Is the US-Israel Special Relationship Altered?


Anyone in Israel who is pleased with Obama’s speech does not completely understand its destructive implications.

— Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

Since Harry S. Truman, every U.S. president has had the opportunity to engage in Middle East war, peace or both. We in the U.S. are result-oriented, giving politicians little credit for “best effort.” We like strong leaders, so the failed peace encounters can only damage the Chief Executive’s popularity.

One might tire of such engagements. Indeed, since both principal parties walked away from the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, less has been said in the U.S. about the problem. In Obama’s major address on foreign policy at the U.S. Military Academy commencement ceremony Wednesday, there was no mention of the Israel-Palestinian “peace process.”

More after the jump.
On Thursday, in the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth, commentator Alon Pinkas wrote: “It was an ‘all-inclusive’ speech that President Obama gave yesterday at the graduation ceremony at West Point Academy. All-inclusive, except for Israel and the peace process. Not even as a footnote.”

[Obama] made no mention of “our” Middle East. Not with affection and concern, and not with criticism and frustration. Neither as a U.S. foreign policy objective nor as a U.S. interest. He voiced neither a commitment to the ally Israel nor an aspiration to grant the Palestinians a state of their own. The “peace process” is yet another conflict flashpoint in the world, and the U.S. has grown weary of its failed attempts to mediate and resolve it.

Pinkas added that Wednesday morning, “in an appearance that was broadcast by three networks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did not mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at all.”

This matters to us, U.S. Jews, as well as to Israel. The perceived centrality of the U.S.-Israel relationship, or the apparent disregard of that relationship, is likely to influence nuclear negotiations with Iran, subtly altering both the Iranian and the American strength of purpose and will. But that is just one likely effect of the failure of talks.

U.S. Jews have little basis today to press their government for re-engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the voice of AIPAC is not likely to be heard to urge a course that the Government of Israel does not want. Israel appears to be satisfied to let matters ride as they are, awaiting a day when a more desirable, or at least more desirous, peace partner may emerge on the Palestinian side.

Although a quiet has settled in for the present time, we and Obama know too well that the problems are unresolved and very unlikely to go away. As Pinkas concluded, “Anyone in Israel who is pleased with [Obama’s] speech does not completely understand its destructive implications.”

Should Pollard Be Freed to Keep Peace Talks Alive?

A “We Want Pollard Home” sign in Israel.

— by Steve Sheffey

Last week, unconfirmed reports indicated that the U.S. might free Jonathan Pollard in return for concessions from Israel on the peace process.

Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987, for spying for Israel against the U.S. He will be eligible for parole in November 2015. Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush and thus far, Obama, have refused to release him.

Some have argued that his sentence was excessive, and may have been motivated by anti-Semitism.

Some, seemingly in a position to know, maintain that the damage Pollard did to our intelligence network was so great that his sentence was not excessive; while others seemingly in a position to know maintain that he has served enough time, and is no longer dangerous.

More after the jump.
Israel has repeatedly asked for Pollard’s release. As Dennis Ross of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy explained last week, “He has taken on the aura of being a soldier who was left in the field, and the ethos in Israel is that soldiers are never left behind.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) believes that Pollard should be released, but not as a rationale for peace talks.

On the other hand, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) completely opposes Pollard’s release, saying last week that he hopes Pollard would “rot in hell in jail for a long time.” (So much for equating “pro-Israel” with support for the policies of Israel’s elected government.)

Last year, Brian Stephens wrote in the Wall Street Journal a column against Pollard’s release:

It does not help Israel to make a hero of a compulsive liar and braggart, fond of cocaine, who violated his oaths, spied on his country, inflicted damage that took billions of dollars to repair, accepted payment for his spying, jeopardized Israel’s relationship with its closest ally, failed to show remorse at the time of his sentencing, made himself into Exhibit A of every anti-Semitic conspiracy nut, and then had the chutzpah to call himself a martyr to the Jewish people.

(So much for equating “pro-Israel” with not second-guessing or criticizing Israel.)

In 2010, 40 Democratic members of Congress, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and many other strong friends of Israel, urged Obama to grant Pollard clemency on humanitarian grounds, not because what he did was justifiable, but because he had served enough time in prison.

Now the question is whether Pollard’s freedom should be linked to the peace process.

The peace process is not a favor to the Palestinians. No matter how unreasonable the Palestinians may be, no matter how incendiary their rhetoric is and how counterproductive their actions are, it remains in Israel’s best interests to reach an agreement that will allow it to vacate most of the West Bank.

Israel cannot occupy (yes, occupy) the West Bank indefinitely and remain both Jewish and democratic.

The article by Ross, whose diplomatic career has included service in both Republican and Democratic administrations, makes more sense to me than anything else I have read about whether Pollard’s release should be tied to the peace process:

Whether one accepts the argument that Pollard’s sentence seems more severe than that handed out to other spies, it surely makes little sense to say that someone who has spent nearly 30 years in jail has not paid a severe price.

Thirty years in jail does not signal being soft on spies; it constitutes a potent deterrent against spying. And, at this point, when looking at the demographic make-up of those in the intelligence community, a significant percentage either were not born or were very young when Pollard was incarcerated. It seems unlikely that morale is going to be affected by his release.

If traditional arguments in the intelligence community bear little weight at this point, there is still the question of whether we should link the peace issue to Pollard.

Some may say that if he is so politically important, we should get something of value for his release. Perhaps, but at a time when the Middle East is characterized by upheaval and U.S. foreign policy needs to demonstrate effectiveness, we can ill afford a collapse of the current efforts to negotiate between Israelis and Palestinians.

If the release is part of a package of steps that not only manages this process but can give it a necessary boost — and also affect the climate between Israelis and Palestinians — then President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry certainly seem justified in acting on it.

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The One Real Obstacle to Israeli-Arab Peace


Israel’s former deputy minister of foreign affairs, Danny Ayalon, explains the historical facts relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The positions of the Palestinian Arabs in the latest round of peace talks, being pushed by Obama Administration and Secretary of State John Kerry, and the concessions being expected of Israel by the U.S. and media, will most certainly lead to a failure.

In the parallel universe in which Israeli-Palestinian Arab peace negotiations take place, the Palestinian Authority’s outright abrogation of prior agreements (Oslo Accords) and rejections of prior proposals (Camp David 2000 and 2008, which were pretexts for engaging in a terrorism war, the intifadah) must be placed back on the table as the starting point for the next round.

More after the jump.
A senior Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath, recently told the news agency Ma’an, “The minimum of what we were offered in the year 2000 hasn’t been reached, not to mention that the U.S. has failed to exert pressure on Israel to guarantee Palestinian rights.” He also said, “we will not recognize Israel as Jewish state.”

This is what the Palestinian Authority (PA) complains about, and what the media expects. Is there no price to pay for intransigence and rejection? Or defeat in war?

In every other situation throughout the world, when two parties are negotiating for something, there is the expectation of compromise, recognition and respect for the other side. Yet, none exists on the Palestinian-Arab side, nor do the media hold them to account.

