Every International Catastrophe Has Its Silver Lining


International Community Rallies Round Israel as Fires Rage
— Alan Elsner and Jennifer Packer, The Israel Project

  • 42 dead – toll expected to rise
  • Turkey, Egypt and Jordan among those sending aid
  • Massive Russian firefighting plane on the way

Turkey, Egypt and Jordan were among many countries rushing help to Israel to combat the nation’s worst-ever wildfire which has killed 42 people, destroyed homes and villages, consumed forests and is still threatening the major port city of Haifa.

“We are talking about one of the worst disasters in the country’s history. This is hard day for the entire nation,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Egypt, Jordan and Turkey were quick to offer help to the Jewish state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and thanked him for his country’s help.

“We very much appreciate this mobilization and I am certain that it will be an opening toward improving relations between our two countries, Turkey and Israel,” Netanyahu said. It was his first conversation with the Turkish leader since the flotilla incident soured relations between the traditional allies earlier this year.”

With several people listed in critical condition and others reported missing, the death toll was expected to rise.

More after the jump.
Emergency services evacuated more than 15,000 people from their homes as flames swept through at least 5,000 acres of woodland. Police arrested two people, residents of a Druze village, on suspicion of setting fires. The Jerusalem Post said they were detained after being seen hurling Molotov cocktails in a forest on a Carmel mountain hilltop.

Israelis watched helplessly as their homes were destroyed by flames hundreds of feet high. Firefighters said one village was burnt to the ground.

The IDF sent soldiers and equipment, including helicopters, bulldozers, medics and army units to combat the blaze. More help came from Greece, Bulgaria which sent 100 firefighters, Spain, Azerbaijan, Romania Russia, Cyprus, France and Britain. The United States also offered aid. Israel is better known for sending its own rescue teams and medical personnel to other countries to help in their disaster-relief efforts.

“The Russians are sending and we are waiting for the biggest firefighting plane in the world… an Antonov with huge firefighting capacity,” Lieberman told Israel Radio.

One of the main country’s highways was closed as trees smoldered and smoke billowed toward the Mediterranean coastline and flames closed in on a hotel and a spa south of the city.

“The size of the fire is huge, the wind is very strong and there is a problem accessing the mountains and valleys,” said Yoram Levi, a spokesman for Israel’s fire and rescue service. “We don’t have big aircraft that can carry a large amount of water. It is not enough for a large-scale fire.”

“As rescuers and firefighters continue in their work, the United States is acting to help our Israeli friends respond to the disaster,” U.S. President Barak Obama said at a candle-lighting ceremony on Thursday marking the Jewish Chanukah holiday.

Jewish organizations in the U.S. and beyond have launched campaigns to help the victims. The Jewish National Fund, which planted a large percentage of Israel’s forests, called for public support.

American firefighters are on alert to join the operation. The Israel Emergency Volunteers Project will coordinate any call up for the volunteers who have been fully trained under the auspices of the EVP.

The Israeli cabinet met on Friday to discuss the crisis with questions being asked about Israel’s preparedness for such disasters.

Wikileaks Shows Arab States Fear Iran, Not Israel

— Alan Elsner and Jennifer Packer

  • Netanyahu: Time for Arab world to speak openly about Iran threat
  • Iranian missiles could strike European capitals
  • Iran also backing Terrorist Groups in Yemen


Publication of some 250,000 classified diplomatic cables by the Wikileaks website has exposed the fact that Arab states see Iran and its nuclear weapons program and not Israel as the real threat to Middle East stability and their own security.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the documents reinforced what Israel has been saying for years about the Iranian nuclear program.

“More and more countries, governments and leaders in the Middle East and the wider world understand that this is the fundamental threat,” Netanyahu said at a news conference in Tel Aviv. “I hope the leaders will have the courage to say to their nations publicly what they’ve said about Iran.”

More after the jump.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded that the leaks were deliberately released as part of a psychological warfare campaign against his country.

But an analysis from Reuters puts the truth in stark terms:

“The revelation confirm the depth of suspicion and hatred of the Shi’ites among Sunni Arab leaders, especially in Saudi Arabia, the leading Sunni power and which regards Iran as an existential threat.”

“Iran should take note of the distress that its nuclear program is causing in the region — this is not something that should be ignored,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center.

In one key document King Hamad of Bahrain “argued forcefully for taking action to terminate the Iranian nuclear program, by whatever means necessary. “That program must be stopped,” he said. “The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,” he said.

“The cables reveal how Iran’s ascent has unified Israel and many longtime Arab adversaries – notably the Saudis – in a common cause,” The New York Times said. “The United States had put together a largely silent front of Arab states whose positions on sanctions and a potential attack looked much like Israel’s.”

