Lots of listening, no grand initiatives expected on Obama’s Mideast trip


When President Obama visits Israel next week, Gavriel Yaakov wants him to jump-start the peace process.

“I’m excited,” said Yaakov, 67, sitting in a Tel Aviv mall. “I want negotiations to get to an agreement on a long-term peace with the Palestinians.”

Yaakov said he trusts Obama, but his friend, Yossi Cohen, is more skeptical.

“I’m not excited,” said Cohen, 64, who charged that the president supports Islamists and “hasn't done anything” to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.

“No one has helped,” Cohen said. “Whoever thinks there will be peace, [it will take] another 200 years.”

Their views reflect two of the president's overriding concerns as he prepares to embark on a three-day trip to Israel next week.

Obama remains deeply unpopular in Israel, with approval ratings of about 33 percent last year, and Jewish leaders and local analysts are urging him to try to improve his relationship with the Israeli public. But the president also is seen as wanting to promote a renewed effort at Middle East peace, though administration officials, wary of a top-down push for peace, have emphasized that the president is leaving such initiatives up to the parties there.

In a meeting with American Jewish leaders last week, Obama conceded that the short-term outlook for a peace agreement is “bleak,” but that prospects could improve in the coming months. Instead, the president was focused on how best to reach out to Israelis, participants said, asking for input about what he should say and whom he should try to reach.

Obama held a similar meeting with Arab-Americans, soliciting their input about his trip and expressing his “commitment to the Palestinian people” and to partnering with the Palestinian Authority in an effort to establish “a truly independent Palestinian state.”

“It creates an opportunity not only for a new beginning between the president's second term and the prime minister of Israel, who is beginning a new term — assuming he puts together a government, which I think he will,” Dennis Ross, Obama's top Iran policy adviser in his first term, said at last week's American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, before Netanyahu had established his coalition.

“But I think it also is a chance to create a connection with the Israeli public and to demonstrate unmistakably when the president says that he's determined to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons, he isn't saying that from a distance. It's not an abstraction. He can go and he can address the Israeli public directly.”

Obama will land at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on March 20. He is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Peres will present Obama with the Presidential Medal of Distinction, Israel's highest civilian honor.

His itinerary includes a visit to an Iron Dome missile defense battery, the Israel Museum, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and the graves of Theodor Herzl and slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. After departing Israel on March 22, Obama will travel to Jordan for consultations with King Abdullah.

The night before his departure, he will address thousands of Israeli students at Jerusalem's convention center. The speech is consistent with Obama's history of directly addressing the public during his trips abroad, and specifically young people.

“I think this is consistent with his town squares,” said Alan Solow, a top Obama fundraiser and former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “He recognizes that in the future, the world will be flatter than today and it's essential that future leaders understand the good intentions of the United States to promote a better and more peaceful world.”

Obama's engagement with Mideast peacemaking was turbulent in his first term. His relationship with Netanyahu has been rocky at best, and his previous attempt to restart the peace process, in 2010, failed after three weeks.

The president's low approval rating in Israel is likely only to complicate matters. The 33 percent rating is actually a significant improvement over his first term, when pressure on Israel to freeze settlement expansion in the West Bank helped push his approval numbers below 10 percent.

“Obama needs to reestablish a relationship of trust with the Israeli public,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. “Whether Obama likes it or not, Netanyahu is the elected leader of the State of Israel, and whether Netanyahu likes it or not, Obama is the elected leader of the U.S. It’s time for the two leaders to accept the inevitable and learn to work together.”

U.S. administration officials have aimed to lower expectations for any concrete outcome to the Obama trip, denying recent reports in the Israeli media that the president is preparing a major peace initiative and emphasizing that he intends to do a lot of listening. Analysts say in order to make progress on the peace front or the Iranian nuclear threat, another issue much on the minds of Israelis, Obama needs to be more candid about past failures.

“For a game-changing speech, you need to speak realistically,” said Gil Troy, a McGill University history professor who is also a Hartman fellow. “You can’t pretend it’s the start of the Oslo peace process. You need to move forward based on the failures. I think Israelis are primed for it.”

Klein Halevi said a similar honesty should be evident in Obama's treatment of the Iran issue. Israelis are doubtful of the president's repeated assertion that all options are on the table in addressing the nuclear threat, he said, and urged the president to speak directly to the Iranian leadership in his convention center address.

“When Obama speaks on Iran, he shouldn’t be speaking only to the Israeli public,” Klein Halevi said. “He should be directly addressing the leadership of Iran from Jerusalem.”

Despite the caution coming from the White House, Israelis are anything but unified in their skepticism of a new peace push. On Facebook, 23,000 people have “liked” a push to have Obama address the masses at Rabin Square, the emotionally charged plaza where the prime minister who signed the Oslo Accords was assassinated in 1995.

“We want to send the message that there’s a public desire to turn the page and strive for peace,” said Amit Youlzari, 31, the lead organizer.

With Obama set to speak in Jerusalem, Youlzari has helped arrange for the speech to be shown on large projection screens in the square.

“We want to tell the U.S. that we support Obama and the messages we hear from him,” Youlzari said. “And we want to send the world a picture of a full plaza of people who want peace.”

Ben Sales reported from Tel Aviv and Ron Kampeas from Washington.

Romney blames Obama for ‘daylight’ with Israel in second debate


Mitt Romney accused President Obama of putting “daylight between us and Israel” in the second presidential debate.

Responding to Obama's pledge to investigate the circumstances of an attack that killed four U.S. diplomats in Libya last month, Romney assailed Obama's overall foreign policy record, and pivoted to the president's at-times strained relationship with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“This calls into question the president’s whole policy in the Middle East. Look what’s happening in Syria, in Egypt, now in Libya,” Romney said at the Hofstra University debate in Long Island, N.Y., on Tuesday night. “Consider the distance between ourselves and — and Israel, the president said that — that he was going to put daylight between us and Israel.”

Obama, in a meeting in July 2009 with Jewish leaders, was asked whether he would preserve the policies of the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations of “no daylight,” or keeping disputes with Israel private.

At that meeting, Obama replied that the practice of not making public disputes with Israel did not advance the peace process.

During the debate, Obama did not engage on the Israel question, instead pushing back against Romney's claims that he was not fully engaged in the wake of the Libya attack.

Other than that segment, much of the debate focused on domestic issues like education, jobs creation, tax policy and immigration.

On energy policy, each leader outlined different paths to energy independence, with Obama focusing on alternatives to fossil fuels and Romney embracing these as well, but urging greater exploitation of oil, coal and gas.

Asked to distinguish his policies from those of President George W. Bush, Romney said: “We can now, by virtue of new technology actually get all the energy we need in North America without having to go to the — the Arabs or the Venezuelans or anyone else. That wasn’t true in his time, that’s why my policy starts with a very robust policy to get all that energy in North America — become energy secure.”

Obama had the last word in the debate. He used his final remarks to take aim at Romney's suggestion at a fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans would never vote for him because they do not pay income taxes and are dependent on government.

“I believe Gov. Romney is a good man — loves his family, cares about his faith. But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors, that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims, who refuse personal responsibility — think about who he was talking about,” Obama said, citing retirees on Social Security, veterans, active-duty soldiers and workers who do not earn enough to have to pay income taxes.

Romney has previously said that he misspoke at the fundraiser.

No breakthrough on Mideast peace, talks to go on


Israeli and Palestinian negotiators made no breakthrough during their first high-level discussions in more than a year on Tuesday, but agreed to hold further talks in Amman on a confidential basis, Jordan’s foreign minister said.

Tuesday’s talks were aimed at agreeing terms under which the two sides’ leaders – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – could resume talks.

Negotiations foundered in late 2010 after Israel refused to renew a partial freeze on Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, as demanded by the Palestinians.

Nasser Judeh, who hosted the talks, reported no significant progress but added: “The important thing is the two sides have met face to face.”

“We held today a serious discussion that aims at launching peace talks at the earliest possible opportunity over final status issues.”

The Jordanian foreign minister added that from here on the sides would keep details of the meetings secret. That could boost the chances of progress by easing immediate pressure from Israeli or Palestinian public opinion not to make concessions.

The Palestinians say they cannot hold talks while Israel cements its hold on land it captured in a 1967 war and on which they intend to establish an independent state. Israel says peacemaking should have no preconditions.

Abbas said before Tuesday’s talks that Palestinians could take unilateral steps if Israel does not agree to halt settlement building in the occupied West Bank and recognize the borders of a future Palestinian state.

“If they don’t … there are measures that we could take. But we will not declare them now because they have not been finalized. But we will take measures that could be difficult,” Abbas told a group of judges in Ramallah.

