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November 1, 2013 at 6:30 AM
As the local political season comes to a close, I might be feeling the effects of all the arm-waving distractions that come with campaigns.
One side makes all sorts of claims about the opponent’s record, and the other side responds, “Ignore that stuff, look over HERE!”
The mix of cynicism and practical political manipulation shows up everywhere, and sometimes with curious twists. Take the news out of Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did the right thing when he agreed to release Palestinian prisoners as part of peace talks set in motion by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Twenty-six prisoners were released on Wednesday, the second batch out of four headed home over the next several months. The final total will be 104 prisoners.
This action is hotly controversial in Israel, but it set the right tone for the renewed peace talks. Still, Netanyahu is really taking political heat and it flared with Wednesday’s release.
Now the prime minister is not only talking about more Israeli settlements in disputed territory, but early Thursday Israeli planes blew up what was reported to be a Syrian missile storage site.
What a coincidence. Does it change the regional military equation? Hard to know, but it certainly changes the conversation. Mission accomplished.
Thirty years ago, October 1983, a suicide bomber blew up a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The blast claimed 241 Marines. Days later the U.S. invaded Grenada.
A geopolitical coincidence? Perhaps, but the conversation changed at home.
July 30, 2013 at 6:25 AM
After a working dinner Monday night at the State Department, negotiators for Palestine and Israel were scheduled to meet once more on Tuesday before returning home.
They might already be airborne, but the two opening sessions offer hope for a fresh start.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to release 104 Palestinian prisoners, backed by a majority of his cabinet, was a clear investment of his reputation in a process with a long ways to go. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is taking his own political risks.
The next round of talks is in the Middle East where the popular support for peace is substantial, if not for the details. A Palestinian state next to Israel with negotiated borders and security plans has been a hypothetical possibility for years, but now it is starting to bud.
The tireless work of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is an obvious influence in making these direct talks happen, but the other motivations are not yet apparent. One can predict that domestic politics in Israel play a role, along with the fatigue and expense of a constant state of diplomatic and military tension. Is Netanyahu contemplating his legacy, as some suggest? Given his past rhetoric and actions, there is a Nixon-to-China quality to this effort.
Otherwise, Netanyahu has said tensions elsewhere in the Middle East are pushing these two neighbors to settle their differences. Whatever the incentives, the practical reality of these face-to-face meetings is most encouraging.
July 23, 2013 at 6:20 AM
Optimism is the rarest of commodities in the Middle East, so the heavily qualified and asterisk-dotted scheduled meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials in Washington, D.C. is potentially, if it happens, maybe, a notable start.
Credit goes to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Certainly the willingness of the two sides to mutter and grumble their way to the negotiating table is key, but Kerry labored to get them into the same room, as detailed in this New York Times story.
He crafted the ground rules, themes, topics and parameters of the discussions that Palestinian and Israeli officials would accept. Yes, the pre-1967 borders would serve as a baseline. Israel will release some Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture, but is almost embarrassed by the act.
What will happen? No one knows, but Kerry has made six trips to the region since March. His visits got extended with multiple meetings with both leaders.
The first round of talks may well be about the topics for the next round of talks. Incremental progress is still progress.
Kerry got things started, and might have a strong hand in orchestrating a historic outcome. Maybe, perhaps, possibly.
May 8, 2013 at 6:41 AM
The timing is at least interesting if not a diplomatic coup of sorts. The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is in Beijing to meet with Chinese leaders. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel will arrive on Wednesday. Supposedly, they will not meet.
Of course, a Chinese official made it clear to a New York Times reporter, the Foreign Ministry would be happy to help them have a chat. Indeed. Chinese officials would love to burnish their nation’s international stature by providing a setting for diplomatic progress.
Unlike the United States, China does not have the domestic ties with Israel that complicate most political and diplomatic dealings with Israelis.
Abbas had planned to ask China to use its influence with Israel to get the country to back off economic pressures on the Palestinian economy. China can mediate and advocate for change without inciting tensions at home.
The world is relying on China to use its influence very close to home with North Korea. If others in distant disputes turn to Beijing for help, that invites all manner of speculation about emerging roles and status for China.
March 20, 2013 at 6:00 AM
The website of the Embassy of Israel to the United States is putting the best spin on President Obama’s visit and any tensions between the two countries, calling the U.S.-Israel relationship an “unbreakable alliance.” Perhaps hard to believe when disagreements between the two countries are deep, including over Israel’s expansions of settlements, where the borders would lie in a two-state solution, and of late – the best way for a war-weary U.S. to respond to Iran’s nuclear program.
But first, the diplomatic niceties. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to take President Obama on tours of technological products by Israel’s high-tech industries including in the fields of renewable energy, clamping down on traffic accidents, medicine, search and rescue, and robotics. Here’s an itinerary to keep you in the virtual loop.
Expectations about the presidential trip vary depending on whose doing the talking. President Obama’s planned visit to Palestinians living in Bethelehem in the West Bank is said to be greeted with little expectation and much skepticism. As one story noted, ”Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has deepened, its settlements have expanded, and there is no sign on the horizon of a political solution that will bring Palestinians independence.” In other words, nothing will change despite a visit from the leader who ran on a platform of change. Speaking for the Israelis, is a strange video from the Israeli embassy featuring Obama and Netanyahu as cardboard cut outs moving to the musical theme from the Golden Girls television show. Now I’ll have “thank you for being a friend” playing in my head all day.
And despite Israel being the largest recipient of U.S. aid, they haven’t been shy about taking U.S. leaders to task when it suits them. Remember Netanyahu lecturing Obama on Jewish history? Breathtaking.
Foreign aid for Israel always raises the question of who else gets aid from the U.S. Here are the top 10 countries listed by level of aid: (more…)