Among the important revelations in the documents, as published by The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel are the following:

  • Saudi King Abdullah repeatedly urged the United States to destroy the Iranian program. “He told you [Americans] to “cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the U.S. general David Petraeus in April 2008. Abdullah told a US diplomat: “The bottom line is that they (the Iranians) cannot be trusted.”
  • Officials from Jordan also called for the Iranian program to be stopped by any means necessary while leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt referred to Iran as “evil,” and an “existential threat.”
  • Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow.
  • Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi said in one cable: “Any culture that is patient and focused enough to spend years working on a single carpet is capable of waiting years and even decades to achieve even greater goals.” His greatest worry, he said, “is not how much we know about Iran, but how much we don’t.”
  • Kuwait’s military intelligence chief told Petraeus Iran was supporting Shi’ite groups in the Gulf and extremists in Yemen.
  • The United States failed to stop Syria from supplying arms to Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, who have amassed tens of thousands of rockets aimed at Israel. One week after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad promised a top State Department official that he would not send new arms to Hezbollah, the United States it had information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the group.
  • Iran smuggled weapons to Hezballah in ambulances and medical vehicles in violation of international conventions. Hamas also used such vehicles for military and arms-smuggling operations.
  • Iran withheld from the International Atomic Energy Agency the original design documents for a secret nuclear reactor.

Here are some sources for the raw materials:

Hezbollah Arsenal “Many More than 40,000 Rockets”

  • Iranian generals “increasingly regular visitors to Lebanon” says Israel.
  • Hezbollah hides weapons among civilians in southern Lebanon.
  • Fears that Hariri report will implicate Hezbollah, bring civil war.

The buildup of rockets by Iran-backed Hezbollah is more substantial than media reports have suggested, The Israel Project has learned. In line with reportage, Israeli intelligence understands that Hezbollah has amassed in excess of 40,000 rockets in the immediate vicinity of the Israeli-Lebanese frontier.

More after the jump.
However, in Israel’s assessment the Shi’ite Hezbollah also has a considerable stockpile in other parts of Lebanon. The 40,000 weapons are located in hiding places in villages throughout southern Lebanon in contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701. The resolution, which led to the 2006 ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah, calls for the Lebanese government to be the sole bearer of arms in the south of the country.

Israel fears Iran is playing an ever-larger role in Lebanon. There has been a noticeable increase in visits by Iranian military and political leaders over the last two years according to Israeli officials. Tehran is spreading its sphere of influence to include both Hezbollah and Beirut.

Hezbollah gets short- and long-range missiles in three main ways: by sea, by air and via the Syrian border. Iran and Syria are the main suppliers of Hezbollah’s weaponry, while Hezbollah has also obtained Russian rockets, in Israel’s estimation.

“Iran and Syria both pose significant conventional security challenges and these conventional challenges intersect with the asymmetrical threats posed by Hezbollah…whose rockets indiscriminately target Israeli population centers,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Andrew J. Shapiro in July 2010.

The Lebanese border towns that face Israel are heavily Shi’ite. Hezbollah stores weapons in underground bunkers and in buildings among the civilians there. Public buildings doubly serve as Hezbollah lookout points.

United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is not allowed to enter private properties, making it difficult for UNIFIL to monitor weapons smuggling.

The Israel Defense Forces has published videos filmed by drones and from fixed positions showing explosions at three weapons depositories close to the frontier.

Israel is watching the border particularly closely at the moment fearing that Hezbollah may choose to launch rocket attacks in the next few weeks. Jerusalem believes it may do so in order to deflect attention away from the eagerly-anticipated publication of the findings of the U.N. inquiry into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

Reports have circulated implicating Hezbollah in the assassination. Drawing Israel into a military campaign Hezbollah believes would move attention quickly away from the Hariri report.

Netanyahu: Framework Deal Still Possible Within A Year

  • Netanyahu: I call on President Abbas to continue talks
  • Notable increase in attacks against Israelis; pregnant woman shot
  • TV networks see settlers’ building as “publicity stunt”

Jerusalem, Sept. 27 – There can still be an “historic peace framework agreement within one year,” despite the end of the self-declared construction freeze in the West Bank, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday (Sept. 26).

Netanyahu urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to walk out on the talks that began just three weeks ago pledging that he is serious in his commitment to peace.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell and U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton meeting on September 2, 2010. (State Deparment Photo by Michael Gross.)

“Many in the world realized that my intentions to achieve peace are serious and genuine, and that I honor my commitments,” he said.

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak extended his trip to the United States last week in order to continue discussions with American and other officials to try to find a formula that would allow the talks to continue. Israeli President Shimon Peres has also been using his international recognition as a peacemaker to ensure the negotiations stay on track.

Netanyahu has spoken in the last few days with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan in a bid to safeguard the peace process.

This diplomatic activity has been taking place amid a backdrop of increased attacks against Israeli civilians.

Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank shot a pregnant woman and her husband on Sept. 26. As a result the woman was taken into emergency surgery where the baby was successfully delivered.

“I’m delighted to say he was induced by a most unexpected source,” new father Sharon Shoker quipped when speaking with the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot.

Other incidents included Molotov cocktails being hurled at a Jerusalem home and towards security officers just outside Jerusalem’s Old City.

Israeli soldiers seized an AR-15 assault rifle, three handguns, an improvised rifle and ammunition in the early hours of Sept. 27. Five Palestinians were arrested during the raid.

The West Bank is at the center of media attention this week, with dozens of cameras focusing on any signs of settlers building new homes or nursery schools. The journalists themselves have said that what is currently transpiring is little more than theater produced specifically for their consumption.

CNN described a concrete-pouring ceremony on Sept. 26 as “a show,” while it was dubbed “a publicity stunt” by Al-Jazeera.

US Insists on Jewish, Democratic State of Israel

  • Mitchell: Must be Jewish Israeli State alongside Palestinian State
  • Netanyahu prepared to show flexibility on building freeze
  • Hamas condemns PA for participating in talks

JERUSALEM, Sept 14 – The United States has given its backing to the Israeli call for Palestinian recognition of a Jewish State of Israel.

“Our vision is for a two-state solution that includes a Jewish democratic State of Israel living side by side in peace and security with a viable independent sovereign and contiguous Palestine,” U.S. envoy George Mitchell said on Tuesday.

He was speaking to reporters after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held face-to-face talks in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.

One of Israel’s key demands entering the direct talks is that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Given that the issue of the West Bank construction freeze is “politically sensitive” for Netanyahu, Mitchell urged Abbas “to take steps that help encourage and facilitate this process.”

Netanyahu believes there is room for compromise on building in the West Bank, according to a source in his office.

Ahead of the talks Netanyahu expressed disappointment that Palestinian officials are speaking with the media, according to the source in the Prime Minister’s Office. “Discretion” needs to be the order of the day.

Mitchell also called for the negotiators to avoid making public comments.

The talks are slated to continue in Jerusalem on Wednesday (Sept. 15) after Clinton, Netanyahu and Abbas leave Egypt. After the Jerusalem parley representatives from both sides will meet to discuss the details before the leaders meet for a third round of negotiations.

As the teams were gathering in Sharm, senior figures in the Iranian-backed Hamas organization again called on the Palestinian Authority not to participate in the process.

“(Hamas) condemns the PA’s insistence on liquidating the Palestinian cause and engaging in talks with Israelis in light of the ongoing Israeli aggression on the Palestinian people,” the pro-Hamas website Palestine-Info quoted Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan as saying.

New Poll Finds Strong Support of Israel Among Americans

Almost 60 percent say U.S. should support Israel.
By six to one margin, Americans believe Israel is more committed to peace than Palestinians.
Majority believe imports into Gaza must be controlled.



WASHINGTON, Sept 13 – A new poll (PDF, PowerPoint) has found that support of Israel among Americans has jumped following the resumption of Middle East peace talks with a strong majority believing that the Israeli government is committed to making peace with the Palestinians and deserves unwavering backing from the United States.

The bipartisan poll of 800 likely voters conducted Sept 9-12 by Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found that 58 percent thought the United States should support Israel, while 7 percent thought it should support the Palestinians. Six percent said neither and 16 percent did not know or declined to answer. In July 2010, only 51 percent said the United States should support Israel so this poll saw a 7 percent jump. The poll carried a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

A strong majority (58 percent) also thought Israeli Prime Minister was committed to making peace with the Palestinians. Only 40 percent thought the same of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“Support for Israel among Americans remains strong and steady,” said pollster Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies.

Overall, Americans by a six to one margin believe Israel is more committed to reaching a peace agreement than the Palestinians. By almost two to one (63 percent to 34 percent) they thing the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is mostly about religion and ideology rather than a conflict mostly about land.

Sixty one percent also said Israel should continue to inspect and control commerce going in and out of the Gaza Strip to prevent supplies that might be used for military purposes. Only 30 percent thought Gaza, controlled by Iran-backed Hamas, should be fully open to commerce.

L’Shana Habaa b’Mitzrayim – Next Year in Egypt


Netanyahu, Abbas to Meet Again in Two Weeks to Pursue Peace Talks

  • Leaders to hold negotiations every two weeks
  • Talks described as “productive”
  • Both leaders condemn Iran-backed Hamas terrorist attacks

WASHINGTON, Sept 2 – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to meet again in Egypt Sept 14-15 and at regular two-week intervals after that to continue peace talks.

U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell told reporters: “They agreed that for these negotiations to succeed, [the talks] must be kept private and treated with sensitivity.”

