Lieberman: I prefer rightist coalition

Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman refused to endorse either Kadima leader Tzipi Livni or Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday night, saying rather that his party would be open to hearing from all factions involved in forming the next coalition, but that his party would never give up its core principles.

“We truly hope that one of the dramatic changes in the next government will be a change in the electoral system,” Lieberman said following the exit polls. “We will be open to hearing what others say on this topic.”

“We’ve turned into a significant party, the third largest in Israel,” Lieberman said. “It’s true that Tzipi Livni won a surprise victory. But what is more important is that the right-wing camp won a clear majority… We want a right-wing government. That’s our wish and we don’t hide it.”

“The main argument today is not only over borders, but rather over the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state,” he continued. “These three things must be intertwined.”

“We have a way and principles, and we don’t plan to give them up,” Lieberman said, adding that the most important thing on his agenda was that the new government be decisive in its actions against terror.

In what may prove a twist for coalition talks as ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas move into an advanced stage, Lieberman firmly stated that his party would never join a government which permitted Hamas to rule the Gaza Strip.

“We will not agree either directly or indirectly to [Hamas staying] in power,” the Israel Beiteinu leader said. “It doesn’t matter which government is established.”

“Our first goal is clear, to destroy Hamas, to take it down,” he stated. [continued…]

Success of rightist bloc may propel Netanyahu into PM’s chair

With a clear advantage to the rightist bloc in Israel’s national elections Tuesday, Benjamin Netanyahu could well end up as the next prime minister, regardless of whether his Likud party won the most votes or came second to centrist Kadima and Tzipi Livni. [continued…]

Israel’s age of fragmentation

These elections have proven that even though Israel is a hi-tech powerhouse with a strong army and a functioning democracy, it no longer has the ability to think strategically, act morally and truly manage its own fate. Given that the Palestinians have lost any cohesiveness and have no functioning leadership, the region is likely to deteriorate into chaos and violence.

Israel’s tragedy is that the motivation for the Zionist project was to allow Jews a life of dignity, freedom and self-determination. Instead Israel is turning into a ghetto, progressively oblivious of the outside world, with a paranoid and often dehumanising attitude towards Arabs and deafness towards the values of the western world to which it wants to belong. The resulting moral blindness was dramatically shown in the way the Gaza operation was conducted.

Because the Palestinians have no Nelson Mandela and Israel has no De Klerk, and because there is no leadership worthy of the name on either side, the only way to avert catastrophe is that the US will muster the political will to pressure Israel and the Palestinians into a process along the lines of the Arab League initiative and to move towards a comprehensive, regional settlement. [continued…]

Leahy talks to White House about investigating Bush

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy and White House Chief Counsel Greg Craig discussed on Tuesday the Senator’s proposal to set up a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate potential crimes of the Bush administration.

“I went over some of the parameters of it and they were well aware at the White House of what I’m talking about,” Leahy told the Huffington Post. “And we just agreed to talk further.”

The dialogue between the Vermont Democrat and the president’s office is a new phase in a delicate process concerning how best to handle potential crimes in the previous White House. Leahy proposed an investigatory commission on Monday, after which the president — speaking at his first news conference — said he did not currently have an opinion on the plan. Obama went on to say that he would rather look forward than backward, but he promised to prosecute any crime — whether committed was a former White House official or everyday citizen. [continued…]

Poll of Afghans shows drop in support for U.S. mission

A new poll in Afghanistan shows sagging support for U.S. efforts in that country, with airstrikes a chief concern. A quarter of the Afghans polled said that attacks on American or allied forces are justifiable, double the proportion saying so in late 2006.

The poll, the fourth conducted in Afghanistan since 2005 by ABC News and its media partners, also shows plummeting support for President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan government, and a sharp decline in the proportion of people who think the nation is heading in the right direction. The vast majority of Afghans consider public corruption to be a problem, and there are widespread complaints about unemployment, high prices and spotty electrical service.

But security concerns galvanize public opinion most directly.

The proportion of Afghans rating their security positively dipped to 55 percent, from 72 percent in 2005. Seventy percent of those who said the nation is on the wrong track cited security as a central concern. [continued…]

Iranian overture might complicate relations with Israel

When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran took up President Obama’s oft-repeated invitation for direct talks between the United States and Iran — something that hasn’t happened in 30 years — he seemed to be signaling the start of a long-delayed war-or-peace drama that may define the Obama administration’s first engagement with the rest of the world.

It was only three weeks ago today, in his inaugural address, that Mr. Obama promised a new relationship with nations willing to “unclench their fist,” an offer he repeated at his news conference on Monday evening. And it is too early to know quite how to read Mr. Ahmadinejad’s declaration that “Our nation is ready to hold talks based on mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere.” After all, it’s never exactly clear who is running the country’s foreign policy, and there is good reason to question whether the fiery Iranian president will overcome his mismanagement of the country’s economy to survive the June 12 elections there.

But there is no question a new dynamic is afoot, one that seems likely to become even more complicated after today’s election in Israel is settled. If the government that emerges is even more determined to end the Iranian nuclear program by any means necessary, Mr. Obama may find himself trying to negotiate with one of America’s most determined adversaries while restraining one of its closest allies. [continued…]

Iran offers ‘dialogue with respect’ with U.S.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran took up President Obama’s oft-repeated invitation for direct talks between the United States and Iran on Tuesday. The move signaled the start of a long-delayed war-or-peace drama that may help define the Obama administration’s plans to remake America’s approach to diplomacy.

But it also opens up the possibility of new tensions with Israel, which less than a year ago sought American help in preparing an attack on Iran’s main nuclear complex and is expected to drift further to the right after Tuesday’s parliamentary elections.

And Mr. Obama will have to decide whether to continue a major covert program against Iran’s nuclear ambitions, even while beginning to engage in diplomacy. [continued…]

Think again: Talking with Iran

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not the problem, and his rival Mohammad Khatami is not (necessarily) the solution. For many years, U.S. administrations have thought that, if they just waited long enough, Iranian politics would produce a leader that Washington would like dealing with. When I served as director for Iran and Afghanistan affairs at the National Security Council from 2001 to 2003, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice dismissed then President Khatami as a potential diplomatic partner for the United States. Indeed, the erstwhile Sovietologist compared Khatami to Mikhail Gorbachev, arguing that by engaging Khatami, the United States would risk missing the opportunity to find the Islamic Republic’s Boris Yeltsin.

Now, of course, after nearly four years of Ahmadinejad, the United States can hardly wait for Khatami to come back. Moreover, during Ahmadinejad’s presidency, many in Washington have come to view Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a moderating influence — this, of course, being the same ayatollah who, during Khatami’s presidency, was widely criticized in the West as an authoritarian cleric thwarting the clear preference of the Iranian public for liberal reform.

Focusing on individual Iranian politicians misses an important reality: The Islamic Republic of Iran actually has a system of government, with multiple and competing power centers. [continued…]

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