The U.S. has been speaking to Hamas through back channels for more than six months

Sheera Frenkel reports: United States officials have been holding secret back-channel talks with Hamas over the last six months to discuss their role in the newly formed unity government, according to two senior diplomatic sources with direct knowledge of the talks.

The meetings were held between U.S. intermediaries and Hamas’ leadership, which lives outside the Gaza Strip in third-party countries ranging from Egypt to Qatar and Jordan. Topics included the ceasefire agreement with Israel and the recently formed unity government between Hamas and Fatah.

During the talks, Hamas gave assurances that allowed the U.S. to support the unity government, despite heavy pressure by the Israeli government for them to condemn it, the diplomatic officials — one American and one Palestinian — said. They said those assurances including a commitment to maintaining a ceasefire with Israel.

“Our administration needed to hear from them that this unity government would move toward democratic elections, and toward a more peaceful resolution with the entire region,” said one U.S. official familiar with the talks. He spoke on condition of anonymity, as the U.S, government’s official stance is that it has not, and will not, talk to Hamas until certain preconditions are met. “It was important to have that line of communication,” the U.S. official said. [Continue reading...]

BBC News reports: US Secretary of State John Kerry has rejected Israeli criticism of his recognition of the new Palestinian government formed by Fatah and Hamas.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he was “deeply troubled” by the decision.

But during a visit to Lebanon, Mr Kerry noted the ministers were independent technocrats and insisted that they would be watched “very closely”.

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Biden’s son, Kerry family friend join Ukrainian gas producer’s board

The Wall Street Journal reports: Vice President Joe Biden’s son and a close friend of Secretary of State John Kerry’s stepson have joined the board of a Ukrainian gas producer controlled by a former top security and energy official for deposed President Viktor Yanukovych.

The move has attracted attention given Messrs. Biden’s and Kerry’s public roles in diplomacy toward Ukraine, where the U.S. expressed support for pro-Western demonstrators who toppled Mr. Yanukovych’s Kremlin-backed government in February. The uprising provoked a pro-Russia backlash that has plunged the post-Soviet republic into conflict and brought it to the brink of civil war.

Hunter Biden, a lawyer by training and the younger of the vice president’s two sons, joined the board of directors of Ukrainian gas firm Burisma Holdings Ltd. this month and took on responsibility for the company’s legal unit, according to a statement issued by the closely held gas producer.

His appointment came a few weeks after Devon Archer —college roommate of the secretary of state’s stepson, H.J. Heinz Co. ketchup heir Christopher Heinz —joined the board to help the gas firm attract U.S. investors, improve its corporate governance and expand its operations. A State Department spokesman declined to comment. [Continue reading...]

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Ann Jones: How to lose friends and influence no one (the State Department way)

Ignorance can be dangerous, as shown in a recent poll asking Americans what to do about the Ukraine crisis.  It turned out that the less those polled were capable of identifying where in the world Ukraine is, the more likely they were to want the U.S. to intervene militarily in that country.

If ever there were a demonstration of what ignorance can lead to, that poll would be right at the top of the list of sobering examples.  Sometimes, of course, we don’t know where ignorance is going to lead, but that hasn’t stopped the U.S. government from making it a central policy principle of this era.  Just the other day, for instance, National Intelligence Director James Clapper imposed a remarkable, if little discussed, gag on the whole national intelligence “community” (and, by implication, on the media as well).  From now on, officials at the 17 agencies that make up that labyrinthine bureaucracy are barred from “speaking to journalists about unclassified intelligence-related topics without permission.”  Yes, you read that right: they are barred not just from discussing classified information with the media, but unclassified information as well.

Almost nothing from that world is unclassified any more.  In the Bush and Obama years, a vast blanket of secrecy has been thrown over just about anything American intelligence outfits do or any of the documents they produce, no matter how anodyne.  Still, you never know what small things might have slipped through unclassified due to some oversight.  Thanks to the intervention of Clapper, who only months ago promised a new era of “transparency” in intelligence, problem solved.  His is a simple way to deal with leaks of even the most innocent information.  Now, if you meet with a reporter to discuss anything at all without “permission,” you are open to being disciplined, fired, or even conceivably prosecuted.

Think of this as the Obama administration’s version of an ignorance rule.  In order to keep Americans safe, it turns out, you must keep them blissfully, utterly, totally uninformed about what in the world their government knows or thinks or does in their name, unless that information is carefully vetted and approved by some official or bureaucrat.  In other words, we now live in a country in which we have a government of the knowing, by the classifiers, for the uninformed, and if you don’t like it, well, there’s a door marked “exit” that you can step through right now.

