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Update – 8 July 2009

Dear All,

Yesterday’s Age and Australian both featured a story about how US Vice President Joe Biden had declared Israel had a “sovereign right” to attack Iran. He stated, “Israel can determine for itself what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else”. Both of the headlines, ‘Israel has a right to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities: Biden’ from the Australian and ‘Israel has a right to hit Iran: Biden’ from the Age, seemed to suggest that Biden had suggested some sort of policy shift for the United States in declaring Israel had been given the green-light to act. Reading Biden’s actual statements shows that this is quite a ridiculous leap to make.

Immediately after reading these articles in the Australian press I went to the Israeli press where the leading story on Haaretz was ‘US denies giving Israel ‘green light’ to strike Iran’. The US State Department issued a statement declaring, “We are certainly not going to give a green light to any kind of military strike, but Israel is a sovereign country and we’re not going to dictate its actions.” The Australian followed up this story today, but surprisingly the Age did not.

US President Barack Obama also weighed in on the debate and when pressed by CNN he said, “We have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and resolve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East”. He continued, “We can’t dictate to other countries what their security interests are” (see more). This statement is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it asserts that while the US has declared it will first attempt to resolve the issue with Iran through engagement and diplomatic channels, other countries must choose their own path. The second thing it seems to suggest is that the US can now pick and choose when they dictate to other countries what their security interests are.

Please also read an interesting Op-Ed from yesterday’s Age by the well respected Middle East commentator Ehud Ya’ari entitled ‘Here’s the real message behind Iran’s disputed election’.

Another issue which seems to be constantly on the table these days is that of the settlements. It started in March when US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited the region, but really began in earnest in June when Obama declared to the Muslim world, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements” (see more). The actual legitimacy of the settlements is indeed a thorny issue – one that also divides Israelis. However, are the settlements really the obstacle to peace as some might suggest? Indeed, Obama’s statements on the legitimacy of the settlements might be interpreted as suggesting that, without the settlements, peace would prevail in the Middle East.

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the European Union have all had their say on the settlements in recent days but nowhere have Israel’s legitimate security concerns been addressed. Following statements by the EU that Israel is allegedly strangling the Palestinians economically and “it is the European taxpayers who pay most of the price of this dependence” the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement of its own declaring that the EU comments showed a “total failure to recognise that it is the continued activity of Palestinian terrorists groups which makes such measures an unfortunate necessity” (see more).

Now it seems the Syrians have jumped on the settlement bandwagon, declaring that they will not resume peace talks until Israel halts settlement activity in the West Bank. Peace with Syria would depend on Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau captured by Israel in the Six-Day War. I am not sure how disputes over settlement expansion or evacuation in the West Bank has any bearing on negotiations with Syria, but it seems like a convenient scapegoat in order to delay any meaningful negotiation. Funnily enough, while Israeli President Shimon Peres has told German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that Israel would not hand the Golan Heights over to Syria on a “silver platter”, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem responded by declaring that Syria did not want the Golan Heights on a silver platter, but on a gold one. Go figure? (see more)

Finally, on the issue of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, rumours of his imminent release last week turned out to be exactly that. Now the Egyptians are saying that negotiations will be resumed in the coming days. Please read ‘Shalit talks to resume in coming days’ from Jerusalem Post and ‘Shalit talks may pick up where Olmert left off’ from Haaretz. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has apparently told Shimon Peres that Gilad Shalit is healthy (see more).

While I will continue to remain hopeful that Gilad Shalit will be returned to his family, I came across an interesting article over the weekend that raises some legitimate reasons why Hamas would not want to do a prisoner swap with Israel, and why most of this perceived negotiation is just for show. Please read ‘Hamas fears a swap’ from Ynet for more information.

Now the people who have brought us such children’s characters as Farfour the Mouse, Nahoul the Bee, Assud the Rabbit and Naasur the Bear, have broadcast an animated movie mocking Gilad Shalit on Hamas-controlled television (see more). This is disgusting, but obviously not surprising and naturally, fails to attract the attention of our local media, particularly the Age which is never shy when it comes to highlighting any Israeli conduct which it perceives to be worthy of its attention and presentation in a negative light.

Best wishes,

Emily Chrapot
Israel Advocacy Analyst
Zionist Council of Victoria
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