to blow up…er, grow up…to become a suicide bomber. Consider that she must return home to face not only her neighbors but also Hamas, which has the power to make life miserable for her.

It is most annoying that American Muslims readily complain of bigotry, yet are less consistent in condemning Islamic-related violence – especially when Israelis are victimized. Muslim society in America appears to be closeted and hard to figure out.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the driving force behind the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, dodged a radio reporter’s question as to whether he concurred with the State Department’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist group, The New York Jewish Week reported.

Said Rauf: “I’m not a politician. I try to avoid the issues. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question…I’m a bridge builder. I define my work as a bridge builder…I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.”

Far from an exercise in clarity.

It is strange that free speech exists on two levels in our own country – one standard for most of us and a self-imposed standard for a stifled and bewildering minority.

*
Ticker is the Philadelphia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World
 He may be contacted via bticker@comcast.net

Mubarak, King Abdullah invited to help launch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

August 20, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)–Following is a transcript of the news conference at which Secretary of STate Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell outlined the agreement between Palestinians and Israelis to directly negotiate for peace.  The news conference was moderated by Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley:

MR. CROWLEY: Good morning and welcome to the Department of State. We have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton here along with our Special Envoy George Mitchell to tell you about the most recent developments in our pursuit of Middle East peace. The Secretary will begin with a brief statement. George Mitchell will stay behind to answer your questions. And we are joined today by your colleagues in the White House Press Corps up in Martha’s Vineyard and we’ll be sharing the – they’ll be sharing the Q&A duties with you.

But we’ll start with Secretary Clinton.

QUESTION: I don’t like that idea. They’re in Martha’s Vineyard. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I will appoint a negotiator to deal with that. (Laughter.)

Since the beginning of this Administration, we have worked with the Israelis and Palestinians and our international partners to advance the cause of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including a two-state solution which ensures security and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians. The President and I are encouraged by the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas and fully share their commitment to the goal of two states – Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

After proximity talks and consultations with both sides, on behalf of the United States Government, I’ve invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet on September 2nd in Washington, D.C. to re-launch direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues, which we believe can be completed within one year.

President Obama has invited President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan to attend in view of their critical role in this effort. Their continued leadership and commitment to peace will be essential to our success. The President will hold bilateral meetings with the four leaders followed by a dinner with them on September 1st. The Quartet Representative Tony Blair has also been invited to the dinner in view of his important work to help Palestinians build the institutions of their future state, an effort which must continue during the negotiations. I’ve invited Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to join me here at the State Department on the following day for a trilateral meeting to re-launch direct negotiations.

As we move forward, it is important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it. There have been difficulties in the past; there will be difficulties ahead. Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles. The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks. But I ask the parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times, and to continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region.

As we have said before, these negotiations should take place without preconditions and be characterized by good faith and a commitment to their success, which will bring a better future to all of the people of the region.

George. Thank you all.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, are you traveling to Pakistan (inaudible) concern, Madam? Thank you, Madam.

MR. MITCHELL: I’ll be pleased to respond to any of your questions.

QUESTION: As tempted as I am to ask you about Roger Clemens, I’d rather – or P.J. perhaps. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: I predicted that.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what was the turning point here? What was it that got the – that overcame the final snags to get them to come back to direct talks?

MR. MITCHELL: We believe it’s the recognition by the parties themselves, by their leaders – Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas – that the best outcome is an agreement which results in two states living side by side in peace and security, and that the only way that can be achieved is through direct negotiations between the parties in which the United States will be an active and sustained participant, and with the full support of our many friends and allies around the world, including, of course, specifically, the Quartet.

QUESTION: But what was it that got them to – I mean, you’ve been trying to do this for months now.

MR. MITCHELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: And why – so why – how is it that today, you’ve gotten to this point, whereas three days ago, you weren’t at this point?

MR. MITCHELL: Yeah. I think it’s the cumulative result of the efforts made over that time and the recognition by the parties that this is the right time. We will be active participants and there is broad support, as you know, by members of the Quartet and others around the world. But in the end, these decisions will be made by the parties themselves.