Earlier, in public statements before going into private session with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Netanyahu and Abbas condemned the terrorist attacks that in the past two days claimed the lives of four Israeli civilians and left two more wounded.

Iran-backed Hamas claimed responsibility for the murders.

In his opening statement, Netanyahu said: “Just as you expect us to be ready to recognize a Palestinian state as the nation state of the Palestinian people, we expect you to be prepared to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
“There are more than a million non-Jews living in Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people, who have full civil rights. There is no contradiction between the nation state that guarantees the national rights of the majority and guaranteeing the civil rights, the full civil equality, of the minority.”

Abbas responded: “Yesterday we condemned the operations that were carried out. We did not only condemn them, but we also followed the perpetrators, and we were able to find the car that was used and to arrest those who sold and bought the car.

“And we will continue all our efforts to take security measures in order to find the perpetrators. We consider that security is of essence, is vital for both of us. And we cannot allow for anyone to do anything that would undermine your security and our security.”

Mitchell said Netanyahu and Abbas had agreed to seek a “framework” accord as part of their peace talks. The accord would lay out the compromises needed to complete a comprehensive peace treaty within a year, which all parties have set as a target to complete a comprehensive and final peace agreement.

Full text of remarks by President Obama, President Mubarak, His Majesty King Abdullah follow the jump.

UNITED STATE PRESIDENT OBAMA:  

Good evening, everyone.  Tomorrow, after nearly two years, Israelis and Palestinians will resume direct talks in pursuit of a goal that we all share — two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Tonight, I’m pleased to welcome to the White House key partners in this effort, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the representative of our Quartet partners, former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Your Majesty King Abdullah, and President Mubarak — we are but five men.  Our dinner this evening will be a small gathering around a single table.  Yet when we come together, we will not be alone.  We’ll be joined by the generations — those who have gone before and those who will follow.

Each of you are the heirs of peacemakers who dared greatly — Begin and Sadat, Rabin and King Hussein — statesmen who saw the world as it was but also imagined the world as it should be. It is the shoulders of our predecessors upon which we stand.  It is their work that we carry on.  Now, like each of them, we must ask, do we have the wisdom and the courage to walk the path of peace?  

All of us are leaders of our people, who, no matter the language they speak or the faith they practice, all basically seek the same things:  to live in security, free from fear; to live in dignity, free from want; to provide for their families and to realize a better tomorrow.  Tonight, they look to us, and each of us must decide, will we work diligently to fulfill their aspirations?

And though each of us holds a title of honor — President, Prime Minister, King — we are bound by the one title we share. We are fathers, blessed with sons and daughters.  So we must ask ourselves what kind of world do we want to bequeath to our children and our grandchildren.


Tonight, and in the days and months ahead, these are the questions that we must answer.  And this is a fitting moment to do so.

For Muslims, this is Ramadan.  For Jews, this is Elul.  It is rare for those two months to coincide.  But this year, tonight, they do.  Different faiths, different rituals, but a shared period of devotion — and contemplation.  A time to reflect on right and wrong; a time to ponder one’s place in the world; a time when the people of two great religions remind the world of a truth that is both simple and profound, that each of us, all of us, in our hearts and in our lives, are capable of great and lasting change.

In this spirit, I welcome my partners.  And I invite each to say a few words before we begin our meal, beginning with President Mubarak, on to His Majesty King Abdullah, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.


EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT MUBARAK:

I am pleased to participate with you today in relaunching direct peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.  Like you, and the millions of Palestinians, Israelis, Arabs and the rest of the world, I look forward that these negotiations be final and decisive, and that they lead to a peace agreement within one year.

Our meeting today would not have taken place without the considerable effort exerted by the American administration under the leadership of President Obama.  I pay tribute to you, Mr. President, for your personal, serious commit and for your determination to work for a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine since the early days of your presidency.  I appreciate your perseverance throughout the past period to overcome the difficulties facing the relaunching of the negotiations.

(Continued as translated.)  I consider this invitation a manifestation of your commitment and a significant message that the United States will shepherd these negotiations seriously and at the highest level.

No one realizes the value of peace more than those who have known wars and their havoc.  It was my destiny to witness over many events in our region during the years of war and peace.  I have gone through wars and hostilities, and have participated in the quest for peace since the first day of my administration.  I have never spared an effort to push it forward, and I still look forward to its success and completion.

The efforts to achieve peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis encountered many difficulties since the Madrid Conference in October 1999, and progress and regression, breakthroughs and setbacks, but the occupation of the Palestinian Territory remains an independent — an independent Palestinian state is yet — remains a dream in the conscious of the Palestinian people.

There is no doubt that this situation should raise great frustration and anger among our people, for it is no longer acceptable or conceivable on the verge of the second decade of the third millennium that we fail to achieve just and true peace — peace that would put an end to the century of conflict, fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, lift the occupation, allow for the establishment of normal relations between the Palestinians and Israelis.