Moreover, the PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, has a limited and questionable authority: His term has expired five years ago, and he only “rules” the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. The Gaza Strip is under the thumb of Hamas: an elected terrorist Islamic resistance movement, whose genocidal intentions against Jews and Israel are evident and proudly displayed.

There is no proof that even if Abbas signs an agreement, it will be honored by Hamas, or even that it will be binding on the PA.

Israel is held to impossible standards by the media. While the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has vowed to take any proposals and frameworks agreed to in negotiations directly to the Israeli people to vote and approve, what will the PA do? No one has ever said, nor pressed them to find out, if such an agreement will be endorsed by their people.

While Israeli actions to defend itself are routinely cast as obstacles to peace, it is the PA’s refusal to recognize a Jewish state, in any borders, which is rarely described by the media as an obstacle, when it is the sin qua non element essential to mutual recognition and an end to the conflict.

Israel’s rights, positions, opinions — those of a free democratic people — are marginalized, in favor of the seemingly poor, victimized, minority “Palestinian People.” The Palestinian Arabs are neither seen as part of the greater Arab nation (of 22 countries and 400 million), nor as people with their own country (Jordan, whose population consists of 2/3 “Palestinians,” on 78% of the Palestine Mandate, that was designated for the national Jewish homeland).

Israel has merely 6.2 million Jews, plus another 1.2 million Arabs living as equal citizens, in a country of 8,000 square miles, versus the 5 million square miles of the Arab world. These Arabs have many more rights and much more freedom than they do anywhere else in the Arab world.

As the indefatigable Kerry shuttles to square the circle of bringing the Israeli-Palestinian Arab negotiations to an agreement, it is instructive to focus on where the biggest obstacles to a peace deal really lie.

Israel’s Security Needs Minimized

The international media have been willing to blame Israeli “settlements” — even on land that has been under Israeli control since their capture in the defensive war of 1967, and per the Oslo Agreements of 1993; and “restrictive security practices” in PA-controlled areas (i.e. checkpoints); and even the Israeli-built security barrier, which has prevented innumerable terrorist attacks and saved countless lives on both sides, as the biggest obstacles to Middle East peace.

Recently, the European Union’s envoy to Israel warned that if peace talks with the Palestinian Arabs fail, Israel was likely get blamed for it due to construction in “West Bank settlements.” What is rarely ever discussed are Israel’s strong rights to the land, both historic and legal. Israel has recently begun to redress this by its issuance of the Levy Report, which has not yet been formally adopted by the government.

The late Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor Party, was considered by many in his time a pro-peace leader. But as Kenneth Levin wrote in The Times of Israel, like the authors of the U.N. Security Council’s Resolution 242, Rabin “recognized that Israel’s pre-1967 armistice lines left the nation too vulnerable to future aggression.”

He insisted Israel must hold onto a significant portion of the West Bank to block traditional invasion routes and to protect both Jerusalem and the low-lying coastal plain, the latter home to some 70% of the nation’s population. In his last speech in the Knesset before his assassination, Rabin declared:

The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines, and these are the main changes, not all of them, which we envision and want in the permanent solution:

  1. First and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev – as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty, while preserving the rights of the members of the other faiths, Christianity and Islam, to freedom of access and freedom of worship in their holy places, according to the customs of their faiths.
  2. The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.
  3. Changes which will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the “Green Line,” prior to the Six-Day War.
  4. The establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank].

Nothing has changed in the last eighteen years that would diminish Israel’s need to retain the areas referred to by Rabin. The topography of the region has, of course, not changed, and the nations around Israel have not become more peaceful or more reconciled to Israel’s existence.

In fact, with the breakdown of the Arab Spring into violent civil wars on its borders (Syria, Lebanon, Egypt), and with a nuclear, terrorist-sponsoring Iran looming, the situation is even more precarious.

Israel cannot afford a major security threat aimed at the heart of the country from organizations whose charters call for its destruction. As Levin wrote, “Netanyahu’s views on defensible borders for Israel essentially conform to the parameters laid out by Rabin.”

Land for Peace, or for War?

In the Arab media, the Palestinian Arabs reveal what a farce the peace negotiations are: Abbas Zaki, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, explained on Syrian television that the PA would agree to a treaty with Israel if a Palestinian state is established on the 1967 lines, which would only be the beginning of a multi-stage plan to achieve their ultimate goal: a Palestinian State on the remains of the destruction of Israel.

It is also conveniently forgotten, and rarely mentioned by the media that the Palestinian Arabs have rejected a co-existent, mutually-recognized peace with a Jewish state living along side it six times: in 1937, 1948, 1956, 1967, 2000 and 2008. They have never missed an opportunity to reject obtaining their own sovereign state, if it means that they must recognize Israel.

Netanyahu has repeatedly stated Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state. However, the essence of the problem is the lack of reciprocity: the Palestinian Arabs’ continual and absolute rejection of recognizing Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People. Without this, there will be no genuine peace, nor any hope for an end to the conflict.

Recently, Asharq Al-Awsat published an interview with the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, in which he baldly claimed that Israel murdered Yasser Arafat — a lie which has been debunked repeatedly — and could do the same to Abbas. Erekat stressed that the Palestinian Arabs will not agree to have talks extended beyond the allotted nine months, set to end next month.

More notably, Abbas specifically rejected Kerry’s framework, and told President Obama that:

  • he rejected  Netanyahu’s demand that he recognize Israel as a Jewish state;
  • he refused to abandon the demand for a “right of return” for the allegedly millions of Palestinian Arabs and their descendants; and
  • he refused to commit to an “end of conflict.”

In essence, this is a rewording of the famous Three Nos from the Arab League issued at Khartoum in 1967: “No peace, no recognition, no negotiation with Israel.”  

As a result, Israel has indicated that it may not release a fourth and final group of Palestinian prisoners at the end of this month (a condition Israel agreed to in entering the current talks, last July) if Abbas does not first agree to extend the talks beyond their scheduled termination in April.

This is just further verification that the Palestinian Arabs cannot bring themselves to forge an agreement with the Jewish state: Putting an end to the conflict ends the raison d’etre of the Palestinian Authority and its culture of victimhood.

Anti-Israel Incitement Ignored

While Israeli society has steadily moved over the years toward accepting Palestinian-Arab self-determination, this has not been shared on the Palestinian-Arab side.

The incitement rampantly permeates through Palestinian culture, in its schools, textbooks, mosques, and media and has ensured that an entire generation of Palestinians has been brainwashed and fed a diet of hatred towards Jews and Israel.

The demonizing of Jews as subhuman, the de-legitimitation of a Jewish state regardless of its borders, the negation of Jewish history, and the glorification of terrorists who have murdered Jews is endemic.

To its credit, the New York Times has published a story on Palestinian Arab incitement, prompted by the Israeli government’s recent release of its PA Incitement and Culture of Peace Index:

Adolf Hitler is quoted on the websites of Palestinian Authority schools; a young girl appears on Palestinian television describing Jews as “barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs” and the “murderers of Muhammad,” the Islamic prophet; maps on the Facebook page of the Palestinian presidential guards do not show Israel; President Mahmoud Abbas himself embraced as “heroes” released Palestinian prisoners who killed Israelis.