MR. CROWLEY: And (inaudible) Senator Mitchell —

QUESTION: Senator Mitchell, could you —

MR. MITCHELL: I’ll let – why don’t I let P.J. —

QUESTION: Could you talk about the sequencing of the talks? Will they discuss territory, refugees, or Jerusalem first, or will this all be in parallel?

MR. MITCHELL: All permanent status issues will be on the table. It will be for the parties themselves to decide the manner by which they should be addressed.

QUESTION: Senator Mitchell —

QUESTION: Yes. Madam Secretary mentioned without doubt there will be more – without doubt, there will be more obstacles. What will these obstacles be? What are the main sticking points that are going to be going forward?

MR. MITCHELL: We are all well aware that there remains mistrust between the parties, a residue of hostility developed over many decades of conflict, many previous efforts that have been made to resolve the conflict that had not succeeded, all of which takes a very heavy toll on both societies and their leaders. In addition, we all know that, as with all societies, there are differences of opinion on both sides on how best to proceed, and as a result, this conflict has remained unresolved over many decades and through many efforts. We don’t expect all of those differences to disappear when talks begin. Indeed, we expect that they will be presented, debated, discussed, and that differences are not going to be resolved immediately.

But we do believe that peace in the Middle East, comprehensive peace, including, but not limited to, an end to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, is very much in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, of all people in the region; it’s in the national security interests of the United States, and therefore, we are going to continue to pursue that objective with patience, perseverance, and determination. We know that will be difficult. We know, as the Secretary said, there will be obstacles. But we’re going to proceed, as I said, with patience, perseverance, and determination.

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Senator Mitchell, sir, the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the United States have been down that road many times before. Now, what is in your opinion, sir, this time around that engenders – or should engender hope and optimism to get these talks into its intended end? And what kind of incentive did you offer President Abbas to entice him into the direct talks?

MR. MITCHELL: I don’t want to repeat everything I said in response to prior questions, but I will say that I believe that it is very much in the interest of people in both societies that there be an end to this conflict enabling both to live in peace and security. And I believe that their leaders believe and understand that, and therefore, notwithstanding the many difficulties that they face – and we recognize those difficulties – this is the best course for them.

On the question of past efforts in failing and succeeding, I’ll return, if I might, to my experience in Northern Ireland. I chaired three separate sets of discussions in Northern Ireland, spanning a period overall of five years. The main negotiation lasted for 22 months. During that time, the effort was repeatedly branded a failure. I was asked at least dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times when I was leaving because the effort had failed.

And of course, if the objective is to achieve a peace agreement, until you do achieve one, you have failed to do so. In a sense, in Northern Ireland, we had about 700 days of failure and one day of success. And we approach this task with the same determination to succeed notwithstanding the difficulties and notwithstanding the inability to get a final result so far, including past efforts. But past efforts at peace that did not succeed cannot deter us from trying again, because the cause is noble and just and right for all concerned.

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s take Michele and then Kirit and then we’ll go up to Martha’s Vineyard and come back.

Michele.

QUESTION: I wanted to get a sense of this timeline, this 12 months that the Secretary talked about. Do you see that as a deadline or is that – or is it looser than that? And also, just following up on this other question. I mean, what makes this peace process any different from all other peace processes?

MR. MITCHELL: We will only know the answer to your second question when it is completed. But I believe that, as I said in response to the previous question, that the cause is so important, so right, so just, that our continued effort is the right thing to do, and we are going to pursue it with determination. I believe that the two leaders themselves, President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, are sincere and serious and believe that it can be done, and we will do everything humanly possible to help them see that it is done.

With respect to your first question, Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a public appearance in this country on his most recent visit to Washington that he believed it could be done within a year. President Abbas has expressed similar sentiments to me, and I hold strongly to that belief, having now been involved for some time in the region. So, we believe it can be done within a year and that is our objective.

QUESTION: But it’s not a deadline then?

MR. CROWLEY: Kirit, one more and then we’ll go up to Martha’s Vineyard.

QUESTION: It took you about nine months to get to the point where these guys were willing to sit down and talk to each other. What makes you think that you can get them to agree to peace in one year? At what point during this process is the U.S. willing to put its own ideas on the table to help move this forward? And after the initial set of talks here in D.C., where do you expect the talks to take place?

