The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Goldstone Report

Hillary backpedals over settlement praise, Goldstone Report is buried in Congress

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Hillary Clinton. Photo: AP.

In Israel-related news, the media today had to make a decision over what was more relevant. Do we report on Hillary Clinton’s furious back-pedalling over her statements regarding the fairly irrelevant, and existent in name only, peace process? Or do we instead report on US Congress predictably landslide-voting to bury the Goldstone Report, the irrelevance of which seems to be growing by the day? Predictably, the media felt that a foreign policy gaffe by the Secretary of State was an opportunity too good to pass up, and happily plumped for the former. And why not? Didn’t anyone else think that Clinton falling all over herself to appease AIPAC was amusing? As in, depressingly amusing, but hey this is Israel-Palestine we’re talking about, it’s always going to be somewhat morbid amusement.

So Clinton says to Al-Jazeera in Morocco:

“I think, as you know, President [Barack] Obama clearly said he wanted to see an end to settlement activity,”

“That had never been requested prior to any negotiation entered into by any representative of either the Palestinians or the Israelis.”

After her trip to Morocco, Clinton flew to Cairo to deal with the aftermath of her gaffe committed in previous days, to talk to “Egyptian leaders” as the Star Tribune reports. VOA reports that she’s meeting Uncle Hosni.

The NZ Herald has the following to say:

Clinton’s comments in Jerusalem appeared to reflect a realisation within the Obama Administration that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Government will not accept a full-scale settlement freeze and that a partial halt may be the best lesser option. Her appeal seemed designed to make the Israeli position more palatable to the Palestinians and Arab states.

But the ever-present question begs. If the settlements are illegal, and if the Obama administration ‘unequivocally’ opposes them, then why can’t the Obama Administration put more pressure on the Netanyahu Government to halt them entirely. There has been precious little evidence of any real pressure on Netanyahu, in fact Bibi, and other pro-settlement folk, have been glowing with pride over his constant ‘victories’ over Obama. So why bother saying that you’re against something ‘unequivocally’ but do nothing tangible to actually stop it? Ah yes, well, that’s called empty rhetoric, ladies and gentlemen, and Obama’s Administration seems to be very good at it… until now when the rhetoric spills over into weird fawning, as Clinton’s statements the other day indicate. What Clinton terms ‘positive reinforcement’ to the rest of us looks like diplomatic genuflection.

As per the words of the Hillary, “We need to work together in a constructive spirit toward this shared goal of a comprehensive peace.” Indeed, the Netanyahu Government’s spirit has been very constructive – constructive of settlements in the Occupied West Bank, not sure how ‘comprehensive’ the peace is going to be though, unless the Palestinian residents of the West Bank are simply built over with cement.

Oh and about that Goldstone report? Yeah Congress voted 344-36 to bury that baby, something that Mondoweiss called “Pyongyang-style”. That linked post also contains a list of the “Nays” in case you’re American and want to write a letter to your local congressman congratulating him or her for possessing some modicum of cojones. I believe Gregg from The Majlis, who live-blogged the debate from Congress, pretty much sums up how the rest of us feel about this vote.

But it’s not all bad news, folks. Mondoweiss:

My sources tell me that the total of 36 No’s and 22 voting Present is actually a giant improvement over, say, the Lebanon votes that typically were in the 400 range, Yes-wise.

Progress!

Written by alexlobov

November 4, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Goldstone speaks, goes on the defensive

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You would have been under a rock if you hadn’t noticed the veritable storm of controversy surrounding the Goldstone Report since its release. Justice Goldstone himself has not been under said rock, and he’s also noticed the fairly rhetorical manner in which his report is being attacked. His first and foremost challenge to critics: read the bloody thing! The man has a point, the Obama administration has denounced the report in strong words, and assisted Israel with its diplomatic offensive to have the report ignored. Most are assuming that the US will use its veto on the Security Council to make sure the report is not accepted (if Russia or China, both of which have come out in opposition to the report, don’t get there first, though admittedly Russia did back it in the UNHRC).

Lebanon’s Daily Star has a good round-up of the choice quotes from the al-Jazeera interview Justice Goldstone gave:

“I have yet to hear from the [Barack] Obama administration what the flaws in the report that they have identified are,” South African former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone told Al-Jazeera television.

