We'll recognise Israel, vows Abbas

September 23, 2006
Extracts from The Weekend Australian
AP AFP Correspondents in New York

ANY new Palestinian government will recognise Israel, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has told the UN General Assembly. "I would like to reaffirm that any future Palestinian government will commit to all the agreements that the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian Authority have committed to," he said.

In his speech to the assembly, Mr Abbas referred in particular to letters exchanged in 1993 by then Palestinian and Israeli leaders Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin that recognised each other for the first time. "These two letters contain a reciprocal recognition between the PLO and Israel, reject violence and call for negotiations to reach a permanent settlement with the creation of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel," he said.

Mr Abbas has been negotiating to form a national unity government between his Fatah movement who oversee the West Bank, and Hamas who oversee the Gaza Strip.

An adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya said the Palestinian government would be prepared to back a 10-year truce with the Jewish state. "The national unity government does not recognise Israel in its political program. The Government and the Hamas movement will be against recognising Israel," Ahmed Yussef said. "Our position to solve the crisis is a 10-year truce which will be good for stability and prosperity."

Go to March 12 2010

Click here for further background to these announcements — a UN brokered truce between Lebanon and Israel on August 14th 2006 — provisionally reckoned "a messy draw" by Greg Sheridan foreign editor at "The Australian".

This news report came on Sep 23 2006, a day for celebrating the Jewish Feast of Trumpets click here for more details. It is also known as the Jewish Day of Judgment, recalling Adam's sin and subsequent judgment — though with compassion, also the Jewish Day of Remembrance, recalling Abraham's offering up of Isaac, and finally, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year's Day. It is a Jewish holy day, and as mentioned before, traditionally goes right back to Genesis 2:7 when God initially formed Adam (like a potter) from the clay of the ground. Also, coincidentally this year, the first day of Ramadan (9th month and Holiest month) for Muslims.

First week: Seven Days of God.

Last week: Seven Years of Exposure and JudgmentDaniel 9:27. And the ruler will confirm the (peace) covenant with the many for one week (seven years). Mr Abbas's recognition of Israel infers that their rebuilding and growth may continue. But, in the middle of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering to cease. And in March 2010 the pressure coming from Palestine that rejects any new building in Jerusalem means any associated sacrifices and offerings 1 Kings 8:62-64 — offerings always accompany growth Genesis 4:3 — are now made to cease and this leads to Jerusalem's devastation during 3½ tumultuous years. See too, the passage on the Day of Atonement Leviticus 23:32.

3½ years — Months, Years and Days

  1. In Revelation 12:6 there is a vision of a heavenly woman, Jerusalem above, the mother of us all, as it says in Galatians 4:26. She gives birth, there is a rapture, and now, greatly weakened, she flees into the wilderness where she is nurtured for 1260 days. This is also the period of time that God's two witnesses are present in Jerusalem in Revelation 11:3
  2. In my understanding of Hebrew, a month did not equal 30 days, nor did a year equal 360 days. A month equalled the period between one new moon and the next - i.e. 29.53 days. Accordingly, the period of 42 months in Revelation 11:2 is equal to 29.53 days times 42, or 1240 days. It is recorded in Revelation 11:2 as the length of time that Jerusalem is trampled underfoot, and in Revelation 13:5-10 as the period that the Antichrist has full reign.
  3. Then there are the two passages in Daniel 12:8-12 referring to 1290 days and 1335 days. The 1290 days refers to the removal of daily offerings (to God) and the setting up of the abomination of desolation (i.e. a disgusting/filthy object that lays waste). In Revelation 13:14 we see an image / statue demanding worship, with non-compliance resulting in death. See this picture also in Daniel 6:7
  4. Lastly, that final number of 1335 speaks of people who are blessed by lasting the distance of 1335 days.
  5. In Hebrew, a "year" equals a "revolution (of time)" from Genesis 1:14 where it refers to the appointment of stars and the seasons that revolve every 365 days 5 hours and 48 minutes. And in both Daniel 12:7 and Revelation 12:14, it declares that all these events take place during a time, times and half a time — i.e. during 3½ years.

So, there are a lot of secrets in terms of what actually happens during those four different day numbers: 1240, 1260, 1290 and 1335, that God has yet to reveal, but if the picture of Palestine's recognition of Israel and confirmation of the peace agreement in the United Nations was in fact the start of the final seven years in Daniel 9:27, then yes, the time is certainly short.

There's a new mood for peace in the Holy Land

The time seems right for a major breakthrough in talks between Israel and the Palestinians

Martin Chulov
The Australian
July 30, 2007

TONY Blair will lead an ensemble cast of envoys back to the Middle East this week as the West attempts to build on its best - and maybe last - attempt to deliver peace to the region. Arriving around the same time will be US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Both are expected to arrive with a package of sweeteners for the new Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad, who they have entrusted to forge a lasting peace with Israel.

As talks step up over moves for a two-state solution, openings have also emerged on normalising relations with regional pariah Syria. Adding impetus to hopes of at least one groundbreaking deal, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is also sending an emissary, former BBC reporter and senior adviser Michael Phillips. The Turks and the Norwegians -- two of the handful of nations to have maintained contacts with Hamas -- also say they are ready to send delegates. The Arab League, under whose name the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers dined in Jerusalem with Israeli leaders last week, are similarly backing the talks.

For the first time since the failed talks in 2000 between the then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and the late Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Yasser Arafat, the Holy Land is poised for something profound. Yet no one is sure what it will be.


Rice in Israel to push for peace
The Australian
Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent
August 02, 2007

CONDOLEEZZA Rice has arrived in Israel for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders after adding the Bush administration's support to the Arab League plan for peace between the two protagonists. The US Secretary of State touched down in Jerusalem along with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates after meeting key Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia and the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Ahead of the latest round of meetings, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a pitch for Saudi Arabia to send a representative to a regional peace summit planned for later this year. The summit was called in July by US President George W. Bush and looms as a pivotal point in his administration's foreign policy.

The Saudis responded favourably to the request yesterday, with Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal claiming "we are interested in the peace proposal. When we get an invitation from the minister (Dr Rice) to attend, when this takes place, we will discuss it and we will make sure that we attend the conference," he said.

Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and a conference attended by both countries would be hailed as a significant breakthrough. As custodian of the two holiest Islamic shrines, Saudi Arabia's endorsement of a regional peace plan is considered a likely trigger for broader acceptance across the Arab and Islamic world. Israeli officials, including Mr Olmert, and the Saudis have met secretly over the past year in backroom discussions brokered by Jordan, but have never held a public meeting.


Olmert pledges pullback for peace
The Australian
Abraham Rabinovich
October 10, 2007

JERUSALEM: In his most forceful pledge yet to seek progress towards a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said Israel must be prepared to pay a high price. "The peace process involves relinquishing the full realisation of dreams that fed our national ethos for many years," he said at the opening of the Knesset's winter session yesterday.

