November 2010

The Wikileaks disclosure this week of confidential cables from United States embassies has been debated chiefly in terms either of the damage to Washington’s reputation or of the questions it raises about national security and freedom of the press. The new disclosures, however, provide a more interesting and useful insight. Underlying the gossip and analysis sent back to Washington is an awareness from many US officials stationed abroad of quite how ineffective — and often counter-productive — much US foreign policy is.

While Washington struggles to kick-start the troubled Middle East peace talks, Israel has been working quietly over the past few weeks to sabotage the US efforts with a series of measures targeting the most incendiary issue of all – Jerusalem. The latest move was the passage of a law requiring a national referendum before occupied East Jerusalem can be handed over to the Palestinians, who demand it as the capital of their future state.

Top Palestinian officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, are engaged in “very serious” discussions about whether to abandon negotiations with Israel and seek United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state, a senior Palestinian official said yesterday. The official said there was momentum building among senior Palestinian political figures to act on a long-standing threat to bypass the current peace process, which has stalled, and ask the UN Security Council to recognise Palestinian statehood.

Watching the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians drag on year after year without conclusion, it is easy to overlook the enormous changes that have taken place on the ground since the Oslo Accords were signed 17 years ago. Each has undermined the Palestinians’ primary goal of achieving viable statehood.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, is in the United States this week, but few observers expect an immediate or significant breakthrough in the stalled peace talks with the Palestinian leadership. In public, Mr Netanyahu maintains he is committed to the pledge to work towards the creation of a demilitarised Palestinian state. But so far he has proved either unwilling or unable to renew even a partial freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank.

Gideon Levy, a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz, last week declared Safed “the most racist city in the country”. The unflattering, and hotly contested, epithet follows an edict from Safed’s senior rabbis ordering residents not to sell or rent homes to “non-Jews” – a reference to the country’s Palestinian Arab citizens, who comprise a fifth of Israel’s population.

Publish it not

1 November 2010

Israel needs to maintain its credibility in the U.S. because that is the source of its strength. It depends on billions of dollars in aid and military hardware, almost blanket political support from Congress, the White House’s veto of critical resolutions at the United Nations, and Washington’s role as a dishonest broker in the peace process. For that reason Israel makes significant efforts to put pressure on journalists. It also targets their news editors “back home” because they make appointments to the region, set the tone of the coverage, approve or veto story ideas, and edit and package the reports coming in from the field.