It is true that reaching a just and comprehensive peace treaty between both sides has been an elusive hope for almost two decades.  Yet the accumulated experience of both parties, the extended rounds of negotiations, and the previous understandings, particularly during the Clinton parameters of 2000, and subsequent understandings of Taba and with the previous Israeli government, all contributed in setting the outline of the final settlement.

This outline has become well known to the international community and to both peoples — the Palestinian and Israeli people.  Hence, it is expected that the current negotiations will not start from scratch or in void.  No doubt, the position of the international community, as is stated in the consecutive statements of the Quartet, in particular, in its latest August 20th statement, paid due respect to relevant international resolutions and supported the outline of final settlements using different formulation without prejudice to the outcome of negotiations.

It has stressed that the aim of the soon-to-start direct negotiation is to reach a peaceful settlement that would end the Israeli occupation which began in 1967, allowing for the independent and sovereign state of Palestine to emerge and live side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel.

I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu many times since he took office last year.  In our meetings, I listened to assertions on his willingness to achieve peace with the Palestinians, and for history to record his name for such an achievement.  I say to him today that I look forward to achieving those assertions in reality, and his success in achieving the long-awaited peace, which I know the people of Israel yearn for, just like all other people in the region.

Reaching just peace with the Palestinians will require from Israel taking important and decisive decisions — decisions that are undoubtedly difficult yet they will be necessary to achieve peace and stability, and in a different context than the one that prevailed before.

Settlement activities on the Palestinian Territory are contrary to international law.  They will not create rights for Israel, nor are they going to achieve peace or security for Israel.  It is, therefore, a priority to completely freeze all these activities until the entire negotiation process comes to a successful end.

I say to the Israelis, seize the current opportunity.  Do not let it slip through your fingers.  Make comprehensive peace your goal.  Extend your hand to meet the hand already extended in the Arab Peace Initiative.

I say to President Mahmoud Abbas, Egypt will continue its faithful support to the patient Palestinian people and their just cause.  We will continue our concerted efforts to help fulfill the aspirations of your people and retrieve their legitimate rights.  We will stand by you until the independent state of Palestine on the land occupied since 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital.  We will also continue our efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation for the sake of the Palestinian national interest.

Once again, I’d like to express my thanks to President Obama, and I renew Egypt’s commitment to continue exerting all efforts, sharing honest advice and a commitment to the principles on which Arab and regional policy rests upon.

Please accept my appreciation, and peace be upon you. (Applause.)


JORDANIAN KING ABDULLAH:

(As translated.)  In the name of God most merciful, most compassionate, President Obama, peace be upon you.

(In English.)  For decades, a Palestinian-Israeli settlement has eluded us.  Millions of men, women and children have suffered.  Too many people have lost faith in our ability to bring them the peace they want.  Radicals and terrorists have exploited frustrations to feed hatred and ignite wars.  The whole world has been dragged into regional conflicts that cannot be addressed effectively until Arabs and Israelis find peace.

This past record drives the importance of our efforts today. There are those on both sides who want us to fail, who will do everything in their power to disrupt our efforts today — because when the Palestinians and Israelis find peace, when young men and women can look to a future of promise and opportunity, radicals and extremists lose their most potent appeal.  This is why we must prevail.  For our failure would be their success in sinking the region into more instability and wars that will cause further suffering in our region and beyond.

President Obama, we value your commitment to the cause of peace in our region.  We count on your continued engagement to help the parties move forward.  You have said that Middle East peace is in the national security interest of your country.  And we believe it is.  And it is also a strategic European interest, and it is a necessary requirement for global security and stability.  Peace is also a right for every citizen in our region.

A Palestinian-Israeli settlement on the basis of two states living side by side is a precondition for security and stability of all countries of the Middle East, with a regional peace that will lead to normal relations between Israel and 57 Arab and Muslim states that have endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative.  That would be — well, that would also be an essential step towards neutralizing forces of evil and war that threaten all peoples.

Mr. President, we need your support as a mediator, honest broker, and a partner, as the parties move along the hard but inevitable path of settlements.

Your Excellencies, all eyes are upon us.  The direct negotiations that will start tomorrow must show results — and sooner rather than later.  Time is not on our side.  That is why we must spare no effort in addressing all final status issues with a view to reaching the two-state solution, the only solution that can create a future worthy of our great region — a future of peace in which fathers and mothers can raise their children without fear, young people can look forward to lives of achievement and hope, and 300 million people can cooperate for mutual benefit.

For too long, too many people of the region have been denied their most basic of human rights:  the right to live in peace and security; respected in their human dignity; enjoying freedom and opportunity.  If hopes are disappointed again, the price of failure will be too high for all.

