Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: Michael Oren

 

Groups want stronger U.S. defense of Israel; Obama not obliging

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration appears to be rebuffing calls from some Jewish groups for the United States to be more assertive and public in defending Israel regarding the flotilla incident.

The bluntest appeal for a more pronounced pro-Israel posture came from Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, who is in Israel meeting with the Israeli leadership. (See The biased rush to judgment in the flotilla affair).

“The U.S. should reiterate its support and understanding for Israel, that as a sovereign and democratic nation it has the right to act on behalf of its national security and express its confidence that Israel can conduct its own investigation into the matter without the intrusion of international bodies,” Foxman told JTA.

Israeli commandoes seizing control of the main boat in a Gaza aid flotilla clashed Monday before dawn with some of its passengers, and killed nine, among them at least four Turkish nationals. Six Israeli soldiers were wounded in the melee. Commandoes seized control of five smaller boats without incident.

The United States has beaten back the sharpest condemnations. It watered down a U.N. Security Council statement so that it condemned the “acts” that led to the deaths, making ambiguous whether the Israelis or the passengers escalated the conflict into violence.

On Wednesday, it joined the Netherlands in registering two lonely votes against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution condemning Israel. It has also in its statements supporting an inquiry into the matter said that Israel should conduct it, implicitly rebuffing demands elsewhere for an international inquiry.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee acknowledged the Obama administration’s bulwark against the tougher demands for Israel’s isolation, but made clear it wanted more.

“It would have been preferable if the U.N. and Obama administration had blocked any action implying criticism of Israel for defending itself,” AIPAC said in a memo. “Nonetheless, intervention by the United States prevented passage of a Security Council resolution condemning Israel. The administration continues to express its confidence in Israel’s ability to conduct its own investigation of the incident despite calls for an international inquiry.”

AIPAC also insisted that “the United States must now maintain its longstanding position not to allow the Security Council and other U.N. organs such as the U.N. Human Rights Council to exploit unfortunate incidents by passing biased, anti-Israel resolutions that obscure the truth and accomplish nothing.”

Were AIPAC certain that the United States was committed to blocking such resolutions further down the line, it would likely not have made the recommendation.

No such certainty appears in the offing: Statements from Obama administration officials suggest that they are holding judgment until the facts become clearer, and that meanwhile, the White House wants to see the blockade that triggered the aid flotilla eased.

A White House statement describing Obama’s call with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan said the U.S. president “affirmed the United States position in support of a credible, impartial, and transparent investigation of the facts surrounding this tragedy. The president affirmed the importance of finding better ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza without undermining Israel’s security.”

Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip partly to keep the Hamas terrorist organization, which controls the strip, from receiving arms (an effort Hamas has junked by running weapons through tunnels into Egypt); but another aim was to weaken Hamas politically among Palestinians.

Top White House officials met for hours on Tuesday with Uzi Arad, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top security adviser, and Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, and made clear to them that the United States sees the blockade as unsustainable.

Robert Gibbs, Obama’s spokesman, said that the administration was in wait and see mode. “The Security Council, the statement that I read, calls for an investigation that is prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent, conforming to international standards of exactly what happened,” he said after several prompts at Tuesday’s briefing. “And we’re obviously supportive of that.”

Foxman told JTA that considerations of an investigation and of the wisdom of using commandoes to carry out a police action — keeping the flotilla from docking in Gaza — were beside the point.

“Was there a better way to do this? That’s all interesting, but that’s not what this is about,” he said. “There is bloodshed all over the world, there are people killing people all over the world in deliberate hatred and nobody is calling for investigations. At the very least the United States should stand with Israel.”

Such statements of solidarity have been pouring out of Congress, from Republicans and Democrats. GOP figures are already firing at Obama for not pronouncing himself more firmly on Israel’s side.

“Would the U.S. in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s memorable phrase, ‘join the jackals?’” at the United Nations, Elliott Abrams wrote on the Weekly Standard’s Website, referring to the steadfastly pro-Israel Reagan-era ambassador to the United Nations.

“This week the Obama administration answered the question: Yes we would, and Israel would stand alone,” continued Abrams, who, as deputy national security adviser, helped lead the second Bush administration’s failed efforts to arrive at a peace agreement. “It is simple to block the kind of attack issued as a ‘President’s Statement’ on behalf of the Council, for such a statement requires unanimity. The United States can just say ‘No,’ and make it clear that orders have come from the White House and will not be changed.”

