What Price to Pay for Peace?

— by Steve Sheffey

There is no evidence that the U.S. pressured Israel to release Palestinian prisoners in order to renew the peace talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu made this painful decision because he believes it is in Israel’s best interests to negotiate a two-state solution, even at an unfairly high price.

Virtually all of the 26 prisoners released on August 13 were directly involved in the murders of Israelis. Read about each of them here.

So why did Israel release them? Blogger Matan Lurey summed it up perfectly: The Israel/Palestinian negotiations are about “peace, not justice; pragmatism, not revenge.” The prisoner release was unfair, unjust, and — in the opinion of Prime Minister Netanyahu — in the best interests of Israel.

Perhaps Netanyahu could have brought the Palestinians back to the table with a settlement freeze (which he tried to do before, but it did not work), or an explicit agreement to negotiate based on the 1967 lines, but instead he decided to release the prisoners, which he said was “an incomparably difficult decision, it is painful for the bereaved families and it is painful for me.”

More after the jump.


Feel free to criticize the prisoner release, if you think that you understand Israel’s security needs better than the Prime Minister of Israel.

This is not about justice or fairness. Israel needs a two-state solution to remain Jewish and democratic. We can talk as much as we want about what it says about the Palestinians, that they insisted that these murderers be released as a precondition to negotiations. Israel is negotiating a two-state solution for its own sake, not the Palestinian’s sake. Prime Minister Netanyahu determined that this prisoner release was in the best interests of Israel.

Feel free to criticize the prisoner release, if you think that you understand Israel’s security needs better than the Prime Minister of Israel, but do not insult Netanyahu by suggesting that he would sacrifice Israel’s security in response to U.S. pressure. Do not insult previous Israeli governments, which have released more than 10,000 terrorists. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Obama administration pressured Israel into releasing these prisoners. Those on the extreme right and the extreme left, albeit for very different reasons, refuse to see that Netanyahu is willing and able to make difficult decisions for peace.

This is how the White House defines the American role in the negotiations:

The bottom line is these are direct and bilateral talks between the parties. They are going to have to sort these issues out themselves. They will be meeting with each other, as they did here. They met together with the Americans, they also saw each other separately. But as [Senior State Department Official] said, facilitator means to facilitate, and whatever way we can to be helpful, at whatever level, is what we’re going to do.

And that is exactly what they are doing.

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Reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen www.DryBonesBlog.blogspot.com.

The Proof That Israel Is Not an Apartheid State

(CAMERA) On August 1, an Arab member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, Jamal Zahalka, stood at the podium and declared, “We [Arabs] were here before you and we’ll be here after you.” In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that he wanted to speak, went to the podium and answered, “The first part is not correct and the second part will not happen.”

It is clear that this could not happen if Israel were an “apartheid” state, because there would be no Arab members of Knesset. And, if Israel were not a free state, certainly no member of the Knesset could openly declare a desire for the end of the state without fear of prison or even censure.

Imagine even the most radical member of Congress, from anywhere across the political spectrum, standing on the floor of the House or Senate and envisioning the end of the United States. It would cause an uproar. But in Israel, it only elicits a brief remark from the Prime Minister.

Kerry Names Indyk as Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian

Secretary of State John Kerry And Ambassador Martin Indyk
July 29, 2013, Press Briefing Room, Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY KERRY:  Good morning, everybody. Well, as you all know, it’s taken many hours and many trips to make possible the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. And the negotiators are now en route to Washington, even as we speak here. And I will have more to say about the journey to this moment and what our hopes are after our initial meetings conclude tomorrow.

This effort began with President Obama’s historic trip to Israel and Ramallah in March of this year.  And without his commitment, without his conversations there, and without his engagement in this initiative, we would not be here today. The President charged me directly with the responsibility to explore fully the possibility of resuming talks. And in our meetings with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, he conveyed his expectations for this process.

Transcript continues follows the jump.
Getting to this resumption has also taken the courageous leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. And I salute both of them for their willingness to make difficult decisions and to advocate within their own countries and with their own leadership teams – countries with the Palestinian territories.

I would also like to recognize the important contributions of senior negotiators on both sides, particularly Minister Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, both of whom really stood up and stood strong in the face of very tough criticism at home and whose unwavering commitment made the launch of these talks possible. I look forward to beginning work with them tonight.

