No, the U.S. Won’t Impose Sanctions on Israel

The U.S. is not going to impose sanctions on Israel.

You would not believe the nonsense I get in my inbox. The question I ask myself is whether I should write about it, thus giving it a modicum of credence and potentially spreading the rumor further, or whether to ignore it, letting the misinformation stand uncorrected. But since we are going to see a lot of nonsense between now and Israel’s upcoming elections, let us see what we can learn. [Read more…]

What Does Hamas-PLO Unity Mean?‏


PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas, left, and leader of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Mashal.

— by Steve Sheffey

Israel suspended peace talks with the Palestinian Authority (PA) last week following reports that the PLO intended to form a unity government with Hamas, a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel.

The Obama administration, AIPAC and many lawmakers highlighted the dangers of the PLO’s path. And yet, others noted that a unity government could present new opportunities for reaching a two-state solution.

But it has not happened yet, and we do not know if it will. Similar attempts have failed before. Also, we do not know what the terms will be if it does happen, and whether Hamas will change any of its positions.

More after the jump.
According to a PLO fact sheet released on Friday, under the reconciliation agreement with Hamas, the “PLO will continue negotiating a peace agreement with Israel, supporting non-violence to end the occupation and upholding previous agreements signed with Israel. The interim government will adhere to those commitments and the PLO’s political agenda.”

If that is true, then this arrangement could bring us closer to peace. Indeed, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said on Saturday that the unity government will recognize Israel, reject violence, and recognize the legitimacy of international agreements.

Can we rely on Abbas’s word? I would not. But I would wait for his assurances to be proven false before taking action.

Some lawmakers have already threatened to cut off funding for the PA because Hamas a is terrorist group, and it is illegal for the U.S. to provide funds to terrorist-designated groups. But the State Department argues that until we get more information, we will not know whether the law requires the U.S. to cut off funds.

If you are not familiar with Hamas, read its charter (covenant), especially Article 7, which calls on Muslims to kill Jews, and Article 13, which says that “so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote in his website, “Instead of choosing peace, Abu Mazen formed an alliance with a murderous terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel.”

Abu Mazen has formed an alliance with an organization whose covenant calls for Muslims to fight and kill Jews. Hamas has fired more than 10,000 missiles and rockets at Israeli territory and has not halted terrorist actions against Israel even for a minute.

The agreement between Abu Mazen and Hamas was signed even as Israel is making efforts to advance the negotiations with the Palestinians. It is the direct continuation of the Palestinians’ refusal to advance the negotiations. Only last month Abu Mazen rejected the framework principles proposed by the United States. Abu Mazen has refused to even discuss recognizing Israel as the national state of the Jewish People. He violated existing agreements by unilaterally applying to accede to international treaties and then formed an alliance with Hamas.

Whoever chooses the terrorism of Hamas does not want peace.

The Obama administration backed Israel. Last week the State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, said that “it’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist” and that “Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties.”

The George W. Bush administration pressured Israel into allowing Hamas to participate in the 2006 Gaza elections, thus conferring on Hamas a legitimacy it could not have otherwise achieved, and rescinded $289.5 million in loan guarantees for Israel as punishment for what Bush considered illegal settlement activity. But the Obama administration has never pressured Israel to act contrary to what Israel perceives as its best interests.

AIPAC said that, “The announced formation of a Hamas-Fatah unity government represents a direct affront to Secretary of State John Kerry and a severe blow to Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.”

Hamas is an Islamist terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s destruction and attacks innocent civilians. Any Palestinian government that includes Hamas cannot be a negotiating partner unless it meets longstanding Quartet demands ensconced in U.S. law: recognize Israel, reject violence, and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Yet, a Hamas-PLO agreement could lead to peace. In his column in Haaretz, Barak Ravid noted that “it was Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and their colleagues in the cabinet who argued that Abbas doesn’t really represent the Palestinian people and no progress could be made so long as the PA didn’t control Gaza.”

The reconciliation agreement, if implemented, could provide a response to exactly these arguments by creating a government that represents all the Palestinians.

The reconciliation agreement is also an opportunity because Hamas’ serious problems might force the organization to change direction, as happened with Yasser Arafat and the PLO after the 1991 Gulf War. The unity deal calls for Hamas to join the PLO and accept its principles — which includes the recognition of Israel and acceptance of the Oslo Accords and the Road Map. The significance of this agreement is also that for first time, Hamas seems willing to give up some of its grip on the Gaza Strip in favor of a unity government.