MR. MITCHELL: I’ll take your questions in reverse order. One of the subjects to be discussed in the meeting on September 1st and 2nd, and also in preparatory meetings that have been occurring on a regular basis and will continue between now and then, will be the timing and location of subsequent meetings, and we certainly expect some of those meetings to occur in the region.

With respect to the timing and nature, how long it took to get here and how long will it take to get in, I don’t think one is a necessary determinant of the other. It’s – I liken it to the first time I owned a house and had it painted. It took the painters seemingly forever to prime the building and the walls. I kept asking myself, “When are they going to start painting? We’re paying by the hour and we want some progress.” (Laughter.) And after this seemingly endless priming, they painted it very quickly.

Now, I don’t want to suggest one year is quickly, but I don’t think that events leading up to the negotiations are themselves decisive in terms of the negotiations themselves. We believe that the statements by the prime minister regarding within one year are credible and appropriate. We believe that President Abbas shares a similar view, as do we. And that’s what we’re going to pursue.

QUESTION: And at what point does the U.S. put its own ideas on the table in this process?

MR. MITCHELL: We will be active and sustained partners, although we recognize that this is a bilateral negotiation and we have indicated to both parties that, as necessary and appropriate, we will offer bridging proposals. But I repeat: This is a direct bilateral negotiation between the parties with our assistance and with the assistance of our friends and allies. And although nobody has asked it, I do want to take a moment to acknowledge and recognize the enormous support and assistance we have received from many of our friends and allies: Egypt, under President Mubarak; Jordan, under King Abdullah; many of the other Arab states; the other members of the Quartet; the United Nations under Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has been extremely helpful in this process; the European Union, with Lady Ashton as the foreign minister; and the – Russia, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, have all been active and very helpful along with other European states.

So it’s important to understand that while the United States is playing an important and active and sustained role, we do so with full participation, full input, full consultation, full discussion, and we hope full support, from a wide variety of allies whose efforts have been extremely important getting us to this phase and will be extremely important in reaching a conclusion. 

MR. CROWLEY: Operator, we’ll go to take two or three questions from White House press corps.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our first question comes from Philip Hartley with Washington Today. Please ask one question.

QUESTION: Good morning. Actually, it’s two; I apologize. Have all the invited parties accepted the United States’ invitation to weigh in next month? And the Secretary had mentioned references to peace in the world, and as an envoy of peace, I wanted to know what your thoughts are on whether the proposed mosque be built at the Ground Zero site.

MR. MITCHELL: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.

MR. CROWLEY: We’re not here to talk about that latter subject. We’ll take the next question. What was the question?

QUESTION: Wait —

QUESTION: The first part was —

MR. CROWLEY: Have they accepted.

MR. MITCHELL: What was the first question?

MR. CROWLEY: Have they accepted the invitation?

MR. MITCHELL: We have been in consultation with both. We expect to hear from them shortly, but it will be their decisions on whether to accept.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take the next question, Operator.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is from Jonathan Broder with Congressional Quarterly.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do both parties have to ask for the U.S. to step in with its bridging proposals, or is it enough for one party to ask for that bridging proposal?

MR. MITCHELL: We’re getting a little bit ahead of the game now to be speculating on what may or may not occur well into the process. As I stated earlier, this is a direct bilateral negotiation with the active and sustained support of the United States. And we will make bridging proposals at such time as we deem necessary and appropriate. But I don’t want anyone to have the impression that we are somehow going to supplant or displace the roles of the parties themselves, nor do we have any view other than that this must, in the end, be an agreement by the parties themselves.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take one more, Operator, then we’ll come back here to this.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Ron Kampeas with JTA.

QUESTION: Thank you. One technical question and then a real question. On September the 2nd – is that – are they actually – are you actually launching direct talks on September the 2nd, or are the leaders getting together with the Secretary to discuss the re-launching of direct talks? And the other thing: What role, if any, does Hamas have in this process?

MR. MITCHELL: The first question is yes, we are launching direct negotiations beginning on September 2nd. And the second question is: None.

QUESTION: Senator, is re-launching the direct negotiations without preconditions means that we are re-launching the direct negotiations without terms and references?