Apply to this situation what might be called the Ukraine rule and you come up with a potential formula (or so the government evidently hopes) that would go something like this: the less the American people know, the more likely they are to believe that our “safety” and “security” lie in whatever Washington wants to do.  And by the way, ignorance is on the march in Washington.  Today, TomDispatch regular Ann Jones, author of They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story, reports on part of the budget process for 2015 that will help make government-sponsored ignorance not just a national but a global concern. Tom Engelhardt

Washington’s pivot to ignorance
Will the State Department torpedo its last great program?
By Ann Jones

Often it’s the little things coming out of Washington, obscured by the big, scary headlines, that matter most in the long run. Items that scarcely make the news, or fail to attract your attention, or once noticed seem trivial, may carry consequences that endure long after the latest front-page crisis has passed. They may, in fact, signal fundamental changes in Washington’s priorities and policies that could even face opposition, if only we paid attention.

Take the current case of an unprecedented, unkind, under-the-radar cut in the State Department’s budget for the Fulbright Program, the venerable 68-year-old operation that annually arranges for thousands of educators, students, and researchers to be exchanged between the United States and at least 155 other countries. As Washington increasingly comes to rely on the “forward projection” of military force to maintain its global position, the Fulbright Program may be the last vestige of an earlier, more democratic, equitable, and generous America that enjoyed a certain moral and intellectual standing in the world. Yet, long advertised by the U.S. government as “the flagship international educational exchange program” of American cultural diplomacy, it is now in the path of the State Department’s torpedoes.

[Read more...]

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The reasons the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed

This week the Israeli columnist, Nahum Barnea, spoke to senior American officials involved in Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace effort and heard their explanation for the talks’ failure. Barnea writes, “what they told me is the closest thing to an official American version of what happened.”

Let’s go back to the beginning. Was this round not doomed for failure from day one?

“The negotiations had to start with a decision to freeze settlement construction. We thought that we couldn’t achieve that because of the current makeup of the Israeli government, so we gave up. We didn’t realize Netanyahu was using the announcements of tenders for settlement construction as a way to ensure the survival of his own government. We didn’t realize continuing construction allowed ministers in his government to very effectively sabotage the success of the talks.

“There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort’s failure, but people in Israel shouldn’t ignore the bitter truth – the primary sabotage came from the settlements. The Palestinians don’t believe that Israel really intends to let them found a state when, at the same time, it is building settlements on the territory meant for that state. We’re talking about the announcement of 14,000 housing units, no less. Only now, after talks blew up, did we learn that this is also about expropriating land on a large scale. That does not reconcile with the agreement.

“At this point, it’s very hard to see how the negotiations could be renewed, let alone lead to an agreement. Towards the end, Abbas demanded a three-month freeze on settlement construction. His working assumption was that if an accord is reached, Israel could build along the new border as it pleases. But the Israelis said no.”
[...]
Compare the current round of talks to Henry Kissinger’s efforts after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, an effort that led to disengagement agreements between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Egypt. Compare it to James Baker’s effort after the first Gulf War, an effort that led to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991.

“At the end of a war there is a sense of urgency,” they said. And then one of them added bitterly: “I guess we need another intifada to create the circumstances that would allow progress.

“20 years after the Oslo Accords, new game rules and facts on the ground were created that are deeply entrenched. This reality is very difficult for the Palestinians and very convenient for Israel.”
[...]
Were you surprised when you discovered that the Israelis don’t really care what happens in the negotiations?

“Yes, we were surprised. It surprised us all along the way. When (Moshe) Ya’alon, your defense minister, said that the only thing Kerry wants is to win a Nobel Prize, the insult was great. We were doing this for you and for the Palestinians. Of course, there were also American interests at play.

“A lot of people told us – ‘don’t stop. Keep going.’ We told them: ‘It’s in your hands. Take responsibility for your own fate.’ But, stuck in their own ways, they preferred we do their job for them. Public apathy was one of our biggest problems.

“One of the Palestinians who participated in the talks told an Israeli participant: ‘You don’t see us. We’re transparent, we’re hollow.’ He had a point. After the second intifada ended and the separation barrier was built, the Palestinians turned into ghosts in the eyes of the Israelis – they couldn’t see them anymore.”

It almost sounds like you wish for an intifada.

