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US International Relations

Israel/Palestine Conflict

Project: US International Relations
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An FBI wiretap at the Israeli Embassy in Washington picks up Richard Perle, an aide to Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s), discussing classified information with an Israeli official. This is the second time Perle has been involved in providing classified information to Israel (see Late 1969). This data was given to Perle by National Security Council staff member Helmut “Hal” Sonnenfeldt, who has been under investigation since 1967 for providing classified documents to the Israelis. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1982; American Conservative, 3/24/2003; CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Richard Perle, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations, Neoconservatives in Foreign Policy

Congressman Charlie Wilson (R-TX) contacts Israeli congressional liaison officer Zvi Rafiah regarding the Yom Kippur War. A very close working relationship develops between the two legislators that lasts many years. According to journalist and author George Crile, “Rafiah is a short, very smart Israeli who Wilson always believed was a highly placed Mossad agent.” Crile will also say: “Rafiah had always acted as if he owned Wilson’s office. One of the staffers kept a list of people he needed to lobby. He would use the phones, give projects to the staff, and call on Charlie to intervene whenever he needed him.” [Crile, 2003, pp. 31-33, 144] A close associate of prominent neoconservative Richard Perle will later be accused of passing classified secrets to Rafiah (see March 1978).

Entity Tags: Charlie Wilson, Zvi Rafiah

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations, Neoconservatives in Foreign Policy

Paul Wolfowitz, a young neoconservative with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA—see 1973), is investigated for giving classified documents on the proposed sale of US weapons to an Arab government to an Israeli government official, through the auspices of an official with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). An inquiry is launched but later dropped, and Wolfowitz will continue with ACDA through 1980. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations

During breakfast at Washington’s Madison Hotel, Stephen Bryen, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer and a close associate of Richard Perle, is overheard offering to pass classified material to Zvi Rafiah, the Congressional liaison officer for the Israeli embassy and a suspected senior Mossad officer (see October 1973). [Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 7/4/1986] “I have the Pentagon document on the bases, which you are welcome to see,” Bryen reportedly says. [Nation, 6/29/1985] The eavesdropper is Michael Saba, a businessman and former executive director of the National Association of Arab Americans. Saba, who recognizes Bryen as a staff member of the Senate Committee, promptly reports the incident to the Justice Department, which quickly launches an FBI investigation. The investigation will find that Bryen has illegally obtained classified documents of military and scientific importance and that he has been seeking material that “could prove to be a major embarrassment to the US government.” [Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 7/4/1986] The investigation also learns that he has been meeting with Zvi Rafiah “two or three times a week.” [Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 7/4/1986] The FBI ultimately assembles “a good circumstantial case” that Rafiah “routinely issued orders to Bryen” and will recommend that the case be brought before an investigative grand jury for espionage. Instead, the case will be closed (see April 1979). [Nation, 6/29/1985; Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 7/4/1986]

Entity Tags: Michael Saba, Clifford Case, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Zvi Rafiah, Stephen Bryen

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Neoconservatives in Foreign Policy, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations

Secretary of State James Baker tells President Bush that Israel has to negotiate with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two weeks later, Baker urges Israel to withdraw its troops from the Palestinian territories it occupies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel must, he says, “lay aside, once and for all, the unrealistic vision of the greater Israel.” Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the right-wing leader of the Likud Party, is furious (see April 6, 1989). [Unger, 2007, pp. 113]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yitzhak Shamir, James Baker

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir tells an audience at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute that he would refuse to comply with the Bush administration’s request to withdraw its troops from the Palestinian territories it occupies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Trading land for peace—i.e. returning the Palestinian lands Israel conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War in return for political recognition and a promise of peace—“is a deception,” Shamir says. “If we leave, there will almost certainly be war.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 113]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (41), Yitzhak Shamir, American Enterprise Institute

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

Israel’s ambassador to the US, Itamar Rabinovich, tells the influential US lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that Israel is prepared to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians as part of the soon-to-be-signed Oslo Accords (see September 13, 1993). The AIPAC members are stonily silent; soon after, AIPAC president Harvey Friedman calls Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Yossi Beilin “a little slimeball” for helping make the land-for-peace deal. Though Friedman is asked to resign from AIPAC over his remarks, his message is clear: AIPAC is not so much pro-Israel as it is pro-Likud and in favor of that party’s hardline policies. Both the Israeli and US governments support trading land for peace, but US neoconservatives, and many members of Israel’s Likud Party, despise the policy. One of the most prominent US neoconservatives, Douglas Feith, currently a member of Rabinovich’s staff, is asked to leave his position because of his vocal opposition to the peace process. [Unger, 2007, pp. 121]

Entity Tags: Douglas Feith, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Itamar Rabinovich, Harvey Friedman, Yossi Beilin

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, Neoconservatives in Foreign Policy, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

The famous handshake between Rabin and Arafat, with Clinton symbolically bringing the two together.The famous handshake between Rabin and Arafat, with Clinton symbolically bringing the two together. [Source: Reuters]President Bill Clinton presides over the historic signing of the Oslo Accords, an overarching peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has agreed to give up large swaths of Palestinian territory Israel has occupied since 1967 in return for a Palestinian commitment to peace. Rabin is loathe to actually shake hands with his Palestinian counterpart, Yasser Arafat, in part because he knows the gesture would inflame extremists on both sides of the issue. But Clinton insists, and the two sign the accords and, symbolically embraced by Clinton, indeed shake hands. Clinton will later write, “All the world was cheering [the handshake], except the diehard protesters in the Middle East who were inciting violence, and demonstrators in front of the White House claiming we were endangering Israel’s security.” Those demonstrators include Christian fundamentalists, neoconservative ideologues, and Orthodox Jews. “Every grain of sand between the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, and the Mediterranean Sea belongs to the Jews,” says US evangelist and Moral Majority co-founder Ed McAteer. “This includes the West Bank and Gaza.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 121-122]

Entity Tags: Ed McAteer, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US Foreign Policy, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

An Orthodox Jewish law student at Israel’s Bar Ilan University, Yigal Amir, is horrified by the televised handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and by the Oslo Accords peace agreement (see September 13, 1993). Amir tells his father that Rabin has broken God’s covenant as laid down in the holy Torah. It may be necessary “to take down Rabin,” he adds. His father says, “Everything is in God’s hands,” and Amir replies, “But this time it’s necessary to help Him.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 121-122]

Entity Tags: Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat, Yigal Amir

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict

Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset.Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset. [Source: Neuhaus Nadav / Corbis Sygma]During the first Knesset debate on the Oslo peace accords (see September 13, 1993), Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of US neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists, compares the accords to British attempts to appease Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler before World War II. Referring to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, he shouts at Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, “You are worse than Chamberlain.” Netanyahu is so aggressive in part because he has the public and private support of influential US neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists. “I was ambassador [to the US] for four years of the peace process, and the Christian fundamentalists were vehemently opposed to the peace process,” Israeli ambassador Itamar Rabinovich will recall (see July 1993). “They believed that the land belonged to Israel as a matter of divine right. So they immediately became part of a campaign by the Israeli right to undermine the peace process.” Netanyahu’s outburst on the floor of the Knesset is a deliberate part of this strategy. [Knesset Homepage, 2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 136]

Entity Tags: Itamar Rabinovich, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

Yitzhak Fhantich, the head of the Jewish Department of Israel’s intelligence service Shin Bet, opens a file on Yigal Amir (see September 13, 1993), an Israeli law student so outraged by the Oslo peace agreement (see September 13, 1993) that he has talked of “taking down” Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Amir “was a typical religious type,” Fhantich later recalls. “He served in a combat tour, and then went to study law. We knew about him.” Amir was raised in the tenets of haredi Judaism, the most theologically conservative branch of Orthodox Judaism. Amir was stunned by Rabin’s embrace of moderation and peace with the Palestinians—Rabin was once a commander of elite troops in Haganah, the Israeli paramilitary force, and during the 1967 Six-Day War, he led the assault force that retook the Temple Mount. Amir, who according to Fhantich is “fanatically against any compromise whatsoever with the Arabs,” believes that Rabin’s actions are both treasonous and heretical. Haredi Jews believe that Jewish religious law supersedes secular, governmental law, and to Amir and other strict Jewish fundamentalists, Rabin’s actions violate halachic laws forbidding giving Jewish properties to gentiles. [Unger, 2007, pp. 134-136]

