WASHINGTON — Benjamin Netanyahu’s resounding victory in Israeli
elections on Tuesday appears to have dashed any hopes President Obama might have
had for a way out of his tumultuous and often bitter relationship with the prime
White House officials offered no immediate reaction late Tuesday night to
results that showed Mr. Netanyahu with a substantial lead after a divisive
campaign that featured a national debate about whether the Israeli leader was
undermining the country’s longstanding connection with the United States.
In a statement earlier in the day, Josh Earnest, the White House press
secretary, said only that Mr. Obama was “committed to working very closely with
the winner of the ongoing elections to cement and further deepen the strong
relationship between the United States and Israel.”
He added: “The president is confident that he can do that with whomever the
Israeli people choose.”
Mr. Netanyahu achieved a surprisingly strong finish after a highly controversial
speech this month before the United States Congress, addressing Iran’s nuclear
ambitions and deepening the rift with Mr. Obama and his top aides.
If Mr. Netanyahu is able to form a new government in the weeks ahead, he may
well emerge as an even more empowered antagonist for the United States during
the final two years of Mr. Obama’s presidency.
The prime minister emerged as the top candidate in the Israeli elections by
declaring that he was now opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state,
perhaps the most central piece of United States foreign policy doctrine as it
relates to Middle East peace. And in the final hours of the campaign, Mr.
Netanyahu appealed to supporters in his own country by warning that a wave of
Arab voters could sweep him out of office.
Any hopes of restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the Middle East —
already a long shot given the prime minister’s disagreements with Mr. Obama over
settlements — could be even further undermined by Mr. Netanyahu’s newly stated
opposition to a “two-state solution” in the Middle East.
Mr. Netanyahu’s continued presence as Israel’s leader also means that his vocal
opposition to the negotiations with Iran will only grow more intense as the
deadline for reaching a nuclear agreement draws closer. Mr. Obama and the
leaders of five other nations have said they want to reach a framework for a
deal with Iran by the end of this month.
But beyond the substantive issues, Mr. Netanyahu’s victory means that Mr. Obama
will not have an opportunity for a “reset” on one of his trickiest, most fraught
relationships with any world leader.
On the one hand, White House officials insist that Mr. Obama has talked with Mr.
Netanyahu — on the phone or in person — more than with any other world leader.
And they say the bonds between the military and intelligence agencies of the two
countries are as strong as ever. Aid to Israel has not wavered, officials note.
But personally, Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu have never become close, aides said.
The Israeli prime minister is known for being difficult. James A. Baker III, the
former secretary of state, once barred Mr. Netanyahu, then a more junior
government official, from the halls of the State Department. President Bill
Clinton famously disliked Mr. Netanyahu.
“This is a relationship between the president and the prime minister that you
could actually see getting worse,” Robert Gibbs, a former White House press
secretary, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday.
The question moving forward for Mr. Obama may be whether he should essentially
write off the Israeli prime minister in much the same way he has written off
building any relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, another
Alternatively, Mr. Obama could use the Israeli election as an excuse to try and
make one last attempt at building a more cooperative relationship with Mr.
Even if that happens, though, it is not clear whether Mr. Netanyahu would
reciprocate, especially with the Iran negotiations looming this summer.
Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly said he views Iran’s nuclear ambitions as an
existential threat to Israel, and he is unlikely to want to compromise in the
interests of easing any relationship — even with the president of the United
JERUSALEM — Uneasiness inhabits Israel, a shadow beneath the
polished surface. In a violent Middle Eastern neighborhood of fracturing states,
that is perhaps inevitable, but Israelis are questioning their nation and its
future with a particular insistence. As the campaign for March elections begins,
this disquiet looks like the precursor of political change. The status quo, with
its bloody and inconclusive interludes, has become less bearable. More of the
same has a name: Benjamin Netanyahu, now in his third term as prime minister.
The alternative, although less clear, is no longer unthinkable.
“There is a growing uneasiness, social, political, economic,” Amos Oz, the
novelist, told me in an interview. “There is a growing sense that Israel is
becoming an isolated ghetto, which is exactly what the founding fathers and
mothers hoped to leave behind them forever when they created the state of
Israel.” The author, widely viewed as the conscience of a liberal and
anti-Messianic Israel, continued, “Unless there are two states — Israel next
door to Palestine — and soon, there will be one state. If there will be one
state, it will be an Arab state. The other option is an Israeli dictatorship,
probably a religious nationalist dictatorship, suppressing the Palestinians and
suppressing its Jewish opponents.”
If that sounds stark, it is because choices are narrowing. Every day, it seems,
another European government or parliament expresses support for recognition of a
Palestinian state. A Palestinian-backed initiative at the United Nations,
opposed in its current form by the United States, is aimed at pushing Israel to
withdraw from the West Bank by 2017. The last Gaza eruption, with its heavy toll
and messy outcome, changed nothing. Hamas, its annihilationist hatred newly
stoked, is still there parading its weapons. Tension is high in Jerusalem after
a spate of violent incidents. Life is expensive. Netanyahu’s credibility on both
the domestic and international fronts has dwindled.
“We wake up every morning to some new threat he has found,” said Shlomo Avineri,
a political scientist. “We have grown tired of it.”
This fatigue will, however, translate into change only if a challenger looks
viable. Until recently nobody has. But in the space of a few weeks something has
shifted. The leader of the Labor Party, Isaac Herzog, has been ushered from
unelectable nerd to plausible patriot. Polls show him neck and neck with the
incumbent. Through an alliance forged this month with Tzipi Livni, the recently
dismissed justice minister and longtime negotiator with the Palestinians, the
Labor leader created a sense of possibility for the center left. A post-Bibi
Israel no longer seems a fantasy.
“This cannot go on,” Herzog, a mild-mannered man working on manifesting his
inner steel, told me. “There is a deep inherent worry as to the future and
well-being of our country. Netanyahu has been leading us to a dead end, to an
abyss.” Summing up his convictions, Herzog declared, “We are the Zionist camp.
They are the extreme camp.”
Here we get to the nub of the election. A battle has been engaged for Israel’s
soul. The country’s founding charter of 1948 declared that the nascent state
would be based “on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of
Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all
its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.” This is the embodiment
of the Zionism of Herzog and Livni. They are both descendants of important
figures in Israel’s creation — Chaim Herzog, a former president of Labor
sympathies, and Eitan Livni, a former commander of the rightist Irgun militia.
For all their differences Labor and Likud, left and right, did not differ on the
essential democratic freedoms for all its citizens, Jew and Arab, that Israel
should seek to uphold. The new Herzog-Livni alliance looks like an eloquent
reaffirmation of that idea.
It is a fragile idea today. Tolerance is under attack as a wave of Israeli
nationalism unfurls and settlements grow in the West Bank. This virulent,
Jews-first thinking led recently to a bill known as the nationality law that
would rescind Arabic’s status as an official language — and proved a catalyst to
the breakup of Netanyahu’s government. It also finds expression in the abuse
hurled at anyone, including the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, who speaks up
for Arab rights. “Traitor” has become a facile cry.
Danny Danon, a former deputy defense minister who is challenging Netanyahu for
the Likud leadership, told me his long-term vision for the West Bank, or Judea
and Samaria as he calls it, “is to have sovereignty over the majority of the
land with the minimum amount of Palestinians.” The two-state idea, Danon said,
“is finished, and most Israelis understand that.”
In fact the two-state idea is alive but ever more tenuous. It is compatible with
an Israel true to its founding principles. It is incompatible with an Israel
bent on Jewish supremacy and annexation of all or most of the land between the
Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. It can be resurrected, because there is
no plausible alternative, despite the fact that almost a half-century of
dominion over another people has produced ever greater damage, distrust and
division. It can be buried only at the expense of Israel as a Jewish and
democratic state, for no democracy can indefinitely control the lives of
millions of disenfranchised people — and that is what many Palestinians are.
“This election is a critical juncture,” said Ofer Kenig, a political analyst.
“We have to choose between being a Zionist and liberal nation, or turning into
an ethnocentric, nationalist country. I am concerned about the direction in
which this delicate democracy is heading.”
A child of 9 in Gaza has memories of three wars in six years. The child may
stand in the remains of the Shejaiya neighborhood in eastern Gaza City, gazing
at tangles of iron rods, mountains of stone, jagged outcrops of masonry, and air
thick with dust. The child may wonder what force it is that wrought such
destruction, so repetitively, and why. It is safe to say that the adult this
Palestinian child will one day become does not bode well for Israel. The child
has no need for indoctrination in hatred.
I was there the other day, in the rubble. Children stood around. I chatted with
the Harara family, whose houses were flattened during the 50-day war with Israel
that began this summer. Every day Mustafa Harara, 47, comes to gaze at the
cratered vestige of his house. He asks where else he should go. It took him 26
years to build. It took five minutes for Israel to demolish it. The reason is
unclear. He is no Hamas militant. His electricity business, located in the same
area, was also destroyed.
Since the war, he has received nothing, despite the billions for reconstruction
pledged by gulf states and others. In June, President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a
new government that grew out of the reconciliation pact his Palestine Liberation
Organization had signed with Hamas. There is no unity and, in effect, no
government in Gaza.
The Egyptian border is closed. Movement through the Israeli border amounts to a
minimal trickle. Israeli surveillance balloons hover in airspace controlled by
Israel. The 140-square-mile area is little better than an open-air prison. As
incubators for violent extremism go, it is hard to imagine a more effective
setting than Gaza.
Abbas has not visited since the war broke out. To come after such suffering
would have been courageous; not to was craven. Now he is regarded as a stranger
by most of the 1.8 million inhabitants of Gaza, the absent father of a nation in
desperate need. “Abbas is the one who destroyed us,” Harara says. “What
reconciliation? You cannot mix gasoline and diesel.”
This is the abject Palestinian reality behind the speeches about new paradigms,
internationalization of the conflict, United Nations resolutions and the like.
The legitimate Palestinian quest for statehood is undermined by debilitating
division that Abbas is either unable or unwilling to address. In January, he
will have been in power for a decade. He shows no sign of organizing the
election needed to confer legitimacy on his rule or to reveal the real power
balance in Palestinian politics. The citizens of Gaza represent a significant
proportion of Palestinians in the Holy Land. How the Palestinian push for
statehood can be effective without real unity and the painful compromises
between Fatah and Hamas needed to achieve it is a mystery. Surely it is Job 1.
Everyone in Gaza seems to expect another war. “We are dying slowly, so why not
die quickly?” is a common refrain. People seem dazed. There is, quite literally,
no way out.
Lutfi Harara, the younger brother of Mustafa, whose home was also destroyed,
took me to see the little house with a corrugated iron roof he had cobbled
together since the war. He showed me photographs of Haifa, his memories of the
Israel where he used to work as an electrician before divisions hardened. From
rockets and artillery shells found in the rubble of his home, he has fashioned
lamps and a vase and a heavy bell dangling from an olive tree — his version of
swords into plowshares, and the one hopeful thing I saw in Gaza.
FROM his home I went to see a hard-line Hamas leader, Mahmoud
Zahar. He lambasted Abbas — “he is living on stories” — and told me to forget
about a two-state compromise at or near the 1967 lines. “Israel will be
eliminated because it is a foreign body that does not belong to our area, or
history or religion,” he said. Referring to Israeli Jews, he continued, “Why
should they come from Ethiopia, or Poland, or America? There are six million in
Palestine, O.K., take them. America is very wide. You can make a new district
for the Jews.”
Zahar, with his hatred, is almost 70. Abbas will be 80 in March. Many
Palestinians in their 20s and 30s whom I spoke to in Gaza are sick of sterile
threats, incompetence and the cycle of war.
“There is no such thing as a happy compromise,” Amos Oz told me. “Israelis and
Palestinians cannot become one happy family because they are not one, not happy
and not family either. They are two unhappy families who must divide a small
house into even smaller apartments.” The first step, he said, is to “sign peace
with clenched teeth, and after signing the contract, start working slowly on a
gradual emotional de-escalation on both sides.”
Israel is a remarkable and vibrant democratic society that is facing an impasse.
It must decide whether to tough it out on a nationalist road that must lead
eventually to annexation of at least wide areas of the West Bank, or whether to
return to the ideals of the Zionists who accepted the 1947 United Nations
partition of Mandate Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab (the
Arabs did not accept the division and embarked on the first of several losing
wars aimed at destroying Israel).
This election constitutes a pivotal moment. Herzog told me, “We are not willing
to accept that mothers and fathers on the other side don’t want peace. They also
want it, and I understand that they have a lack of hope just like here.” He
smiled, as a thought occurred to him. “You know, I would be very happy to visit
my mother’s birthplace in Egypt as prime minister.”
You can follow me on Twitter or join me on Facebook.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on December 21, 2014, on page SR1 of
the New York edition with the headline: What Will Israel Become?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become a ritualistic
obscenity. It offends the conscience of humankind. The Oslo accords are dead.
The “peace process” initiated through them is a farce. It is time to rethink
In Gaza, an open-air prison for 1.8 million people, more than 300 children are
dead, killed in the almost month-long Israeli bombardment. Each of those
children has a name, a family. Several were killed in the recent shelling of a
United Nations school, an act that the United States called “disgraceful.” The
many civilian casualties in Gaza cannot be waved away as the “human shields” of
Hamas. They were not human shields; they were human beings. When the guns die
down, Israel will begin a difficult accounting.
But, yes, Hamas used these human beings, used them in the sense that the
organization has no objective in the real world. Israel, which it says it is
bent on annihilating, is not going away. Hamas manipulates and subjugates the
Palestinians it governs in the name of a lost cause. To send rockets into Israel
is to invite a certain response whose result, over time, is to reinforce a
culture of paralyzing Palestinian victimhood. Hamas is criminal. It is criminal
in its sacrifice of the Palestinian national cause to a fantasy, in its refusal
to accept the Palestine Liberation Organization’s recognition of Israel’s right
“to exist in peace and security,” in its determination to kill Jews, and in its
willingness to see the blood of its people shed for nothing.
A Jewish homeland was voted into existence by United Nations Resolution 181 of
1947 calling for the creation of two states in the Holy Land, one Jewish and one
Arab. That homeland was defended through Arab-initiated wars aimed at reversing
the world’s post-Holocaust mandate. Israel’s existence is irreversible. It is
grounded in that U.N. decision, won on the battlefield, expressed in the forging
of a vibrant society; and it represents the rightful resolution of the long
Jewish saga of exclusion and persecution.
Except that the resolution is incomplete. Israel’s denial of a Palestinian
state, its 47-year occupation of the West Bank, its highly “capricious control
regime” (in the words of the former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad)
over the lives of Palestinians, its expansion of settlements — all this creates
an unacceptable “status quo” in which every lull is pregnant with violence. The
occupation must end one day. Without two states Israel will lurch from one
self-inflicted wound to the next, growing ever angrier with its neighbors and a
restive world from which it feels alienated.
