#BentBritain: #UK admits unlawfully monitoring legally privileged communications!

UK admits unlawfully monitoring legally privileged communications ~ and , The Guardian, Wednesday 18 February 2015.

Intelligence agencies have been monitoring conversations between lawyers and their clients for past five years, government admits

Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Sami al Saadi
The admission comes ahead of a legal challenge brought on behalf of two Libyans, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, over allegations that security services unlawfully intercepted their communications with lawyers.  Photograph: PA & AFP

The regime under which UK intelligence agencies, including MI5 and MI6, have been monitoring conversations between lawyers and their clients for the past five years is unlawful, the British government has admitted.

The admission that the activities of the security services have failed to comply fully with human rights laws in a second major area – this time highly sensitive legally privileged communications – is a severe embarrassment for the government.

It follows hard on the heels of the British court ruling on 6 February declaring that the regime surrounding the sharing of mass personal intelligence data between America’s national security agency and Britain’s GCHQ was unlawful for seven years.

The admission that the regime surrounding state snooping on legally privileged communications has also failed to comply with the European convention on human rights comes in advance of a legal challenge, to be heard early next month, in which the security services are alleged to have unlawfully intercepted conversations between lawyers and their clients to provide the government with an advantage in court.

The case is due to be heard before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT). It is being brought by lawyers on behalf of two Libyans, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, who, along with their families, were abducted in a joint MI6-CIA operation and sent back to Tripoli to be tortured by Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2004.

A government spokesman said: “The concession the government has made today relates to the agencies’ policies and procedures governing the handling of legally privileged communications and whether they are compatible with the European convention on human rights.

“In view of recent IPT judgments, we acknowledge that the policies adopted since [January] 2010 have not fully met the requirements of the ECHR, specifically article 8 (right to privacy). This includes a requirement that safeguards are made sufficiently public.

“It does not mean that there was any deliberate wrongdoing on their part of the security and intelligence agencies, which have always taken their obligations to protect legally privileged material extremely seriously. Nor does it mean that any of the agencies’ activities have prejudiced or in any way resulted in an abuse of process in any civil or criminal proceedings.”

He said that the intelligence agencies would now work with the interception of communications commissioner to ensure their policies satisfy all of the UK’s human rights obligations.

Cori Crider, a director at Reprieve and one of the Belhaj family’s lawyers said: “By allowing the intelligence agencies free reign to spy on communications between lawyers and their clients, the government has endangered the fundamental British right to a fair trial.

“Reprieve has been warning for months that the security services’ policies on lawyer-client snooping have been shot through with loopholes big enough to drive a bus through.

“For too long, the security services have been allowed to snoop on those bringing cases against them when they speak to their lawyers. In doing so, they have violated a right that is centuries old in British common law. Today they have finally admitted they have been acting unlawfully for years.

“Worryingly, it looks very much like they have collected the private lawyer-client communications of two victims of rendition and torture, and possibly misused them. While the government says there was no ‘deliberate’ collection of material, it’s abundantly clear that private material was collected and may well have been passed on to lawyers or ministers involved in the civil case brought by Abdel hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar, who were ‘rendered’ to Libya in 2004 by British intelligence.

“Only time will tell how badly their case was tainted. But right now, the government needs urgently to investigate how things went wrong and come clean about what it is doing to repair the damage.”

Government sources, in line with all such cases, refuse to confirm or deny whether the two Libyans were the subject of an interception operation. They insist the concession does not concern the allegation that actual interception took place and say it will be for the investigatory powers tribunal hearing to determine the issue.

An updated draft interception code of practice spelling out the the rules for the first time was quietly published at the same time as the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruling against GCHQ earlier this month in the case brought by Privacy International and Liberty.

The government spokesman said the draft code set out enhanced safeguards and provided more detail than previously on the protections that had to be applied in the security agencies handling of legally privileged communications.

The draft code makes clear that warrants for snooping on legally privileged conversations, emails and other communications between suspects and their lawyers can be granted if there are exceptional and compelling circumstances. They have to however ensure that they are not available to lawyers or policy officials who are conducting legal cases against those suspects.

Exchanges between lawyers and their clients enjoy a special protected status under UK law. Following exposure of widespread monitoring by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, Belhaj’s lawyers feared that their exchanges with their clients could have been compromised by GCHQ’s interception of phone conversations and emails.

To demonstrate that its policies satisfy legal safeguards, MI6 were required in advance of Wednesday’s concession to disclose internal guidance on how intelligence staff should deal with material protected by legal professional privilege.

The MI6 papers noted: “Undertaking interception in such circumstances would be extremely rare and would require strong justification and robust safeguards. It is essential that such intercepted material is not acquired or used for the purpose of conferring an unfair or improper advantage on SIS or HMG [Her Majesty’s government] in any such litigation, legal proceedings or criminal investigation.”

