The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Obama

AfPak brings all the boys to the yard

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Surprise! (PHOTO: REUTERS)

From The Beatles to US President Barack Obama, they’ve all hopped across to AfPak. US President Barack Obama arrived on a ‘surprise’ visit to Afghanistan last night, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and addressed troops. I watched Obama’s speech and I wasn’t impressed at all.

This has all been done and said before. Its all well and good to say things like ‘we did not choose this war’ and ‘we’re here to get the job done’, but it doesn’t seem to be headed that way. If you’re propping a government that is wildly corrupt, it really isn’t going to end well.

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Written by Saba Imtiaz

March 29, 2010 at 6:16 am

Posted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, US

Tagged with , , ,

US-Israeli relations hit 20 year low. Crisis?

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A Palestinian protester runs with a burning tyre during clashes with Israeli police. Image Credit: AP/Gulf News

It seems the fiasco of the 1600 slaps received by Joe Biden has escalated somewhat, newspapers are now calling it a ‘crisis’. The big piece of news came when details of a telephone conversation between Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu came to light.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described the nearly 45-minute phone conversation in unusually undiplomatic terms, signaling that the close allies are facing their deepest crisis in two decades.

Clinton called Netanyahu “to make clear the United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president’s trip,” Crowley said. Clinton, he said, emphasized that “this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests.” [WaPo]

Strong words perhaps, but it remains to be seen how the relationship and the supposed damage that has occurred to it will unfold. Israel’s response so far has been to order an enquiry into the matter, which will probably turn into the usual political obfuscation of the truth. I’m not entirely sure what this enquiry is even supposed to ascertain. According to Khaleej Times:

“The prime minister has decided to create a committee bringing together ministry directors to examine what happened during vice-president Biden’s visit and lay down rules to ensure such incidents are not repeated in future,” a government spokesman said.

But it’s clear what happened. An ill-advised announcement about settlement expansion plans in East Jerusalem was made at an inopportune time, showing more signs of arrogance in the Israeli government’s approach to peace. This is nothing new. As for, ‘rules’, what possible rules can be laid down? Something like, let’s make controversial announcements at more opportune times when we’re less on the international diplomatic radar? What’s the point of the exercise?

The latest is the following from Haaretz:

Instead of accepting Netanyahu’s partial apology and letting bygones be bygones, Obama issued a stern warning to the Israeli prime minister and is now demanding that he take “specific actions” to show he is “committed” to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to the peace process itself.

Netanyahu is still governing a fragile and cumbersome coalition which includes a good number of prominent right-wingers who are against any negotiation and any compromise over East Jerusalem (some over the West Bank altogether). Where, up until this point, Bibi has ridden the trend of defiance against Washington and reaped its domestic political benefits, with this added pressure to actually maintain the diplomatic relationship and the ball now firmly in his court, what happens next remains to be seen.

An editorial in Haaretz:

There is one reason for the crisis: Netanyahu’s persistence in continuing construction in East Jerusalem, in placing Jews in Arab neighborhoods and evicting Palestinians from their homes in the city. This is not a matter of timing but substance. Despite repeated warnings and bitter experiences, he stokes the flames over the conflict’s most sensitive issue and is bound to get himself in trouble. Netanyahu has made it clear by his actions that American support for Israel, especially essential now in light of the Iranian threat, is less important to him than the chance to put another few Jews in the Sheikh Jarrah or Ramat Shlomo neighborhoods. Even if Netanyahu’s adversaries in the U.S. administration have exploited his misstep to push him into a corner, as his “associates” will certainly argue, a statesman as experienced as he should have been especially careful.

There was news today that the statesman placed a few calls to Europe, namely Merkel and Berlusconi, telling them that Israel has no plans to “accelerate” the pace of settlement construction in East Jerusalem. Bibi is probably trying to cut his losses and limit the fallout from the 1600 slaps after the Quartert (The US, Russia, the EU and the UN) also condemned the settlement announcement. It should be noted that, in all public statements to this date (including the announcement of the enquiry), Bibi has expressed vehement condemnation… but only at the timing of the announcement, rather than the announcement itself. This is of course understandable, Bibi still holds the ideological position of support for housing expansion in East Jerusalem, but I wonder if he thinks vehement condemnation of timing will be enough to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

Speaking of his ideological position, Aluf Benn in Haaretz seems to think that the shit has hit the fan, so to speak, for Netanyahu who “has reached the moment of truth, where he must choose between his ideological beliefs and political cooperation with the right on one hand, and his need for American support on the other.” Benn rightly points out that Obama has been fearful of exerting too much pressure and causing the fragile coalition to collapse, creating an volatile and unpredictable power vacuum. Better the devil you know? We soon shall see.