MR. MITCHELL: Only the parties can determine terms of reference and basis for negotiations, and they will do so when they meet and discuss these matters. As you know, both we and the Quartet have previously said that the negotiations should be without preconditions.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can you tell us whether they’re going to start from scratch, or will they build on what talks that – during the Olmert period? And the second question is whether Israel is expected to continue the freeze. Do you think that they’ll continue the freeze? Do you think the Palestinians will continue their boycott of settler goods?

MR. MITCHELL: The parties themselves will determine the basis on which they will proceed in the discussions, in response to your first question. In response to the second, our position on settlements is well-known and remains unchanged. We’ve always made clear that the parties should promote an environment that is conducive to negotiations. And as the Secretary said in her statement a few moments ago, it’s important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it.

MR. CROWLEY: Charlie.

QUESTION: Senator, just to follow up on that and a previous question, your position is well-known on settlements, but the Israelis, when they’ve chosen to, have ignored it and gone ahead with settlement construction as they’ve seen fit to do. Do you have any understanding from them that they will not do that this time?

And referring to the earlier question on Hamas and your quick answer that they will have no role, how do you get around the fact, even in the best of all circumstances that you negotiate an agreement, how do you get around the fact that Hamas is playing a huge role in Gaza?

MR. MITCHELL: With respect to the first question, let’s be clear that the declaration of the moratorium itself last November was a significant action, which has had a significant effect on new housing construction starts in the West Bank. And as I said, our position on settlements is well-known, remains unchanged, and we expect both parties to promote an environment conducive to negotiations.

With respect to Hamas, let’s be clear. Hamas won a legislative election. They acknowledge the continued executive authority of President Abbas and his team, and it is entirely appropriate that we negotiate with the executive head of that government. When Democrats regained control of the Congress in 2006, that didn’t end President Bush’s tenure as president, and others who wanted to negotiate with the United States negotiated with the legally elected and then-chief of our executive branch of government. And that is the situation here.

QUESTION: So you expect Hamas to accept any decision made by President Abbas at these negotiations?

MR. MITCHELL: It is not for me to make decisions for others.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take one more here, then we’ll go back up to the phones.

QUESTION: Senator Mitchell, is it your understanding that this would be a shelf agreement, something to take effect at a later date when political conditions in the Palestinian territories allow, or is it your understanding that this is something that would take effect in a very short period after it was agreed?

MR. MITCHELL: That’s obviously subject to the results of the negotiations. We are not creating limitations or restraints upon what the parties may agree to. Our hope is that there will be an agreement that will end the conflict for all time and will result in the establishment of a viable, democratic, and independent state of Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel.

MR. CROWLEY: Operator, we’ll take one or two more from the phones.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question on the phone is Margaret Talev with McClatchy newspapers.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for taking our questions. The Palestinian press has reported that the U.S. put the harshest pressure to date on the Palestinians to get them into the talks. What I want to know is why did the U.S. feel that this was the time, in the Palestinians’ view, to bully the Palestinians into talking, considering the politics of the Israeli administration right now?

MR. MITCHELL: The United States position has been well-known from the time that this administration entered office. We have and we do favor direct negotiation between the parties to resolve the conflict and to produce an agreement that results in two states living side by side in peace and security. We have encouraged the two parties to enter into such negotiations and they have now agreed. And we are – we believe it’s the right thing to do, we think that both of the leaders believe it’s the right thing to do, and we believe it’s in the best interests of the people they represent.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take one more, Operator, from the phone.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Susan Garraty with News Talk Radio.

QUESTION: Hello, Senator Mitchell. You harkened back to the Northern Ireland peace process, and as you certainly recall, the President then played a very intimate role in that. Considering that many Americans themselves are even confused about President Obama’s religious affiliation, do you feel like the people of the Middle East on both sides of this issue will see President Obama as an honest broker and someone that they can actually reach out to in that same intimate fashion?

MR. MITCHELL: Yes, I do believe that they do and will continue to regard President Obama in that fashion. I will say that from the outset, both he and the Secretary of State have played an important, indeed critical, role in this effort. Both are deeply involved on a regular basis and deeply, personally committed to the cause of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. I think that is not only widely recognized throughout the region and the world, but very much appreciated, and in particular, throughout the region.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take a couple of wrap-ups. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Senator Mitchell.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: The total settlement freeze never happened, so I was wondering, how can these talks be considered authentic in the region when that demand was never met?

