Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Obama faces double dilemmas in Mideast

February 12, 2009

Israel‘s shift to the right could throw a monkey wrench into President Barack Obama‘s conciliatory overtures to Iran and his budding drive to promote Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

Results of elections this week in Israel are likely to ensure a pivotal role for rightist Benjamin Netanyahu, whose tough statements on Iran reflect the distrust of Israeli voters. And unlike many Israelis, his aim in dealing with the Palestinians does not include immediate peace negotiations.

By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer

Netanyahu says he wants to focus on reviving the Palestinian economy and leave peacemaking for later. At the same time, he wants to expand the Israeli population on the West Bank beyond the current total of nearly 300,000.

The Palestinians, moderate or extremist, have other plans for the area: forcing the Israelis to withdraw and making the territory part of a Palestinian state.

Tzipi Livni, who has moved from hard-line to centrist over the years and accepts the principle of yielding territory, still is in the running for Israeli prime minister, along with Netanyahu. On the distant right is the Yisrael Beitenu Party’s Avigdor Lieberman, who might gain a toehold in the government.

Samuel Lewis, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, observed in an interview that with the clear “shift to the right,” it’s likely Netanyahu ultimately will become prime minister with a coalition Cabinet that “would not very easily produce a broad-based agreement with the Palestinians.”

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Gallup Poll: Obama Good on Gitmo, Bad on Abortion

February 3, 2009

The public is most supportive of his decisions to name special envoys to oversee the administration’s efforts in the Middle East, and Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to tighten rules on people working as lobbyists either before or after serving in his administration. Both of these moves are favored by 76% of Americans.

Americans are nearly as supportive of Obama’s actions to limit the interrogation methods that can be used on military prisoners — actions designed to ensure the United States does not resort to torture to find out information from prisoners. Seventy-four percent of Americans favor that decision, the same percentage who favor his executive order to institute higher fuel efficiency standards.

Two in three Americans approve of his signing a bill to make it easier for workers to sue for pay discrimination, the first legislation he has signed into law as president.

The public does not agree with everything Obama has done, however. For example, more Americans say they disapprove (50%) than approve (44%) of his decision to order the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorist suspects in Cuba within a year.

Further, Obama’s decision to reverse the prohibition on funding for overseas family-planning providers may be the least popular thing he has done so far. This was an executive order that forbade federal government money from going to overseas family-planning groups that provide abortions or offer abortion counseling. Fifty-eight percent of Americans disapprove of Obama’s decision to lift this ban, while only 35% approve of it. The ban on federal funds to these groups was put in place by Ronald Reagan, but lifted by Bill Clinton. George W. Bush re-instituted the ban after taking office in 2001, but Obama has once again lifted it.

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Iran Says Again, Holocaust a ‘Big Lie’

January 27, 2009

Iran’s government spokesman on Tuesday branded the Holocaust a “big lie” created to place the Islamic republic’s arch-foe Israel in the Middle East, the state IRNA news agency reported.

“The Holocaust is a concept coming from a big lie in order to settle a rootless regime in the heart of the Islamic world,” Gholam Hossein Elham told a conference on Gaza in central Iran’s religious city of Qom.

It was not the first time an Iranian official has questioned the massacre of Jews by Nazis in World War II.

Iran does not recognise Israel, and since his election in 2005 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has attracted international condemnation by repeatedly predicting that the Jewish state is doomed to disappear.

In late 2005 Ahmadinejad branded the Holocaust a “myth.” His comment was followed by a conference in Tehran in 2006 that brought together Holocaust deniers and revisionists.

A mass-circulation Iranian newspaper also staged a controversial cartoon competition on the subject.

In September last year a group of Iranian Islamist students unveiled a book mocking the Holocaust and filled with anti-Semitic stereotypes and revisionist arguments.

The United Nations designated January 27 as international Holocaust memorial day in 2005, marking the date Soviet troops liberated the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Poland.

From AFP and AP

Obama Envoy Mitchell’s Firm Lobbied for Dubai’s Ruler

January 27, 2009

George Mitchell, President Barack Obama’s special Middle East troubleshooter, was chairman of a law firm that was paid about $8 million representing Dubai’s ruler in connection with a child-trafficking lawsuit.

From Bloomberg

The DLA Piper law firm did legal and lobbying work on the case, which alleged that Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al- Maktoum and another official used children kidnapped from other countries to ride as jockeys in camel races. The firm lobbied federal agencies, members of the U.S. House and about two dozen Senate offices, including those of Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2006 and 2007, according to Justice Department foreign-agent disclosures.

Mitchell, 75, who isn’t a registered lobbyist, didn’t lobby either on this issue or for Dubai generally. DLA Piper partner Bill Minor said in an e-mail that Mitchell, a former Democratic senator from Maine, mainly focused on growth and management at the firm of almost 4,000 attorneys and 65 offices worldwide, and high-profile projects such as an investigation of steroid use in Major League Baseball.