I’m predicting some sort of diplomatic overture, a few public statements about peace and some efforts to restart peace negotiations. Netanyahu probably knows that some well-mannered stalling is now his safest route but I’m sure he has on intention of actually taking any real action. He still can’t afford to rock the boat in the Knesset, even if he wanted to. The Obama administration, while mindful of being treated like a doormat and losing face in the eyes of the international community, is also mindful of its own domestic problems over health care and wars and its need to get reelected. It can’t afford a total public break with Israel right now. The name of the game right now is not ‘actions’, at least not the sort we expect, it’s face saving and politics.

In other ‘action’-related Israeli news, Israel has put the West Bank on lockdown and restricted access to the Al Aqsa mosque after increased clashes with troops in response to the East Jerusalem announcement and the usual frustrations with living under occupation. UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan has said that Arabs won’t continue to support Middle East peace talks until Israel halts colony expansion, putting further skids on the peace process which now appears completely dead in the water.

Israel welcomes Joe Biden with 1600 slaps in the face

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Perhaps Joe Biden is wondering if it's really worth it. Ariel Schalit/AP

On a high profile visit to Israel to begin ‘proximity talks’ or rather, indirect talks that involve shuttling between Tel Aviv and Ramallah, Joe Biden has been met with closed fists instead of open arms. We heard about the resumption of construction on 112 new homes in occupied East Jerusalem on Monday. Now comes the announcement from Eli Yishai, leader of the right-wing Shas Party, who has made Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem one of his central clauses, that Israel will be constructing 1600 new homes in East Jerusalem’s “ultra-Orthodox” Ramot Shlomo district.  To add insult to belligerence, Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, said the following to WaPo: “While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel, we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.”

So uh, great start to the vaunted four months of indirect peace talks announced by George Mitchell on Monday. Incidentally, speaking of this latest round of peace talks, Paul Woodward hits the nail on the head:

That was 2006. Now in 2010 the Israelis don’t even need to inconvenience themselves by sitting in the same room as the Palestinians, even though Netanyahu would be happy to be granted the photo-op of face-to-face talks — talks that he can be confident will be fruitless. [Mondoweiss]

And that was before the 1,600 slaps. So, the question begs… why? Why insult Joe Biden when the Obama Administration just seemed to be (and I have no idea why, really) trying to cosy up to the Israeli electorate by pushing a softer line (The Majlis called it a ‘velvet glove’) on Israel? Haaretz goes some way to explaining:

The profit, for the hard right, is political. It mines an emotional vein along a relatively small but potent segment of the Israeli electorate, which holds that to insult Israel’s indispensible ally is to assert the Jewish state’s independence.

In their drive to expunge any trace of hitrapsut – groveling to the colonial master – there are those among the ostensible super-patriots of the right who revel in shots across the bow of the American ship of state.

Well it seems Netanyahu has been surprised yet again by one of these shots, again coming form a right-wing coalition partner. Though, undoubtedly, as with the humiliation of the Turkish ambassador, he’ll be able to put it behind him and even turn it to his advantage. Yet again, the David of Israel is standing up to the Goliath of its erstwhile US supporter, that dares to mildly chide the Israelis about their intransigence on settlement building and real peace negotiations.

Biden, incidentally, responded by condemning the announcement:

I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel. We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them. [The Majlis]

A solid statement but, yet again, it’s only a statement. Israel knows what it can get away with and, at the moment, it seems that it can get away with just about anything.

Iraqi Election issues ironed out

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Iraqi Elections in 2010 haven’t gotten much coverage on this blog but they have been covered fairly extensively elsewhere. The problems have been mostly sectarian in nature and dealing with perceived fairness in election law in preparation for a crucial poll that needs to be held next year, as per the constitution. While it doesn’t look like the poll will now go ahead in the month of January as it was supposed, February and March are being mooted as more likely months for it to happen.

The important thing is that it actually is happening, and I’m sure Obama is breathing a sigh of relief somewhere in the Oval Office at this one. Iraqi stability is important considering combat operations there are due to end next year and a successful run for the poll is a key precursor to the withdrawal of US troops.

The deadlock has been over representation for Sunnis, and also partly over the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk (disputed by Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Turkmen). Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi threatened to veto the proposed changes to the electoral law but reportedly agreed at the last minute and the vote was passed unanimously. The law will reportedly expand parliament from 275 seats to 325 seats, 310 of which will be allotted to Iraq’s 18 provinces, with the remainder reserved for religious minorities and blocs that garnered national support but did not win seats. [Al Jazeera]

Pretty much everyone is predicting a rise in attacks from insurgents in the lead-up to the election and the tabled US withdrawal, the world will be watching Iraq next year with greatly renewed interest to see if the US occupation and ‘nation-building’ can in any way be vindicated. You can expect to see more Iraq-related coverage and opinion on this here blog also.