Entity Tags: Yitzhak Rabin, Shin Bet, Yitzhak Fhantich, Yigal Amir

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict

Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli-American physician and protege of the extremist right-winger Rabbi Meir Kahane (see November 5, 1990), has been in a deep depression since Kahane’s assassination in 1990. After the signing of the Oslo Accords (see September 13, 1993), Goldstein decided that only an act of Kiddush ha-Shem—ritual self-sacrifice for the sanctification of God—can change history and return the world to what he sees as the pre-ordained path of Israeli domination of its traditional lands in the Middle East. Goldstein enters the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Israel, a sacred site for both Jews and Muslims. He is wearing his army uniform and carrying an assault rifle; worshipers assume he is a reserve officer on active duty coming to pray. Instead, Goldstein opens fire on a group of Palestinians praying there, killing 29 and wounding 150 more. Survivors eventually overcome Goldstein and beat him to death. The reaction among many right-wing Israelis, particularly in the outlying settlements, is ambivalent. Many deplore the violence but express sympathy for Goldstein’s desperation and theological anguish. The spokesman for the settlers’ rabbis committee says he sees no reason to condemn the murders. [Unger, 2007, pp. 136-137]

Entity Tags: Meir Kahane, Baruch Goldstein

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict

Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat goes to Gaza as outlined by the Oslo peace agreement (see September 13, 1993). The next day, as many as 100,000 right-wing protesters vent their spleen at Arafat, the peace process, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, chanting, “Rabin is a homo!” and “Rabin is the son of a whore!” Near a huge banner reading “Death to Arafat,” Israeli Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu attacks the “blindness” of the Rabin administration for precipitating “the destruction of the Jewish state.” Netanyahu tells the crowd: “Arafat, who is personally responsible for the murder of thousands of Jews and non-Jews, this war criminal, is being hoisted aloft by the government of Israel.… What Arafat truly wants is not an Arab state beside Israel, but an Arab state in place of Israel.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 137]

Entity Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, Palestinian Liberation Organization

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict

Forty militant Orthodox rabbis in Israel’s West Bank settlements, including Rabbi Eliezar Melamed, the secretary of the Rabbinical Council of the Land of Israel, begin deliberations to decide whether Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his “evil government” are in violation of that most fundamentalist of Jewish religious precepts, halachic law (see September 13, 1993). They discuss whether Rabin’s actions call into play two halachic edicts, a din rodef, the duty to kill a Jew who imperils the life or property of another Jew, and the din moser, the duty to eliminate a Jew who intends to turn another Jew over to non-Jewish authorities. A din moser is sometimes considered the Jewish equivalent of an Islamic fatwa. Most of these discussions take place in private, with no paper trail to provide evidence of the deliberations. [Unger, 2007, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Yitzhak Rabin, Eliezar Melamed, Rabbinical Council of the Land of Israel

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations

Yitzhak Rabin.Yitzhak Rabin. [Source: Knesset]Yitzhak Fhantich, a senior Israeli intelligence official, tells IYitzhak Rabin that his life is threatened by Israel’s militant, radical right-wing fundamentalists (see September 13, 1993 and February 25, 1994) over his support of the Oslo peace accords (see September 13, 1993). “I told him, on the hit list, you’re number one,” Fhantich later recalls. Rabin shrugs off the warning. [Unger, 2007, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Yitzhak Rabin, Yitzhak Fhantich

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict

Some of the most dire threats against Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see Early 1995) come from Orthodox Jews in the US. Rabbi Abraham Hecht, a leader in New York City’s rabbinacal community, says that Jewish law permits the assassination off Rabin (see January 1995) for ceding land to the Palestinians (see September 13, 1993). [Unger, 2007, pp. 139]

Entity Tags: Yitzhak Rabin, Abraham Hecht

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations

Most Israeli lawmakers and politicians distance themselves from the Jewish extremists calling for the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin over the Oslo peace accords (see September 13, 1993). However, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu actively curries their favor (see July 1-2, 1994). On the floor of the Knesset, he often attacks Rabin (see September 21, 1993) for giving away “parts of our homeland.” After one particularly fiery speech, thousands of right-wing protesters gather in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, where they put of posters of Rabin wearing a Nazi SS uniform, display banners calling Rabin “Arafat’s Dog,” and chant, “Death to Rabin! Nazis! Judenrat!”—a particularly odious epithet referring to the “Jewish councils” that were forced by the Nazis to expedite the transfer of Jews to concentration camps. Housing Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is horrified by the frenzy of the mob, and tells Netanyahu, who is orchestrating the demonstration, “You’d better restrain your people. Otherwise it will end in murder. They tried to kill me just now.… Your people are mad. If someone is murdered, the blood will be on your hands.… The settlers have gone crazy, and someone will be murdered here, if not today, then in another week or another month!” Netanyahu ignores the warning, and, basking in the chants of “Bibi! Bibi! Bibi!,” takes the podium, where he is optimistically introduced as the next prime minister of Israel. [Unger, 2007, pp. 139-140]

Entity Tags: Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Benjamin Netanyahu

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict

Israel’s Knesset approves Oslo II (see September 13, 1993), a complex set of agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) on the future of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. For Israeli law student Yigal Amir (see September 13, 1993), this is the last straw. He has already made three half-hearted attempts to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, but as of now he commits himself to carrying the deed through. For his part, Rabin continues to ignore warnings (see Early 1995) from Israeli intelligence and media reporters alike trying to alert him to the danger he is in from radical fundamentalists. [Unger, 2007, pp. 140]

Entity Tags: Yitzhak Rabin, Knesset, Yigal Amir, Palestinian Liberation Organization

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict

The sheet with the lyrics to the ‘Song of Peace,’ stained with Rabin’s blood.The sheet with the lyrics to the ‘Song of Peace,’ stained with Rabin’s blood. [Source: Knesset]Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated at a rally in Tel Aviv. Over 100,000 people have gathered in Kings of Israel Square to support Rabin and the Oslo peace process (see September 13, 1993 and October 6, 1995). The rally is designed to be light-hearted, in contrast with the angry, combative rallies staged by radical conservatives to oppose the peace agreements (see October 1995). Rabin gives a short radio interview before leaving the stage at the rally, and tells listeners, “People have their personal security but they do not have doubts that the path of peace should be pursued.” Rabin’s wife Leah is asked if her husband is wearing a bulletproof vest. “Have you gone crazy?” she replies. “What are we, in Africa?… I don’t understand the ideas you journalists have.” Meanwhile, law student Yigal Amir (see September 13, 1993 and October 6, 1995) is sitting on a concrete flower planter in the parking lot. A guard notices Amir and whispers into his microphone, “For God’s sake. What’s that dark guy doing down there? Is he one of us?” When Rabin walks by Amir to go to his car, Amir pulls out a gun and fires three shots. Two hollow-point bullets strike Rabin in the chest, severing major arteries and destroying his spinal cord. The third strikes Rabin’s bodyguard in the arm. “It’s nothing!” Amir shouts. “It’s just a joke! Blanks, blanks!” Police seize Amir; the wounded bodyguard rushes Rabin to the hospital, where he is pronounced dead 90 minutes later. When the police inform Amir that Rabin has died, he tells them, “Do your work. I’ve done mine.” Turning to an officer, he adds, “Get some wine and cakes. Let’s have a toast.” Someone later goes through Rabin’s pockets and finds a bloodied piece of paper with the lyrics to a popular tune, “The Song of Peace,” copied on it. Rabin had joined in singing the song at the rally. Author Craig Unger later writes that aside from the personal tragedy of the assassination, “In part because of his legacy as a great Israeli military commander, no one in Israel was, or ever could be, a more forceful figure than Rabin in promoting the peace process. As a result, his murder was a devastating blow to the Oslo principle, the principle of land for peace.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 141-143; Knesset Homepage, 2008]

Entity Tags: Craig Unger, Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin, Leah Rabin