MR. MITCHELL: We believe that there is a basis for proceeding and achieving a successful result, and we’re going to pursue that. We do not take the position that if you don’t get everything you want the first time you ask for it, you pack up your bags and go home. If that had been the standard applied in South Africa, there would never have been peace there; in Northern Ireland, there would never have been peace there; in Bosnia, there would never have been peace there.

It takes patience, persistence, a willingness to go back again and again, to not take the first no as a final no, to not take the 50th no as the final no or the 100th no. We are patient, we are persevering, and we are determined, and we believe there is a basis for concluding a peace agreement in the region, and that’s what we’re going to pursue.

MR. CROWLEY: Samir.

QUESTION: Senator, do you understand that – you expect Abbas to accept entering these talks without preconditions?

MR. MITCHELL: Both the United States and the Quartet have said that we believe there should be direct talks without preconditions. And we also have said many times that we think that these talks should be conducted in a positive atmosphere in which the parties refrain from taking any steps that are not conducive to making progress in the discussions, that negotiate seriously and in good faith. And in all of these respects, we think that there is a basis for making progress.

QUESTION: So the talks won’t be based on the Quartet statement of March 19?

MR. MITCHELL: The parties are the only ones who can determine what the basis of their discussions are, and that is the case.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Senator, so many Palestinians, as you know, and Arabs believe peace with the actual Israeli Government is practically impossible because of its nature, past statement regarding refugees, Jerusalem, et cetera. Aren’t you concerned that by setting this one-year deadline, you’ll probably be raising expectations just like a la Camp David and all what happened after that?

MR. MITCHELL: The reality is, of course, that there are some in both societies who do not believe that the other side is serious, who do not trust the other side, who do not wish to proceed with the other side. And if we accept the premise that because some in one or both societies hold these views that we cannot proceed, then of course, what we are doing is consigning all of those people to never-ending conflict, never-ending difficulties. We simply don’t believe that’s a proper basis for any country, and certainly not ours, the United States, on which to base its policy.

We believe that the best course of action is the direct negotiations that result in a peace agreement ending this conflict and resulting in two states living side by side in peace and security. We believe the only way to achieve that is through direct negotiations. We believe that if those negotiations are conducted seriously and in good faith, they can produce such an agreement within 12 months. And that is our objective. We acknowledge, we recognize, as you have just stated, that there are many who don’t believe that, many who don’t want that, many who will act to prevent that.

But their lack of belief, their contrary views, their contrary actions cannot serve to prevent us from trying to deal with this conflict, nor can it prevent the leaders of those countries who both recognize that the interests of their people, the future of their societies rests upon resolving this conflict and achieving the kind of peace and stability and security from which they will all benefit.

MR. CROWLEY: Last question, Mark Landler.

QUESTION: Senator, this Administration believed from the early days that its Middle East strategy and its Iran strategy were linked in the sense that if you could make progress in one, you might help make progress in another and vice versa. You now are moving into a period of less engagement and more confrontation with Iran. I’m wondering whether you think that is an added hurdle to a peace agreement or is it something that could actually help in the sense that the Israelis may feel that the U.S. is going to be tough on Iran and it allays their fears somewhat in that regard.

MR. MITCHELL: That extends somewhat beyond the area of my involvement in this process, and so I would defer for a more full and thoughtful answer to those who are directly engaged on the broader issues. I will simply say that if you look at the Middle East and review its history over just the past half century, never mind several millennia, you will conclude that there is no really, quote, “right time” to do this, that there always have been and always will be issues external to the immediate parties that have an effect upon what is occurring.

And in my judgment, what is occurring in the – throughout the region, not just in Iran but in other areas, all add compelling, cumulative evidence to the need to act with respect to this conflict. That is to say, whether or not the circumstance you describe produces the result you describe, it still remains a compelling argument that it is very much in the national security interest of the United States, in terms of dealing with other conflicts, to assist, to do all we can with the help and support of our allies, to bring about a resolution of this conflict. It helps in so many ways, and most importantly, it’s the best thing for the Palestinian people and for the people of Israel. And it is in our national security interest and in that of others.

