Obama to tell Israel: Form new peace policy by July

United States President Barack Obama intends to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu four to six weeks to provide an “updated position” regarding construction in West Bank settlements and the two-state principle.

Obama made a surprise appearance on Tuesday at a meeting Defense Minister Ehud Barak was holding in Washington, shortly before the U.S. leader was set to leave on a five-day trip to the Middle East.

Obama spoke for about 15 minutes with Barak, who was meeting with National Security Adviser General Jim Jones at the time. While Obama’s official schedule did not include a meeting with Barak, he has in the past dropped into other officials’ meetings with international figures.

According to an official Israeli source, Obama wants to complete the formulation of a preliminary six-month plan for progress toward a Middle East peace agreement and to present it in July. [continued…]

U.S. demands Israel halt construction in East Jerusalem market

Washington is furious over the Interior Ministry’s anticipated approval of a plan to build a new hotel in East Jerusalem, just 100 meters from the Old City’s walls. The plan, which would see the demolition of a wholesale market and kindergarten, is slated to be approved today.

In conversations with Israeli officials, senior American officials have made it clear that they want Israel to freeze all plans for expanding the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem, and especially in the Holy Basin – the area adjacent to the Old City.

The regional planning and building committee for Jerusalem will discuss the plan Tuesday. It was submitted by the Jerusalem municipality, which owns the land on which the hotel is slated to be built, and the state-owned Jerusalem Development Authority, which will actually construct it. The site in question is in the wholesale market, just east of the Rockefeller Museum. [continued…]

Likud: Obama has crossed the line

US President Barack Obama’s administration’s criticism of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policies has crossed the line into interfering in Israeli politics, top Likud ministers and MKs said Tuesday.

Kadima officials responded to the allegations by disagreeing that the US was meddling but expressing concern that such a perception by the Israeli public would harm their party and end up strengthening the prime minister. They accused Netanyahu’s associates of portraying Obama as an enemy of Israel in order to unite the public behind him.

The charges of American interference began April 16 when Yediot Aharonot quoted Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel telling an unnamed Jewish leader: “In the next four years there is going to be a permanent-status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn’t matter to us at all who is prime minister [of Israel].”

Likud Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled said Tuesday that the statement was inappropriate and was just one of many examples of American interference in Israeli politics since Netanyahu’s election in February. [continued…]

Can Obama offer change the Muslim world can believe in?

Obama’s openness to engagement and his legacy of opposition to the Iraq war has gone down well in the Middle East, with opinion polls showing the President having a remarkably high approval rating for a U.S. leader. But it’s hardly majority support, and even those who approve of Obama seem to retain a negative view of the United States. Here lies the rub: Obama has actually raised expectations that he will substantially change the policies that have antagonized much of the Middle East and beyond — expectations that, on current indications, he is unlikely to even come close to satisfying.

And that considerably raises the political peril of his planned speech to “the Muslim world” — I use quote marks in deference to the fact that the singularity of that noun may be more a figment of the jihadist imagination than a reality, but I’ll leave that conversation to others. The greater danger lies in the fact that Obama has no new policies to offer in Cairo. As his Deputy National Security Adviser Dennis McDonough told the Wall Street Journal, the Cairo speech will, instead, attempt to “change the conversation”. Said McDonough, “We want to get back on a shared partnership, back in a conversation that focuses on the shared values.”

The problem, of course, is that the breakdown between the U.S. and “the Muslim world” is not a misunderstanding of values, or a communication failure; it’s entirely about U.S. actions and policies, rather than the rhetoric in which they’re wrapped. People in Muslim countries understand American values, or the values America professes to uphold, and many are passionately attached to some of those same values. What they expect of America is that it apply its own values when dealing with the Middle East. They would like very much, for example, the U.S. to act on that basis of Lincoln’s “self evident truth” that Palestinian men and women were created equal to Israeli men and women — an approach Obama’s own Administration has yet to demonstrate, as my friend Rami Khouri notes. [continued…]

Can admitting a wrong make it right?

… there is a body of evidence to suggest that the most vital element in Middle East peacemaking may lie in questions of language and symbols–what social anthropologist Scott Atran calls a “moral logic” based on “sacred values.” And sometimes what that boils down to, essentially, is saying you’re sorry. As Atran sees it, this is not really a theological question. It’s more fundamental than fundamentalism. The need for dignity and respect—a craving for recognition and vindication—is at the heart of the region’s most intractable conflicts.

Such issues defy conventional notions of cost and benefit, says Atran, who holds distinguished posts at the University of Michigan, John Jay College in New York and the National Center for Scientific Research in France. Working with fellow scholar Jeremy Ginges, Atran has interviewed Israelis and Arabs, leaders and followers, throughout the region. And he has found that among the hardliners who now tend to dominate the debate and dictate stalemate on all sides, the offer of money or other material benefits not only is rejected, it increases their anger and their recalcitrance. “Billions of dollars have been sacrificed to demonstrate the advantages of peace and coexistence,” Atran and Ginges wrote earlier this year at the height of fighting in Gaza. “Yet still both sides opt for war.”