Hadar Susskind, the policy and strategy director for J Street, which has called for an independent Israeli inquiry into the incident, said such a posture would be counterproductive.

“It’s the same question, ‘How can you make the Israelis the bad guys or say that the people on the ship were good guys?’” he said. “It’s not a comic book, they were not good guys, they attacked Israeli soldiers with a pipe and tried to killed them — but that doesn’t mean the Israeli government made good decisions. It’s not our role to decide each time the good guys and bad guys.”

JTA

 
 

Iran’s next move?

 

Settlement freeze, Iran, peace talks to headline vital Obama-Bibi meeting

image
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rear left, and President Obama, flanked by Israeli and U.S. officials, are pictured at a Sept. 22, 2009 meeting in New York. The pair are scheduled to meet on July 6. Avi Ohayon /GPO/Flash 90/JTA

Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, told reporters this week that he was misheard when he was quoted as telling Israeli diplomats that a “tectonic rift” was emerging between Israel and the United States. The Israelis didn’t get it, said the U.S.-born Oren: He meant there was a “tectonic shift.”

Whether there is a difference, and whether it’s meaningful, no one was going to say. The point was to get it right this time when the U.S. president and Israeli prime minister meet at the White House on July 6 or face a worsening of U.S.-Israel ties.

“The Americans and Israelis with whom we’ve met all seem quite optimistic that both sides are intent on having a positive meeting,” said the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, who is in Israel this week. “Both sides understand that there’s a lot at stake in having a positive outcome.”

As opposed to the last two — or almost two — times.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last visit to Washington, in late March, was marred by the aftermath of the tensions that followed Israel’s announcement about two weeks earlier of new building in eastern Jerusalem just as Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel for a visit. Top U.S. officials called the announcement an insult, and when Netanyahu and President Obama met they kept their deliberations behind closed doors, failing even to issue a summary statement.

Both sides spent subsequent weeks making up, with Obama administration officials emphasizing practical U.S. defense support for Israel and Netanyahu pressing hard for direct talks with the Palestinians. By the end of May, things looked good for a June 1 meeting at the White House.

But then came Israel’s deadly May 31 raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. Netanyahu, already in North America, canceled his White House meeting and rushed back to Israel.

The Obama administration ostensibly supported Israel during the widespread outrage that followed, but the administration also pressed Netanyahu to set up an investigatory commission and flip its Gaza sanctions policy: Instead of a “white list” of permissible products to be allowed into Gaza, Israel created a blacklist of products it would bar from import to Gaza. That allowed a much broader array of goods into Gaza and marked a diplomatic loss for the Israeli government.

The sides are likely to come to the July 6 meeting with two items unresolved: What Israel plans to do once its 10-month partial freeze on west bank settlement building lapses in September, and how the sides plan to confront Iran.

The first issue is likely to be the most contentious: The Obama administration wants to keep the Palestinian Authority in the process, having finally lured it into proximity talks. But if Netanyahu doesn’t have direct talks to show for his efforts, it will be a hard sell to keep his right-leaning cabinet on board.

As an extra burr, Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat — who has national ambitions — is pressing ahead with plans to build in Arab neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem.

On Iran, the difference may be more fundamental. Ostensibly the news for Netanyahu is good: The U.N. Security Council passed expanded sanctions this month against Iran in light of its recalcitrance on making its nuclear program transparent. The sanctions themselves lacked serious bite, but they set the stage for much tougher sanctions — one set approved by the European Union and another passed by the U.S. Congress.

The congressional sanctions are the toughest ever, targeting third parties that deal with Iran’s energy and financial sectors. They have been welcomed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, signaling the likelihood that Obama will adopt at least some of them. Already the Treasury Department has expanded sanctions targeting Iran’s shipping and banking sectors based on existing law.

The problem is, Israel’s establishment no longer believes sanctions will be effective and is eager to hear what, if anything, the Obama administration has planned for the military front. Obama thus far has laid back on such plans, or even on whether he would consider drawing up such plans for such a contingency.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak toured the United States last week, and in his meetings with Clinton, national security adviser James Jones, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak outlined what is shaping up as his proposal to synthesize the two emerging crises: Barak wants Netanyahu to announce a bold peace initiative with the Palestinians as a means of freeing Israel diplomatically to operate in the military sphere should the need arise with Iran.

It’s not clear what his American interlocutors thought of the plan or whether it has resonance in Israel. A key element involves bringing into the government the centrist opposition party, Kadima, whose leader, Tzipi Livni, in recent weeks has indicated receptiveness to such overtures.