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict

Three US presidents—Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Jimmy Carter—join in honoring Rabin’s life and memory.Three US presidents—Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Jimmy Carter—join in honoring Rabin’s life and memory. [Source: Knesset]The reaction to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see November 4, 1995) is overwhelming. Millions of Israelis and Americans mourn his death both on a personal level and in concern for the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace accords (see September 13, 1993). President Bill Clinton calls him “my partner and my friend. I admired him, and I loved him very much.” Former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush, and Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, speak movingly of Rabin’s legacy of peace. But others have different views. Millions of American fundamentalist Christians view Rabin’s assassination as an act of God. The peace talks “were going against the word of God,” says prominent fundamentalist Kay Arthur. “I believe that God stopped [the peace talks] by the things that happened.… I think God did not want the Oslo accord to go through.” Rabin’s widow, Leah Rabin, accuses Israel’s Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu of inciting violence “against my husband and [leading] the savage demonstrations against him” (see October 1995). [Unger, 2007, pp. 142-143]

Entity Tags: James Baker, Benjamin Netanyahu, George Herbert Walker Bush, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Kay Arthur, Leah Rabin, Yitzhak Rabin

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations

Right-wing political leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu becomes Israel’s new prime minister. When the campaign to replace assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see November 4, 1995) began in early 1996, even Netanyahu’s fellow Likud leaders did not believe he had a chance of being elected. At at least one rally after Rabin’s death, crowds chanted “Bibi’s a murderer!” accusing Netanyahu of inciting the violence that led to Rabin’s death (see October 1995 and November 4, 1995 and After). Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres, cast himself as Rabin’s successor, and the Clinton administration tacitly endorsed Peres as the best hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But Netanyahu is a polished orator with a strong following among the hardline conservatives and religious fundamentalists both in Israel and the US. He also knows how to appeal to America’s more secular, cosmopolitan Jewish community. He hired Arthur Finkelstein, a prominent Republican political consultant, to run a campaign smearing Peres as a weak, ineffective leader who will betray Israel to the Arabs. Peres was befuddled by Netanyahu’s slick, US-style attack campaign and his ability to secure financial and other support among American Christian fundamentalists. The election hung in the balance when a timely spate of Hamas bombings in February and March, and a Netanyahu ad campaign blaming the attack on Peres’s supposed weakness, gave Netanyahu enough voter support for him to eke out a razor-thin margin of victory. US envoy Dennis Ross, one of the Clinton officials involved in the Oslo peace talks, later recalls that he and his colleagues were horrified at Netanyahu’s victory. “Our collective relief became a collective dread,” he will later write. [Unger, 2007, pp. 143-144]

Entity Tags: Yitzhak Rabin, Arthur Finkelstein, Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton administration, Dennis Ross, Hamas, Shimon Peres

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations

Newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (see May 29, 1996) flies to Washington, DC, to visit one of his strongest political supporters, neoconservative Richard Perle. Perle is the chief author of a new strategy proposal called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Security in the Region” (see July 8, 1996). In essence, Perle’s policy proposal is an update of fellow neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz’s Defense Planning Guide (see February 18, 1992), which had so horrified Clinton and Bush officials. But Netanyahu is clearly pleased with the proposal. After meeting with Perle, Netanyahu addresses the US Congress. Quoting extensively from the proposal, he tells the lawmakers that the US must join Israel in overseeing the “democratization” of the Middle East. War might be a necessity to achieve this goal, he warns. While the “Clean Break” authors are primarily concerned with Iraq and Syria, Netanyahu takes a longer view. “The most dangerous of these regions is Iran,” he says. [Unger, 2007, pp. 145-148]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Bush administration (41), Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Benjamin Netanyahu

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

Early 1998: Oslo Peace Accords Break Down

The Oslo peace accords between Israel and Palestine (see September 13, 1993) break down, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat accusing one another of noncompliance. Netanyahu has not implemented the first scheduled withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the West Bank, and the second is well overdue. The New York Times’s Anthony Lewis lays the blame squarely on Netanyahu: “There is and always has been only one way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: land for peace. And the Netanyahu government has now made it clear that it has no intention of withdrawing from enough of the land Israel occupies in the West Bank to make a deal imaginable.” When the White House pressures Netanyahu to restart the peace process, he turns for support to America’s Christian Right (see January 19-23, 1998). [Unger, 2007, pp. 156]

Entity Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu, Anthony Lewis, Palestinian Liberation Organization, Clinton administration, Yasser Arafat

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Washington three days before his scheduled meeting with President Clinton and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat to discuss the stalled peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians (see Early 1998). Before meeting with Clinton and Arafat, Netanyahu meets with conservative televangelist and political activist Jerry Falwell—and a thousand of Falwell’s most devoted followers. “I put together one thousand people or so to meet with Bibi [Netanyahu] and he spoke to us that night,” Falwell later recalls. “It was all planned by Netanyahu as an affront to Clinton.” Falwell promises to mobilize 200,000 pastors across the United States to “tell President Clinton to refrain from putting pressure on Israel.” Falwell’s guest at the proceedings, fellow televangelist John Hagee (who will soon give $1 million to the United Jewish Appeal in hopes of hastening the Biblical “End Times”), tells the crowd that the Jews’ return to the Holy Land is prophecy of the “rapidly approaching… final moments of history.” Hagee then leads the crowd in a frenzied chant of “Not one inch! Not one inch!”—how much land they intend to see Israel give the Palestinians. When Netanyahu discusses the rally with the press four days later, he merely says: “I talk to liberals, I talk to conservatives, I talk to Jews, I talk to non-Jews. These meetings reflect the fact that Israel enjoys support from diverse circles in the United States.” But Richard Haass, a former Bush National Security Council official, says Netanyahu is playing political hardball. “This was a way for [Netanyahu] to push back,” Haass says. “If the White House was trying to make Mr. Netanyahu pay a price domestically for his lack of cooperation, essentially Mr. Netanyahu was sending a return signal: ‘Two can play at this game. I can spend more time with your political opponents and this is something that can come back and bite you.’” [Unger, 2007, pp. 156-157]

Entity Tags: Yasser Arafat, Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerry Falwell, John Hagee, Palestinian Liberation Organization, Richard Haass, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict

Monica Lewinsky.Monica Lewinsky. [Source: Fox News]President Clinton meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss restarting the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process (see Early 1998). Clinton immediately chastizes Netanyahu for meeting with American religious conservatives before meeting with him (see January 19-23, 1998), in an attempt to bring Netanyahu back to his side of the political fence. But Clinton is about to turn his attention to something radically different, and all but forget about Netanyahu. As Netanyahu’s political ally, televangelist Jerry Falwell, will recall, “While Netanyahu was sitting there, he was in a very difficult spot. The pressure was really on him to give away the farm in Israel. But while he was sitting there, someone came in and whispered in Mr. Clinton’s ear and Mr. Clinton turned several colors. Someone was telling him that the cat was out of the bag on [Clinton’s paramour] Monica Lewinsky. The meeting was terminated. Mr. Clinton had to save himself. The demands [to relinquish Israeli territory] that would have been forthcoming of Israel which would have been terrible, were not made. Netanyahu flew back to Israel. He was very funny when he told me about it. He said Israel had been saved by Monica Lewinsky.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 157]