The Jewish state said in November it would accelerate settlement building activity the day after the Palestinians won recognition as a state by the U.N. cultural body UNESCO.

Judeh said the two sides had until January 26 to make progress and that meetings would take place in Jordan “on a continual basis, without prior announcement of time and date”.

U.S. HOPES FOR FRESH IMPETUS

The Quartet of Middle East mediators – the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations – set a three-month deadline last October for the two sides to make proposals on issues of territory and security, with the aim of reaching a peace deal by the end of this year.

The Amman talks brought together Quartet representatives, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israel’s Yitzhak Molcho.

Established a decade ago, the Quartet has stepped up attempts to broker talks in recent months after U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration failed to revive peace talks.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Washington was hopeful the Amman meeting “can help move us forward on the pathway proposed by the Quartet”.

Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and has strongly backed Abbas, is worried that the failure to address issues at the heart of the conflict could renew violence that could endanger its own security.

The majority of Jordan’s population are Palestinians descended from those displaced during successive Arab-Israeli wars since the Jewish state’s foundation in 1948.

Most countries deem Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal. Israel disputes this, and says it would keep settlement blocs under any peace deal, in accordance with understandings reached in 2004 with then-U.S. president George Bush.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government also criticises Abbas for seeking a reconciliation with the Islamists of Hamas, who control Gaza and reject permanent co-existence with Israel. Abbas has balked at Israel’s demand that he recognize it as a Jewish state.

Additional reporting by Jihan Abdalla in Ramallah and Alister Bull in Washington; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Ben Harding

Egypt votes in first post-Mubarak election


Egyptians voted on Monday in their first election since a popular revolt ousted Hosni Mubarak, amid fears the generals who replaced the deposed leader would try to cling on to power.

In the nine months since the end of Mubarak’s 30-year rule, political change in Egypt has faltered, with the military apparently more focused on preserving its power and privilege than on fostering any democratic transformation.

Frustration erupted last week into violent protests that cost 42 lives and forced the army council to promise civilian rule by July.

In Cairo, Alexandria and other areas, voters stood patiently in long queues, many of them debating Egypt’s political future that for the first time they believed they could shape.

“Aren’t the army officers the ones who protected us during the revolution? What do those slumdogs in Tahrir want?” one woman asked loudly at a polling station in Cairo’s Nasr City.

“Those in Tahrir are young men and women who are the reason why a 61-year-old man like me voted in a parliamentary election for the first time in his life today,” one man replied politely.

About 17 million Egyptians are eligible to vote in the first two-day phase of three rounds of polling for the lower house, which will be completed on January 11.

Oppressed under Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties stood aloof from those challenging army rule, unwilling to let anything obstruct elections that may open a route to political power previously beyond their reach.

“We are at a crossroads,” Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi said on Sunday.

“There are only two routes, the success of elections leading Egypt toward safety or facing dangerous hurdles that we in the armed forces, as part of the Egyptian people, will not allow.”

The United States and its European allies, which have long valued Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, have urged the generals to step aside swiftly, apparently seeing their grip on power as provoking instability in the most populous Arab nation.

Tents of protesters demanding an immediate end to army rule still stood in Tahrir Square, but after heavy overnight rain, the epicenter of the anti-Mubarak revolt was far from crowded.

There were no reports of serious election-day violence. But scuffles among women voters erupted at one Alexandria polling station that opened late because ballot papers had not arrived.

At least 1,000 people were queuing outside one polling station in Cairo’s Zamalek district when it opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT). “We are very happy to be part of the election,” said first-time voter Wafa Zaklama, 55. “What was the point before?”

In Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, men and women voted in separate queues. Campaign posters for Islamist parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Salafi Nour Party and the moderate Wasat Party festooned streets. Troops outnumbered police guarding polling stations.

“This is the first real election in 30 years. Egyptians are making history,” said Walid Atta, 34, an engineer waiting to vote at a school on his way to work in Alexandria.

The segregated voting for men and women in Alexandria and many other places was a reminder of the conservative religious fabric of Egypt’s mainly Muslim society, where Coptic Christians comprise 10 percent of a population of more than 80 million.

A host of parties have been formed since the removal of Mubarak, who routinely rigged elections to ensure that his now-dissolved National Democratic Party dominated parliament.

Under a complex electoral system, voters pick both party lists and individual candidates.

In the Nile Delta city of Damietta, some voters said they would punish the Brotherhood for its perceived opportunism.

“I think the Brotherhood has lost more in the past three months than it built in the last three decades,” said tour operator Ayman Soliman, 35, adding that his vote would go to the moderate Islamist Wasat Party.

Nevertheless, the Brotherhood has formidable advantages that include a disciplined organization, name recognition among a welter of little-known parties and a record of opposing Mubarak long before the popular revolt that swept him from power.

Brotherhood organizers stood near many polling stations with laptops to help people find where they should vote, printing out a paper with the FJP candidate’s name and symbol on the back.

Shadi Hamid, research director at the Doha Brookings Center, said the vote was the first benchmark in Egypt’s transition.

“If turnout is low, it will mean there is widespread disaffection among Egyptians and they don’t believe that real change is possible through the electoral process.”

But Egyptians seemed enthused by the novelty of a vote where the outcome was, for a change, not a foregone conclusion.

“We are seeing clear signs of voter excitement and participation, as evidenced by long lines at polling stations, and it appears to be a genuine contest,” said Les Campbell, of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute.

The army council has promised civilian rule by July after the parliamentary vote and a presidential poll, now expected in June – much sooner than previously envisaged.

Parliament’s lower house will be Egypt’s first nationally elected body since Mubarak’s fall, and those credentials alone may enable it to dilute the military’s monopoly of power.

Yet army council member General Mamdouh Shahin said on Sunday the new assembly would have no right to remove an army-appointed government using its “presidential” powers.

On Friday, the army named Kamal Ganzouri to form a new cabinet, a choice quickly rejected by protesters in Tahrir Square demanding that generals step aside immediately in favor of a civilian body to oversee the transition to democracy.

The military had envisaged that once upper house elections are completed in March, parliament would pick a constituent assembly to write a constitution to be approved by a referendum before a presidential election. That would have let the generals stay in power until late 2012 or early 2013.

Additional reporting by Edmund Blair, Maha El Dahan and Tom Perry in Cairo, Marwa Awad in Alexandria, Shaimaa Fayed in Damietta, Yusri Mohamed in Port Said and Jonathan Wright in Fayoum; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Maria Golovnina

Egypt vote tests troubled political transition


Egyptians vote on Monday in the first big test of a transition born in popular revolutionary euphoria that soured into distrust of the generals who replaced their master, Hosni Mubarak.

In the nine months since a revolt ended the ex-president’s 30-year rule, political change in Egypt has faltered, with the military apparently more focused on preserving its power and privilege than on fostering any democratic transformation.

Frustration erupted last week into bloody protests that cost 42 lives and forced the army council to promise civilian rule by July after the parliamentary vote and a presidential poll, now expected in June, much sooner than previously envisaged.

Oppressed under Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties stood aloof from those challenging army rule, unwilling to let anything obstruct elections that may open a route to political power previously beyond their reach.

It is not clear whether voters will punish them for that or whether the Brotherhood’s disciplined organization will enable its newly formed Freedom and Justice Party to triumph over the welter of lesser-known parties and individuals in the race.

Free elections are an intriguing novelty in a nation where the authorities and security forces rigged polls for decades in favor of Mubarak’s now-dissolved National Democratic Party.

A high turnout among Egypt’s 50 million eligible voters could throw up surprises, perhaps revealing whether a silent majority favours stability or the radical overhaul demanded by the youthful protesters who overthrew Mubarak.

Shadi Hamid, research director at the Doha Brookings Center, said the parliamentary vote phased over weeks until January 10 was the first real benchmark of progress in Egypt’s transition.

“It will also tell us how much Egyptians are invested in this political process. If turnout is low, it will mean there is widespread disaffection among Egyptians and they don’t believe that real change is possible through the electoral process.”

Parliament’s lower house will be Egypt’s first nationally elected body since Mubarak’s fall, and those credentials alone may enable it to dilute the military’s monopoly of power.

Yet army council member General Mamdouh Shahin said the new assembly would have no right to remove a government appointed by the council using its “presidential” powers—a stance the new parliament may try to challenge.

On Friday, the army named Kamal Ganzouri to form a new cabinet, a choice rejected by protesters in Tahrir Square demanding that generals step aside immediately in favor of a civilian body to oversee a transition to democracy.