An Israeli initiative is necessary “to prevent our descent into isolation,” Barak told reporters after his meetings. “It is the only way to achieve real freedom to act when there are security events.”

JTA

 
 

Obama-Netanyahu meeting looks good, but what did they talk about?

WASHINGTON – The visuals were perfect, but the meaning was elusive.

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat together Tuesday, joshing and smiling, trying to project a clear message: The rift was over. Israel and the United States are on the same track again.

“In terms of my relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I know the press, both in Israel and stateside, enjoys seeing if there’s news there,” Obama said. “But the fact of the matter is that I’ve trusted Prime Minister Netanyahu since I met him before I was elected president, and have said so both publicly and privately.”

The meeting capped months of tensions sparked by Israel’s announcement in March of a major housing start in eastern Jerusalem during an official visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden.

The image of a friendly encounter between the two leaders was almost tainted in the lead-up to the meeting when it was leaked that Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, had warned in a private conversation of a “tectonic rift” between the two countries. Oren later explained that he had been misquoted: “Shift,” he said.

In any case, U.S. officials said in a rare on-the-record call last Friday, there is no fissure.

“There’s absolutely no rift between the United States and Israel,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, said in the conference call.

Dan Shapiro, the senior National Security Council official who runs the Israel desk, said he “can certainly underscore the incredible richness and intensity and quality of the exchange between our governments in military channels, in political channels, in intelligence channels.”

Officials were brimming with superlatives. Details, however, were lacking, and in some areas there was evident disagreement.

The leaders agreed, for instance, on the need to go to direct talks with the Palestinians; the Palestinian Authority has resisted them pending a full settlement freeze.

Obama, however, set a deadline of sorts when he made clear that he wanted such talks to start before September, when Netanyahu’s self-imposed 10-month settlement freeze lapses.

“My hope is that once direct talks have begun, well before the moratorium has expired, that that will create a climate in which everybody feels a greater investment in success,” Obama said.

Israeli officials, speaking on and off the record, made it clear that they were not confident the Palestinians were ready for direct talks and would not commit to a deadline.

The sides also spoke of confidence-building measures. Pressed for specifics, Obama cited the need for the Palestinians to further inhibit incitement, and called on Israel to “widen the scope” of Palestinian security responsibilities in the west bank, given the advances that a U.S.-led team has had in training Palestinian security forces.

In the meetings before and after lunch, however, Netanyahu and his team suggested that the Israelis were not confident enough in the Palestinians to assume greater security control in areas outside their current purview of a handful of cities.

Most tellingly, Obama administration officials said the peace process and moving to direct talks was reason No. 1 for the Obama-Netanyahu meeting.

Israeli officials placed it a distant third behind delivering assurances to Israel that the United States would not press Israel for nuclear transparency, and U.S. assistance in shepherding Israel past the crisis sparked by Israel’s deadly May 31 raid on an aid flotilla that aimed to breach Israel’s embargo of the Gaza Strip.

Still, the Israeli team emerged from the meetings reassured and even jovial. The nuclear issue was key.

“The United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine its security interests,” Obama said, referring to his administration’s efforts to get more countries to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Israeli officials had raised concerns after a U.S.-hosted conference in May concluded with an agreement to consider the issue of Israel. U.S. officials said later that the issue should only be considered subsequent to a comprehensive, permanent peace, which is Israel’s position.

The United States and Israel have a longstanding agreement to maintain ambiguity on Israel’s nuclear capacity. Israel is believed to maintain an arsenal of up to 200 nuclear warheads.

Netanyahu thanked Obama for “reaffirming the longstanding U.S. commitments to Israel on matters of vital strategic importance.”

Especially impressive to the Israelis, and to pro-Israel lobbyists that have fretted about the ostensible rift, was how Obama framed the announcement.

“We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it’s in and the threats that are leveled against us — against it — that Israel has unique security requirements,” Obama said. “It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region. And that’s why we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel’s security.”

The remark spoke to the “kishkes” factor — the concern among some pro-Israel groups about whether Obama has an intuitive, gut understanding of Israel’s security needs.

“This recognition by the United States of Israel’s security needs is a testament to the common understanding of the complexities of the Middle East situation,” B’nai B’rith International said in a statement.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said, “For over 60 years Israel has offered its hand in peace, demonstrating again and again its willingness to make real and heartrending sacrifices — altering borders, relinquishing territory, uprooting families and entire communities — in the pursuit of peace,” the organization noted.