The internal documents also refer to a visit by the interception commissioner, Sir Anthony May, last summer to examine interception warrants, where it was discovered that regulations were not being observed. “In relation to one of the warrants,” the document explained, “the commissioner identified a number of concerns with regard to the handling of [legal professional privilege] material”.

Amnesty UK’s legal programme director, Rachel Logan, said: “We are talking about nothing less than the violation of a fundamental principle of the rule of law – that communications between a lawyer and their client must be confidential.

“The government has been caught red-handed. The security agencies have been illegally intercepting privileged material and are continuing to do so – this could mean they’ve been spying on the very people challenging them in court.

“This is the second time in as many weeks that government spies have been rumbled breaking the law.”

#Obama’s ‘Crusaders’ analogy veils the #West’s modern crimes!

Obama’s ‘Crusaders’ analogy veils the West’s modern crimes ~ Ben White, The Nation, February 14, 2015.

Like many children, 13-year-old Mohammed Tuaiman suffered from nightmares. In his dreams, he would see flying “death machines” that turned family and friends into burning charcoal. No one could stop them, and they struck any place, at any time.

Unlike most children, Mohammed’s nightmares killed him.

Three weeks ago, a CIA drone operating over Yemen fired a missile at a car carrying the teenager, and two others. They were all incinerated. Nor was Mohammed the first in his family to be targeted: drones had already killed his father and brother.

Since president Barack Obama took office in 2009, the US has killed at least 2,464 people through drone strikes outside the country’s declared war zones. The figure is courtesy of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which says that at least 314 of the dead, one in seven, were civilians.

Recall that for Obama, as The New York Times reported in May 2012, “all military-age males in a strike zone” are counted “as combatants” – unless “there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent”.

It sounds like the stuff of nightmares.

The week after Mohammed’s death, on February 5, Mr Obama addressed the National Prayer Breakfast, and discussed the violence of ISIL.

“Lest we get on our high horses”, said the commander-in-chief, “remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

These comments prompted a (brief) media storm, with Mr Obama accused of insulting Christians, pandering to the terrorist enemy, or just bad history.

In fact, the president was simply repeating a point often made by liberals since September 11, namely, that all religions have blots on their copy book through the deeds of their followers.

One of the consequences, however, of this invocation of the Crusades – unintended, and all the more significant for it – is to seal away the West’s “sins”, particularly vis-à-vis its relationship to the Middle East, in events that took place a thousand years ago.

The Crusades were, in one sense, a demonstration of raw military power, and a collective trauma for the peoples of the regions they marched through and invaded.

In the siege of Jerusalem in 1099, a witness described how the Europeans ordered “all the Saracen dead to be cast outside because of the great stench, since the whole city was filled with their corpses”.

He added: “No one ever saw or heard of such slaughter of pagan people, for funeral pyres were formed from them like pyramids.”

Or take the Third Crusade, when, on August 20, 1191, England’s King Richard I oversaw the beheading of 3,000 Muslim prisoners at Acre in full view of Saladin’s army.

Just “ancient history”? In 1920, when the French had besieged and captured Damascus, their commander Henri Gourard reportedly went to the grave of Saladin, kicked it, and uttered: “Awake Saladin, we have returned! My presence here consecrates the victory of the Cross over the Crescent.”

But the US president need not cite the Crusades or even the colonial rule of the early 20th century: more relevant reference points would be Bagram and Fallujah.

Bagram base in Afghanistan is where US soldiers tortured prisoners to death – like 22-year-old taxi driver and farmer Dilawar. Before he was killed in custody, Dilawar was beaten by soldiers just to make him scream “Allah!”

Five months after September 11, The Guardian reported that US missiles had killed anywhere between 1,300 and 8,000 in Afghanistan. Months later, the paper suggested that “as many as 20,000 Afghans may have lost their lives as an indirect consequence of the US intervention”.

When it was Iraq’s turn, the people of Fallujah discovered that US forces gave them funerals, not democracy. On April 28, 2003, US soldiers massacred civilian protesters, shooting to death 17 during a demonstration.

When that city revolted against the occupation, the residents paid a price. As Marines tried to quell resistance in the city, wrote The New York Times on April 14, 2004, they had “orders to shoot any male of military age on the streets after dark, armed or not”.Months later, as the Marines launched their November assault on the city, CNN reported that “the sky…seems to explode”.

In their bombardment and invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US and UK armed forces rained fiery death down on men, women and children. Prisoners were tortured and sexually abused. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. No one was held to account.