As HonestReporting has observed, “This focus on Palestinian responsibilities marks a refreshing and welcome departure from the New York Times’ usual knee-jerk, blame-Israel-for-all, approach.”

At an Israeli Cabinet meeting last January, Netanyahu remarked: “The Palestinians are continuing their campaign of inciting hatred, as we have seen in the last few days with their refusal to recognize Israel as a state for the Jewish people… This is the main issue that we’re discussing with [Kerry].”

He added, “We are not foreigners in Jerusalem, Beit El or Hebron. I reiterate that, in my view, this is the root of both the conflict and the incitement — the non-recognition of this basic fact.”

Netanyahu concluded, “True peace cannot exist without stopping the incitement against Israel and educating for peace. The refusal of the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish People and declare the end of national demands — this is the root of the conflict. This is also the reason why we are insisting on significant security measures, so that we will be able to defend ourselves by ourselves in any situation.”

Two States for One People

PA officials and leaders have repeatedly stated that one of their red lines is the “right of return” which will flood Israel with potentially millions of descendants of refugees who left Israel during the 1948 War, and the concomitant refusal to allow any Jews to live in the Palestinian State.

Not only is this designed to destroy the Jewish nature of Israel proper, it is pure racist in ideology and effect — And it is not a secret. This is a non-starter for Israel.

Last month, Tom Wilson wrote that “Abbas’s spokespeople in Ramallah announced the PA’s new set of red lines in any negotiated peace settlement. Each and every one of these red lines blows to pieces anything Kerry was about to propose, as it does to the prospects for an agreement between the two sides in general.”

In this way Abbas artfully dodges a scenario in which the Israelis would agree to a peace plan and the Palestinians would come under pressure not to derail yet another effort to resolve the conflict. Abbas’s new red lines block just about every concession that the Israelis, and even the U.S., have requested.

Abbas demands: a total Israeli withdrawal from all territories that went to Israel in 1967; that Israel complete that withdrawal within three to four years; that the Palestinians not be required to recognize the Jewish state; that east Jerusalem be specified as the capital of a Palestinian state; the release of all Palestinian prisoners; and resolving the refugee issue along the lines of UN General Assembly resolution 194, which in essence means sending those Palestinians claiming to be refugees, not to a Palestinian state, but to Israel, thus terminating the existence of the Jewish state Abbas refuses to recognize.

Would the U.S. Release Prisoners for Negotiations?

Israel was urged by Kerry to release more than 120 Arab convicted prisoners, many of whom murderers, as a “good will gesture,” just to entice the Palestinian Arabs to come to the negotiations. No concessions, of course, were asked of the Arabs.

Yet, the Obama Administration made sure to express reservations about the release of one man: Othman Amar Mustafa. It turns out he had killed an American.

Nadav Shragai reported in Israel Hayom that “Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel revealed that the Judea and Samaria branch of the Hamas military wing is being run by remote control by a group of terrorists who were included in the prisoner exchange after being sentenced to life sentences for their roles in the murder of Israelis.”

These prisoners were banished to the Gaza Strip as part of the Shalit deal. It turns out that in the last two years, the Shin Bet security agency has intercepted at least 80 attempted terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria, plots that were masterminded by this particular group of released convicts.

Per Shragai, the bottom line is appallingly evident: According to statistics compiled by the Defense Ministry, nearly half of the 13,000 terrorists whom Israel has released since 1985 within the framework of agreements, gestures, and diplomatic outlines resumed terrorist activities either as planners of attacks, executors of attacks, or accessories.

Hundreds of Israelis have already been killed by freed terrorists and 3,000 have been maimed. The 1,150 terrorists freed as part of the Jibril exchange in 1978 went on to serve as the backbone of the leadership during the First Intifada. At least half of the 7,000 terrorists freed following the signing of the Oslo Accords were reintegrated into terrorist organizations and took an active role in the Second Intifada.

This is the price Israel is being forced to pay just to sit at the negotiating table with these alleged “peace partners.”

The Importance of UN Resolution 242

As Ambassador Dore Gold has written in Israel Hayom, “now is the time to recall exactly what Israel’s rights are in its territorial dispute with the Palestinians over the future of the West Bank,” specifically the rights enshrined by the U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.

According to Gold, over the years Resolution 242 has “evolved into the basis of the entire peace process, including the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the 1991 Madrid peace conference, the 1993 Oslo Accords, the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty, and draft agreements with Syria.”

Back in 1973, on the eve of the Geneva Peace Conference, the U.S. even provided a letter of assurance to Israel that it would prevent any party from tampering with Resolution 242. Israeli diplomacy sought to protect Resolution 242 as though it was a crown jewels of the Jewish state.

The most prominent feature of Resolution 242 is its famous “withdrawal clause,” which did not require Israel to withdraw to the pre-war 1967 lines: it only stated that there had to be a pull back “from territories,” and not “all the territories.” Any Israeli withdrawal had to be to “secure and recognized borders.”

Moreover, as Gold pointed out, according to Resolution 242, Israel was entitled to these lands without having to “pay for it with its own pre-1967 territory.”

There is no language in 242 regarding land swaps, nor any corridor crossing Israeli sovereign territory so that the “West Bank” could be connected to the Gaza Strip. Actually, per Gold, these diplomatic innovations were thought of by negotiators in the 1990s, but Israel in no way is required to agree to them, pursuant to Resolution 242.

Finally, Resolution 242 says nothing about Jerusalem, that is to be a separate issue entirely. Of course, it is Israel’s position that the city is to be united and never divided again.

The world saw clearly what happened when Jordan illegally occupied Judaea and Samaria, including Jerusalem, from 1948 to 1967: It destroyed more than 50 synagogues in the Old City, and denied Jews access to the Temple Mount. Under Israeli rule, the city has been unified, and all citizens and religions have free access to religious sites, and the ability to practice openly.

The Biggest Problem in the Middle East?

The Obama Administration, through Kerry, is trying yet again to force the parties to conclude an agreement, while the issues raised for the “solution” are not the real issues that will lead to a successful one.  

The U.S. continues to see only Israel’s so-called “illegal occupation” of the West Bank, the Palestinian refugee issue, and the issue of Jerusalem as the capitol of the newborn Palestinian state, as the main obstacles to conclude the peace agreement.

Inconceivably, the U.S. continues to believe that by solving this intractable conflict, the remaining issues in the Middle East will be voila, solved, and harmony and tranquility will reign over the region. Despite, of course, the utter chaos in the surrounding Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.

Abbas is not the man of compromise the media portrays him to be, and his people have deliberately not been prepared for peace, but instead brainwashed for hatred, violence and terrorism. He cannot deliver the goods, nor does he want to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end.

The only end that is acceptable among the Palestinian Arabs is “peace of the entire Palestine” — which means destroying Israel — and nothing less.

Lee Bender is the co-author of Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z, and co-President of Zionist Organization of America — Greater Philadelphia District.

Cartoons courtesy of Yaakov “Dry Bones” Kirschen, and The Cartoon Kronicles.

Abbas Welcomes Palestinian Murderers as Heroes

(CAMERA) Melbourne, Australia’s Herald Sun published an article revealing the cruelty that manifests among the Palestinians.