Israeli officials said they were especially pleased with U.S. efforts to push back pressure for an international inquiry into the flotilla raid, which left nine Turks dead — including one Turkish-American citizen — and which has disrupted ties among Turkey, the United States, and Israel.

Netanyahu also said he was pleased by the Iran sanctions Obama helped shepherd through the United Nations Security Council, as well as congressional sanctions that became law last week.

JTA

 
 

Opposition to Israeli conversion bill mounts

WASHINGTON – Opposition to a proposed Israeli conversion bill is mounting, from the U.S. Congress to the Israeli prime minister.

Meanwhile, the bill is likely to be put on hold while the Knesset adjourns this week for a two-month recess.

The controversy over the bill erupted last week when its main sponsor, David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, unexpectedly put it to a committee vote. The measure passed by a 5-4 margin, sending it to the full Knesset.

Meant to give would-be converts more leeway in choosing where and how to convert in Israel, the bill also would consolidate control over conversions under the office of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Non-Orthodox diaspora Jewish movements and the leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America and Jewish Agency for Israel all have warned that non-Orthodox converts would be put at risk of being disqualified as Jews by the Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.

image
Sen. Ron Wyden, left, is asking Jewish Senate colleagues to sign a letter opposing an Israeli conversion bill. Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, right, has agreed to sign the letter. Office of Sen. Ron Wyden/Office of Sen. Frank Lautenburg

In recent days, a Jewish U.S. senator unhappy about the bill, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), began circulating a letter asking fellow lawmakers to join him in condemning the controversial Israeli measure. Wyden’s letter is circulating among the Senate’s 13 Jewish lawmakers for more signatures before it is delivered to Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

Meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he opposes the bill in its current form. The bill “could tear apart the Jewish people,” Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday.

Following its passage last week by the Knesset’s Law, Constitution, and Justice Committee, the bill must pass three readings in the Knesset for it to become law. The prime minister said he would try to remove the bill by consensus, but if that fails he will ask members of his Likud Party and other coalition members to oppose it in the Knesset. With the Knesset on the cusp of a long recess, the bill is unlikely to come up for another vote until the fall.

Rotem says the bill aims to simplify the conversion process, empowering local Israeli community rabbis to perform conversions and thereby make it easier for Israelis to convert — including those who don’t intend to adhere to Orthodox observance. But in giving the Chief Rabbinate ultimate authority over conversions, the bill puts non-Orthodox converts at risk and may make it more difficult for non-Orthodox converts to make aliyah, critics in the diaspora warn.

Rotem says the bill should not concern diaspora Jews.

“It has nothing to do with Jews in the diaspora,” Rotem told JTA last week. “It is only an Israeli matter.”

Shas Party Chairman Eli Yishai, a member of Netanyahu’s coalition government, said he supports the bill.

“The absence of a conversion law is the greatest spiritual danger for the people of Israel at this time,” he told Ynet.

In the United States, the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox organization, said that “While the legislation in question may not be perfect, we who live in North America must recognize that it does contain much to commend it.”

The RCA called on diaspora Jews not to interfere with the internal Israeli legislation, noting, incorrectly, that “North American Jews have long embraced the principle that the duly elected leadership of the State of Israel should not be subject to outside interference or pressure by other governments, religious bodies, or communal entities.”

The chorus of American voices against the bill is growing, particularly in the Conservative and Reform movements, whose members make up most of American Jewry but have only a small presence in Israel. Opponents are concerned by the bill’s clause that converts will be recognized as Jews only if they “accepted the Torah and the commandments in accordance with halacha,” which could exclude some converts from being eligible to obtain Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return because they would not be considered Jews by Israel.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, wrote an open letter to Netanyahu explaining why the bill will divide the Jewish community.

“The way to really ‘solve this problem’ is to have options for multiple streams and for the indigenous Israeli expressions that will only flower in a non-coercive system,” she wrote.

The Jewish Federations of North America said it supports the U.S. Senate letter opposing the Israeli bill.

“We welcome any expression of commitment from influential Jews to maintain the unity of the Jewish people and the dangers posed by this divisive legislation,” said William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of JFNA’s Washington office.

In Washington, U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) have signed the Wyden letter.

“I am troubled by a proposal which I believe would make it more difficult for many people who want to convert to Judaism to do so,” Levin told JTA.

The letter’s text has not been made public.

Jewish members of the U.S. House of Representatives also have expressed support for Wyden’s letter. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and international programs, left a message for Netanyahu and spoke directly to Oren to voice her objection to the bill.

