|Southwest Asia News Digest
Mitchell: Syria Has 'Integral Role' for Peace
June 13 (EIRNS)After U.S. envoy George Mitchell met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad today, Mitchell described the discussions as "substantive," and said that Damascus has an "integral role" to play in achieving comprehensive peace in the region. He said that the peace the U.S. is seeking "is truly comprehensive" and involves all the parties in the region. "We are well aware of the many difficulties that lie ahead," he said. "Yet we share an obligation to create conditions for negotiations to being promptly and end successfully."
"Syria has an integral role to play in reaching comprehensive peace," Mitchell added. "We seek to build on this effort to establish a relationship based on mutual respect and mutual interest. The United States looks forward to this continued dialogue."
Mitchell's visit to Damascus follows by one day that of former President Jimmy Carter, who said on June 11 that there can be no peace between the Palestinians and Israel unless Hamas is involved. "Our main task is to support the Middle East peace process and the hope of resumption of negotiations between Syria and Israel, and Israel's withdrawal from the Golan."
Carter Meets Hamas Leaders, Denounces Israeli Destruction
June 17 (EIRNS)Former President Jimmy Carter was in the Gaza Strip yesterday, where he met with the Hamas leadership and assessed the destruction caused by the Israeli attacks earlier this year. He also furthered his mediation efforts to seek the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a possible prisoner exchange. This was the final leg of a tour that brought him to Beirut, where he observed the Lebanese elections; Damascus, where he met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; the West Bank, where he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas; and Israel, where he met President Shimon Peres and the parents of Gilad Shalit.
Carter met Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza, who said afterwards that "the organization welcomes all efforts to finalize the Shalit affair." Haniyeh added that the Hamas movement would be "prepared to accept a state in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967." Haniyeh made the announcement at a joint news conference in Gaza City with Carter. "We are pushing towards the dream of having our independent state with Jerusalem as its capital," he said. "If there is a real project that aims to resolve the Palestinian cause of establishing a Palestinian state on 1967 borders, under full Palestinian sovereignty, we will support it."
Carter told reporters that solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict in accordance with a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the joint capital of the two states, was the best method of achieving a comprehensive and lasting peace. Carter delivered a letter from the parents of Gilad Shalit to Hamas. In a speech before the staff of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to the Palestinians, he expressed his outrage at the destruction he saw in Gaza. He said that "bombs, missiles, tanks, bulldozers, and the continuing economic siege have brought death, destruction, pain, and suffering to the people here. Tragically, the international community largely ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are being treated more like animals than human beings."
Carter charged, "The responsibility for this terrible human rights crime lies in Jerusalem, Cairo, Washington, and throughout the international community. This abuse must cease; the crimes must be investigated; the walls must be brought down, and the basic right of freedom must come to you."
Carter expressed the hope that the Obama Administration would push forward with the peace process. He also said that his meetings with Hamas leaders assured him that they would except any negotiated settlement approved by a referendum.
Netanyahu's Speech: A Zionist Sophistry
June 14 (EIRNS)The much-anticipated speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today did endorse a Palestinian state, as reported, but he put a number of conditions that make his so-called endorsement a non-starter.
"We must make sure that the Palestinians cannot create an army," he said. "We cannot be expected to agree to a Palestinian state without receiving guarantees that it will be demilitarized. We ask the international community for an express commitment that the Palestinian state's area will be demilitarized with effective measures, not like the ones in Gaza."
He added that the future Palestinian state must not have its own closed airspace and must not be able to sign military treaties with Israel's enemies.
"The demand to settle Palestinian refugees inside Israel is incompatible with the continued existence of Israel as a Jewish state," he added. "It is possible to solve this problem outside the borders of Israel. There is wide national agreement about this among us."
Jerusalem, he insisted, will remain unified and with freedom for all religions. As for "Judea and Samaria" (the West Bank), Netanyahu explained: '"We do not intend to build new communities or expropriate land. But fathers and mothers in Judea and Samaria must have the possibility to let their children live beside them. The settlers are not enemies of the people, they are a pioneering, Zionist, values-oriented public. If we get these guarantees we will accept as part of a true peace treaty a demilitarized Palestinian state beside a Jewish state."
Responding to Netanyahu's conditions, senior Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erikat said: "Netanyahu will have to wait a thousand years before he finds a Palestinian who agrees to his suggestions. He has unilaterally eliminated all of the final status subjects like Jerusalem, refugees, and security. I turn to President Obama: Netanyahu's speech is a slap in the face to your speech."
The make-it-or-break-it issue, as identified by U.S. envoy George Mitchell, is that there be a freeze on all Israeli settlement expansion, including so-called "natural growth." Netanyahu fundamentally rejected this demand, and, as former President Jimmy Carter warned in an Ha'aretz interview published today, Israel and the United States are on a collision course.
Four of Five Israelis Can Live With a Nuclearized Iran
June 14 (EIRNS)A poll conducted by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a Tel Aviv University think tank, and published today, found that only one in five Israeli Jews believes a nuclear-armed Iran would try to destroy Israel, and most see life continuing as normal should Iran get the bomb. The survey appeared to challenge the argument of successive Israeli governments that Iran must be denied the means to make atomic weapons, lest it threaten the existence of the Jewish state.
Asked how a nuclear-armed Iran would affect their lives, 80% of respondents said they expected no change, 11% said they would consider emigrating, and 9% said they would consider relocating inside Israel.
Yet the same poll showed that 59% of Israeli Jews would support an Israeli attack on Iran, as proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, using the specter of Iran's nuclear power. The other 41% would not back the military option. A separate survey, commissioned by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found 52% support for Israeli pre-emptive attacks on Iran, with 35% of respondents opposed.
Israeli Arabs, who make up some 20% of the population, were not included in the poll for "budgetary reasons," said INSS research director Yehuda Ben Meir.