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Middle East: President on Al-Arabiya, Mitchell Moving, Jimmy Carter Advice to Israel

January 27, 2009

President Obama was on Al-Arabiya TV telling Muslims they are not America’s enemy, envoy George Mitchell was traveling to discuss peace with all sides in the Middle East and former President Jimmy Carter said Monday that Israel will face a “catastrophe” unless it revives the Mideast peace process and establishes an independent Palestinian state.

Obama: Muslims not America’s enemy, “I have Muslim members of my family”

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama threw his weight Monday behind Arab-Israeli peacemaking when he sent envoy George Mitchell to the region with a brief to “engage vigorously” to achieve real progress.

Obama, promising to be more actively engaged in Middle East diplomacy than his predecessor George W. Bush, set the tone for the trip after meeting Mitchell who is due to visit Israel, the Palestinian West Bank and Arab states.

In the short run, the trip is aimed at bolstering a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip — following a three-week Israeli military offensive — and tackling the humanitarian crisis there.

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By PETER JAMES SPIELMANN,Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK – Former President Jimmy Carter said Monday that Israel will face a “catastrophe” unless it revives the Mideast peace process and establishes an independent Palestinian state.
In an interview with The Associated Press, he said Arabs will outnumber Jews in the Holy Land in the foreseeable future.

“If we look toward a one-state solution, which seems to be the trend _ I hope not inexorable _ it would be a catastrophe for Israel, because there would be only three options in that case,” Carter said.

One would be to expel large numbers of Palestinians, which he said would amount to “ethnic cleansing.”

The second would be to deprive the Palestinians of equal voting rights, which he said would amount to “apartheid.”

The third would be to give the Palestinians equal voting rights, and therefore the majority, he said.

“And you would no longer have a Jewish state,” Carter said. “The basic decisions would be made by the Palestinians, who would almost very likely vote in a bloc, whereas you would have some sharp divisions among the Israelis, because the Israelis always have different points of view.”

Carter spoke to The Associated Press as his new book, “We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land,” was released.

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Some global adversaries ready to give Obama chance

January 25, 2009

In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama signaled conciliation to America’s foes by using the metaphor of an outstretched hand to an unclenched fist.

By Paul Haven, Associated Press Writer

Already, there are signs that some of those foes were listening, sensing an opening for improved relations after eight combative years under President George W. Bush. Fidel Castro is said to like the new American leader, and North Korea and Iran both sounded open to new ideas to defuse nuclear-tinged tensions.

Unclear is what they will demand in return from the untested American statesman, and whether they will agree to the compromises the U.S. is likely to insist on in exchange for warmer relations.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz uranium ... 
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.(AFP/File/Atta Kenare)

Obama Launching First Diplomatic Mission To Middle East

January 25, 2009

The day Barack Obama became President of the United States, Israeli tanks were rumbling out of Gaza and Palestinians were piled up awaiting burial. Unitid Nations storehouse were in ruins.  Accusations were flying that Israel had used white phosphorus — a substanced banned for use in populated areas by civilized people.   It would be difficult to make the other top priorities of the world scene more important than the festering and violent disputes of the Middle East. Despite Russia-Georgia, North Korea, disagreements with China, Pakistan, troubles in Afghanistan and other disputes, Barack Obama is squarely and rightly facing the Middle East….


President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East will come to Israel Wednesday for talks on keeping alive a fragile Gaza cease-fire and reviving Mideast negotiations, an Israeli foreign ministry official said Saturday.

It is the new administration’s first direct move into Mideast peace efforts.

By STEVE WEIZMAN, Associated Press Writer

George J. Mitchell will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and senior Israeli officials, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because Washington has not officially announced the trip.

George Mitchell, US President Barack Obama's newly named ... 
George Mitchell, US President Barack Obama’s newly named Special Envoy to the Middle East.(AFP/Saul Loeb)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton introduced Mitchell in his new role Thursday. His appointment is seen as signaling a renewed push under the Obama administration for a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Mitchell will also visit Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at their headquarters in the West Bank, the official said.

The official said Mitchell will discuss restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after Israel’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, and ways to impose an effective arms blockade against the Hamas militants who rule Gaza and have been firing rockets into Israel for years.

The arms embargo and the opening of the blockaded territory’s borders are key to sustaining separate cease-fires by Israel and Hamas.

Tzipi Livni (Left) with Hillary Clinton

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Did Obama set up Mitchell to fail in the Middle East?

January 24, 2009

In naming George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East, President Obama unfortunately made statements indicating no departure from the failing policies of previous administrations.
By Mazin Qumsiyeh, Ph.D
Online Journal Contributing Writer

In particular, Obama emphasized Israel’s right to “defend itself,” never once mentioned things like the occupation or international law, attacked Hamas (a duly elected movement that represents a significant portion of the Palestinian people), supported the strangulation of Gaza, demanded no resistance from an occupied people, and supported the Israeli occupiers in their violence that most recently killed over 400 children.

