Talks between the United States and Israel aimed at revitalising the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace process are facing mounting difficulties today. The US is seeking to secure Israeli agreement to a renewed 90 day freeze on settlement construction within the occupied West Bank. This was the crucial issue upon which talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority foundered in September this year.
Israel has made it clear that East Jerusalem must be excluded from any moratorium. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s agreement to a settlement freeze is dependent on receiving a signed letter from the US to that effect. In addition, Israelis have stated that US secretary of state Hilary Clinton also offered Israel 20 F35 Joint Strike Fighters as an incentive to the Israeli government, an offer which the US is now thought to be reconsidering. The US have also offered guarantees to use its veto in defence of Israeli interests in the UN Security Council.
The openSecurity verdict: Discussions of settlement construction are drawing to an impasse amid what appears to be serious confusion in US foreign policy. President Obama is apparently concerned that Clinton gave so much away for so small a gain. Indeed, guarantees of immunity from international censure in the Security Council are astonishing.
While such action may have been a central part of US policy, to see it flagrantly put on the table as a bargaining chip is unprecedented. Equally, the F35s represent the cutting edge of US and Western military technology. To provide 20 of them, with an aggregate worth of over $3 billion in exchange for a highly qualified and limited moratorium on settlement construction seems naïve, hence the apparent US backtracking on the deal. Such ‘incentives’ also add credibility to Palestinian arguments that the Israelis are, essentially, being bribed to show good faith in fulfilling international obligations.
Such diplomatic niceties are at once an indication of desperation on the part of the US. The Palestinian Authority, under Mahmoud Abbas, cannot be seen to acquiesce to Israeli settlement construction in East Jerusalem. To do so would be to effectively renounce Palestinian aspirations to have East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, crippling Abbas’ credibility to the advantage of rival factions.
From the Israeli side, the fractious nature of the current coalition government is decisive, with Shas, an ultra-orthodox party, taking the emphatic stance that any deal has to exclude construction in East Jerusalem. Both Abbas and Netanyahu may or may not want to show greater flexibility but the domestic political constraints they are faced with make their personal desires irrelevant. For both men, compromise means nothing less than political suicide.
Speaker of Lebanese parliament calls for continued resistance against Israel
On Thursday Nabih Berri, the Speaker of the Lebanese parliament, called for continued resistance against Israel the day after the Israeli security cabinet agreed to withdraw from the northern half of Ghajar. Following the end of Israel’s twenty-year occupation of Lebanon in 2000, the area was divided, with Israel retaining control of the southern half. During the summer war of 2006 between Israel and the military arm of the Hizbollah Shi’ia organisation, the IDF reoccupied the northern segment.
The move by the Israelis still leaves outstanding territorial disputes between the two countries, most prominently that of the Shebaa farms, occupied by Israel during the 1967 war. The area, which is adjacent to the Syrian-claimed Golan plateau, is claimed by Lebanon but is considered by several authorities, including several former US ambassadors to the United Nations, as also part of Syria.
Speaking in 2006 in the aftermath of the summer war, Nabih Berri warned that Hizbollah might restart hostilities to regain the disputed territory. Berri has been Speaker of the Lebanese parliament since 1992 and is concurrently head of the Amal Shi’ia movement, part of Hizbollah-led coalition that opposed the pro-US 4 March Alliance in the 2009 elections.
Sarkozy under pressure over corruption charges
Pressure is mounting on French President Sarkozy over a scandal that has the potential to end his tenure as head of state. The alleged misconduct occurred during his time as finance minister under the Balladur government in 1994, when it is suspected he approved large bribes to secure a $950 million contract to supply French submarines to Pakistan. The crucial issue is whether 2 million euros of illicit kickbacks were subsequently used to fund Balladur’s abortive 1995 Presidential campaign.
As well as approving the bribes, it is alleged that Sarkozy agreed to the creation of a front company in Luxembourg to facilitate the channelling of these illegal funds to the Balladur campaign. These charges have been brought to light by an inquiry into the 2002 bombing in Karachi which killed eleven French engineers in what commentators have suggested was retaliation for failure to pay the bribes in full.
Nato meets for crucial Lisbon summit
Billed as a potential turning point in the history of the 61-year-old military alliance, the Nato summit in Lisbon will play a key role in shaping allied nations’ policy towards Afghanistan. The ongoing contingency operations in the war torn country and how Nato effects the transition to local Afghan forces is seen as being central to its continued legitimacy. Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has indicated that a complete handover will be completed by 2014. When asked about US plans to begin withdrawing troops in 2011, he maintained that he had no information regarding such plans.
In addition to this perceived need for a clear plan for the withdrawal of the 130,000 NATO combat troops from Afghanistan, cyber warfare, the need for reduced bureaucracy and ongoing concerns regarding ballistic missile defence will also feature. Crucially, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev will be in attendance, the first Russian President to meet with senior Nato policy makers since the Russia-Georgia war of 2008.