In the article Israel may pay for tolerance it shows to killers, Alan Howe wrote about some of the individuals released by Israel as a gesture for the current round of peace talks:

Take Issa Abd Rabbo. When he was released recently, he was welcomed home personally by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who raised Rabbo’s hand in victory and referred to the double killer as a hero.

He calls men like Rabbo “the best of the Palestinian people”.

Rabbo killed two university students, Revital Seri, 22, and her friend Ron Levi, 23.

More after the jump.

The murderer was interviewed on television the other day. I’ll let him describe what happened:

“There was supposed to be a military operation shooting at a bus transporting Israeli soldiers … I was surprised when on my way to the area, I waited, waited and waited and the bus didn’t come.

“I was forced to carry out an operation on my own, an improvisation, I took it upon myself.

“An Israeli car approached, with two in it. I said, here’s a chance and I don’t want to return empty-handed. They left the car … and sat down under a pine tree.

“I went down to them. Of course I was masked and was carrying a rifle. He asked me: ‘Are you a guard here?’ I told him: ‘No, I’m in my home.’

“I told him: ‘You are not allowed here. This is our land and our country. You stole it and occupied our land and I’m going to act against you.’ They were surprised by what I told them. I tied them up, of course, and then sentenced them to death by shooting, in the name of the revolution.

“I shot them, one bullet each, and went [hiding] in the mountains … I went to my aunt and told her: ‘We have avenged Muhammad’s blood.’

“I told her: ‘Instead of one, we got two!’ She cried out in joy.”

Such journalism is necessary to expose how twisted Palestinian society has become, and to raise questions about a lack of compassion and a cavalier attitude about justice among Israel’s political elite.

The State Department’s Secret: Does Abbas Talk Peace in Arabic?


PA Minister Mahmoud Al-Habbash: “In less than two years, the Prophet returned and based on this treaty, he conquered Mecca. This is the example, this is the model.”

— by Toby Klein Greenwald

David Makovsky, on leave from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was recently named to the State Department’s Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiating team. Makovsky will be a senior adviser to Martin Indyk, who leads the team.

Makovsky, when asked a number of questions regarding his own writing and views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, replied that he cannot have any contact with journalists, and referred me to a State Department official.

In an article Makovsky published in The Atlantic last January, he wrote:

President Abbas has also appeared recently on Israeli television, stating that he renounced any personal “right of return” to his home town of Safed — and that Palestine today means the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, but not pre-1967 Israel, “now and forever.”

The U.S. should ask him to repeat those assurances, along with his public disagreement with Hamas about its rejection of the principle of peace with Israel.

Therefore, my first question was:

Has Abbas, in fact, ever made these assurances in Arabic? Or disagreed with Hamas in Arabic? And what about the fact that the focus of the Palestinians’ plan of action is on the “right of return” to the area of Israel, as opposed to living in the West Bank?

The State Department official, in lieu of Makovsky, replied, “Regarding that first question, I will have to talk to my colleagues; I need a little bit longer. It will take some research.”

After several days and phone and e-mail reminders, I did receive the following answer:

Unfortunately we have no additional comment…

The fact that a State Department official cannot (or will not) give answers to this critical question may indicate that there is a gap between the wishes of the U.S. government regarding the Palestinians’ plans, and the reality on the ground.

Full interview after the jump.
Q: What are the implications, for the peace process, of the ongoing praise on the Palestinian Authority (PA) television for those who murder Jews, and Abbas’ glorification of released terrorists?

The U.S. Government is committed to anti-incitement efforts. From Secretary Kerry on down and throughout the State Department, we take incitement seriously, recognize it is a serious issue and are working to combat it in order to achieve peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.  

We have consistently called on all parties to refrain from provocative rhetoric that only serves to raise tensions. Such hateful rhetoric has no place in the region.

Q: Since the term of Abbas actually ended four years ago, and the last Palestinian election, in January 2006, witnessed the Hamas victory in the entire PA, what guarantee do we have that any agreement that Abbas reaches will be honored by the Palestinian population?

Achieving a final status agreement is what the parties are working toward. It is up to both parties to determine the steps they need to take once they achieve that goal, but we know that we have a lot of work to do before we get to that point.

Beyond this, I am not going to comment on internal Palestinian politics or their political process and would refer you to the parties.

Q: What about the precedent of Gaza attacks on the rest of Israel, once the IDF retreated from Gaza? Do you fear that if the IDF withdraws from areas on the high ground in Jenin and Ramallah, they will become staging grounds for rocket attacks on Gush Dan, including the Ben Gurion International Airport?

Security is paramount, especially to the Israeli people as they contemplate taking calculated risks for peace. The outcome of these negotiations needs to leave both sides feeling more secure, not less.

General Allen has been working as an adviser to the Secretary of Defense focusing on security in the context of Middle East Peace. He has been working closely on the ground with his Israeli counterparts to support our comprehensive efforts to find a way forward that meets the legitimate security needs of Israel.

Q: What is your realistic assessment of the outcome of the current peace talks?

We remain focused on our goal: achieving a final status agreement on all the core issues between the parties which resolves the conflict, ends all claims and creates peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The President spoke to what we are striving for in his address to the U.N. General Assembly:

The children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and where we unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them…

The United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state.

The author is the editor in chief of WholeFamily.com.

Kerry and Netanyahu Discuss Israeli-Arab Final-Status Negotiations


Kerry and Netanyahu in Israel last month.

Yesterday, a Senior State Department official issued the following statement about Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

Following-on President Obama’s and Vice President Biden’s meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Secretary Kerry met with the Prime Minister at the State Department this afternoon. Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed a range of issues, focusing primarily on the ongoing final status negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians and how the United States, in its facilitating role, can continue to help these talks succeed. They also discussed Iran and Syria. Secretary Kerry underscored our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and noted that we will continue to work closely with Israel on our shared interests, especially to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Transcript of Kerry and Netanyahu’s remarks follow the jump.
Secretary of State John Kerry and and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before their meeting, September 30, 2013 in the White House Treaty Room

SECRETARY KERRY:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It’s my great pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister of Israel here and to the State Department.  I think – (audio feedback).  Ta-da.  (Laughter).

Obviously, I’ve had a number of very generous, warm welcomes as I have visited Israel and the Mideast frequently.  I think I’ve been probably the most frequent visitor; I should get frequent flyer miles for my visits to the Prime Minister’s office.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  We couldn’t afford it.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY:  But it is more than safe to say that the Prime Minister and I are every meeting forging a better and better relationship, a stronger and stronger friendship on a very personal level.  And I’m very grateful to him for his very generous welcomes to me, the amount of time he has spent with me in Jerusalem working through very complicated but very, very important issues.

Israel, as everybody knows, is a very special friend to the United States of America.  And we have just had a very constructive luncheon with the President and a very important meeting before that with a larger group of people.  And now the Prime Minister and I will talk about both Iran, the Middle East peace process, Syria, and issues of concern.

We are committed to continuing to work constructively to move forward on the peace process, though it is always difficult, complicated.  We know that.  But we’re working in good faith.  I have confidence in the Prime Minister’s commitment to this effort, and I also want him to know that as we reach out to respond to Iran’s efforts to purportedly change its relationship with the world, we do so very aware of and sensitive to the security needs of Israel and the demands for certainty and transparency and accountability in this process.