“Quite the opposite, it would be a tragedy. The Jewish people are supposed to be smart; it is true that they’re also considered a stubborn nation. You’re supposed to know how to read the map: In the 21st century, the world will not keep tolerating the Israeli occupation. The occupation threatens Israel’s status in the world and threatens Israel as a Jewish state.”

The world is being self-righteous. It closes its eyes to China’s takeover of Tibet, it stutters at what Russia’s doing to Ukraine.

“Israel is not China. It was founded by a UN resolution. Its prosperity depends on the way it is viewed by the international community.”

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Kerry’s ‘apartheid’ gambit a bigger deal in U.S. than in Israel

Gershom Gorenberg writes: On Monday morning, “Apartheid” was the first word in the headline of the editorial at the top of page 2 in Israel’s Ha’aretz daily. The newspaper’s editorial page is an old-fashioned grey mass of type, the print equivalent of the low monotonous growl of an aging foreign policy commentator on public radio. But Ha’aretz wasn’t growling about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s leaked warning, published late Sunday night, that unless Israel reaches a two-state agreement, it risks becoming “an apartheid state.”

Rather, the editorial was about the planning bodies that allow Israeli settlement construction and block Palestinian building in Area C, the part of the West Bank where Israel rather than the Palestinian Authority runs day-to-day affairs. The paper urged Israel’s Supreme Court to rule against the discrimination.

From this we learn two things: First, intentionally or not, whoever leaked Kerry’s comments to a meeting of the Trilateral Commission on Friday did so with timing that guaranteed a muted coverage in Israel. Saturday night on the American East Coast was Sunday morning in Israel. The day’s ink-on-paper newspapers were already printed and lying on doorsteps. And since Monday was Israel’s’ memorial day for the Holocaust, the up-to-the-second media, online and on the air, were devoted entirely to painful memories and the political uses or misuses of them. On talk radio, talk about Kerry would have to wait.

The second lesson is that “apartheid” is a strong but not shocking word within Israel’s own political conversation. [Continue reading...]

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Kerry clarifies when, where, and how the words ‘Israel’ and ‘apartheid’ can be used in the same sentence

In a statement issued by the State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry said: “I do not believe, nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one.” [Emphasis mine.]

In a closed-door meeting on Friday, Kerry had said:

“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”

Kerry has now offered clarification to that statement by saying:

“I have been around long enough to also know the power of words to create a misimpression, even when unintentional, and if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution. In the long term, a unitary, binational state cannot be the democratic Jewish state that Israel deserves or the prosperous state with full rights that the Palestinian people deserve. That’s what I said, and it’s also what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said. While Justice Minister Livni, former Prime Ministers Barak and Ohlmert have all invoked the specter of apartheid to underscore the dangers of a unitary state for the future, it is a word best left out of the debate here at home.”

In other words, in order to avoid startling and disappointing the likes of Abe Foxman, ‘apartheid’ is a word best reserved for conversations with Israelis.

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Kerry warns Israel could become ‘an apartheid state’

John Kerry echoes former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak. The Daily Beast reports: If there’s no two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon, Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state,” Secretary of State John Kerry told a room of influential world leaders in a closed-door meeting Friday.

Senior American officials have rarely, if ever, used the term “apartheid” in reference to Israel, and President Obama has previously rejected the idea that the word should apply to Jewish State. Kerry’s use of the loaded term is already rankling Jewish leaders in America—and it could attract unwanted attention in Israel, as well.

It wasn’t the only controversial comment on the Middle East that Kerry made during his remarks to the Trilateral Commission, a recording of which was obtained by The Daily Beast. Kerry also repeated his warning that a failure of Middle East peace talks could lead to a resumption of Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens. He suggested that a change in either the Israeli or Palestinian leadership could make achieving a peace deal more feasible. He lashed out against Israeli settlement-building. And Kerry said that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders share the blame for the current impasse in the talks.

Kerry also said that at some point, he might unveil his own peace deal and tell both sides to “take it or leave it.”

“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state,” Kerry told the group of senior officials and experts from the U.S., Western Europe, Russia, and Japan. “Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two state solution, which both leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.” [Continue reading...]