It is one thing to apologise for the brutality of western Crusaders a thousand years ago. It is quite another to look at the corpses of the victims of the imperialist present, or hear the screams of the bereaved.

In his excellent book The Muslims Are Coming, Arun Kundnani analysed the “politics of anti-extremism”, and describes the two approaches developed by policymakers and analysts during the “war on terror”.

The first approach, which he refers to as “culturalism”, emphasises “what adherents regard as inherent features of Islamic culture”. The second approach, “reformism”, is when “extremism is viewed as a perversion of Islam’s message”, rather than “a clash of civilisations between the West’s modern values and Islam’s fanaticism”.

Thus the American Right was angry with Mr Obama, because for them, it is about religion – or specifically, Islam. Liberals, meanwhile, want to locate the problem in terms of culture.

Both want to avoid a discussion about imperialism, massacres, coups, brutalities, disappearances, dictatorships – in other words, politics.

As Kundnani writes: when “the concept of ideology” is made central, whether understood as “Islam itself or as Islamist extremism”, then “the role of western states in co-producing the terror war is obscured”.

The problem with Mr Obama’s comments on the Crusades was not, as hysterical conservatives claimed, that he was making offensive and inaccurate analogies with ISIL; rather, that in the comfort of condemning the past, he could mask the violence of his own government in the present.

The echoes of collective trauma remain for a long time, and especially when new wounds are still being inflicted. Think it is farfetched that Muslims would still care about a 1,000-year-old European invasion? Then try asking them about Guantanamo and Camp Bucca instead.

Ben White is a journalist and author of Israeli Apartheid

Obama’s ‘Crusaders’ analogy veils the West’s modern crimes
Pep Montserrat for The National

Wag the dog: Kerry calls Netanyahu to apologize for official’s ‘chickenshit’ comment!

Kerry calls Netanyahu to apologize for official’s ‘chickenshit’ comment ~ RT.

US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday to apologize for the remarks of an anonymous senior government official who called the PM “chickeshit.”

Kerry and Netanyahu had a “good conversation” that included a discussion of ways to improve relations between US and Israeli leaders, American officials told the Times of Israel. The two men also discussed other regional issues, including efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“The thing about Bibi [Netanyahu] is, he’s a chickenshit,” a senior Obama administration official told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who published the quote in an article Tuesday on the “crisis in US-Israeli relations.

“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars. The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states,” the anonymous source continued.

The White House and Kerry quickly moved to distance themselves from the quotes.

The president’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, said the anonymous official’s remarks do not reflect the US position or President Barack Obama’s views.

“We condemn anybody who uses language such as was used in this article. That does not reflect the president, it does not reflect me,” Kerry said at the Sixth Annual Washington Ideas Forum on Thursday.“It is disgraceful, unacceptable, damaging, and I think neither President Obama nor I – I’ve never heard that word around me in the White House or anywhere – I don’t know who these anonymous people are who keep getting quoted in things. But they make life much more difficult, and we are proud of what we have done to help Israel through a very difficult time.”

On Wednesday, Netanyahu made the unusual move of responding directly to the quotes, using them to his political advantage, according to Newsweek. Israeli leaders do not usually acknowledge comments made anonymously.

“Our supreme interests, chiefly the security and unity of Jerusalem, are not the main concern of those anonymous officials who attack us and me personally, as the assault on me comes only because I defend the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said while opening a memorial ceremony in parliament for an Israeli cabinet minister assassinated by a Palestinian in 2001.

“Despite all of the attacks I suffer, I will continue to defend our country. I will continue to defend the citizens of Israel,” he added.

Regardless of the crassness of the comments in the Atlantic, many Israelis agree with the characterization of the country’s leader, as he is considered to be one of the most risk-averse Israeli prime ministers in history, Newsweek reported.

On Thursday, left-leaning paper Haaretz published a political cartoon that depicted Netanyahu flying a plane labeled “Israel” into New York City’s Twin Towers, which is flying the American flag. Cartoonist Amos Biderman offered no caption to explain the drawing.

In a phone interview with the Times of Israel, Biderman explained that the cartoon implied Netanyahu was leading to “a disaster in Israel-US relations on the scale of 9/11,” pointing to the prime minister’s“arrogance” and unchecked settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

| Usurping Victimhood: Netanyahu [unilaterally] announces four conditions for Iran!

Netanyahu announces four conditions for Iran ~ MEMO.

We expect Obama to deliver four conditions to Iran …

The first is a total halt of Iran’s uranium enrichment project. The second is to remove all enriched uranium from Iran. The third is to shut down the enrichment facilities. The fourth is to stop Iran’s enrichment project

Several Israeli news sites have reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is insisting that Iran must comply with four conditions before the international community can deal with its nuclear issue. Netanyahu is demanding toughness in dealing with Iran, in light of what appears to be an improvement in US-Iranian relations. The Israeli prime minister and US President Barack Obama are scheduled to meet within two weeks.