Thank you all very much. It’s been a pleasure to be with you.

*

Preceding provided by the U.S. State Department

Recent attacks underscore security concerns for the West Bank

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment

 ‘Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them volley’d and thunder’d; Storm’d at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell Rode the six hundred.’ – from The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson


By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

 PHILADELPHIA–Gaza rockets from the south of them, a Sinai rocket from the southeast of them and an OK Corral-style shootout from the north of them.

These days, Israel’s multiple conflicts resemble the aforementioned passage in The Charge of the Light Brigade. Where is Errol Flynn when we need him?

 Israel endured a two-front war at this time four years ago, and in recent months it has contended with attacks on four fronts, by my count – the blockade incident on the high seas, Gaza, southern Lebanon and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty three decades ago, yet Egypt cannot control terrorists operating on its lands.

Meanwhile, President Obama and others pine for the day when Israel hands over the West Bank to the Palestinians so they can, supposedly, live happily ever after. Many in the pro-Israel camp believe that the Arabs will never be happy until all of Israel is, well, no longer Israel.

Foes of a Palestinian state have said that Israel does not need another front. The most worrisome concern over a Palestinian state is Israel’s security. The border between Israel and the West Bank is much longer than its other borders, and Israel proper is directly vulnerable to attack.

Israeli leaders have said that Ben Gurion International Airport is within range of the West Bank. Security must be directly addressed before Israel considers further negotiations about the West Bank. It has not been adequately addressed.

Some protective measures have been taken. Construction of a security barrier along the border has eliminated terrorist attacks that were rampant up to five years ago. A strong Palestinian security force has been built. The West Bank has been much calmer. Still, none of these developments, even combined, guarantee that Israel will be safe from attack if a Palestinian state is established.

Events of recent weeks underscore security concerns. Israel withdrew all troops and settlers from the Sinai Peninsula three decades ago; all troops from Lebanon in 2000; and all troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005. After Yasser Arafat rejected a peace plan in 2000, the Palestinians started a war that led to fierce fighting in Gaza and the West Bank and terrorist attacks in Israel proper. The Gaza evacuation was followed by thousands of rocket attacks into Sderot and other sections of southern Israel.

My educated guess in 2005 was that the Gaza evacuation would produce some aggression, but Israel could manage it. I was wrong.

Beyond rocket attacks, Israel fought a two-front war against terrorists in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, and again in Hamas-controlled Gaza in December 2009. More worrisome is the build-up of weapons in Gaza and Lebanon to be used for future assaults against Israel.

Last month, Gaza terrorists broke a long lull firing rockets that struck the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon and Sapir College near the border, The New York Times reported.

Then Monday, Aug. 2: A barrage of missiles fired from the Sinai Peninsula struck both the resort city Eilat in Israel and neighboring Aqaba in Jordan, where a taxi driver was killed. Egypt subsequently admitted that they were fired from Sinai, ostensibly under Egyptian control.

The following day, Lebanese soldiers – possibly influenced by Hezbollah – fired at Israeli soldiers tending a fence within Israel territory. United Nations peacekeepers declared that the Lebanese were entirely at fault.

It should be no surprise if someone – perhaps Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – was conspiring to provoke Israel to engage in yet another war.

With all this on Israel’s plate, Israeli leaders are still willing to enter negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Fortunately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has raised security concerns.

What might that entail? Possibly Israel can evacuate the more isolated settlements while maintaining a strong military presence. However, that military presence would be trimmed somewhat because the troops would not need to worry about protecting the settlements.

Maybe that will not be necessary, but I for one do not want to be wrong again.

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Ticker is Philadelphia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via bticker@comcast.net

Women of the Hebrew Bible, Part 3: Bithiya

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Bithiya (c) 2010, Sheila Orysiek

By Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

SAN DIEGO–This Egyptian princess going down to the Nile to bathe saw an infant in a basket.  She realized it was most probably the desperate effort of an Israelite woman to save her little son.  Her humanity triumphed over the Pharaoh’s edict to slaughter all male infants among the Israelites.  She adopted him as her own.  This child grew up to become Moses.