Even when ballots replace bullets, these factors that Atran calls “intangible” remain important. An obvious reason that extremists have done so well in the region’s elections in recent years, whether among the Arabs, Iranians or Israelis, is that they have addressed emotional and moral questions head on. Hamas’s essential message when it won the Palestinian elections in 2006 was one of resistance and dignity in the face of occupation and corruption. If a Hizbullah-led coalition wins at the polls in Lebanon this weekend, as many predict, its Kalashnikov-emblazoned banner of pride and defiance will have been key. And if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gets a second term out of voters later this month, his refusal to bow to international demands that Iran give up nuclear enrichment, along with his own demands that the United States apologize for its past actions toward Iran, will have helped to put him over the top. [continued…]

Obama says U.S. could be seen as a Muslim country, too

As President Obama prepared to leave Washington to fly to the Middle East, he conducted several television and radio interviews at the White House to frame the goals for a five-day trip, including the highly-anticipated speech Thursday at Cairo University in Egypt.

In an interview with Laura Haim on Canal Plus, a French television station, Mr. Obama noted that the United States also could be considered as “one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.” He sought to downplay the expectations of the speech, but he said he hoped the address would raise awareness about Muslims. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Not surprisingly, the rightwing blogosphere is all over this. Did Obama mean to say “America is one of the largest countries with a Muslim population”? Maybe that’s how Robert Gibbs will be trying to spin this. But here’s the quote in context:

    …I think that the United States and the West generally, we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam. And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslims Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. And so there’s got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples.

Over to you Mr Gibbs: “Well, I think you should take note that the president did say ‘we have to educate ourselves’ and this is for him, as for everyone else, an ongoing process. There are more Muslims in America than Kuwait, but yes indeed, we do know that Kuwait is not a large Muslim country and neither is the US.

Obama faces a chasm in Mideast

The dirt overturned to bury some of the 24 people killed by U.S. Marines here in 2005 has turned to dust. The graves where women were interred with their children along the Euphrates River are bereft of tombstones. Weeds mark the passage of time, though not the pain of memories.

“No one cares whether an Iraqi dies,” said Yassin Salem, whose brother and uncle were killed here in their homes on a single day that year, Nov. 19. He looked down with bitterness at the plastic bottles and newspaper that now litter the cemetery. “What does it matter?”

When President Obama delivers his address to the Middle East on Thursday from Cairo, he will face the legacy of names like Haditha, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, places that have become more symbol than geography over nearly a decade of perhaps the most traumatic chapter in America’s relationship with the Muslim world.

More than any other president in a generation, Obama enjoys a reservoir of goodwill in the region. His father was Muslim. His outreach in an interview with an Arabic satellite channel, a speech to Turkey’s parliament and an address to Iranians on the Persian New Year have inclined many to listen. Just as important, he is not George W. Bush.

But Obama will still encounter a landscape in which two realities often seem to be at work, shaped by those symbols. There is America’s version of its policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, Iraq and Afghanistan, and Islamist movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah, defined in recent years by the legacy of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. There is another reality, from hardscrabble quarters of Beirut and Cairo to war-wrecked neighborhoods of Baghdad, where distrust of the United States runs so deep that almost anything it pronounces, however eloquent, lacks credibility, imposing a burden on Obama to deliver something far more than the unfulfilled pledges of Bush’s speeches. [continued…]

U.S. releases secret list of nuclear sites accidentally

The federal government mistakenly made public a 266-page report, its pages marked “highly confidential,” that gives detailed information about hundreds of the nation’s civilian nuclear sites and programs, including maps showing the precise locations of stockpiles of fuel for nuclear weapons.

The publication of the document was revealed Monday in an online newsletter devoted to issues of federal secrecy. That set off a debate among nuclear experts about what dangers, if any, the disclosures posed. It also prompted a flurry of investigations in Washington into why the document had been made public.

On Tuesday evening, after inquiries from The New York Times, the document was withdrawn from a Government Printing Office Web site. [continued…]

Another Club Gitmo guest kills himself

Some of the most cartoonish pseudo-tough-guy, play-acting-warrior-low-lifes of the Right — Rush Limbaugh, The Weekly Standard, National Review’s Andy McCarthy — have long referred to Guantanamo as “Club Gitmo.” Many leading national Republican politicians have (as usual) followed suit. Recently, some key Democrats have begun actively impeding plans to close it.

Today, Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih — a 31-year old Yemeni who has been in a Gitmo cage since February, 2002 (more than seven years) without charges — became the latest Club Gitmo guest to successfully kill himself: [continued…]

Cheney edges away from claim that CIA docs will prove torture worked

There’s a very revealing moment buried in an interview that Dick Cheney gave to Fox News last night that really gives away his game plan on torture.

Specifically: Cheney seemed to edge away from the claim that the documents he’s asking the CIA to declassify will prove unequivocally that torture worked.

The key moment came when his interviewer said: “You want some documents declassified having to do with waterboarding.” Cheney replied:

    “Yes, but the way I would describe them is they have to do with the detainee program, the interrogation program. It’s not just waterboarding. It’s the interrogation program that we used for high-value detainees. There were two reports done that summarize what we learned from that program, and I think they provide a balanced view.”


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  1. DE Teodoru

    Well, Mr. Cheney, finally you realize that the ever so effective “BIG LIE” smashes to pieces when it slams against the wall of historical documentation. You tried a bluff and, like Rove, realized that a clumsy bluffer, sooner or later, stands naked exposed by the very light he Narssistically shines on himself. At least GW chose to be more modest, informing us that all he does is walk Barney, picking up what he tried to avoid for 8 years. Had you fit in that category?

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