According to Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Netanyahu said, “We expect Obama to deliver four conditions to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. The first is a total halt of Iran’s uranium enrichment project. The second is to remove all enriched uranium from Iran. The third is to shut down the enrichment facilities. The fourth is to stop Iran’s enrichment project.” The fulfilment of these four conditions is the only path to ensure stopping Iran’s atomic project altogether, he added. “Until these conditions are met, the pressure on Iran must be increased and not mitigated.”

The events of recent weeks, claims Netanyahu, have “proven the accuracy” of Israeli claims that any “tyrannical” country which acquires weapons of mass destruction might use them. “Only a military threat allows for diplomacy to stop acquiring such arms and Israel must enhance its strength to be able to defend itself against every threat.”



Anon Goyim2

| Hypocrisy Alert: Israel’s Nuke Arsenal Off-Limits!

Israel’s Nuke Arsenal Off-Limits ~ Robert ParryConsortiumnews.

Exclusive: It was a typical day in the life of the mainstream U.S. news media. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu went on American TV and threatened war on Iran for its alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapon, while being spared any inconvenient questions about Israel’s very real – and rogue – nuclear arsenal, notes Robert Parry.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, host Bob Schieffer devoted more than six minutes of a ten-minute interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the topic of Iran’s alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapon, with Netanyahu explicitly threatening to attack Iran if it crossed his personally drawn “red line” on the level of permitted refinement of nuclear fuel.

No where during that interview – or in the major news articles that I read about it – was there any reference to Israel’s own rogue nuclear arsenal or how destabilizing it is for one religious state possessing nukes to threaten to attack another religious state lacking a single nuke. The imbalance in this nuclear equation is so breathtaking that you might have thought it would be at the center of a testy Q-and-A. Instead it was nowhere.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations, drawing his own “red line” on how far he will let Iran go in refining nuclear fuel.

Netanyahu also was allowed to denounce Iran as “apocalyptic” without any question about Netanyahu’s own frequent references to Israel facing “existential” threats. Indeed, Israel’s attitude toward using nuclear weapons is sometimes called the “Samson Option,” recalling the Biblical hero who destroyed himself along with his enemies. So, again, you might have thought Schieffer would pounce on Netanyahu’s self-serving remark. But, nah!

In other words, it was a typical day in the life of mainstream U.S. journalism, a profession which purports to be “objective” – meaning it should treat all parties to a dispute equally – but, of course, isn’t.

An “objective” interview or article would have included at least some reference to Israel’s nuclear arsenal and the question of whether Israel has the unilateral right to wage war (or even threaten war) against another country, with the particular irony that Israel is accusing Iran of pursuing a course that Israel has already taken.

But it is expected now that “objective” U.S. journalists will avert their eyes from a reality that Israel would prefer not to mention. In the real world of U.S. journalism, “objectivity” means following the bias of the powers-that-be and framing issues within the conventional wisdom.

In the CBS interview, Netanyahu also was allowed to take a free shot at Iran and its president-elect, Hassan Rouhani, who was disparaged by Netanyahu as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” whose strategy is to “smile and build a bomb.”

Netanyahu was given free rein, too, to demand that President Barack Obama demonstrate “by action” that he stands with Israel in its military threat against Iran. Those demands “should be backed up with ratcheted sanctions,” Netanyahu said. “They have to know you’ll be prepared to take military action; that’s the only thing that will get their attention.”

(It might be noted here that the United States has lots and lots of nuclear weapons and indeed is the only nation to have actually used them in warfare against other human beings. Meanwhile, Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.)

Netanyahu seemed perturbed that the Obama administration is hoping to reach an accommodation with President-elect Rowhani that would involve Iran accepting new safeguards on its nuclear program in exchange for relaxed economic sanctions.

The New York Times reported that “a senior [Obama] administration official” told reporters on Friday that Rowhani’s more moderate tone suggested he was “going in a different direction” from his predecessors and might be interested in reaching a broad settlement with the West.

In the CBS interview, Netanyahu was signaling that any accommodation with Iran – beyond one that would demand Iran’s total capitulation on its right to process uranium at all – is unacceptable to him. The U.S. press corps then repeated Netanyahu’s hard-line remarks without any of that troublesome context regarding Israel’s possession of an undeclared nuclear arsenal, considered one of the world’s most sophisticated.

That the U.S. press corps routinely fails to provide that sort of context is clear evidence that the principle of “objectivity” is one that is selectively applied, which would seem to negate the very notion of “objectivity.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.