Ganzouri said on Sunday that any parliamentary majority that emerged from the elections may move to install a new government.

The military had envisaged that once upper house polls are completed in March, parliament would pick a constituent assembly to write a constitution to be approved by a referendum before a presidential election. That would have let the generals stay in power until late 2012 or early 2013.

The faster timetable agreed under pressure from the street has thrown up many questions about how the process will unfold and how much influence the army will retain behind the scenes.

The United States and its European allies, which have long valued Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, have urged the generals to step aside swiftly, apparently seeing them as causing, not curing instability in the most populous Arab nation.

Editing by Philippa Fletcher

French Jewish groups call country’s UNESCO vote a betrayal


French Jewish groups said they feel betrayed by their country’s vote in favor of extending UNESCO membership to the Palestinians.

“President Sarkozy broke his word and betrayed the ties of friendship that link France and Israel,” said the UPJF, a Jewish group of business professionals and CEOs, in a statement issued shortly after Monday’s vote.

The UPJF and the Jewish umbrella group, CRIF, both said in statements that France’s position did not correlate with recent declarations by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who argued that the Palestinian bid for membership was premature.

As a result, “France has judicially legitimized an authoritarian, racist regime in an international organism without respecting conditions for admission,”the UPJF said.

The CRIF said it “strongly deplored” France’s vote, which came while “several significant European states voted against” the Palestinian bid.

French officials told reporters that the decision to admit Palestine into UNESCO was a difficult one that was hacked out over the weekend amid stiff tension.

Granger warns UNESCO: Admit Palestinians, lose funding


A top congressional appropriator, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, warned UNESCO that granting the Palestinians full membership could mean a cutoff in U.S. funding for the cultural body.

The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations on Wednesday allowed to go ahead a full vote later this month on whether to admit the Palestinians as a member.

“Since April, I have made it clear to the Palestinian leadership that I would not support sending U.S. taxpayer money to the Palestinians if they sought statehood at the United Nations,” Granger (R-Texas) said in a statement. “Making a move in another U.N. agency will not only jeopardize our relationship with the Palestinians, it will jeopardize our contributions to the United Nations. As chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, I will advocate for all funding to be cut off. This is consistent with current law and I will consider additional actions as needed. 

“There are consequences for short-cutting the process, not only for the Palestinians, but for our longstanding relationship with the United Nations,” the statement concluded.

Granger’s statement cited U.S. law that bans funding of any institution that grants member-state status to the Palestinians.

The United States, Germany, Latvia and Romania opposed the vote. Forty countries voted in favor and 14 abstained.

Israel rejected the approval of the UNESCO vote. “Israel believes that the correct and only way to advance the peace process with the Palestinians is through direct, unconditional negotiations,” said a statement issued by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. “The Palestinians’ actions at UNESCO negate both the bilateral negotiations route and the Quartet’s proposal for continuing the diplomatic process. Their actions are a negative response to Israel’s and the international community’s efforts to promote the peace process.”

“UNESCO’s responsibilities address culture, science and education. UNESCO has remained silent in the face of significant change across the Middle East yet has found time during its’ current meeting to adopt six decisions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The decision to grant the Palestinians membership of UNESCO will not advance their desire for an independent state whatsoever,” teh ministry’s statement said.

The Anti Defamation League called the decision to bring the Palestinian request to a vote “woefully premature and dangerously inappropriate.”

“The Palestinians have unduly politicized this body, and if this action is approved by the full membership, it risks undermining the truly important work of UNESCO,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman in a statement.

“UNESCO, or any international organization for that matter, is not the place to grant recognition of a Palestinian state. Seeking such recognition ignores and delays the necessary discussions about what shape proposed borders would take; the very recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; security concerns, and many other issues,” said B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs. “All such determinations can only be made directly between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

Obama rejects Palestinian U.N. statehood bid


U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday rejected Palestinian plans to seek U.N. blessing for statehood and urged a return to peace talks with Israel as he tried to head off a looming diplomatic disaster.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly, Obama—whose earlier peace efforts accomplished little—insisted Middle East peace “will not come through statements and resolutions” at the world body and put the onus on the two sides to break a yearlong impasse.

“There is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work,” Obama told an annual gathering of world leaders.

Grappling with economic woes and low poll numbers at home and growing doubts about his leadership abroad, Obama is wading into Middle East diplomacy at a critical juncture for his presidency and America’s credibility around the globe.

He faced the daunting test of Washington’s eroding influence in the region in his last-ditch bid to dissuade the Palestinians from going ahead with a push for statehood in the U.N. Security Council this week in defiance of Israeli objections and a U.S. veto threat.

Obama attempted to strike a delicate balance as he took the U.N. podium. He sought to reassure Palestinians he was not abandoning his pledge to help them achieve eventual statehood while also placating any Israeli concerns about Washington’s commitment to their security.

Members of the General Assembly, where pro-Palestinian sentiment is high, listened politely but had only a muted response to Obama’s 36-minute speech.

There was widespread skepticism about Obama’s chances for success—not least because of deeply entrenched differences between the two sides—and he may not be able to do much more than contain the damage.

The Obama administration says that only direct peace talks can lead to peace with the Palestinians, who in turn say almost two decades of fruitless negotiation has left them no choice but to turn to the world body.

Obama followed his speech with a round of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who echoed the president’s assertion that renewed negotiations were the only path to a peace deal but offered no new ideas how to get back to the table. He said, however, that the Palestinians’ U.N. statehood effort “will not succeed.”

Signalling European patience was also wearing thin after years of halting U.S.-led diplomacy, French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed an ambitious timetable to resume peace talks within a month and achieve a definitive deal in a year.

STATEHOOD DRAMA

The drama over the Palestinian U.N. bid is playing out as U.S., Israeli and Palestinian leaders all struggle with the fallout from Arab uprisings that are raising new political tensions across the Middle East.

It also comes as Israel finds itself more isolated than it has been in decades and confronts Washington with the risk that, by again shielding its close ally, the United States will inflame Arab distrust when Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world is already faltering.

Taking note of deep frustrations over lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, he said: “Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.”

He was due to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later on the U.N. sidelines.

With the looming showdown overshadowing the rest of Obama’s U.N. agenda, failure to defuse the situation will not only mark a diplomatic debacle for Obama but also serve as a stark sign of the new limits of American clout in the Middle East.

Obama also used his wide-ranging speech to tout his support for democratic change sweeping the Arab world, urge further U.N. sanctions against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and call on Iran and North Korea to meet their nuclear obligations—twin standoffs that have eluded his efforts at resolution.

Senior diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations—the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators—were scrambling for a compromise but with little sign of a breakthrough.

The speech offered no new prescriptions for Israeli-Palestinian peace from Obama, who laid out his clearest markers for a final deal in May and angered Israel by declaring its pre-war 1967 borders as the starting point for any future negotiations.

Obama will urge Abbas face-to-face against going through with his plan to present U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with a membership application on Friday, setting the stage for a Security Council vote that the United States says it will block.

In separate talks, Obama had been expected to ask Netanyahu—who has had strained relations with the U.S. president—to help coax Abbas back to negotiations and also curb dangerous new tensions with Egypt and Turkey, two of Washington’s top regional partners.

But Obama was considered unlikely to lean too hard on the hawkish Israeli leader for concessions to the Palestinians, mindful he cannot afford to alienate Israel’s broad base of support among American voters as he seeks re-election in 2012.

Most analysts remain skeptical that the latest diplomacy by Obama and others will be enough to spur serious negotiations after earlier efforts hit a dead end.

Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Andrew Quinn, Lou Charbonneau, Alistair Lyon; Editing by Doina Chiacu

Obama to UN: Consider Israel’s security


President Obama appealed to the United Nations to recognize Israel’s security concerns in considering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day,” Obama said in his address Wednesday to the U.N. General Assembly plenary.

Obama repeated his administration’s calls on the Palestinians not to use the United Nations as a vehicle for achieving statehood, and called for Israel and the Palestinians to return to talks based on the parameters he outlined May.

“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations,” he said.

“Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than 8 million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile, and persecution, fresh memories of knowing that 6 million people were killed simply because of who they are,” he said.

“Those are facts. They cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.”

Obama also called for U.N. Security Council sanctions on Syria. Unlike his references to insurgencies in Bahrain and Yemen, he did not repeat his earlier calls for a democratic transition in Damascus, a sign that his administration has given up on trying to broker a transition with Syria’s current ruler.

Is rift looming in U.S.-Israel ties?


In recent months, the tensions that have characterized relations between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government have largely receded into the background.