“I would be happy to respond to them, if and when I know what they are,” added the jurist…

“I’ve no doubt, many of the critics – the overwhelming majority of critics – have not read the report,” he said, adding that the criticism had become personal. [Daily Star]

You can view the full interview here.

One other thing that struck me about the interview was Goldstone’s continued preambles of “As a Jew…”, it strikes me because it gives an idea of how deeply personal the attacks have been. I’m sure Justice Goldstone and his family have suffered a great deal in these past few weeks, what with their commitment to Israel and Jewishness questioned, as well as their very humanity and ethnic identity denied. I think the criticism from some members of the Zionist lobby has been a fairly nasty piece of work indeed.

Goldstone also wrote a piece that appeared in Jerusalem Post and Guardian’s comment-is-free, in it we have the same entreatments to read the report rather than go into personal attacks, also an interesting bit of rebuttal from him regarding the dismissal of the UNHRC’s recommendation to have the report looked at on the basis that its members have questionable human rights records themselves:

Israel and its courts have always recognised that they are bound by norms of international law that it has formally ratified or that have become binding as customary international law upon all nations. The fact that the United Nations and too many members of the international community have unfairly singled out Israel for condemnation and failed to investigate horrible human rights violations in other countries cannot make Israel immune from the very standards it has accepted as binding upon it.

Indeed, the Human Rights record of its members should not be used to mask the question at hand, if Israel committed war crimes in Gaza then it should be properly investigated and brought to justice for doing so. Questioning the human rights records of members such as Angola, Nigeria and Egypt as a reason to have the Council’s recommendation ignored does more to harm Israel’s reputation. Israel, claiming to be a bastion of democracy and law, should be striving to exceed such expectations, not compare itself to countries with Human Rights records severely blighted already.

All-in-all I find Goldstone’s defense to be adequate, well-reasoned and somewhat alarming. It is not too much to ask that if the report be criticised, then it should be properly read and the sections of the report with which issue is taken to be pointed out. Stonewalling it without even addressing it is not a constructive thing to do.

Written by alexlobov

October 23, 2009 at 12:15 pm

UNHRC endorses Goldstone Report & more anti-Goldstone crazy

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Photo Credit: AP

Photo Credit: AP

Breaking news via JPost & Haaretz, Goldstone Report is endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council:

The resolution passed 25-6, with mostly developing countries in favor and the United States and five European countries opposing. Eleven mostly European and African countries abstained, while Britain, France and three other members of the 47-nation body declined to vote. [JPost]

The resolution agreed in Geneva simply calls for the U.N. General Assembly to consider the Goldstone report and for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back to the Human Rights Council on Israel’s adherence to it.

The report calls for the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court if the Israelis or Palestinians fail to investigate the alleged abuses themselves. [Haaretz] (For full breakdown of votes for/against/abstentions click the Haaretz link

UPDATE: You can haz vote breakdown, hat-tips Haaretz & Jpost

Against: The U.S., Italy, Holland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Ukraine.

For: China, Russia, Egypt, India, Jordan, Pakistan, South Africa, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ghana, Indonesia, Djibouti, Liberia, Qatar, Senegal, Brazil, Mauritius, Nicaragua and Nigeria.

Abstain: Bosnia, Burkina-Faso, Cameron, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Belgium, South Korea, Slovenia and Uruguay.

Refused to Vote: Britain, France

Not Present: Madagascar and Kyrgyzstan were not present during the vote.

We’ll update you on new stuff that comes out of this as soon as we can. In the meantime… here’s your daily dose of crazy.

UPDATED:

The Guardian pretty much sums up the repercussions of this:

Hamas looks unlikely to investigate its actions during the war and Netanyahu has already insisted he will not allow any Israelis to face war crimes trials. The US would almost certainly veto any decision critical of Israel if the issue reached a vote in the security council.

It’s good to see that this vote has been passed, it’s interesting to see that Bibi’s shuttle diplomacy during the meeting only succeeded in bringing around the US & some Europeans. This could be a further indicator that the first to abandon Israel’s side completely will be the developing world. However, despite a good deal of discussion in the UK about this, it’s disappointing that they chose not to vote for it in the end and decided instead to not participate due to lack of time. The old stalling ploy. Nice one, Gordon.