Earlier in the day, two senior ministers expressed readiness to give up Israeli control of Arab sections of Jerusalem, a big shift from the national consensus since the Arab part of the city was captured by Israel in 1967. Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon, a left-wing stalwart, and right-wing minister Avigdor Lieberman advocated giving control of parts of East Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority in a final settlement.

Mr Olmert avoided specifics in expressing his readiness for concessions, but said his meetings with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had created a positive atmosphere for dialogue. "Under no circumstances should Israel miss an opportunity that could bring an improvement in relations with the Palestinians," he said.


Late rush to Mid-East summit
The Australian
Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent
November 27, 2007

A LATE surge of Arab support for the Middle East summit has raised hopes that the meeting, which starts in Annapolis tonight, will help stymie a seven-year regional decline and pave a way for peace talks with Israel. Support in the Palestinian territories for the meeting was running yesterday at 72 per cent, according to local media. All Arab League states, with the exception of Bahrain, have agreed to send delegates - most at a senior minister level - marking the first time most of its members have publicly sat at the same table as an Israeli delegation. Ahead of their arrival in Annapolis, in the northeastern US state of Maryland, Arab ministers were warned that the conference would deal solely with the 59-year-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

However, a late concession that delegates can raise whatever issues they want has sparked hope that progress can be made in other imbroglios, such as the future of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel from Syria in 1967. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said a late clause in the summit agenda to allow a broader forum to debate nation-state concerns was enough to lure arch enemy Syria to turn up. "As a result of the inclusion of this phrase, I believe Syria ... decided to attend the conference," she said.

Saudi Arabia has also flagged its attendance, a move that consolidates months of back-channel diplomatic contacts, and several high-level meetings, between the desert kingdom and the Jewish state. "There isn't a single Palestinian who can reach an agreement with Israel without the support of the Arab world," Ms Livni said. "This is one of the lessons we learned seven years ago. We are going to an event in which the whole Arab world is participating, which is meant to support the process between Israel and the Palestinians."

Iran remains steadfastly opposed to the meeting, accusing many countries who plan to turn up of being ignorant. "Those attending the meeting and giving concessions to the Zionist occupiers will not be remembered in history as having a good reputation," he said.

Up to 40 nations have agreed to attend, with the world's most populous Muslim state, Indonesia, also taking a prominent seat at the conference table.

The talks between the two sides are the first for seven years and the participation en masse of the Arab states is unprecedented.


November 29, 2007
Sixty years ago today, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for a plan to partition the troubled British mandate of Palestine into two distict nations to accommodate its Jewish and Arab populations. The vast majority of the Jewish community accepted this compromise while the Arab residents rioted.

A simple shake or shaking history?
The Australian
Geoff Elliott, Washington correspondent

THE Israeli and Palestinian leaders yesterday pledged to seek a peace deal by the end of next year as they relaunched negotiations at the US-sponsored conference in Annapolis.

29 Nov - Olmert-Bush-Abbas
US President George W. Bush, centre, Israel's PM Ehud Olmert, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Picture: Reuters
Flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, George W. Bush read out their pledge to the representatives of 50 countries and organisations gathered at the Annapolis Naval College in Maryland. The US President shook hands with both men, who then shook each other's hands. In a memorable image, the three went through the gestures again and Mr Bush stepped back and raised his hands to encourage the other two to come together for a handshake, which they did. The image echoed that of former president Bill Clinton when he encouraged Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands on the White House lawn 14 years ago at the launch of the Oslo accords.

But Mr Bush was quick to temper expectations. Achieving a two-state solution, he said, was "not going to be easy. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago. To achieve freedom and peace, both Israelis and Palestinians will have to make tough choices. Both sides are sober about the work ahead, but having spent time with their leaders, they are ready to take on the tough issues."

In a statement read by Mr Bush, Mr Olmert and Mr Abbas pledged to start substantive negotiations by December 12. They will meet fortnightly after that, with a deadline of the end of next year for a peace settlement and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

"We express our determination to bring an end to bloodshed, suffering and decades of conflict between our peoples; to usher in a new era of peace, based on freedom, security, justice, dignity, respect and mutual recognition; to propagate a culture of peace and non-violence; to confront terrorism and incitement, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis," they said. "We agree to immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues."

The agreement was reached after weeks of negotiations, and White House aides said it went to the wire until just before Mr Bush made his way to the podium. With the biggest gathering of nations ever assembled to discuss peace in the Middle East as his witness, Mr Abbas said to Mr Olmert: "Neither we nor you must beg for peace from the other. It is a joint interest for us and you. It is time for the circle of blood, violence and occupation to end. It is time for us to look at the future together with confidence and hope. It is time for this tortured land that has been called the land of love and peace to live up to its name."

He was followed by Mr Olmert, who promised: "The negotiations will address all the issues which thus far have been evaded. We will not avoid any subject." Mr Bush said the purpose of the conference was to launch negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. "Our job is to encourage the parties in this effort."


Club Med claims Beirut-Damascus deal as first Mid-East success

Peace now ‘closer then ever’

Learn how to love each other
‘Learn how to love each other’: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after a press conference in Paris   Picture: AP
The Australian
Monday July 14, 2008

PARIS: Israel and the Palestinians "have never been this close" to a peace deal, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last night following talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris and before a diplomatic breakthrough with arch-foe Syria. Mr Olmert and Mr Abbas were among 43 leaders in Paris for the launch of a new Union for the Mediterranean, which aims to boost co-operation in one of the world's most volatile regions. "We have never been as close to an accord as we are today," Mr Olmert told a press conference following talks hosted by President Nicolas Sarkozy at the French presidential palace. "We are approaching the moment when we will have to make decisive choices," he said.

The declaration of optimism came as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to make history and seal detente with Europe by attending the launch of the French-inspired union alongside Mr Olmert overnight. The diplomatic breakthrough — the first time Israeli and Syrian leaders would have been in the same room — enables Mr Assad to emerge from Western isolation three years after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, a murder that many believe was orchestrated from Damascus.

On Saturday, Mr Assad held talks with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, who agreed to normalise relations between Damascus and Beirut. This was an early success for Mr Sarkozy, who hosted the talks. Mr Olmert said last night that while he hoped indirect peace talks launched with Syria, via Turkey, would "soon become direct", the peace process with the Palestinians remained Israel's utmost priority. Mr Abbas and Mr Olmert called on Mr Sarkozy, as President of France, chair of the European Union presidency and host of the new Mediterranean Union, to take a front-seat role in steering peace negotiations.

Though the two sides have met regularly since the relaunch of the process last November, after a seven-year hiatus, talks have stalled over the issue of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Mr Abbas said that Mr Sarkozy's "friendship" with both Israelis and Palestinians "enables you to play an important role to help the peace process succeed in a few months". "We have started an in-depth negotiation with Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni," Mr Abbas said. "We will pursue this effort. We are quite serious."