Israeli PM threatens to strike Iran ~ Al Jazeera.

Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel may have to act against Tehran unilaterally to curb it from achieving its nuclear goal.





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| Stuxnet blowback: Israel Confirms Hacking Attack on Zio-PM’s Website!

Israel Confirms Hacking Attack on PM’s Website ~ Fars News Agency.

TEHRAN (FNA)- Anti-Israel hackers succeeded in bringing down temporarily the website of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the site of the Likud party, the Avnet information security company said Tuesday.

“The (PMO’s) site is suffering from an attack on its connection between the database and the web server,” Avnet’s Ronni Becher said, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“At this stage we don’t know how the attack was carried out exactly, and what can be done to defend against it. Overnight, we saw dozens of attempts to hack and attack Israeli websites. Much information was released online…,” he added.

More than 100,000 Israeli websites came under attack from Anonymous hacktivists around the world.

The websites of the Israeli parliament, banks, ministries and other government organizations were down for some time on Sunday during the assault, dubbed Operation Israel. The loosely-knit hacking group Anonymous threatened to “disrupt and erase Israel from cyberspace” in protest over its mistreatment of Palestinians.

The hackers also released a list of email addresses and credit card numbers, reportedly lifted from the online catalog of Israel Military, a privately-owned business that sells military surplus, Haaretz reported. Israel Military officials indicated that the information made public did not come from its site.

A Middle East hacker, who took part in the massive cyber assault, said that the operation’s aim was “to show the world the true face of Israel and its armed forces.”

“We are the sons of Palestinian people and we feel the pressure of the Israeli occupation not only in Gaza but also in all the Arab and Muslim world. And as the first retaliation we committed a fast and full-scale attack on Israeli websites to warn Israel and all its supporters about the threat that hangs over them. They have weapons and we have our own means. As a result of this attack we’ve received the names of those who cooperate with Israel. The aim of the attack was to show the world the true face of Israel and its armed forces. And we coped with our task”.

“So now we make a clear warning to Israel: “In the future be ready for new larger surprises”,” he stated.

Israel responded to mass cyber attacks on Sunday by launching a series of raids in which several Palestinian activists were arrested, President Mahmoud Abbas‘ advisor for communications and information technology Sabri Saydam told WAFA.

Nothing indicates that the Palestinians have anything to do with the hacking of Israeli sites, Saydam added, calling it “a cyberspace battle” and stressing that the Internet “is open to all”.

In a message released Saturday the group addressed the Israeli government saying: “You have NOT stopped your endless human rights violations. You have NOT stopped illegal settlements. You have NOT respected the ceasefire. You have shown that you do NOT respect international law.”


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| Pathetic: Obama’s symbolic mission to Israel: Accomplished!

Obama’s symbolic mission to Israel: Accomplished ~ Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times.

Barack Obama’s first trip to Israel as president seems to have thawed his frosty relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at least for public consumption. But it appears to have done little to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, curb illegal Jewish settlement-building or craft a unified strategy to keep nuclear weapons out of Iranian hands.

It was a diplomatic mission with a strikingly unambitious agenda, Middle East experts say, and one that failed to exceed low expectations.

Obama’s prods to Israelis and Palestinians to abandon intransigent positions blocking the path to peace were so gentle as to have passed almost unnoticed. He appealed to young Israelis to “put yourself in their shoes” and acknowledge that Palestinians live in repressive occupation with no state of their own. To the Palestinians who have refused to resume peace talks while the Israeli government bulldozes forward with its construct-and-conquer housing strategy, Obama chided that “there is no point for negotiations” if they insist on resolving what divides them as a precondition for returning to the table.

President Obama's official visit to Israel and the West Bank, day two

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to exude a friendlier image of their relationship during two days of talks and touring. The two leaders are seen here after their visit Thursday to the shrine of the book in Jerusalem. The president’s first trip to Israel is seen by Middle East analysts as long on symbolism and short on results. (Israeli Government Press Office / March 22, 2013)


PHOTOS: President Obama’s first trip to Israel

Most worrisome, say those who monitor the volatile region, was a sense that the Obama administration was simply checking off a neglected foreign policy matter from its second-term to-do list. Having tried, however feebly, to break the stalemate in pursuit of a two-state solution to end decades of conflict, the White House can now pass off the task to Secretary of State John F. Kerry and return its attention to the mountain of domestic challenges.


Obama’s popularity among Israelis has plumbed new depths for an American president since his 2009 visit to Cairo, a gesture aimed at opening a fresh chapter in U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Israeli polls show a meager 10% approval rating for the U.S. president.