Written by alexlobov

December 7, 2009 at 4:45 pm

The new set of Sanctions against Iran

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Ahmadinejad's "Armpit of Evil", thanks Guardian for the pic

I’ve been facing a combination of writer’s block, laziness and slow news days cropping up precisely on the days that I do have time to blog, a dangerous cocktail that helps explain my general lack of postage on this blog. I realise that the new set of Iran sanctions has already been heavily discussed, for those that haven’t heard

I’m not going to say a great deal on this issue except that I don’t particularly like it. I don’t remember when sanctions have ever been effective in getting a Government to do what people want them to do, they usually only serve to isolate and entrench despotic governments further (Saddam). In addition, while the specific set of sanctions hasn’t been finalised yet, there already has been a reasonable amount of opposition to specific measures that have been mooted.

Talking about the political implications, as The Majlis has mentioned, it seems that the Iranian regime is ready for these sanctions and looking to confront them head on. The amount of baiting that has been going on has been ramped up a great deal, especially with the announcement of building a further ten nuclear plants by the regime. How they intend to finance this with the Iranian economy in the doldrums that it’s in is of no consequence, the rhetoric here is what seems to be important. The Majlis also discusses the effect on the current rift in the Iranian political establishment. It seems to me that the conservative wing of Khamenei/Ahmadinejad is further entrenching itself in a position where the nuclear program is its baby and its baby alone. Reformists like Rafsanjani will not oppose the program either because they realise it would be political suicide after how much pro-nuclear propaganda has been effected on the population.

It seems that Obama’s unclench-your-fist rhetoric has failed and he’s now erring on the side of sanctions to preserve his own political capital. This spells bad news. Even if Russia and China do support the sanctions, no good will come of them. Sanctions will further serve to entrench the regime’s position against the West as “the Great Satan” and further entrench the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad axis in power, helping it out of its current political quandry. I may not have any helpful suggestions on the matter, but I don’t like sanctions.

Written by alexlobov

December 5, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Gilad Shalit, and Obama uses Israel as attack dog to scare Chinese

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photo credit: politicaltheatrics.net

Been a while since I last blogged, exams got the better of me and being in Sydney chilling has been counterproductive to blogging, but I’m back!

Despite discussions stalling somewhat and it now being said that a deal is more likely to take place after Eid al-Adha (Eid Mubarak to Muslims, by the way!) there have been reports of progress on the negotiations over the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. Ismail Haniyeh even cancelled his Hajj! According to Haaretz, Israel is none too thrilled about certain prisoners that Hamas wants released:

Hamas is demanding, among other the prisoners, the release of Ibrahim Hamad, head of the group’s military wing in the Ramallah area, Abdallah Barghouti, a bomb engineer, and Abbas a-Sayad, the Hamas head in Tul Karm who planned the 2002 massacre during Passover in Netanya’s Park Hotel. These three prisoners are considered responsible for the murder of hundreds of Israelis.

Other names mentioned in the Arab media are Hassan Salame, who was involved in planning the suicide bus bombings in the mid ’90s, and Jamal Abu al-Hijla, head of Hamas in Jenin, who was convicted of taking part in planning and funding several suicide attacks during the second intifada.

Israel’s trepidation at having these prisoners freed is understandable, and the fact is, that political pressure from within Israel to have Shalit freed has been strong but not overwhelming so you can expect Israeli’s to hold out a while longer to get a better deal, politically especially (apparently having key suicide bombing planners freed can be harmful to one’s political standing). Most people are watching the fate of one Marwan Barghouti, considered a key possible successor to the increasingly beleaguered and probably-resigning Abu Mazen. You can expect Barghouti to be freed, Obama has been putting pressure on Netanyahu to make concessions that would bolster Fatah in the lead-up to PA elections and Abbas’ increasingly likely resignation.

The other major news is that during Obama’s visit to China, he put some pressure on the Chinese to do something about the whole Iran nuclear thing, which they have normally stayed clear out of (their policy of political non-involvement in the affairs of trading partners). The scare tactic used was the threat of Israel bombing Iran unilaterally (thus implying tacit US support) and the damage that would do to Iran as an energy source for China. The other scare tactic was the implication that other states could go nuclear, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, implying that Japan was another possibility (something China would not view kindly). [Thanks WashPo] [Check out a condensed report from Political Theatrics here.)

Antony Loewenstein is getting into a bit of a tizzy about it, suggesting that these talks imply Obama will certainly acquiesce to Israel bombing Iran, I disagree. While the jury is still out on how far Israel will go to defend against the ‘existential threat’ and how far the US will go in trying to stop them, I don’t think these statements to the Chinese should all be taken seriously. They are scare tactics and meant as such, Obama needs the Chinese to either support (or at least not veto) resolutions against Iran in the UN and given their mostly self-interested political philosophies, he needs to frighten them into submission. I mean a nuclear Egypt? Never happen. But bringing up a nuclear Japan is pretty damn scary, as is linking bombing Iran with energy security.

So here we have Obama clearly using Israel as an attack dog, or rather hinting at the possibility of it breaking its chains. Remember the Suez War in 56 when the British and French used Israel as an attack dog? Yeah, that didn’t end well for them.

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