George Mitchell, US President Barack Obama's newly named ... 
George Mitchell, US President Barack Obama’s newly named Special Envoy to the Middle East, stands after the announcement at the State Department in Washington, DC. Obama vowed Thursday to aggressively pursue Middle East peace as for the first time since taking office he laid out his vision for ending the age-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.(AFP/Saul Loeb)

This logic has been tried before, including under the “aggressive diplomacy” of Bill Clinton and has yielded only a strengthening of Hamas, weakening of Fatah, continued Israeli colonization on Palestinian lands, and setting the stage for future conflicts. Further, such an approach is even more untenable now after the setback of the June 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon and the current war on Gaza.

As articulated well by President Jimmy Carter, it is wrong to frame this conflict simply as “democratic Israel” facing “terrorist groups like Hamas” and it is wrong to continue to fund Israeli wars while claiming to be an “honest broker.” It is analogous to describing the struggles in South Africa in the 1980s as “democratic South Africa” facing off against “terrorist groups like the ANC” (actually that was President Reagan’s framing in his first term in office as he supported Apartheid). Yes, some members of the ANC did use terror (including “necklacing” or burning their rivals alive) but that was miniscule compared to the state terrorism and apartheid they faced. The US cannot be an honest broker so long as the US government continues to….

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Obama to tap ex-Sen. Mitchell as Mideast envoy

January 20, 2009

Barack Obama plans to name former Sen. George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy in one of his first actions as the new U.S. president, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

Mitchell’s appointment could come as early as Tuesday, the newspaper said, quoting unidentified Obama aides.

Obama, who will be sworn in as the next U.S. president at noon EST, has promised to engage on the Middle East immediately as president and a choice of Mitchell as special envoy was seen as affirming his commitment to early action.

Mitchell, 75, led a commission appointed by former President Bill Clinton to find ways to halt Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Former Senator George Mitchell testifies at a House Oversight ... 
Former Senator George Mitchell testifies at a House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing on Capitol Hill, January 15, 2008.(Jason Reed/Reuters)

His 2001 report called for Israelis to freeze construction of new settlements and stop shooting at unarmed demonstrators, and called for Palestinians to prevent terrorist attacks and punish those who perpetrate them.

Mitchell is a former Senate majority leader who later led peace negotiations between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, an effort that led to the 1998 Good Friday Accord aimed at stemming the long-standing conflict there.

Obama has declined to comment in detail on the Gaza crisis and other foreign policy issues during the weeks before he takes over from George W. Bush, citing the principle that there should be only one president at a time.

With Israeli troops withdrawing from Gaza after a 22-day offensive and having declared a ceasefire along with Hamas, the new administration may want to move cautiously, allowing the Egyptians and Europeans first to pursue their own initiatives.

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Mideast Needs a More Engaged U.S. to Help Broker Lasting Peace

January 18, 2009

The carnage in Gaza – where Palestinian women and children have died by the hundreds as Israel tries to stop Hamas from rocketing its cities – is a grim epitaph for U.S. policies that made a bad neighborhood worse.

So it is welcome news that President-elect Barack Obama says “starting on day one, we . . . are going to be immediately engaged in the Middle East peace process.” Such intense U.S. engagement is crucial. Without it, Israel’s invasion of Gaza could have consequences that threaten its very future – and the region as a whole.

Failing a new U.S. strategy, the Gaza war could mark the final blow to the concept of a “two-state solution.” That’s shorthand for an Israeli and Palestinian state living peacefully side by side.

You may think this idea is a fantasy, but reflect on the alternative: a “one-state solution,” in which Israel keeps control of more than three million Palestinian Arabs. Israel would then face two grim choices: Offer Palestinians the vote and soon lose its Jewish majority, or keep ruling millions of Palestinians by force and become a South Africa-type state.

Although Bush endorsed a two-state solution, he did little to promote it, letting the peace process languish until the end of his second term. Bush categorically backed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whose unilateral withdrawal from Gaza strengthened Hamas and undercut those who wanted peace talks.

The administration was solely focused on Iraq, even as Gaza became a virtual prison camp with all borders controlled by Israel. Nor did the administration press Israel to cease expanding settlements on the West Bank.

Under such conditions, Palestinians turned toward Hamas – which at least provided social services. Young Palestinians and intellectuals now talk increasingly about the “one-state solution.” Meantime, Hamas’ rocketing of Israeli towns has further soured Israelis on the idea of two states.

So Obama will take office as the very idea of two states is dying.

The Gaza war has badly undermined those moderate Arabs who still support the concept, such as Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, and the rulers in Jordan and Egypt.

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