Going forward, it’s no secret that this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time. It’s no secret, therefore, that many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional, and symbolic issues. I think reasonable compromises has to be a keystone of all of this effort. I know the negotiations are going to be tough, but I also know that the consequences of not trying could be worse.

To help the parties navigate the path to peace and to avoid its many pitfalls, we’ll be very fortunate to have on our team on a day-to-day basis, working with the parties wherever they are negotiating a seasoned American diplomat, Ambassador Martin Indyk, who has agreed to take on this critical task at this crucial time as the UN – U.S. – excuse me – U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations. Assisting Martin will be – as his deputy and as a senior advisor to me – will be Frank Lowenstein, who has been working with me on this process from the beginning.

In his memoir about the peace process, Ambassador Indyk quotes a poem by Samuel Coleridge that begins, “If men could learn from history, what lessons it would teach us!” Ambassador Indyk brings to this challenge his deep appreciation for the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And from his service under President Clinton, Secretary Christopher, and Secretary Albright, he brings a deep appreciation for the art of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. That experience has earned Ambassador Indyk the respect of both sides, and they know that he has made the cause of peace his life mission. He knows what has worked and he knows what hasn’t worked, and he knows how important it is to get this right.

Ambassador Indyk is realistic. He understands that Israeli-Palestinian peace will not come easily and it will not happen overnight. But he also understands that there is now a path forward and we must follow that path with urgency. He understands that to ensure that lives are not needlessly lost, we have to ensure that opportunities are not needlessly lost. And he shares my belief that if the leaders on both sides continue to show strong leadership and a willingness to make those tough choices and a willingness to reasonably compromise, then peace is possible.

So Martin, I’m grateful that you’ve agreed to take a leave from your post at the Brookings Institution to serve once again in this most important role. And I know that you are eager to get to work, as am I.  Martin.

AMBASSADOR INDYK: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for that generous introduction and for vesting in me such important responsibilities. I am deeply honored to serve you and to serve President Obama in your noble endeavor to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. The fact that later today Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will sit down in this building to resume final status negotiations after a three-year hiatus is testament to your extraordinary tireless efforts, backed by President Obama, to try to resolve this intractable conflict.

President Obama made the case so eloquently in his historic speech in Jerusalem in March of this year when he argued to an audience of young Israelis that, quote, “Peace is necessary, peace is just, and peace is possible.” And you, Mr. Secretary, have proven him right. You’ve shown that it can be done.

I couldn’t agree more with President Obama. It’s been my conviction for 40 years that peace is possible since I experienced the agony of the 1973 Yom Kippur War as a student in Jerusalem. In those dark days, I witnessed firsthand how one of your predecessors, Henry Kissinger, brokered a ceasefire that ended the war and paved the way for peace between Israel and Egypt.

Because of your confidence that it could be done, you took up the challenge when most people thought you were on a mission impossible. And backed by the President, you drove the effort with persistence, patience, and creativity. As a result, today, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas have made the tough decisions required to come back to the negotiating table.

I’m therefore deeply grateful to you and to President Obama for entrusting me with the mission of helping you take this breakthrough and turn it into a full-fledged Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. It is a daunting and humbling challenge, but one that I cannot desist from. I look forward with great excitement to working with you, President Abbas, and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and their teams, to do our best to achieve President Obama’s vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. I also look forward to working with the team that you are assembling, starting with Frank Lowenstein, who, as you said, has made such an important contribution to getting us to this point and who will be my partner in this endeavor.

Fifteen years ago my son, Jacob, who was 13 at the time, designed a screensaver for my computer. It consisted of a simple question that flashed across the screen constantly: Dad, is there peace in the Middle East yet? I guess you could say, Mr. Secretary, that he was one of the original skeptics. (Laughter.) But behind that skepticism was also a yearning. And for 15 years, I’ve only been able to answer him, “Not yet.”Perhaps, Mr. Secretary, through your efforts and our support, we may yet be able to tell Jake, and more importantly, all those young Israelis and Palestinians who yearn for a different, better tomorrow, that this time, we actually made it.

Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, all. We’ll see you later. Thank you.

Ron Dermer to Replace Oren as Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.‏


Dermer on the U.S.-Israel relationship

Ron Dermer, a U.S. born advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been confirmed to replace Michael Oren as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States. “Ron Dermer has all the qualities necessary to successfully fill this important post,” Netanyahu said.