With nearly 2,000 dead, including 64 Israeli soldiers, the victors of this
latest Gaza mini-war are apparently Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and Hamas. Support for Netanyahu is overwhelming. A vast majority of Israelis
back his actions; many believe he has not gone far enough. Hamas, meanwhile, has
hurt Israel; it has endured; it has exercised command-and-control under
prolonged attack; it has embodied Palestinian resistance.
But these are Pyrrhic victories. Deeper currents are at work. Surely even
Netanyahu must take from this horrific episode the conviction that something
must change. He has long pooh-poohed peace. He compared Yitzhak Rabin to Neville
Chamberlain, and Israelis somehow forgave him. He came very late and very lamely
to the idea of two states for two peoples, only to set impossible conditions for
that goal, undermine moderate Palestinians, and waste U.S. mediators’ time.
He seized a few months ago on the formation of a Hamas-Fatah unity government to
say “the pact with Hamas kills peace.” Now Netanyahu would like nothing more
than for the Palestinian Authority, representing the Fatah faction, to take
control of Gaza. In effect he would like the Palestinian unity he lambasted to
work. He knows demilitarization of Gaza, the stated Israeli objective, can only
be attained by remilitarizing it with an Israeli tank on every corner. Nobody
wants that. Israel is already running the lives of enough Palestinians — or
As for Hamas, its victory is also illusory, adrenalin before the fall. It can
offer its people nothing. The place to start now is with ending the divisions in
the Palestinian movement that the unity government papered over — Gaza first,
instead of West Bank first. A Palestinian national consensus is the prerequisite
for anything, including the rebuilding and opening-up of Gaza.
Real reconciliation can only come on the basis of an ironclad commitment to
nonviolence and to holding of free and fair elections, the first since 2006.
Good Palestinian governance, unity and nonviolence constitute the path to making
a free state of Palestine irrefutable. The longer Hamas fights this, the greater
its betrayal of its people.
Netanyahu has fought Palestinian statehood all his life. But it is the only way
out of his labyrinth. In the end his sound bites yield to reality. That reality
is bitter indeed.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on August 6, 2014,
in The International New York Times.
My great-grandfather’s brother, Michael Adler, was a
distinguished rabbi who in 1916 compiled the “Prayer Book for Jewish Sailors and
Soldiers” at the front during World War I. As “chaplain,” he toured battlefields
administering last rites. At the end of the war he asked if British Jews had
done their duty.
“Did those British citizens of the House of Israel to whom equality of rights
and equality of opportunity were granted by the State some sixty years ago, did
these men and women do their duty in the ordeal of battle?” he wrote. “Our
answer is a clear and unmistakable YES! English Jews have every reason to be
satisfied with the degree of their participation both at home and on the
battlefronts in the struggle for victory. Let the memory of our sacred dead —
who number over 2,300 — testify to this.”
The question for European Jewry was always the same: belonging. Be they French
or German, they worried, even in their emancipation, that the Christian
societies that had half-accepted them would turn on them. Theodor Herzl,
witnessing French anti-Semitism during the Dreyfus case, wrote “The Jewish
State” in 1896 out of the conviction that full acceptance for the Jews would
Herzl was prescient. Zionism was born of a reluctant conclusion: that Jews
needed a homeland because no other place would ever be home. Scrawny scholars
would become vigorous tillers of the soil in the Holy Land. Jews would never
again go meekly to the slaughter.
The ravages of European nonacceptance endure. I see within my own family how the
disappearance of a Jewish woman grabbed by Nazis on the streets of Krakow in
1941 can devour her descendants. I understand the rage of an Israeli, Naomi
Ragen, whose words were forwarded by a cousin: “And I think of the rest of
Europe, who rounded up our grandparents and great-grandparents, and relatives —
men, women and children — and sent them off to be gassed, no questions asked.
And I think: They are now the moral arbiters of the free world? They are telling
the descendants of the people they murdered how to behave when other
anti-Semites want to kill them?”
Those anti-Semites would be Hamas, raining terror on Israel, whose annihilation
they seek. No state, goes the Israeli case, would not respond with force to such
provocation. If there are more than 1,000 Palestinian deaths (including 200
children), and more than 50 Israeli deaths, Israel argues, it is the fault of
Hamas, for whom Palestinian victims are the most powerful anti-Israeli argument
in the court of world opinion.
I am a Zionist because the story of my forebears convinces me that Jews needed
the homeland voted into existence by United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947,
calling for the establishment of two states — one Jewish, one Arab — in Mandate
Palestine. I am a Zionist who believes in the words of Israel’s founding charter
of 1948 declaring that the nascent state would be based “on freedom, justice and
peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”
What I cannot accept, however, is the perversion of Zionism that has seen the
inexorable growth of a Messianic Israeli nationalism claiming all the land
between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; that has, for almost a
half-century now, produced the systematic oppression of another people in the
West Bank; that has led to the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on the
very West Bank land of any Palestinian state; that isolates moderate
Palestinians like Salam Fayyad in the name of divide-and-rule; that pursues
policies that will make it impossible to remain a Jewish and democratic state;
that seeks tactical advantage rather than the strategic breakthrough of a
two-state peace; that blockades Gaza with 1.8 million people locked in its
prison and is then surprised by the periodic eruptions of the inmates; and that
responds disproportionately to attack in a way that kills hundreds of children.
This, as a Zionist, I cannot accept. Jews, above all people, know what
oppression is. Children over millennia were the transmission belt of Jewish
survival, the object of what the Israeli novelist Amos Oz and his daughter Fania
Oz-Salzberger have called “the intergenerational quizzing that ensures the
passing of the torch.” No argument, no Palestinian outrage or subterfuge, can
gloss over what Jewish failure the killing of children in such numbers
The Israeli case for the bombardment of Gaza could be foolproof. If Benjamin
Netanyahu had made a good-faith effort to find common cause with Palestinian
moderates for peace and been rebuffed, it would be. He has not. Hamas is vile. I
would happily see it destroyed. But Hamas is also the product of a situation
that Israel has reinforced rather than sought to resolve.
This corrosive Israeli exercise in the control of another people, breeding the
contempt of the powerful for the oppressed, is a betrayal of the Zionism in
which I still believe.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 30, 2014,
in The International New York Times.
November 29, 2012
The New York Times
By ETHAN BRONNER
and CHRISTINE HAUSER
UNITED NATIONS — More than 130 countries voted on Thursday to
upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state of the United Nations, a triumph
for Palestinian diplomacy and a sharp rebuke to the United States and Israel.
But the vote, at least for now, did little to bring either the Palestinians or
the Israelis closer to the goal they claim to seek: two states living side by
side, or increased Palestinian unity. Israel and the militant group Hamas both
responded critically to the day’s events, though for different reasons.
The new status will give the Palestinians more tools to challenge Israel in
international legal forums for its occupation activities in the West Bank,
including settlement-building, and it helped bolster the Palestinian Authority,
weakened after eight days of battle between its rival Hamas and Israel.
But even as a small but determined crowd of 2,000 celebrated in central Ramallah
in the West Bank, waving flags and dancing, there was an underlying sense of
“I hope this is good,” said Munir Shafie, 36, an electrical engineer who was
there. “But how are we going to benefit?”
Still, the General Assembly vote — 138 countries in favor, 9 opposed and 41
abstaining — showed impressive backing for the Palestinians at a difficult time.
It was taken on the 65th anniversary of the vote to divide the former British
mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, a vote Israel
considers the international seal of approval for its birth.
The past two years of Arab uprisings have marginalized the Palestinian cause to
some extent as nations that focused their political aspirations on the
Palestinian struggle have turned inward. The vote on Thursday, coming so soon
after the Gaza fighting, put the Palestinians again — if briefly, perhaps — at
the center of international discussion.
“The question is, where do we go from here and what does it mean?” Salam Fayyad,
the Palestinian prime minister, who was in New York for the vote, said in an
interview. “The sooner the tough rhetoric of this can subside and the more this
is viewed as a logical consequence of many years of failure to move the process
forward, the better.” He said nothing would change without deep American
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, speaking to the assembly’s
member nations, said, “The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a
birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine,” and he condemned
what he called Israeli racism and colonialism. His remarks seemed aimed in part
at Israel and in part at Hamas. But both quickly attacked him for the parts they
“The world watched a defamatory and venomous speech that was full of mendacious
propaganda against the Israel Defense Forces and the citizens of Israel,” Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel responded. “Someone who wants peace does
not talk in such a manner.”
While Hamas had officially backed the United Nations bid of Mr. Abbas, it
quickly criticized his speech because the group does not recognize Israel.
“There are controversial issues in the points that Abbas raised, and Hamas has
the right to preserve its position over them,” said Salah al-Bardaweel, a
spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, on Thursday.
“We do not recognize Israel, nor the partition of Palestine, and Israel has no
right in Palestine,” he added. “Getting our membership in the U.N. bodies is our
natural right, but without giving up any inch of Palestine’s soil.”
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, spoke after Mr. Abbas and
said he was concerned that the Palestinian Authority failed to recognize Israel
for what it is.
“Three months ago, Israel’s prime minister stood in this very hall and extended
his hand in peace to President Abbas,” Mr. Prosor said. “He reiterated that his
goal was to create a solution of two states for two peoples, where a
demilitarized Palestinian state will recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“That’s right. Two states for two peoples. In fact, President Abbas, I did not
hear you use the phrase ‘two states for two peoples’ this afternoon. In fact, I
have never heard you say the phrase ‘two states for two peoples’ because the
Palestinian leadership has never recognized that Israel is the nation-state of
the Jewish people.”
The Israelis also say that the fact that Mr. Abbas is not welcome in Gaza, the
Palestinian coastal enclave run by Hamas, from which he was ejected five years
ago, shows that there is no viable Palestinian leadership living up to its
As expected, the vote won backing from a number of European countries, and was a
rebuff to intense American and Israeli diplomacy. France, Spain, Italy and
Switzerland all voted yes. Britain and Germany abstained. Apart from Canada, no
major country joined the United States and Israel in voting no. The other
opponents included Palau, Panama and Micronesia.
Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, was dismissive of
the entire exercise. “Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade,” she said.
“And the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about
their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only
A major concern for the Americans is that the Palestinians may use their new
status to try to join the International Criminal Court. That prospect
particularly worries the Israelis, who fear that the Palestinians may press for
an investigation of their practices in the occupied territories widely viewed as
violations of international law.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said that after the vote “life
will not be the same” because “Palestine will become a country under
“The terms of reference for any negotiations become withdrawal,” Mr. Erekat
Another worry is that the Palestinians may use the vote to seek membership in
specialized agencies of the United Nations, a move that could have consequences
for the financing of the international organizations as well as the Palestinian
Authority itself. Congress cut off financing to the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization, known as Unesco, in 2011 after it accepted
Palestine as a member. The United States is a major contributor to many of these
agencies and is active on their governing boards.
In response to the Palestinian bid, a bipartisan group of senators said Thursday
that they would introduce legislation that would cut off foreign aid to the
authority if it tried to use the International Criminal Court against Israel,
and close the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington if
Palestinians refused to negotiate with Israel.
Calling the Palestinian bid “an unhealthy step that could undermine the peace
process,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said that he and
the other senators, including Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, would be
closely monitoring the situation.
The vote came shortly after an eight-day Israeli military assault on Gaza that
Israel described as a response to stepped-up rocket fire into Israel. The
operation killed scores of Palestinians and was aimed at reducing the arsenal of
Hamas in Gaza, part of the territory that the United Nations resolution expects
to make up a future state of Palestine.
The Palestinian Authority, based in Ramallah, was politically weakened by the
Gaza fighting, with its rivals in Hamas seen by many Palestinians as more
willing to stand up to Israel and fight back. That shift in sentiment is one
reason that some Western countries gave for backing the United Nations
resolution, to strengthen Mr. Abbas and his more moderate colleagues in their
contest with Hamas.
Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting from Washington,
November 14, 2012
The New York Times
By ROBERT F. WORTH
When Ronald Neumann began his Foreign Service career in the
early 1970s, he sometimes carried a pistol to protect himself. It was a
reasonable precaution. American diplomats in those days lived without benefit of
blast walls or security advisers, even in volatile countries, and consulates
were at times housed on the ground floors of apartment buildings, with local
families living on the upper stories. Neumann worked with a freedom that is
scarcely imaginable for many diplomats today; he could go anywhere, by himself,
and talk to anyone. In the early ’80s, when he was the deputy mission chief in
Yemen, Neumann got wind of a threat to burn down the embassy building in the
capital, Sana. The Arab world was in turmoil at the time, after an Israeli
invasion of Lebanon and months of mounting violence. Much of the anger was
directed at Americans. The embassy was easily accessible to any passer-by, an
ordinary house in a residential neighborhood with no police protection. But
Neumann — whose boss was out of the country at the time — did not close it down.
Then things became more serious: there were rumors that angry Palestinians in
Sana were planning to attack Neumann’s house. Neumann, a taciturn Vietnam
veteran, took it in stride. “I brought a shotgun home from the embassy and
locked the front gate,” Neumann told me. “My wife asked me if there was anything
else we could do. I told her no. So she said, ‘In that case I’ve got some
curtains I’ve been meaning to wash; I might as well do it now.’ I remember
thinking, This is probably how they handled it when the Indian raids went down
in the old West; just stay inside and mend the saddles.”
Three decades later, after serving as an ambassador in three countries, Neumann
found himself marveling at how much his profession has changed. “The dangers
have gotten worse, but the change is partly psychological,” he told me. “There’s
less willingness among our political leaders to accept risks, and all that has
driven us into the bunker.”
Nothing illustrated those changes better than the death of J. Christopher
Stevens, after an assault by jihadis on the U.S. mission in Benghazi on Sept.
11. Stevens was a brave and thoughtful diplomat who, like Neumann, lived to
engage with ordinary people in the countries where he served, to get past the
wire. Yet his death was treated as a scandal, and it set off a political storm
that seems likely to tie the hands of American diplomats around the world for
some time to come. Congressmen and Washington pundits accused the administration
of concealing the dangers Americans face abroad and of failing Stevens by
providing inadequate security. Threats had been ignored, the critics said,
seemingly unaware that a background noise of threats is constant at embassies
across the greater Middle East. The death of an ambassador would not be seen as
the occasional price of a noble but risky profession; someone had to be blamed.
Lost in all this partisan wrangling was the fact that American diplomacy has
already undergone vast changes in the past few decades and is now so heavily
encumbered by fortresslike embassies, body armor and motorcades that it is
almost unrecognizable. In 1985 there were about 150 security officers in U.S.
embassies abroad, and now there are about 900. That does not include the
military officers and advisers, whose presence in many embassies — especially in
the Middle East — can change the atmosphere. Security has gone from a marginal
concern to the very heart of American interactions with other countries.
The barriers are there for a reason: Stevens’s death attests to that, as do
those of Americans in Beirut, Baghdad and other violent places. But the reaction
to the attack in Benghazi crystallized a sense among many diplomats that risks
are less acceptable in Washington than they once were, that the mantra of
“security” will only grow louder. As a result, some of the country’s most
distinguished former ambassadors are now asking anew what diplomacy can achieve
at such a remove.