Political conservatives who dominate the Israeli government see Obama as reluctant to back immediate and credible threats of punitive airstrikes against Iran if the Persian state continues to pursue nuclear weapons capabilities. And Netanyahu’s obvious preference for Republican Mitt Romney in last year’s presidential election did little to dispel the impression that neither leader cares much for the other.

Carefully scripted appearances in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem allowed Obama to recast himself as emissary of Israel’s closest political friend. He and Netanyahu traded jovial one-liners in the presence of media microphones and were pointedly seen putting their heads together for a serious chat during Wednesday night’s state dinner. Beyond the atmospherics, though, the two-day visit left little changed.

“If there was any clear message, it was that peace is not going to be achieved by this generation of Israeli leaders,” said George Bisharat, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and senior scholar at the Institute for Palestine Studies think tank.

Obama chose to direct his one impassioned appeal for peace and justice to university students on Thursday, signaling that he has given up on the prospects for progress with Netanyahu and his newly installed coalition dominated by hard-liners, Bisharat said.

Israeli construction of Jewish settlements in territory seized from Palestinians during the 1967 Middle East War has accelerated to the point where there is no hope of creating a viable Palestinian state, Bisharat said. Despite the U.S. leader’s visit, he added, “there is nothing on the political horizon that promises to slow the Israeli colonizing juggernaut.”

Obama’s appeal to Israelis to respect Palestinian rights to self-determination, freedom of movement and pursuit of a prosperous life “might have somewhat heartened” the Palestinians, Bisharat said. But he expressed dismay at Obama’s reference to a two-state solution in which Israel would be for the Jews and Palestine for the Muslims, calling it “the equivalent of declaring support for a white South Africa” in the era of apartheid.

Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of the Jewish Voice for Peace group that promotes democracy, justice and human rights for all in Israel, was likewise disappointed, though not surprised, by the visit’s failure to convey that many American Jews are opposed to the hard-line rhetoric and divisive policies thwarting a negotiated peace.

“There were no new initiatives unveiled, no next step to come out of it. I felt like he was just checking off a box,” said Vilkomerson of the visit, which she likened to “Kabuki theater.”

Those opposed to the “extremist agenda” of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that dominates the shaping of U.S. policy on Israel have despaired of seeing Washington take the initiative in fostering peace, she said.

“The European Union is starting to lead on this issue, with the rise of the BDS approach, the Palestinian call for an anti-apartheid movement in the South African model,” Vilkomerson said, referring to the Boycotts-Divestment-Sanctions strategy aimed at punishing Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

Hopefully, she added, pressure will mount on Washington to use its clout with Israel to rekindle the peace process, “but I don’t think it will happen in this administration.”

“He’s not even trying to move the ball. This visit is an investment, a restoration, a reset” of stilted U.S.-Israeli relations, said Robert Danin, senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at theCouncil on Foreign Relations.

“Obama is not at a stage where he is going to roll up his sleeves and do it himself to get things going, he’s not going to expend the political capital that would take,” Danin said, referring to the congressional gridlock and pressing economic matters awaiting his return home.

“This visit has a going-through-the-motions quality to it,” Danin said. “It’s like campaigning — he hates it but it’s got to be done.”


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A foreign correspondent for 25 years, Carol J. Williams traveled to and reported from more than 80 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.


Obama Hope

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| Bankrolling a ziocolony is morally bankrupt: Throwing good money after bad!

Throwing good money after bad ~ Paul McGeough, Chief foreign correspondent,

  • The Sydney Morning Herald.The pussyfoot President is off to the Middle East and you won’t believe the nonsense going on over where he can and can’t go in Israel and, for a matter of minutes, the Palestinian Occupied Territories.As manager-in-chief of the Israeli occupation, it’s time he had a look at the sponge that soaks up billions in US taxpayer funds. But after the smackdown he got from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, because Obama had the cheek to call for a settlement freeze, the President is buttoning his lip: there’ll be no head banging on that peace-making nonsense.

    So, to the extent that he is being forced to travel by incessant questioning of why he has not visited Israel as President, Obama comes on all passive-aggressive – he’ll do the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, but he’ll take a pass on the Jewish Western Wall and the Muslim Al-Aqsa Mosque.

    He’ll speak, but to students – the leaders of the future – at a Jerusalem convention centre; not to today’s leaders, in the Knesset. He’ll do the Dead Sea Scrolls and Yad Vashem, but he’s not going all the way up to Haifa, to see the Israeli Institute of Technology.

    And if he must, he’ll look at an anti-missile battery; but not where the Israeli tour planners intended – on a hill overlooking Tel Aviv, a site calculated to present the city as an Iranian nuclear target. Instead, the Americans have ordered that the anti-missile battery be hauled by truck to Ben Gurion airport – the President will check it out there, thank you.

