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Netanyahu urges Abbas to begin direct negotiations

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

NEW YORK, July 7  (Press Release)–In a special address to national Jewish leaders, as well as political, civic and business leaders, sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to “meet me in the coming days” to begin peace talks in order to “fashion a final peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.”

“My idea of peace is that we live next to one another and we talk to each other to achieve peace. The sooner the better. Direct negotiations must start right away,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu. The meeting in New York followed the Prime Minister’s meetings with President Obama in Washington, DC.  
   
Several dignitaries attended the meeting, including New York Governor David Paterson and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who provided greetings at the beginning of the event. Governor Paterson noted that New York shares a bond with Israel because of attacks waged against civilians within the boundaries of both states.

“In this dangerous time, we have no better partner as a state or a country than the state of Israel,” Governor Paterson said. In her remarks, Senator Gillibrand remembered her trip to Israel and specifically to Sderot last year.

“The U.S. must always support Israel’s right to protect her people,” she said, adding that she would use her voice in the U.S. Senate “to bring together bipartisan coalitions in Congress to show the world that our bond is truly unbreakable.” Among the elected officials attending the event were Congressional members Anthony Weiner (D-NY), Yvette Clarke (D-NY) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), as well as NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and former New York City Mayor Ed Koch.  
   
Prime Minister Netanyahu outlined security, legitimacy and prosperity as the three pillars of successful peace. “Security makes peace possible and makes a realistic peace take hold and endure,” he said. Regarding the challenges to Israel’s legitimacy, the Prime Minister commented that there are two lines of attack against Israel: the denial of the Jewish people’s connection to the land of Israel and the denial of Israel’s right to defend itself. “So much of the world supports Israel’s right to defend itself in theory, but consistently condemns it in practice … but the purpose of the Jewish state is to defend Jewish lives,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu, adding that Israel was recognized and commended by British Colonel Richard Kemp for its efforts to prevent civilian casualties on all sides of battle.   
   
Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that Israel faces three great challenges in the coming months: (1) staying focused on preventing a nuclear Iran, (2) redoubling its efforts to find the path to peace with the Palestinians and to those negotiations as soon as possible, and (3) uniting against any effort to challenge Israel’s rights to defend itself.  

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Preceding provided by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

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Obama-Netanyahu meeting papers over their differences

July 7, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — There is a crucial divide between PR and straight talk, between red lines, bottom lines and spin. Last week we cautioned against mistaking Israel’s bad PR for bad policy, and faulted people who respond to Israel based on how things look in the media rather than for what they are. We were irritated with those who demand better polish. This week, we are worried about people who mistake good PR – smiles, handshakes, mild jokes and a kosher lunch – for good substance. 
 
President Obama looked fairly relaxed during the short press meeting and told reporters, “Our commitment to Israel’s security has been unwavering. And, in fact, there aren’t any concrete policies that you could point to that would contradict that.”   
 
That was a good PR move, sliding over the fact you don’t need “concrete policies” to embolden Israel’s enemies and objectively weaken its security. U.S. support of the biased Goldstone process and providing only very weak support for Israel when it was attacked by blockade-busters trying to sail to Gaza, and hinting that there is a mixed opinion in the U.S. government about the role of Hamas and Hezbollah in future negotiations all embolden Israel’s enemies. The President’s comment that the Israel-Palestinian conflict costs the United States in “blood and treasure” may not have been a policy, but it was close to a blood-libel on top of being untrue.
 
Over Israel’s objection, the U.S. allowed the UN Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review to single out Israel’s presumed nuclear capability for concern while it took a pass on Iran, North Korea and what U.S. intelligence believes is a secret Syrian program. This is the first administration to put Israel on that international “hot seat” paving the way for future meetings, including the IAEA meeting in September, to pressure Israel. 
 
But the President put a good PR gloss on that one, saying, “We discussed issues that arose out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference. And I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues… the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.”  
 
The difference between the President “asking” Israel to take steps that would undermine its security and the President throwing Israel under the bus of Arab demands himself is too thin to measure and a craven abdication to those who would destroy America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East.
 
One such Arab demand delivered to Israel by the President of the United States was the call for a “total settlement freeze,” giving the Palestinians an excuse to cut off direct talks, substituting “proximity” talks and an announcement that the Palestinian Authority would negotiate only with the United States. That reversed 17 years of American policy for which Israel will now have to “pay” to get the Palestinians back to the table.
 