So I look forward today to furthering our conversation, and I’m very, very happy to finally welcome the Prime Minister here to the State Department.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Mr. Secretary, thank you.  John, it’s good to be with you.  We have if not the whole world, a good chunk of it to discuss, and we do so as friends and as people seriously committed to both achieving security and a durable peace.  These are hard things to achieve, but none better than you and us to try to do it together.

SECRETARY KERRY:  Thank you.  Thanks, partner.  

Kerry in Israel: “The Threat of Force Remains”

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel today, and spoke about Syria and the Israeli-Arab Peace talks in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu.

About the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Kerry said: “These are crimes against humanity, and they cannot be tolerated, and they are a threat to the capacity of the global community to be able to live by standards of rules of law and the highest standards of human behavior.”

Kerry added that last week, the United States and Russia agreed to “strip all of the chemical weapons from Syria.”

The Russians have agreed, they state, that the Assad regime has agreed to make its declaration within one week of the location and the amount of those weapons… President Obama has made it clear that to accomplish that, the threat of force remains… We cannot have hollow words in the conduct of international affairs.

Netanyahu said:

The Syrian regime must be stripped all its chemical weapons, and that would make our entire region a lot safer. The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don’t have weapons of mass destruction, because as we’ve learned once again in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction, they will use them. The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron, Iran.  

About the peace talks, Kerry said that “the best way to try to work through the difficult choices that have to be made is to do so privately with confidence that everybody will respect that process. And since I have asked for that from all the parties, I’m not going to break it now or at any other time. We will not discuss the substance of what we are working on.”

Netanyahu said to Kerry, “we’ve embarked on this effort with you in order to succeed, to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all.”

Full remarks after the jump.
Netanyahu: Mr. Secretary, John, a pleasure to welcome you again in Jerusalem. I very much appreciate the fact that you’re here today. You’ve got a lot on your plate. Despite that busy schedule of yours, you took the time to come to Jerusalem.  It’s deeply appreciated. I appreciate the fact that you’re making a great personal effort on matters of vital strategic importance for all of us.  

We have been closely following and support your ongoing efforts to rid Syria of its chemical weapons. The Syrian regime must be stripped all its chemical weapons, and that would make our entire region a lot safer. The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don’t have weapons of mass destruction, because as we’ve learned once again in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction, they will use them. The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron, Iran.  

Iran must understand the consequences of its continual defiance of the international community by its pursuit towards nuclear weapons. What the past few days have showed is something that I’ve been saying for quite some time, that if diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat. What is true of Iran — or what is true of Syria is true of Iran, and by the way, vice versa.

John, I appreciate the opportunity we’ve had to discuss at some length our quest for peace with the Palestinians and the ongoing talks. We both know that this road is not an easy one, but we’ve embarked on this effort with you in order to succeed, to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all. I want to welcome you once again to Jerusalem. I want to promise all of those who are seeing us now that this will not be our last long meeting.

Kerry: No.  (Laughter.)  Not by any means.

Mr. Prime Minister, my friend Bibi, thank you very much for one of your generous welcomes here again. I’m very appreciative, very happy to be back here in Israel, and only sorry that it’s a short time and a short visit. I thank you for your generous hospitality and I pick up on your comments that the road ahead is not easy. If it were easy, peace would have been achieved a long time ago.  But what is clearer than ever today is that this is a road worth traveling. And so I’m delighted to have spent a good period of time — (clears throat) — excuse me, folks, the benefits of a lot of travel. (Laughter.)  

I’m really happy to have spent a serious amount of time with the Prime Minister this afternoon talking in some depth about the challenges of the particular road that we are on. This is a follow-up to a very productive meeting that I had in London last week with President Abbas, so I am talking to both presidents directly as we agreed —

Netanyahu: Don’t elevate me to the role of president.

Kerry: President — Prime Minister and President, I apologize.

Netanyahu:
I can’t reach those heights —

Kerry: (Laughter.) Both leaders.

Netanyahu: — and I respect Mr. Peres greatly and —

Kerry: I am talking to both leaders directly. And everybody, I think, understands the goal that we are working for. It is two states living side by side in peace and in security. Two states because there are two proud peoples, both of whom deserve to fulfill their legitimate national aspirations in a homeland of their own, and two states because today, as we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, I think everybody is reminded significantly of the costs of conflict and the price, certainly, that Israelis have paid in the quest for their security and identity.

The Prime Minister and I and all of the parties involved have agreed that we will not discuss details at any point in time. We are convinced that the best way to try to work through the difficult choices that have to be made is to do so privately with confidence that everybody will respect that process. And since I have asked for that from all the parties, I’m not going to break it now or at any other time. We will not discuss the substance of what we are working on.

I do want to comment, however, as the Prime Minister has, on the challenge of the region and what we have just been doing in the last few days of negotiations in Geneva. And that is, as the Prime Minister has said, an issue that directly affects the stability of this entire region, and ultimately, weapons of mass destruction, which are at stake in this issue, are a challenge to everybody on this planet. So this is a global issue, and that is the focus that we have tried to give it in the talks in Geneva in the last days, but we want to make sure people understand exactly what we are trying to achieve and how.

The ongoing conflict in Syria has enormous implications for all of the neighbors — the press of refugees, the fact of weapons of mass destruction having been used against the people of their own state. These are crimes against humanity, and they cannot be tolerated, and they are a threat to the capacity of the global community to be able to live by standards of rules of law and the highest standards of human behavior.  

So I want people to understand the key elements of what we agreed to in Geneva. It is a framework, not a final agreement. It is a framework that must be put into effect by the United Nations now. But it is a framework that, with the Russian and U.S. agreement, it has the full ability to be able to, as the Prime Minister said, strip all of the chemical weapons from Syria. The Russians have agreed, they state, that the Assad regime has agreed to make its declaration within one week of the location and the amount of those weapons. And then we will put in place what we hope to put in place through the United Nations, what Russia and the United States agreed on, which is the most far-reaching chemical weapons removal effort well beyond the CWC that has been designed.

Now this will only be as effective as its implementation will be, and President Obama has made it clear that to accomplish that, the threat of force remains. The threat of force is real, and the Assad regime and all those taking part need to understand that President Obama and the United States are committed to achieve this goal. We cannot have hollow words in the conduct of international affairs because that affects all other issues, whether Iran or North Korea or any other.  

The core principles with respect to the removal of these weapons and the containment of these weapons, which we want to achieve, as we said in the document, in the soonest, fastest, most effective way possible — if we achieve that, we will have set a marker for the standard of behavior with respect to Iran and with respect to North Korea and any other state, rogue state, group that decide to try to reach for these kinds of weapons.

The core principles will have the full backing of the international community through the U.N. Security Council. And Russia agreed that any breach of compliance, according to standards already set out in the CWC, any breach of the specifics of this agreement or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria will result in immediate referral and action by the Security Council for measures under Chapter 7, which means what they select, up to and including the possibility of the use of force.