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The dilettantes Obama chose to guide U.S. foreign policy

James Bruno writes: Working the Afghanistan account at the State Department in the late 1980s, I occasionally met the Russian muckraking journalist Artyom Borovik. Before he joined the vanguard of those agitating for change during glasnost, he had served as a Soviet diplomat. The son of a Novosti journalist posted to New York, Borovik spoke nearly unaccented English and excellent Spanish. He was as comfortable in an Afghan tea house as he was at a Manhattan Starbucks. Borovik, in short, was the cream of the crop of Russian youth from which the Foreign Ministry traditionally recruits its diplomats: urbane, multilingual, with elite educations and the skills to deftly navigate foreign societies.

Borovik died in 2000 in a still-unsolved Moscow plane accident days after producing a scathing article about an ascendant Russian politician, Vladimir Putin, who was about to become president. Borovik quoted Putin in an article as saying, “There are three ways to influence people: blackmail, vodka, and the threat to kill.”

Whether or not Putin has expanded his tools of persuasion, he’s got good help in the influence department. In the lead-up to four-way talks over Ukraine and Secretary of State Kerry’s consultations with European leaders this week, Russian ambassadors are using their many close connections with continental elites to press Putin’s case, to seek to stifle or limit economic sanctions and to foster divisions between Washington and its allies. In most cases these Russian envoys have spent the bulk of their diplomatic careers dealing with the countries to which they are posted and have extensive decades-long contacts with whom they can speak, often in the latters’ native languages. This gives them a decided edge.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is fairly typical. A graduate of the prestigious Moscow Institute for International Relations (known by its Russian acronym, MGIMO) and 42-year Foreign Ministry veteran, Lavrov speaks fluent English as well as Sinhalese, Dhiveli and French. A former U.S. ambassador who had dealt with Lavrov at the United Nations described him to me as disciplined, witty and charming, a diplomat so skilled “he runs rings around us in the multilateral sphere.”

Russia has always taken diplomacy and its diplomats seriously. America, on the other hand, does not. Of this country’s 28 diplomatic missions in NATO capitals (of which 26 are either currently filled by an ambassador or have nominees waiting to be confirmed), 16 are, or will be, headed by political appointees; only one ambassador to a major NATO ally, Turkey, is a career diplomat. Fourteen ambassadors got their jobs in return for raising big money for President Obama’s election campaigns, or worked as his aides. A conservative estimate of personal and bundled donations by these fundraisers is $20 million (based on figures from the New York Times, Federal Election Commission and AllGov). The U.S. ambassador to Belgium, a former Microsoft executive, bundled more than $4.3 million. [Continue reading...]

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Kerry places blame on Israel for crisis in peace talks

Haaretz reports: The United States intends on continuing its efforts to promote a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, but “it is the responsibility of the two sides to make decisions,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Kerry placed most of the blame for the crisis in talks on Israel and described the Palestinian application to United Nations institutions as a response to Israeli moves. “Both sides – wound out in a position of unhelpful moves,” he said, and went on to explain how the current crisis was created. “The treaties were unhelpful – and we made that crystal clear to the Palestinians. The prisoners were not released by Israel on the day they were supposed to be released and then another day passed and another day – and then 700 units were approved in Jerusalem and then poof…”

Kerry noted that “there are limits to the amount time the president and myself can put into this considering the other challenges around the world, especially if the parties can’t commit to being there in a serious way.” [Continue reading...]

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Kerry trying to salvage Mideast peace talks — State denies report on Pollard release

n13-iconReuters reports: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry broke from a visit to Italy on Wednesday to try to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, even as Arab leaders declared they would never meet Israel’s core demand to be recognized as a Jewish state.

Kerry flew to Jordan to ask Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to commit to extending the negotiations, just days before Israel is supposed to release a final group of Palestinian prisoners as a confidence-building gesture.

Before it releases the prisoners, Israel wants to be assured Abbas won’t abandon the U.S.-brokered talks, which resumed last July after a three-year break. Having initially set next month as the target date for a peace accord, Kerry is now trying to get the sides to a agree a framework for further negotiations.

Israel’s Army Radio said Washington had offered to free Jonathan Pollard, a U.S. Navy analyst jailed for spying for Israel in the 1980s, if Israel went ahead with the prisoner release – keeping Abbas on the diplomatic track.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki denied the report, saying: “There are currently no plans to release Jonathan Pollard.” [Continue reading...]