One of a series of seven women of the Hebrew Bible illustrating the moment in their lives when they were at pivotal point, contributed significantly to subsequent events and/or set a precedent in the history of our people.

The original is pen and ink on paper, measuring 16 by 20.

 *
Orysiek is an artist and freelance writer based in San Diego

Commentary: Sara Netanyahu steps up for immigrant children

August 15, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Sara Netanyahu is not one of the most well regarded first ladies of the world. She is known for yelling and throwing things at the household help. She has been the target of civil actions for not paying what is required, and–along with her husband–the subject of police inquiries for fiddling with government funds.

Mrs. Netanyahu has most recently come to attention for writing a letter to Eli Yishai, the Interior Minister with direct responsibility for dealing with illegal immigrants.

“I turn to you as the mother of two sons and as a psychologist . . . I ask from the bottom of my heart that you use your authority to allow a vast majority of the remaining 400 children to remain in Israel. This issue is very close to my heart.”

Yishai is the Knesset leader of the SHAS party of Sephardi ultra-Orthodox, who often speaks out on matters of maintaining the ultra-Orthodox exemption from military service and other issues important to his community. He led the faction against allowing any of the immigrant children to remain in Israel, emphasizing the threat to the society of individuals who are not Jews according to religious law.

For the large number of Israelis who are not fans of either Sara or SHAS, this might be an event to celebrate.

However, many of those Israelis are lining up in behalf of the immigrant children. Joining them are leading media personalities, and Aliza, the politically correct wife of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

No doubt the kids are here illegally. The government has voted to expel about one-third of some 1,200 children who do not meet criteria of being in Israel for a minimum of years, fluent in Hebrew, and attending Israeli schools. But I am not certain that the government will actually go through with this decision.

It is not only that implementation is not a strong element of Israel’s public administration. Those kids are tugging at a lot of heart strings.

The issue of illegal immigration is no less complex here than in other countries of  Europe and North America where there is work that the locals do not want to do. Housewives complain about the problems of finding and keeping decent help who have legal status. There are a couple of hundred thousand workers here legally to work in construction, agriculture, and the care of the infirm. There are thousands of others who have overstayed their permits, come over the border with Egypt, or entered informally from the West Bank. As elsewhere, there are ugly stories of individuals having to pay bribes in order to obtain work permits, being housed in substandard facilities, or denied proper wages.

Also in the headlines is a gun battle involving Africans coming through the Sinai, who rebelled against the Bedouin smugglers who demanded more money as they approached the Israeli border. Several Africans and Bedouins were killed in that fray, and other Africans died in an incident when Egyptian soldiers opened fire when they refused to surrender.

Other news is that illegal Africans are moving out of a Tel Aviv neighborhood and settling in a lower-priced area of Bnei Brak. That is a low-income, largely ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv. What will emerge from that social combine will be interesting to observe. Already the locals are demanding a greater police presence in their community.

There is nothing new in all of this. The Book of Joshua describes the Gibeonites, whose presence among the Israelites was not entirely kosher, but who were allowed to stay and “be woodcutters and water carriers for the entire community.” (Joshua 9:21). (Gibeon, or El Jib, is a Palestinian village alongside Route 443, a few miles west of Jerusalem. Its residents may have to find a way through the barriers in order to get work in Israel, but I would not bet against them.)

When a million immigrants came from the former Soviet Union during the late 1980s onward, they had a major impact on the economy. There were some among them who fit the Gibeon profile as “woodcutters and water carriers,” but for the most part they came as physicians, engineers, scientists, and musicians. They and their children are higher than average in income, education and other social indicators.
More than one hundred thousand Ethiopians are mostly at the bottom of the economy, but there are not enough of them to fill the demand. They do not have the skills of Palestinian or Chinese construction workers, and the rights and social programs of Jewish immigrants may allow them to avoid the least desirable opportunities in the labor market.

Sara’s letter may cause her husband to squirm out of the firm posture about illegal immigrants he articulated a week ago, and lead other Israelis to elevate their feelings toward her, at least for a while. The fate of those 400 children is currently at the top of the emotional agenda. That issue will pass in one way or another, but the larger story of which it is a part will not go away.

Unless someone out there can tell us about a large and untapped pool of poor Jews.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of politcal science at Hebrew University