By calling the third of seven administrative levels of permission to build apartments in North Jerusalem (in the former “no man’s land” of the illegal Jordanian occupation of half of Jerusalem in defiance of the UN) a “humiliation” of the United States, Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama set the stage for ongoing Palestinian violence on the West Bank. Israel will now have to “pay” for a re-stabilized relationship.
 
But the President put a little PR gloss on that as well, figuratively patting the Prime Minister on the head and saying peace, “requires work and that requires some difficult choices – both at the strategic level and the tactical level. And this is something that the Prime Minister understands.” It requires considerably more work when one of your “partners” keeps moving the bar away from you and toward your adversaries. “Difficult choices” is a euphemism for continuing not to build houses for Jews in places the President – on behalf of his Arab and Palestinian friends – doesn’t want them built.

Oddly, Prime Minister Netanyahu allowed President Obama to characterize Israel’s commitment to its own security – and the President did it badly, saying, “During our conversation, [the Prime Minister] once again reaffirmed his willingness to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians around what I think should be the goal not just of the two principals involved, but the entire world, and that is two states living side by side in peace and security. Israel’s security needs met, the Palestinians having a sovereign state that they call their own.”

Almost realistically, the President pointed out that, “Those are goals that have obviously escaped our grasp for decades now.” But PR trumped realism as the President concluded, “But now more than ever I think is the time for us to seize on that vision.”

Real progress toward a secure Israel requires an American president who understands that “what I think should be the goal” is relatively unimportant and it isn’t what “the entire world” thinks. It requires a president who understands that there are those – mainly housed in the Middle East – implacably committed to the destruction of the State of Israel and providing money, training, arms and political support for the most irredentist Palestinian vision.

A previous American president also foundered on “the vision thing,” perhaps forgetting that how it sounds isn’t what it is.

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Barack Obama in Washington

July 6, 2010 Leave a comment

(WJC)–Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday. They are expected to discuss a range of issues, including Iran’s nuclear programme and efforts to start direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Last week, Mr Netanyahu said he believed that a main part of his talks in Washington would be “focused on how to start direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians right away”. The Palestinians broke off direct peace talks after Israel launched the Operation Cast Lead on Gaza in late 2008. The start of indirect negotiations in March was halted after Israeli municipal authorities approved plans for the construction of new homes in a settlement in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of a future state. That announcement came as Vice-President Joe Biden was on an official visit to Israel, and he condemned the decision. When the Israeli PM last visited the White House in March, he was snubbed by President Obama, who refused even to allow a photo of their meeting to be released. However both sides are believed to be intent on making the atmosphere much better this around.

During his three-day US visit, Mr Netanyahu is also expected to travel to New York, where he will meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and address Jewish American leaders.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.

No doubt about it: Netanyahu is inept as a leader

June 7, 2010 Leave a comment

By Gary Rotto

Gary Rotto

SAN DIEGO– Sixteen months since he created a coalition government, I can come to only one conclusion about Benyamin Netanyahu:  He is inept.

To be successful, a leader must have a grasp of three things: Time, a firm grasp on the levers of power and the ability to lead.  This is different than just maintaining a coalition, which is all that Netanyahu seems capable of doing. 

With two significant international incidents in a matter of months, the Netanyahu Administration seems  incompetent.  This is not a matter of policy, but whether Netanyahu has real control of his government.

First, the Prime Minister not only had no idea that his own Housing Minister Eli Yishai, was about to announce the development of new housing units in the Ramat Shlomo settlement during the visit of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.  Sure the Prime Minister admitted embarrassment, but why had he not controlled how and when policy announcements are made and sacked the minister who so undermined his authority? True, Yishai is from the Shas Party, not Netanyahu’s Likud.  But you either run the government or you don’t.  At the very least, you make Yishai wait until the visiting US Vice President leaves the country.  Why keep someone in a position of power who you can’t trust?

Next problem was the fiasco with the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza.  The Israeli government has termed the attack on its soldiers premeditated and termed the passengers terrorists.  If so, Israeli intelligence was gravely deficient and put its own soldiers in a situation for which they were unprepared.  How do you put so few soldiers into a group of terrorists with the wrong equipment for the situation?  Or maybe this was not a case of encountering terrorists but rather terrorist sympathizers who were ready for a street fight.  Either way, the Defense Department got it wrong.  And the Israeli public is picking apart the operation.    