Sometimes I wonder why Haaretz continues to put this kind of crap into print, maybe the anti-Goldstone lobby simply has no real reasonable ammunition left so they just have to make do with intermittently sounding either like a bunch of petulant children or old men shaking their fists at clouds, and maybe Haaretz just prints it in order to sound “fair and balanced”.

This here article by one Yoel Marcus is so chock-full of ridiculousness that I just can’t help myself, let me sum it up for you:

Firstly, Turkey is clearly on its way to becoming a member of the Axis of Evil since the grave error of supporting the Goldstone Report sin of not allowing Israel to use their airspace for military exercises was committed. But don’t worry, this doesn’t matter, the Turks don’t matter, WE DONT NEED THE TURKS (despite them being the biggest economy in the region & Israel’s only friend in it). Also, apparently the Turks no longer have any right to criticise anyone since what they did to the Armenians and the Kurds, nope, no right at all. Never mind that, you know, of course this in no way refutes the fact that Israel killed children in Gaza, as the Turks rightfully pointed out… it’s just that the Turks can’t say anything cos they were bad too! Tattle-tales! While poor Israel has “become the world’s doormat” despite having the unquestioned support of the world’s only superpower.

Furthermore, Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denying means he is in no way allowed to consider nuclear weapons, for shame for even suggesting it, while Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons arsenal or ‘the thing we do not speak of’ is… cool. The article also credits Netanyahu for his grand-peacemaking plan: “Two states for two peoples”, all credit to Bibi, perhaps he should get the next Nobel Peace Prize? Oh and bloody Abbas, he’s been such a terrible man, despite initially helping Israel whitewash the Report, Hosni Mubarak on the other hand “turns out to be the most level-headed leader in the region”. Amazing!

There is also this bizarre little gem explaining why we should not talk to Iran:

Dialogue? Go for it. The Iranians are known for their salesmanship – when someone asks the owner of a carpet store the time, he will end up buying three rugs before getting an answer.

I never wanted those bloody rugs in the first place but I have to say, they are rather pretty…

Anyway there’s more crazy in there but my rant was long enough. See it & behold for yourselves!

UPDATED

- Saba Imtiaz

Al Jazeera’s live stream crashed on me so I couldn’t view the endorsement of the Goldstone Report for myself.  That personal boo-hoo aside, should one be fairly optimistic or fairly cynical of this? If the Goldstone Report has been decried so much already, will an endorsement make any difference?

I’m going to lean towards yes, despite the signals of a third intifada in the making. In terms of its symbolic value, the endorsement – as has the Report – have been discussed worldwide now. While the countries that voted for the endorsement are pretty much the ones expected to, it is an important sign that the Report wasn’t just reduced to piles of paper. Israel and Hamas (though the level of their war crimes are by no means equally proportional) need to be held accountable for what happened during Operation Cast Lead, but more importantly Israel needs to realize what a major blunder they have caused in the aftermath of the invasion.

This is also an important sign to the Obama administration. They need to read (seriously, the amount of ill-informed opinions there are floating out there!) the Goldstone Report and realize that neither does their approval of the Israeli government’s actions help nor do their half-hearted squawks of disapproval hurt whenever the Israel government allows building settlements. If President Obama’s ill-thought out Nobel Peace Prize win was a “call to action” to him, then the time is now to act.

And if you’re looking for more optimism, Marc Lynch has a fairly good idea of why this could help move the peace process along.

First, the vote shows that Israel is paying a price for its short-sighted diplomatic strategy of confrontation with the Obama administration.

Second, the passage of the report may slightly increase the odds of a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement under Egyptian auspices.

Third, the U.S. will almost certainly veto any move in the Security Council to act on the report. But given how much importance the Israeli government has given to the Goldstone Report, this veto might actually be used as a form of leverage.