Implementation of the agreement will also mean elections for president and the Palestinian parliament, which have not taken place for years. Given the precarious condition of the Hamas in Palestinian public opinion, especially in the Gaza Strip, new elections will almost certainly decrease its political power. New elections will also renew Abbas’ mandate — or bestow greater public legitimacy on whoever might be elected in his stead — making the Palestinian leader a stronger, more stable and more reliable partner for Israel.

And to those who say Israel cannot negotiate with Hamas, Ravid reminded that Netanyahu “reached at least two written agreements with the Gaza terror group; one in the 2011 deal in return for the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, and the second confirming the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012.”

But can and will Hamas change its stripes? In his blog in The Forward, J.J. Goldberg explained that, “It’s highly unlikely that Hamas will agree between now and the end of the year to tear up its founding platform and formally embrace the principle of a Palestine partitioned into two states for two peoples.”

Militant religious movements don’t jettison their catechisms that fast. It is quite possible, however, that Abbas and his Fatah negotiators could obtain Hamas agreement to accept domestic portfolios in a unity government while Fatah holds the foreign affairs and security slots and handles peace negotiations with Israel. Some Hamas leaders have suggested such an arrangement in the past, with the understanding that if the negotiations produce an agreement and it’s approved in a Palestinian referendum, Hamas will accept the public’s will and live with it without endorsing it.

It’s not such a hard arrangement to understand. After all, Netanyahu heads up an Israeli government that hasn’t approved the two-state principle he himself says he embraces. Indeed, two of his coalition’s four parties, including Naftali Bennet’s HaBayit HaYehudi-Jewish Home party and Bibi’s own Likud, are formally, flatly opposed to Palestinian statehood. Put differently, they haven’t recognized the Palestinians or their right to a state. Bibi’s made it clear that he considers himself mandated to conduct negotiations toward a goal that his own party and a majority of his coalition oppose. If he’s as serious about peace as he says he is, he ought to be able to accept a Palestinian negotiating partner that operates under the same rules he does.

Can Bibi seize this opportunity? In Bloomberg, Jeff Goldberg made some good points:

Israel doesn’t get to pick its enemies. It has to make peace with the ones it has. Hamas is one of those enemies. And Netanyahu’s argument doesn’t take into consideration that, theoretically at least, the Palestinian Authority could, over time, help moderate Hamas and bring it more into the two-state fold.

But who am I kidding? Maybe both of Netanyahu’s superficially contradictory beliefs are true. Maybe he can’t make peace with a divided Palestinian entity. And maybe he can’t make peace with a unified Palestinian entity. Maybe he can’t make peace with any Palestinian entity because members of his own political coalition are uninterested in taking the steps necessary for compromise.

I hope Jeff Goldberg’s second paragraph is wrong, but Israel gets to elect its leaders, and Israel, not the U.S., will have to live, or die, with the risks it makes for peace and the chances they choose not to take.

We in the U.S. should not pressure Israel to act against its perceived interests. Rather, we should do all we can to bring the parties together and create an environment conducive to progress, recognizing, as President Obama does, that only the parties to the conflict can solve the conflict.

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Netanyahu: Scarlett Johansson Should Be Applauded

— by Steve Sheffey

In his AIPAC keynote speech last Tuesday, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, emphasized that Iran is an “outlaw terrorist state” that should not be permitted to enrich uranium:

Pressure is what brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, and only more pressure will get [them] to abandon their nuclear weapons program. Greater pressure on Iran will not make war more likely; it will make war less likely — because the greater the pressure on Iran and more credible the threat of force on Iran, the smaller chance that force will ever have to be used.

Netanyahu made a case for the peace process, noting that peace with the Palestinians would open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and the Arab world, leading to great economic and other gains in the region.

More after the jump.
Barak Ravid wrote in Ha’aretz that, “For the first time in a major speech, Netanyahu used ‘leftist’ language and stressed ‘the fruits of peace’ that Israel will enjoy if it reaches an agreement with the Palestinians. For a moment one could have thought that it was Shimon Peres at the podium or, God forbid, John Kerry.”

Bibi asked how anyone could “fall for the BS in BDS”:

Today the singling out of the Jewish people has turned into the singling out of the Jewish state… attempts to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel, the most threatened democracy on Earth, are simply the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti-Semitism.

Those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot. They should be exposed and condemned. The boycotters should be boycotted.

Everyone should know what the letters B-D-S really stand for: bigotry, dishonesty and shame. And those who oppose BDS, like Scarlett Johansson, they should be applauded.