“Congresswoman Lowey believes Israel should continue to be a welcoming place for Jews, as it has been through its history,” said Matthew Dennis, Lowey’s spokesman. “She is concerned that this bill would alienate Jews around the world and risks weakening the sense of unity within the diaspora that is critical to Israel’s security.”

JTA

 
 

The peace talks — and their obstacles

Ron KampeasWorld
Published: 10 September 2010
image
President Obama holds a working dinner at the White House Sept. 1 with, clockwise from left, King Abdullah II of Jordan, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Quartet envoy Tony Blair, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. White House/Pete Souza

WASHINGTON – Peace in a year? Try getting past Sept. 26. Or is it 30?

Direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis have barely begun and already the sides are facing their first major hurdle — the end of Israel’s partial moratorium on settlement-building.

Several issues might beset the sides as they aim to meet the yearlong deadline suggested by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and endorsed (with considerable enthusiasm) by President Obama and (with less enthusiasm) by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

News Analysis

The hard questions — the status of Palestinian refugees and the sharing of Jerusalem — promise to vex the negotiators, as they have for years. Even before that point, however, a number of issues already are creating anxieties among negotiators in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Washington.

That moratorium: Netanyahu placed a partial moratorium on settlement-building to entice Abbas to the negotiating table. It lapses Sept. 26 — although not effectively until Sept. 30 because of the Sukkot holiday — and Netanyahu has said he will not renew it. Abbas says he will not be able to continue talks without it.

U.S. officials are pressing the sides to come up with a way out before the next meeting of the leaders, on Sept. 14 in Egypt. Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, has spoken of “incentivizing” the Palestinians with other gestures.

Oren did not elaborate, but Netanyahu has made a point of talking up economic incentives for the Palestinians, including increased commerce by reducing regulations and pulling away roadblocks.

Another way out would be for both sides to avoid questions about the deadline as it approaches and for the moratorium to continue, unofficially, without comment from either the Israelis or Palestinians. Most Israelis living within Israel’s pre-1967 borders — the area known as the Green Line — wouldn’t notice whether or not building was continuing in settlements, but the impact would be immediately noticeable to Palestinians.

Supporters of the settlement movement, however, say the current restrictions create burdens for the 300,000 Israeli Jews living in the west bank. The settler community has vowed to protest unless settlement building returns to 2008 levels.

That deadline: Netanyahu wants an agreement within a year, and before that an interim agreement outlining the parameters of a final status deal. He has made clear, however, in private conversations with U.S. officials that the agreement will be on paper until the Israeli leader is sure that he can secure his country’s borders — in other words, Israelis are saying nothing goes into effect for five, perhaps 10 years.

The Israeli expectation is that Abbas will be able to sell the Palestinian public a peace deal based on clearly detailed outlines of what they will get down the line — sort of like showing 10-year-old Junior the catalogue photo of the BB rifle he’ll get for his 15th birthday.

Abbas wants more tangible results, and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, has suggested that a state could be in place by 2011. Fayyad later qualified this to say that he was referring to the infrastructure of a state, much the way that the Zionist movement had the instruments of statehood ready to go for years before Israel’s founding in 1948.

Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are seeking a patina of inevitability to fend off a challenge to their legitimacy by the Hamas terrorist group, which routed them from the Gaza Strip in 2007 and poses a challenge to them in the west bank. What remains to be seen is whether state institutions — short of statehood — grants them that inevitability.

That border: Netanyahu wants a demilitarized Palestinian state, which the Palestinians effectively conceded in the 1990s. But like his predecessors, he also wants a long-term, if not permanent, presence in the Jordan Valley, along the border with Jordan, to contain the threat from the east that for generations has exercised Israelis.

The Palestinians (and the Jordanians) counter, what threat from the east? The prospect of having to secure Israel’s longest border once may have been a concern, in terms of its drain on Israel’s military, but there is a peace treaty with Jordan and the United States has neutralized Iraq. And for the Palestinians, the point of the peace is to rid themselves of any continued notion of Israeli military occupation.

Iraq may be neutralized for now, the Israelis counter, but the region is inherently unstable and Iran is sinking its claws into Iraq.

That territory: So within a year there is peace with the Palestinian Authority and mutual recognition, an end to all claims.

Well, except for Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, which does not recognize Israel or any prospects for peace — and barely recognizes Abbas.

What does peace mean without the territory Israel referred to between 1949 and 1967 as a “dagger aimed at Tel Aviv” and the acquiescence of its 1.3 million Palestinians?

Just pretend and hope, Oren says.