Mr Sarkozy has been stepping up France's Middle East diplomacy for the launch of the Mediterranean Union, bringing friends and foes together around the same table, and pushing to advance peace in the region. The French leader said union between Europe and its Mediterranean neighbours would help countries in the region "learn to love each other". "It doesn't mean that all of the problems are resolved of course," Sarkozy said. "But the goal of the summit ... is that we learn how to love each other in the Mediterranean, instead of continuing to hate and wage war."

Heads of state and government from the 27 European Union nations and an arc of countries running from Morocco to the Balkans — representing 756 million people — will endorse the new forum at the Grand Palais on the Champs Elysee. The summit aims to revitalise co-operation between the EU and Mediterranean countries, although it may be richer in symbolism than substance.

The new organisation aims to pursue practical projects with EU and private sector funding such as cleaning up the Mediterranean, using North Africa's sunshine to generate solar power, and building road and sea highways. "What we need is a new political impulse, a new revitalisation, a new dynamism," EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

France and Egypt will co-chair the new body for two years, but the location and powers of its secretariat remain to be resolved, and the Middle East conflicts that have bedevilled past EU-Mediterranean co-operation are still looming large. While Mr Sarkozy said after the Syrian-Lebanese meeting on Saturday that Mr Assad and Mr Suleiman had come to an historic decision to open embassies in each other's countries for the first time, the Syrian leader was more cautious, saying the sides must "define the steps to take to arrive at this stage". Syria and Lebanon have not had fully fledged embassies in each other's countries since Lebanon became independent in 1943 and Syria in 1945. Mr Assad, long accused by France of meddling in Lebanese politics, said: "We can say that Lebanon has moved from being a zone of turbulence, a war zone, to a more pacified zone where the Lebanese, and only the Lebanese, have the right to determine their own future."


Extract - The light shines on Damascus
The Australian
Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent
Saturday, September 06, 2008

BASHAR al-Assad, Syria's President, had not long returned from spending up at a Moscow arms fair when he hosted French leader Nicolas Sarkozy this week, catapulting his quest for relevance to heights that have staggered friend and foe. Sarkozy was the first Western-aligned heavyweight politician to visit Damascus in the past three years and one of only a handful to have made the journey since the turn of the century. As he flew back to Paris, Syrians were already hailing the end of their isolation.

Now the next stage of the Syrian resurgence is fast taking shape. Syria's interests and those of its key allies, Iran and the radical party Hezbollah, appear to be converging on many fronts and lining up with Russian agendas. In short, Moscow is challenging the US take on the post-Cold War and post-9/11 world order. And Syria, despite slightly differing motives, wants to ride sidecar. "Russia is on the front foot with the Americans after the experience in Georgia and it is fair to think that others who have not prospered at the hands of the outgoing (George W. Bush) administration are also looking to press home an advantage," the Syrian official says.

Western policy towards Syria for the past three years has been almost unanimously one of isolation. The US will not talk to Damascus, which it has black-listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. Israel has sung from an identical song sheet, claiming that all its foes - Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad - are rooted in Damascus. The Israeli decision to break bread in April was a tectonic shift away from the policy of isolating terrorists and their backers and instead trying to rehabilitate them. The policy reversal has been vigorously opposed by the Israeli Right and by Washington, both of which insist it has validated Syrian policies in return for nothing.

As Sarkozy sat down publicly with Assad, the latter seemed comfortable on the international stage. Regarding the tricky indirect peace talks with Israel, Assad said the brokered talks had not matured enough to warrant the two countries' leaders sitting together to work out a deal. Despite good intentions on both sides, he added, crucial issues remained deadlocked. Sarkozy also rejects the isolationist track. "I prefer another route," he said before arriving in Damascus. "More risky, it is true, but more promising: open dialogue leading to tangible progress."

Syria has sat at the centre of Arab affairs throughout the ages, a fact never lost on the political dynasty of the Assad family, led by strongman Hafez al-Assad until his death in mid-2000. Bashar al-Assad was bolstered recently by Lebanon's new President, Michel Suleiman, who released a statement calling for more international lawmakers to make pilgrimages. "The international community must open up to Syria, following the example set by France, because Syria plays a fundamental role at the regional level," Suleiman said in the wake of Syria's decision to open an embassy in Lebanon, notionally recognising its unstable neighbour's sovereignty for the first time. Suleiman was Damascus's choice as president and had been widely expected to add his voice to calls for an end to Syrian isolation. There are widespread fears in Israel and elsewhere in the Arab world that Syria will use official cover to regain the influence in Lebanon it lost in the wake of the Hariri slaying. Already Hezbollah effectively calls the shots in the Lebanese Government.

Markets in spin as world waits

Headlines Extract - The Australian
David Uren, Economics Correspondent
Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Central banks worldwide struggle to stop the credit crisis from triggering a global downturn. Monday's shock defeat of the US Government's $US700 billion Wall Street bailout sent stock markets into meltdown. In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average suffered its biggest points fall - a 777 point rout that wiped more than $US1 trillion from the value of listed stocks - after a bitterly divided US House of Representatives blocked the emergency bailout. There was an early bounce Tuesday morning (U.S. time), with the Dow opening 192 points up at 10,558.

Negotiations on the rescue package, which involves the US Treasury buying the mortgage assets of distressed financial institutions, started immediately after the vote, with a "disappointed" President George W.Bush summoning advisers to the White House. In an address to the nation on Tuesday, Mr Bush said the failure of the bill was "not the end of the legislative process". Congress faced the choice between "action and the real prospect of economic hardship for millions of Americans", he said, adding that the economy was depending on decisive action from the Government.

Democrat house Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to get back to work on passing a new bill to rescue the economy. But the house will not meet again until Thursday morning (U.S. time), because of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah on Wednesday October 1st, leaving world financial markets in limbo.


Brown sets pace on global regulation
The Australian
Correspondents in Brussels - The Times, agencies
Friday, October 17, 2008

BRITISH Prime Minister Gordon Brown hijacked the European Union summit in Brussels yesterday, calling for the most ambitious reform of the world economic order since World War II to prevent a repeat of the current economic crisis. The new spring in Mr Brown's step was much in evidence as he upstaged his fellow leaders by arriving first, and fitted in two press conferences before the summit even began.

He called for dozens of world leaders to meet for a summit to rewrite the rules of international capitalism that have stood since 1944, when the current world financial and economic system were laid at Bretton Woods. Led by Franklin D.Roosevelt, Western leaders created the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and laid down common standards for open markets around the world. Calling for "very large and very radical changes", Mr Brown said he was seeking nothing less than "a new Bretton Woods". The recent crisis proved the need for much more international co-operation on the regulation of banks and other financial institutions, Mr Brown said. "We now have global financial markets, global corporations, global financial flows. But what we do not have is anything other than national and regional regulation and supervision. We need a global way of supervising our financial system."