I have known him for many years and I know that Ron will faithfully represent the State of Israel in the capital of our greatest ally — the U.S. On behalf of the citizens of Israel, I wish him great success.

Bipartisan praise for Dermer after the jump.
National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) Chair Marc R. Stanley:

On behalf of the National Jewish Democratic Council, I extend my warmest thanks to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for his exemplary service on behalf of the State of Israel. The U.S.-Israel relationship has grown even stronger throughout Ambassador Oren’s tenure, and we salute him and his wife Sally for their dedication to the unique partnership between our two countries.

NJDC also congratulates Ron Dermer on his appointment as the next Israeli Ambassador to the United States. We very much look forward to working with Mr. Dermer in his new role as he builds upon Ambassador Oren’s legacy. Together, we will continue promoting a secure, democratic Jewish State of Israel. We wish Mr. Dermer and his family a hearty mazal tov on this historic accomplishment.

Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Executive Director Matt Brooks:

The RJC extends warm congratulations to our friend Ron Dermer on this well-deserved honor. Ron is known for being a trusted and effective aide to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Responsibility for maintaining the Jewish state’s most vital international alliance is heavy one, but knowing Ron as we do, we are confident that he is up to the job.

A visit with Ron has been a highlight on the itinerary of recent RJC delegations to Israel. We look forward to reciprocating his hospitality during his posting in Washington, DC. Mazel tov, Ron.

This is also a moment to thank Ambassador Michael Oren for four years of exemplary service during which he advanced the cause of U.S.-Israeli friendship in countless ways. We wish Ambassador Oren well in his future endeavors.

Israel Celebrates July 4th

In Israel, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro hosted 2,000 guests at his residence to celebrate the Fourth of July. The State Department posted video of the party and concert here. Israel’s political leaders attended, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that “July 4 is more than an American holiday — it is cherished by all those who cherish freedom around the world” while also describing Israel as an island of democracy in a sea of instability. President Peres delivered remarks and said that the United States is a “beacon of hope for the values of freedom, peace and justice around the globe.”

A congratulatory statement by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren follows the jump.

We are proud to join with the United   States of America in celebrating its 237th birthday. The democracy and freedom upon which this great nation was founded are the same values that help form the foundation of the unbreakable U.S.-Israel bond. This alliance found its most outstanding expression earlier this year during President Obama’s visit to Israel, where he was greeted by crowds exuberantly waving the flags of both of our countries. Since the State of Israel’s establishment 65 years ago, the U.S.-Israel alliance has become more robust and multi-faceted. We look forward to continuing to strengthen this friendship.

From the people of Israel to our friends across America, Happy Independence Day!

Time: Israel and U.S. Coordinating How to Target Assad’s Arsenal

— by Jason Berger

On Friday, Time reported that the United States and Israel are coordinating closely on how best to target President Bashar al Assad’s chemical weapons arsenals. Earlier this month, the U.S. placed F-16s and Patriot missile batteries in Jordan. In regards to the weapons placement, an Israeli official noted, “It’s a clear, purposeful presence of a strike force near the border of Syria. I think it’s a message, a clear message.” The U.S. also installed Patriot batteries in Turkey last year.

Most importantly, though, Israeli officials told Time that the U.S. and Israel were planning for assorted scenarios where they could conceivably search and destroy all of Assad’s 18 chemical weapons arsenals.

More after the jump.
According to Time:

One scenario would be the sudden removal of Assad from the scene, be it by flight, death or if he simply disappears. That would prompt the allies to launch operations on the estimated 18 depots and other sites where WMDs are stored, the officials said. Search and destroy operations would also be launched if the weapons appeared to be about to fall into the hands of the rebels, which include Islamist extremists aligned with al-Qaeda.

Israeli officials also emphasized that it had not been decided who would do what or if the U.S. would deploy troops on the ground. They said it is vital that all chemical and biological weapons are neutralized. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu mentioned his resolve to BBC in April:

The main arms of concern to us are the arms that are already in Syria — these are anti-aircraft weapons, these are chemical weapons and other very, very dangerous weapons that could be game changers. They will change the conditions, the balance of power in the Middle East. They could present a terrorist threat on a worldwide scale. It is definitely our interest to defend ourselves, but we also think it is in the interest of other countries.