“We are negotiating, we, the United States, and the Palestinians are all three of us negotiating — throw the Egyptians and the Jordanians in there for good measure, too — as if the west bank and Gaza are together when in fact we know they’re not,” the envoy said recently. “The assumption is, if we cut a deal with the PA, and someday the people of Gaza throw off the Hamas yoke, they’ll join the peace arrangement.”

That word: Netanyahu has made clear he wants the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and in this he has the Obama administration’s backing. The Israeli prime minister did not invent this formulation — Tzipi Livni introduced it in 2006 when she was foreign minister.

The rationale was that the PLO’s absolute recognition of Israel — extracted in excruciating negotiations by Netanyahu during his previous prime ministry, in 1998 — added up to not much. In the 2000 Camp David talks, the Palestinians insisted on a Palestinian right of return, which Israel believed added up to a peaceful plan for removing the Jewish state. The Palestinians also denied any Jewish claim to Jerusalem.

That was followed by the bloodshed of the second intifada, and for Israelis the failure to accept the Jews as a natural presence in the region became inextricably linked to the trauma of those years. The algebra was simple: Failure to recognize the Jewish claim equals anti-Jewish incitement equals violence.

Netanyahu has said that demilitarization and recognition of the Jewish claim are the keys to reaching a true peace deal.

The Palestinian Authority rejects this analysis. Its reasons for avoiding the Jewish claim is the responsibility that the Palestinian leadership feels for the 20 percent of Israelis who are Arab — it does not want to cut them out of their rights, although Netanyahu has said they will always be upheld.

There is also the sense among Palestinians that they have ceded enough by settling for “only” the west bank and Gaza, 22 percent of British Mandate Palestine.

Nonetheless, there have been signs in recent months of movement here: In a meeting with U.S. Jewish leaders in June, Abbas recognized the ancient Jewish history in the area.

When Palestinian diaspora intellectuals challenged this as capitulation last month, the PA mission in Washington pushed back not by parsing Abbas’ statement, but by repeating it and saying that it did not undermine the Palestinian claim.

JTA

image
President Obama holds a working dinner at the White House Sept. 1 with, clockwise from left, King Abdullah II of Jordan, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Quartet envoy Tony Blair, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. White House/Pete Souza
 
 

Facing confluence of diplomatic events, Israel taking wait-and-see stance

image
From left, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, on Sept. 14. Moshe Milner/GPO

WASHINGTON – Heading into a period of intense diplomatic activity, Israel and the pro-Israel community are taking what may appear to be an atypical wait-and-see approach.

That sentiment and the Jewish holidays explain the relatively muted tone.

News Analysis

This week, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik for their second round of direct talks. Next week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to deliver his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly — his first since the international community launched a major intensification of sanctions aimed at getting Iran to make its nuclear program more transparent.

Also next week, two separate U.N. inquiries into Israel’s deadly May 31 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla of ships are likely to be released.

Such a confluence of events, with its potential for anti-Israel invective, normally would invite a vigorous “best defense is an offense” approach from the pro-Israel community. Instead, organizations appear to be hanging back.

The reason, insiders say, is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees the stakes as too high for nasty back-and-forths between Israel and its opponents to get in the way. Netanyhahu is genuinely invested in the peace process and does not want to hand Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas an excuse to bolt.

Netanyahu also wants the Obama administration to have room to maneuver as the prospect of a nuclear Iran looms larger.

“The Israelis are saying this is real — Netanyahu wants to talk to Abbas one on one, and they will either move this ball forward or they won’t,” said William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America, who has been in close contact with Israeli officials.

Netanyahu’s seriousness is underscored by what appears to be a shift on extending the partial settlement freeze he imposed 10 months ago. Abbas has threatened to quit the talks if the freeze is not extended past its Sept. 26 deadline, and last Friday President Obama said he also wanted it extended.

The Israeli leader, who until this week had refused an extension, suggested to his cabinet on Sunday that there may be room for compromise.

“Between zero and one there are a lot of possibilities,” Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying.

Key to Netanyahu’s calculations is the improved relationship he has with Obama, a critical element in selling concessions to the Israeli public. At a news conference last Friday, Obama praised Netanyahu’s freeze.

“The irony is that when Prime Minister Netanyahu put the moratorium in place, the Palestinians were very skeptical,” Obama said. “They said this doesn’t do anything. And it turns out, to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s credit and to the Israeli government’s credit, the settlement moratorium has actually been significant. It has significantly reduced settlement construction in the region. And that’s why now the Palestinians say, you know what, even though we weren’t that keen on it at first or we thought it was just window dressing, it turns out that this is important to us.”