“No one has sat back to say, ‘What are our objectives?’ ” said Prudence
Bushnell, who was ambassador to Kenya when the Qaeda bombing took place there in
1998, killing more than 200 people and injuring 4,000. “The model has become, we
will go to dangerous places and transform them, and we will do it from secure
fortresses. And it doesn’t work.”
When Chris Stevens was growing up in Northern California, American diplomats
organized their own security, for the most part. “Back then, you would exercise
your own judgment on what was dangerous, and plenty of guys were excited by the
risks,” said Richard Murphy, a retired diplomat who began his Foreign Service
career in 1955 and was ambassador to four countries. The term “terrorist” had
not yet acquired its modern force, nor had the idea that American diplomats
should not talk to certain unsavory groups. You were meant to talk to everyone.
One evening in 1962, Murphy was at the American Consulate in Aleppo, Syria, when
he heard about a coup attempt by military officers. It was a volatile time in
Syria; Murphy witnessed two other coups, with a revolving cast of generals and
revolutionaries. This time, there were large demonstrations. His bosses wanted
the Syrian authorities to provide reassurance that American citizens living in
the area would not be caught up in the conflict. So Murphy got into his car,
alone, and drove to the Aleppo Police Headquarters. There he found a scene of
chaos, with armed Syrian commandos shouting at one another. He recognized an
officer he knew lying dead on the floor. “The Syrians were not amused,” Murphy
recalled dryly. “They told me to get out of there.”
Even in the midst of the Lebanese civil war, diplomats in the field were free to
handle safety as they saw fit. On Sept. 18, 1982, Ryan Crocker, then the
33-year-old political section chief at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, drove to the
Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in southwest Beirut, where Christian militia
fighters had carried out a mass slaughter of Palestinians. “There was no
security, no nothing,” he told me. “That’s when I discovered what a massacre
looked like.” There were hundreds of bodies strewed on the ground inside the
camps, many of them mutilated; some had been booby-trapped with explosives. The
next day Crocker was asked to go back for a detailed body count. He drove to the
camps again, without a bodyguard. “No one gave it a second thought at that
time,” Crocker told me. “It was just what you did.”
That was about to change. Seven months later, on April 18, Crocker was in his
office at the embassy, making phone calls about the continuing security concerns
of Palestinian refugees. He was about to walk downstairs for lunch when a
tremendous blast knocked him across the room. He picked himself up off the
floor, scratched and dazed but unhurt, and opened the door of his office.
“Instead of looking at the suite of offices across the hall,” Crocker told me,
“I was looking out at the Mediterranean.”
The entire front of the building had been sheared off, and Crocker’s colleagues
in the neighboring office were dead. The bomb, delivered by a suicidal zealot in
a truck packed with explosives, killed 63 people, including most of the C.I.A.’s
Beirut staff and its top Middle East analyst. More bombings followed: at the
U.S. Marines’ Beirut barracks, where 241 servicemen died, and at the U.S.
Embassy again the following year. The bombings were an unprecedented blow to the
Foreign Service, and they reverberated in Congress.
One direct result of the attacks was the adoption of new standards for U.S.
embassies abroad: they were to have a 100-foot setback from the perimeter wall
to the building, along with barriers, blast-resistant materials and far more
restricted access. They were often removed to antiseptic suburbs, far from the
city centers where diplomats needed to be. I remember seeing an Arabic cartoon
produced years later that showed two tiny figures standing near the gate of a
towering fortress with an American flag on top. “How do you enter the U.S.
Embassy?” one figure asks. “You can’t,” the other replies. “You have to be born
Along with the new buildings came armies of security officers, who would
accompany American diplomats and advise them on what was safe and what was not.
They became an intrinsic part of the embassies’ engagement with host countries,
helping to determine who could go where and whom they could meet with.
“Before the Beirut bombings, we were prepared to take a substantially greater
risk than we did later,” Crocker told me. “You have to remember that ’83 was not
the first time we’d lost diplomats. I was an ambassador six times, and three of
my predecessors were assassinated. It was the cost of doing business in
dangerous zones. Congress accepted it; the public accepted it. The top priority
was getting the job done.”
By the time I became a foreign correspondent in 2003, the “Fortress America”
model was entrenched. In Lebanon, where I lived for several years, the U.S.
Embassy had long since moved to a well-guarded compound in the hills a half-hour
north of Beirut. In some ways it seemed more like a prison; diplomats based
there could not leave without advance permission, and when they did, they were
often surrounded by guards. Most journalists scarcely bothered to talk to them,
because we assumed they knew the country far less well than we did. It was not
quite so bad in other countries. But the U.S. Embassies in Yemen, Saudi Arabia
and, of course, Iraq, were so formidable that even I felt unwelcome visiting
them. British and European diplomats sometimes seemed more conversant with the
local culture than the Americans, despite their much smaller staffs and
In every post, I found dedicated and thoughtful American diplomats who knew the
country well and got out to meet people regularly (one of them was Chris
Stevens, whom I met in 2007). But many of them told me they had to put enormous
effort into overcoming the obstacles created by so many layers of protection.
All the ambassadors I spoke with said they had good working relationships with
the security chiefs, and they were grateful for their help in understanding
risks. But more junior diplomats told me the security officers exercised a
subtle influence on all kinds of decisions. “They don’t want to say yes because
it’s easier to say no,” one midlevel diplomat told me. “We all fight this battle
every day. My first thought on hearing about Chris Stevens’s death — aside from
the sadness — was that this is going to make it even harder for us.” Several
diplomats told me that if the security constraints get worse, they will consider
Outside the Middle East, the rules have shifted more slowly. Prudence Bushnell,
who became a deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs in 1993,
told me she roamed around the continent with little fear for her safety. “I
would go to warlords and tell them to knock it off,” she said. “I didn’t ask for
security. I was in Rwanda just before it blew up, and just afterward. No
security. The F.B.I. wanted to bring in guns, and I told them they were crazy.”
That changed on Aug. 7, 1998, when Al Qaeda operatives detonated a huge bomb
outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. Bushnell, who was then ambassador to Kenya,
was in a meeting with the Kenyan trade minister in a building next door. She was
knocked unconscious by the force of the blast and cut by shards of flying glass.
The bomb had shattered the lightly guarded embassy and left hundreds of mangled
bodies across a smoking landscape. Most of the victims were Kenyans. After being
treated by a doctor in a nearby hotel, Bushnell began supervising recovery
efforts. Her grief was mixed with deep anger: she had repeatedly asked
Washington to move the large and vulnerable downtown Nairobi embassy and
reported credible threats, including one that warned of a truck bomb. She had
even written a personal letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright,
Bushnell told me, urging her to do something.
Yet Bushnell, like other veteran diplomats who have witnessed some of the worst
horrors inflicted on Americans overseas, now wonders whether the reaction has
gone too far, leaving diplomats overseas at the mercy of Washington’s shifting
priorities. “I think we need to sit down and figure out, How do we do this?” she
told me. “We are in a new situation that requires a flexibility the State
Department doesn’t have.”
Barbara Bodine, who was the U.S. ambassador to Yemen during the Qaeda bombing of
the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, told me she believes that much of the security American
diplomats are forced to travel with is counterproductive. “There’s this idea
that if we just throw more security guys at the problem, it will go away,” she
said. “These huge convoys they force you to travel in, with a bristling personal
security detail, give you the illusion of security, not real security. They just
draw a lot of attention and make you a target. It’s better to fly under the
To some extent, the increasingly militarized trappings reflect a more aggressive
posture: the United States now maintains a diplomatic presence in war zones like
Afghanistan and Iraq that might once have been seen as too dangerous for an
embassy. In the past, Washington instituted “tripwires” of deteriorating safety
that were supposed to compel an evacuation. “When in doubt, pull them out” was
an old State Department refrain. The United States pulled out of Afghanistan in
1989, after it descended into civil war and anarchy, and did not return until
2002. It pulled out of Somalia in 1992, after the collapse of the government
there, and has not returned. But in practice, the tripwires are ignored when
there is a compelling political reason to stay. And nowhere more so than when
the United States military is an occupying force.
Some argue that diplomacy and “soft power” are almost meaningless under such
conditions. Diplomats may be useful in gathering intelligence, but that is not
their primary purpose. For years, critics of the U.S. missions in Afghanistan
have been arguing that the billions of dollars spent there, and the noble
efforts to improve the lives of women, may prove wasted once the military is
withdrawn. “We’re still living as if it were the 19th century, where governments
control their territories and can guarantee the safety of a diplomatic mission,”
Bushnell said. “But in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, that is not true. If
you can’t influence, you leave.”
Chris Stevens was not a rebel or a Lawrence of Arabia, as some people suggested
after his death. He did not break the rules or fight with the security officers
who kept watch over him. He was a skilled and thoughtful diplomat, and like many
others, he chafed against some of the restrictions placed on him. He had an
unusual gift for empathy, according to his friends and colleagues, and that
allowed him to talk to people without seeming to pass judgment. It was a
valuable skill for an American working in a region where American policy often
inspires deep resentment. “Many American diplomats tend to stick to their own
community, at least socially, but Chris really sought out non-American
foreigners in Israel, and wanted to hear their point of view,” said Jonas Jolle,
a Norwegian diplomat who worked in Jerusalem when Stevens was posted there from
2003 to 2006. “Chris always listened enthusiastically, and everyone felt he was
on their side. This made him seem different to Arabs, even though he never
criticized Bush administration policy. Chris was one of the few diplomats I’ve
known who I really looked up to.”
When Stevens was named special envoy to Libya in April 2011, it was something of
a homecoming. He had spent two years there, from 2007 to 2009, a crowning moment
of a two-decade diplomatic career that had taken him to Syria, Saudi Arabia,
Egypt and Israel. So he was thrilled when he found himself climbing the gangway
onto a Greek cargo ship bound for Benghazi in early April 2011. It was a trip
that became almost legendary, both for the Libyans who came to love him and for
the myth that enveloped him after he died. The ship, crewed by crusty Greek and
Romanian sailors, was far from luxurious: Stevens shared a bunk bed with a
junior officer in a closet-size room. They soon found their toilet was broken,
emitting foul bilge-water smells as the ship rolled on the Mediterranean. They
were headed for a war zone, a city where Qaddafi sleeper cells and jihadists
lurked in the streets. Their assignment, to act as liaison to the rebels, was
wildly unorthodox by State Department standards; the new government was in
disarray, and no one knew how the war would end. But Stevens was in heaven. “He
found it romantic,” one of his colleagues on the ship told me. “It was an
adventure; he said we were like 19th-century diplomats, who sailed to their
Stevens was not naïve. He had three decades of experience in the Middle East and
knew Libya as well as any American. He spoke the Libyan dialect of Arabic
fluently. He did not relish danger for its own sake. But in some ways, he really
was sailing back to an earlier era, when American diplomats were less tied down.
In Benghazi, Stevens and his team became de facto participants in a revolution.
They moved into the Tibesti Hotel, a 15-story tower overlooking a fetid lagoon,
where the lobby was a constant, promiscuous churn of rumors and frenzied
meetings among gunmen, journalists and spies. Unlike all his previous posts,
there was no embassy to enclose him. His room then was a dilapidated sixth-floor
suite full of gaudy gilded furniture and a four-poster bed; he seemed amused to
know that Abdullah el-Senussi, Qaddafi’s right-hand man, had often stayed there.
Stevens reveled in his freedom. He met people in their homes, ate with them on
the floor, Arab-style; cellphone photos were taken and quickly shot around the
Internet. He went running every morning and often stopped to chat with people on
the street, to the dismay of the security officer who ran alongside him. In
August, after a top rebel commander was killed by Islamists, Stevens drove out
to eastern Libya’s tribal heartland and spent hours sitting on the beach with
five elders of the Harabi tribe. The men ate grilled lamb and talked in Arabic,
sipping tea. Stevens did not push them for answers. He was building connections
that would pay off someday. “Chris said Benghazi was his favorite posting ever,”
said his friend Jennifer Larson, who later served as his deputy in Benghazi when
Stevens became ambassador this spring. “He was very, very happy.”
In the rush to assign blame after Stevens’s death, it was largely overlooked
that Stevens, as the top-ranking diplomat in Libya by that point, was the one
responsible for making final decisions about what kind of security was
appropriate there, how to use it and what qualified as safe and unsafe. He
decided to make the fateful trip from the embassy in Tripoli back to Benghazi in
September. That does not mean he was reckless. He knew the situation there far
better than any of the people who have commented on it since his death. He knew
that Libya’s government was both weak and politically sensitive; he had to weigh
his own safety against the risk of looking like an occupier.
In early September, Stevens’s girlfriend, Henriette von Kaltenborn-Stachau, flew
to Kabul for work. It was a routine trip, but Stevens was worried about her. “In
his last e-mail to me, he said, ‘I hope you will be safe in Afghanistan, that’s
the most important thing,’ ” she told me. “He never took danger lightly.”
Stevens and von Kaltenborn-Stachau had been involved for almost a decade, on and
off, though their careers prevented them being together as much as they wanted.
On the night of Sept. 11, von Kaltenborn-Stachau told me, she had a frightening
dream about Stevens. “In the dream, he was in a dark place, being pulled away
from me,” she said. “He didn’t want to go. I didn’t want him to go, but
something was pulling him away. I woke up, and saw the news from Benghazi.”
Two days after Stevens died, his body and those of the three other Americans
killed in the Benghazi attack arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, outside
Washington. As the families of the dead walked into a vast airplane hangar where
800 people were gathered, it was perfectly silent. “All you could hear was our
footsteps,” says Anne Stevens, Chris’s younger sister, a pediatrician in
Seattle. Four flag-draped coffins were carried in and laid on black tables. A
military band played “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” At one point during the
ceremony, Stevens’s mother, Mary Commanday, began to cry softly. President Obama
sat down next to her and offered her his handkerchief. During his speech, Obama
declared that the United States “will never retreat from the world.”
On the morning after Stevens’s death, Anne was the first family member Hillary
Clinton was able to reach by phone. She listened as Clinton explained what had
happened, and waited until there was silence on the other end of the line.
“Don’t let this stop the work he was doing,” his sister said.
Robert F. Worth is a staff writer for the magazine. He last wrote about a
Louisiana pastor turned atheist.
The New York Times
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
NATIONS — Evidently heedless of American attempts to engineer a thaw in
Turkish-Israeli relations, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey used
his appearance before the annual General Assembly on Thursday to enumerate a
long list of grievances with Israel, a former regional ally.
Mr. Erdogan was the second major Middle Eastern leader addressing the General
Assembly, with the widespread focus on the region’s most intractable problem,
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, due to culminate Friday with speeches by Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the
Representatives of the so-called quartet — the United States, the United
Nations, the European Union and Russia — were still trying late Thursday to
reach an agreement on a statement about moving peace negotiations forward,
intended to counterbalance the controversial proposal for United Nations
membership that Mr. Abbas has vowed to present. The future of the Quartet could
be at risk, some diplomats suggested, with the Americans and the Europeans,
close to an agreement, ready to abandon the other two members and issue a
statement by themselves. It could go down to the very moment after the Netanyahu
and Abbas speeches, the diplomats said.