So again, I reiterate diplomacy has always been the preferred path of the President of the United States, and I think is any peace-loving nation’s preferred choice. But make no mistake, we’ve taken no options off the table. President Obama’s been absolutely clear about the remainder of the potential of use of force if there is noncompliance or refusal to take part, because the egregious use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against innocent men, women, children, their own citizens all indiscriminately murdered in the dead of night, is unacceptable. And we have said in no uncertain terms that this should never happen again. This country understands the words, “Never again,” perhaps better than any other.

I’ve been in contact with many of my counterparts, with Foreign Secretary Hague of the United Kingdom, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Their partnership on these issues has been essential. And I will see both of them tomorrow and Foreign Minister Davutoglu of Turkey in Paris, where I’ll also meet Foreign Minister Saud Faisal of Saudi Arabia in order to talk about the road ahead to achieve our goals.  

Our attention and our efforts will now shift to the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN Security Council, and the international community expects the Assad regime to live up to its commitments, and we expect Russia to join with us in holding them accountable.  

I also want to make clear this effort is not just about securing chemical weapons in Syria. We are not just standing up for a redline that the world drew some 100 years ago, and which is worth standing up for. Our focus now must remain on ending the violence, ending the indiscriminate killing, ending the creation of more and more refugees that is not only tearing Syria apart, but threatens the region itself.  

As President Obama has said, and I have said many times, there is no military solution to this conflict. We don’t want to create more and more extremist elements and we don’t want to see the implosion of the state of Syria. So our overall objective is to find a political solution through diplomacy, and that needs to happen at the negotiating table, and we will stay engaged with a sense of urgency. And I say to the Syrian opposition and all those in Syria who recognize that just removing the chemical weapons doesn’t do the job, we understand that, and that is not all we are going to seek to do. But it is one step forward, and it eliminates that weapon from the arsenal of a man who has proven willing to do anything to his own people to hold onto power.

Foreign Minister Lavrov and I met with Special Envoy Brahimi yesterday. We will meet again in New York. We are committed to continue to work towards the Geneva 2. And we have made clear that our support to the opposition in an effort to get there will continue unabated.  

So, Mr. Prime Minister, I know you and I are both clear-eyed about the challenges ahead. We have to summon the grit and the determination to stay at this, to make the tough decisions — tough decisions about eliminating weapons of mass destruction and tough decisions about making peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will not lose sight of the end game. I know that from talking with the Prime Minister today. And I think both of us remain deeply committed, and we hope very much with our partners in the region, to doing our best to try to make this journey towards peace get to its destination.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.  

Netanyahu: John, another sound bite. (Laughter.)

Palestinian Minister Admits Peace Talks With Israel to Be a Ploy


“In less than two years, the Prophet returned and based on this treaty, he conquered Mecca. This is the example, this is the model.” PA Minister Mahmoud Al-Habbash.

(CAMERA) Last month, as preliminary negotiations were set to begin between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, PA Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash delivered a Friday sermon. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was present and it was broadcast on official PA-TV on July 19, 2013.

Did he talk about peace? Did he preach about achieving a treaty? Well, sort of. Palestinian Media Watch posted and translated a video of the sermon, in which Al-Habbash starts off well:

We hate war. We don’t want war. We don’t want bloodshed, not for ourselves, nor for others. We want peace. We say this because our culture is founded on this, and because our religion is based on this. Yes, we want peace, but not any peace. We want a peace based on justice, therefore the Palestinian leadership and the PLO have not missed any opportunity for peace…

More after the jump.

The Palestinian leadership’s sense of responsibility towards its nation made it take political steps about 20 years ago (i.e., signing the Oslo Accords). Despite the controversy, despite much criticism and much opposition by some, it brought us to where we are today: We have a [Palestinian] Authority and the world recognizes the [Palestinian] state.

All this never would have happened through Hamas’ impulsive adventure, but only through the wisdom of the leadership, conscious action, consideration, and walking the right path, which leads to achievement, exactly like the Prophet [Muhammad] did in the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, even though some opposed it…

What is the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah? After Muhammad and his followers were driven out of Mecca by the Quraish tribe, there continued to be fighting. Muhammad and his followers wanted to return to Mecca. Rather than battle, they made a ten-year peace treaty with the Quraish. Al-Habbash explains the rest:

The hearts of the Prophet’s companions burned with anger and fury. The Prophet said: “I’m the Messenger of Allah and I will not disobey Him.” This is not disobedience, it is politics. This is crisis management, situation management, conflict management…

Allah called this treaty a clear victory…

Omar ibn Al-Khattab said: “Messenger of Allah, is this a victory? Is this logical? Is this victory? We are giving up and going back, and not entering Mecca. Is that a victory?” The Prophet said: “Yes, it is a victory.”

In less than two years, the Prophet returned and based on this treaty, he conquered Mecca. This is the example, this is the model.

So, according to PA leadership, the “model” is to make a peace treaty and then come back and breach it through violence. This strategy is pretty newsworthy and yet only the Israeli and Jewish press reported it.

When the Israeli government publishes bids for the construction of apartments in Jerusalem, the mainstream press writes literally thousands of stories. Naturally, there was a New York Times editorial calling these potential apartments “a fresh cause for pessimism about the prospects for successful peace negotiations.”

Yet, when PA leaders brag about faking their way through the peace talks? Nothing.

When they boast about their insincerity and malicious intent? Zero.

All You Really Need to Know About the Israeli-Arab Peace Talks


Secretary of State John Kerry in Tel Aviv


Tzipi Livni (Israeli Minister of Justice) and Saeb Erekat (Member of the P.A. Parliament)

— by Steve Sheffey

On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final-status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Expect to be deluged with spin and speculation from the right and the left about how it happened, the details, and what will happen next. Read it for grins if you have time on your hands. If not, all you need to know for now is what Kerry said on Friday:

The agreement is still in the process of being formalized, so we are absolutely not going to talk about any of the elements now. Any speculation or reports you may read in the media or elsewhere or here in the press are conjecture. They are not based on fact because the people who know the facts are not talking about them. The parties have agreed that I will be the only one making further comments about this.

If everything goes as expected, Saeb Erekat and Tzipi Livni, Minister Livni, and Isaac Molho will be joining me in Washington to begin initial talks within the next week or so, and a further announcement will be made by all of us at that time.

There will be plenty of leaks from anonymous sources with hidden agendas. Keep in mind what Kerry said and take them with a grain of salt. As events unfold, we will learn more. This is a positive development. That is all we know for sure.

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George Mitchell on the Upcoming Middle East Peace Talks


Special Envoy for Middle East Peace Senator George Mitchell spoke briefly and took questions today regarding the upcoming Middle East Peace Talks.

SENATOR MITCHELL:  Thank you, Mike.  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  

    Last week Secretary of State Clinton invited President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington on September 2nd to resume direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues.  We believe these negotiations can be completed within one year.

    As you know, both have accepted.  They will have bilateral meetings with President Obama tomorrow, as will President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan.  The four leaders then will join President Obama for dinner at the White House to help launch these discussions.

Egypt and Jordan have a critical role to play, and their continued leadership and commitment to peace will be essential to success.

