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Can Final Peace Deal Overcome Settlements Roadblock? August 28, 2009

Posted by Helena Cobban in Uncategorized.
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Analysis by Helena Cobban*

WASHINGTON, Aug 28 (IPS) – The Barack Obama administration – perhaps the president himself – will reportedly be launching a new round of authoritative Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations sometime during the upcoming U.N. General Assembly session, which is scheduled to start in New York on Sep. 15.

So far, most media attention has focused on the administration’s ongoing tussle with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Israel’s continued settlement-building project in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Far less attention has gone to the prospects of the broader effort to nail down a final Palestinian-Israeli peace.

The issues are connected. Israel’s continued construction of its illegal settlements in the West Bank eats deeply into the territory of any future Palestinian state. Even the strongly pro-peace Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the interim Palestinian Authority and the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), has said he cannot take part in final-status talks unless Israel stops building the settlements.

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Republicans Attack Obama on Palestine Policy August 22, 2009

Posted by Helena Cobban in Uncategorized.
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Analysis by Helena Cobban*

WASHINGTON, Aug 21 (IPS) – Former Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has been in Israel and the occupied West Bank this week, stridently criticising Pres. Barack Obama’s policies of pushing for an Israeli settlement freeze and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Huckabee, a former two-term governor of Arkansas, is a leading contender to be the Republican Party candidate in the 2012 presidential election. His voicing of outspoken criticism of Obama while visiting a foreign country has raised many questions here over whether the old U.S. saying that “Partisan politics stops at the water’s edge” still applies.

In addition, the fact that he and House Minority (Republican) Whip Eric Cantor have aligned themselves so closely on the key issue of settlements with Israel’s rightwing government, rather than with Obama, is an indication of a deeper shift in U.S. politics.

It used to be that Israeli governments got more support from the Democratic Party than from Republicans. Now, this rightwing government in Israel is getting deeper and more vocal support from many Republicans than it is getting from most Democrats.

The shift has not been total. Like Huckabee and Cantor, House Majority (Democratic) Leader Steny Hoyer has also been in Israel in recent weeks. And like them, while there he criticised Obama’s policy on settlements.

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Big Challenges Ahead for Mahmoud Abbas August 14, 2009

Posted by Helena Cobban in Uncategorized.
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Analysis by Helena Cobban*

WASHINGTON, Aug 14 (IPS) – Mahmoud Abbas, the 74-year-old leader of the Palestinian Fatah movement, registered a significant achievement in holding the movement’s Sixth General Conference, which has been wrapping up its business in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank this week.

But veteran Palestinian analysts say Abbas’s biggest internal political challenges still lie ahead. Many of these challenges, they note, stem directly from the compromises he made to be able to convene the conference at all – and to ensure that it presented the trappings of success in the form of a political platform and leadership elections.

One of the biggest compromises was linked to the decision to hold the conference inside the Israeli-occupied West Bank. That meant there were numerous long time Fatah activists from the demographically weighty Palestinian diaspora – and from Gaza – who were barred from attending by Israel.

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Saudi Arabia May Not Follow Obama’s Plan August 11, 2009

Posted by Helena Cobban in Uncategorized.
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Analysis by Helena Cobban*

WASHINGTON, Aug 11 (IPS) – Pro-Israeli lobbyists here won the support of 77 senators (out of 100) for a letter sent to President Barack Obama that urged him to “press Arab leaders” to consider making dramatic, upfront peace overtures to Israel.

But one key Arab state, Saudi Arabia, has already clearly communicated its refusal to make any such gestures at this time.

On Jul. 31, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told journalists in Washington that, “Confidence-building measures will… not bring peace. What is required is a comprehensive approach that defines the final outcome at the outset and launches into negotiations over final status issues.”

Saudi Arabia is one of the most influential players in Arab-Israeli peacemaking. But given its pivotal position in international energy markets – and the fact that it has no need of U.S. financial aid – it is almost immune to American pressure.

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Obama Maneuvres Between Jewish Israelis, Jewish Americans August 1, 2009

Posted by Helena Cobban in Uncategorized.
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Analysis by Helena Cobban*

WASHINGTON, Jul 31 (IPS) – Pres. Barack Obama has repeatedly declared himself a close friend of Israel. But many Israelis inside and outside their country’s government have now expressed concern about the lack of closeness, or even just of attention, with which they feel Obama is treating them.

What effects might this perceived lack of intimacy have on Obama’s ability to succeed in his goal of securing a final Israeli-Palestinian peace in a timely manner?

This question assumes more importance as many in Washington are predicting that Obama might well announce the terms of a far-reaching new peace push during the weeks that remain before the opening of the U.N. General Assembly’s next session in late September.

Prominent Israeli journalist Aluf Benn recently rang the alarm bells regarding Obama’s perceived lack of attention to Israelis. Writing in the New York Times on Tuesday, Benn complained that Obama “hasn’t bothered to speak directly to Israelis”.

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