At the General Assembly, a couple of hours before Mr. Erdogan spoke, Iran’s
president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, delivered one of his characteristic anti-Western
broadsides, embroidered with tinges of religious mysticism. He blamed the United
States, Israel and Europe for the global recession and a list of other ills.
He also suggested that the American military’s killing of Osama bin Laden last
May and the disposal of his body at sea were part of a dark conspiracy to
conceal the real perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks provoked what has become a ritual large-scale walkout
of delegations, led by the United States.
Mr. Erdogan, describing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a “bleeding wound”
that the international community can no longer accept, accused Israel of
thwarting all attempts to solve the problem. From nuclear weapons to control of
the occupied territories to humanitarian aid, Mr. Erdogan said, Israel has
contradicted the wishes and norms of the rest of the world.
“If you want to send a box of tomatoes to Palestine, this is subject to approval
from Israel, and I don’t think that is humanitarian,” Mr. Erdogan said,
suggesting that the new spirit of change in the Middle East meant Israel could
no longer continue to foster strife.
The Turkish leader repeated a drumbeat of accusations against the Israelis that
he has leveled for months, and there was no immediate reaction from Israel.
The tension is rooted in differences over the Gaza Strip, particularly a May
2010 raid by the Israeli military on a Turkish-organized flotilla trying to run
the Gaza blockade, which left eight Turks and a Turkish-American dead. Turkey
rejected a United Nations report that found the blockade legal but said Israel
had used excessive force.
Mr. Erdogan’s veiled threats to take action against joint efforts by Israel and
Cyprus over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean did elicit a response
from Demetris Christofias, the president of Cyprus, divided into hostile Turkish
and Greek halves. He called Turkish naval maneuvers in the area “provocative and
a real danger for further complications in the region.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad, appearing before the General Assembly for the seventh year in a
row, said poverty, homelessness and denial of basic rights were traceable to
“greed for materialism in the United States and Europe.”
Iran has been estranged from the United States since the Islamic Revolution more
than 30 years ago, and Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech has become something of a
signature event at the annual session. There were no surprises in either his
criticisms or his singular interpretation of world events.
As he has done in previous speeches, Mr. Ahmadinejad raised questions about the
Holocaust, blaming the West for using it as an excuse for unwavering support for
Israel and for the oppression of the Palestinian people. “They threaten anyone
who questions the Holocaust and Sept. 11 with sanctions and military action?” he
By the time he got to that line in his 30-minute speech, the low-level American
and European diplomats who had been there were no longer around.
The United States delegation was the first to leave when Mr. Ahmadinejad
referred to the Sept. 11 attacks as “mysterious” and suggested that the decision
to kill Bin Laden, instead of bringing him to trial, was intended to bury the
truth of who sent the planes to attack New York and Washington. “Is there any
classified material secret that must remain a secret?” he said.
After the Europeans walked out, the hall, not terribly full in the first place,
was mostly empty. Oddly, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain, whose
government has repeatedly blamed Iran rather than domestic ills for inflaming
the Shiite population there, stuck around.
The United States quickly condemned the speech, as did many other Western
governments and nongovernmental organizations. “Mr. Ahmadinejad had a chance to
address his own people’s aspirations for freedom and dignity, but instead he
again turned to abhorrent anti-Semitic slurs and despicable conspiracy
theories,” said Mark Kornblau, the spokesman for the United States Mission to
the United Nations.
The Iranian leader, whose previous visits to New York have been contentious,
generated less interest this year. Though he did inspire protests outside the
United Nations and his Midtown Manhattan hotel, his power clashes at home with
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have cast some doubt over the
extent of his authority.
That doubt, in turn, has made him personally a less threatening figure, despite
significant international concerns about important issues like the possibility
that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
The New York Times
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
and STEVEN LEE MYERS
NATIONS — Shortly after President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority
formally requested the Security Council to grant full United Nations membership
on Friday, international powers reached an agreement on terms to restart talks
between Israel and the Palestinians, diplomats and Obama administration
Details of the understanding between the United States, the United Nations, the
European Union and Russia, known as the Quartet, were due to be announced later
on Friday. But officials said they hoped the statement would lead to a new round
of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian leadership after many months
Catherine Ashton, the European foreign policy chief, said the proposal did not
try to solve the preconditions that both presidents have stated before and
repeated Friday in their statements at the United Nations. The Palestinians have
demanded a freeze on settlement expansion, for example, while Israel wants to be
recognized as a Jewish state.
“What we have tried to do is to set the framework in which they can have those
discussions and reach agreement,” Ms. Ashton told a news conference. She said
the most important aspect of the statement was the time frame: beginning talks
within four weeks, significant progress on borders and security within three
months and a full agreement by the end of 2012.
Yet, the Quartet’s statement was a watered down document, avoiding any of the
difficult — and highly contentious — issues that have been the focus of
negotiations for months and that continue to divide the Israelis and
Palestinians. It did reaffirm “strong support for the vision of
Israeli-Palestinian peace” outlined by President Obama in May. That included two
states separated by the borders that existed in 1967 with “land swaps” to
account for Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
It called on the Israelis and Palestinians to meet and agree on an agenda and
schedule for resuming direct negotiations within a month and to come forward
with “comprehensive proposals” on territory and security within three months,
before the end of this year. The two sides should make “substantial progress”
within six months and complete a final agreement before the end of 2012.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton emerged from the unexpected meeting of
the Quartet at the United Nations and praised the “concrete and detailed
She added: “We urge both parties to take advantage of this opportunity to get
back to get back to talks, and the United States pledges our support as the
parties themselves take the important next steps for a two-solution, which is
what all of us are hoping to achieve.”
Even though Ms. Ashton called it a comprehensive approach, the real prospects of
meaningful negotiations remained doubtful on a day when Mr. Abbas and the
Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, delivered strongly worded addresses
stoutly defending their respective positions. Even so, both leaders said in
their speeches they were open to talks, though neither reacted immediately to
the Quartet’s proposal.
Mr. Abbas was greeted by numerous standing ovations from the moment he
approached the lectern to deliver his speech to the General Assembly. “I do not
believe anyone with a shred of conscience can reject our application for full
admission in the United Nations,” Mr. Abbas said, calling statehood “the
realization of the inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people.”
The largest and most sustained applause, along with cheers and whistles of
approval, came as Mr. Abbas held up a copy of the letter requesting membership
that he said he had handed to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon shortly before. “The
time has come,” he said.
Less than an hour later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel took to the
same lectern in “a hall that for too long has been a place of darkness for my
country” and said that he would not be seeking applause but rather speaking hard
truths. “The truth is the Palestinians want a state without peace and you should
not let that happen,” he said.
Mr. Netanyahu lashed out at the United Nations, whose prior actions against
Israeli he described as “a theater of the absurd,” and challenged a comment by
Mr. Abbas that the Palestinians were armed “only with their hopes and dreams.”
“Hopes, dreams — and 10,000 missiles and Grad rockets supplied by Iran," Mr.
Netanyahu said. He repeatedly stressed Israel’s small size, saying it needed
strategic depth to defend itself, particularly from the growing threat of
militant Islam in the region.
Both men spoke for about 40-minutes, often in almost professorial tones, with
Mr. Netanyahu sounding like a geography professor as he laid out the threat
Israel faced from so close at hand.
The request for Palestinian statehood on land occupied by Israel has become the
dominant issue at this year’s General Assembly, refocusing global attention on
one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.
Both men used the occasion to summarize the history of the conflict from their
own perspectives. Mr. Netanyahu, in his early remarks, reviewed the many
occasions when the United Nations had issued resolutions against Israel, saying
the country had been unjustly singled out for condemnation “more often than all
the other nations combined.”
Mr. Abbas said every previous peace effort had been “shattered on the rock” of
Israeli settlements and cited what he said was the historical responsibility of
the United Nations to solve the problem.
He described the West Bank as “the last occupation” in the world, one that
showed no sign of ending. “It is neither possible nor practical nor acceptable
to return to conducting business as usual,” he said.
Drawing a line between his statehood request and the revolutions that swept
through the Arab world this spring, he said, “The time has come also for the
Palestinian spring, the time for independence.”
The Security Council is likely to take up the issue in earnest next week,
diplomats said, when the question becomes whether the United States and its
allies can stall it.
Washington is also working to prevent the Palestinians from gathering the nine
votes needed for it to pass in the full council and thus avoid further wrecking
the image of the United States in the Middle East by casting yet another veto
against something Arabs dearly want.
The United States and the other members of the quartet that guides the
negotiations — the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia — are all
trying to restart direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians before any
vote becomes necessary. The hope is that if negotiations begin in earnest, that
the membership request can be postponed until the negotiations are over.
The diplomatic wrangling at the United Nations is expected to take several weeks
before the question of a vote arises.
Among the 15 members, some are expected to stay solidly in the Palestinian camp,
including Brazil, China, India, Lebanon, South Africa and Russia. The United
States is a solid vote against, and the five European members — Bosnia and
Herzegovina, Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal — are all question marks.
The positions of Colombia, Gabon and Nigeria are also murky.
The African Union supports membership, but it is not entirely clear if Gabon and
Nigeria will go along. President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria did not mention
the issue in his speech to the General Assembly, unlike many leaders from the
developing world who support Palestine, and the statement by President Ali Bongo
Ondimba of Gabon, was somewhat enigmatic. He said he hoped to soon see a
Palestinian state, but noted that both the Palestinians and the people of Israel
are friends of Gabon.
In Europe, Germany tends to lean against, its relations with Israel always
overshadowed by the legacy of World War II. France leans the other way, while
Britain sits on the fence. Portugal and Bosnia have been close to the
Palestinians and the Arab world in the past, but their support is not assured
this time around.
In theory, United Nations procedures demand that the special 15-member committee
— one from each state — that studies the membership issue report back in 35
days, but nothing is more flexible than a deadline at the United Nations.
Security Council members can stall things for weeks and weeks by requesting more
information or by saying they are waiting for instructions from their capitals.
Behind them, though, looms the policy enunciated by President Nicholas Sarkozy
of France, who said that the Palestinians should get enhanced status in the
General Assembly, moving from an observer entity to a non-member observer state.
Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said it would wait to see what happens
in the Security Council before moving forward. By tradition, the General
Assembly does not take up an issue when the Security Council is studying it and
vice versa, but it is not impossible.
The historic day of speeches engendered a sense that the issue of the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict had come full circle. The Palestinians call their
membership application a desperate attempt to preserve the two-state solution
despite encroaching Israeli settlements, as well as an attempt to shake up the
negotiations that they feel have achieved little after 20 years of American
The question is whether trying to bring the intractable problem back to its
international roots will somehow provide the needed jolt to get negotiations
The general point of view of the Israeli government and its supporters is that
the Palestinians and their Arab allies gave up the right to the United Nations
resolutions detailing a two state solution by rejecting that original plan and
waging war against Israel for six decades.
But after every war, the United Nations resolutions and indeed the peace
treaties with other Arab states have all reaffirmed the resolutions that outline
the two-state compromise, starting with General Assembly resolution 181 in 1947.
In the annex of their membership application submitted to Mr. Ban today, the
Palestinians listed every United Nations resolution that envisioned a two-state
solution that has not been implemented, they said.
Neil MacFarquhar reported from the United Nations
and Steve Lee Myers from
J. David Goodman contributed reporting from New York.
The New York Times
By EHUD OLMERT
United Nations General Assembly opens this year, I feel uneasy. An unnecessary
diplomatic clash between Israel and the Palestinians is taking shape in New
York, and it will be harmful to Israel and to the future of the Middle East.
I know that things could and should have been different.
I truly believe that a two-state solution is the only way to ensure a more
stable Middle East and to grant Israel the security and well-being it desires.
As tensions grow, I cannot but feel that we in the region are on the verge of
missing an opportunity — one that we cannot afford to miss.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, plans to make a unilateral bid for
recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations on Friday. He has the
right to do so, and the vast majority of countries in the General Assembly
support his move. But this is not the wisest step Mr. Abbas can take.
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has declared publicly that he
believes in the two-state solution, but he is expending all of his political
effort to block Mr. Abbas’s bid for statehood by rallying domestic support and
appealing to other countries. This is not the wisest step Mr. Netanyahu can
In the worst-case scenario, chaos and violence could erupt, making the
possibility of an agreement even more distant, if not impossible. If that
happens, peace will definitely not be the outcome.
The parameters of a peace deal are well known and they have already been put on
the table. I put them there in September 2008 when I presented a far-reaching
offer to Mr. Abbas.
According to my offer, the territorial dispute would be solved by establishing a
Palestinian state on territory equivalent in size to the pre-1967 West Bank and
Gaza Strip with mutually agreed-upon land swaps that take into account the new
realities on the ground.
The city of Jerusalem would be shared. Its Jewish areas would be the capital of
Israel and its Arab neighborhoods would become the Palestinian capital. Neither
side would declare sovereignty over the city’s holy places; they would be
administered jointly with the assistance of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United
The Palestinian refugee problem would be addressed within the framework of the
2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The new Palestinian state would become the home of
all the Palestinian refugees just as the state of Israel is the homeland of the
Jewish people. Israel would, however, be prepared to absorb a small number of
refugees on humanitarian grounds.
Because ensuring Israel’s security is vital to the implementation of any
agreement, the Palestinian state would be demilitarized and it would not form
military alliances with other nations. Both states would cooperate to fight
terrorism and violence.
These parameters were never formally rejected by Mr. Abbas, and they should be
put on the table again today. Both Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu must then make
brave and difficult decisions.
We Israelis simply do not have the luxury of spending more time postponing a
solution. A further delay will only help extremists on both sides who seek to
sabotage any prospect of a peaceful, negotiated two-state solution.
Moreover, the Arab Spring has changed the Middle East, and unpredictable
developments in the region, such as the recent attack on Israel’s embassy in
Cairo, could easily explode into widespread chaos. It is therefore in Israel’s
strategic interest to cement existing peace agreements with its neighbors, Egypt
In addition, Israel must make every effort to defuse tensions with Turkey as
soon as possible. Turkey is not an enemy of Israel. I have worked closely with
the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In spite of his recent
statements and actions, I believe that he understands the importance of
relations with Israel. Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Netanyahu must work to end this
crisis immediately for the benefit of both countries and the stability of the
In Israel, we are sorry for the loss of life of Turkish citizens in May 2010,
when Israel confronted a provocative flotilla of ships bound for Gaza. I am sure
that the proper way to express these sentiments to the Turkish government and
the Turkish people can be found.