Our peoples want us to rise to their expectations.  And we can do so if we approach these negotiations with goodwill, sincerity and courage.  (Applause.)


ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:

Mr. President, Excellencies, Shalom Aleichem.  Shalom Alkulanu.  Peace unto us all.

I’m very pleased to be here today to begin our common effort to achieve a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I want to thank you, President Obama, for your tireless efforts to renew this quest for peace.  I want to thank Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Mitchell, the many members of the Obama administration, and Tony Blair, who’ve all worked so hard to bring Israelis and Palestinians together here today.

I also want to thank President Mubarak and King Abdullah for their dedicated and meaningful support to promote peace, security, and stability throughout our region.  I deeply appreciate your presence here today.

I began with a Hebrew word for peace, “shalom.”  Our goal is shalom.  Our goal is to forge a secure and durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  We don’t seek a brief interlude between two wars.  We don’t seek a temporary respite between outbursts of terror.  We seek a peace that will end the conflict between us once and for all.  We seek a peace that will last for generations — our generation, our children’s generation, and the next.

This is the peace my people fervently want.  This is the peace all our peoples fervently aspire to.  This is the peace they deserve.

Now, a lasting peace is a peace between peoples — between Israelis and Palestinians.  We must learn to live together, to live next to one another and with one another.  But every peace begins with leaders.

President Abbas, you are my partner in peace.  And it is up to us, with the help of our friends, to conclude the agonizing conflict between our peoples and to afford them a new beginning. The Jewish people are not strangers in our ancestral homeland, the land of our forefathers.  But we recognize that another people shares this land with us.

I came here today to find an historic compromise that will enable both our peoples to live in peace and security and in dignity.  I’ve been making the case for Israel all of my life.  But I didn’t come here today to make an argument.  I came here today to make peace.  I didn’t come here today to play a blame game where even the winners lose.  Everybody loses if there’s no peace.  I came here to achieve a peace that will bring a lasting benefit to us all.

I didn’t come here to find excuses or to make them.  I came here to find solutions.  I know the history of our conflict and the sacrifices that have been made.  I know the grief that has afflicted so many families who have lost their dearest loved ones.  Only yesterday four Israelis, including a pregnant women  — a pregnant woman — and another woman, a mother of six children, were brutally murdered by savage terrorists.  And two hours ago, there was another terror attack.  And thank God no one died.  I will not let the terrorists block our path to peace, but as these events underscore once again, that peace must be anchored in security.

I’m prepared to walk down the path of peace, because I know what peace would mean for our children and for our grandchildren. I know it would herald a new beginning that could unleash unprecedented opportunities for Israelis, for Palestinians, and for the peoples — all the peoples — of our region, and well beyond our region.  I think it would affect the world.

I see what a period of calm has created in the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, of Janin, throughout the West Bank, a great economic boom.  And real peace can turn this boom into a permanent era of progress and hope.

If we work together, we can take advantage of the great benefits afforded by our unique place under the sun.  We’re the crossroads of three continents, at the crossroads of history, and the crossroads of the future.  Our geography, our history, our culture, our climate, the talents of our people can be unleashed to create extraordinary opportunities in tourism, in trade, in industry, in energy, in water, in so many areas.

But peace must also be defended against its enemies.  We want the skyline of the West Bank to be dominated by apartment towers — not missiles.  We want the roads of the West Bank to flow with commerce — not terrorists.

And this is not a theoretic request for our people.  We left Lebanon, and we got terror.  We left Gaza, and we got terror once again.  We want to ensure that territory we’ll concede will not be turned into a third Iranian-sponsored terror enclave armed at the heart of Israel — and may I add, also aimed at every one of us sitting on this stage.

This is why a defensible peace requires security arrangements that can withstand the test of time and the many challenges that are sure to confront us.  And there will be many challenges, both great and small.  Let us not get bogged down by every difference between us.  Let us direct our courage, our thinking, and our decisions at those historic decisions that lie ahead.

Now, there are many skeptics.  One thing there’s no shortage of, Mr. President, are skeptics.  This is something that you’re so familiar with, that all of us in a position of leadership are familiar with.  There are many skeptics.  I suppose there are many reasons for skepticism.  But I have no doubt that peace is possible.

President Abbas, we cannot erase the past, but it is within our power to change the future.  Thousands of years ago, on these very hills where Israelis and Palestinians live today, the Jewish prophet Isaiah and the other prophets of my people envisaged a future of lasting peace for all mankind.  Let today be an auspicious step in our joint effort to realize that ancient vision for a better future.  (Applause.)


PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT ABBAS:  

(As translated.)  His Excellency President Barack Obama, His Excellency President Hosni Mubarak, His Majesty King Abdullah II, His Excellency Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, Mr. Tony Blair, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to start by thanking President Obama for his invitation to host us here today to relaunch the permanent status negotiations to reach a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement covering all the permanent status issues within a year in accordance with international law and relevant resolutions.