Cartoons reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen http://drybonesblog.blogspot.com/

Is Eating Crow Kosher? Hagel’s Critics Should Apologize

Hagel Meets then-Defense Minister Barak. Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo courtesy of the Defense Department

— by Marc R. Stanley (courtesy of the The Jerusalem Post)

Now that Chuck Hagel has completed his first trip to Israel as US defense secretary, it’s time for the pro-Israel community to acknowledge the obvious: Secretary Hagel has demonstrated that he is following the president’s lead when it comes to supporting Israel. Like his predecessors, Hagel has personally committed himself to strengthening the US-Israel defense relationship and working to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

In Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and many others enthusiastically welcomed Secretary Hagel for a series of top-level meetings. The secretary’s trip was an unqualified success for the Obama administration.

More after the jump.
Netanyahu expressed his confidence in Secretary Hagel by declaring, “In the past four years, we’ve greatly enhanced the defense and security relationship between Israel and the United States, and I am absolutely confident that we will continue to further strengthen this under your stewardship of the American defense establishment.” Politico quoted a senior defense official traveling with the delegation as saying, “In Hagel’s meetings with Israeli leaders — including Prime Minister Netanyahu — they repeatedly offered strong praise for President Obama. They believe he is strongly committed to Israel’s security and clearly understands how Israel views the security challenges in the Middle East.”

Ya’alon also expressed his support for Secretary Hagel by saying, “I want, Chuck, to express my personal appreciation for your friendship and for your solid and powerful support for our country. Toda raba.”

The Israelis have good reason to be so welcoming to Secretary Hagel. He has proved himself firmly committed to America’s “iron-clad pledge… to ensure Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge [QME].” Under his watch, Israel will be a party to an unprecedented regional arms deal that will see the Jewish state receive advanced V-22 Ospreys, KC-135 refueling tankers, anti-radar missiles and advanced radar systems — some of which were denied for Israel by the Bush administration.

The new deal will simultaneously boost Israel’s QME and send a firm warning to Iran that force is a real option to stop its nuclear program. Secretary Hagel has also sought nearly $400 million in funding for the Iron Dome antimissile system, to be delivered in the coming years.

It’s no coincidence Secretary Hagel’s first meeting with a foreign leader was with then-defense minister Ehud Barak — a former prime minister and Israel’s most decorated soldier. Before their meeting, Barak declared at the 2013 American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Policy Conference, “As secretary of defense [Hagel] will no doubt serve his country with the same pride and honor with which he served both on the battlefield and in Congress.”

Admittedly, the National Jewish Democratic Council was sometimes critical of Hagel when he served in the Senate. In retrospect, certain aspects of the NJDC’s criticism may have gone too far. But our prior criticisms were negligible compared to the disgraceful treatment he received during the confirmation process: Hagel was wrongfully slandered as anti-Semitic, libeled as a so-called “Friend of Hamas,” and treated with complete disrespect by certain Republicans who seemed more interested in future primary challenges and the politics of personal destruction than the confirmation process.

Hagel’s tenure to this point has done more than enough to rebut these malicious and false charges leveled by his fellow Republicans.

Given this turn of events, it’s time for his harshest critics to start making amends and admit that they were wrong.

A number of Congressional Republicans have started that process. House Armed Services Committee chair Buck McKeon (R-California) — an initial critic — now gives Secretary Hagel an A rating on his performance. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) — who skewered him during the confirmation process — told The Hill that the two now have a “professional relationship” and that “it is my job to work with him.”

Obviously Senator McCain has not offered a ringing endorsement and is unlikely to do so, but there are many who would be well served by following his lead.

If Secretary Hagel’s critics on Capitol Hill can begin to warm to him, then his most ardent critics in the pro-Israel community should as well. They co-opted the pro-Israel community’s agenda and used Secretary Hagel as a proxy for attacking President Obama. In the process, they spread baseless lies and undermined bipartisan support for the US-Israel relationship. It’s time for them to undo the damaged they caused and apologize for their shameful behavior.

The writer is the chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Kerry in Israel: “No Option Is Off The Table” for Iran


Photo by Yad Vashem

— by Jacob Miller

Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Israel to meet with Israeli officials this week. Secretary Kerry met with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

Before meeting with President Peres, Secretary Kerry spent Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Memorial Day — laying a wreath at Yad Vashem.