Written by alexlobov

October 16, 2009 at 11:58 pm

Hamas-Fatah reconciliation looks distant, Abbas looks beleaguered

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Poor Mahmoud Abbas, with every day his irrelevance seems to be growing. Fatah have now admitted that a mistake has been made and that discussion of the Goldstone Report should not have been postponed. Could this be because everyone in Palestine is now baying for your blood, Abu Mazen? What I don’t understand is how Fatah could have not predicted this? Did they think bowing to US pressure and facing t he music at home would be less damaging? If so, what a mistake indeed. This is a government that sorely lacks legitimacy at home, and everyone knows that all politics is local.

So according to Haaretz, Abbas has instructed his envoy to resubmit a proposal for the document to be discussed at the UN Human Rights Council. The question is, will this happen? And does it matter to the PA if it does happen? By the looks of things this is being done purely for show anyway so even if they are rebuffed they can say that they tried… but too little too late it doth seem. Israeli Arab parties are calling for Abu Mazen to step down. Hamas have asked for the planned meeting between the two parties to be postponed until after Eid al-Adha, not surprising, as Hamas is now in some tizzy over what to do about this. Technically, no ballot can go ahead without reconciliation, and the impoverished and blockaded fief of Gaza is probably getting to be rather small. There’s also the whole ideology thing.

In his first speech in a while, Abbas also advocated a return to polling stations as a solution to the Hamas-Fatah conflict, this makes plenty of sense, I don’t think the two are even close to reconciling their differences, however such a move would probably not be very favourable for Abbas who is currently deeply unpopular. Is this just random belligerence?

Written by alexlobov

October 12, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Goldstone Report continues to stir, Third Intifada? Fall of Abbas?

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You will have to forgive me for flogging this Goldstone horse, but to me it seems a horse worthy of flogging.  It seems the first attempts by our Libyan saviour to hold a meeting to discuss the report have failed, though it’s possible the report will be discussed at the next meeting of the UNSC dedicated to The Middle East, which has been bumped up to October 14th. Apparently the report is “not on the agenda” at the meeting but “we have to assume” that our saviour will bring it up. Ah geez. So welcoming, y’all are.

Israel continues to stonewall the report, as it considers recalling it’s ambassador to Sweden in response to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt’s remarks in support of it. Tensions have been inflamed further by Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Oren’s recent piece for The New Republic, an empassioned appeal against Holocaust denying and the Goldstone report, linking the two in a bizarre and twisted emotionally charged cry that lacks much reason. Here’s a choice excerpt:

The Goldstone Report goes further than Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust deniers by stripping the Jews not only of the ability and the need but of the right to defend themselves. If a country can be pummeled by thousands of rockets and still not be justified in protecting its inhabitants, then at issue is not the methods by which that country survives but whether it can survive at all. But more insidiously, the report does not only hamstring Israel; it portrays the Jews as the deliberate murderers of innocents–as Nazis. And a Nazi state not only lacks the need and right to defend itself; it must rather be destroyed.

Opposition to this well-known craziness has come thick and fast of course. Sullivan’s response is a bit of a garbled rant but he does make the obvious point:

Seriously? No; the issue is whether Israel committed war crimes in its self-defense in Gaza and whether that self-defense was disproportionate to the threat it faced.

Yes, that is indeed the issue, Mr. Oren. Everyone serious, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad notwithstanding, has said many times, the Holocaust was a terrible thing and yes the Israeli state needs to defend itself, but if Mr. Oren thinks he can play the emotion card over the Holocaust to give Israel total impunity over its ‘defensive’ actions, then he isn’t very in tune with today’s political climate. Pretty much just as every Israeli response to this report in the past, it fails to actually address the issues raised by the report and descends into a beleaguered rant. Predictably, in Oren’s latest defense of his controversial piece, he has once again brought up the suggestion that the report could set a precedent and that the US could be put in the dock for civilian deaths in Afghanistan, seirously? Does no one have respect for international law and order around here? Is this a return to the Bush doctrine of unilateralism? Should any military power occupying and conducting a war on foreign soil be allowed to act with impunity of that war is “good” and “just”. Idiocy.