The time for true leadership has come. Leadership is tested not by one’s
capacity to survive politically but by the ability to make tough decisions in
When I addressed international forums as prime minister, the Israeli people
expected me to present bold political initiatives that would bring peace — not
arguments outlining why achieving peace now is not possible. Today, such an
initiative is more necessary than ever to prove to the world that Israel is a
The window of opportunity is limited. Israel will not always find itself sitting
across the table from Palestinian leaders like Mr. Abbas and the prime minister,
Salam Fayyad, who object to terrorism and want peace. Indeed, future Palestinian
leaders might abandon the idea of two states and seek a one-state solution,
making reconciliation impossible.
Now is the time. There will be no better one. I hope that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr.
Abbas will meet the challenge.
was prime minister of Israel from 2006 to 2009.
NATIONS | Wed Sep 21, 2011
By Louis Charbonneau
NATIONS (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has vowed to request
U.N. membership for a Palestinian state when he addresses the U.N. on Friday,
defying opposition from Israel and the United States.
Here are some questions and answers about the Palestinian push at the United
Nations during this year's annual gathering of world leaders for the annual U.N.
General Assembly session in New York, as well as some of the possible
WHY DO THE
PALESTINIANS WANT TO GO TO THE UNITED NATIONS?
Abbas says 20 years of U.S.-led peace talks have gone nowhere and wants a vote
in the United Nations to bestow the Palestinians with the cherished mantle of
statehood. He recognizes, however, that negotiations with Israel will still be
needed to establish a properly functioning state.
Justifying the move, the Palestinians point to the success of a Western-backed,
two-year plan to build institutions ready for statehood which they say is now
PALESTINIANS WANT RECOGNITION ON 1967 LINES. WHY?
The Palestinian Authority says placing their state firmly in the context of
territory seized by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War would provide clear terms of
reference and mean Israel would no longer be able to call the land "disputed."
Instead, it would make clear that land is occupied. Israel fears this would
enable Palestinians to start legal proceedings in the International Criminal
Court against some 500,000 Israelis who live in East Jerusalem and the West
THE U.N. ADMIT NEW MEMBER STATES?
Countries seeking to join the United Nations usually present an application to
the U.N. secretary-general, who passes it to the Security Council to assess and
vote on. If the 15-nation council approves the membership request, it is passed
to the General Assembly for approval. A membership request needs a two-thirds
majority, or 129 votes, for approval.
A country cannot join the United Nations unless both the Security Council and
General Assembly approve its application.
PALESTINIANS JOIN THE U.N.?
In theory, yes. But Washington has made clear it would veto such a request,
meaning it has no chance of success. Even if the Palestinians secure a
two-thirds majority of votes in the General Assembly, there is no getting around
the need for prior approval of the Security Council.
PALESTINIANS HAVE THE VOTES ON THE SECURITY
Nine votes and no vetoes from the five permanent members are needed for a
resolution to pass the Security Council. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad
al-Malki said his delegation was working to secure the minimum nine votes in the
council needed to secure U.N. membership and he was confident they would
Diplomats say the United States is the only permanent council member expected to
use its veto to block a Palestinian membership bid.
HAPPENS AFTER PALESTINE APPLIES FOR U.N. MEMBERSHIP?
Abbas has said he would bring an application for U.N. membership to
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday. After an initial review, Ban would pass
it to the current president of the Security Council, Lebanese U.N. Ambassador
Salam would establish a committee to review and assess the application. Standard
practice is to complete the assessment within 35 days, but this can be waived.
Diplomats and U.N. officials say it is likely that council members will take
their time reviewing the Palestinian application. One diplomat said the review
process could drag on for years before there is a vote.
"NON-MEMBER STATE" STATUS AN OPTION?
In addition to applying to become a U.N. member state, the Palestinians could
seek upgraded observer status as a non-member state. That is what the Vatican
has. Such status, U.N. envoys say, could be interpreted as implicit U.N.
recognition of Palestinian statehood because the assembly would be acknowledging
that the Palestinians control a "state."
One advantage of this option is that it would require only a simple majority of
the 193-nation General Assembly, not a two-thirds majority. Abbas has said that
more than 126 states already recognize the state of Palestine, meaning he could
probably win such a vote with ease.
BE THE ADVANTAGE OF THAT?
Besides granting them the all-important title "state," diplomats say it would
likely enable the Palestinians to join the ICC, where it could pursue criminal
cases against Israel over the partial blockade of Gaza, the settlements and the
December 2008-January 2009 war in the Gaza Strip.
ISRAEL OR WASHINGTON EXACT PUNISHMENT ON THE PA?
Israel could pursue ICC action against the Palestinians for rockets fired
Israeli officials have suggested a range of possible measures, including
limiting travel privileges for Palestinian leaders seeking to exit the West
Bank, halting the transfer of crucial tax revenues to the Palestinians and even
annexing West Bank settlement blocs to try to sidestep ICC legal action. Some
U.S. officials have warned that they might cut their annual aid to the
Palestinian Authority, which runs to some $450 million.
reporting by Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem;
The New York Times
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
— The United States is facing increasing pressure as the Palestinian quest for
statehood gained support from Turkey and other countries, even as the Obama
administration sought an 11th-hour compromise that would avoid a confrontation
at the United Nations next week.
With only days to go before world leaders gather in New York, the maneuvering
became an exercise in brinkmanship as the administration wrestles with roiling
tensions in the region, including a sharp deterioration of relations between
three of its closest allies in the region: Egypt, Israel and Turkey.
Nabil el-Araby, secretary general of the Arab League, said after meeting with
the Palestinians that “it is obvious that the Palestinian Authority and the Arab
countries are leaning towards going to the General Assembly,” where a successful
vote could elevate the status of the Palestinian Authority from nonvoting
“observer entity” to “observer state,” a status equal to that of the Holy See.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey ratcheted up
pressure on the United States and Israel by telling Arab League ministers that
recognition of a Palestinian state was “not a choice but an obligation.”
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that American
negotiators would return to the region on Wednesday to meet with Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian
Authority in a final effort to avert a vote on the matter.
The administration, working with the European Union’s foreign policy chief,
Catherine Ashton, and Tony Blair, who serves as a special envoy to the region,
continued to seek international support for what Mrs. Clinton described as “a
sustainable platform for negotiations” between the Israelis and the Palestinians
to create a Palestinian state.
She did not elaborate, but the administration hopes that a negotiated agreement
on a prospective deal could avert a vote at the United Nations — or even be
submitted for approval by the Security Council or the General Assembly in lieu
of a Palestinian request for either membership or status as an observer state,
administration officials said.
“We all know that no matter what happens or doesn’t happen at the U.N., the next
day is not going to result in the kind of changes that the United States wishes
to see that will move us toward the two-state solution that we strongly
support,” Mrs. Clinton said Tuesday. “The only way of getting a lasting solution
is through direct negotiations between the parties, and the route to that lies
in Jerusalem and Ramallah, not in New York.”
The administration has spent months trying to avoid casting its veto in the
Security Council to block membership of a Palestinian state. It also hopes to
avert a vote for the more symbolic change in status in the General Assembly,
which senior officials, echoing the Israelis, have warned would be harmful to
Israeli-Palestinian peace and could foment violence.
But with negotiations long stalled, the Palestinians and their allies say that
such a vote would preserve the idea of a two-state solution.
The timing of the confrontation has created a diplomatic quandary for President
Obama, putting him in the position of opposing Palestinian aspirations for
self-determination even as his administration has championed Arabs who have
overthrown leaders in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya or who seek to in Syria. At the
same time, he faces pressure from Israel’s vocal supporters in Congress to block
the vote or cut off military and economic assistance the United States has given
to the Palestinians.
Internationally, however, the United States and Israel appeared increasingly
isolated, with even some European nations, from Russia to France, signaling
support for at least a General Assembly vote for the Palestinians.
The support for the Palestinians from the Turkish prime minister was not a
surprise, but the commanding tone of his endorsement — coupled with Turkey’s
souring relations with Israel, once a close ally — underscored the growing
sympathy for Palestinian aspirations for sovereignty and statehood.
“Let’s raise the Palestinian flag, and let that flag be the symbol of peace and
justice in the Middle East,” said Mr. Erdogan, the increasingly influential
leader of a NATO ally. He also took a harsh tone toward Israel, saying it is
“the West’s spoiled child.”
The Arab League signaled that it would press the Palestinians to seek a General
Assembly vote to elevate the status of the Palestinian Authority from nonvoting
“observer entity” to “observer state.” Some Palestinian leaders, though,
continued to press for a Security Council vote.
Although a vote in the General Assembly would not formally recognize a state of
Palestine, it would give the Palestinians rights to observe and submit
resolutions and join other United Nations bodies and conventions. It could also
strengthen their ability to pursue legal cases in the International Criminal
Court, something that alarms Israel and the United States in particular.
But the Palestinians also seemed open to the compromise being brokered by Mr.
Blair and the American envoys, David M. Hale from the State Department and
Dennis B. Ross from the National Security Council.
A top negotiator for the Palestinian Authority said Tuesday night that its
leadership was considering strong appeals by the Arab states and the Europeans
to turn to the General Assembly, where it is certain to have majority support,
and not the Security Council, where the United States can veto any resolution.
The negotiator, Saeb Erekat, added that Mr. Abbas told Arab ministers that the
Palestinian Authority had not yet decided, suggesting that it was still
considering its options. Mr. Abbas is expected to go to Amman, Jordan, on
Wednesday to discuss the issue with Mr. Blair. Mr. Blair and the Europeans “said
they have some ideas, and we are waiting to see the ideas formulated,” Mr.
“We don’t intend to confront the U.S., or anyone else for that matter,” he
added. “We want to present the United Nations vote as an opportunity for all of
us to preserve the two-state solution.”
Mr. Abbas and his Arab allies argue that Israel’s unwillingness to take
sufficient steps to create a state of Palestine had obviated the path laid out
in the Oslo peace accords of 1993. Mr. Araby said that a United Nations vote
would “change the Israel-Palestinian conflict” and become an important step
toward a resolution. “It will turn from a conflict about existence to a conflict
about borders,” he said.
Some European diplomats have agreed, but urged the Palestinians to turn to the
General Assembly because they argued that its approval was more likely to
facilitate negotiations rather than a vetoed bid at the Security Council. Mr.
Araby said that Ms. Ashton, the European Union’s chief diplomat, expected strong
European support for an elevation of the Palestinians’ status to “observer
The consequences of that, however, remained unclear. In Congress, senior
Republican lawmakers have introduced language in an appropriations bill that
would sever American aid to the Palestinians if they proceeded with the vote.
Representative Kay Granger, a Republican from Texas who is the chairwoman of the
House appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign aid, said she had
explained that view personally to the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad,
during a visit to Israel and the West Bank last month.
“It’s very bad,” Ms. Granger said of the Palestinian bid at the United Nations.
“If they take that step, then we no longer fund. We stop our funding because our
position is that it stops the peace process — because they are going outside the
She called the expected confrontation in New York next week “a train wreck
— The Obama administration has initiated a last-ditch diplomatic campaign to
avert a confrontation this month over a plan by Palestinians to seek recognition
as a state at the United Nations, but it may already be too late, according to
senior American officials and foreign diplomats.
The administration has circulated a proposal for renewed peace talks with the
Israelis in the hopes of persuading the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to
abandon the bid for recognition at the annual gathering of world leaders at the
United Nations General Assembly beginning Sept. 20.
The administration has made it clear to Mr. Abbas that it will veto any request
presented to the United Nations Security Council to make a Palestinian state a
new member outright.
But the United States does not have enough support to block a vote by the
General Assembly to elevate the status of the Palestinians’ nonvoting observer
“entity” to that of a nonvoting observer state. The change would pave the way
for the Palestinians to join dozens of United Nations bodies and conventions,
and it could strengthen their ability to pursue cases against Israel at the
International Criminal Court.
Senior officials said the administration wanted to avoid not only a veto but
also the more symbolic and potent General Assembly vote that would leave the
United States and only a handful of other nations in the opposition. The
officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic
maneuverings, said they feared that in either case a wave of anger could sweep
the Palestinian territories and the wider Arab world at a time when the region
is already in tumult. President Obama would be put in the position of
threatening to veto recognition of the aspirations of most Palestinians or risk
alienating Israel and its political supporters in the United States.
“If you put the alternative out there, then you’ve suddenly just changed the
circumstances and changed the dynamic,” a senior administration official
involved in the flurry of diplomacy said Thursday. “And that’s what we’re trying
very much to do.”
Efforts to head off the Palestinian diplomatic drive have percolated all summer
but have taken on urgency as the vote looms in the coming weeks. “It’s not clear
to me how it can be avoided at the moment,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a former
Palestinian negotiator who is now executive director of the American Task Force
on Palestine in Washington. “An American veto could inflame emotions and bring
anti-American sentiment to the forefront across the region.”
While some officials remain optimistic that a compromise can be found, the
administration has simultaneously begun planning to limit the fallout of a
statehood vote. A primary focus is to ensure the Israelis and Palestinians
continue to cooperate on security matters in the West Bank and along Israel’s
borders, administration officials said.
“We’re still focused on Plan A,” another senior administration official said,
referring to the diplomatic efforts by the administration’s new special envoy,
David M. Hale, and the president’s Middle East adviser on the National Security
Council, Dennis B. Ross. Mr. Hale replaced the more prominent George J. Mitchell
Jr., who resigned in May after two years of frustrated efforts to make progress
on a peace deal.
The State Department late last month issued a formal diplomatic message to more
than 70 countries urging them to oppose any unilateral moves by the Palestinians
at the United Nations. The message, delivered by American ambassadors to their
diplomatic counterparts in those countries, argued that a vote would destabilize
the region and undermine peace efforts, though those are, at least for now,
Two administration officials said that the intent of the message was to narrow
the majority the Palestinians are expected to have in the General Assembly. They
said that and the new peace proposal — to be issued in a statement by the
Quartet, the diplomatic group focused on the Middle East comprising the United
States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — could persuade
potential supporters to step back from a vote on recognition, and thus force Mr.
Abbas to have second thoughts.
“The fact is there are countries who would choose not to do that vote if there
was an alternative,” the first senior administration official said.
In essence, the administration is trying to translate the broad principles Mr.
Obama outlined in May into a concrete road map for talks that would succeed
where past efforts have failed: satisfy Israel, give the Palestinians an
alternative to going to the United Nations and win the endorsement of the
Diplomats are laboring to formulate language that would bridge stubborn
differences over how to treat Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and over
Israel’s demand for recognition of its status as a Jewish state. A statement by
the Quartet would be more than a symbolic gesture. It would outline a series of
meetings and actions to resume talks to create a Palestinian state.
The Quartet’s members are divided over the proposal’s terms and continue to
negotiate them among themselves, and with the Palestinians and Israelis.
Among the issues still on the table are how explicitly to account for the
growing settlements in the West Bank. The question of Israel’s status is also
opposed by Russia and viewed warily by some European countries. The Palestinians
have never acceded to a formal recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, in
deference at least in part to the Palestinians who live in Israel.