Entity Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Jerry Falwell

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations

As the presidential campaign of Texas Governor George W. Bush takes shape, many in the media assume that a Bush presidency would be much like the father’s: moderate and centrist with a pronounced but not extreme rightward tilt. Bush will be “on the 47-yard line in one direction,” says former Clinton counsel Lanny Davis, while Democratic contender Al Gore is “on the 47-yard line in the other.” But while the media continues to pursue that story, the hardliners and neoconservatives surrounding Bush (see December 1998 - Fall 1999) are working quietly to push their favored candidate much farther to the right, especially in foreign affairs, than anyone suspects. Two of the Bush campaign’s most prominent advisers, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, are making regular and secret visits to the governor’s mansion. “They were brought in and out under very tight security,” a source in the governor’s office will later recall. “They snuck in and snuck out. They didn’t hold press conferences. [Bush political adviser Karl] Rove didn’t want people to know what they were doing or what they were saying.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 165-168]
Bush is Willing to be Educated - Perle, like many other neoconservatives, is pleased that the younger Bush may well not be a repeat of the moderate policy stances of the father. “The first time I met [George W. Bush]… two things became clear,” Perle will recall in 2004. “One, he didn’t know very much. The other was that he had the confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn’t know very much.” [Slate, 5/7/2004] Perle will continue: “Most people are reluctant to say when they don’t know something—a word or a term they haven’t heard before. Not him.” A State Department source will put it more bluntly: “His ignorance of the world cannot be overstated.”
Rice a 'Fellow Traveler' with Neoconservatives - One of Bush’s most diligent tutors is Condoleezza Rice, a former Bush administration official. Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who had mentored Rice, wrongly expects her to tutor Bush in his own “realist” world view, but Rice is far more aligned with the neoconservatives than Scowcroft realizes (see April-May 1999). “She was certainly a fellow traveler,” the State Department source will say. “She came at it more with a high-level academic approach while the other guys were operational. [Her role] was a surprise to Scowcroft. She had been a protege and the idea that she was going along with them was very frustrating to him.” The absence of retired General Colin Powell, one of the elder Bush’s most trusted and influential moderates, is no accident (see April-May 1999). “That’s a critical fact,” the State Department source will observe. “The very peculiar personal relationship between Rice and Bush solidified during those tutorials, and Wolfowitz established himself as the intellectual face of the neocons and the whole PNAC crew” (see June 3, 1997).
Wolfowitz: Redrawing the Map of the Middle East - Wolfowitz teaches Bush that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only incidental to the larger issues engulfing the Middle East (see March 8, 1992). The State Department source will recall: “Wolfowitz had gotten to Bush, and this is where Bush thought he would be seen as a great genius. Wolfowitz convinced him that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was to leap over this constant conflict and to remake the context in which the conflict was taking place; that democracies don’t fight each other. [He convinced Bush] that the fundamental problem was the absence of democracy in the Middle East, and therefore we needed to promote democracy in the Middle East, and out of that there would be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The US must, Wolfowitz says, exert its moral and military might to eliminate the brutal dictators in the region and replace them with Western-style democratic leaders. Wolfowitz believes “[t]he road to peace in Jerusalem,” as author Craig Unger will write, “run[s] through Baghdad, Damascus, even Tehran.” It is unclear if Bush grasps the full implications of the theories of Wolfowitz and Rice. Certainly the idea of this “reverse domino theory,” as Unger will call it, is far different from anything previously espoused in US foreign affairs—a permanent “neo-war,” Unger will write, “colossal wars that would sweep through the entire Middle East and affect the world.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 165-168]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Craig Unger, Paul Wolfowitz, Lanny Davis, Richard Perle, Karl C. Rove, Condoleezza Rice, US Department of State

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, Neoconservatives in Foreign Policy, US Foreign Policy, US Interventions

Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah refuses an invitation to meet with President George Bush at the White House. Abdullah, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia with King Fahd unable to perform his position due to illness, says: “We want [the US] to consider their own conscience. Don’t they see what is happening to the Palestinian children, women, the elderly, the humiliation, the hunger?” Brent Scowcroft, a close friend of the president’s father and former national security adviser, echoes Abdullah’s concerns, warning Bush that moderate Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia are “deeply disappointed with this administration and its failure to do something to moderate the attitude of Israel.” Scowcroft adds that the Palestinians will not stop their own violence towards Israel without the prospect of a viable Palestinian state. According to author Craig Unger, it is virtually unthinkable that Scowcroft would have publicly spoken so critically of the Bush administration without the approval of Bush’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, so Scowcroft’s statement has, in effect, put the two Bushes at loggerheads. Unger will write, “In effect, in their own constrained fashion, the father and son had drawn swords.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 209-211]

Entity Tags: Brent Scowcroft, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, George W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz, Craig Unger

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Middle East Relations

President Bush faces a foreign affairs crisis he and his neoconservative advisers (see June 2001) had not anticipated. As promised, Bush had withdrawn from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and thrown US support wholly behind Israel (see January 30, 2001). Under the leadership of its new right-wing prime minister, Likud’s Ariel Sharon, Israeli troops had attacked Palestinians almost every day since February, killing civilians (including women and children) on a regular basis. Bush responded by blaming the Palestinians in general and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat in particular for the violence. But Bush is nonplussed when the US’s close ally and his family’s longtime friends, the Saudi royal family, publicly criticizes the US for its policy towards the conflict. As author Craig Unger writes, “In just five months as president… Bush had managed to jeopardize a relationship with an oil-rich ally of the United States, at a time when America was more profoundly dependent on foreign oil than ever.” Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, had even turned down an invitation to the White House the month before (see May 2001). In the months to follow, President Bush’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, will help smooth over tensions between the Saudis and his son, to the great embarrassment of the younger Bush, who doesn’t like the perception that he needs his father to bail him out of anything. [Unger, 2007, pp. 209-211]

Entity Tags: Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, George W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, Ariel Sharon

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, Neoconservatives in Foreign Policy, US-Middle East Relations

The US denounces Israel’s use of targeted killing against Palestinian terrorists. Martin Indyk, the US ambassador to Israel, says: “The United States government is very clearly on record as against targeted assassinations.… They are extrajudicial killings and we do not support that.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009] Around the same time, the US military is working on arming the Predator drone to enable remote, targeted assassinations of terrorists like Osama bin Laden (see Early June-September 10, 2001). The US will begin frequently using targeted assassinations shortly after the 9/11 attacks two months later (see September 18-October 7, 2001). In 2009, Gary Solis, former head of the law program at the US Military Academy, will comment, “The things we were complaining about from Israel a few years ago we now embrace.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Gary Solis, Martin Indyk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict, Diplomacy and Geopolitics, US and International Terrorism, US-Israeli Relations

