The new in Israel today was dominated by yesterday’s story that French President strongly suggested Netanyahu remove Lieberman from being Foreign Minister. The furor was caused by the fact Netanyahu had not said anything to Lieberman about Sarkozy’s comment; rather Lieberman heard the statement from news reports. Netanyahu issued a statement that he had full confidence in Lieberman. Rumors have begun to circulate that if Lieberman is indicted, which most people expect, Aryeh Deri, the former Shas minister will be asked to become Foreign Minister. Deri was convicted of public corruption and spent a couple of years in jail, but that should not stand in the way of his appointment as Israel’s ambassador to the world.
In Washington, Defense Minister Barak met with Senator Mitchell to try to negotiate an agreement on the settlements. Progress was said to have been made. The Netanyahu government is trying to deflect the question of who has been standing in the way of peace-- the Palestinians. They have referred to the negotiations that took place with the Olmert government, in which the Palestinians were offered between 96-98 pct of the west Bank after territory exchange, and still said no. This does follow a pattern that goes back to Camp David, that nothing seems enough to them.
In the meantime, negotiations between Fatah and Hamas continue. The Egyptians set a firm deadline of July 7th for the completion of those negotiations. That deadline was extended today to the last week of July. Very few observers believe the negotiations can succeed.
The Israeli news today was dominated by the sentencing of former Minister of Finance Hirschson to five years and five months in jail for his actions before becoming entering the ministry. This was the longest time that a former minister has ever been sentenced to jail for. Coincidently, former Minister Ben Ezri had his sentence for corruption extended by the high court of Justice from one and half years to four years. I am not one of those who have been highly critical of Israel’s Supreme Court, but actually extending the sentence seems a little odd.
Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu is in Paris tonight as part of his diplomatic offensive that follows his speech last week. Netanyahu is reportedly worried that he has not been able to make any progress with the Obama administration on resolving his differences over the settlements. The Obama administration seems unwilling to budge on the issue.
Demonstrations continue in Iran against the government. This is despite a brutal crackdown. It is still impossible to determine what the end result of the events in Iran will be, but whatever the short term outcome, the Middle East has been surprisingly transformed by the events. Interestingly, I have been in Israel for only a few hours and it seems to be getting less attention than it was getting in the news in the United States. Arguably, events that are taking place in Iran are probably more important to Israel than to anyone else besides the Iranian people.
It’s now been over a week and the demonstrations continue in Teheran. On Friday the “Supreme Leader” of Iran stated that the demonstrations should end. The fact they did not, transformed the demonstrations from a call to challenge the results of the elections to a call demanding a regime change. The regime is not ready to be changed so quickly, so it remains unclear where the demonstrations will all head. Once again, the world's intellegience agencies have been proven unable to (in any way) predict events. Early last week the head of Mossad stated the demonstrations would peter out in a few days. The American services were no better. Nothing will ever be the same in Iran, since the fundamental internal legitimacy of the regime will forever be in doubt. As one article in Haaretz stated, Which Iran is Israel supposed to bomb? Clearly, Iran is not monolithic in any way.
These event do not call for a Pollyanna moment. We could see the clerics striking out against the US or Israel in the coming days, hoping to promote a reaction that would unite the country. The future is unknown. How willing will the police be to open fire on the protestors? How willing will the protestors be to risk their lives? Only time will tell. However, one thing is certain, the future is not what we expected only a few weeks ago. There has been a fundamental change in Iran. Fundamental Islam's rise is suddenly not a sure thing. In fact, it now finds itself under serious assault.
The demonstrations in Iran continued today. In defiance of the ban on further demonstrations, hundreds of thousands turned out to the streets of Teheran. The “defeated” candidates called on the people to keep coming out until their demands for a new elections are met. It is not clear how far the demonstrators and their leaders are willing to go, but there seems to be a sense that what started out as demonstrations against a possibly fixed election are turning into demands for fundamental change in Iran. This has clearly caught the clerics by surprise, and some observers believe that they are willing to bail on Ahmadinejad to save the Islamic republic. Whether that happens and if there will be fundamental change in Iran is still the big unknown, but the drama of the events taking place in Iran is unlikely to end anytime soon.
Secretary of State Clinton met with Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Lieberman yesterday. She made it clear that the United States wants the settlement construction ended. Lieberman stated that was impossible. A compromise may be in the works, but its not guaranteed.
The Wall Street Journal had an excellent editorial today. It attacked the Palestinians for being as critical as they were of Netanyahu's speech. It is clear that they hoped by attacking it President Obama would become convinced that the speech did not go far enough and exert additional pressure20on Netanyahu.
Today marked the third day of massive demonstrations in Iran for and against the government. The government had outlawed demonstrations against the results of the elections, but the opposition organized a demonstration attended by hundreds of thousands. Meanwhile, the government has done the most it can to limit the flow of information and has banned foreign coverage of the demonstrations. Observers are divided as to where unrest is headed. The head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency stated he believed the demonstrations would peter our after a few days. Other observers believe there are fundamental changes taking place in Iran. They believe the clerics are now divided and some are supporting the opposition. At the moment, everything is fluid, and it's impossible to know how this will unfold in the coming days.
The Paris Air show opened yesterday. Israel has one of the largest pavilions at the show. Reports are that despite the worldwide economic down turn, Israel is expecting to see an increase in its current exports of arms, which stood last year at $6 Billion. The two weapons systems that are receiving the most attention are Israel’s anti missile systems and its newest generations of drones, that includes an unmanned helicopter, designed to evacuate wounded troops from a high intensity battlefield.
The streets of Teheran were filled with demonstrators today. The total number of demonstrators is unknown, but there were hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Teheran, with large numbers in other cities as well. Their calls: "down with the dictator", harkens back to the original Iranian revolution. The question is what happens now? In the past, the moderates have always backed down in the face of conservative opponents. This time may be different. The stealing of the election by the supporters of Ahmadinejad has removed any legitimacy the current regime had with the people of Iran. Until now the veneer of democracy gave an outlet to the people. It gave them some sense their voices mattered. By removing that cover the people of Iran have woken up to find they are living in a "run of a mill" dictatorship. Today the leading opponent, Hussein Moussavi, left his home and attended the demonstration. He called on the protestors to continue their protests. He vowed to continue the fight whatever the cost. The cleric, at this point has lost. There are only three possible outcomes: either they give in, announce a recount and admit that Moussavi is the winner; call a new election with the proper monitoring; or brutally surpress the opponents. All of those outcomes will significantly weaken them. It is also not clear they can succeed in putting down the demonstrations. Ahmadinejad has the Revolutionary Guard at his disposal. The loyalty of the regular army however, is very much in doubt.
It’s a day after Netanyahu’s big speech, and the reactions and analyis continue. The speech clearly succeeded with its intended audience. President Obama’s Press Secretary answered the following question aboard Air Force One:
Q: In the Netanyahu speech yesterday, the administration sort of welcomed the things that he had to say about a separate Palestinian state, but the Palestinians have pretty firmly rejected it. Did the President really get what he needed from Netanyahu in order to push the peace process forward?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the government -- the Netanyahu government took a big step forward yesterday in acknowledging for the first time the need for a two-state solution. I think the President believes that there is a long way to go and many twists and turns in the road to get there, but is pleased thus far with the progress that's being made. And I think yesterday's speech certainly is a big part of that.
European reaction was similar, if a little more reserved. The Palestinians continued their denouncement of Netanyahu speech, saying all his conditions on Palestinian statehood made his offer moot. They attempted to spin it as if his conditions were preconditions to negotiations, but they were not, they instead have been putting preconditions on the negotiations... they want to pick up were the last negotiations ended. Unfortunately for them, the agreed upon rules of the last negotiations were that none of the agreements reached were binding, unless a full agreement was reached.
David Makovsky had a very interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal today, called "Mideast Peace Can Start with a Land Swap". In the article he suggest a way to move forward is to agree on the final borders and a land swap, thus making the building in many of the settlments a non-issue. 0-+
Netanyahu said the words... He finally stated he would accept a two state solution. He placed many conditions on the final statehood, but he stated what he had never stated before– that he is willing to work towards the establishment of a Palestinian state. This is the first time Netanyahu has uttered those words.