Another calculus for the Netanyahu government in its wait-and-see plan is the Obama administration’s success in drumming up Iran sanctions. Most recently, Japan and South Korea expanded sanctions over China’s objections, joining the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Norway in targeting the Islamic Republic’s energy and banking sectors.

Even Russia is reported to have effectively “forgotten” to deliver its promised S-300 air defense system to Iran, which would considerably boost Iran’s ability to repel a strike against its nuclear arms centers should they become active.

U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies agree that Iran is feeling the squeeze, Israeli officials have said, leading Israel to defer to the Obama administration — for now.

“We’ve seen that the sanctions have taken a bite,” Michael Oren, Israel’s U.S. ambassador, told JTA. “But they have not yet in any way stopped enriching uranium or pressing on with their nuclear program. So that’s going to be the true test. Six or nine months down the road, we’re going to have to reassess and see where the sanctions are going.”

Ahmadinejad’s planned appearance at the General Assembly next week usually would spur the major Jewish organizations to organize a major protest rally to underscore his isolation. But with the Sukkot holiday coinciding with this year’s General Assembly, the protest has been scaled down to a Central Park rally organized by StandWithUs, a student-driven pro-Israel group.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is urging nations to walk out when Ahmadinejad speaks.

“We call upon all member states that uphold democracy and human rights to manifest their rejection and disapproval of President Ahmadinejad’s incitement, bigotry, and Holocaust denial by walking out of the General Assembly during his speech,” the organization said in a statement.

Local Jewish groups are planning sustained activism on Iran, said Josh Protas, the Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish community relations councils.

“Several communities are planning days of action to raise community awareness about Ahmadinejad, the United Nations, the continued threat,” he said.

JCRCs are asking members to press lawmakers to keep Iran on the agenda, on the federal level and state level, where divestment initiatives are flourishing, Protas said.

“There’s a recognition that the sanctions don’t end the situation,” he said.

The collective decision by Israel and Jewish groups to lay low on the dueling reports on the flotilla raid is seen as a test of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has tried to moderate the U.N. probes of the raid.

Israel was condemned harshly after its commandos killed nine Turks when violence broke out on one of the ships during Israel’s operation to stop the flotilla from breaking the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel’s defenders say the commandos came under attack and were defending themselves; critics say Israel used excessive force.

Pro-Israel officials expect the investigation of the incident by the U.N. Human Rights Council to be biased; the council condemns Israel more than any other nation. The other investigatory commission, however, which Ban appointed and is headed by Geoffrey Palmer, a former New Zealand prime minister, is seen as fair. Netanyahu cooperated with that commission.

The question, said Daniel Mariaschin, the executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, is whether Ban will be able to maneuver his commission’s report into being the one adopted and advanced by other U.N. bodies, including the General Assembly, rather than the U.N. Human Rights Council report.

“This is a test for the U.N. and for Ban’s leadership,” Mariaschin said. “Will it be fair?”

JTA

 
 

Amid rancorous debate, JCPA pushes civility

WASHINGTON – When disagreement among American Jews on Israel-related issues runs deep, how does an organization that bills itself as the representative voice of the organized American Jewish community formulate policies and priorities?

By emphasizing civility in public discourse, for starters.

That was one of the main areas of focus at this week’s annual plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which drew delegates from Jewish community relations councils and national advocacy groups across the United States to talk about American Jewish public policy priorities.

image
Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, addresses the annual Jewish Council for Public Affairs Plenum in Washington on Sunday. Courtesy JCPA

Plenum organizers said the goal was to show that while differences within the Jewish community factions are substantive, particularly when it comes to Israel, it’s possible to discuss them without rancor.

“Civility is not avoiding uncomfortable conversations — it’s our respect for the dignity of other people and careful listening,” said Ethan Felson, the JCPA’s vice president.

That approach led to sessions featuring polar opposites: Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and a doyen of liberalism, joined James Woolsey, a neoconservative icon and former CIA director, in a discussion on energy independence.

The liveliest session, delegates said, was when Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project, faced off against author Peter Beinart, who argued in a controversial essay last year that reflective defense of Israel in the public sphere is alienating Jewish youngsters.

Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, addressed the widening gap between the Israeli and American Jewish communities. Young Jews in Israel, he said, have more in common with the Druze and Bedouin with whom they serve in the army than with American Jewish college students.

Oren said it was critical to overcome what can seem like “unbridgeable schisms” between Israelis and Americans.