The Quartet’s envoy, Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, visited
Jerusalem on Tuesday to negotiate the terms of the proposal with the Israelis.
He is expected to discuss it with the Palestinians soon.
The Israelis have so far responded positively to the draft, but the Palestinian
position remains unclear.
Two administration officials said that Mr. Abbas had recently indicated that he
would forgo a United Nations vote in favor of real talks. But a senior
Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath, angrily dismissed the American proposal as
inadequate and said a vote would go ahead regardless.
“Whoever wrote this thought we are so weak that we cannot even wiggle or that we
are stupid,” he said in a telephone interview from Ramallah in the West Bank. He
added, “Whatever is to be offered, it is too late.”
Within the administration, there are different views of the situation’s urgency.
Some officials believe that the United States can weather a veto diplomatically,
as it has before, and politically at home because of the strong support for
Israel in Congress. But others view the Palestinian push for recognition as
deeply alarming, raising the specter of new instability and violence in the West
Bank and Gaza.
“The most powerful argument is that this will provoke a Palestinian awakening,
that there will be a new violence and that we’ll be blamed,” said Martin S.
Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel.
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States on Friday vetoed a draft U.N.
Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements on Palestinian land
after the Palestinians refused a compromise offer from Washington.
The U.S. move was welcomed by American pro-Israel groups, some of which have
previously criticized President Barack Obama's administration for what they see
as its record of lukewarm support for Israel.
U.N. diplomats say the Palestinian Authority, which has been trying to defend
itself against critics who accuse it of caving in to the Americans and Israelis
during peace talks, was eager to show that it can stand up to Washington.
The other 14 Security Council members voted in favor of the draft resolution.
But the United States, as one of the five permanent council members with the
power to block any action by the Security Council, voted against it and struck
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told council members that the
veto "should not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity." The
U.S. position is that continued Israeli settlements lack legitimacy, she said.
But Rice said the draft "risks hardening the position of both sides" and
reiterated the U.S. view that settlements and other contentious issues should be
resolved in direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
The resolution described the settlements as "illegal" and urged the Jewish state
to "immediately and completely" halt all settlement activities. Diplomats said
the views contained in the resolution, which would have been legally binding had
it passed, are generally supported by the Obama administration.
However, they said, the United States refuses to allow the Security Council to
intervene with binding resolutions on issues it feels belongs to direct peace
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Israel "deeply
appreciates" the U.S. decision to veto the resolution.
Israeli Ambassador Meron Reuben, opposing the resolution, urged the Palestinians
to "return to negotiations without preconditions." U.S.-brokered peace talks
collapsed last year after Israel refused to extend a moratorium on settlements.
The Palestinians say continued building flouts the internationally backed peace
plan that will permit them to create a viable, contiguous state on the land
after a treaty with Israel to end its occupation and 62 years of conflict.
Israel says this is an excuse for avoiding peace talks and a precondition never
demanded before during 17 years of negotiation, which has so far produced no
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder thanked Obama, saying his veto
showed "America's support for the rights of the Jewish state and for the Middle
East peace process." Other pro-Israel groups also praised Obama.
Obama's offer to support a non-binding Security Council statement chiding Israel
over the settlements instead of a binding resolution had been criticized by
pro-Israel lobby groups and some members of the U.S. Congress.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, speaking on behalf of Britain, France and
Germany, condemned Israeli settlements as "illegal under international law."
He added that the European Union's three biggest nations hope that an
independent state of Palestine will join the United Nations as a new member
state by September 2011.
Several EU nations, including Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden, were among the
resolution's more than 100 co-sponsors.
The Palestinian Authority earlier on Friday decided to insist that the
resolution be put to the council, and rejected the U.S. compromise offer despite
a telephone call from Obama to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday.
The permanent Palestinian observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said
the U.S. veto could send the wrong signal to Israel. "We fear ... that the
message sent today may be one that further encourages Israeli intransigence and
impunity," he said.
Mansour declined to comment on media reports that Obama warned Abbas of
repercussions if the Palestinians did not withdraw the draft resolution.
The decision to put it to a vote was made unanimously by the Palestine
Liberation Organization's executive and the central committee of Abbas's Fatah
movement at a meeting in Ramallah on Friday to discuss Obama's appeal to Abbas.
"The Palestinian leadership has decided to proceed to the U.N. Security Council,
to pressure Israel to halt settlement activities. The decision was taken despite
American pressure," said Wasel Abu Yousef, a PLO executive member.
New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement saying the U.S. veto
undermined international law and suggested the Obama administration was being
"President Obama wants to tell the Arab world in his speeches that he opposes
settlements, but he won't let the Security Council tell Israel to stop them in a
legally binding way," said HRW's Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations
Assadi in Ramallah; editing by Eric Beech)
December 13, 2010
The New York Times
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN
Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special
representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2009 and a diplomatic
troubleshooter who worked for every Democratic president since the late 1960s
and oversaw the negotiations that ended the war in Bosnia, died Monday evening
in Washington. He was 69 and lived in Manhattan.
His death was confirmed by an Obama administration official.
Mr. Holbrooke was hospitalized on Friday afternoon after becoming ill while
meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in her Washington office.
Doctors found a tear to his aorta, and he underwent a 21-hour operation. Mr.
Holbrooke had additional surgery on Sunday and remained in very critical
condition until his death.
Mr. Holbrooke’s signal accomplishment in a distinguished career that involved
diplomacy in Asia, Europe and the Middle East was his role as chief architect of
the 1995 Dayton peace accords, which ended the war in Bosnia. It was a coup
preceded and followed by his peacekeeping missions to the tinderbox of ethnic,
religious and regional conflicts that was formerly Yugoslavia.
More recently, Mr. Holbrooke wrestled with the stunning complexity of
Afghanistan and Pakistan: how to bring stability to the region while fighting a
resurgent Taliban and coping with corrupt governments, rigged elections, fragile
economies, a rampant narcotics trade, nuclear weapons in Pakistan, and the
presence of Al Qaeda, and presumably Osama bin Laden, in the wild tribal
One of his main tasks was to press President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to take
responsibility for security in his country and to confront the corruption that
imperils the American mission there. At times, Mr. Karzai refused to see him,
but Mr. Holbrooke was undeterred.
“He’s an enormously tough customer,” Mr. Holbrooke said during one of the
periodic breakfasts he had with reporters who covered his diplomatic exploits.
“As you’ve heard,” he added with a smile, “so am I.”
He helped his boss, Mrs. Clinton, whom he had supported in her presidential bid,
to persuade President Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan, while pressing
for more aid and development projects to improve the United States’ image there.
But he died before anyone knew if the experiment would succeed.
A brilliant, sometimes abrasive infighter, he used a formidable arsenal of
facts, bluffs, whispers, implied threats and, when necessary, pyrotechnic fits
of anger to press his positions. Mr. Obama, who praised Mr. Holbrooke on Monday
afternoon at the State Department as “simply one of the giants of American
foreign policy,” was sometimes driven to distraction by his lectures.
But Mr. Holbrooke dazzled and often intimidated opponents and colleagues around
a negotiating table. Some called him a bully, and he looked the part: the big
chin thrust out, the broad shoulders, the tight smile that might mean anything.
To admirers, however, including generations of State Department protégés and the
presidents he served, his peacemaking efforts were extraordinary.
When he named Mr. Holbrooke to represent the United States at the United
Nations, President Bill Clinton said, “His remarkable diplomacy in Bosnia helped
to stop the bloodshed, and at the talks in Dayton the force of his determination
was the key to securing peace, restoring hope and saving lives.” Others said his
work in Bosnia deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.
Few diplomats could boast of his career accomplishments. Early on, Mr. Holbrooke
devoted six years to the Vietnam War: first in the Mekong Delta with the United
States Agency for International Development, seeking the allegiance of the
civilian population; then at the embassy in Saigon as an aide to Ambassadors
Maxwell Taylor and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.; and finally in the American delegation
to the 1968-69 Paris peace talks led by W. Averell Harriman and Cyrus R. Vance.
Mr. Holbrooke was the author of one volume of the Pentagon Papers, the secret
Defense Department history of the Vietnam War that cataloged years of American
duplicity in Southeast Asia. The papers were first brought to public attention
by The New York Times in 1971.
As assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Carter
administration, Mr. Holbrooke played a crucial role in establishing full
diplomatic relations with China in 1979, a move that finessed America’s
continuing commitment to China’s thorn in the side Taiwan and followed up on the
historic breakthrough of President Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 visit to China.
During the Clinton presidency, Mr. Holbrooke served as ambassador to Germany in
1993-94, when he helped enlarge the North Atlantic alliance; achieved his
diplomatic breakthroughs in Bosnia as assistant secretary of state for European
affairs in 1994-95; and was chief representative to the United Nations, a
cabinet post, for 17 months from 1999 to 2001.
At the United Nations, he forged close ties to Secretary General Kofi Annan,
negotiated a settlement of America’s longstanding dues dispute, highlighted
conflicts and health crises in Africa and Indonesia, and called for more
peacekeeping forces. After fighting erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo
in 1999, he led a Security Council delegation on a mission to Africa. He also
backed sanctions against Angolan rebels in 2000.
While he achieved prominence as a cabinet official and envoy to many of the
world’s most troubled arenas, Mr. Holbrooke was frustrated in his ambition to be
secretary of state; he was the runner-up to Madeleine K. Albright, Mr. Clinton’s
choice in 1997, and a contender when Mr. Obama installed Mrs. Clinton in the
post in 2009.
Foreign policy was his life. Even during Republican administrations, when he was
not in government, he was deeply engaged, undertaking missions as a private
citizen traveling through the war-weary Balkans and the backwaters of Africa and
Asia to see firsthand the damage and devastating human costs of genocide, civil
wars, and H.I.V. and AIDS epidemics.
And his voice on the outside remained influential — as an editor of Foreign
Policy magazine from 1972 to 1977, as a writer of columns for The Washington
Post and analytical articles for many other publications, and as the author of
two books. He collaborated with Clark Clifford, a presidential adviser, on a
best-selling Clifford memoir, “Counsel to the President” (1991), and wrote his
own widely acclaimed memoir, “To End a War” (1998), about his Bosnia service.
Mr. Holbrooke also made millions as an investment banker on Wall Street. In the
early 1980s, he was a co-founder of a Washington consulting firm, Public
Strategies, which was later sold to Lehman Brothers. At various times he was a
managing director of Lehman Brothers, vice chairman of Credit Suisse First
Boston and a director of the American International Group.
Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke was born in Manhattan on April 24, 1941, to Dr.
Dan Holbrooke, a physician, and the former Trudi Moos. He attended Scarsdale
High School, where his best friend was David Rusk, son of Dean Rusk, the future
secretary of state. Richard’s father died when he was 15, and he drew closer to
the Rusk family.
At Brown University, he majored in history and was editor of the student
newspaper. He intended to become a journalist, but after graduating in 1962 he
was turned down by The Times and joined the State Department as a foreign
In 1964, Mr. Holbrooke married the first of his three wives, Larrine Sullivan, a
lawyer. The couple had two sons, David and Anthony, and were divorced. His
marriage to Blythe Babyak, a television producer, also ended in divorce. In
1995, he married Kati Marton, an author, journalist and human rights advocate
who had been married to the ABC anchorman Peter Jennings until their divorce in
1993. He is survived by Ms. Marton; his two sons; his brother, Andrew; and two
stepchildren, Christopher and Elizabeth Jennings.
After language training, he spent three years working in Vietnam. In 1966, he
joined President Lyndon B. Johnson’s White House staff, and two years later
became a junior member of the delegation at the Paris peace talks. The talks
achieved no breakthrough, but the experience taught him much about the arts of
In 1970, after a year as a fellow at Princeton, he became director of the Peace
Corps in Morocco. He quit government service in 1972 and over the next five
years edited the quarterly journal Foreign Policy. He was also a contributing
editor of Newsweek International and a consultant on reorganizing the
government’s foreign policy apparatus.
He worked on Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1976, and was rewarded with
the post of assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs. When
Ronald Reagan and the Republicans took over the White House in 1981, Mr.
Holbrooke left the government and for more than a decade focused on writing and
When President Clinton took office in 1993, Mr. Holbrooke was named ambassador
to Germany. He helped found the American Academy in Berlin as a cultural
He returned to Washington in 1994 as assistant secretary of state for European
affairs. His top priority soon became the horrendous civil war in the former
Yugoslavia, a conflict precipitated by the secession of Croatia, Slovenia,
Macedonia and Bosnia. Massacres, mass rapes and displaced populations, among
other atrocities, were part of campaigns of “ethnic cleansing” against Muslims.
After months of shuttle diplomacy, Mr. Holbrooke in 1995 achieved a breakthrough
cease-fire and a framework for dividing Bosnia into two entities, one of Bosnian
Serbs and another of Croatians and Muslims. The endgame negotiations, involving
the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and
President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia, unfolded in Dayton, Ohio, where a peace
agreement was reached after months of hard bargaining led by Mr. Holbrooke.
It was the high-water mark of a career punctuated with awards, honorary degrees
and prestigious seats on the boards of the Asia Society, the American Museum of
Natural History, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Council on Foreign
Relations, Refugees International and other organizations. He was 59 when he
left the United Nations as the Clinton administration drew to a close.
But there was to be one more task. As Mr. Obama assumed office and attention
shifted to Afghanistan, Mr. Holbrooke took on his last assignment. He began by
trying to lower expectations, moving away from the grand, transformative goals
of President George W. Bush toward something more readily achievable.
But his boss and old friend, Mrs. Clinton, expressed absolute confidence in him.
“Richard represents the kind of robust, persistent, determined diplomacy the
president intends to pursue,” she said. “I admire deeply his ability to shoulder
the most vexing and difficult challenges.”
David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.
WASHINGTON — It was only one paragraph buried deep in the most plain-vanilla
kind of diplomatic document, 40 pages of dry language committing 189 nations to
a world free of nuclear weapons. But it has become the latest source of friction
between Israel and the United States in a relationship that has lurched from
crisis to crisis over the last few months.
At a meeting to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in May, the United
States yielded to demands by Arab nations that the final document urge Israel to
sign the treaty — a way of spotlighting its historically undeclared nuclear
Israel believed it had assurances from the Obama administration that it would
reject efforts to include such a reference, an Israeli official said, and it saw
this as another sign of unreliability by its most important ally. In a recent
visit to Washington, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, raised the issue in
meetings with senior American officials.
With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled to meet President Obama on
Tuesday at the White House, the flap may introduce a discordant note into a
meeting that both sides are eager to portray as a chance for Israel and the
United States to turn the page after a rocky period.
Other things have changed notably for the better in American-Israeli relations
since Mr. Netanyahu called off his last visit to the White House to rush home to
deal with the crisis after Israel’s deadly attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla
sailing to Gaza in late May. His agreement to ease the land blockade on Gaza,
which came at the request of the United States, has helped thaw the chill
between the governments, American and Israeli officials said.
