On Friday, rhetoric over the stalled direct talks between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli government reached a new level of acrimony when the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, suggested that members of the Arab League may appeal directly to the UN to recognise the state of Palestine. The announcement comes one week after the Arab League supported PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to suspend talks with Israel if the Israeli government did not extend a moratorium on settlement construction on the West Bank.
Also on Friday, the Israeli housing and construction ministry released the details of 3,500 tenders across the country. The list includes 238 homes in East Jerusalem, on the ‘Palestinian’ side of the Green Line. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered a temporary freeze on such construction in exchange for the PA recognising Israel as a Jewish state, but the PA leadership has rejected the proposal as ‘insufficient’. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat described the announcement as a “crushing blow to the United States' efforts to prevent the peace process from collapsing.”
The openSecurity verdict: The ongoing standoff between the PA and Israel over the settlement issue seems increasingly intractable. The settlement issue and, in particular, the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state are red lines for the Palestinians beyond which it would be impossible to move. Mahmoud Abbas’ political position remains precarious and the PA faces constant challenges to the legitimacy of its leadership by Hamas, who rule the Gaza Strip.
Equally, the current settlement policy is a result of the Israeli government’s own political constraints. Netanyahu’s rejectionist stance is a prerequisite for cementing the stability of the governing coalition, which includes the extreme right Yisrael Beiteinu under Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as its second largest member. At the same time, while striving to hold the coalition’s Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu core together, Netanyahu is causing the cohesion of the smaller parties to fray.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak, head of the Israeli Labour Party, is set to face challenges to his leadership, the most prominent coming from Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog. The flashpoint has been Barak’s proposed amendment to a new citizenship law, requiring Israelis to swear loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. This has caused enormous consternation among Israel’s Arab Muslim and Christian population, as well as liberal commentators.
The underlying problem, however, is that many Labour party members are increasingly concerned over the party’s very survival, a concern that increases in severity every day they are seen by supporters to be buttressing policies of the extreme right. There is also an international dimension, with Avigdor Lieberman having recently alienated the French and Spanish foreign ministers by telling them to 'solve their own problems before they complain to Israel.'
The divisions between the Israeli foreign minister and prime minister were also underscored by the exchange. The avowed aim of the stalled talks, brokered by the US and launched over a month ago, is to see the creation of an independent Palestinian state within one year, an aim apparently fully endorsed by Netanyahu. Lieberman reportedly informed his European counterparts that ‘anyone who talks like that is naive’.
This volatility of the governing Israeli coalition makes a solution to the impasse unlikely in the short term. It is unclear what the Israeli reaction to Arab states going to the UN will be. It seems possible, however, that a combination of international pressure and stresses within the government may make Israel ungovernable, even for as astute a political street fighter as Netanyahu. The result will most likely be further months of drift and uncertainty until a new Israeli government can be elected with a real mandate to reach a solution with the Palestinian Authority.
US concerned by UK defence cuts
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has said that the Obama administration is ‘worried’ by the scale of cuts being proposed for the UK armed forces. Speaking a week before a national strategic and security review details the exact reductions that the UK ministry of defence will have to bear, Clinton underlined the importance of NATO as a defensive alliance, saying “each country has to be able to make its appropriate contributions.”
The British Treasury has been pushing for up to 10 percent cuts to Britain’s £37 billion military budget as part of an aggressive deficit reduction plan across the board. The Treasury’s insistence that the replacement for the Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile system (SLBM) and new submarine platforms to house it, be borne by the ministry of defence instead of being paid for directly by the Treasury has inflamed tensions between Downing Street and Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who has the support of large numbers of backbench MPs.
With total capital costs for the Trident replacement, most of it front loaded, being estimated at over £20 billion, Fox has been aggressive in securing lighter cuts to his budget than other government ministries. This culminated in the leaking last month of his letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, warning against ‘draconian’ cuts during a time of war.
Aid workers kidnapped in Somalia
On Friday, a security consultant working with aid groups was kidnapped, along with his Somali assistant, in the town of Adao in central Somalia. Residents report that heavily armed men arrived in two vehicles before storming the building where the two men were staying. After abducting them, the vehicles left the town. Mohamed Adam Tiey, Adao’s district commissioner, has confirmed that the incident occurred and is still being investigated.
The kidnapping comes only one day after the appointment of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as Somalia’s new prime minister by President Sharif Ahmed. Mohamed’s role is to improve security in the face of ongoing warfare between the Somali state and its African Union allies and the Islamist guerrilla group al-Shabab.
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