His conditions were many, but they are not all that relevant. The statement was key. The American administration might not be happy with the fact Netanyahu stated that natural growth of the settlments will continue, but getting Netanyahu to utter the words "Palestinain state" is clearly an accomplishment for President Obama and he responded appropriately. President Obama's response was: "The President welcomes the important step forward in Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech. The President is committed to two states, a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestine, in the historic homeland of both peoples. He believes this solution can and must ensure both Israel's security and the fulfillment of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations for a viable state, and he welcomes Prime Minister Netanyahu's endorsement of that goal. The President will continue working with all parties - Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Arab states, and our Quartet partners - to see that they fulfill their obligations and responsibilities necessary to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a comprehensive regional peace." Those who attacked Netanyahu's speech included: the Palestinians, who said they refused to enter into negotitiatons "without preconditions". They want to pick up where their negotiations with the Olmert government left off. They also objected to his other conditions; no negotiations over Jerusalem or refugees. The Israeli right also objected. For them, having PM Netanyahu utter the words "Palestinian state" was sacrilegious. The only groups that liked the speech in Israel were members of the labor party and Kadima.
The Iranian elections have come and gone. By all accounts, the election was stolen. While all the details are not known, it seems that when it became clear that Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's opponent, had won, the cleric who is the supreme leader of Iran ordered the Interior Ministry to doctor the results. The clerics may have miscalculated. Thy achieved short term gain- keeping their man in a job that is partially ceremonial. However, they have eliminated their key safety valve in the society, giving the people the feeling they have some power over their future. In addition, even though Mousavi was as commited to Iran's nuclear future as Ahmadinejad, if he had won, international pressure on Iran would have lessoned– the world would want to give Mousavi- the one who took down Achmdinejad, some time. In the meantime, the centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear program would continue to spin. By having Ahmadinejad steal the election, the cleric has probably done more to convince a reluctant world to increase the pressure on Iran.
Yesterday, President Obama’s Middle East representative, Senator Mitchell arrived in Israel. While most Israeli observers were concerned that Mitchell was coming to put more public pressure on Israel, by the time he arrived his mission had changed to one of reassurance. According to observers after Netanyahu's call with Obama (in which Netanyahu told Obama about his upcoming speech), the American administration believes the Netanyahu administration finally understands that it was going to have to get on board.
Netanyahu is meeting with Likud Knesset members in preparation for his speech on Sunday. It is unclear how far he is going to go. However, most people expect him to accept the two-state solution with reservation and announce some limitation to settlement building. There is some talk about Netanyahu having to reshuffle his coalition and include Kadima. Other observers believe Netanyahu is trying to get Mofaz to split from Kadima and join the government.
The most important news today was the surprise defeat of Hezbollah in Lebanese elections. There was an expectation Hezbollah might gain control of the Lebanese government after the election. It would seem there are number of factors that may explain Hezbollahs defeat. First, the Saudis poured a great deal of money into the election. Second, Nasrallah did not try to distance himself from Ahmadinejad and Iran. Instead, Nasrallah touted his close ties to the Iranian President. Third, there can be no doubt the war that Nasrallah began two and half years ago, was not a popular war in Lebanon and certainly hurt Hezbollah and his allies. Finally, one should not ignore the Obama factor. Obama's speech was well received in the Arab world, well enough that it may have impacted just enough voters to shy away from the extremists and vote for a continuation of a western leaning anti-Syrian state.
What is the larger meaning of the vote? It does not mean the rise of the Shite in Lebanon has ended, rather, it means the rise has clearly been slowed. The big question is whether this election will have any affect on the elections in Iran on Friday. Will the momentum of the moderates gain additional speed? Will the failure of Ahmadinejad's proxy reflect poorly on him? If it does and he loses, we will be at potential crossroad in the Middle East. For the first time in a number of years the momentum may indeed be with the moderates. The extremists, be they the Taliban in Pakistan or Hezbollah in Lebanon may have overreached. Without becoming overly Pollyanna, there might be a moment when a true change could take place. Of course, at the moment, Netanyahu is the "odd man out".
Today Netanyahu had a twenty-minute phone conversation with President Obama. The White House read of the conversation stated: "The President reiterated the principal elements of his Cairo speech, including his commitment to Israel’s security. He indicated that he looked forward to hearing the Prime Minister’s upcoming speech outlining his views on peace and security. See the picture below that was taken while the President was on the phone with the Prime Minister. What Netanyahu will choose to actually say in the speech is the million dollar question. Keeping Obama and the American government happy and keeping his coalition together will be quite difficult.