    Maybe the White House is on to something here. If Obama doesn’t want to engage with Israelis or Palestinians while on their turf, perhaps he could engage with US taxpayers and why stop at a tuppenny-bit anti-missile battery?

    Here’s what the President should do: round up the American press pack and head for the mysterious Site 911 near Tel Aviv because, as Obama argued in defence of government spending during last year’s campaign, ”they built it!” Here we’re indebted to The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus, a reporter who deep dives in oceans of government paper, searching for nuggets of news. He surfaced twice in the past year with a fistful of revealing figures on the American spend in Israel.

    Site 911 is a five-storey bunker at an Israel Air Force base. Costing up to $100 million, he writes, it will have a laboratory, classrooms, an auditorium with shock-resistant doors, protection from non-ionising radiation and super-tight security.

    No surprise that only US construction firms could bid, but here’s where it gets weird. All workers are to be vetted, only veterans of the IAF can be security guards and – get this – the only foreigners that contractors can employ beyond the usual suspects [Americans, Canadians, west Europeans] are Poles, Moldovans, Thais, Filipinos, Venezuelans, Romanians and Chinese. Palestinians? Go away.

    What’s that about? What does your average Moldovan have over a fine upstanding Australian like, say, Ben Zygier?

    It’s part of a deal in the so-called peace process, by which Israel got about $500 million for new bases to make up for those it would give up in the Occupied Territories. Nice, eh? They’re still occupying; Washington’s still paying.

    An earlier $680 million handout got Pincus thinking. The funds were for Israel’s Iron Dome missile shield against rockets from Gaza – and all on top of $3.1 billion a year in military and aid grants that George W. Bush locked in for 10 years in 2007.

    Quoting a congressional report, Pincus says Washington was on the hook for $900 million for Iron Dome but had no rights to the technology. ”So here is the US, having added to its own deficit by spending funds that it must borrow, helping to procure a missile defence system for Israel, which faces the threat, but supposedly can’t pay for the system alone,” he writes. ”To add insult to injury, Pentagon officials must ask the Israeli government-owned company that is profiting from the weapons sales – including Iron Dome – if the US can have a piece of the action.”

    To keep writing blank cheques on a cash-strapped US Treasury to cover such ballooning costs, and at the same time do nothing to bring about, or impose, a peace that might reduce that cost is, well, it’s madness.

    <em>Illustration: David Rowe</em>

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| EU report slams Israeli settlements, calls for economic sanctions!

EU report slams Israeli settlements, calls for economic sanctions ~ RT.

Israel captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed the territory; the international community, however, does not recognize the annexation as legitimate.

In January, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended settlement construction in the West Bank, declaring that “Jerusalem will forever be the united capital of our land.”

 The Palestinians have refused to participate in peace talks with Netanyahu unless he halts all settlement construction.


An Israeli army bulldozer destroys Palestinian houses in the east Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Silwan in JerusalemТs old city on January 28, 2013. (AFP Photo / Ahmad Gharabli)

An Israeli army bulldozer destroys Palestinian houses in the east Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Silwan in JerusalemТs old city on January 28, 2013. (AFP Photo / Ahmad Gharabli)

An internal report by the European Union has come down hard on Israel’s decision to continue settlement construction in occupied East Jerusalem, threatening to end economic projects that involve the Jewish settlements.

The harshly worded 15-page report provides recommendations to the 27 member-states for responding to Israel’s activities in the occupied territories – which the document described as“systematic, deliberate and provocative” – and endorses a strategy that aims at “making it impossible for Jerusalem to become the capital of two states.”

Seven of the report’s 10 recommendations propose slapping tough economic sanctions on organizations directly involved in construction projects in the Jewish settlements, Israeli daily Haaretz reported. The report also called on the EU’s 27 member-states to “prevent, discourage and raise awareness” about doing business with companies that work in the disputed settlement zones.

It advised EU states to work to ensure that products exported from the settlements not receive an unfair advantage through “preferential tariffs,” and to give consumers an opportunity to make an“informed choice” through clear labeling of products’ origins.

The report advocated “closer supervision” of technological research and development programs between the EU and Israel. The measures would work to ensure that “no research grants, scholarships or other technological investments assist settlements, either directly or indirectly,” or be provided to agencies working in the settlements.

Haaretz, which obtained a copy of the report, called the sanctions “particularly severe” compared to earlier EU reports.

The annual report, compiled by EU consuls in Jerusalem and Ramallah, does not require member-states to implement the measures – the document’s recommendations serve as a guidepost for individual EU states in dealing with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In December, several EU countries, including the UK, France and Sweden, summoned their Israeli ambassadors to voice disapproval of the ongoing construction projects.