Some of the weapons found aboard the ‘Karine A.’Some of the weapons found aboard the ‘Karine A.’ [Source: Associated Press / BBC]Israeli commandos seize a freighter, the “Karine A” (or “Karin A”), in the Red Sea 300 miles off the coast of Israel, in an operation dubbed “Operation Noah’s Ark.” Eli Marum, an Israeli Navy operations chief, says the operation took less than eight minutes and did not require a single shot being fired. “The crew was fully surprised,” he says. “They did not anticipate that we would strike so far out into the Red Sea.” Israeli officials claim the freighter contains a large store of Iranian-supplied weapons—including Katyusha rockets capable of destroying tanks, mortars, grenades, Kalashnikov assault rifles, anti-tank missiles, high explosives, and two speedboats—for use by Palestinian fighters against Israeli targets. The Palestinian Authority is forbidden by treaty to own such weaponry. Israel also claims that the captain of the freighter, Omar Akawi, has direct ties to the Palestinian Authority and to its leader, Yasser Arafat. (According to Israeli sources, Akawi claims he is a member of Arafat’s organization Fatah.) Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer tells European Union (EU) authorities that the freighter “was purchased by the Palestinian Authority after September 11” and that “the whole operation was managed and funded by the Palestinian Authority in cooperation with Iran and other sources.” [BBC, 1/10/2002; Guardian, 1/21/2002; Jewish Virtual Library, 2009] “What Iran is trying to do is create another base, besides its base in Lebanon” to threaten Israel, says Major General Giora Eiland, the Israeli Army’s chief of planning. [New York Times, 1/12/2002]
Arafat's Denials - Initially, Arafat denies any connection whatsoever with the shipment, accusing Israel of fomenting a propaganda attack to thwart US-led efforts to implement a cease-fire agreement, and says Israel “fabricated” the whole affair. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, the secretary general of the Palestinian cabinet, calls the operation “an Israeli trap.” Later, Arafat continues to insist that he had no involvement in the affair, but admits that he cannot control “everyone” in the Palestinian Authority. American and Israeli intelligence officials note that the weaponry on board the “Karine A” is similar to that of a “wish list” allegedly drawn up by senior Palestinian officials under Arafat’s direction. [New York Times, 1/12/2002; Jewish Virtual Library, 2009]
Propaganda by Israel? - Some, such as Guardian reporter Brian Whitaker, believe that Israel is using the incident to persuade the EU to stop funding the Palestinian Authority. And, Whitaker notes, Israeli lawmakers and pundits such as former President Benjamin Netanyahu are using the incident to argue that the idea of Palestinian statehood be permanently scrapped. Whatever the truth of the matter, the attempts suffer setbacks when documents show that an Iraqi, Ali Mohamed Abbas, purchased the ship, and other records disprove the Israelis’ claims about the ship’s cargo, which Israel says it picked up in Yemen. It seems clear that the freighter was indeed carrying weapons, but little of Israel’s other claims—they were Iranian in origin and intended for Palestinian use against Israel—are borne out by ascertainable facts.
Hezbollah Connection? - American intelligence sources later speculate that the weapons may have been intended for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite militant organization with close ties to Iran, and not the Palestinians. Israel is initially resistant to the idea, but Israeli defense sources later tell Israeli reporters that it was “certainly possible that some of the arms were earmarked for Hizbullah,” though it is certain that most “were clearly bound for the Palestinian Authority.” Whitaker echoes skeptics’ disbelief about the Hezbollah claim, noting that there are easier and more secure methods of delivering arms to Lebanon than a risky sea voyage past Israeli patrol boats. [Guardian, 1/21/2002] Israel names reputed senior Hezbollah security officer Imad Mughniyeh as a key figure in the incident. Mughniyeh has not been heard from for years by Western intelligence, but is wanted by the FBI for his participation in kidnapping Americans in Beirut during the 1980s and the hijacking of a TWA passenger plane. The BBC reports, “Correspondents say the Israeli government has been going to great lengths to convince Washington that the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is linked to Tehran and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, and hence to what it sees as international terrorism.” [BBC, 1/10/2002]
Iranian Connection Unlikely - And the Iranian connection is similarly hard to swallow. Though Israel insists that the arms prove a new and disturbing connection between Iran and Palestinian militants, Whitaker writes, “most non-Israeli observers of Iran ridicule the idea totally, for a variety of historical, political and religious reasons. It also conflicts with the foreign policies adopted by [Iranian] President [Mohamed] Khatami.” He goes on to add: “The trouble with Iran, though—as one Iranian exile remarked last week—is that it has two governments and 10,000 leaders. If you are going to pin blame, you have to determine which one is responsible.” Whitaker is referring to Iran’s religious and secular leaders, who are often at odds with one another, and to the propensity of Iranian leaders from both sides to conduct independent operations without “official” government sanction. [Guardian, 1/21/2002] The New York Times notes: “Iran’s government has dismissed the Israeli accusations. But Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have discretionary funds and access to weapons, and they often run operations independent of the elected government of… Khatami.” [New York Times, 1/12/2002] The “Karine A” incident helps prompt Bush officials to include Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil,” disrupting backchannel negotiations between Iranian and US officials (see January 29, 2002).

Entity Tags: Fatah al-Islam, Omar Akawi, Giora Eiland, Hezbollah, Eli Marum, Bush administration (43), Brian Whitaker, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Yasser Arafat, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Imad Mughniyeh, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ali Mohamed Abbas

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US and International Terrorism, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

Three weeks after the “Karine A” is seized, allegedly filled with Iranian weapons destined to be used against Israel (see January 3, 2002 and After), President Bush names Iran as one of the world’s “axis of evil” nations (see January 29, 2002). State Department official Hillary Mann, who has been facilitating secret backchannel discussions with Iranian officials for over a year (see September 11, 2001 and Fall 2001), later confirms that the “Karine A” incident helped prompt Iran’s inclusion in Bush’s speech. The speech prompts the Iranians to skip the monthly meeting with Mann in Geneva. When they resume their meeting in March, the Iranians, according to Mann, are disturbed by Bush’s characterization. “They said they had put their necks out to talk to us and they were taking big risks with their careers and their families and their lives,” she will recall. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Hillary Mann, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US and International Terrorism, US-Middle East Relations

Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, flies to Texas to meet with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford. Abdullah has been working to convince Arab leaders to accept a proposed peace treaty between Israel and Palestine (see April 2002), but has had no support from the White House. The course of the meeting is later paraphrased by National Security Council staffer Flynt Leverett, the head of the NSC’s Mideast affairs division. As Leverett will recall, the usually deferential Abdullah tells Bush that he has a direct question and wants a direct answer. Abdullah asks Bush: “Are you going to do anything about the Palestinian issue? If you tell me no, if it’s too difficult, if you’re not going to give it that kind of priority, just tell me. I will understand and I will never say anything critical of you or your leadership in public, but I’m going to need to make my own judgments and my own decisions about Saudi interests.” Bush attempts to stall, telling Abdullah he understands his concerns and that he will see what he can do. Abdullah refuses to be mollified. Standing up, he says: “That’s it. This meeting is over.” Bush retreats to another room with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss Abdullah’s position. Bush returns shortly thereafter and gives Abdullah his word that he will deal seriously with the Palestinian issue. “Okay,” Abdullah says. “The president of the United States has given me his word.” After the meeting, Powell calls Abdullah’s threat “the near-death experience”; Bush, rolling his eyes, says, “We sure don’t want to go through anything like that again.” As Powell later recalls, “It was a very serious moment and no one wanted to see if the Saudis were bluffing.” It is unclear whether Bush is expressing relief or making a sarcastic comment. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Flynt Leverett, Bush administration (43), Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Middle East Relations

Flynt Leverett, the newly named head of Mideast affairs for the National Security Council (see December 2001-January 2002), has worked hard for the last months to persuade Bush administration officials to consider a proposal by Saudi Arabia for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The proposal, originated by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah, calls for “full normalization” of relations between Israel and Arab nations in exchange for Israel’s “full withdrawal” from the occupied territories. Abdullah promised that he can persuade all the Arab nations of the region to sign off on the accords. But even with concessions insisted upon by the Israelis, the Bush administration refused to consider the deal. Even after Abdullah persuaded every nation of the Arab League to sign his proposal, the White House refused to listen. In April, Secretary of State Colin Powell, accompanied by Leverett, travels to the Middle East to negotiate an end to an Israeli siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s compound. Powell believes he has authorization from the White House to explore what are called “political horizons,” diplomatic shorthand for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Powell and Leverett use the Saudi proposal as a springboard for discussions. On their final day in the Middle East, Leverett, with a group of senior American officials, is trying to hammer out Powell’s final speech when a telephone call from the White House short-circuits the procedure. On the other end, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tells Leverett: “Tell Powell he is not authorized to talk about a political horizon. Those are formal instructions.” Leverett responds by telling Hadley it is a bad idea to abruptly stop negotiations. As he later recalls the conversation, Leverett tells Hadley, “It’s bad policy and it’s also humiliating for Powell, who has been talking to heads of state about this very issue for the last 10 days.” Hadley retorts: “It doesn’t matter. There’s too much resistance from [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and the VP [Dick Cheney]. Those are the instructions.” Powell is furious at the instructions. “What is it they’re afraid of?” he demands. “Who the hell are they afraid of?” Leverett responds, “I don’t know sir.” Powell will later recall, “I had major problems with the White House on what I wanted to say.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, Stephen J. Hadley, Flynt Leverett, Yasser Arafat, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Council

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, Neoconservatives in Foreign Policy, US-Middle East Relations

The King of Jordan, Abdullah II, visits Washington to discuss the Israel-Palestinian peace process. Abdullah’s visit comes on the heels of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s earlier visit, where he threatened to break off discussions with the US if President Bush refused to deal seriously with the matter (see Spring 2002). Though the Saudi leader seemingly shook up Bush with his unusually direct insistence on American action, Bush appears surprised that the Jordanian king is also concerned with the issue. Bush listens politely to Abdullah’s appeal, and says that the king’s idea of a “road map to peace” sounds reasonable. National Security Council official Flynt Leverett, the head of the NSC’s Mideast affairs division, promises Abdullah that such a “road map” will be drawn up by the end of 2002. No such proposal is ever completed; neoconservatives in the Defense Department (Donald Rumsfeld and Douglas Feith), the Vice President’s Office (John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby), and the NSC (Elliott Abrams) continue to oppose the idea, calling it nothing but a reward to the Palestinians for “bad behavior” (see December 2001-January 2002). Only if Palestine rejects terrorism and implements democracy will the US enter into negotiations, they insist, regardless of what promises Bush has made. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein, Douglas Feith, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Elliott Abrams, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense, Flynt Leverett, National Security Council, John Hannah