The Group of Eight major industrial nations responded by announcing a global summit - perhaps as early as November in New York - to forge common action to prevent another economic meltdown. In a joint statement released by the White House, G8 leaders said they were united in their commitment to change the regulation of the world's financial sector to restore confidence and "remedy deficiencies exposed by the current crisis". "We are confident that, working together, we will meet the present challenges and return our economies to stability and prosperity," they said.

French President and current president of the European Council Nicolas Sarkozy said all EU nations also backed radical restructuring of international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. He demanded that the summit take place in November, "preferably in New York, where everything started", and lead toward "a new capitalism." Mr Sarkozy said emerging economies such as China, India and others outside the G8 - the US, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia - should participate because "no one should feel excluded from what we are recasting."


Arabs turn against 'megalomaniac' Hamas
The Australian
ANALYSIS: Abraham Rabinovich
Thursday January 01, 2009

THE bitter Israel-Hamas conflict has touched off Arab-Arab conflicts almost as bitter. Responsibility for the war in Gaza, and for the Palestinian fatalities there, was placed squarely on Hamas by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "We called the leaders of Hamas and told them, 'Please, do not end the truce'," he said. Hamas ended a six-month truce with Israel two weeks before the Israeli attack.

An Abbas aide, Nimr Hammad, termed the rocket fire into Israel reckless. "The one responsible for the massacre is Hamas," he said. "Hamas should not have given the Israelis a pretext." Bassam Abu-Sumayyah, a columnist for the daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, accused Hamas of megalomania and said it had acted without even a little bit of political and security sense. It had behaved like a superpower. "They thought they have a number of missiles and can therefore prevail in a war of such size," he wrote. A columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, Abdallah Awwad, said that Hamas had made a major mistake in trying to be both a government operating in the open and a resistance organisation that operated underground. "We are paying the price of stupidity and the maniacal love of being rulers," he said.

Beyond intra-Palestinian disputes, the eruption in Gaza has widened the rift between Egypt, supported by other moderate Arab states, and the Hamas-Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alignment. Cairo has long feared the radical influence of Hamas on its own Islamist parties. It regards Hamas as a proxy for Iran, which it sees attempting to wrest Muslim leadership in the Middle East from Egypt, even though Iran is not an Arab country. However, Egypt attempted to broker a reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority that would permit a leadership acceptable to all Palestinians to emerge in new elections. Hamas derailed the proposal, to Egypt's fury. Egypt, in turn, refused to open the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt to Gaza residents, even during the Israeli attack when many Gazans were clamouring to get out. This infuriated Hamas and caused anti-Egyptian protests in much of the Arab world.

For Egypt, the most annoying criticism came from Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the formidable leader of the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Addressing Egyptian citizens, particularly army officers, Nasrallah called on them to protest at Cairo's lack of response to the Israeli attack. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said of Nasrallah's speech: "(He) practically declared war on us." As for Nasrallah's appeal to Egyptian officers, Mr Gheit said of Egypt's army: "They will also protect Egypt against people like you."


Extract - President on Mid-East peace quest
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Friday January 23, 2009

THE Middle East immediately emerged as a top priority for Barack Obama after he called key leaders in the region on his first day as President and moved to appoint his Middle East envoy. Pledging an "active engagement" to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, Mr Obama - who was criticised this month for failing to take action during the war between Israel and Hamas - contacted the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan to bolster the fragile peace in the Gaza Strip.

The White House said in a statement: "He used this opportunity on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term and to express his hope for their continued co-operation and leadership." The White House said Mr Obama had emphasised his determination to consolidate the Gaza ceasefire by establishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming. The phone calls came on the same day that his former presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, was confirmed as Secretary of State and former senator George Mitchell was flagged as Mr Obama's Middle East envoy. Mr Mitchell was a key player in negotiations to end the Northern Ireland conflict.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called for his organisation to be given legitimacy following the war with Israel, which he described as an "unequivocal victory", despite the death of more than 1300 Palestinians. In a video from Damascus, where he is in exile, Mr Meshaal said: "Three years of trying to eliminate Hamas is enough. It is time for you to deal with Hamas, which has gained legitimacy through struggle. "This battle (the Gaza war) has proved that force alone will not provide security for the Zionist entity (Israel) and that peace will not be at the expense of Palestinian rights."

Mr Meshaal said the war would pave the way for "the liberation of Jerusalem". He said: "This is the first real war which the Palestinian people wage and win over the Palestinian soil."

Mr Obama yesterday telephoned Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Jordan's King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he told Mr Obama yesterday that Israel had committed to invest in efforts to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian population in Gaza, and would work to improve the economic situation in the West Bank.


Extract - An angry nation no longer in the mood to give peace a chance
The Weekend Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Saturday February 7, 2009

ISRAEL is an angry country about to vote. It goes into its general election next Tuesday as a country that feels isolated, under threat and having been abandoned by the bulk of the international community. That national mood comes in the wake of the recent Gaza war. In military terms, Israel won it comprehensively. But in terms of image around the world, Israel has taken a pounding, accused of a needless slaughter of hundreds of civilians among the 1300 Palestinians killed during the 22-day war.

That anger was reflected recently by the head of the Government Press Office -- part of the Prime Minister's department -- Danny Seamen, who branded foreign journalists covering Gaza as "a fig leaf for Hamas". The anger is feeding into a siege mentality apparent this week at Israel's top annual security and defence conference in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. The editor of The Jerusalem Post, David Horovitz, told conference delegates he saw a "rising tide of delegitimacy" against Israel following the Gaza war. While Horovitz said Israel had contributed to this with decisions such as banning foreign media from covering the war, which meant much of the information was being reported by Palestinian "stringers" — and when foreign media were allowed in they did the stories they would have done weeks earlier anyway — he also blamed foreign media for refusing to acknowledge "the death cult imperative" of Islamic extremism to kill or be killed. He told the conference: "In the absence of more informed and sophisticated reporting, more and more people in this region and beyond are more hostile to Israel today than they were a few weeks ago, more disgusted by us, more convinced of our guilt." He received a rousing applause. Speaker after speaker said they believed there was a new campaign around the world to question Israel's legitimacy as a state.


Extract - Ahmadinejad sparks racism meet walkout
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Tuesday, April 21, 2009

DELEGATES from Western countries last night (Australian time) walked out of the UN anti-racism summit in Geneva after Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his keynote speech to attack Israel as racist. Three protesters from the French Union of Jewish Students dressed as clowns and shouting "racist, racist," were expelled from the conference as Mr Ahmadinejad began to speak. One of them threw a soft red object — a false nose — at the Iranian President, hitting the podium and interrupting his speech. Shortly afterwards a stream of Western diplomats, including from Britain and France, walked out. France condemned Mr Ahmadinejad's "hate speech" delivered on the same day as Holocaust Memorial Day, saying "no compromise was possible" with his UN racism stance.