The Obama administration is preparing to stand virtually alone with Israel at the United Nations in opposing the Palestinians’ statehood push. A consensus is emerging within the administration that Turkey is more to blame than Israel for the crisis in their relations. And officials in the United States and Israel are basking in the afterglow of Obama’s intervention with Egypt to facilitate the rescue of six Israelis during the storming of their Cairo embassy earlier this month.

Yet amid this flowering of good feelings, some observers are pointing to what they see as deeper undercurrents of disquiet in the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a respected Washington think tank that has been consulted in the past by officials of both countries, published a paper last week suggesting that their ties may be changing — and not for the better.

“The United States and Israel have changed and continue to change, but the two countries’ relationship has not kept pace,” said the report by Haim Malka, deputy director of the CSIS’s Middle East program. “For years the growing differences have been papered over, but continuing to do so is both unsustainable and counterproductive.”

The strains transcend any single administration, Malka says, and have resulted in deep-seated disagreements, particularly over the necessity of arriving at an agreement with the Palestinians, with Israelis skeptical of the likelihood of an accord and Americans seeing such a settlement as vital to the interests of both countries.

Dov Zakheim, a former top Pentagon official in Republican administrations who also is deeply involved in the Jewish and pro-Israel communities, also expressed concern about the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

“The biggest problem Israelis have: Israelis think they know the United States — they really do, especially the ones with American accents,” he said at the Sept. 16 release event for Malka’s report, in an apparent reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was educated in the United States.

“This peace process is a major priority for the United States across the board,” Zakheim said. “It is not just realist Republicans, not just liberals, but the national security community. Israelis are having difficulty coming to terms with that.”

Indeed, discontent with the current state of the Israel-U.S. relationship has been in evidence increasingly in the last couple of years in Washington’s defense establishment — usually a redoubt of pro-Israelism.

David Makovsky, a top analyst at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he does not believe there is a major rift on the horizon, but added that the Middle East’s current volatility introduces an element of uncertainty into the alliance.

“The Arab spring is the new X factor,” he said, referring to the unrest sweeping the region.

A top European diplomat who is charged with monitoring the U.S. Middle East posture dismissed talk of a U.S.-Israel rift as “very theoretical.” The diplomat, who asked not to be further identified, said the United States was “covering” for Israel at the United Nations, which is its “traditional role.”

Mark Quarterman, who spent 12 years as part of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations and now directs the CSIS’s Program on Crisis, Conflict, and Cooperation, said “there has been very little change between the Bush administration, the Obama administration and generally across administrations” in voting against resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and trying to keep it off the Security Council’s agenda.

The Obama administration has said it will veto the Palestinian statehood bid if it comes to a vote in the Security Council, and the United States will likely stand alone with Israel and a handful of other countries should the Palestinians seek enhanced status through the General Assembly. As the General Assembly began its session Wednesday, Obama was slated to meet with Netanyahu but not Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The United States also has tried to help Israel in its increasingly acrimonious diplomatic fight with Turkey. Sources in frequent contact with the Obama administration say that while officials express frustration with Netanyahu’s refusal to apologize for the deadly May 2010 Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged ship aiming to break Israel’s Gaza blockade, they are quick to acknowledge that such an apology would not have changed the Islamist Turkish government’s determination to ratchet up confrontation with Israel.

Netanyahu and his team, for their part, have been sounding positive notes about the administration lately. The prime minister lavished praise on Obama for his Cairo intervention, saying that Israel owed Obama “a special measure of gratitude.”

“We’ve enjoyed a period over the last four months of very close coordination with the administration, probably the best coordination that we’ve had over the last two-and-a-half years over the range of issues,” Netanyahu aide Ron Dermer told Politico. “I think that we’re definitely in a good place, with the U.S. administration and us seeing a lot of things eye to eye.”

France’s Sarkozy proposes 1-yr Mideast peace map


French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed on Wednesday that the United Nations give the Palestinians status as a U.N. observer state while setting out a roadmap for peace within one year.

In an impassioned speech at the U.N. General Assembly devoted entirely to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sarkozy warned that any veto against Palestinian efforts to seek full statehood in the Security Council “risked engendering a cycle of violence” in the Middle East.”

“We can no longer wait … Let us cease our endless debates on the parameters and begin negotiations,” he said. “The moment has come to build peace for Palestinian and Israeli children.”

France has grown increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress on the peace process, saying that negotiations should be widened to include a more hands-on role for Europe amid an ongoing impasse in U.S.-led efforts.

Calling for a change of method, Sarkozy said negotiations should begin within one month, an agreement on borders and security should happen within six months and a definitive agreement be reached within a year.

“Today we are facing a very difficult choice. Each of us knows that Palestine cannot immediately obtain full and complete recognition of the status of United Nations member state,” Sarkozy said. “But who could doubt that a veto at the Security Council risks engendering a cycle of violence in the Middle East?”

Sarkozy said the General Assembly should consider offering the Palestinians a status like that held by the Vatican, which would restore hope and mark progress to a final status.

“Why not envisage offering Palestine the status of United Nations observer state? This would be an important step forward. Most important, it would mean emerging from a state of immobility that favors only the extremists.”

The Palestinians have said that as an alternative to the Security Council, where the United States has promised to veto any full membership vote, they could ask the General Assembly to approve upgrading their membership from “entity” to “non-member observer state.”

Sarkozy met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday and will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday. He called on the Palestinians to reaffirm Israel’s right to exist and have security, while cautioning that Israel should show restraint.

A spokesman for the Palestinian president said Abbas would study Sarkozy’s proposals.

“The ultimate objective of peace negotiations must by the mutual recognition of two states for two peoples, based on the 1967 parameters with the exchange of agreed and equivalent territories,” Sarkozy said.

A Western diplomatic source said the time frame announced by Sarkozy was “one of the elements of a package” that European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has been working on and which she presented to EU foreign ministers on Tuesday.

Paris has upped its diplomatic push over the last six months on the issue as the Arab Spring swept through the Middle East, fearing that failure to revive the peace process could undermine that momentum.

Sarkozy also has an eye on presidential elections next year with the repercussions of an escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict potentially spilling over at home, where there are more than 5 million Muslims and a Jewish community of between 600,000 and 700,000.

He warned on Tuesday that if there was no break in the impasse it could poison Arab countries’ evolution to democracy.

After a hesitant response to the Arab Spring, Sarkozy has been an outspoken defender of the changes in the region, leading international efforts to help Libyan rebels in their uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

France has previously offered to convene negotiators in Paris to discuss ideas for a Palestinian state, but Israel has traditionally been reluctant to embrace a major European role in Middle East peacemaking, preferring to have its main ally, the United States, take the lead.

Sarkozy proposed a Palestinian donor conference in Paris this fall. “Let’s stop believing that just one country or one small group of countries can resolve a problem of such complexity,” he said.

Editing by Doina Chiacu

U.S. lawmakers talk Palestinian statehood, Iran at Mideast confab


U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin said supporters of Israel must be prepared for a U.N. General Assembly vote recognizing a Palestinian state in September, saying the Palestinians have “the upper hand” in pushing through such a resolution.

The Palestinians have a solid bloc of allies in the General Assembly, whereas the measure likely will not pass if brought before the U.N. Security Council, Cardin (D-Md.) said June 22 during a speech at a conference here on the Middle East sponsored by The Israel Project.

“We have to be prepared for a U.N. vote that is negative,” Cardin said. “There will be consequences.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) echoed Cardin’s sentiments, stating flatly that a unilateral resolution recognizing a Palestinian state “absolutely cannot happen.”

Berkley said she has been assured privately and through public statements by the Obama administration that the United States will stand with Israel if such a vote occurs.

“It would be very helpful to us and to Israel if we were not standing there alone,” she said.

Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) said the issue of Iran is chief among the Middle East turmoil, calling it “the greatest threat to our own national security in the United States.”

“We cannot lose sight of Iran,” Dold said. “A nuclear-armed Iran is absolutely unacceptable.”

Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, also speaking at the conference, said Iran would be a “game changer” if it were to develop nuclear weapons. Kristol likened the possibility to the Cold War, saying it would put Israel and Iran in a “perpetually Cuban Missile Crisis” situation.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said liberals suffer from “the David and Goliath inversion” regarding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Liberals always root for David, never Goliath,” and automatically believe Israel is the aggressor, Sherman said. “Just because the IDF wears uniforms doesn’t mean they’re wrong.”

Opinion: Obama’s morally confused Mideast policies endanger Israel


Israel and America are at a dangerous crossroads in which the survival of Israel and the safety of the United States both hang in the balance.

