Mitchell in the Middle East

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS OBAMA Senator George Mitchell’s prospects of getting Israelis and Palestinians around the same negotiating table are not looking bright. While a US State Department spokesman pointed to Hillary Clinton “repeatedly” warning that “the status quo is not sustainable,” Netanyahu rejected any East Jerusalem settlement building freeze, echoing remarks made earlier in the week from his bellicose foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, as well as from the Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. (Although it is worth nothing that the Israelis and US – and unspecified Palestinian officials – had been discussing all this prior to Mitchell’s departure. Netanyahu is thought to have informed the White House that a freeze on settlement building in East Jerusalem was “a red line that I won’t cross,” last weekend, well ahead of his Channel 2 i/v on Israeli television. “Netanyahu’s comments are not likely to make ending the ongoing rift between the United States and Israel over East Jerusalem construction any easier.”  This is Mitchell’s first visit to the region in six weeks and his “efforts had been on hold” precisely because of this disagreement.)

Today’s Jerusalem Post suggests that Mitchell and Obama’s pressure might – might – be yielding results reporting that coalition partners have given a “tacit nod” to the idea of a temporary building freeze for the sake of good Israel-US relations..

Meanwhile, a full page ad placed by Nobel laureate  Elie Wiesel in the Washington Post, International Herald Tribune and Wall Street Journal, claiming Jerusalem is “about memory, not real estate” drew timely reminders of realism from Americans for Peace Now and some pretty sharp rebukes on the selectiveness of Wiesel’s memories from the Just Jerusalem group, which includes Avraham Burg (himself a former Knesset speaker) and Israel Prize laureates Avishai Margalit and Zeev Sternhell (who was the target of a right wing pipe bomb attack some months back.) Richard Silverstein at Tikkun Olam has an interesting examination of just how far Wiesel is from being “above politics,” as part of the text of his ad ran.

Wiesel’s ad follows similar initiatives from Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and an attack in the Jerusalem Post from former New York Mayor Ed Koch (following his earlier Huffington Post article. It’s not clear that these complaints are having the effect their authors intend as the WJC distanced itself from Wiesel’s ad, saying that “we did not see or know about Mr. Weisel’s (sic) ad until it appeared” while US officials have “slam[med]” the attacks as unwise and Lauder’s own letter – signed as WJC President was criticised for “clearly overstepping the boundaries of his position.” The JTA has a long piece examining the position of US Jewish leaders in this context.

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