“We are united at the heart, a rambunctious, often fractious people,” he said. “While the experiences of American Jews have made them more liberal and progressive, impelled by our traumas and our disappointments, Israelis have become somewhat skeptical of peace.”

Despite his plea for dialogue, Oren was among those who boycotted the J Street conference last month after a campaign by mainstream and right-wing pro-Israel groups to keep centrist and Israeli figures away from the conference.

In a separate appearance at the JCPA plenum, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress and a J Street favorite, told a questioner who urged him to denounce those who describe Israel as an “apartheid” state that such rote statements are besides the point.

“We don’t need more cheerleaders for both sides,” he said. “We need more peacemakers for both sides.”

The applause for Ellison underscored the continued liberal bearings of a large segment of the Jewish community. So did the warm reception accorded Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s top domestic policy adviser, who revealed in her address that her great-grandfather was Jewish.

Jarrett went out of her way to suggest that tensions over Israel between organized Jewish groups and the Obama administration were overstated.

She referred to the March 1 meeting between Obama and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, saying that the president “made clear that while the region will evolve, some things will never change. Among them is his unshakeable support for Israel’s security; his opposition to any effort to delegitimize Israel, or single her out for criticism; and his commitment to achieve a peace that will secure the future for Arabs and Israelis alike.”

The Presidents Conference participants described that meeting as friendly, but some were rankled by Obama’s remark that they and Israeli leaders should “search their souls” about whether Israel is serious about peace.

Most of Jarrett’s speech was devoted to the president’s domestic agenda and his efforts to push back against plans by the Republican-led House of Representatives to slash spending on education and infrastructure and assisting struggling families. She pitched legislative efforts to close the income gap between men and women.

“Now that two-thirds of all families depend on two working parents, when women make less than men for the same work, or when women go into low-paying jobs, it affects the entire family,” she said.

Jarrett’s message of sustaining the social net resonated with a JCPA agenda that focused, in resolutions and in Hill lobbying, on alleviating poverty.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the conference’s most senior Republican speaker, recognized the community’s Democratic tilt in his address Tuesday morning, before delegates lobbied their representatives. Glancing through the JCPA’s agenda, Kirk noted that as a moderate Republican he supported much of it, including two initiatives against discrimination against gays.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Christie plans Israel visit

April visit to be his first overseas trip as governor

_JStandardLocal | World
Published: 28 October 2011
image
Gov. Chris Christie met with Ambassador of Israel to the United States Dr. Michael Oren on Monday, Oct. 24. Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen

Gov. Chris Christie this week announced that his first overseas trip as New Jersey’s chief of state will be to the State of Israel. Christie made the announcement following a meeting with Ambassador of Israel to the United States Dr. Michael Oren at the Statehouse on Monday, Oct. 24.

“I’m pleased to be able to welcome Ambassador Oren here today,” Christie said. Among the topics the two men discussed, the governor said, was “our common upbringing. We both grew up in Livingston and West Orange, and spent a lot of time there in our youth and so we shared a lot of those experiences as well.”

“Also, the ambassador, Mary Pat, and I have decided that our first foreign travel as governor and the first lady will be Israel next year,” Christie said, adding that the trip most likely will take place in April.

“It’s an important visit for me personally and an important visit for the folks of New Jersey as well,” Christie said.

Oren thanked Christie for their meeting and “for sharing our childhood memories, even though we were rival football teams.”

Unfortunately, Oren said of Christie, “his team won all the time.”

The ambassador went on to emphasize “the great similarities between Israel and the State of New Jersey. It is obvious that our states are virtually the same size, [have] virtually the same population, and so…[try to] imagine the State of New Jersey transported to the Middle East where we find tens of thousands of rockets on its borders, hostile nations, a nation not far away which is developing nuclear weapons with the express purpose of erasing the Jewish state from the map.”

Israel, said Oren, is able to “overcome those challenges through our strong support in the United States in general and New Jersey in particular.

“New Jersey, as [the governor] mentioned, has had a long and very proud history of supporting the State of Israel. We have great centers of support in the state and we discussed ways that we can further advance this in the field of trade and security, in tourism by having the governor and his family come visit us, and we look forward to hosting you very much, you and your family.”

Accompanying Oren to the meeting were Acting Consul General of Israel in New York Ido Aharoni and Deputy Consul General of Israel in New York Shlomi Kofman. Present with Christie was New Jersey Israel Commission Chairman Mark Levenson.

 
 
 
Page 2 of 2 pages  <  1 2
 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31