Year after year, the forces of terrorism become stronger, and the claims of terrorists become more acceptable to our European allies and more powerful in the United Nations. Year after year the Iranian dictatorship, with its openly stated desire to annihilate Israel and defeat the United States, moves closer to having nuclear means to do so. Year after year, Hamas grows stronger in Gaza and Hezbollah grows stronger in Lebanon.

Today the greatest obstacle toward achieving a real and lasting peace is not the strength of the enemy or the unwillingness of Israel to make great sacrifices for the sake of peace. It is the inability on the part of the Obama administration and certain other world leaders to tell the truth about terrorism, be honest about the publicly stated goals of our common enemies and devise policies appropriate to an honest accounting of reality.

Moral confusion that cannot see for what they are attacks that fit into a carefully defined ideology of radical Islamist terrorism is sadly typical of this administration’s elevation of political correctness above common sense. The Obama administration’s policy towards Israel has been a victim of this dangerous confusion.

In his May 19 State Department speech, President Obama rightly stated that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization that denies its right to exist. But he then went on in the same speech to pressure Israel to do exactly that.

President Obama wants Israel to enter into negotiations with a Palestinian Authority that is now in league with the terrorist organization Hamas. The president said that applying this pressure on Israel was not the politically savvy thing for him to do, and that the safe thing to do in an election year is nothing.

He is essentially telling us that he is doing the brave thing by pressuring Israel to negotiate with terrorists who want to destroy it. President Obama and his State Department should recall some basic facts.

Hamas was founded as a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Its charter openly calls for Israel’s destruction and instructs its followers to kill Jews wherever they find them. Hamas goes well beyond words in its effort to destroy Israel. In 2010, more than 200 missiles were fired into Israel from Gaza.

No country can be expected to conduct peace negotiations with a terrorist organization dedicated to its destruction, or with a Palestinian governmental authority that joins forces with such a terrorist organization.

Twenty years of hopes for the modern peace process cannot change this fundamental reality.

It also means that entering into peace negotiations with any organization that includes Hamas is a fool’s errand.  It is something that no friend of Israel should ever ask Israel to do. I certainly hope this administration doesn’t resort to the meaningless exercise of trying to artificially distinguish between the military and political wings of Hamas as a way of justifying pressure on Israel to negotiate with the latter.

In his recent speeches, President Obama also called for Israel to accept the 1967 lines as the beginning of peace negotiations. He went to great lengths to have us all believe that what he said at the State Department and later at AIPAC was no different than what other American presidents have declared as official policy.

Unfortunately, that’s just not true. President Obama has in fact called for a remarkable shift in U.S. policy regarding the peace process. He wants Israel to accept the indefensible lines of 1967 as the starting point of negotiations.

Accepting such a proposal would be a suicidal step for Israel. Fortunately for Israel, that proposal is a non-starter with the American people.

Like Israel, we are committed to seeing a peace agreement that protects Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the Jewish state. After all, it has only been under Jewish authority that religious freedom, including access to holy sites, for people of all faiths—Christian, Jewish and Muslim—has been protected.

Meanwhile, we must readily see the president’s policies for what they are: the dangerous accommodation of Middle East dictators, and worse, the accommodation of terrorist groups like Hamas.

President Obama’s policies represent a sharp break from the post-World War II American political consensus of providing unwavering support to the State of Israel.

The decision to adopt a policy of accommodation, using the political objectives and code words of those who wish to drive Israel into the sea, affirms the administration’s radicalism in its headlong flight from the legacy of U.S. presidents—from Truman to Bush—and is leading Israel and the Western democracies toward ever increasing danger.

President Obama’s focus on Israel as the obstacle to peace is particularly disturbing considering the existence of a true threat to the peace of the world: the threat from Iran. Today Iran is watching whether the United States keeps its promises with its ally Israel and how we deal with Iran’s proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah. The Iranian regime will also be watching how America and our allies treat Israel at the U.N. General Assembly this September.

We need to acknowledge that 20 years of trying to negotiate peace with evil regimes and organizations dedicated to the destruction of Israel—and in many cases our own destruction—has been a failure, and the time has come to clearly and decisively take the offensive against them.

This begins with a firm and consistent commitment by the United States—in the Reagan tradition—to speak plainly and truthfully about the nature of our enemies.

Next, our policies must reflect the fact that there is no moral equivalency between terrorist regimes and a legitimate self-governing country that abides by the rule of law.

We must reverse the Obama administration’s dangerous policies of incoherence and accommodation and implement instead a foreign policy that is clear about the evil that we face and committed to the actions necessary to overcome it.

(This Op-Ed was adapted from a speech Newt Gingrich, a Republican candidate for president, delivered to the Republican Jewish Coalition on June 12, 2011.)

Peres: Israel needs to formulate its own Mideast peace plan


Israel needs to draft its own Mideast peace initiative if it wants to avoid international pressure over a reported U.S peace plan, President Shimon Peres said on Friday, following a report claiming Washington was working on a plan to restart stalled peace talks.

Peres’ comments came in the wake of a New York Times report claiming that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama was drafting a new peace plan which included a Palestinian state within 1967 borders and which rejected Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

Speaking during a visit to southern Israel, the president referred to reported U.S. plans to present a new outline for Mideast peace, accusing those reports as being “all speculation.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

UN urges bold steps to relaunch Mideast peace talks


The United Nations called on Thursday for “bold and decisive steps” to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as the region awaits a possible new initiative by U.S. President Barack Obama.

UN political chief Lynn Pascoe and ambassadors of key Security Council countries said it was important to break the deadlock soon as a proclaimed September deadline for reaching an agreement draws closer.

Peace talks opened last September with the aim of an accord in one year but quickly broke down after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a partial freeze on Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Peres to Clinton: Israel is ready to assist in Mideast transition


Shimon Peres told Hillary Rodham Clinton that Israel was ready to do what it could to facilitate transition among its neighbors to democracy.

“We see this occasion as an occasion for better and for good will to cooperate in every possible way to enable this change to take the course into the 21st century for all the Middle East people and escape their poverty and problems and wants,” the Israeli president told the U.S. secretary of state before their meeting Monday afternoon.

Peres is in Washington to meet with President Obama on Tuesday. Statements from some Israeli leaders have suggested that they believe the Obama administration is moving too fast in encouraging some nations to transition to democratic governments as a result of the “Arab Spring,” the tumult now sweeping the region.

U.S. officials, in turn, have suggested that Israel and the Palestinians could help ease the process by resuming peace talks.

Clinton told Peres that it was an honor to host him in Washington and that “President Obama is very much looking forward to seeing you and discussing the issues that you have raised and your perspectives and the way forward, which will hopefully realize the better outcomes that we all wish for.”

“Our task together is to deepen and broaden our friendship, our relationship, our partnership to look for ways that we can work toward the kind of future that you have always believed in and that you have held out as a promise for the children of Israel and the children of all the countries of the Middle East,” Clinton said.

Obama: Changes in Mideast make Israel-Palestinian peace more urgent than ever


United States President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that with the winds of change sweeping the broader Middle East it was “more urgent than ever” to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Obama was speaking to reporters after holding White House talks with President Shimon Peres.

Following the meet, Peres gave a press conference during which he reiterated Obama’s message, saying “both ourselves and the Palestinians think that what is happening in other Arab countries will have a big influence on us and on the Palestinians.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Palestinians gain ground in PR, diplomatic war


In the long-running Palestinian-Israeli conflict, score some recent victories for the Palestinians.

It’s not that Israel has given an inch in the territorial dispute over the West Bank, or that the Palestinians in Gaza have achieved new military victories against the Israelis, despite increased rocket and mortar fire from the coastal strip in recent weeks.

Rather, the Palestinians have scored a series of diplomatic and public-relations successes against a Jewish state weakened by fraying relationships and a declining reputation internationally.

On the diplomatic front, Palestinian leaders announced this week that 10 European Union countries were upgrading their ties with the PLO. Earlier this month, three Latin American countries—Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia—issued formal recognitions of the state of Palestine.

On Sunday was the much-publicized lunch hosted by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for Israeli politicians and activists in Ramallah. Numerous Op-Eds followed in the Israeli media and overseas noting that there is a Palestinian partner for peace even if there isn’t an Israeli one.

Then there was the early December decision by the Obama administration to drop its effort to persuade Israel to agree to an additional 90-day freeze of Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank. Commentators cited Israeli intransigence as the primary reason.

“Israel,” columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in a Dec. 11 Op-Ed in The New York Times, “when America, a country that has lavished billions on you over the last 50 years and taken up your defense in countless international forums, asks you to halt settlements for three months to get peace talks going, there is only one right answer, and it is not ‘How much?’ It is: ‘Yes, whatever you want, because you’re our only true friend in the world.’”