Meanwhile, the raft of new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program,
after the passage of the United Nations resolution, has reassured Israelis, who
viewed Mr. Obama’s attempts to engage Iran with unease. Mr. Obama signed the
American sanctions into law on Thursday.
“The overall tone is more of a feel-good visit than we’ve seen in the past,”
said David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at
the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It has been more focused on
making sure that the Ides of March have passed.”
He was referring to the dispute during a visit to Israel by Vice President
Joseph R. Biden Jr. in March, when Israel approved plans for Jewish housing in
East Jerusalem. Mr. Obama was enraged by what he perceived as a slight to Mr.
Biden, and when Mr. Netanyahu visited a few weeks later, the While House showed
its displeasure by banning cameras from recording the visit.
But despite the better atmospherics, some analysts said the nuclear
nonproliferation issue symbolizes why Israel remains insecure about the
intentions of the Obama administration. In addition to singling out Israel, the
document, which has captured relatively little public attention, calls for a
regional conference in 2012 to lay the groundwork for a nuclear-free zone in the
Middle East. Israel, whose nuclear arsenal is one of the world’s worst-kept
secrets, would be on the hot seat at such a meeting.
At the last review conference, in 2005, the Bush administration refused to go
along with any references to Israel, one of several reasons the meeting ended in
acrimony, without any statement.
This time, Israel believed the Obama administration would again take up its
cause. As a non-signatory to the treaty, Israel did not attend the meeting. But
American officials consulted the Israelis on a text in advance, which they found
acceptable, a person familiar with those discussions said. That deepened their
surprise at the end.
Administration officials said the United States negotiated for months with
Egypt, on behalf of the Arab states, to leave out the reference to Israel. While
the United States supports the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, it stipulated
that any conference would be only a discussion, not the beginning of a
negotiation to compel Israel to sign on to the treaty.
The United States practices a policy of ambiguity with respect to Israel’s
nuclear stockpile, neither publicly discussing it nor forcing the Israeli
government to acknowledge its existence.
The United States, recognizing that the document would upset the Israelis,
sought to distance itself even as it signed it.
In a statement released after the conference ended, the national security
adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, said, “The United States deplores the decision to
single out Israel in the Middle East section of the NPT document.” He said it
was “equally deplorable” that the document did not single out Iran for its
nuclear ambitions. Any conference on a nuclear-free Middle East, General Jones
said, could only come after Israel and its neighbors had made peace.
The United States, American officials said, faced a hard choice: refusing to
compromise with the Arab states on Israel would have sunk the entire review
conference. Given the emphasis Mr. Obama has placed on nonproliferation, the
United States could not accept such an outcome.
It also would complicate the administration’s attempts to build bridges to the
Arab world, an effort that is at the heart of some of the disagreements between
the United States and Israel.
Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama will have plenty of other things to discuss this
week. After several rounds of indirect talks, brokered by the administration’s
special envoy, George J. Mitchell, the United States is pushing the Israelis and
the Palestinians to begin direct negotiations.
A central question, analysts said, is whether Mr. Netanyahu will extend Israel’s
self-imposed moratorium on new residential construction in West Bank
settlements, which expires in September. He is unlikely to take such a step
unless the Palestinians agree to face-to-face talks, they said.
For Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu, the most basic priority may be establishing
trust between them — which is why the flap over the nuclear conference, though
small, is potentially troublesome.
“Most American presidents who end up being successful on Israel manage to
create, even amid great mistrust and suspicion, a pretty good working
relationship,” said Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator.
“This has been a real crisis of confidence, which cuts to the core of how each
leader sees his respective world.”
June 1, 2010
Filed at 12:33 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's bloody, bungled takeover of a Gaza-bound Turkish
aid vessel is complicating U.S.-led Mideast peace efforts, deepening Israel's
international isolation and threatening to destroy the Jewish state's ties with
key regional ally Turkey.
And while Israel had hoped to defend its tight blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza with
Monday's high-seas raid, it instead appeared to be hastening the embargo's
demise, judging by initial international condemnation.
The pre-dawn commando operation, which killed nine pro-Palestinian activists,
was also sure to strengthen Gaza's Islamic militant Hamas rulers at the expense
of U.S. allies in the region, key among them Hamas' main rival, Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Egypt and Jordan.
''The attack on a humanitarian mission ... will only further alienate the
international community and isolate Israel while granting added legitimacy to
Hamas' claim to represent the plight of the Palestinian people,'' said Scott
Atran, an analyst at the University of Michigan.
The Mediterranean bloodshed dealt another blow to the Obama administration's
efforts to get peace talks back on track. It raised new questions about one of
the pillars of U.S. policy -- that Hamas can be left unattended as Washington
tries to broker a peace deal between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
The raid tested U.S.-Israeli ties that have not yet fully recovered from their
most serious dispute in decades, triggered by Israeli construction plans in
disputed east Jerusalem.
In the most immediate fallout, the interception of the six-boat flotilla
carrying 10,000 tons of supplies for Gaza trained the global spotlight on the
blockade of the territory. Israel and Egypt sealed Gaza's borders after Hamas
overran the territory in 2007, wresting control from Abbas-loyal forces.
The blockade, under which Israel allows in only essential humanitarian supplies,
was intended to squeeze the militants. Instead, it has failed to dislodge Hamas,
driven ordinary Gazans deeper into poverty and emerged as a constant source of
friction and instability. In trying to shake off the blockade, Hamas intensified
rocket fire on Israeli border towns, provoking Israel's three-week military
offensive against Gaza 16 months ago.
After the war, the international community remained reluctant to push hard for
an end to the blockade, for fear it could prolong the rule of Hamas, branded a
terrorist organization by the West.
But after Monday's deadly clash, Israel may find itself under growing pressure
to at least ease the blockade significantly.
European diplomats on Monday demanded a swift end to the border closure, while
U.S. officials said statements would call for greater assistance to the people
of Gaza. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of
The fate of U.S.-led indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians was
Netanyahu canceled a scheduled Tuesday meeting with President Barack Obama in
Washington, and the status of a planned visit to Washington by Abbas next week
was not immediately clear.
Abbas temporarily walked away from the negotiations in March, after Israel
announced more housing for Jews in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem.
But while the Palestinian leader denounced Monday's ship raid as a ''sinful
massacre,'' he signaled he would keep going with the indirect talks. Abbas told
senior officials of his Fatah movement and the Palestine Liberation Organization
that there is no need to quit since the Palestinians are talking to the U.S. and
not to Israel, according to his adviser Mohammed Ishtayeh.
Relations between Abbas and Hamas have become increasingly vitriolic, and
extending Hamas rule by lifting the blockade would run counter to Abbas'
Abbas must now make a credible effort to open Gaza's borders, said Palestinian
analyst Hani al-Masri. ''Otherwise, he will be viewed as weak or part of the
siege and lose the support of his people,'' al-Masri said.
Israel dismissed the condemnation, saying its forces came under attack when they
tried to board one of the Turkish-flagged aid vessels. However, its point of
view seemed to fall on deaf ears.
''Militarily, we can feel quite safe, but not regarding our political
international standing,'' said Alon Liel, a former Israeli diplomat posted in
Israel also appears close to destroying its relationship with key strategic ally
Turkey decided to scrap three military drills involving Israel and withdrawal of
Turkey, NATO's sole Muslim member, established close military relations with
Israel in 1996 under U.S. pressure. Today, the Islamic-rooted government's
sensitivities about the plight of Muslims anywhere and aspirations to have a say
in the Middle East and Europe are reshaping Turkish foreign policy.
WASHINGTON — Israel’s deadly commando raid on Monday on a flotilla trying to
break a blockade of Gaza complicated President Obama’s efforts to move ahead on
Middle East peace negotiations and introduced a new strain into an already tense
relationship between the United States and Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel canceled plans to come to Washington
on Tuesday to meet with Mr. Obama. The two men spoke by phone within hours of
the raid, and the White House later released an account of the conversation,
saying Mr. Obama had expressed “deep regret” at the loss of life and recognized
“the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances” as soon as
While the administration’s public response was restrained, American officials
expressed dismay in private over not only the flotilla raid, with its attendant
deepening of Israel’s isolation around the world, but also over the timing of
the crisis, which comes just as long-delayed American-mediated indirect talks
between Israelis and Palestinians were getting under way.
Some foreign policy experts said the episode highlighted the difficulty of
trying to negotiate peace with the Palestinian Authority without taking into
account an element often relegated to the background: how to deal with
Hamas-ruled Gaza. Hamas, the Islamist organization that refuses to recognize
Israel’s existence, operates independently of the Palestinian Authority and has
rejected any peace talks. Gaza has repeatedly complicated Israeli-Palestinian
“This regrettable incident underscores that the international blockade of Gaza
is not sustainable,” Martin S. Indyk, the former United States ambassador to
Israel, said Monday. “It helps to stop Hamas attacks on Israelis, but seriously
damages Israel’s international reputation. Our responsibility to Israel is to
help them find a way out of this situation.”
The Obama administration officially supports the Gaza blockade, as the Bush
administration did before it. But Mr. Obama, some aides say, has expressed
strong frustration privately with the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
At a time when the United States is increasingly linking its own national
security interests in the region to the inability of Israelis and Palestinians
to make peace, heightened tensions over Monday’s killings could deepen the
divide between the Israeli government and the Obama administration just as Mr.
Obama and Mr. Netanyahu were trying to overcome recent differences.
“We’re not sure yet where things go from here,” one administration official
said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic delicacy
of the issue. The White House statement said that Mr. Obama “understood the
prime minister’s decision to return immediately to Israel to deal with today’s
events” and that they would reschedule their meeting “at the first opportunity.”
No matter what happens, foreign policy experts who advise the administration
agreed that if Mr. Obama wanted to move ahead with the peace talks, preceded by
the so-called proximity or indirect talks, the flotilla raid demonstrated that
he may have to tackle the thornier issue of the Gaza blockade, which has largely
been in effect since the takeover of Gaza by Hamas in 2007.
Since then, Israel, the United States and Europe have plowed ahead with a
strategy of dealing with the Palestinian Authority, which has control over the
West Bank, while largely ignoring Gaza, home to some 1.5 million Palestinians.
Gaza was left with a deteriorating crisis as Hamas refused to yield to Western
demands that it renounce violence and recognize Israel.
“You can talk all you want about proximity talks, expend as much energy as Obama
has, but if you ignore the huge thorn of Gaza, it will come back to bite you,”
said Robert Malley, program director for the Middle East and North Africa with
the International Crisis Group.
For the Obama administration, the first order of business may be figuring out a
way to hammer out a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas that will end
the blockade of Gaza. Several attempts in the past two years to reach such an
agreement have come close, but ultimately failed, the last time when the two
sides were unable to reach a consensus on the release of an Israeli soldier
captured by Hamas, Gilad Shalit.
Mr. Indyk, the director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, says
that after things cool down, the administration needs to work on a package deal
in which Hamas commits to preventing attacks from, and all smuggling into, Gaza.
In return, Israel would drop the blockade and allow trade in and out. “That deal
would have to include a prisoner swap in which Gilad Shalit is finally freed,”
It was unclear whether the indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinian
Authority would suffer an immediate delay. George J. Mitchell, the Obama
administration envoy to the Middle East, was still planning to attend the
Palestine Investment Conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Wednesday
The indirect talks involved American negotiators shuttling between the Israelis
and Palestinians, and are widely viewed as a step back from nearly two decades
of direct talks.
But their structure may actually serve the purpose of keeping them going. Mr.
Mitchell and his staff have been shuttling between the two sides for more than a
year, meaning that the preparation for indirect talks and the talks themselves
do not look different from the outside. As a result, the American brokers could
continue their shuttles despite the flotilla attack.
While the blockade of Gaza has been widely criticized around the world, Israeli
officials say it has imposed political pressure on Hamas. The group has stopped
firing rockets at southern Israel and is fighting discontent among the people in
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CAIRO — President Obama pledged on Thursday to “seek a new beginning between
the United States and Muslims around the world,” imploring America and the
Islamic world to drop their suspicions of one another and forge new alliances to
confront violent extremism and heal religious divides.
“We have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek,” he
said. “A world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American
troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure
in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a
world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God’s
children are respected.”
He dwelled on Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan but reserved some of his sharpest
words for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He offered no major initiatives on
the Middle East peace process although he put Israelis and Palestinians on
notice that he intends to deal directly with what he sees as intransigence on
key issues, evoking the concerns of both parties but asking both to shift ground
The speech in Cairo, which he called a “timeless city,” redeemed a promise he
made nearly two years ago while running for president. It was, perhaps, the
riskiest speech of his young presidency, and Mr. Obama readily conceded that not
every goal would be easily or quickly achieved.
“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims
around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one
based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be
in competition,” he said. “Instead, they overlap, and share common principles —
principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human
His message was sweeping and forceful — at times scolding and combative —
promoting democracy in Egypt, warning Israelis against building new settlements,
and acknowledging that the United States had fallen short of its ideals,
particularly in the Iraq war. It also evoked a new and nuanced tone, and some of
Mr. Obama’s language drew appreciative applause from his audience of 3,000
invited guests in the Major Reception Hall at Cairo University.
Several times, for instance, he spoke of “Palestine,” rather than the more
ambiguous term often used by American leaders, “future Palestinian state.” And,
in reference to the Palestinians, he pointedly mentioned “the daily humiliations
— large and small — that come with occupation.”
He described the bond between the United States and Israel as “unbreakable,” and
urged Hamas, the Islamic militant group in control of the Gaza Strip, to stop
violence. But in his next breath, Mr. Obama said Israel must curtail its
expansion of West bank settlements and recognize Palestinian aspirations for
statehood. He also acknowledged that Hamas, which the United States labels a
terrorist organization, “does have some support among some Palestinians.”
“But they also have responsibilities,” Mr. Obama said, listing them as “to end
violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
“Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be
denied, neither can Palestine’s,” Mr. Obama said. “The United States does not
accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction
violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time
for these settlements to stop.”
And, while Israel’s hawkish government has not accepted a so-called two-state
solution, Mr. Obama said: “The only resolution is for the aspirations of both
sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in
peace and security.”
“This is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest and the
world’s interest,” he said. In the Middle East, “too many tears have been shed;
too much blood has been shed.”
The address drew initial support from Palestinians. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a
spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called it “a good start and
an important step towards a new American policy.”
“It was honest, is the first word that comes to mind,” said Hossam Bahgat,
executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an
independent human rights organization.
Mr. Bahgat, who attended the speech at Cairo University, said that one of the
most important elements of the speech was what was left out. “I think it was
remarkable the speech left out the term terrorism completely,” he said. “It may
have been a paradigm shift for the United States, away from using this
politically charged word.”
But others in the region faulted it. The President, some noted, did not offer
any new initiatives, did not lay out a time line for progress towards a Middle
East settlement and asked his audience to accept an view which gave equal weight
to Israeli and Palestinian concerns.
That part did not go down well, people in the region said.
