Congress Takes Aim At the Palestinians

The imbroglio over House Speaker John Boehner’s unseemly invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and John Boehner

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and John Boehner

Netanyahu after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last month is continuing to rage in Washington. But when it comes to the Palestinians, it is business as usual in Congress.

On February 4, the House of Representatives’ Sub-Committee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing on suspending aid to the Palestinian Authority as punishment for their temerity in exercising their legal right to bring their grievances against Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The sub-committee, chaired by hawk Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), has stacked the deck well against the Palestinians. Read more at LobeLog

Mideast Peace Talks Get New Lease on Life

My report for Inter Press Service on the renewal of peace talks between Israel and the PLO.

Indyk to be US Rep. to Israel-Palestinian Peace Talks

This piece originally appeared at LobeLog

Martin Indyk is about to be named the US representative for the resuscitated Israel-Palestinian talks, according to a report from Israel’s Channel 2. (Though it seems Channel 2’s Ehud Yaari was not first with the news. That was actually the inestimable Laura Rozen at al-Monitor)

David Ivry, Paul D. Wolfowitz,  Ariel Sharon, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Martin Indyk, at the Pentagon, March 2001

David Ivry, Paul D. Wolfowitz, Ariel Sharon, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Martin Indyk, at the Pentagon, March 2001

This says a great deal about the US role in the “peace process” and, indeed, the conflict in general. Indyk was the key force in founding the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), which is, in essence, the think tank of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In fact, Indyk went from working for AIPAC to working for them as WINEP’s first Executive Director in 1985.

He went on to be Bill Clinton’s special assistant for the Middle East and senior director of Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council. His government service culminated in appointments as US Ambassador to Israel from April 1995 to September 1997 and again from January 2000 to July 2001. Indyk was as central as any figure to the construction — and failures — of the Oslo process, the Camp David II summit in 2000 and the following years of downward spiral. Continue reading

Former Top Aide Offers Insight on Mideast and Iran

In my latest piece of reporting for Inter Press Service, I talk about the appearance yesterday of Dennis Ross at his new/old home, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The combination of Ross’ experience and WINEP’s role in the Israel Lobby will make his a powerful voice even outside of government. It’s worth hearing what he had to say.

Aid to the PA Supported By…Elliott Abrams?

This piece originally published at LobeLog

Yesterday, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearingon the future of aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Neocon all-star and convicted perjurer, Elliott Abrams

Aid to the PA is under bi-partisan attack in Congress due to the Palestinians’ campaign to somehow upgrade their standing in the United Nations. The campaign against the Palestinians, and also against the United Nations, has already gained enough momentum that yesterday’s hearing, initially to have been held in session of the Subcommittee on the Near East and South Asia, was upgraded to a hearing of the full Foreign Affairs committee.

Leading the charge, unsurprisingly, is Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who has introduced a bill threatening UN funding mainly, though not exclusively, over the issue of Israel and the Palestinians. But her predecessor as Chair, Howard Berman (D-CA) was absolutely blunt in saying: “I believe it is appropriate to point out that should the Palestinians pursue their unilateralist course, the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual assistance that we have given them in recent years, will likely be terminated.”

Four leading Democrats, Steve Israel (D-NY), Robert Brady (D-PA), Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Steven Rothman (D-NJ) have sent a bill to the Foreign Affairs Committee which would “… prohibit Foreign Military Financing program assistance to countries that vote in the United Nations General Assembly in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state in the absence of a negotiated border agreement between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

With all this, you’d think aid to the PA was doomed, would you not?

But hold on. At the hearing, there were four witnesses, with David Makovsky of the AIPAC-created Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) being the most moderate. The other speakers were James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation, Dr. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (which, along with Heritage, are neo-conservative think-tanks, with more info available here) and neocon all-star Elliott Abrams. Continue reading

As Direct Talks Die, What is Washington Doing?

A short while ago, I was asked to write an article about why there was some hope for the peace process. I agreed to write it, after some consideration.

I was completely honest in the article, describing why I thought the best hope for success in the talks lies in the potential for a serious American effort to move the process forward and how this was actually possible politically.

What I left out, or really, only lightly alluded to was my near certainty that such effort was not likely to be forthcoming. For the most part, that seems to have been the case.

A photo op even seems too much to hope for from direct peace talks now

What we’re left with now is a growing sense of despair, as the Palestinians seemed poised, at this writing, to quit the current round of talks (the first in two years) in the wake of Israel’s refusal to extend the phantom “moratorium” on settlement construction.

There have also been some significant developments in Washington that bear some scrutiny in the wake of what seems to be a disastrous failure of a great deal of effort on the part of the Obama Administration to broker direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

I’ll start with one event that, while it certainly made the news, has not gotten anything like the attention it deserves, especially from Israel. That is Obama’s success in convincing Russia to cancel a billion-dollar weapons deal with Iran.

This deal was in the works from 2006, and was agreed upon in 2007. The Bush Administration had spent considerable effort to thwart the sale, with no success, and the fact that Obama succeeded is a major foreign policy victory for him. More than anything, it should have been a major bone to toss to Israel, whose current government has repeatedly indicated that they would be more disposed toward negotiations with the Palestinians if more was done regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Russian arms were air defense systems, and their presence could have made a theoretical Israeli attack on Iran more difficult. Continue reading

The Change is Becoming Visible in the Obama Era

My latest piece at Zeek magazine. You can see it by clicking here. In it, I describe the first visible steps the Obama administration is taking toward breaking with past policies.

The change is visible on many levels, and perhaps most importantly in Congress, where a major pro-Israel figure is stepping up and sharply criticizing settlements and other Israeli practices.

My view counterpoints the cycnicism of much of the hardcore left, which seems determined to believe that Obama will change nothing of substance in his dealings with Israel.