Over the last few months, Israel’s declining international reputation has given the Palestinians and their allies an opening they have exploited by effectively casting Israel as the bully and the unyielding party in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

It is a message that is promoted relentlessly by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to make Israel an international pariah, and it is reinforced by negative assessments of Israeli actions such as the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza two years ago, the deadly Turkish flotilla incident of May 31 and Israel’s daily treatment of West Bank Palestinians.

If the goal is to increase pressure on Israel to accede to the creation of a Palestinian state, a strategy that focuses on diplomacy and PR appears to have a greater chance of success right now than the Palestinians’ decades-long strategy of terrorism and war.

That strategy—call it the violent one—was snuffed out in recent years by Israeli military operations, Israel’s erection of the West Bank security fence and a recognition by leading Palestinian figures that the violence was doing more harm to the Palestinian national cause than good.

“We tried the intifada, and it caused us a lot of damage,” Abbas told an interviewer with the London-based Arabic daily Al Hayat in September.

Abbas said the Palestinian Authority would not revert to violent uprising even if peace talks collapsed.

With relative moderates like Abbas in charge of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank—the primary public face of the Palestinians—there is a greater understanding that to achieve statehood the Palestinians must win the world to their side. That, after all, paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel, after the United Nations voted in November 1947 to recognize a Jewish state in Palestine.

Now the Palestinians are setting their sights on this same goal.

U.N. recognition would shift the conflict from one over “occupied Palestinian territories” to a conflict over an “occupied state with defined borders,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. “We urge the international community to salvage the two-state solution by recognizing a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.”

While U.N. recognition of Palestine might make a diplomatic end run around Israel, it hardly would result in an immediate Palestinian state. The United Nations would have no way of enforcing its decision, and Israeli troops and settlers would remain in the West Bank.

What it would do, however, is significantly ratchet up the pressure on Israel to deal with the Palestinians.

“Widespread international recognition of Palestine’s legitimacy and existence has very significant consequences,” Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, wrote on his blog earlier this month.

That pressure isn’t just coming from outside Israel.

“The Palestinians will declare a state. Virtually the whole world will recognize it. And we will be left without security arrangements,” Israeli Trade and Industry Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer warned in October.

There is pressure even from inside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own Likud Party. Likud veteran and Cabinet minister Michael Eitan has proposed moving settlers willing to accept compensation and relocation out of the West Bank and into Israel proper to signal to the world that Israel is serious about wanting peace with the Palestinians.

This week, Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar wrote that Israel needs to be saved from itself.

“Almost no day goes by without some other country recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders,” Eldar wrote. “According to the WikiLeaks documents, even the Germans, Israel’s steadfast supporters in Europe, have lost their faith in the peaceful intentions of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.”

Whatever criticism there is inside Israel about the Israeli government’s approach toward the Palestinians, the criticism outside Israel is sharper.

The main holdout is the United States, where recent polls show that the American people overwhelmingly favor Israel over the Palestinians, and Congress remains steadfastly pro-Israel.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is aiming to change that. Using everything from campus activism to boycotts of stores that sell Israeli food products to bus ads promoting pro-Palestinian messages, the movement is hoping to sway public opinion.

Starting Dec. 27, the two-year anniversary of the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, a group called the Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign will be running ads on the sides of Seattle buses featuring photos of children looking at a demolished building under the heading “Israeli War Crimes: Your tax dollars at work.”

At Princeton University in New Jersey, DePaul University in Chicago and on the streets of Philadelphia, pro-Palestinian activists have campaigned to have Israeli brands of hummus removed from campus cafeterias or store shelves. In New York, boycott supporters demonstrated outside a store belonging to the Israeli chocolatier Max Brenner.

“The relics of the past boycotts—from Nuremberg to Damascus—are back,” Ethan Felson, vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, wrote in a JTA Op-Ed. “Its proponents seek to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into every sphere of American life.”

In the zero-sum game that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that’s good news for the Palestinians.

Netanyahu updates Cabinet on U.S. settlement freeze proposal


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will present to his Cabinet an American proposal to convince Israel to again freeze settlement construction in an effort to resume peace talks with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu updated the Cabinet on the American offer Sunday during its regular meeting. Netanyahu met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday in New York for seven hours.

“This proposal was raised during my talks with Secretary of State Clinton.  It is still not final; it is still being formulated by Israeli and the American teams.  If and when it is complete, I will bring this proposal to the appropriate Government forum, which in this case is the Cabinet.  In any case, I insist that any proposal meet the State of Israel’s security needs, both in the immediate term and vis-à-vis the threats that we will face in the coming decade,” Netanyahu told the Cabinet at the beginning of Sunday’s meeting.

The U.S. reportedly has offered to supply 20 F-35 stealth fighter jets in a deal worth $3 billion; to veto all United Nations Security Council and international resolutions that criticize or delegitimize Israel; and to provide Israel with additional security guarantees once a peace deal is reached. The U.S. deal requires Israel to halt all construction in the West Bank for 90 days, including on building work in process, and says that the U.S. will not ask for an extension of the new freeze.

A 10-month Israeli freeze on construction in the West Bank ended on Sept. 26. President Obama has said he believes that he can help Israel and the Palestinians to agree on final borders for Israel and a Palestinian state during a three-month settlement construction freeze.

At a meeting of Netanyahu’s Likud Party ministers before the Cabinet meeting, at least four ministers, including two vice premieres, reportedly expressed vehement opposition to a second West Bank construction freeze.

Palestinians leaders also reportedly are against the deal, because it does not include a freeze on construction in eastern Jerusalem. The United States reportedly has not consulted with the Palestinians on the deal it offered to Netanyahu.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” said a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office last week.

Conductor Barenboim awarded German peace prize


Conductor Daniel Barenboim was awarded a German peace prize for his efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians together.

The Westphalia Peace Prize, worth about $70,000, was presented by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in ceremonies Saturday in Muenster City Hall.

Barenboim, 67, a pianist and general music director at Berlin’s State Opera, was honored particularly for his creation, with the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said, of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which brings together Jewish, Christian and Muslim musicians. The award will be shared with the orchestra, according to news reports.

Several musicians from the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra performed at the ceremony.

In delivering the prize, Westerwelle praised the project as “an orchestra without borders” that brings younger generations together. He said that peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians must continue, with European support, but that Israel’s security is top priority and “not up for debate.”

Barenboim called the award “a great and deep honor” and added that a two-state solution to the conflict was urgently needed.

“It is not five before midnight, but 30 seconds before midnight,” said Barenboim, who has passports for Israel, Argentina, Spain and a pass for the Palestinian territories, which he was given after a concert in Ramallah in January 2008.

The prize is given every two years by the Economic Association of Westphalia and Lippe to individuals or institutions considered role models in building peace. Past recipients include former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and conductor Kurt Masur.

Clinton: Only talks will result in a state


Hillary Rodham Clinton told a Palestinian-American audience that the only path to statehood is through direct talks with Israel.

The U.S. secretary of state’s remarks Wednesday to a gala dinner of the American Task Force on Palestine comes as the Palestinian Authority reportedly is seeking international recognition in case it decides to unilaterally declare statehood.

“As much as the United States and other nations around the world want to see a resolution to this conflict, only the parties themselves can take the difficult steps that will lead to peace,” Clinton said. “That is why the Obama administration is working so hard to support direct talks that offer a forum for both sides to grapple with the core issues in good faith. There is no substitute for face-to-face discussion and, ultimately, for an agreement that leads to a just and lasting peace. That is the only path that will lead to the fulfillment of the Palestinian national aspirations and the necessary outcome of two states for two peoples.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suspended the talks last month, barely a month after they were renewed, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month partial freeze on settlement building.

President Obama has called for an extension of the freeze, and has offered Netanyahu a wide-ranging package of security and diplomatic guarantees if he changes his mind. Netanyahu has been telling interlocutors that unless the Palestinians stop making arrangements for a unilateral declaration, he will not reinstate the building freeze.

Clinton’s address did not mention the U.S. government’s calls to extend the freeze and instead emphasized the need to return to direct talks—an implicit rebuke of Abbas.

She also said a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will reflect “developments” subsequent to the Six-Day War. An end-of-conflict agreement “reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps and Israel’s goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israel’s security requirements,” Clinton said.

Israel secured a letter in 2004 from the Bush administration recognizing some settlement blocs as “realities on the ground.” These were never specified, but are thought to include the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, Maaleh Adumim to its east and possibly settlements along the West Bank border north of Jerusalem. Israeli officials have been seeking a reiteration of the commitment from the Obama administration.