As we move towards the relaunch of these negotiations tomorrow, we recognize the difficulties, challenges and obstacles that lie ahead.  Yet we assure you, in the name of the PLO, that we will draw on years of experience in negotiations and benefit from the lessons learned to make these negotiations successful.

We also reiterate our commitment to carry out all our obligations, and we call on the Israelis to carry out their obligations, including a freeze on settlements activities, which is not setting a precondition but a call to implement an agreed obligation and to end all the closure and blockade, preventing freedom of movement, including the (inaudible) siege.

We will spare no effort and will work diligently and tirelessly to ensure that these new negotiations achieve their goals and objectives in dealing with all of the issues:  Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, border security, water, as well as the release of all our prisoners — in order to achieve peace. The people of our area are looking for peace that achieves freedom, independence, and justice to the Palestinian people in their country and in their homeland and in the diaspora — our people who have endured decades of longstanding suffering.

We want a peace that will correct the historical injustice caused by the (inaudible) of 1948, and one that brings security to our people and the Israeli people.  And we want peace that will give us both and the people of the region a new era where we enjoy just peace, stability, and prosperity.

Our determination stems to a great extent from your willpower, Mr. President, and your firm and sweeping drive with which you engulfed the entire world from the day you took office to set the parties on the path for peace — and also this same spirit, exhibited by Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator George Mitchell and his team.  The presence of His Excellency President Mubarak and His Majesty King Abdullah is another telling indication of their substantial and effective commitment overall, where Egypt and Jordan have been playing a supportive role for advancing the peace process.  Their effective role is further demonstrated by the Arab Peace Initiative, which was fully endorsed by all of the Arab states, and the Islamic countries as well.

This initiative served a genuine and sincere opportunity to achieve a just and comprehensive peace on all tracks in our region, including the Syrian-Israeli track and the Lebanese-Israeli track, and provided a sincere opportunity to make peace.

The presence here today of the envoy of the Quartet, Mr. Tony Blair, is a most telling signal, especially since he has been personally involved in the Palestinian Authority for many years and in the efforts for state building in Palestine.

Excellencies, the time has come for us to make peace and it is time to end the occupation that started in 1967, and for the Palestinian people to get freedom, justice, and independence.  It is time that a independent Palestinian state be established with sovereignty side by side with the state of Israel.  It is time to put an end to the struggle in the Middle East.

The Palestinian people who insist on the rights and freedom and independence are in most need for justice, security, and peace, because they are the victim, the ones that were harmed the most from this violence.  And it is sending message to our neighbors, the Israelis, and to the world that they are also careful about supporting the opportunities for the success of these negotiations and the just and lasting peace as soon as possible.

With this spirit, we will work to make these negotiations succeed.  And with this spirit, we are — trust that we are capable to achieve our historical, difficult mission — making peace in the land of peace.

Mr. Netanyahu, what happened yesterday and what is happening today is also condemned.  We do not want at all that any blood be shed, one drop of blood, on the part of the — from the Israelis or the Palestinians.  We want people in the two countries to lead a normal life.  We want them to live as neighbors and partners forever.  Let us sign an agreement, a final agreement, for peace, and put an end to a very long period of struggle forever.

And peace be upon you.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  

I want to thank all the leaders for their thoughtful statements.  I want to thank the delegations that are represented here because they are the ones who oftentimes are doing a lot of the work.  This is just the beginning.  We have a long road ahead, but I appreciate very much the leaders who are represented here for giving us such an excellent start.

And I particularly want to commend Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas for their presence here.  This is not easy.  Both of them have constituencies with legitimate claims, legitimate concerns, and a lot of history between them.  For them to be here, to be willing to take this first step — the most difficult step — is a testament to their courage and their integrity and I think their vision for the future.

And so I am hopeful — cautiously hopeful, but hopeful — that we can achieve the goal that all four of these leaders articulated.

Thank you very much, everybody.

 

Peace Talks Not Derailed by Terrorist Attack

— Alan Elsner and Jennifer Packer

(The Israel Project) A terrorist attack that killed four Israeli civilians including a pregnant woman on Tuesday (Aug. 31) will not sabotage this week’s direct peace negotiations in Washington, Israeli Embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled said.

In a telephone conference call for The Israel Project, Peled said the attack near the West Bank city of Kiryat Arba was deliberately intended to sabotage the talks, which will convene at the U.S. State Department on Thursday after a 20-month delay.

More after the jump.

“It (the attack) impacts, but it shouldn’t derail the talks that are coming to fruition this week,” Peled said. “This terror act is a clear sign of the imperative need for us to ensure that if Israel’s security needs are not addressed, it’s going to be very, very difficult to begin making concessions in the West Bank.”
“The timing of this is deliberate to try and derail the Palestinians and all those who seek peace in the region from coming and sitting down at the table with Israel,” he said.

Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, congratulated the attackers saying the attack was a normal reaction to what he called “the crime of occupation.” Hamas, which controls Gaza, opposes direct talks and the continued existence of Israel.
The attack appeared to be carefully planned. The gunmen opened fire on the car at short range, leaving the vehicle riddled with bullet holes and killing all its occupants. Israeli security forces launched a hunt for the perpetrators.
Peled said Iran and its Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah proxies were intent on sabotaging the peace process but Israel was ready, on coming to the table, to make “painful concessions” for a secure peace. He said 70 percent of the Israeli public supported such concessions, including withdrawing from parts of the West Bank so that a Palestinian state could be established.
The attack took place shortly before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington. He and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will meet separately at the White House with President Barack Obama on Wednesday before Thursday’s direct talks.
Peled said the main goal of the meeting, which Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah also will attend, is to set up a timetable for further face-to-face negotiations in the region.

Israel Removes Barrier That Protected Gilo

— Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Despite Settlement Freeze, Palestinians Have Yet to Agree to Direct Talks

Following a dramatic decrease in attacks, Israel is removing an 8-year-old security barrier between the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo and the Arab town of Beit Jalla, where Palestinian terrorists had been using homes to shoot at Israeli civilians. The barrier between the two areas isn’t part of Israel’s security fence. Meanwhile, nine months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (PA) still hasn’t agreed to direct peace talks with Israel.  

Security Barrier Protecting Gilo Neighborhood

Starting in 2000, Fatah militants took over the homes of Christian Arabs living in Beit Jalla to shoot at Gilo residents. Terrorists fired on Gilo more than 400 times from 2000 – 2002. As a result, Israel erected the protective barrier in 2002, helping to decrease the attacks. Israel later launched a defensive campaign – Operation Defensive Shield – to stop terror attacks during the second Palestinian Intifada (uprising), which stopped the attacks altogether. Gilo residents have expressed mixed emotions to the barrier coming down, with some fearing a resumption in attacks; others have said they’re optimistic that there won’t be more attacks and look forward to not being forced to live behind a wall.
On Sunday (Aug. 15), the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began to take down the 2,000-foot (600-meter), barrier and plan to remove the remainder during the next two weeks.

IDF Lt. Col. Hezi Ravivo said, “Right now the security situation is better and we do not see any reason not to take it down. We will keep the parts that comprise the wall and if the need arises, we can build it anew.”

Israel’s Ongoing Settlement Freeze

Netanyahu instituted the settlement freeze in an effort to restart peace talks with the PA and bolster confidence between the two sides. His decision, which became law Nov. 25, 2009, applies to all residential building in West Bank settlements, although completion of 3,000 units already under construction was permitted. The freeze doesn’t apply to Jerusalem neighborhoods outside of the pre-1967 borders, as the Israeli government considers them distinct from those in the West Bank.

Whether the freeze continues beyond the Sept. 26, 2010 expiration date remains uncertain. Netanyahu’s government faces international pressure to extend the moratorium, even though direct talks have not come to fruition.

On July 29, 2010 Arab League foreign ministers approved Abbas entering into direct talks with Israel; if those talks begin, settlements will be among the disputed topics.

Israel’s commitment to the moratorium:

  • In February 2010, along with efforts to enforce the freeze, Israeli security forces sent 300 summonses to settlers in the West Bank who broke Israeli law by continuing construction.
  • During the freeze, Israeli security forces issued and made public a list of 28 settlements that violated the freeze. After the government received the list, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai confirmed that a court order to halt construction had been given out.
  • Settlers protested the settlement freeze, blocking security forces from entering West Bank settlements. As a result, Israeli police forces arrested the head of the Beit Aryeh council, Avi Naim. Beit Aryeh is a community with 3,900 residents. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reiterated Israel’s commitment to the freeze saying, “…the IDF and especially the [civil] administration are getting ready to ensure that the decision [to implement the settlement freeze] is carried out.”
  • In further efforts to persuade Palestinians to restart peace talks, Israel has taken steps to stop the Jerusalem district planning committee from carrying out construction projects in Jerusalem, even though the area is excluded from the freeze.
  • On Aug. 15, 2010, Netanyahu approved building 23 temporary classrooms in select West Bank settlements – an emergency measure to enable students to attend class. Educational institutions, however, are exempt from the moratorium.

Neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Legal Settlements

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will include boundary and land discussions. Many settlements that some in the international community consider illegal are in fact legal neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Some neighborhoods, such as Neve Yaakov and Gilo, were purchased by Jews prior to World War II.

Click here for a map of Jerusalem area neighborhoods and settlements.