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Israeli spies find it increasingly difficult to enter the U.S.

n13-iconIntelNews.org reports: Articles in the Israeli media have accused the United States of quietly instituting a policy of denying entry visa requests from members of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. In an article published on Tuesday, centrist newspaper Maariv cited “senior security personnel” who have allegedly been barred from entering the US. The centrist Hebrew-language daily said the past 12 months have seen “hundreds of cases” of employees in the Israeli intelligence community who have been told by US consular officials that they could not step foot on US soil. The paper said the visa rejections appear to affect mostly members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, and the Mossad, which conducts covert operations abroad. Visa bans have also affected employees in Israel’s defense industries, said the article. The report suggests that the targeting of Israeli security and intelligence personnel appears to be deliberate, adding that it applies even to those Israeli intelligence or security officers that are already stationed on US soil. In what seems to be a change in policy, the latter are now being issued short-term visas, rather than multiyear entry permits. As a result, the paper says they are “forced” to cross from the US into Canada at regular intervals, in order to apply to have their visas renewed.

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Business as usual: Victoria Nuland back in Kiev

Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Fuck-the-EU Nuland is back in Kiev. Is she there to wave her middle finger in the direction of Russia?

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Chase Madar: The folly of arming Israel

Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s pledge to sell advanced antiaircraft weapons to Syria, noting that it would have “a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region.”  And really, who could argue that pouring more weapons into a heavily-armed corner of the globe, roiled by conflict, convulsed by civil strife and civil war, could do anything but inflame tensions and cost lives?

Yet Kerry’s State Department, in coordination with the Pentagon, has been content to oversee a U.S.-sanctioned flood of arms and military matériel heading into the region at a breakneck pace.  In December, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which coordinates sales and transfers of military equipment, announced that it had approved the sale of more than 15,000 Raytheon-produced anti-tank missiles to Saudi Arabia under two separate agreements worth a combined $1 billion.  Last month, potential deals to sell and lease Apache attack helicopters to the embattled government of Iraq were also made public, in addition to an agreement that would send the country $82 million worth of Hellfire missiles.  At about the same time, the DSCA notified Congress of a possible $270 million sale of F-16 fighters to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  All of this was on top of a potential $600 million deal to train 6,000-8,000 Libyan military personnel and a prospective $150 million agreement for Marines to mentor members of the UAE’s Presidential Guard Command, both of which were announced in January.  And let’s not forget that, last month, Congress also turned on the spigot to allow automatic weapons and anti-tank rockets to flow to rebel fighters in — wait for it — Syria.

Of course, Muslim nations around the region aren’t alone in receiving U.S. support.  The U.S. also plies Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, with copious amounts of aid.  Since World War II, the Jewish state has, in fact, been the largest beneficiary of U.S. foreign assistance, almost all of it military, according to the Congressional Research Service.  Yet the topic is barely covered in the U.S.  Today, TomDispatch regular Chase Madar provides a remedy for that collective silence, taking us on a deep dive into what that aid means in Israel, Palestine, and Washington.  In the process, he explains why you’re unlikely ever to hear John Kerry suggest that sending weapons to Israel might have “a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region.” Nick Turse

Washington’s military aid to Israel
Fake peace process, real war process
By Chase Madar

We Americans have funny notions about foreign aid. Recent polls show that, on average, we believe 28% of the federal budget is eaten up by it, and that, in a time of austerity, this gigantic bite of the budget should be cut back to 10%. In actual fact, barely 1% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid of any kind.

In this case, however, truth is at least as strange as fiction. Consider that the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid over the past three decades isn’t some impoverished land filled with starving kids, but a wealthy nation with a per-head gross domestic product on par with the European Union average, and higher than that of Italy, Spain, or South Korea.

Consider also that this top recipient of such aid — nearly all of it military since 2008 — has been busily engaged in what looks like a nineteenth-century-style colonization project. In the late 1940s, our beneficiary expelled some 700,000 indigenous people from the land it was claiming.  In 1967, our client seized some contiguous pieces of real estate and ever since has been colonizing these territories with nearly 650,000 of its own people. It has divided the conquered lands with myriad checkpoints and roads accessible only to the colonizers and is building a 440-mile wall around (and cutting into) the conquered territory, creating a geography of control that violates international law.

“Ethnic cleansing” is a harsh term, but apt for a situation in which people are driven out of their homes and lands because they are not of the right tribe. Though many will balk at leveling this charge against Israel — for that country is, of course, the top recipient of American aid and especially military largesse — who would hesitate to use the term if, in a mirror-image world, all of this were being inflicted on Israeli Jews?

[Read more...]