Clinton called on Arab states to contribute more concretely to advancing the process.

“It takes far more than commitments and plans to support making the state of Palestine a reality,” she said.

Clinton called for the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped in Israel in 2006 and held since by Hamas-affiliated terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Her call was applauded by the audience.

The American Task Force on Palestine lobbies for two states and believes in engaging a broad array of Jewish groups.

Olmert: Netanyahu leading Israel to political isolation


Former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday harshly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.

Speaking at an Industry, Trade and Labor ministry conference, Olmert said that the government’s refusal to accept the United States request that Israel extend a freeze on West Bank settlement construction for two months could lead to Israel’s political isolation in the world and damage Israel’s economy.

“There are people who think it is possible to separate the political situation from the economic situation and they use the phrase ‘economic peace’,” Olmert said, alluding to Netanyahu. “This is a lovely phrase but it reality doesn’t exist.”

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Palestinians reject offer of recognition in exchange for freeze


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would reinstate a West Bank construction freeze if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu made the offer Monday in a wide-ranging speech at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session.

“If the Palestinian leadership will say unequivocally to its people that it recognizes Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my government and request a further suspension,” Netanyahu said. “Just as the Palestinians expect us to recognize their state, we expect reciprocal treatment.”

The Palestinian Authority issued a statement rejecting Netanyahu’s offer immediately following the speech.

Netanyahu called the deal a “trust-building step.” He said that such recognition was not a precondition to talks for Israel.

The prime minister said that he has floated the idea to the Palestinians, who have not been responsive to the idea.

“The United States is attempting other means to ensure that the talks take place,”  he said.

Netanyahu pointed out that Israel enforced a 10-month building freeze in the West Bank “with determination and without compromise,” adding that “Unfortunately, the Palestinians wasted those 10 months as well. Now they demand that we continue the moratorium as a condition to continuing the talks. I hope they are not doing so to avoid making the real decisions necessary for a peace agreement.”

In saying that a peace agreement must include a strong security arrangement, Netanyahu pointed out that Israel previously had peaceful relations with both Iran and Turkey, with whom Israel’s relations have “deteriorated against our will.”

The statement by the Palestinians said they would return to peace talks in exchange for a freeze on building in the settlements.

“The issue of the Jewishness of the state has nothing to do with the matter,”  said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Clinton, Syrian FM discuss Israel-Syria talks


Hillary Rodham Clinton met with the Syrian foreign minister and discussed reviving Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

The U.S. secretary of state met with Walid Muallem on the sidelines of the launching of this year’s U.N. General Assembly, the signature annual event that brings together foreign ministers otherwise not inclined to meet one on one.

“The secretary affirmed our objective of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, which includes the Syrian track,” the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said in a conference call with reporters. “Foreign Minister Muallem was very interested in pursuing that, and there was a pledge that we would develop some ideas going forward on how to proceed.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is not interested in reviving talks with Syria where they left off under his predecessor, Ehud Olmert. Those talks, mediated by Turkey, operated under the assumption that Israel would return the entire Golan Heights, the strategic plateau captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, should a comprehensive peace be secured.

Netanyahu says he will only restart talks with no preconditions and has suggested that he is not willing to return the entire Golan.

Syria’s official news agency, Sana, described the Clinton-Muallem meeting as “very constructive.”

The Obama administration has kept in place most of the sanctions imposed on Syria by President George W. Bush, but is seeking to return a U.S. ambassador to Damascus. That nomination is held up in the Senate.

Crowley said Clinton and Muallem discussed the issues that led to the imposition of the sanctions, including alleged Syrian interference in Lebanon and Iraq, and Damascus’ backing for terrorist groups that target Israel.

“The peace process and Lebanon were the two most significant dimensions of the secretary’s discussion with the foreign minister,” he said. “And suffice it to say that we do have concerns about Syria’s activities inside Lebanon and its relationship with Hezbollah.”

Crowley said there would be follow-up, but would not provide details.

“We will follow up with the Syrians on how to best proceed in developing the Syrian-Israeli track,” he said.

Clinton while in New York also spoke by phone with Netanyahu to address difficulties already afflicting recently revived direct talks with the Palestinian Authority.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has interrupted the talks because Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month moratorium on settlement building. Abbas also has said, however, that the issue will not end the talks.

Crowley said George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s senior envoy to the region, was set Monday evening to visit the region and meet with the leaders in an attempt to get past the impasse before Wednesday evening, the eve of Shemini Atzeret, a Jewish holiday.

Sides work to save Mideast peace talks as freeze expires


From NYTimes.com:

Israel allowed a politically charged freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank to expire on Sunday, but the Palestinians did not carry out a threat to quit peace negotiations, setting the stage for further frantic efforts to keep the talks alive.

For President Obama, who had publicly called on Israel to extend the freeze, the Israeli decision was another setback in what has been a tortuous effort to help resolve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

American officials spent Sunday desperately seeking a formula to satisfy both sides — an effort that failed to produce a compromise from the Israelis but that may have helped persuade the Palestinians to delay a decision on abandoning the talks until the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, consults with Arab leaders in coming days.

Read more at NYTimes.com.

Abbas threatens to resign if talks fail


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to resign if peace talks with Israel fail.

Abbas made a statement indicating that he would quit over a failure of the recently launched direct peace negotiations at a recent meeting of the Fatah Central Committee, The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday.

“I have made a decision and I will announce it at the appropriate time,” Abbas said, according to the Post, which cited a senior PA official quoted in the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily.

The members of the committee understood Abbas’ declaration as a new threat to resign.

There is no obvious successor to Abbas. If Abbas did resign, the party’s central committee would meet and appoint one of its members to the position, according to the Post.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians continue to assert that they will halt negotiations if Israel does not extend the freeze on construction in West Bank settlements.

“If they extend the settlement freeze, the negotiations will continue,” he said. “If not, the talks will be stopped,” Nabil Shaath, a member of the PA delegation to the peace talks, said over the weekend, the Post reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday during a meeting of his party’s Cabinet members that Israel would not extend the 10-month freeze, which is scheduled to expire Sept. 26.

Meanwhile, Israeli President Shimon Peres left for New York on Saturday night to represent Israel at the opening meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. He is scheduled to meet there with Abbas in an effort to convince him to continue with the peace negotiations after the settlement construction freeze ends, Haaretz reported.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had been expected to represent Israel at this week’s session.

U.S.: Direct talks on track, no deadline


An Obama administration official said direct Israeli-Palestinian talks are on track, but would not set a time frame.

“We are working through the details of what is necessary to get the parties into direct negotiations,” P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, said Wednesday, referring to the Quartet grouping of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, which guides the Middle East peace process. “We fully expect that we’re going to get there. We just, at this moment, are still working directly and trying to move the parties to that point where they’re prepared to enter into direct negotiations.”

Crowley said the Quartet was still considering releasing a statement prior to the talks; Palestinians want such a statement as a means of committing Israel to discussing final-status issues, including borders, Jerusalem and refugees. Israel’s government has resisted such outlines.

“There could very well be a statement,” Crowley said. “When that statement occurs, I can’t tell you. I don’t know. We’re not at the point yet where a statement has been agreed to.”

Israel will reject preconditions for talks


Israel said it will reject any preconditions set forth by the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators on resuming direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among a forum of seven senior Cabinet officials who made the decision Sunday evening.

The Quartet—the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia—was expected to make an announcement regarding the resumption of direct talks on Monday or Tuesday, according to reports. Its statement, according to Israeli media reports, may call on Israel to renew a 10-month West Bank settlement freeze that is set to expire Sept. 26.

“Israel is ready to start direct negotiations immediately, but without any preconditions,” an Israeli official told the French news agency AFP on condition of anonymity.

“The Palestinians, who have lost valuable time by refusing to revive these direct contacts, will present all the topics they want to discuss at the negotiating table.”

U.S. sources said Sunday that the Quartet would call for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders within a year or two. The United States as an intermediary for months of “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has tried to convince the Palestinians to enter face-to-face talks.

A senior Israeli government source said Sunday that “the Quartet announcement could serve as camouflage for Palestinian preconditions, and that is unacceptable.” He added that the U.S. administration will issue another announcement later in the week defining the terms of the negotiations and serving as a compromise between the Israeli and the Palestinian viewpoints.

Also Sunday, several reports said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would announce the start of direct peace talks in only “a matter of days.”

A senior official in the Obama administration told Haaretz that a number of minor details still need to be clarified with Abbas and Netanyahu that will open the way for direct talks.