Part of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's address, Monday

FOLLOWING World War II, they resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering. They sent migrants from Europe, the US and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the occupied Palestine. It is all the more regrettable that a number of Western governments have committed themselves to defend those racist perpetrators of genocide. What are the root causes of US attacks against Iraq, or invasion of Afghanistan? Wasn't the military action against Iraq planned by the Zionists and their allies in the then-US administration? In the beginning of the third millennium, the word "Zionism" personifies racism that falsely resorts to religion, and abuses religious sentiment to hide their hatred and ugly faces.

Mark Steyn in the National Review online, Monday:

PRESIDENTS (Hans-Rudolf) Merz (of Switzerland) and (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad dined together last night in Geneva, and apparently very sociably. The mainstreaming of Mahmoud by Merz and co is worse than what Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax did. It is in the face of far more public and more explicit eliminationist threats. And, unlike Chamberlain's generation, this crowd will not be able to plead that what was being planned was so unprecedented it was beyond their capacity to imagine: every time Ahmadinejad denies the reality of the last Holocaust, he reminds the Merzes of the world that the apologists for those planning its sequel won't have the excuse that they didn't know it was coming.


Jitters in Washington over threat of airstrikes
Israel given deadline on Iran
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

THE US has told Israel that its efforts to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear programs are "not open-ended", setting September as a deadline for agreement from Tehran on international inspections of its atomic sites. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates yesterday told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the US and Israel saw "eye to eye" on the Iranian nuclear threat. The September ultimatum is significant, as President Barack Obama has previously referred to "the end of the year" as the deadline for Iran to open its facilities for inspection. In return, Mr Netanyahu said Israel would utilise "all available means" to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — an apparent reference to an airstrike, which Israel insists is an option.

The exchange came before Mr Netanyahu and US special envoy George Mitchell last night held a three-hour meeting to discuss Washington's desire for a resumption of peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials. The meeting appeared not to resolve any issues, with both men afterwards reluctant to go into details. "We look forward to continuing our discussions to reach a point that we can move forward to reach a comprehensive peace," Mr Mitchell told reporters. Mr Netanyahu said they had made progress towards achieving "the understanding that will enable us to continue and complete the peace process established between us and Palestinian neighbours and the countries in the entire region". The US has told Israel it wants an immediate freeze on building activity in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem to ensure talks resume. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Mr Mitchell yesterday he wanted a six-month freeze before resuming talks.

A large section of the Israeli public appears to support an airstrike on Iranian nuclear facilities. The model often cited is the air attack on a nuclear facility in Syria two years ago. Government sources in Israel make it clear that such a strike would be sold to the public as setting back Iran's nuclear facility several years — and causing minimal civilian casualties. But several of Iran's nuclear research facilities are near civilian areas and some are believed to be underground, making any "surgical strike" difficult. Two months ago, CIA director Leon Panetta flew to Israel to seek an assurance that Tel Aviv was not about to launch a strike on Iran without the US's knowledge.

While Vice-President Joe Biden recently made it clear any decision about Iran was for Israel, US officials are known to fear that an Israeli strike could start a new conflict in the Middle East. Iran, unlike Syria, would be almost certain to respond, possibly through its ally Hezbollah. The Obama administration's attempt to find broad support for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was evident in the revelation that Mr Mitchell raised with Syria the possibility of the US lifting export bans on computer software and hardware, and aircraft. Mr Obama has also written to several Arab countries to urge "confidence-building measures" in relation to Israel. Yediot Ahronoth newspaper reported that Mr Obama had written to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco saying that if they took such measures it would make it easier for the US to put pressure on Israel to freeze settlement construction.


Netanyahu ministers threaten to protest

Fury at settlement offer

The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Additional reporting: AFP
Saturday, August 29, 2009

ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a revolt from within his own ranks over concessions he is prepared to make to enable the Middle East peace talks to resume. As an indication of the extraordinary political juggling act he will be required to perform in coming months, it was revealed yesterday that two rallies are planned for his return to Israel this week, to protest against any concession on Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It highlights Mr Netanyahu's dilemma - strong pressure from US President Barack Obama and European leaders on one side to halt all settlement activity, and pressure on the other side from a powerful constituency inside his own right-wing Likud party to allow the settlements to continue growing. The protests are likely to be attended by some of his own ministers.

The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that the first of the rallies, planned for Tel Aviv this Tuesday, was being organised by one of his ministers, Yossi Peled. The paper reported that while the rally was being presented as a "pro-Jerusalem event", members of the Knesset who attended were "expected to bash the deal the Prime Minister is negotiating with the Americans". The paper said three ministers - Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kahlon and Yuli Edelstein - had told the organisers they would attend, and organisers were still hoping to attract two others, Moshe Ya'alon and Bennie Begin.

It quoted Pinchas Wallerstein from the the settlers' council as saying: "When Netanyahu talks of a Palestinian state, I hate it, but I'm not worried because there will be no peace deal. When Netanyahu speaks about a settlement freeze, it's a death sentence for the settlement enterprise." Mr Netanyahu has rejected a total freeze, insisting on the need to guarantee "normal life" in the settlements, which are home to 500,000 Jewish Israelis. The Post carried an opinion poll yesterday that found only 4 per cent of the Jewish Israelis surveyed regarded Mr Obama as "pro-Israel".

The growing signs of opposition to a settlement freeze came as Mr Netanyahu ended his trip through Europe, during which he met the US special envoy George Mitchell, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. At the start of the talks with Mr Mitchell - renowned for his role in Northern Ireland's peace process - Mr Netanyahu said he hoped "we will shortly be able to resume normal talks" with the Palestinians, according to his spokesman. All three leaders restated their views that Israel should halt all settlement activity in the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu gave no commitments, but it appears a deal is being brokered behind the scenes under which Israel would agree to halt settlement activity for a set period - probably six months - during which talks would resume with the Palestinian Authority. But Mr Netanyahu received strong rhetorical support from Ms Merkel for a tougher approach to pressure Iran to allow international inspectors to examine its nuclear program. After meeting Ms Merkel, Mr Netanyahu called for "crippling sanctions" to be imposed against Iran.

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted in recent days that the heart of the decades-old conflict was not the settlements but the Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. "The core issue is for them to recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people," he said. "This is what started the conflict, what stokes it and what will end it."


Far from gripping: Barack Obama watches as Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Mahmoud Abbas shake hands in New York during talks to discuss the possibility of peace talks
Picture: AP
Frustrated Obama warns opportunity won't last

Icy Mid-East meeting stalls

The Australian
Brad Norington, New York
Thursday, September 24, 2009

DIRECT pressure applied by Barack Obama on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to set aside fundamental problems and restart the peace process has failed to get a result. The US President used the gathering of world leaders in New York yesterday to bring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas together.