Photograph: Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP

Photograph: Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP

Meanwhile, commentators from all over the place have been declaring the report and the fallout from it a watershed moment in the Middle East and predicting various things from the fall of Abbas, electronic intifada rings his death knell via al Quds al Arabi…

This time, torrents of protest and outrage flowed from almost every direction. It was as if all the suppressed anger and grief about PA collaboration with Israel during the massacres in Gaza last winter suddenly burst through a dam. “The crime at Geneva cannot pass without all those responsible being held accountable,” the widely-read London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi stated in its lead editorial on 8 October. The newspaper called for the removal of Abbas and his associates who betrayed the victims of Israel’s massacres and “saved Israel from the most serious moral, political and legal crisis it has faced since its establishment.”

to the third intifada… heralded by a rather amusingly old-school journo-orientalist article in the Telegraph (“winding alleyways of the old city”, “dozens of muslim men gathered to vent their frustration”, etc.)

and possibly a new Ice Age? Well maybe not the latter.

Ari Shavit for Haaretz contributes some ridiculous and frightening thoughts to the mix, suggesting that Israel “must exercize (sic) force once every few years” to “prevent the region’s deterioration into complete chaos.” Ohhhh I get it now… so Israel has to bomb the living daylights out of Arabs in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank in order to keep the peace! War for peace! Yes it all makes sense now! Who cares that thousands of civilians are dead, it’s for the peace process, man!

These limited demonstrations of power do not achieve a decisive military victory or a breakthrough in the peace process.

Their entire purpose is to stabilize the violent relationship between Israelis and Arabs. Thus they create a temporary, strong-arm balance that subdues the conflict and ensures calm for a few years.

For better or worse, Operation Cast Lead created such a balance. It weakened Hamas and deterred it, at a terrible human cost. It strengthened the moderate Palestinians and enabled them to grow, at an intolerable moral cost.

By “moderate Palestinians”, I assume Shavit is referring to Israel’s favourite house Arab, Abu Mazen, then I don’t think he’s been “strengthened” at all. His legitimacy is at an all time low. In fact, if Shavit thinks that somehow bombing the crap out of Palestinians with the acquiscence of their supposed leadership is supposed to strengthen said leadership then… well… he’s an idiot, really. He goes further to describe the “violent relationship between Israelis and Arabs” as “a strong arm balance”. What balance? Crude rockets against the Middle East’s best military and a crippling blockade is supposed to be a balance? Starving people in abject poverty and denying them power and medicine, a balance? But wait theres more:

The Goldstone report would never have been written without the joint work, joint bias and joint Israel-hatred of all the Goldstoners. Thus the report reflects both the Goldstoners’ holy fury and their complete belief that the Palestinians can do no wrong.

That belief is now endangering not only Israel but calm and stability. In their fanaticism and extremism, Goldstone and the Goldstoners have brought us closer to bloodshed.

The most amusing and scary part of this is that, to Shavit, “bloodshed” is an intifada or a Six-Day War, it’s one which involves significant Israeli casualties. Shavit does not recognise 1400 Palestinians dead during Operation Cast Lead as “bloodshed” because he doesn’t see Palestinians as humans capable of shedding blood that’s worth something. The claim that by analysing Israel’s actions during a war is bad because it will somehow lead to more war is so ridiculous that I wonder why Haaretz printed it. Seriously guys? This is what you could come up with?

Will wrap up this post by suggesting y’all look further at that electronic intifada piece because it has some very interesting thoughts on the bind that Hamas is now in, in terms of figuring out its response to the Goldstone Report and Abu Mazen’s capitulation.

Abbas helps bury the Goldstone Report, then regrets it.

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Muammar Qaddafi - Renewed Champion of the Palestinian cause on the Security Council? Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters
Muammar Qaddafi – Renewed Champion of the Palestinian cause on the Security Council? Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters

In the wake of the Goldstone Report, things were meant to be done! Action was meant to be taken! Perpetrators were meant to be put in the dock and have had various parts of them chopped off! Or something of that order… but surprisingly (I know I know, I’m just as surprised as the rest of you) that hasn’t quite happened. And it’s the usual suspects behind the not happening. We reported earlier that both Israel & the US condemned the report. But surely not the Palestinians right? RIGHT? Wrong.

It seems that Abu Mazen et al., have decided to be the good Israeli/US ‘running dogs’ that they are and help stonewall the report further:

Last week, Abbas withdrew Palestinian support for a vote in the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to have the report sent to the UN General Assembly for possible action. Such a vote would have been a first of many steps toward possible war crimes tribunals.