After the bilateral meetings, the President will make a public statement, and then just prior to the dinner, the President and the other leaders will make public statements.

    On Thursday, Secretary of State Clinton will convene a meeting at the State Department between Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas and their delegations, following which I will provide a readout to the press.

    Since the beginning of this administration, we’ve worked with the Israelis, the Palestinians and our international partners to advance the cause of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including two-state solution, which ensures security and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians.

    We’re pleased that negotiations will be relaunched after a hiatus of more than a year and a half.  And we will engage with perseverance and patience to try to bring them to a successful conclusion.

    Thank you.  And with that, I’ll be glad now to take your questions.

Question & Answer Session

    Sir, can you put the negotiations in the context of the unfreezing of the settlement moratorium, and how much of it — how important that deadline is, whether or not you guys are counting on Ehud Barak to not approve settlements going forward or whether you expect that settlements will commence once again?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Our position on settlements is well known, and it remains unchanged.  We’ve always made clear that the parties should promote an environment that is conducive to negotiations.

    As Secretary of State Clinton has said, as we move forward it’s important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it.

    Do you expect that the settlement freeze will continue, or what are the Israelis telling you in terms of if negotiations are still going on on the 26th, whether they will continue the freeze?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Our discussions continue with both sides, and they are consistent with and comprise in part the points that I just made.

    Senator, as you know, there’s so much pessimism in the region that they talk about failure more than success.  And many people believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu was tested in 1996 and he did everything to destroy the peace process.  Now they enter in this phase of negotiation where there’s no, like, timetable, there’s no, really, preconditions.  So what makes you optimistic that anything is going to substantially come out of it?  

    And if I may, something else.  The President talked about in the beginning of the administration about comprehensive peace talks, on two tracks.  But now we’ve seen two leaders from the region being invited, and that excluded Syria.  So why Syria was not on the table?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  With respect to opinion in the region, by coincidence I just received last evening from Shibley Telhami, who is at the University of Maryland and with whom I consult regularly, among others, for advice and counsel, some key findings from polls taken in conjunction with the Zogby polling organization in six countries in the region:  Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

    Among the key findings are that over 80 percent of Arabs polled are still in principle open to the two-state solution; also, that if and when a two-state solution were to come about, a plurality of those polled — 39 percent — believed it would happen through negotiations, and only 16 percent believed that it would come about through another war or conflict.

    And finally, those polls, the respondents, believed that if prospects for the two-state solution collapse, a majority of those polled believed that the result would be intense conflict for years to come.

    Now, I believe that it is an awareness of these and other realities by the two leaders and their leadership that there is a window of opportunity, a moment in time within which there remains the possibility of achieving the two-state solution, which is so essential to comprehensive peace in the region, that difficult as it may be for both leaders, and we recognize that difficulty for both of them, the alternatives for them and the members of their societies pose far greater difficulties and far greater problems in the future.

    And so having spent much of the time that I served in this position in the region, meeting with these leaders and with many, many others in both societies, I think it is that general recognition combined with the presence, the patience, the perseverance and the commitment of President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and the leaders of this administration that have persuaded these leaders to take this step which, as I acknowledged and repeat, is difficult for them in many respects — because their societies are divided, not just the Arab nations to whom I referred in these polls, but Israeli and Palestinian society.

    With respect to Syria, our efforts continue to try to engage Israel and Syria in discussions and negotiations that would lead to peace there and also Israel and Lebanon.

    You will recall that when the President announced my appointment two days after he entered office, he referred to comprehensive peace and defined it as Israel and Palestinians, Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, and Israel at peace with and having normal relations with all of its Arab neighbors.  And that remains our objective.

    I was wondering if you could tell us more about what comes after September the 2nd in terms of further meetings?  Is there any sense that while the parties are committed to a process, is there any sense of how you’re going to conduct the next round of talks?  And are you expecting there will always be an American presence in the room, or are you going to let the two parties sit together and call on you when needed?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  I’ll answer the second question first.  The United States will play an active and sustained role in the process.  That does not mean that the United States must be physically represented in every single meeting.  We recognize the value of direct, bilateral discussion between the parties and, in fact, will encourage that between the two leaders on a regular basis.

    On the other hand, it does not mean that the United States will simply stand aside and not participate actively.  We will operate in a manner that is reasonable and sensible in the circumstances which exist, but the guiding principle will be an active and sustained United States presence.

    At what point did you —

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Oh, I’m sorry.

    What comes after September the 2nd?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  We hope to proceed promptly on an intensive basis with the parties.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated privately and publicly that he hopes to meet with President Abbas about every two weeks.  We think that’s a sensible approach, which we hope is undertaken and that, in addition to that, there will be meetings at other levels on a consistent basis.

    Indeed, we have had extensive preparatory meetings with the two sides last week and yesterday and today and continuing through tomorrow, right up until the time when the two sides get together.  And so we want to maintain this — we want to establish this process going forward and to maintain it in an intense way at several levels of engagement.

    At what point during the proximity talks you realized the two parties are ready for direct talks?  And everybody realizes during these future talks that Hamas will be the elephant in the room.  How confident are you that these talks will succeed and will achieve the two-state solution while excluding Hamas?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Once again, let me take the questions in reverse order, if I might.  We do not expect Hamas to play a role in this immediate process.  But as Secretary of State Clinton and I have said publicly many times, while in the Middle East and in the United States, we welcome the full participation by Hamas and all relevant parties once they comply with the basic requirements of democracy and nonviolence that are, of course, a prerequisite to engage in these serious types of discussions.

    There has been a good deal of a discussion about references to Northern Ireland, and I have repeatedly been asked by reporters and individuals when I make public appearances, well, Senator, you talk to the IRA in Northern Ireland, but don’t you talk to Hamas here.  The questions reflect an incomplete understanding of what occurred in Northern Ireland and its relationship to this situation.  

    So, first, let me say they’re very different.  It’s not useful to try to make direct comparisons because the participants, the circumstances, the situation, the timing are all very different.  And while we should learn what we can from other processes, each is unique.

    But on the central point, the reality is that in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, the political party that is affiliated with the IRA, did not enter the negotiations until after 15 months had elapsed in the negotiations, and only then because they met two central conditions that had been established.  The first was a ceasefire, and the second was a publicly stated commitment to what came to be known as the Mitchell Principles because I was the chairman of the commission that established them.  

    And those commitments included — I’ll just quote briefly from them — a commitment to democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues; a commitment to renounce for themselves and to oppose any efforts by others to use force or threaten to use force to influence the course or the outcome of the negotiations; and finally a commitment to agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree.

    So there are analogous — not identical and not directly comparable — conditions that have been set forth by the Quartet with respect to Hamas.  And if there is movement to accept those principles, as occurred with Sinn Féin and the IRA in Northern Ireland, why then, of course, they would be welcome.  And we would want them to participate in those circumstances.  So I want to make clear in that regard what our position is.

    Go ahead, I’m sorry.  Did you want to follow up?

    At what point in the proximity talks you realized that —

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Please keep in mind that when we began the proximity talks, I stated publicly in announcing them that the purpose was to provide a transition into direct negotiations, to encourage the parties to establish the conditions and reach the conclusion that this would be the best to accomplish.  