It was already past time to talk about starting negotiations, Mr Obama said, before a tripartite meeting. "Despite all the obstacles, despite all the history, despite all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward," he said. "We have to summon the will to break the deadlock that has trapped generations of Israelis and Palestinians in an endless cycle of conflict and suffering. We cannot continue the same pattern of taking tentative steps forward and then stepping back."

Israel's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, last night declared the meeting a victory for the Jewish state because it took place even though Israel refused demands to freeze settlements in the West Bank. Israel agreed only to slow settlement construction in the Palestinian territory for a limited time. Mr Obama did not explicitly demand a freeze at the meeting, an omission that rankled with Palestinians. Mr Abbas immediately dismissed a resumption of talks unless Israel agreed to a halt to Jewish settlements on the West Bank. He also demanded Israel agree to observe all agreements on borders that he claimed were made last year with Mr Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert. These borders dated back to the Israeli capture of territory in 1967. Mr Netanyahu blamed Palestinians for the stalemate, demanding they recognise the state of Israel and insisting the issue of settlements should be "discussed within these talks, not before".

Mr Obama met both leaders separately yesterday before bringing them together. Afterwards, he oversaw an official handshake but the mood was cold. Neither Mr Netanyahu nor Mr Abbas spoke to the media. The Jerusalem newspaper Haaretz later reported Mr Obama had told both leaders he was dissatisfied with their recent "foot-dragging" on restarting talks and had strongly expressed his impatience. According to a White House source, the meeting was business-like but not cordial. Mr Obama reportedly told Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas: "We've had enough talks. We need to end this conflict. There is a window of opportunity but it might shut."

The US President had been optimistic about future talks, after signs from Israel of a halt to construction of further settlements on the West Bank this year. But his hopes were dashed after approved construction got the go-ahead and his envoy to the region, George Mitchell, failed last week to gain any undertaking on further settlements. Yesterday's failed diplomatic effort left Mr Obama in an awkward position after he had declared Mr Mitchell would meet Israeli and Palestinian negotiators next week. He said he had also asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to report back to him on the status of the talks.

Clearly frustrated, Mr Obama said yesterday everyone had worked tirelessly, but not enough had been done. He said "permanent status negotiations" between the Israelis and Palestinians must begin soon, and restated his aim of wanting to see Israel and Palestine as two states. Mr Obama had wanted a cessation of further settlements to help kick-start negotiations. "All of us know this will not be easy," he said. "But we are here today because it is the right thing to do ... it is absolutely critical that we get this issue resolved. It's not just critical for the Israelis and the Palestinians, it's critical for the world. It is in the interests of the United States. And we are going to work as hard as necessary to accomplish our goals." Yesterday's meeting took place in New York after Mr Obama had addressed the UN on the urgent need to tackle climate change.

Mr Mitchell said Israel had made some concessions, such as a willingness to relax travel restrictions at its borders to allow movement of Palestininan workers. It had also removed some illegal settlements, despite refusing to stop expansion. Mr Netanyahu told Fox News he was glad Mr Obama had called yesterday's meeting. In a statement, Mr Abbas said he remained committed to the "road map" and demanded Israel fulfil its commitments on settlements. "As for resuming talks, this depends on a definition of the negotiating process that means basing them on recognising the need to withdraw to the 1967 borders and ending the occupation, as was discussed with the previous Israeli government when we defined the occupied territories as the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem," he said. Mr Netanyahu said Israel could work in the West Bank with the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mr Abbas. But it could never make peace with Hamas, which controls Gaza.


Extract - Iran in deadly warning to Israel
The Australian
Correspondents in New York and Washington, The Times, AP, Wall Street Journal
Wednesday September 30, 2009

ON the eve of talks with the international community about its nuclear aspirations, and only hours after a "provocative" missile test, Iran has issued a warning to Israel that it would face destruction if it attacked the Islamist nation. "If this (an Israeli attack) happens, which, of course, we do not foresee, its ultimate result would be to expedite the last breath of the Zionist regime," Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on state television.

His comments came after Western leaders called a second day of rocket launches by Iran a "reprehensible" distraction from talks this week that will determine whether Tehran is ready to negotiate over its nuclear program, or face biting new sanctions. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the missile tests "provocative". He added: "This is an important day and an important week for Iran." Mr Gibbs demanded unfettered access to a new nuclear facility that Iran admitted to last week.

Meanwhile, in the lead-up to tomorrow's talks in Geneva, the administration of US President Barack Obama and its Western allies were working up new ways to impose sanctions on Iran if it does not comply with demands to come clean about its nuclear program. But some economic giants are less enthusiastic about sanctions. China and Russia are still seen as only half-hearted partners in any effort to push penalties through the UN Security Council. And France and Germany are skittish about targeting Iran's oil imports. US law already forbids American firms from buying Iranian oil, but Europe, Japan and China are big customers.


Extract - Departure of Abbas hits hopes for peace
Weekend Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Additional reporting: agencies
Saturday, November 7, 2009

BARACK Obama's push to restart talks in the Middle East was in tatters last night as the man the US had backed to lead a new Palestinian state announced he was walking away from politics. Mahmoud Abbas shocked leaders across the Middle East when he announced he would not contest elections in January. Mr Abbas made clear his anger at Israel's refusal to agree to US calls for a freeze to Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and last weekend's praise by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Israel's "unprecedented" efforts on the settlement issue. "The problem is Israel and its position," Mr Abbas said. Referring to the US, he said: "We were surprised by their favouring the Israeli position." He also attacked his Palestinian rivals, Hamas, saying the rulers of the Gaza Strip had engaged in "destructive practices". But while he said "many dangers" existed in the two-state solution, he held out hope that this was achievable. He restated the removal of Jewish settlements in the West Bank as a necessary condition for peace.

The resignation leaves in disarray Mr Obama's repeatedly stated ambition to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr Abbas was the first world leader he telephoned on taking office this year and he was seen as the only real option as a negotiator. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted as saying last week: "Of the existing alternatives, if we want an agreement with the Palestinians then Abbas is the best partner." Prime Minister Salam Fayyed, while respected for his international economic credentials, is regarded with hostility by Hamas and has alienated large sections of his own Fatah party for his attempted crackdown on corruption.

Regional leaders telephoned Mr Abbas to try to convince him to remain as leader. Israeli President Shimon Peres, who enjoyed a close relationship with Mr Abbas, told him: "If you leave, the Palestinians would lose their chance for an independent state", according to Haaretz newspaper

Same day
Israel rejects UN vote on Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israel last night rejected a UN resolution calling on it and the Palestinians to probe suspected war crimes committed during the Gaza war. "Israel rejects the resolution of the UN General Assembly, which is completely detached from realities on the ground that Israel must face," the foreign ministry said in a statement. Israel said during the 22-day war it "demonstrated higher military and moral standards than each and every one of this resolution's instigators".

On Thursday, the 192-member assembly approved an Arab-sponsored resolution that endorsed a UN report accusing both Israel and Palestinians of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the war, which killed about 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. The vote was 114 in favour and 18 against, with 44 abstentions. As well as Israel, the US, along with Australia and a few European countries voted against. A majority of EU countries, including Britain, France, Spain and Sweden abstained.


President Mahmoud Abbas to benefit from poll axing
Weekend Australian
Wall Street Journal
Saturday, November 14, 2009

JERUSALEM: Palestinian election officials say they cannot hold planned elections in January, which could give President Mahmoud Abbas a way to stay in office despite his threat to stand down — but could further roil Palestinian and Israeli politics. Mr Abbas's threat, and a wider breakdown of US-led peace efforts, are taking a toll in the Palestinian territories and on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government in Israel. The Israeli premier is coming under fire for not making headway towards peace.

Speaking at a televised news conference in Ramallah, Palestinian election officials said yesterday that Hamas's opposition to polling was the main obstacle. Hamas has rejected new elections until reaching a long-stalled reconciliation accord with Mr Abbas's Fatah. "We planned to go to Gaza to figure out how we can conduct elections there," said Hanna Nasser, head of the Palestinian Elections Commission. "We received an answer from Hamas that we are not welcome in Gaza. It is clear now that we cannot hold an election in Gaza."

If Mr Abbas accepts the commission's recommendation to cancel elections, it could allow the Palestinian leader to stay in office. He has threatened not to stand for re-election, blaming frustrations over the stalled peace process.

Calling off elections could present a mixed blessing for US-led peace efforts, analysts say. A Palestinian government that remains in power without scheduled elections could appear to have less legitimacy to make concessions in peace negotiations with Israel. Still, there is no obvious candidate to replace Mr Abbas at the helm of the Palestinian Authority, and were he to stand down, it could throw the US's peace efforts into further disarray.


Iran flexes military muscle
The Australian
Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Iran launched a five-day air-defense exercise Sunday, flexing its military might amid Western pressure over its nuclear program, and threatening retaliation against Israel if it were to target Iran.

Israeli officials have warned they would take military action against Iran to prevent it from making a nuclear weapon. The Iranian military exercise follows a large-scale air-defense exercise by Israel, conducted with U.S. troops, last month. On Sunday, a senior Revolutionary Guard officer warned Israel of retaliation should it target Iran. "If the enemy tries its luck and fires a missile into Iran, our ballistic missiles would zero in on Tel Aviv before the dust settles on the attack," the Guard official, Mojtaba Zolnour, was quoted as saying, according to state-run English-language media outlet Press TV.

In Israel, Iran's apparent rejection of the draft nuclear deal and its air-defense drill were seen as another belligerent signal from Tehran. "It is clear that this is now the time for the international community to act and send a crystal-clear message to Tehran that there are consequences for its actions," a senior Israeli official said.

In Tehran, Brigadier-General Ahmad Mighani, in charge of Iranian air defense, said the exercise was being conducted with both Iran's conventional armed forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, across a swath of northern, southern and western Iran. General Mighani said the drill was aimed at preventing attacks on Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

The move comes as the West is increasing pressure on Tehran following Iran's refusal so far to accept a nuclear energy deal hammered out last month between Iranian negotiators and their counterparts from the US, France, Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The deal called for Iran to ship out the bulk of its low-enriched uranium, which would be further enriched in Russia and returned for use in a medical-research reactor. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said last week that Iran would not ship its enriched uranium out of the country, but indicated that it was open to talks about some sort of uranium exchange. Western powers interpreted his comments as the clearest indication so far that Iran will not accept the proposal without changes to which the US and its allies are unlikely to agree.

Western officials have taken Iran's refusal to ship out uranium as a rejection of the pact. US officials and allies say they will continue to leave the door open for talks. President Barack Obama has suggested a year-end deadline for Iran to show good-faith efforts at nuclear negotiations. The US and its allies fear Iran is building nuclear weapons, but Tehran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful energy and medical research. Following Mr. Mottaki's statement, Mr. Obama again warned that Washington would push for tougher economic sanctions against Iran if the US was not satisfied with the talks with Tehran.


Iran's nuclear sites 'can be bombed'
The Australian
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

WASHINGTON: The top US military commander responsible for the Middle East and the Gulf region says Washington has developed contingency plans to deal with Iran's nuclear facilities, insisting that they "can be bombed".

"Well, they certainly can be bombed," General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, said yesterday as he commented on suggestions that the Iranian nuclear facilities are heavily fortified. "The level of effect would vary with who it is that carries it out, what ordnance they have, and what capability they can bring to bear," he added. General Petraeus did not elaborate on the plans, but he said the military had considered the impacts of any action taken in Iran. "It would be almost literally irresponsible if Centcom were not to have been thinking about the various `what ifs' and to make plans for a whole variety of different contingencies," he said.

Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the US and other Western nations fear Tehran wants to acquire nuclear weapons. Israel has called Iran's nuclear program the major threat facing its nation. General Petraeus declined to comment about Israel's military capabilities or reports that it may attack Iran.

The US is leading efforts to slap a fourth round of UN sanctions on Iran after it failed to meet an end-of-year deadline to accept a deal offered by five permanent UN Security Council members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the US - plus Germany. In response, Tehran gave the West until the end of this month to accept its own proposal. General Petraeus said he thought there was still time for the nations to engage Iran in diplomacy, noting there was no deadline on the enactment of any US contingency plans. But he added that "there was a period of time, certainly, before all this might come to a head, if you will".


Israel tries to calm Turkish row
The Australian
Abraham Rabinovich, Jerusalem
Thursday, January 14, 2010

ISRAEL'S Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon offered an indirect apology yesterday for having deliberately humiliated a Turkish diplomat after Ankara threatened to recall its ambassador to Israel amid escalating tensions between the countries. Mr Ayalon triggered the fresh row when he summoned the ambassador, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, to be rebuked for an anti-Israel television series in Turkey depicting the Mossad as baby-snatchers and for attacks on Israel by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Departing from diplomatic protocol, Mr Ayalon invited Israeli television cameras to record the beginning of the meeting at which the ambassador was seated on a couch a few centimetres lower than the chairs on which Mr Ayalon and two colleagues were seated. Mr Ayalon told the cameramen in Hebrew, which the Turkish envoy does not speak: "Pay attention that he is sitting in a lower chair, that there is only an Israeli flag on the table (and no Turkish flag) and that we are not smiling." The conversation that ensued in English between the diplomats after the cameramen left was polite, both sides reported, and it was only after learning of Mr Ayalon's remark to the cameramen that Mr Celikkol realised an attempt had been made to humiliate him.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Israel's ambassador to Ankara, Gaby Levy, to demand "an explanation and an apology" for Mr Ayalon's behaviour. The ministry issued a statement calling for "corrective steps to be taken with respect to the treatment shown our ambassador" and an official warned that without an apology, the ambassador would be withdrawn. In Israel, criticism of Mr Ayalon's behaviour was widespread, even among serving diplomats, several of whom called it, anonymously, "an embarrassment" and "childish".