There is non-sensical talk coming from the Israeli right on the ways Israel can try to undermine the U. S. and fight Obama. I certainly hope the government understands how misguided that could be. By the way, Israel currently does not have an Ambassador in Washington. The outgoing ambassador, Sali Meridor, refused to stay at his post and the incoming Ambassador, Michael Oren’s, appointment has been delayed due to buerecratic problems on the U. S. side.
It’s a day after President Obama’s speech in Cairo, and the reactions have been pouring in. By and large, the speech was extremely well received. David Gergen who worked for three Presidents, called it by far the best speech ever given by an American President directed at the Muslim world. There is no doubt that Obama was forthcoming and elegant, and even said things that the Muslims would have preferred not to hear, both about Israel but about their own world as well. In Israel and the Jewish world there continues to be a great deal of concern regarding the question as to if the speech reflects a fundamental shift in American policy away from a policy of automatically supporting Israel. To some extent that is true. But, it clearly does not represent America turning its back on Israel.
Today Obama was in Germany and visited the concentration camp at Buchenwald with with German Chancellor Merkel and Elie Wiesel, who was incarcerated there. Obama said all the right things.Remaks His answer to a question at a press conference earlier with the German Chancellor was quite interesting. He demonstrated understanding of how hard politically it will be for Prime Minister Netanyahu to comply with his demand regarding the settlements. Obmama also made clear that it was not just the Israelis who had to take steps but the Palestinians and the Arab countries must as well. You can read below his full answers, or read the complete text of the press conference here. Chancellor Merkel made an interesting statement worth reprinting in response to a question about Germany’s responsibility to stop a future holocaust:
CHANCELLOR MERKEL: Well, first, experience -- part and parcel of our history, of our past experience here in Germany is obviously the Shoah. And out of that comes an everlasting responsibility for the safety and security of the state of Israel. If you like, this has been the (inaudible) of every German government, ever since the Federal Republic came into being, and it will always be that case.
Netanyahu is getting some message at this point. He appointed Dov Weisglass, one of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s closest advisors, as his new advisor. In a television interview, Weisglass stated that he was going to urge Netanyahu to state that he accepts the two state solution and the roadmap.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: With respect to confidence-building measures or next steps, again, I'm going to be sending George Mitchell back into the region next week. He's going to be meeting with all the various parties involved. I think I've said publicly and I repeated in the speech some things that are going to have to be done.
You know, a lot of attention has been given to my statement that the Israelis need to stop settlement construction, and I recognize that it's received20a lot of attention in Israel, as well. Keep in mind that all I've done there is reaffirm commitments that the Israelis themselves had already made in the road map. And I recognize the very difficult politics within Israel of getting that done, and I'm very sympathetic to how hard it will be. - Hide quoted text -
But as Israel's friend, the United States I think has an obligation to just be honest with that friend about how important it is to achieve a two-state solution -- for Israel's national security interests, as well as ours, as well as the Palestinians. And that's an area where steps can be taken.
They're not the only steps, by the way, that Israel can take and will need to take in order to advance movement towards peace. And I mentioned some of the other issues that I've discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu's office, for example, increasing freedom of movement within the West Bank, dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and allowing reconstruction to proceed more aggressively.
What's been interesting is that less attention has been focused on the insistence on my part that the Palestinians and the Arab states have to take very concrete actions. When it comes to the Palestinians, we know what they're supposed to be doing. They have to continue to make progress on security in the West Bank.
They have to deal with incitement issues. There's still a tendency, even within -- among Pale stinians who say they are interested in peace with Israel, to engage in statements that are -- that incite a hatred of Israel or are not constructive to the peace process. Now I think, to his credit, President Abbas has made progress on this issue -- but not enough.
We still have not seen a firm commitment from the Palestinian Authority that they can control some of the border areas that Israel is going to be very concerned about if there were to be a two-state solution. There are still problems of corruption and mismanagement within the Authority that have to be addressed.
So there are going to be a whole set of things having to do with the Palestinians' ability to govern effectively and maintain security. And if they're not solved, Israelis are going to have trouble moving forward.
And the Arab states, what I'd like to see is indicators that they are willing, if Israel makes tough commitments, to also make some hard choices that will allow for an opening of commerce, diplomatic exchanges between Israel and its neighbors.
Now, all these things are going to take time. They're not going to happen immediately. But I'm confident that if we stick with it, having started early, that we can make some serious progress this year.