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Middle East Relations

The Observer’s Ed Vulliamy writes: “One year on, the United States is more isolated and more regarded as a pariah than at any time since Vietnam, possibly ever. The bookends of that year are headlines in the French newspaper Le Monde. On 12 September 2001 it declared: ‘Now We Are All Americans.’ But last month, in Le Monde Diplomatique: ‘Washington Dismantles the International Architecture’; a reflection on a year of treaties broken or ignored (see March 7, 2001, March 27, 2001, July 9, 2001, July 23-25, 2001, November 19, 2001-December 7, 2001, December 13, 2001, December 31, 2001, August 28, 2002, and September 20, 2002), and a brazen assertion of the arrogance of power.” [Guardian, 8/18/2002]

Entity Tags: Ed Vulliamy, Le Monde

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Environmental Treaties, International Criminal Court, Israel/Palestine Conflict, Neoconservatives in Foreign Policy, US Foreign Policy, US Interventions, US Policy towards Torture

National Security Council official Flynt Leverett, the head of Mideast affairs and the prime proponent of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians in that organization (see December 2001-January 2002 and April 2002), confronts his boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, over the Bush administration’s continued lack of progress on such negotiations, and over its repeated broken promises to Arab heads of state (see Spring 2002 and Summer 2002). Leverett has fielded a furious phone call from Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Marwan Muasher, who has just been told by Rice that all negotiations over the so-called “road map to peace” are at an end. “Do you have any idea how this has pulled the rug out from under us, from under me?” Muasher demanded. “I’m the one that has to go into Arab League meetings and get beat up and say, ‘No, there’s going to be a plan out by the end of the year.’ How can we ever trust you again?” Leverett demands an explanation from Rice. She tells him that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has called for early elections, and he asked President Bush to put all negotiations on hold until after the elections. Leverett, unable to swallow his indignation any longer, retorts: “You told the whole world you were going to put this out before Christmas. Because one Israeli politician told you it’s going to make things politically difficult for him, you don’t put it out? Do you realize how hard that makes things for all our Arab partners?” Rice remains impassive. “If we put the road map out,” she says, “it will interfere with Israeli elections.” Leverett replies, “You are interfering with Israeli elections, just in another way.” Rice concludes the discussion, “Flynt, the decision has already been made.” Leverett, disgusted with the lack of sincerity towards the negotiations and with the impending Iraq invasion, will quit the NSC in March 2003. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Ariel Sharon, Bush administration (43), National Security Council, Flynt Leverett, Marwan Muasher, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Middle East Relations

The governments of Israel and the United States are in almost-perfect accord on most issues, according to a Washington Post analysis. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has talked repeatedly of the “special closeness” he has to the Bush administration, and of the “deep understanding” that President Bush and his officials have for Israel’s security and foreign policy needs. He has thanked Bush for providing what he calls “the required leeway in our ongoing war on terrorism” and lauded the Bush administration’s efforts to promote a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Thomas Neumann, who heads the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), agrees. “This is the best administration for Israel since Harry Truman,” says Neumann, equating Bush with the first American president to recognize the independent state of Israel. A senior official in the first Bush administration says that Sharon used the 9/11 attacks to cement the bond between his government and the Bush administration. One senior administration official says: “Sharon played the president like a violin: ‘I’m fighting your war, terrorism is terrorism,’ and so on. Sharon did a masterful job.”
Accord with Likud - But the US is not just in accord with Israel; it is in accord with Likud, the hardline conservative political party currently in charge of the Israeli government. The Post writes: “For the first time, a US administration and a Likud government in Israel are pursuing nearly identical policies. Earlier US administrations, from Jimmy Carter’s through Bill Clinton’s, held Likud and Sharon at arm’s length, distancing the United States from Likud’s traditionally tough approach to the Palestinians. But today, as Neumann noted, Israel and the United States share a common view on terrorism, peace with the Palestinians, war with Iraq and more. Neumann and others said this change was made possible by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their aftermath.” Bush supporters, particularly evangelical Christians, are “delight[ed]” with the administration’s overt support of Likud policies.
Abandoning Peace Talks between Israel and Palestinians - The downside, the Post notes, is that diplomacy with Israel’s Arab neighbors has come to a virtual standstill, and the Middle East “peace process” praised by Sharon is considered by many past and current US officials as a failure. Clinton administration National Security Adviser Sandy Berger says: “Every president since at least Nixon has seen the Arab-Israeli conflict as the central strategic issue in the Middle East. But this administration sees Iraq as the central challenge, and… has disengaged from any serious effort to confront the Arab-Israeli problem.” Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, the administration’s special envoy to the region, calls the peace process “quiescent,” and adds, “I’ve kind of gone dormant.”
'Likudniks Really in Charge Now' - Bush has appointed neoconservative Elliott Abrams, a vociferous critic of any peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, the head of Mideast affairs for the National Security Council, signaling his administration’s near-total alignment with Israel in the process. Abrams’s hardline views are supported by, among others, Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, Abrams’s mentor, who in 1996 recommended to Israel’s then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he abandon the Oslo peace accords and refuse to accede to Palestinian demands of “land for peace” (see September 13, 1993). A senior administration official says wryly, “The Likudniks are really in charge now,” using a Yiddish term for supporters of Sharon’s political party. “It’s a strong lineup,” says Neumann. Fellow neoconservative Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute says of Abrams: “Elliott’s appointment is a signal that the hard-liners in the administration are playing a more central role in shaping policy.… [T]he hard-liners are a very unique group. The hawks in the administration are in fact people who are the biggest advocates of democracy and freedom in the Middle East.” The Post explains that in Abrams’s and Wurmser’s view, promoting democracy in the Middle East is the best way to assure Israel’s security. Like other neoconservatives, they see the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of a “democratic Palestine” as necessary for peace in the region. Others who disagree with the neoconservatives call them a “cabal.” The Post writes, “Members of the group do not hide their friendships and connections, or their loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, Anthony Zinni, Thomas Neumann, Sandy Berger, Likud, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Harry S. Truman, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Perle, Meyrav Wurmser, National Security Council

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, Neoconservatives in Foreign Policy, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

Three key intelligence advisers are forced to resign, or fired, by neoconservative Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council (NSC)‘s presidential adviser on the Middle East (see December 2002 and December 2002). Flynt Leverett was the senior director for Middle East affairs on the NSC; Hillary Mann was a foreign service officer on detail to the NSC as its director for Iran and Persian Gulf affairs; and Ben Miller was a CIA staffer and an NSC expert on Iran. All three are forced out because they disagree with Abrams’s views towards Israel. Miller also questioned Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi’s fitness to become the new leader of Iraq. Leverett will later say: “There was a decision made… basically to renege on the commitments we had made to various European and Arab partners of the United States [in favor of Israel]. I personally disagreed with that decision.” According to Yossef Bodansky, the director of the Congressional Task Force on Terror and Unconventional Warfare, Abrams “led Miller to an open window and told him to jump.” Bodansky will also confirm that Mann and Leverett are ordered to leave the NSC by Abrams. [Unger, 2007, pp. 291]

Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Ben Miller, Yossef Bodansky, National Security Council, Hillary Mann, Flynt Leverett

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict, Neoconservatives in Foreign Policy, US-Israeli Relations

Former director of Israeli intelligence Uzi Arad says that many Israelis were keenly disappointed in the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and not Iran. Arad says: “If you look at President Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ (see January 29, 2002), all of us said North Korea and Iran are more urgent. Iraq was already semi-controlled because there were [UN-imposed economic] sanctions. It was outlawed. Sometimes the answer [from the Bush neoconservatives] was ‘Let’s do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we’ll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.’” Arad’s words are almost verbatim echoes from three years before (see Late January 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 307-308]