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Sec. Clinton Meets with Peres and Other Leaders in Israel

— by Max Samis

As part of her current overseas diplomatic trip, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is currently in the State of Israel, her fourth such trip during her time in office. During her visit, Clinton is expected to discuss a wide range of topics with a number of prominent Israeli leaders.

Ilon Ben Zion of The Times of Israel reported:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton landed in Israel early Monday morning for a two-day visit following a trip to Egypt. She was accompanied by US Middle East envoy David Hale and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who represents Washington at the talks between world powers and Iran.

Clinton met with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem Monday morning and was set to hold meetings with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day. She will also meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at her hotel in Jerusalem. This is Clinton’s fourth visit to Israel since taking office…

During her visit, Clinton is also expected to try to make inroads in restarting direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Clinton will likely ask the Israeli government to release Palestinians imprisoned in Israel since before the Oslo peace process, and will ask President Mahmoud Abbas to refrain from requesting observer state status from the UN.

Upon landing, Clinton paid a visit to the residence of Israel President Shimon Peres, where the two leaders held a joint press conference. Barak Ravid of Haaretz wrote:

Talking to the press, Clinton said, ‘It is a time of uncertainty but also of a big opportunity in the region. At times like these friends like us need to work together in a smart, creative and courageous way…’

Following his meeting with Clinton, Peres said that, Egypt is a key state in the region and that Israel wants to uphold the peace treaty with Egypt. ‘We respect the results of the elections in Egypt, and hope for another 30 years of peace,’ he said.

Peres added that he was convinced that there is international understanding of the danger that the Iranian regime represents to the world, and highlighted that the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran have started to work.

‘I hope that Iran will return to its rich legacy and be a country that does not threaten anyone, and no one makes threats against,’ he said.

More after the jump.
Greer Fay Cashman of The Jerusalem Post also reported:

Clinton praised Peres, saying no other individual had done so much to build the alliance between Israel and the US. ‘Few people know the inextricable link between security and peace,’ she stated.

Peres was also complimentary of Clinton, referring to her as ‘a constant friend’ who is “blowing the wind of freedom all over the world.”

Peres told Clinton that he appreciated the fact that she came to Israel immediately after Egypt because Egypt is the key country in the Middle East and it depends on Egypt and Israel to continue the march of freedom for the whole of the region.

Peres reiterated what he has frequently said, that peace between Israel and Egypt has saved the lives of thousands of Egyptians and Israelis.

You can watch the video of Clinton’s remarks here or below. You can also see photos from Clinton’s visit with Peres below. The full transcript of Clinton’s remarks can also be read here.

Clinton also paid a visit to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, where she spoke with Ambassador Dan Shapiro. Speaking to the staff and families of the embassy and consulate, Clinton said:

But mostly I wanted to say thank you to all of you for the work that you do every single day here in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv supporting the extraordinarily important ties between the United States and Israel, working with the Palestinian Authority on so many of the issues that are critically important, assisting a huge number of Americans who visit this area, and of course, continuing our commitment as we seek to support a lasting peace. You are working at the forefront of one of our most important and challenging diplomatic efforts. Here in the Consulate General you are assisting with development and security, helping to build the infrastructure for a future Palestinian state. In the Embassy you’re sustaining one of our most important alliances, building the people-to-people connections that are so important to our relationship. And over the last year and a half, you’ve all continued to promote American interests amid the turbulence and unpredictable circumstances of the changes sweeping the region.

Looking at all of you is very reassuring. I read cables. I get reports. But I like seeing you in person. And it’s not just because you handle so many complex issues with great poise and professionalism, but it’s also frankly because this group represents the sort of collaboration across ethnicities and faiths that is so essential in the 21st century. It’s essential to move toward the goals of bringing people together, of finding common ground, and of building a future based on mutual respect and mutual interests…

So from President Obama and myself, thank you. Thank you for your exemplary service, your commitment, for representing the United   States so well. We may not always say it, but we know it, and whenever I get a chance to say it, I try to do so because I want you to hear it: We know what you’re doing and we appreciate it very, very much.

Click here to read her full remarks.

Clinton also met with Defense Secretary Ehud Barak, discussing the various security needs facing Israel and the ongoing cooperation between the two countries. Stuart Winer of The Times of Israel, along with the AP, wrote:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday saying the bonds between Israel and America are strong.

‘The Americans consistently and constantly backup Israel’s security needs,’ Barak said in the meeting.

Clinton’s remarks from her meeting with Barak can be read here.

Clinton is also expected to attend a dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this evening, followed by a press conference in Jerusalem.

Clinton is just the latest official from the Obama administration to visit Israel, following National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and ahead of the just-announced visit by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.