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Why does America send so many stupid, unqualified hacks overseas?

o13-iconJames Bruno writes: When hotel magnate George Tsunis, Obama’s nominee for Oslo, met with the Senate last month, he made clear that he didn’t know that Norway was a constitutional monarchy and wrongly stated that one of the ruling coalition political parties was a hate-spewing “fringe element.” Another of the president’s picks, Colleen Bell, who is headed to Budapest, could not answer questions about the United States’ strategic interests in Hungary. But could the president really expect that she’d be an expert on the region? Her previous gig was as a producer for the TV soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. She stumbled through responses to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) like, well, a soap opera star, expounding on world peace. When the whole awkward exchange concluded, the senator grinned. “I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees,” McCain said sarcastically.

For the purposes of comparison, Norway’s ambassador to the Washington is a 31-year Foreign Ministry veteran. Hungary’s ambassador is an economist who worked at the International Monetary Fund for 27 years.

The resumé imbalance, of course, owes to a simple fact: The United States is the only industrialized country to award diplomatic posts as political spoils, often to wealthy campaign contributors in an outmoded system that rivals the patronage practices of banana republics, dictatorships and two-bit monarchies. [Continue reading...]

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One night at a Palestinian land reclamation party

f13-iconDylan Collins reports: We moved off the road and into a large palm grove, walking towards the chants and whistles we heard through the trees. “Fuck, it feels like I’m walking on dinosaur bones,” shouted a friend as we tromped through a graveyard of dead palm branches and into the village of Ein Hijleh.

The wrecked stone structures we arrived at, remnants of Palestinian homes, were occupied by hundreds of Palestinians and a handful of international activists. The protest was coordinated by members of Melh al-Ard – Arabic for “Salt of the Earth” – a newly established direct action collective who have taken it upon themselves to revive the destroyed village. It’s the first step in a series of actions opposing Israel’s growing colonisation of the Jordan Valley and the illegal occupation of Palestinian land at large.

The catalyst for the demonstration was the ongoing “peace” process led by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Although the specifics of his plan are unknown, the general outline is clear; it would allow Israel to maintain a significant military presence – complete with US-funded drones and surveillance equipment – in the Jordan Valley for the next ten years, supposedly to quash any “destabilising” security situation. Unsurprisingly, Kerry isn’t too popular among the crowd of protesters.

“Negotiations under Kerry are a joke,” said Ahmad Nasser, an activist from the Ramallah area. “How can the US, who provide Israel with over $3 billion (£1.8 billion) a year in military aid, be trusted?”

As Obama’s Easter Island-faced colleague blindly marches the two countries down the aisle towards a wedding that will never be consummated, groups like Melh al-Ard are taking matters into their own hands. [Continue reading...]

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The peace process is frozen, but Israel is winning

f13-iconLarry Derfner writes: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected sometime in the coming weeks to weigh in decisively on the Israeli-Palestinian talks he’s been shepherding, and the reports, statements and signs are that he will come down on Israel’s side like no American mediator ever has. Indications are he will present the outline of a deal that’s less forthcoming to the Palestinians than the offers presented them by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 and premier Ehud Barak in 2001. In other words, the emerging American “framework agreement” appears to ask the Palestinians to accept peace terms that are worse than the Israeli ones they already rejected.

This doesn’t mean anything for the chances of a peace agreement, though, because no such chance has ever been sighted, not six months ago when the talks, scheduled for nine months, began and certainly not now, when the bad blood between the Israeli and Palestinian sides has only increased. But seeing as how the talks were hopeless, the goal of each side has been to make sure that the other side ends up with the blame for their inevitable failure. If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes out looking like the rejectionist, it would accelerate the growing boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement against Israel, especially in Europe, and put the wind at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ back in his diplomatic campaign in the United Nations, which envisages bringing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to The Hague. But if, on the other hand, Abbas gets blamed, then the Palestinians would be thrown on the defensive and Israel would be able to breathe much easier.

The import, then, of a heavily “pro-Israel” U.S. proposal is that it would all but compel the Palestinians to reject it, putting the blame – at least in American eyes – on them. The recent momentum of the anti-occupation movement would likely be blunted. Thus, the effect of Kerry’s incredibly dogged efforts and evident good intentions would be to strengthen the status quo – Israel’s 46-year military rule over the Palestinians – weaken the opposition to it and even further darken the dimming prospect of a Palestinian state arising alongside the State of Israel.

This is the opposite of what Kerry had in mind when he set out on his mission. But it’s exactly what Netanyahu has been playing for. And it appears the earnest, optimistic American has been played. [Continue reading...]

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