|Southwest Asia News Digest
Biden Condemns New Jewish Housing Units in East Jerusalem
March 9 (EIRNS)U.S. Vice President Joe Biden got the British shaft today in Israel, where he was attempting to bolster the peace talks between Israel and Palestine, to stop the Israelis from attacking Iran. He started the day proclaiming that "the bond between our two nations has been and will remain unshakable," and that, "There is absolutely no space between the United States and Israel in terms of Israel's security. None." But, by late that afternoon, after the Israeli government announced that it had approved 1,600 new housing units for Jews to be built in Arab East Jerusalem, Biden had to condemn the Israeli expansion.
"I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem," said Biden, after keeping Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waiting for 90 minutes. Biden added that, the "substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I've had here in Israel."
"We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them," Biden added.
This was the second settlement expansion announcement that Israel had made in the context of the Biden trip. On March 8, just hours after Special Envoy George Mitchell had announced the beginning of the proximity talksin which the U.S. will mediate between Israel and the Palestinians, and there will be no direct discussionsthe Israeli government announced the approval of more than 100 housing units in a Jewish settlement on the West Bank. The expansion came immediately after Mitchell had said, "we encourage the parties and all concerned to refrain from any statements or actions which may inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of these talks."
If this were not bad enough, Israeli officials leaked to Ha'aretz that 50,000 new housing units are in various stages of planning for Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, plans intended to make any peace agreement impossible.
The expansion of the settlements is precisely intended to inflame tensions. Participants in decades of efforts to bring about a Palestinian state told EIR that the Israelis know exactly what the "game is," and are hoping that the Palestinians will break off the talks before they even start, a possibility that is already circulating in the Israeli press.
Speaking today on Israel's Army Radio, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' chief negotiator, said that these talks could be the last chance to achieve two states. Both Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen, and Erekat had told Mitchell that the talks could be put into "deep freeze" if the Israelis continued to humiliate the PA with more settlement expansion.
Biden, the highest-level U.S. official to visit Israel since Obama took office, thus found himself in the quagmire of trying to hold the proximity talks togetherwhich is exactly where the British Empire wants him to be. The British Empire's Sykes-Picot geometry of seeing the predictable reactions of the Palestinians to Israeli provocations, and vice versa, continues to rule the process.
Hillary Chews Out Netanyahu
March 12 (EIRNS)Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, and read him the riot act for almost 45 minutes, over the announcement March 9 of more Israeli housing in East Jerusalem, telling him that she "could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States' strong commitment to Israel's security."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that Clinton called Netanyahu "to reiterate the United States' strong objections to Tuesday's announcement," and emphasizing that U.S. objections are "not just in terms of timing, but also in its substance."
This was to make it clear, Crowley said, that "the United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the bilateral relationship, and counter to the spirit of the Vice President's trip, and to reinforce that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America's interests." Clinton also told Netanyahu, according to Crowley, that the Israeli government must "demonstrate not just through words, but through specific actions, that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process."
The Washington Post coverage the next day called this the "deepest crisis in two decades" between the U.S. and Israel, the lowest since the George H.W. Bush Administration, when James Baker III publicly gave out the White House phone number and told the Israelis: "When you're serious about peace, call us."
Clinton Follows Up with Demands on Netanyahu
March 15 (EIRNS)Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made four demands on Netanyahu, according to Ha'aretz today, including:
1. Investigate the process that led to the announcement of the Ramat Shlomo construction plans in the middle of Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel March 9. The Americans seek an official response from Israel on whether this was a bureaucratic mistake or a deliberate act carried out for political reasons.
2. Reverse the decision by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee to approve construction of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo.
3. Make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians enabling the renewal of peace talks. The Americans suggested that hundreds of Palestinian prisoners be released, that the Israel Defense Forces withdraw from additional areas of the West Bank and transfer them to Palestinian control, and that the siege of the Gaza Strip be eased and further roadblocks in the West Bank be removed.
4. Issue an official declaration that the talks with the Palestinians, even indirect talks, will deal with all the conflict's core issuesborders, refugees, Jerusalem, security arrangements, water and settlements.
Meanwhile Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, in a conference call to Israeli diplomats, said that U.S.-Israeli relations were facing their worst crisis in 35 years, despite attempts by Netanyahu's office to project a sense of "business as usual." Oren's comment referred to a confrontation between Henry Kissinger and Yitzhak Rabin in 1975 over an American demand for a partial withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula.
Oren told the diplomats how he was summoned March 12 by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg for a reprimand: "Steinberg read to me from the [American] letter of protest, whose content was extremely harsh," Oren reportedly said.
What Biden Told Netanyahu
March 12 (EIRNS)Politico foreign policy columnist Laura Rozen cites Israeli journalist Shimon Shiffer, in describing what Vice President Biden said to Premier Netanyahu behind closed doors, taking an entirely different tone than he did in public. Shiffer reported that Biden told Netanyahu that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel's actions and U.S. policy, any decision about housing construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem, could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.
Shiffer continued: "People who heard what Biden said were stunned. 'This is starting to get dangerous for us,' Biden castigated his interlocutors. 'What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.' "
Russia Accepts Only Targeted Sanctions of Iran; China Wants None
March 10 (EIRNS)Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has announced that Russia would start up the Bushehr reactor in Iran this year, although he gave no date for the start-up. This occurs at the same time that intense pressure is being applied on all the members of the Security Council by Britain and the U.S. to impose sanctions on Iran. With regard to possible sanctions against Iran, Lavrov said that any sanctions would have to target Iran's nuclear proliferation activities exclusively.
China was even more adamant in insisting that the diplomatic course be followed. Responding to a question yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said "that there is still room for diplomatic moves." This was also asserted by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, in his press conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress.