x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

US maintains pressure on Israel

Upon his arrival in Israel on Tuesday, the US envoy for Middle East peace, George Mitchell, called for the "prompt resumption and early conclusion of negotiations" between the Israelis and Palestinians. In an indication of the degree to which the Israelis have become sensitive to US pressure however, a photograph released by the White House showing Mr Obama during his phone conversation with the Israeli prime minister, was interpreted as a blunt signal.

Upon his arrival in Israel on Tuesday, the US envoy for Middle East peace, George Mitchell, called for the "prompt resumption and early conclusion of negotiations" between the Israelis and Palestinians. Prior to Mr Mitchell's arrival, the US president Barack Obama phoned the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday in what the Israeli newspaper Haaretz described as a bid to ease tensions. Mr Netanyahu's office issued a statement "describing the conversation as positive and saying that Netanyahu had updated Obama on his plan to make an important political speech at Bar-Ilan University on Sunday, where he will outline his programme for peace and security. "Obama reportedly said that he is eager to hear the speech and the two leaders agreed to continue their telephone exchanges." In an indication of the degree to which the Israelis have become sensitive to US pressure however, a photograph released by the White House showing Mr Obama during his phone conversation with the Israeli prime minister, was interpreted as a blunt signal. In Haaretz, Aluf Benn described the image. "The president is seen with his legs up on the table, his face stern and his fist clenched, as though he were dictating to Netanyahu: 'Listen up and write "Palestinian state" a hundred times. That's right, Palestine, with a P.' As an enthusiast of Muslim culture, Obama surely knows there is no greater insult in the Middle East than pointing the soles of one's shoes at another person. Indeed, photos of other presidential phone calls depict Obama leaning on his desk, with his feet on the floor." In reaction to what he referred to as "a turning point in America's approach to the region, especially to Israel," Yossi Peled, a Likud minister in Mr Netanyahu's cabinet has proposed that Israel impose sanctions on the United States, along with measures to apply domestic political pressure on the Obama administration. The Jerusalem Post said: "In what may be his most controversial suggestion, Peled recommends intervening in American congressional races to weaken Obama and asking American Jewish donors not to contribute to Democratic congressional candidates. He predicted that this would result in Democratic candidates pressuring Obama to become more pro-Israel." Mr Netanyahu's office dismissed the suggestions, saying: "The government's goal is to cooperate with the US." A report in Ynet asked: "Does Cairo already know what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will say at his anticipated policy speech at Bar Ilan next week? Egyptian President Mubarak hinted as much in comments made after a telephone conversation with Netanyahu. " 'Israel will agree to the two-state solution,' Mubarak said in an interview with Egyptian media on Wednesday, 'I spoke with Netanyahu and told him there was no other option. Ultimately the solution will be one of two states - the State of Israel alongside an Arab state.' "Mubarak said that Netanyahu did not counter his assertion." The Jerusalem Post reported: "The regional agreement that the Obama administration is trying to push forward is not only about peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but also peace between Israel and both Syria and Lebanon, US special Middle East envoy George Mitchell said on Wednesday, on the eve of trips to both Beirut and Damascus. "Mitchell's comments came at the outset of a meeting with opposition head Tzipi Livni that concluded two days of meetings in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. "After meeting with Livni, Mitchell flew to Cairo. From there he will go to Lebanon on Thursday, and then continue on to Damascus Friday and Saturday for his first meetings there since taking up his position in January. "One senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said Mitchell's trip to Lebanon and Syria was indicative of his overall approach - to talk to everyone and then 'try to move the ball down the field one yard at a time.' " The Post also reported: "The Council for Peace and Security, a centre-left leaning group of former IDF officers and security officials, is recommending to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he tell the world in his address at Bar-Ilan University on Sunday that Israel accepts the Arab peace initiative as a starting point for discussions. " 'The Arab initiative is a good basis for negotiations, and Netanyahu should say that Israel will work with it after sitting with the leadership of the Arab League and discussing it,' Maj Gen (res) Danny Rothschild, the head of the council, said on Tuesday. "Amos Lapidot, another member of the group's leadership and a former commander of the IAF, said Netanyahu should say there were 'good things' in the plan, and that now was the time to delve into its details." The columnist, Larry Derfner, explored the issue of Jewish settlements from an Israeli perspective by starting with a question many Israelis ask: "How can anybody believe that Jewish families living in Judea and Samaria are an obstacle to peace? "It's a legitimate question. Let me try to answer it by asking you to imagine how you would feel if, instead of there being 300,000 Israelis who'd gone to live in the West Bank, there were 300,000 Palestinians from the West Bank who'd come to live in Israel. And imagine if they'd set themselves up over here the way Israelis have done over there. "What would you say if, for the past 42 years, streams of Palestinians had continually crossed the Green Line and, under protection of Palestinian soldiers stationed in Israel, had established communities a few kilometers outside Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba, Tiberias, Eilat, etc, etc. All over. Typically on hilltops looking down on you. "There are about 125 Jewish settlements in the West Bank that exist because the IDF defends them; let's say that instead, there were 125 Palestinian settlements in Israel that existed because Palestinian troops defended them. If somebody said to you, 'These are just Palestinian families living in Palestine, they're not an obstacle to peace,' what would you say? "Imagine if, instead of Palestinians having to pass through IDF checkpoints to get from place to place in the West Bank, we had to pass through Palestinian Authority checkpoints to get from place to place in this country. Whenever we wanted to leave our town or city - to go to work, visit friends, go shopping, to take the family for a weekend drive. Whenever we left Jerusalem for Tel Aviv, or Hadera for Afula, or any town or city for another.... "What's wrong with the settlements, why is everyone making such a big deal? No reason, unless you consider the Palestinians to be people, too, no less than Israelis. And not unless the sentence, 'Do not do to other people what you would hate for them to do to you,' means anything."

pwoodward@thenational.ae