Again, the question of timing arises. After his embarrassment with Biden, why did  Netanyahu plan a military operation the same day he was meeting with Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and a day prior to his scheduled meeting with US President Barack Obama?  The risk of another embarrassment was too great. 

Luckily, the US response was  muted, from the cancellation of the meeting to the botched episode on the high seas.  Don’t get me wrong – I support the blockade as long as Hamas is in control of Gaza.  But you have to question the timing of the military operation and the intelligence behind the engagement.

Arguably, Netanyahu once was an excellent spokesperson for Israel and a fine Ambassador to the United Nations..  But as demonstrated by his second go-round as Prime Minister, he is in over his head trying to lead his nation.

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Rotto is a freelance writer based in San Diego

Israeli PM Netanyahu to meet with US President Obama on 01 June

May 28, 2010 Leave a comment

(WJC)–Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to the US to meet with President Obama on 01 June and discuss security issues.

An invitation to meet with the US President was delivered by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who is  touring Israel on the occasion of his son’s bar mitzvah. Obama “has asked me to extend an invitation to you to come visit him at the White House for a work meeting to discuss both our shared security interests as well as our close cooperation in seeking peace between Israel and its neighbors,” the White House chief of staff said Wednesday in a meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Netanyahu will already be in North America next week to meet with Canadian government officials.

The meeting comes after the renewal of proximity talks with Palestinians. Obama’s last meeting with Netanyahu, in March, ended inconclusively. It came amid tensions between the two governments over Israel’s building in eastern Jerusalem. Since then the White House has endeavored to smooth tensions, maintaining its opposition to settlement building but emphasizing areas where it is working closely with Israel, such as in missile defense.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.

Watching Israeli reactions to Obama-Netanyahu rift

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM–Now when he’s about to get a Jewish son-in-law, Bill Clinton moves to Israel, converts to Judaism, forms a political party and is elected Prime Minister with acclamation. I cannot have the same fantasy about Barack Obama whose popularity in Israel is now in single digits. But unlike Clinton, Obama may want to be involved in internal Israeli politics to reshape Israel in his preparation for the struggle against Iran.

The speculations here about what’s likely to happen next in Israel’s relations with the United States, now when Prime Minister Netanyahu has returned from Washington with his tail between his legs, include the possibility – fear for some, hope for others – that, when he puts Obama’s demands before his ministers, the majority will say No.

The exception would be Labor which, in the face of the intransigence of the other parties, may now have no choice but to leave the government and thus deprive it of its Knesset majority. It has so far justified its membership of the Netanyahu government by saying that it has prevented a collision with the Americans and harsher treatment of Palestinians, thus promoting the prospect of peace. It won’t be able to do that now.

Breaking up the coalition and forcing an election may gain Labor a few more Knesset seats but not enough to form a government. Neither will Kadima be able to govern without Likud and Labor. Whatever dissent there currently exists in Kadima would dissipate with the prospect of joining, even if not forming, the next government.

Obama’s alleged purpose in all this is to shift Israel’s government from far right to the center, i.e., without Yishai and Lieberman but with Barak and Livni. Netanyahu would probably remain Prime Minister but now leading an improved team.

Likud strategists and those to the right of them may know all this and, in order literally to save their seats, may swallow hard and agree to the undertakings that Obama is said to demand. On the other hand, they may go for broke. The noises that are being made by government people unfortunately point to this second option.

Much of it has to be done in haste because Obama is said to have demanded forthwith clear Israeli answers in writing in the hope that this will give the Arab League meeting in Libya enough of a victory to allow Abu Mazen, the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, to go ahead at least with proximity talks.

 It’s difficult to imagine how Israel can withstand this kind of pressure, especially now when several other countries seem to be ganging up against it in response to the Dubai passport fiasco. Unless Netanyahu, contrary to what he says, is so much under the spell of Lieberman and the other hawks, he seems to have little choice.

The hawks may wish to cast Obama in the role of the Pharaoh of the Exodus story as we’ll retell it on Pesach, but that kind of rhetoric won’t do any good. The song at the Seder about evil men in every generation wanting to do away with us “but the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from them,” may be a persuasive theological reflection on Jewish history but it’s not a pragmatic political analysis of the present situation.