Entity Tags: Uzi Arad, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

Ariel Sharon, shortly before suffering a stroke.Ariel Sharon, shortly before suffering a stroke. [Source: New York Times]Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson says that a recent stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is divine punishment for “dividing God’s land.” [Associated Press, 1/5/2006] Sharon is in a deep coma after suffering what doctors say is a severe stroke. Sharon, in critical condition, is assumed to be unable to return to public life. His deputy, Ehud Olmert, is named acting prime minister. [New York Times, 1/5/2006] On his television program, The 700 Club, Robertson says: “God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible and he says ‘This is my land,’ and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says, ‘No, this is mine.’” Sharon ordered Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Robertson adds that Sharon is “a very tender-hearted man and a good friend” and he is saddened to know that Sharon is so debilitated. However, he says the Bible “makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who ‘divide my land.’” Sharon “was dividing God’s land and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU (European Union), the United Nations, or the United States of America.” Robertson implies that God also struck down former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated after working to give land to the Palestinian people (see November 4, 1995). “It was a terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless he was dead,” Robertson says. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, issues a statement urging Christian leaders to distance themselves from the remarks. “It is outrageous and shocking, but not surprising, that Pat Robertson once again has suggested that God will punish Israel’s leaders for any decision to give up land to the Palestinians,” says ADL director Abraham Foxman. “His remarks are un-Christian and a perversion of religion. Unlike Robertson, we don’t see God as cruel and vengeful.” Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State says a religious leader “should not be making callous political points while a man is struggling for his life. Pat Robertson has a political agenda for the entire world, and he seems to think God is ready to take out any world leader who stands in the way of that agenda.” [Associated Press, 1/5/2006] “Those comments are wholly inappropriate and offensive and really don’t have a place in this or any other debate,” says White House spokesman Trent Duffy. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls Robertson’s statement “completely outrageous, insulting, and inappropriate.” Sharon “is fighting for his life,” Reid says. “He and his family deserve our thoughts and prayers, and I hope Mr. Robertson will offer them after he apologizes.” [MSNBC, 1/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Ehud Olmert, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League, Barry Lynn, Yitzhak Rabin, Trent Duffy, Ariel Sharon, Harry Reid, Pat Robertson

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations

Israel cuts American Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson out of a plan to build an evangelical Christian heritage center along the Sea of Galilee, in apparent retribution for Robertson’s recent statement that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was given a stroke by God as punishment for giving Israeli land to Palestinian settlers (see January 5, 2006). Deputy Tourism Minister Rami Levy says, “From our perspective, such a statement made for a person that is lying in a hospital bed is outrageous.” Robertson led a group of Christian evangelicals in planning the $50 million center, a joint venture with the state of Israel. The center is to be built along the Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus walked on water. The project will continue without Robertson’s participation, Levy says, adding, “Same joint venture, just the players are going to be changed.” The Reverend Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, calls the decision “a blow to evangelical-Israeli relations.” For the project to go forward, Haggard says, evangelical leaders “must exercise sensitivity and grace towards the people and leadership of the nation of Israel.” [CNN, 1/12/2006]

Entity Tags: National Association of Evangelicals, Ariel Sharon, Ted Haggard, Pat Robertson, Rami Levy

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations

Former foreign policy adviser Brent Scowcroft, who left the Bush administration after a dispute with neoconservatives (see October 2004), writes an op-ed entitled “Beyond Lebanon,” in which he exhorts the administration to help resolve the crisis in Lebanon. Israel is currently locked in a bloody, debilitating struggle with Hezbollah. Scowcroft writes that a peaceful resolution of that conflict will not only help bring about a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but could help stabilize Iraq as well. He writes: “The current crisis in Lebanon provides a historic opportunity to achieve what has seemed impossible. That said, it is too much to expect those most directly implicated—Israeli and Palestinian leaders—to lead the way. That responsibility falls to others, principally the United States, which alone can mobilize the international community and Israel and the Arab states for the task that has defeated so many previous efforts.… This latest in a seemingly endless series of conflagrations in the region just may present a unique opportunity to change the situation in the Middle East for the better for all time. Let us not shrink from the task.” Scowcroft’s arguments are ignored by the White House. [Washington Post, 7/30/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 341]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Brent Scowcroft

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

Philip Zelikow, who is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s closest aide, gives a speech asserting that the US must seriously address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Otherwise, Zelikow says, the US may have trouble securing the support of Arab moderates and Europeans in dealing with the Middle East. The speech seems to be the result of a long discussion of the topic between Rice and former Bush adviser Brent Scowcroft (see October 2004). The counterattack from the neoconservatives in Vice President Cheney’s office, who want nothing to do with any settlements with the Palestinians, is immediate and fierce. Cheney’s office issues harsh condemnations of Zelikow, and neoconservative-friendly newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post and the New York Sun publish news reports designed to undermine Zelikow’s message. Rice refuses to stand up to Cheney on behalf of Zelikow, and the State Department officially repudiates Zelikow’s remarks. Zelikow resigns his post. The neoconservatives’ views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue remain the guiding force behind the Bush administration’s Middle East policies. [Unger, 2007, pp. 8]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Brent Scowcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, Philip Zelikow, Office of the Vice President

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, Neoconservatives in Foreign Policy, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convenes a Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. It is one of the few Bush administration attempts to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and like the other attempts, the Annapolis conference will bear little fruit. Reflecting on the conference and on the Bush administration’s approach to the conflict in general, national security expert Anthony Cordesman will say: “In reality, a great deal of what Secretary Rice did seems to have been based as much on a search for visibility as any expectation of real progress. The fact was that you did not have to contend with [Palestinian] Chairman [Yasser] Arafat, but you did have to contend with a deeply divided Israel, which was far less willing to accept or make compromises over peace. And with the Palestinian movement, which was moving toward civil war. The United States can only make serious progress when both the Israelis and Palestinians are ready to move toward peace. Setting artificial deadlines and creating yet another set of unrealistic expectations [as is done at the Annapolis conference] did not lay the groundwork for sustained real progress. It instead created new sources of frustration and again made people throughout the Arab and Muslim world see the United States as hypocritical and ineffective.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Anthony Cordesman, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announces his resignation. Opposition to Musharraf’s rule had been slowly growing, especially since he declared a state of emergency in late 2007 to remain in power (see November 3-December 15, 2007) following a controversial reelection (see October 6, 2007). In early 2008, opposition parties united and won parliamentary elections (see February 18, 2008). The opposition then chose Yousaf Raza Gillani as the new prime minister, and Gillani took away much of Musharraf’s power (see March 22-25, 2008). The opposition parties united again to start impeachment hearings against Musharraf for his state of emergency and other claimed abuses of power. His resignation speech came hours after the opposition finalized its charges against him and prepared to launch an impeachment trial. Musharraf claims he could have defeated the charges, but he wanted to spare the country the conflict caused by the trial. Gillani remains prime minister, and the Speaker of the Pakistani Senate, Muhammad Mian Sumroo, automatically takes over as caretaker president. [BBC, 8/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Muhammad Mian Sumroo, Yousaf Raza Gillani, Pervez Musharraf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-South Asian Relations

President Obama signals a new direction for US policy towards Israel and Palestine by promising to seek a lasting peace between the two warring sides. Obama says the US will always support Israel’s “right to defend itself,” but will also seek an equitable, peaceful solution for the Palestinian people. In conjunction with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama names former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as the administration’s special envoy to the Middle East, and former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as the administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mitchell helped broker the Clinton administration-led peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and Holbrooke helped write the peace agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009; The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Barack Obama, Richard Holbrooke, Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