With the Palestinians out of the picture, the council set the report aside for six months. [Haaretz]

Now you may rightfully ask, has the old fool lost all his marbles? Why would he do something so crazy? I mean, isn’t this a chance for the international community to have a legitimate opportunity to see and assess the horrors that were committed in Gaza? Isn’t this a chance for the Palestinians to have some justice over the, you know, war crimes? Aren’t war crimes bad? If you are asking these questions, my friend, you are not very well versed in Middle Eastern politics. According to Abbas, the reason is as follows:

Abbas’ aides have defended the step, saying the Palestinians needed more time to win international support for the U.N. report. They said deferring action did not mean burying the report. [Haaretz]

The Palestinians, not being happy about this, have been raising hell on the streets:

With every day, there were more protests, marches and statements of condemnations, not only from his Hamas rivals, but also from human rights groups and intellectuals.

In Gaza, public outrage at Abbas reached a new level on Wednesday, when hundreds of posters criticizing the Palestinian president appeared in public areas around Gaza City.

The text on one poster under an Abbas photo read: To the dumps of history, you traitor, Mahmoud Abbas. Another had a big, black X over Abbas’ face. [Haaretz]

Having realised that this self-righteous anger could possibly damage his political prospects, Abu Mazen and his Fatah cohort have taken a few steps back, including admitting they’ve made “a mistake”, trying to lobby the Security Council through this man, naming and shaming countries who block the report (the horror!) and asking other Arab countries to push it through.

Norman Finkelstein seems to think there’s an altogether different reason, namely the Israelis having some audio evidence of the PA same some things that are decidedly not pro-the-Palestinian-cause, like… you know… being excited about the murder of more Palestinian children:

…a series of tapes in which Palestinian Authority officials could be heard urging Israel to continue the operation in Gaza. Israel threatened to reveal the material to media outlets as well as to the UN and this, in turn, resulted in the Palestinian retreat. It was further claimed that the Palestinians were shown footage showing a meeting between Abu Mazen, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and then foreign minister Tzippi Livni. In the course of the meeting, according to the report, Abu Mazen attempted to convince Barak to continue the operation. Barak appeared hesitant whereas Abu Mazen was enthusiastic. In addition, a telephone conversation recording between Abed Al-Rahim, secretary general of the Palestinian Authority and director of Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s bureau was presented. The Palestinian senior official can be heard saying that now is the time to bring ground forces into the Jabalya and Shati refugee camps. “The fall of these two camps will bring about the fall of the Hamas regime in Gaza, and will cause them to wave a white flag,” says Abed Al-Rahim. According to the report, Dov Weissglas told Abed Al-Rahim that such a move could result in the deaths of thousands of civilians. “They all voted for Hamas,” says Abed Al-Rahim, “they chose their fate, not us.”

Good point Abed! Gaza’s children are not Palestinian children, they are Hamas children, the spawn of Satan himself. They are either Hamas voters already, Hamas sympathisers or have Hamas tattooed on their backsides from birth. At best they’re collateral damage. Welcome to the ‘politics’ of the Middle East, ladies & gentelmen.

The New York Summit & Bibi’s Brief Media Tour

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President Obama Speaks. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Obama Speaks. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Well the NY Summit has been and gone and, lo and behold, nothing sensational or earth-shattering has hit the press this morning. What a surprise. Abdelbari Atwan called it “a capitulation” and “a defeat” for Obama in his editorial for al Quds al Arabi.

The Majlis has a full transcript of Obama’s comments after his individual meetings with Bibi & Abu Mazen and before the tri-partite summit itself, but there’s nothing earth-shattering in it. I’d say that all in all Obama sounds kinda frustrated:

America’s frustration showed when Obama told reporters the two sides had to stop stalling. “Permanent status negotiations must begin and begin soon. It is past time to talk about starting negotiations. It is time to move forward,” he said.

Jonathan Freedland’s comments for the Guardian’s comment is free confirm what I’ve suspected of late, Bibi and, to a lesser extent, Abu Mazen, are warm and comfy in their local politics:

How had it come about that, in the words of the Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea, the Americans had “discovered that they want an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement more than the Israelis and the Palestinians want it”? The narrow answer is the usual one, that the local politics on both sides of the conflict has made inaction a safer bet than action. Netanyahu sits atop a coalition that is perfectly stable – just so long as he doesn’t do anything. Were he so much as to hint at taking any of the steps necessary for a peace deal, coalition partners would start breaking off like aeroplane wings in an ice storm. As for Abbas, he has finally acquired some political strength, removing potential rivals from within his own Fatah faction while all trace of Hamas has been eradicated from the West Bank. As one Fatah insider puts it: “Abbas is now at the peak of his powers.” All that could damage him are the accusations of treachery that would instantly follow any compromise with Israel.

Freedland is forthright in his criticism of Obama’s recent failures in the arena of Middle Eastern politics, a criticism echoed by many on both sides of the arena. It is true, Obama has failed so far to gain any real concessions from either side, to get the peace process moving with truly wilful engagement form both sides. Arabs are asking for deeds not words, Israelis are lauding their Prime Minister for his strength, but Freedland advises us to not give up hope:

Above all, those panicking that Obama has not yet bagged a clutch of foreign policy triumphs in the Middle East and elsewhere may be forgetting both the mess that he inherited and his leadership style. He plays the long, slow game, advancing gradually. So, yes, there was no overnight fix in New York, but that was never on the cards. Besides, Obama believes he has time on his side. Unlike most US presidents keen to play Middle East peacemaker, he has not tackled this in his last year, but in his first.

In addition to the summit, Bibi also embarked on a few interviews as part of the PR campaign to woo the US public. His wooing was largely successful, old Bibi is a pretty canny media operator. Some exerts from his interview with Wolf Blitzer, and some pertinent thoughts, to be found at The Majlis:

When Blitzer brought up the Goldstone report, a U.N. investigation into the clash between Israel and Palestinian forces in Gaza in 2006 that Israel has renounced, Netanyahu said the report essentially gives a free hand to terrorists who wish to attack democracies.

Hamas fighters “get a free bill out of this bias,” Netanyahu said. “American pilots, NATO pilots … are gonna be on the dock … that’s not something that any country fighting terrorism can accept, and I don’t think you can accept it too.”

Blitzer didn’t challenge Netanyahu on that point, which is unfortunate, since on its face Netanyahu’s premise makes me, as an American, pause. After all, the U.S. has killed many civilians in the course of its war in Afghanistan, shouldn’t we now be afraid that the United Nations will come after us? But upon closer inspection, there are holes in Netanyahu’s fear-mongering. The reason Israel is under investigation is the method by which it attacked Hamas in Gaza. Critics of the Goldstone report aren’t questioning its conclusions – such as Israeli use of white phosphorous, killings of police officers and bombings of sewage treatment facilities. Instead, they question the premise and bias of the Goldstone Report itself.

The other interview I came across is with ABC’s Charlie Gibson (full transcript).  In this interview, Bibi describes the recent summit in New York as “frank”, “productive” and “very good”. Gibson is a little tougher on Netanyahu than Blitzer on the issue of settlements, Bibi stonewalled him on it numerous times essentially stating that he rejects the Palestinian position of putting settlement growth ending as a pre-condition to peace talks: “The issue of the settlements has to be resolved. It should be resolved at the end of negotiations, not before the negotiations.” When pressed further, Bibi uses the old ‘natural growth’ defence and also mentions that a settlement freeze was not discussed during the NY Summit, contrary to previous reports. Gibson also asked Bibi about Iran but, isappointingly did not bring up the Goldstone Report.

On topic of the Goldstone Report, Israel has now urged the EU to reject it:

Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal on Tuesday convened 26 European Union ambassadors in Jerusalem for a diplomatic briefing.

The Foreign Ministry director-general also called on EU countries to clearly express their reservations over the report in any possible way. The report, he said, is not legal but rather “a one-dimensional, political propaganda poster biased against Israel.”

Here is the obligatory hand-shake photo, I enjoy how paternalistic Obama looks in this one.

Papa Obama looks on as yet another Palestinian-Israeli hand-shake is photographed. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

Papa Obama looks on as yet another Palestinian-Israeli hand-shake is photographed. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

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