The best case scenario for the Israeli right has been the status quo: continue to talk about talks and continue to build in Jerusalem and the West Bank while trying to make sure that Israel is protected from terrorists and infiltrators. President Obama has shattered that picture and nobody quite knows what’ll replace it.

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Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his time between Canada and Israel.

Obama holds talks with Netanyahu at White House amid news blackout

March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON D.C.–Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama reportedly met twice at the White House on Tuesday, but no official statements were given about the content of the talks. Netanyahu’s office only said the atmosphere of the meeting had been good, despite recent tensions between the US and Israel over the latter’s announcement to build new houses in east Jerusalem.

The two leaders did not issue any statements before or after the meeting and, unusually, did not hold a news conference. White House officials even declined to describe the tone or the substance of the talks or to say if any agreements had been proposed or reached.

According to the ‘Jerusalem Post’, which cites an unnamed official, Obama and Netanyahu initially conferred for about 90 minutes in the Oval Office, and Netanyahu later asked for a second meeting with the president, who then came to the Oval Office for another 35 minutes of talks with the prime minister.

Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu warned US congressional leaders that acceding to Palestinian demands on building in Jerusalem could set back peace talks by another year.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.

Can Netanyahu rebuild Israel’s relationship with the U.S.?

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM–Contrary to what we might have wanted to believe, Bernard Avishai’s reference, which I cited the other day, to General Petreus’ statement that the collusion of previous American administrations with Israel’s settlement policy has been harmful to US interests, seems to be widely accepted as accurate and significant, also in Israel.

           
This makes Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington not exactly a pleasure trip. For though prominent Israeli leaders like Chief of Staff Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Barak (who’ll accompany the Prime Minister – not Foreign Minister Lieberman!) are said to get on very well with the US defense establishment – which in view of Petreus’ statement is crucial for US-Israel relations – this cannot be said, we hear, about the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

           
The importance of personal relations between US presidents and Israeli prime ministers is well documented in the just published memoir, The Prime Ministers, by Yehuda Avner who for decades moved in the corridors of power. He shows how difficult situations with potentially detrimental consequences could be resolved if the prime minister of Israel got on with the president of the United States and his administration.

           
David Remnick, writing in the current issue of The New Yorker, suggests that now even more is required: “The essential question for Israel is not whether it has the friendship of the White House – it does – but whether Netanyahu remains the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties, the loyal son of a radical believer in Greater Israel, forever settling scores with the old Labor elites and making minimal concessions to ward off criticism from Washington and retain the affections of far-right coalition partners.” It’s the old Bibi, not a new one, as some of us had hoped.

           
Remnick writes that “the Netanyahu government suffers from a troubling degree of instability, thanks to its far-right coalition partners (including the bigoted foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman) and its ineptitude.” The right-wingers’ views aren’t based on the facts Remnick cites but they come “from Fox News and the creepier nooks of the blogosphere.” The anti-Obama stance in Israel seems to be at odds with many, perhaps most, American Jews. A statesman could smooth things over, an inept politician won’t.

             
Netanyahu goes to Washington to rally AIPAC, still the most powerful pro-Israel lobby but nowadays, writes Remnick, it speaks mainly for old and rich Jews. Young American Jews are much closer to Obama. Will Netanyahu recognize it or will he, instead, hobnob with Christian Zionists with dubious attitudes to Judaism, only because they hate Obama? He may be losing much of American Jewry in the process; the recent critical statement by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the leader of American Reform, points to it.

           
Of course, the most crucial and tense encounters will be with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Netanyahu must convince them that, when he makes concessions, he means it, doesn’t speak from both sides of his mouth and that he’s strong enough to keep his cabinet in check. A few months ago I was hopeful that this was the case. Of what I hear and see now, like many Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, I’m much less certain.

           
Though the Palestinian leaders cannot be trusted and the Iranian threat remains real, the provocative and inept announcements during and after Biden’s visit have put most of the burden on Israel – and it’s not at all certain that its government is up to it!
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Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his time between Canada and Israel.

Netanyahu expresses regret for timing of settlement announcement

March 12, 2010 Leave a comment

 

 

JERUSALEM–According to a statement issued by his office, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed “regret” to US Vice President Joseph Biden “for the unfortunate timing” of an announcement by the Interior Ministry of plans to build 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo, an outskirt of Jerusalem.

