Quartet Convenes, Clinton and Congress, Jewish Americans Support Obama
On Wednesday, April 11, the Middle East Quartet met in Washington, DC to discuss ways to encourage and support direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The meeting came ahead of Palestinian plans to deliver of a letter from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 18.
The quartet issued a statement that received little media attention, but it does include some interesting diplomatic nuances. It handed out evenhanded admonishments, expressing concern about violence by Israeli settlers in the West Bank and militants in Gaza.
The group also expanded and clarified their customary demand for both sides to refrain from “provocative actions,” saying, “The Quartet expressed concern about unilateral and provocative actions by either party, including continued settlement activity…” The addition of the word “unilateral” presumably refers to further efforts by Palestinian to seek recognition in the UN, while they call out Israel explicitly for “continued settlement activity.”
The Quartet statement also was notable for highlighting the need for Palestinian economic development in Area C that covers about 60% of the West Bank and is under full Israeli security and administrative control. This may well be an allusion to Israel demolition orders issued on structures and cisterns of Palestinian sheep herders’ camps, located in area such as the dry south Hebron hills, that are equipped with solar power units donated by Israeli and European groups.
Few expect the Abbas letter to Netanyahu will result in direct negotiations. Rather, both parties are seeking to avoid blame for the stagnating peace process. Abbas reportedly told a group, “If I don't receive a positive response from Netanyahu, I will resume the UN process and ask the UN General Assembly to receive the status of a nonmember state."
For his part, Netanyahu is planning to respond to the letter by offering to upgrade the talks to direct negotiations between himself and Abbas and insisting that neither side present any preconditions.
On the day before the Quartet meeting, the State Department sent a letter to members of Congress notifying them that it will go ahead with the $147 million aid package to the Palestinian Authority for fiscal year 2011 despite a congressional hold placed by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Bypassing Congress is an unusual move for an administration, but since the Quartet would call for “the need for international support for the Palestinian Authority’s important institution-building efforts” the next day, the administration apparently found it important for the United States to follow up on its own commitments before expecting others to do so.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen placed a hold on PA funds in August 2011 but in late March 2012, Ros-Lehtinen sent a letter to Secretary Clinton and USAID to inform them that she released her hold on $88.6 million of the funds. However, in her letter, she states that the State Department cannot use the funds for:
*Assistance and recovery programs in Hamas-run Gaza
*Road construction projects in the West Bank, unless vital for security and only in Area C
*Trade facilitation, tourist promotion, and scholarships for Palestinian students
She did not lift her hold on the remaining $58.6 million at that time. A State Department official told the National Journal that without the money now, U.S. funded programs risked cancellation, which would “undermine the progress that has been made in recent years in building Palestinian institutions and improving stability, security, and economic prospects, which benefits Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen is not pleased. She sent a statement to the National Journal on Wednesday saying, “The U.S. has given $3 billion in aid to the Palestinians in the last five years alone, and what do we have to show for it? Now the administration is sending even more. Where is the accountability for U.S. taxpayer dollars?"
In a survey conducted by the United States’ Public Religion Research Institute, 62 percent of Jewish American voters support the reelection of President Obama. Only 4 percent of respondents said Israel is “the most important issue” influencing their vote.
In his recent book, The Crisis of Zionism, Peter Beinart says younger members of the U.S. Jewish community do not support the occupation of Palestinian lands and the erosion of Israeli democratic ideals.
He took to The New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof’s blog to explain, “The more permanent Israel’s occupation of the West Bank becomes, the more American Jews will be forced to choose between a Jewish state that is not fully democratic and a binational state that loses its Jewish character. And faced with that choice, a great chasm will divide American Jewry: with most older American Jews on one side, and many non-Orthodox, younger American Jews on the other.”
Christians from the Holy Land and around the world gathered in Jerusalem for Catholic and Protestant Good Friday and Easter Sunday last week.
Holy week did not mean a break from political tensions. Palestinians require a permit to enter Jerusalem, which many Muslims and Christians claim impedes their freedom of worship. The West Bank run International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC) says Palestinian Christians hoping to celebrate Easter in Jerusalem must apply for a permit through their church weeks in advance. Israeli authorities generally reject applications from men under the age of 35 and anyone who has a family member in an Israeli prison. The IMEMC says that everyone else on the list receives a permit but many still get denied entry at the checkpoint without being given a reason.
Last week, the CMEP bulletin linked to an article on the Washington Post website by Richard Stearns, the U.S. president of World Vision that reported it would be a “dark Easter for Palestinian Christians.” He said that local Christians in the Holy Land estimate that Israel only issued 2,000 to 3,000 permits for Palestinian Christians to travel to Jerusalem for Easter. The piece elicited a strong response from Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren. He wrote to the Washington Post calling Stearns’s article “libelous to the State of Israel,” saying “Israel has provided more than 20,000 permits this year for Palestinian Christians to enter Jerusalem for the Good Friday and Easter holidays. Five hundred similar permits have also been issued to the remaining Christians of Gaza, though the area is under the control of the terrorist organization Hamas… With the exception of the very few individuals who have raised security concerns…any Christian from the West Bank can reach Jerusalem on Good Friday and Easter. All allegations to the contrary are flagrantly untrue and represent a reckless attempt to defame the Jewish State.”
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, member of the PLO Executive Committee and head of the PLO Information and Culture Department addressed the situation in Ha’aretz, argued against the permit system itself. She says Israel is “dividing Palestinians from Palestinians” by not allowing freedom of movement between Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories. She concludes, “What Palestinians need is not a selective permits regime from the occupying power, that illegally besieges Jerusalem, but the freedom and independence to exercise their right to access East Jerusalem, their capital, throughout the year. In short, we need independence.”
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem gave his Easter homily in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He said to worshipers, “Let us proclaim with faith that Christ is risen, that he lives and we are witnesses. They are many who come in search of Christ, while seeking to find their roots in the Holy Land. We are the roots. We are the Mother Church. And none of the difficulties and misfortunes that beset us will shake our faith, but rather increase our perseverance, our sense of belonging to Jerusalem and to our Church. The living Christ always triumphs over evil.”
Aaron David Miller, who advised six U.S. secretaries of states on the Arab-Israeli negotiations, wrote in Foreign Policy recently that President Obama will be “unchanged, not the unchained” when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if he gets a second term. Historically, he says presidents on their second term do not get any tougher on the Israelis or Palestinians. In his view, progress towards agreement is conditioned more by circumstances in the Middle East than the determination of a U.S. President. With the uncertainty of the Arab Spring and the crisis in Iran, circumstances in 2013 will not be auspicious for peacemaking.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter took to the New York Times to defend the two-state solution and warn people that it will not be feasible “for much longer.” He frames the debate from the prospective of Israelis who wish to keep their country as a Jewish state. He quotes former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who said that if there is no two-state solution, Israel would “face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.”
Zvika Krieger, senior vice president of The S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and a fellow at the Truman National Security Project writes in The Atlantic that it is possible to evacuate a large number of settlers from the West Bank under the right Israeli leadership. He cites an estimate that over 100,000 settlers would remain outside a new border even if 75 percent got annexed, which some say precludes a two-state solution. Krieger insists that even though a two-state solution seems “as far off as ever” politically, it is still “technically feasible. “