Mr Ayalon initially defended his action. "Others will respect us only when we protect our honour," he said. Yesterday, however, he issued a statement aimed at terminating the episode. "My protest of the attacks against Israel in Turkey still stands," he said. "However, it is not my way to insult foreign ambassadors and in the future, I will clarify my position by more acceptable diplomatic means." There was no immediate indication from Ankara as to whether this was considered adequate apology.

Mr Ayalon, a professional diplomat who served as Israeli ambassador to Washington, began displaying hardline views after being chosen by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman last year to serve as his deputy. Mr Lieberman has called upon Israeli diplomats to make a forceful response to perceived diplomatic insults and not to seek favour. In a statement issued earlier this week, Israel condemned Mr Erdogan's "unbridled tongue-lashing" of Israel for its incursion into Gaza last year. The Turkish Prime Minister has repeatedly accused Israel of disproportionate use of force against the Palestinians. The Israeli statement, alluding to Turkey's actions against its own Kurdish militants, and perhaps to its massacre of Armenians in World War I, said "Turkey is the last country that can preach morality to Israel".

The falling-out is of significance to both countries. The close ties that have existed for decades between them bear far-reaching political and security resonance.

Following Day
Israel apologises for Turkish dressing down
The Australian
Friday, January 15, 2010

JERUSALEM: Israel has issued a second apology to Turkey over its envoy's treatment, bowing to Ankara's ultimatum to defuse a spat over a TV show that marred ties between the two allies. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday that Ankara had received the apology it "wanted and expected".

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon apologised to Turkish ambassador Oguz Celikkol for giving him an angry dressing down in front of cameras to protest a Turkish television series portraying Mossad agents as baby-snatchers. A statement from Mr Ayalon's office said that "out of respect" for a request by President Shimon Peres, the deputy minister sent the envoy an apology. "I had no intention to humiliate you personally and apologise for the way the demarche was handled and perceived," Mr Ayalon wrote in the apology letter.

Ankara, a key Muslim ally to Israel, was infuriated and demanded "an explanation and apology" after Mr Ayalon made Mr Celikkol sit on a low couch and had the Turkish flag removed from the table at their meeting on Monday. Mr Ayalon issued a initial apology on Wednesday, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the "protest to the Turkish ambassador was just in its essence but should have been conveyed in an acceptable diplomatic manner". But Turkish President Abdullah Gul threatened to recall the ambassador if there was no formal apology. Following the second, formal apology, Mr Netanyahu hoped the two allies would now put the crisis behind them.


netanyahu government in crisis over east jerusalem development
Israel 'wrecks' Mid-East peace talks
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Friday, March 12, 2010

THE Middle East peace process was in tatters last night and Israel's coalition government faced crisis after it announced a huge new housing development in the Arab area of East Jerusalem. Israeli Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon said the Labour Party was considering quitting the coalition government, and Palestinian negotiators said they were pulling out of the US-brokered "proximity talks".

The crisis erupted during the visit of US Vice-President Joe Biden to Israel to support the talks. Mr Simhon said: "Members of the Labour Party have more and more difficulty in taking part in a coalition government that they joined with the purpose of relaunching the peace process with the Palestinians. The anger of Biden is justified. A grave error has been committed, and there is a price to pay."

The Arab League, which pressed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to accept renewed talks even though Israel had not agreed to freeze Jewish settlements, withdrew support for the discussions. Mr Biden condemned Israel, saying the Netanyahu government had "inflamed tensions" by announcing 1600 housing units would be built in Arab East Jerusalem. On Mr Biden's first day in Jerusalem, Israel announced plans for the development in East Jerusalem, a mainly Arab area prized by Palestinians as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

For the second day running, Mr Biden, this time standing alongside Mr Abbas in Ramallah, condemned Israel. "The decision by the Israeli government to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem undermined the very trust, the trust we need right now to begin, as well as have profitable negotiations," Mr Biden said. The US would hold both sides accountable for any statements or actions "that inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of talks, as this decision did".

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians were withdrawing from the talks unless Israel cancelled the East Jerusalem development, Agence France Presse reported. The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Mr Biden had said privately Israel's decision to build in East Jerusalem was liable "to set the Middle East on fire". It said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent three officials to tell the US delegation he did not know the announcement was coming, but "US administration officials didn't buy the explanation" and "officials in both the White House and the State Department accused Israel of having set Biden up".

Haaretz quoted Israeli officials as saying 50,000 new housing units beyond Jerusalem's "Green Line" (the division between Jewish and Arab areas of the city) were ready for planning and approval. The paper said Israel, through the Israel Lands Administration and the Housing and Construction Ministry, was the main force behind the new projects, which were supported by private businesses and political organisations, including settler groups. The green line is the armistice line that existed from 1948 until 1967, when Israel captured much of the land, including East Jerusalem, in a war with Arab nations.


Israeli PM moves to placate furious US
The Australian
Abraham Rabinovich, Jerusalem
Monday, March 15, 2010

ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has summoned his inner cabinet to an unusual late-night meeting to order a probe after furious American reaction to the announcement of housing construction in East Jerusalem during US Vice-President Joe Biden's visit. Mr Netanyahu's move yesterday came after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lashed out at the housing announcement, calling it "insulting" to Washington. "It was just really a very unfortunate and difficult moment for everyone - the United States, our Vice-President, who had gone to reassert our strong support for Israeli security - and I regret deeply that that occurred and made that known," Mrs Clinton said. She "made it known" directly to Mr Netanyahu in a 45-minute telephone conversation in which the Prime Minister mostly remained quiet and listened to Mrs Clinton's scathing criticism.

At President Barack Obama's direction, Mr Biden condemned the announcement. The Israeli ambassador in Washington was summoned to the State Department. Mr Netanyahu has said he was unaware of the housing announcement before it was made. Although the American protest was linked to Mr Biden's presence in Jerusalem, which made it seem that the US was complicit in the announcement, Washington has made it clear that it objects not just to the timing but to Israeli construction itself in East Jerusalem, where the Palestinian Authority wishes to create the capital of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The announcement during Mr Biden's visit of plans to build 1600 more housing units in East Jerusalem, in addition to the tens of thousands already built, was denounced by Israeli media as grossly provocative, an assessment much of the Israel public agreed with. During Mr Biden's speech to students at Tel Aviv University following the incident the largest hand went not to his warm words about Israel but to his mention of the condemnation he had issued of the building project.


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