Before Secretary Kerry’s meeting with President Peres he delivered remarks:

Well, Mr. President, thank you very, very much for an extraordinarily generous and warm welcome. It’s really such an honor to be here today to share in Yom HaShoah and to be there at Yad Vashem to lay a wreath on behalf of the American people, but most importantly to simply share in the uniqueness of that expression of sorrow and honor for this remarkable moment in history that we marked.

Continued after the jump.

I was standing there listening to the siren wail and thinking of the stories people have told me of everybody in Israel stopping. If you’re in a car, you get out and you stand at attention. The whole country freezes. And I know it’s one of only two moments when that happens, for Yom HaShoah and for the fallen in battle in struggles. So that wailing had a profound impact on me. It was impressive. And I think the lesson of today is underscored in your comments about the possibilities for peace, the possibilities for people to live together without hatred, and finding the common ground. I believe in that, and I know you believe in that.


Photo by State Department

You are correct; we have known each other, I think, more than 30 years now. And I’ve had the privilege of watching you lead as a statesman. I’ve had the privilege of working with you in the different hats you have worn in government. And it’s a great privilege for me to be able to be here now representing President Obama and the American people in this effort to try to get us across the line.

We all know it’s not easy. But as you said yourself, it can be done. And it has been expressed by your leaders and others through years that people believe in the possibility of a two-state solution. I am convinced there is a road forward, and I look forward to the discussions with your leaders and yourself regarding how that road could be sort of reignited, if you will, once again setting out on that path […]

With respect to Iran and other threats, I am very pleased to confirm to you what I know you know, and what I hope the people of Israel know after the historic visit of President Obama here: You have a friend in President Obama. You have friends in this Administration, in the Congress, and in America. We understand the nature of the threat of Iran. And as the President has said many times — he doesn’t bluff; he is serious — we will stand with Israel against this threat and with the rest of the world, who have underscored that all we are looking for is Iran to live up to its international obligations.

No option is off the table. No option will be taken off the table. And I confirm to you, Mr. President, that we will continue to seek a diplomatic solution. But our eyes are open, and we understand that the clock is moving. And no one will allow the diplomatic process to stand in the way of whatever choices need to be made to protect the world from yet another nuclear weapon in the wrong hands.

Before meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Secretary Kerry delivered brief remarks:

I want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for, first of all, his extraordinary hospitality yet again. We had an extremely friendly, very productive, long discussion last night. I think it’s fair to say that we made progress, that we were pleased with the substance of the discussion and agreed, each of us, to do some homework. And we’re going to do our homework over the course of the next weeks, and today we’re going to continue some of that discussion with a view to seeing how we can really pull all of the pieces together and make some progress here. And I want to thank the Prime Minister for his good-faith efforts here. It’s been serious, it’s been focused, and I would characterize it as very productive.

WJC President: Netanyahu Did the Right Thing Apologizing to Turkey


Turkish and Israeli Prime Ministers Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Binyamin Netanyahu.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder today warmly welcomed the thaw in relations between Israel and Turkey. Lauder said the news has been met by “a sigh of relief” in many Jewish communities around the world. He praised Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and said it had been “the right thing to do in this situation”, despite the “very justified reservations” Netanyahu and others in Israel had had against such a step. Lauder expressed hope that the gesture by Israel would effectively end the diplomatic crisis between the two countries:

Turkey and Israel must work together. There are so many issues in the region where these two countries can make a difference. One of them is military cooperation in order to secure geopolitical stability in the Middle East.

B’nai B’rith International’s response after the jump.
Lauder said he had met with Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu seven times since the Gaza Flotilla incident in May 2010:

In these talks the Turkish side has always made it clear that if Israel apologizes a new beginning in relations is possible. We sincerely hope that they will keep their word.

The WJC president praised US President Barack Obama for brokering a breakthrough in Israeli-Turkish relations:

President Obama’s visit to Israel was extremely important. He has shown that American leadership is essential if any progress is to be made in the peace process. On behalf of the World Jewish Congress I wholeheartedly thank him not just for helping to restore Israeli-Turkish relations but also for his important visit to Israel. His visit further strengthened the bond between Israelis and Americans. We hope that this provide the basis for renewed efforts to restart negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

B’nai B’rith International also welcomed the restoration of full relations between the two countries:

The normalization of relations between Israel and Turkey — the region’s only two democracies — sends a strong message of stability in a troubled part of the world.  

This positive development comes amid the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria, where human rights groups estimate 70,000 Syrians have been killed in the two years since the uprising against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and countless thousands have been displaced.