President Obama and Hisham Melhem, during the interview.President Obama and Hisham Melhem, during the interview. [Source: Al Arabiya / Time]President Obama gives his first interview after assuming the presidency to the Dubai-based satellite broadcaster Al Arabiya. He tells interviewer Hisham Melhem that Americans are not the enemy of the Muslim world, and wants Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009] Melhem, Al Arabiya’s Washington bureau chief, originally believes he was slated to interview the newly named US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell (see January 22, 2009). Melhem believed there was some discussion among White House officials on whether it was the right time for Obama to grant an interview to the Arab media. The selection of Al Arabiya is deliberate, as that channel is considered more moderate and Western-friendly than, for example, Al Jazeera. [Time, 1/28/2009]
Intent to Reopen Talks between Israel, Palestinians - Obama intends to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and says the US will open up new talks by listening to the two sides instead of immediately issuing demands. “[W]hat I told Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating—in the past on some of these issues—and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response. Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.” The larger peace plan for the Middle East recently proposed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will play an important role in the negotiations, Obama says.
'A Language of Respect' - Language matters, Obama notes. “[M]y job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world that the language we use has to be a language of respect,” he says. “[T]he language we use matters. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.”
Restoring Relations with the Muslim World - Melhem asks Obama about tensions between the US and the Islamic world, inflamed by demagogues and extremists on both sides. Obama says: “Well, I think that when you look at the rhetoric that they [extremists]‘ve been using against me before I even took office… what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There’s no actions that they’ve taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.” Obama reminds Melhem, and the viewers, that he lived for a time in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, during his childhood. He learned through his experiences in Indonesia and other Muslim countries that everyone, regardless of differences in culture or faith, has similar hopes and aspirations. “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” he says. “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”
Dealing with Iran - Wrapping up the interview, Melhem asks if the US is prepared to “live with a nuclear Iran.” Obama responds: “I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of US power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.… Iran has acted in ways that’s not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past—none of these things have been helpful. But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress.” [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009]
Responses - In Pakistan, Obama’s interview is widely viewed, and receives what CNN calls “a generally positive response from analysts there.” Islamabad author and journalist Imtiaz Gul says, “It’s a good sign of an attempt to reconcile with the Muslim world, to say America wants to reach out to them and not to consider them as an enemy.” [CNN, 1/27/2009] Egyptian student Omar Youssef, who has joined in protests against the Israeli war in Gaza, says of Obama: “He’s a man of diplomacy and speaks well. Bush, Arab people hate him. But the world needs a man like Obama.” Another student, Ahmed Mahmoud, adds, “Maybe if he can solve the problem between white and black people in America, he can also solve the problem between Arab and Jewish people here.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Melhem, who has long criticized US policies towards the Middle East, later says he was touched by Obama’s conciliatory tone and references to his Muslim roots. “You can feel the authenticity about him,” he says. “The interview was his way of saying, ‘There is a new wind coming from Washington.’ Barack Obama definitely sees the world differently from a man named George W. Bush.” [Time, 1/29/2009] Al Arabiya General Manager Abdul Rahman al-Rashed says: “What he did campaigning in the US he is trying to do in the Middle East, convincing people that he is on their side. He is telling Muslims that he is proud of his Muslim roots. This is being received positively.” And Jordanian news columnist Jamil Nimri writes, “The language of force, conceit, and threat has totally disappeared.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer disputes Obama’s implication that the Bush administration treated Islam with any disrespect, saying: “[S]omehow he is implying that somehow the Obama era is a break with the American past. Somehow it is undoing a disrespect of Islam that had somehow occurred under the previous administration.… We have no need to apologize. Extend a hand, yes, but to imply that there was a disrespect of Islam in the last administration, I think is unfair and fictional.” [Fox News, 1/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Al Arabiya, Barack Obama, Ahmed Mahmoud, Charles Krauthammer, Jamil Nimri, Omar Youssef, Imtiaz Gul, Hisham Melhem, Abdul Rahman al-Rashed

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US Foreign Policy, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

Former US President Jimmy Carter says that any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must include Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza Strip. “Hamas has got to be involved before peace can be concluded,” Carter says. Israel, which like the US and many Western nations considers Hamas a terrorist organization, is in the midst of a military operation against Hamas. Carter says that previous presidents have been either unable or unwilling to oppose Israel’s supporters in the US, but he has high hopes for George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s new envoy to the Middle East (see January 22, 2009). “The fact is that very few of the presidents have been willing to confront Israel’s forces in the United States, politically speaking,” Carter says. “If you look at US Middle East envoys in the past, almost all of them have been closely associated with Israel, sometimes even working professionally for Israel. George Mitchell is a balanced and honest broker compared to the others.” He continues by noting that any possible reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the organization led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, has been “objected to and obstructed by the US and Israel.” He hopes the Obama administration will work to bring Hamas and Fatah together. Abbas and Fatah control the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. President Obama has indicated he intends to institute new peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, but has reiterated previous international demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel, renounce violence, and recognize previous peace agreements before they can join in any future negotiations. [Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009; Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Hamas, Fatah al-Islam, George Mitchell, Obama administration, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Mahmoud Abbas

Category Tags: Diplomacy and Geopolitics, Israel/Palestine Conflict, US and International Terrorism, US-Israeli Relations, US-Middle East Relations

President Obama tells Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that “it is past time to talk about starting negotiations—it is time to move forward.” Obama’s meeting with the two Middle East leaders is the highest level of diplomacy of his presidency, although it is reported that expectations for resuming the talks fall short. Obama and State Department officials hoped that the meeting would pave the way for fresh negotiations of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. However, during a recent previous meeting, special Mideast envoy George Mitchell was unsuccessful in securing a deal in which Israel would halt West Bank settlements construction in return for the Arab states taking minute steps toward recognition. “Permanent status negotiations must begin, and begin soon,” Obama tells the two leaders, referring to talks on the fundamental issues that divide the parties, such as borders, Jerusalem’s status, and building settlements. The meetings, held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where Obama meets with Netanyahu and Abbas separately before all three meet together, produce no real reconciliation, only an Israeli-Palestinian commitment to send negotiating teams to Washington, along with a general agreement that peace talks should quickly resume. “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Mitchell says, adding that the talks were at times “blunt” with Obama importuning the two to “get things done.” Obama seems to concede that his previous calls for a construction freeze on settlements fell on deaf ears, and says that Israel has offered only to “restrain” its settlement activity. He appears to acknowledge that his early calls for a settlement freeze have fallen on deaf ears. Israel, he says, has only offered to “restrain” settlement production. The restraint on settlement building “is not everything we might have wanted,” says a senior State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity—one of the rules set by the White House before the meetings—but “it’s certainly a significant step.” US government officials try to dispel later impressions that Obama sought to play down the settlements issue, although senior Israeli government officials say they left the meeting with a separate message; the Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren says, “That’s not just the impression, that’s the reality.” An additional senior US official says Obama will not cease to press the settlements issue, arguing that the tentative steps Israel has agreed to extend “far, far beyond what any previous government has ever done to control settlement activity.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama, Michael Oren, George Mitchell, Mahmoud Abbas

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict, US Interventions, US-Middle East Relations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells journalists for the Jerusalem Post that President Obama’s maiden UN speech was “good and positive” for Israel. Netanyahu expresses his belief that Obama’s speech stressed the legitimacy of a Jewish state as well as backing Israel’s right to live in security. He says that Obama’s address urged Palestine leaders to restart peace negotiations. “He said what we have been saying for months, that we need to restart negotiations without preconditions.” In his speech, Obama also addressed threats posed by Iran and North Korea, and spoke strongly against al-Qaeda and terrorism. “All of us, not just the Israelis and the Palestinians, but all of us, must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we only lend it lip service,” said Obama. “To break the old patterns—to break the cycle of insecurity and despair—all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private. Nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks over a constructive willingness to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and its right to exist in peace and security,” he said. “The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. The time has come to re-launch negotiations—without preconditions. The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security—a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis, and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.” Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, says Obama’s reference to Israel as a Jewish state is vital recognition on which “Israel insists as part of any final status deal with the Palestinians.” Oren says that Israel “was gratified to hear the president reiterate US commitment to Israel’s security,” as well as pleased that the president supported a multilateral rather than bilateral means for bringing peace between Israel and its neighboring states. Netanyahu tells Israeli reporters that he “listened very carefully to President Obama’s call to the Arab countries to publicly support moving regional peace forward.” He also praises Obama for expressing his appreciation about restrictions that have been eased between Judea and Samaria in the last few months to improve the quality of living and upgrade the economy for the Palestinians in the region. However, Obama also said in his address that “America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” while simultaneously calling on Palestinians to end provocations against Israel and emphasizing that the settlements issue should not deter talks. [Jerusalem Post, 9/24/2009]

Entity Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama, United Nations, Israel, Michael Oren

Category Tags: Israel/Palestine Conflict, US Foreign Policy, United Nations, US-Middle East Relations

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