Netanyahu said that “in light of the ongoing disagreement between Israel and the US on building in Jerusalem,” there had been no need to advance the planning process this week. The announcement on Tuesday sparked an international furor and enraged the Palestinians, who have called off plans for indirect peace talks with Israel until the decision to build the houses is revoked.

Netanyahu said he had been unaware of the announcement by the Interior Ministry, and his office said he had summoned Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party to express his “displeasure” at the timing of the announcement. Netanyahu also told Biden that the “final approval process will in all likelihood take more than a year and the beginning of actual construction would likely take several years.”

On Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas informed the Arab League that his administration would only enter into talks with Israel if the plan is shelved.

Meanwhile, a government minister of the Labor Party, which is led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, also attacked the Interior Ministry’s announcement. Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon said that Vice President Biden’s anger was “justified”, and social services Minister Isaac Herzog leveled criticism at the timing of the announcement: “This is a serious mishap and the prime minister must make sure it does not happen again, especially during such an important visit.”

In an address Thursday at Tel Aviv University, Joseph Biden said the bond between Israel and the United States was “impervious to any shifts in either country and in either country’s partisan politics,” but added that the decision by Israel to build 1,600 new houses had “undermined the trust required for negotiations” and under instructions from President Obama he had “condemned it immediately and unequivocally.”

Biden accepted Netanyahu’s explanation that he too was caught unawares by the announcement and praised the Israeli prime minister for offering to set up a mechanism to prevent future such surprises. The US vice president said this would have consequences. “The United States will continue to hold both sides accountable for any statements or any actions that inflame tensions and influence these talks,” he said in his speech.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

Obama’s rocky few days, Netanyahu’s household problems

January 20, 2010 Leave a comment
By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM — It has not been a good couple of days for Barack Obama. Instead of celebrating the anniversary of his inauguration, he is pondering his party’s loss of a special election in what may be the most liberal state in the nation, and Iran’s rejection of a lead item on his campaign of engagement.

The Massachusetts defeat was decisive, and not due to the capacity of a faux Kennedy to draw votes from the Democrat.

The New York Times is anything but unfriendly to the Obama White House. Its conclusions about the loss in Massachusetts are that it will require great effort to rescue a health reform, and it will not be the reform promoted by the White House. Moreover, the defeat signals the public’s disappointment with the president who came to office with cheers echoing around the world. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/health/policy/21congress.html?hp ; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/20/us/politics/20assess.html?hp

Iran’s government insulted Obama and his allies by slipping more than two weeks past a year-end deadline for response to an proposal that went far toward giving Iran much of what it wanted, and then rejecting key features of the proposal. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60I59820100120

Great power response is to speak yet again about tougher sanctions, but again the powers are not all on the same page.

A Washington Post commentator found reason for optimism on Obama’s first anniversary.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/18/AR2010011803455.html?referrer=emailarticle,

A respectable Israeli, speaking on the prime morning news show, concluded that the president has been a dismal failure. He began with the Middle East, spoke about major concessions to Russia without anything in return, toured through other unpromising international efforts, and was pessimistic about the prospects of health. This commentator may have been too demanding when he said that America’s economic recovery was not fast enough, but overall he was not far from what Americans and others have been saying.

Meanwhile in Israel, journalists are continuing with juicy stories about Sara Netanyahu, and she is irresistible for satirists. Another former employee has reinforced details mentioned in the housekeeper’s suit about unreasonable demands and temper tantrums. We are hearing details known for years, but usually kept under wraps, that Sara’s power extend to who can work as her husband’s advisers or be selected for key appointments in government departments. 

Remember Gary Hart, the Colorado senator with presidential aspirations. His sexual appetites were said to be common knowledge, but not the stuff of news reports until he was too brazen about a boat ride with Donna Rice.

It is too early to know if an embarrassing wife can be as damaging to a political career as an embarrassing girl friend.

The prime minister’s coalition in the Knesset is more solid than the president’s support in Congress. There is not an item on Israel’s domestic agenda comparable in importance to health reform in the United States. We have not heard what Sara thinks about Iran’s nuclear program, so that issue may still be more firmly on Barack’s plate than Bibi’s.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University