Jane Fonda responds to Toronto backlash


Follow our complete coverage of the Toronto Film Festival boycotts on our Hollywood Jew blog.

Reposted with permission of Jane Fonda

I recently signed a letter protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to showcase and celebrate Tel Aviv. This in the very year when Gaza happened. The decision made the festival a participant in the newly launched campaign to “rebrand” Israel. Arye Mekel, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Director General for Cultural Affairs, has said that artists and writers must be enlisted in order to “show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.” The protesters felt it was wrong for the much-respected festival to be used in this manner. The role of art, after all, is not to prettify but to expose reality with all its contradictions and complexities.

I signed the letter without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if some of the wording wouldn’t exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue.

Last week, Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, director of the Chai Center in Los Angeles, explained to me the meaning of the Hebrew word “teshuva”—to fix things you have done incorrectly, not just by never doing them again but by “coming with a sincere heart. Words that come from the heart enter the heart.”

Some of the words in the protest letter did not come from my heart, words that are unnecessarily inflammatory: The simplistic depiction of Tel Aviv as a city “built on destroyed Palestinian villages,” for instance, and the omission of any mention of Hamas’s 8-month-long rocket and mortar attacks on the town of Sderot and the western Negev to which Israel was responding when it launched its war on Gaza. Many citizens now suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result. In the hyper-sensitized reality of the region in which any criticism of Israel is swiftly and often unfairly branded as anti-Semitic, it can become counterproductive to inflame rather than explain and this means to hear the narratives of both sides, to articulate the suffering on both sides, not just the Palestinians. By neglecting to do this the letter allowed good people to close their ears and their hearts.

Additionally, protesting the use of the festival to “rebrand” Israel was perhaps too easily misunderstood. It certainly has been wildly distorted. Contrary to the lies that have been circulated, the protest letter was not demonizing Israeli films and filmmakers. On one of the many trips I have made to Israel, I spoke at Tel Aviv University’s film department and am well aware, as I’m sure the other signatories are, that Israeli films are not a mouthpiece for their government’s policies. Nor was the letter an attack on the legitimacy of Tel Aviv as an Israeli city, or a call to boycott the Toronto Film Festival. In fact, many signatories are attending the festival and have films showing there.

As I said in my recent blog, the greatest “re-branding” of Israel would be to celebrate that country’s long standing, courageous and robust peace movement by helping to end the blockade of Gaza through negotiations with all parties to the conflict, and by stopping the expansion of West Bank settlements. That’s the way to show Israel’s commitment to peace, not a PR campaign. There will be no two-state solution unless this happens.

The Israeli-Palestinian story cannot be reduced to a simplistic aggressor-victim relationship. In order to fully understand this, one must be willing to come together with an open heart and really hear the narratives of both sides. One narrative sees 1948 as the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their land. Another sees it as the birth of a nation. Conceivably it was both. Neither narrative can be erased, both must be heard.

This post originally appeared on HuffingtonPost.com.

Iran policy reveals split between U.S. Jewish and Israeli left


Israel’s highest-ranking female soldier, Brig. Gen. Yisraela Oron, was sounding all the right notes for her J Street hosts.

At the tail end of a U.S. tour for the left-wing pro-Israel lobby, Oron was lending her considerable security credentials to its platform: a two-state solution, territorial concessions by Israel and a robust U.S. peacemaking role.

The conversation with a group of reporters then turned to Iran and its nuclear potential, and Oron was unequivocal: yes to engagement, but on a timetable that would be tied to punishing sanctions.

“The thing that worries me and that worries other Israelis is that it is not limited in time,” Oron said as the faces of her J Street hosts turned anxious, adding that “I’m not sure I’m expressing the J Street opinion.”

She was not. J Street explicitly opposes a timetable and has reservations about proposed additional sanctions.

The awkward moment pointed to a potential split between left-wing pro-Israel groups and the Israeli constituents for whom they claim to speak. Unlike the Israeli-Palestinian issue, little dissent exists among Israeli politicians over how to deal with Iran.

That puts left-wing U.S. Jewish groups at odds with Israeli left-wingers.

“There is a more hawkish perception among virtually all circles in Israel” than there is in the United States, said Yossi Alpher, a consultant who has worked with Americans for Peace Now. “It’s very natural. Iran doesn’t say the U.S. has no right to exist and doesn’t do the equivalent of denying the Holocaust. It doesn’t deploy proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah against the United States and on its borders.”

Right now, the differences are not pronounced—the administrations of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama are virtually on the same page on the need to confront Iran, and soon. That could change, however, if Iran makes a serious counter offer to Obama’s proposal to engage.

Last week, the Iranians said they had made such an offer. Its details are not known, but it will be part of the “reassessment” Obama has pledged to complete by the end of September, when the major world powers meet at the U.N. General Assembly.

“If Iran engages and the Obama administration argues that a deal has been made, the Israeli government will be very wary,” Alpher said. “This could immediately create a whole world of suspicions.”

Under those circumstances, the vast majority of American Jewish voters who backed Obama last year would be faced with the first either-or U.S. vs. Israel issue in decades, and groups that describe themselves as pro-Israel and pro-peace will find themselves for the first time speaking for virtually no one in Israel on a critical issue.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will lobby in Washington on Sept. 10 and rally outside the General Assembly on Sept. 24 for sanctions that would end the export of refined petroleum to Iran, which imports 40 percent of its refined oil.

On Israel’s left, the Labor Party, currently part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, aggressively backs sanctions. Its leader and the current defense minister, Ehud Barak, makes Iran’s isolation the centerpiece of his exchanges with his counterparts in the West.

The smaller Meretz Party, to Labor’s left, also backs Iran’s isolation. It routinely frames its arguments for robust peacemaking in terms of the need to contain Iran’s ambitions.

Former Meretz leader Yossi Beilin tells audiences that Yitzhak Rabin, the late Israeli prime minister who launched the Oslo process in 1993, did so principally because of his fears of Iran. Beilin told a German audience last year that he “advocates increased sanctions towards Iran in order to stop centrifugal uranium programs.”

Avshalom Vilan, a Meretz Knesset member until March, was a forceful advocate of reaching out to the nations most able to wound Iran’s economy, including Germany and India.

Across the ocean, however, left-wing U.S. Jewish groups—not to mention non-Jewish left-wing groups—are against more sanctions.

Americans for Peace Now has the most pronounced opposition.

“We don’t think crippling sanctions are right if the meaning of that is that the sanctions will not be targeted against Iran’s governments and leaders but will target Iranian people,” spokesman Ori Nir said. “We think that’s not only morally wrong but is also strategically perilous.”

Other left-wing groups also hedge on the prospect of sanctions.

The Israel Policy Forum, in a July 15 paper, encouraged engagement and said threats of enhanced sanctions were “not necessary” because Iran’s leadership knew they were forthcoming.

The most recent statement from Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, dated July 2008, rejects “diplomatic isolation or veiled threats of military action” and advocates “utilizing diplomatic and economic incentives and sanctions together.”

In a policy statement, J Street says it does not oppose further sanctions “in principle,” but “under the current circumstances, it is our view that ever harsher sanctions at this time are unlikely to cause the Iranian regime to cease weapons development.” Engagement should “not be conducted with a stopwatch,” it said.

The Reform movement, which often aligns with the left-wing groups on Israel-Palestinian matters, is a bit closer to the Israeli position when it comes to Iran.

Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Reform’s Religious Action Center, disputes Americans for Peace Now’s contention that the proposed enhanced sanctions are immoral.

“These were chosen as a much more targeted way to put the maximum pressure on the power structure in Iran,” he said.

The other left-wing pro-Israel groups arrived at their Iran policies partly because of their alliance with an array of liberal Democrats wary of engaging Iran in the wake of the Iraq War and its resultant quagmire. Behind the scenes, these groups have sought sanctions that would not harm ordinary Iranians.

Supporters of tougher sanctions argue that sanctions targeting the regime have been in place for years and have had little effect.

Shai Franklin, a senior fellow for U.N. affairs at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, said that gravitating away from deference to Israeli constituencies may be healthy for some U.S. Jewish groups.

“It makes the conversation more interesting, and once that happens you’ll find more people getting involved, from the right and left,” he said.

Steven Spiegel of the Israel Policy Forum said differences might emerge next month over the pacing and intensity of sanctions.

“The Iran difference is part of a differentiation that has got to be addressed,” he said. “At some point there has to be a serious dialogue between American Jews and Israel and the Obama administration and Israel.”

One tactic might be to remind Israel that Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran appears to have rallied support in Europe in recent weeks for tougher sanctions.

“The doves,” Spiegel said, “accomplished what the hawks could not.”