The circumstances were such that before we reached the four-month period which had been established for a review of those proximity talks by the Arab League Follow-up Committee, we felt that following the President’s personal meeting with President Abbas in June and his personal meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in July, and his direct discussions with them, that the opportunity existed to make the transition from proximity to direct talks at an earlier time.  As it turns out, the time is very nearly consistent with the four-month period that had been established.

    Yes, sir, Senator Mitchell.  We’ve seen — we’ll see that President Obama will be taking a direct personal role tomorrow in the bilateral talks and the dinner with the leaders.  But going forward, how much of a personal engagement will we see from the President?  Will he be ready step in himself to help bridge any differences?  Would he possibly be looking at another meeting, a trilateral meeting at the U.N. General Assembly at the end of the month?  And what about a trip to the region that he’s talked about in the past?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  The President has been engaged personally from the very beginning.  As you may recall, on January 21st of 2009, less than 24 hours after taking office, the first calls he made to foreign leaders were to leaders in this region.  And on the following day, he announced my appointment.

    Please do not confuse personal engagement exclusively with public activities, because as you know, there’s a lot that a President does that isn’t in the public arena but that is a very — represents very active participation.  

    With respect to all of the items that you mentioned, I’m certain that what the President will do will make a judgment based upon the circumstances at the time, the reasonableness and the necessity of his participation, and will continue to be fully and actively a participant in the process, as necessary.  He has many, many important obligations, but he places a high priority on comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

     Senator, good to see you.  Two questions.  The one-year deadline, does that reflect what the parties have communicated to you and others what they believe is possible, or is the one-year deadline meant to create a sense of urgency and place them in a calendar that sorts of tries to apply a bit of pressure?  That’s one question.

    The second question is, of course these talks occur in a larger security context for Israel as it relates to Iran.  There are national security questions facing Israel and there will be diplomatic implications to whatever they do or do not decide.  Can you give us any sense of how this larger context, the question of Iran, and what may or may not happen, could in any way shape the outcome of these talks?    

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  The latter is obviously an issue of high importance, not just to Israel and the United States but to all of the countries in the region and indeed around the world, and has been the subject of intensive activity at the United Nations and elsewhere.  I think you would be better served if I deferred on that to those who are directly involved in the specific formulation and implementation of policy toward Iran.

    But I can say, with respect to this conflict, it is an important issue.  I was struck that when I first went to the region last year, I took out and reviewed the report that I had authored in 2001 and President Bush as chairman of what came to be known as the Sharm el-Sheikh commission regarding the conflict.  And I read it through quickly, but I found no reference to Iran.  And yet on my first visit and subsequent visits, during which I met with the leaders of, I believe, 14 or 15 countries in the region, without exception Iran was included in the conversation.  And in most of them, it was the first or second item mentioned.  So clearly that is an important issue and one which has an impact on this process.

     What was the first part?

    The one-year deadline.

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Yes.  During his visit to the United States in July, Prime Minister Netanyahu in a public statement, not at the time of the meeting in the White House, said that he believed this could be done within one year.  And we were pleased to hear him say that, and President Abbas has privately expressed to me his view that he does not want this to drag out, that he wants to get it done as soon as possible.  And I would let him speak for himself.  But he has provided us with an indication that he wants to move as soon as possible.

    People ask whether the long history of negotiation has been beneficial or harmful.  It’s actually been both, in some respects.  Beneficial in the sense that this has been discussed so often that people have a good sense of what the principal issues are and how they might be resolved; harmful in the sense that it’s created attitudes among many in the region that it’s a never-ending process, that it’s gone on for a very long time and will go on forever.  So it’s very important to create a sense that this has a definite concluding point.  And we believe that it can be done and we will do everything possible, with perseverance and patience and determination, to see that it is done.

     You mentioned the long, rich history of U.S. mediation in the peace process.  There have been any number of frameworks under which these talks have taken place in the past — the road map, the Tenet agreement, the “shelf agreement,” Annapolis.  Assuming that you’re not going into this sort of winging it, can you give us some sense of which parts of those frameworks you’ve adopted?  Give us a little review of the framework you’re using for these talks.

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  What we’ve tried to do is to avoid a slavish adherence to the past while trying to learn what might have been improved in the past, what worked, what didn’t work.  And so we have avoided deliberately any specific label or identification that this is a continuation of process A or B or C.  

Rather, what we want to do is to learn what we can from those and take the best of them.  And they include, in my judgment, frequent direct contact between the leaders, between the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority.  

Secondly, active and sustained United States participation so that we are not on some distant sideline cheering the parties on without active participation, but at the same time we recognize that this is a bilateral negotiation, and in the end the parties must make this decision by and for themselves.

Thirdly, maintaining broad international support, which is critical.  I have been to the region many, many times, and that’s all been widely reported.  What has been less widely reported is that on most of my trips, I stop in Europe and in other places on the way over and back.  I’ve made many visits to Brussels, to European capitals and to the United Nations.  We think it important that there be a broad basis of international support.  We take seriously the Quartet’s role, and that’s reflected in Prime Minister Blair’s presence at the diner tomorrow evening.  

And finally, it is to try very hard to create an atmosphere that is conducive to success and positive development of the process.  That’s not easy.  There is a free and vigorous press in the societies that are involved — here as well, as there should be.  There’s a constant back-and-forth, and conflict and sensational statements, of course, generally get quick and widespread coverage.  But we think it’s very important that they establish some degree of confidence in the sincerity and the seriousness of purpose of each other so that they can begin to contemplate the very difficult decisions that each of them will have to make if we’re going to achieve success in the process.

    What’s your estimate, Senator, of the sincerity of purpose on each side?  Following up on Major’s question, many people in the region see the one-year deadline as simply a way of running out the clock.

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Well, we can’t avoid the fact that many people in the region disagree with one or more aspects of this.  Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that if you took every sentence that I’ve uttered today and spent 24 hours, you could find someone in the region who disagreed with some part of it or all of it.  That’s just the reality.  This is a conflict of longstanding, very deeply held views, very strong emotions, high level of mistrust, and therefore sharply divided.

    So if — anybody who wants never to be challenged or face confrontation ought not to get involved in this process because that’s just the reality.  And we have to do our best in a realistic way to try to create the conditions, imperfect in all circumstances, that will enable them to go forward.

    What was the other part of it, Bill?

    The people in the region seeing the one-year timeline as a way of running out the clock.

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Yes, yes.  Well, we don’t — we disagree with that.  We think it is realistic.  We think it can be done.  We recognize that there are many — indeed, many very knowledgeable and experienced people who hold a different view.  And there are also many who aggressively advocate the view that this can’t be done and shouldn’t be done — on both sides — in public statements and public advocacy.

    But in my judgment, what it really comes down to in the end is what is best for the people of Israel and what is best for the Palestinian people.

    And I believe that a strong and persuasive and convincing argument can be made and must be made by us and others that a peaceful resolution, which ends this conflict, which ends all claim, which creates a viable, democratic, contiguous Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel is in their best interest.  And the alternative to that, of the possibility of continuing conflict into the indefinite future, is far more problematic.