“I feel it is important historically, but it will bring nothing new,” said Hasim
Fouad, 24, a reporter with the independent Egyptian newspaper Al Dustour.
Mr. Obama strode onto the stage to loud applause and a standing ovation in the
conference hall. He conceded that his speech came at “a time of great tension
between the United States and Muslims around the world.”
But he sought to explain that he represented the new face of American
leadership. He did not mention the name of George W. Bush, who preceded him in
office, and whose policies contributed to the mistrust.
“America is not and never will be at war with Islam. We will, however,
relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our
security,” Mr. Obama said. “Because we reject the same thing that people of all
faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children.” Mr. Obama
said: “I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States
to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. But that
same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do
not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a
Mr. Obama offered few details for how to solve myriad problems and conflicts
around the globe, but he offered up his own biography as a credible connection
to his audience. While the message touched upon a litany of challenges, it
boiled down to simply this: Barack Hussein Obama was standing at the podium as
the American president.
“I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a
greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum,” Mr.
Obama said, delivering a common greeting signifying peaceful intent.
Mr. Obama said the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001
caused “enormous trauma to our country.” He offered no direct criticism of the
previous administration, but reminded his audience that he has “unequivocally
prohibited the use of torture” and has ordered the prison to be closed at
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
“The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases it
led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals,” Mr. Obama said. “We
are taking concrete actions to change course.”
The president divided his speech into seven sections, often sounding like the
university professor he was before he sought political office. He touched on
“sources of tension” from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, democracy, religious
freedom, women’s rights and economic development and opportunity.
He said the Iraq war had been a “war of choice that provoked strong differences
in my country and around the world.”
“Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the
tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded
America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to
resolve our problems whenever possible.”
By contrast, he described America’s military presence in Afghanistan as a
necessity after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan,” he said.
“We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be
confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan, and now
Pakistan, determined to kill as many Americans as possible. But that is not yet
Turning to Iran’s contentious nuclear program, he said any nation “should have
the right to access to peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its
responsibilities” under international regulations to counter the proliferation
of nuclear weapons.
Iran maintains its nuclear enrichment program is for peaceful civilian purposes
but many in the West suspect it is designed to build a nuclear bomb. “This is
not simply about America’s interests,” Mr. Obama said, “It is also about
preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region
and the world down a hugely dangerous path.”
As his visit to the region began Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Obama was
greeted with reminders of the vast gulfs his address must bridge, as voices as
disparate as Al Qaeda’s and the Israeli government’s competed to shape how Mr.
Obama’s message would be heard.
In a new audiotape, Osama bin Laden condemned Mr. Obama for planting what he
called new seeds of “hatred and vengeance” among Muslims, while in Jerusalem,
senior Israeli officials complained that Mr. Obama was rewriting old
understandings by taking a harder line against new Israeli settlements.
Jeff Zeleny reported from Cairo, and Alan Cowell from London.
contributed reporting from Washington,
The following is a text of President Obama's prepared remarks to the Muslim
world, delivered on June 4, 2009, as released by the White House.
I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two
remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a
beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a
source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between
tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality
of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the
American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country:
We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the
world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy
debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of
co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More
recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and
opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries
were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.
Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many
Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.
Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority
of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of
these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my
country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western
countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.
So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those
who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the
cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This
cycle of suspicion and discord must end.
I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims
around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one
based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be
in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles
of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can
eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the
complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in
order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and
that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained
effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one
another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of
God and speak always the truth." That is what I will try to do – to speak the
truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that
the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces
that drive us apart.
Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my
father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy,
I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break
of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities
where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.
As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam
– at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning
through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and
Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order
of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens
and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.
Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry
and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation.
And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the
possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.
I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first
nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in
1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no
character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And
since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have
fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started
businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel
Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the
first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to
defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding
Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.
So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it
was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership
between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And
I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to
fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.
But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as
Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a
self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources
of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution
against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal,
and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those
words – within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every
culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E
pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."
Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack
Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so
unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone
in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores – that
includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy
incomes and education that are higher than average.
Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's
religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over
1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to
court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish
those who would deny it.
So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America
holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in
life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get
an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities,
and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.
Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task.
Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if
we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we
face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.
For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens
in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human
being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of
nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one
stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents
in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective
conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That
is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.
This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been
a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own
interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our
interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people
over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not
be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership;
progress must be shared.
That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the
opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me
speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe
we must finally confront together.
The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its
In Ankara, I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with
Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a
grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of
all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is
my first duty as President to protect the American people.
The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work
together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the
Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went
because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of
9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The
victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other
nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to
ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now
states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in
many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to
be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.
Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no
military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and
women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We
would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident
that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to
kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.
That's why we're partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite
the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us
should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have
killed people of different faiths – more than any other, they have killed
Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the
progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills
an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person,
it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion
people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of
the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of
We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in
Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year
over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and
hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have
been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help
Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.
Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of
choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.
Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the
tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded
America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to
resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of
Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power,
and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."
Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future –
and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we
pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's
sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades
by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's
democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by
July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train
its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and
united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.
And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must
never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear
and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to
act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I
have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I
have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.
So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the
rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are
also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim
communities, the sooner we will all be safer.
The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation
between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.
America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It
is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the
aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be
Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and
anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I
will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were
enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million
Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today.
Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with
destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and
only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories
while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.
On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims
and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty
years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in
the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that
they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large
and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation
for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on
the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of
For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate
aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is
easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by
Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and
attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if
we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to
the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met
through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and
That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the
world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with
all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have
agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them –
and all of us – to live up to our responsibilities.
Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is
wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the
lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not
violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined
insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story
can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to
Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is
a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to
blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is
how it is surrendered.
Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The
Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions
that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some
Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling
Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an
end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to
At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist
cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the
legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous
agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these
settlements to stop.
Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can
live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian
families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's
security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank.
Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to
peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.
Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an
important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli
conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from
other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian
people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize
Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the
America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public
what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose
peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away.
Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time
for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.
Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a
responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians
can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great
faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a
secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all
of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of
Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.
The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and
responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.
This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the
Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its
opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us.
In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow
of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution,
Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S.
troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in
the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is
prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but
rather what future it wants to build.
It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with
courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our
two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the
basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to
nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about
America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle
East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.
I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do
not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons.
That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which
no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have
the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its
responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is
at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it.
And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.
The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.
I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent
years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me
be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by
That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the
will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way,
grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know
what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a
peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for
certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are
governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice;
government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to
live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights,
and that is why we will support them everywhere.
There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear:
governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and
secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America
respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the
world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful
governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.
This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy
only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing
the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people
and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must
maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights
of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you
must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the
political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone
do not make true democracy.
The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.
Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia
and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia,
where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.
That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to
choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and
soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being
challenged in many different ways.
Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by
the rejection of another's. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld –
whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines
must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia
have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.
Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We
must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United
States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill
their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American
Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.
Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim
citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating
what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards
any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.
Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service
projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That is
why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's Interfaith dialogue
and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we
can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to
action – whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a
The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.
I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West
that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do
believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no
coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to
Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue
for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen
Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for
women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries
around the world.
Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common
prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach
their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as
men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their
lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the
United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded
literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through
micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.
Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.
I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet
and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality
and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also
huge disruptions and changing communities. In all nations – including my own –
this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we will lose of
control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our
identities – those things we most cherish about our communities, our families,
our traditions, and our faith.
But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be
contradiction between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South
Korea grew their economies while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true
for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur
to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the
forefront of innovation and education.
This is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what
comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of
work. Many Gulf States have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and
some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must
recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st
century, and in too many Muslim communities there remains underinvestment in
these areas. I am emphasizing such investments within my country. And while
America in the past has focused on oil and gas in this part of the world, we now
seek a broader engagement.
On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like
the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to
study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with
internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children
around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can
communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.
On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to
partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit
on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between
business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and
Muslim communities around the world.
On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological
development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the
marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific
excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new
Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy,
create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today
I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic
Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim
communities to promote child and maternal health.
All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with
citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and
businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a
The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a
responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek – a world where
extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a
world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own,
and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments
serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those
are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it
I know there are many – Muslim and non-Muslim – who question whether we can
forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to
stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort – that
we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are
simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much
mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward.
And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every
country – you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world.
All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is
whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit
ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on
the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human
It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than
to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things
we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is
also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others
as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples – a
belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian,
or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and
that still beats in the heart of billions. It's a faith in other people, and
it's what brought me here today.
We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to
make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.
The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and
we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."
The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting
The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called
sons of God."
The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's
vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace
be upon you.
CAIRO (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has taken the Middle East by
surprise with the speed of his diplomacy but his first statement on the conflict
between Arabs and Israelis was strikingly similar to old U.S. policies.
Arab leaders in the meantime are jumping in with their own proposals in the hope
of helping to shape U.S. policy before the new administration sets it in stone.
Arab governments and commentators had expected Obama to take his time before
turning his attention to the Middle East, concentrating instead on the U.S.
economy and domestic concerns.
But the new president, only two days into office, appointed on Thursday a
special envoy for the region, veteran mediator and former Senator George
Mitchell, and said Mitchell would go to the Middle East as soon as possible.
Mitchell will try to ensure that an informal ceasefire between Israel and the
Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip becomes durable and sustainable, Obama
One day earlier, Obama made telephone calls to Washington's long-standing allies
in the Middle East - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.
The conservative Arab governments saw the calls as an affirmation of their
privileged status -- another sign that Obama is sticking to traditional
"It took two longs days before Obama dispelled any notions of a change in U.S.
Middle East policy," said As'ad Abu Khalil, Lebanese-born and pro-Palestinian
professor of political science at California State University.
"Obama's speech was quite something. It was like sprinkling sulphuric acid on
the wounds of the children in Gaza," he added.
But Obama's diplomatic activism and promises of engagement on Arab-Israeli
conflicts does at least address one of the conservatives' main grievances about
former President George W. Bush -- that he ignored the conflict for too long and
never put his full weight behind any Middle East peace plan.
A senior member of the Saudi ruling family, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said Bush
had left "a sickening legacy" in the Middle East and had contributed through
arrogance to Israel's slaughter of innocent people in Gaza over the past month.
"If the United States wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle
East and keep its strategic alliances intact ... it will have to revise
drastically its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine," he added.
Jamal Khashoggi, editor of the Saudi newspaper al-Watan, said the Saudi
government was still optimistic about Obama, whom it sees as a possible friend
to the Muslim world.
"Even the few Saudi officials who liked Bush were disappointed with him in the
last two years," he added.
Maverick Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi took the opportunity of Obama's advent to
refloat his own pet proposal -- that Israelis and Palestinians live together in
Prince Turki, a nephew of King Abdullah and a former ambassador to Washington,
said Washington should back the Arab peace initiative of 2002, which offers
Israel peace and normal relations in return for withdrawal to its 1967 borders.
In his policy statement on Thursday, Obama said the Arab peace offer contained
what he called constructive elements.
But he then called on Arab governments to carry out their half of the bargain --
"taking steps toward normalizing relations with Israel" -- without suggesting
that Israel should meet the parallel Arab demand for territorial withdrawal.
Obama gave full backing to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his
Western-backed prime minister, ignoring the political weight of Hamas and other
groups opposed to Abbas.
He repeated the controversial conditions which the Quartet of external powers in
2006 for dealing with Hamas -- recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and
accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Some analysts had speculated that Obama might bring a new approach to dealings
with Hamas and other Middle East forces which retain the right to armed struggle
Obama even linked ending the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza -- one of the
roots of the recent fighting -- to restoring Abbas's control of Gaza's borders.
That could perpetuate the present blockade for months or years to come.
U.S. reconstruction aid for Gaza will also be channeled exclusively through
Abbas, who has no control over Gaza.
The new president followed the traditional U.S. approach of relying on Egypt to
mediate between Israel and Hamas and to stop Hamas in Gaza receiving weapons
But Egypt failed to bring Hamas and Israel together on an agreed ceasefire and
Israel says that Cairo's anti-smuggling efforts along the Gaza-Egypt border fall
Hamas dismissed Obama's first venture into Middle East policy making as more of
the same failed U.S. strategy.
"It seems Obama is trying to repeat the same mistakes that George Bush made
without taking into consideration Bush's experience that resulted in the
explosion of the region," the Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan,
told Al Jazeera.
The pro-Syrian Lebanese newspaper As-Safir added: "The new American President
inspired by Bush's positions ... Obama continues the Israeli war on the
"(Obama) disappointed many hopes set on his balance and moderate views toward
the Arab-Israeli conflict, since his positions allows Israel to continue what it
began in its last war on Gaza," the newspaper added.
JERUSALEM, Sept. 9— Following are letters from Yasir Arafat,
chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, to Prime Minister Yitzhak
Rabin of Israel and Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst of Norway and from Mr.
Rabin to Mr. Arafat. The letters were provided by Mr. Rabin's office. Rabin to
Arafat Sept. 9, 1993
In response to your letter of Sept. 9, 1993, I wish to confirm to you that in
light of the P.L.O. commitments included in your letter the Government of Israel
has decided to recognize the P.L.O. as the representative of the Palestinian
people and commence negotiations with the P.L.O. within the Middle East peace
process. YITZHAK RABIN Prime Minister of Israel Arafat to Rabin Sept. 9, 1993
Mr. Prime Minister,
The signing of the Declaration of Principles marks a new era in the history of
the Middle East. In firm conviction thereof, I would like to confirm the
following P.L.O. commitments:
The P.L.O. recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and
The P.L.O. accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
The P.L.O. commits itself to the Middle East peace process and to a peaceful
resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all
outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through
The P.L.O. considers that the signing of the Declaration of Principles
constitutes a historic event, inaugurating a new epoch of peaceful coexistence,
free from violence and all other acts which endanger peace and stability.
Accordingly, the P.L.O. renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of
violence and will assume responsibility over all P.L.O. elements and personnel
in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline
In view of the promise of a new era and the signing of the Declaration of
Principles and based on Palestinian acceptance of Security Council Resolutions
242 and 338, the P.L.O. affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant
which deny Israel's right to exist and the provisions of the Covenant which are
inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no
longer valid. Consequently, the P.L.O. undertakes to submit to the Palestinian
National Council for formal approval the necessary changes in regard to the
Palestinian Covenant. Sincerely, YASIR ARAFAT Chairman Palestine Liberation
Organization Arafat to Holst Sept. 9, 1993
Dear Minister Holst,
I would like to confirm to you that upon the signing of the Declaration of
Principles I will include the following positions in my public statements:
In light of the new era marked by the signing of the Declaration of Principles
the P.L.O. encourages and calls upon the Palestinian people in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip to take part in the steps leading to the normalization of life,
rejecting violence and terrorism, contributing to peace and stability and
participating actively in shaping reconstruction, economic development and