Children wave Palestinian flags in front of Israeli security forces as Palestinians set up a new camp to protest against Jewish settlements near the West Bank village of Burin on February 2, 2013. (AFP Photo / Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

Children wave Palestinian flags in front of Israeli security forces as Palestinians set up a new camp to protest against Jewish settlements near the West Bank village of Burin on February 2, 2013. (AFP Photo / Jaafar Ashtiyeh)



Settlement constructions and the two-state solution

The report expressed frustration with Israel for its late-November announcement of new settlement construction projects, shortly after the UN General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state – a move strongly condemned by Israel and the US.

The implementation of the Israeli government’s so-called E-1 project “would effectively divide the West Bank into separate northern and southern parts,” the report explained, adding that it would also “prevent Palestinians in East Jerusalem from further urban development and cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.”

Israel is “systematically undermining the Palestinian presence” in East Jerusalem through controversial strategies, including “restrictive zoning and planning, demolitions and evacuations, discriminatory access to religious sites, an inequitable education policy, difficult access to health care, the inadequate provision of resources,” the report said.

Political analysts have said that any attempt to separate East Jerusalem – which the Palestinians declared to be the capital of their future state – from the West Bank, home to some 2 million Palestinians, would effectively terminate any chance of a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed the territory; the international community, however, does not recognize the annexation as legitimate.

In January, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended settlement construction in the West Bank, declaring that “Jerusalem will forever be the united capital of our land.”


The Palestinians have refused to participate in peace talks with Netanyahu unless he halts all settlement construction.


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| Relentless Land-Theft: The West Bank’s 2012: The Year of the Israeli Settlement!

The West Bank’s 2012: The Year of the Israeli Settlement ~  , Time.

At the start of 2012, the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now, which seeks a two-state solution, warned that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was building Jewish settlements on the West Bank at a pace that, if allowed to continue, would carve up the land to a point that would doom the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. Twelve months later, that pace has nearly quintupled. In one week of December alone, Netanyahu’s government pushed forward plans for 11,000 homes beyond the Green Line that marked Israel’s 1967 border — nearly as many settler homes as were approved in the previous 10 years combined. The explosion in activity has made 2012 the Year of the Settlement, inspiring a new level of war-themed rhetoric from settlement opponents. “Unprecedented Planning Strike on East Jerusalem,” says the Peace Now website, “6,600 units in 4 days,”

Netanyahu makes no apology for the surge in promised building, despite waves of opprobrium from Europe and the U.S. Israelis go to the polls on Jan. 22, and the most serious challenge to Netanyahu’s campaign has come from a new party that champions settlements. The Prime Minister summoned the mayors of West Bank settlements to his Jerusalem office last week to make sure his efforts were getting noticed. “It’s obvious to all of you that this government has done a great deal in the past four years for the settlements in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name. “And we’re asking you to help spread the information among the residents of your districts.”

The most controversial move was to push forward plans to build on the last usable patch of Palestinian land east of Jerusalem, a parcel known as E1. (Plans to build on E1 have existed for 14 years but have been kept on hold; now, among other new steps, demolition orders have been issued for Bedouin homes and animal pens there.) Foreign diplomats, Palestinian officials and Israeli peace advocates warned that filling that space with Jewish homes amounted to the “doomsday” scenario, effectively destroying the possibility of ever building a Palestinian state on contiguous territory — the stated goal of the Oslo Peace Accords that since 1994 have defined the blueprint for ending the conflict between Jews and Arabs who have both claimed the same territory for more than a century.

(PHOTOS: Palestinians Take to the West Bank’s Streets in Protest)

At the same time, Netanyahu approved a flurry of the sort of construction that for three decades has steadily eaten away at Palestinian territories: adding 1,600 units in an East Jerusalem neighborhood reserved for ultra-Orthodox Jews; 1,242 for a massive subdivision overlooking Bethlehem – and pushing forward plans for a whole new settlement, Givat Hamatos, which would isolate an Arab district in southern Jerusalem that stands near the West Bank. Other units were scattered from the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem to a remote settlement in the northern interior of the West Bank.

But Netanyahu and his running mate, the former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, emphasized the building around Jerusalem. Israel annexed large tracts around the city after winning control of it — as well as the West Bank and Gaza — from Arab armies in the Six-Day War of 1967. Since then, the Israeli public resisted the notion of dividing Jerusalem in order to give the Palestinians a share of it as their own capital. In a new poll for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 78% of Jewish voters said they could reconsider their support for a political party that was willing to surrender sovereignty of (largely Arab) East Jerusalem and the Old City, something that existing proposals for peace require. The poll found that this position was held by 2 out of 3 Israeli voters who identify themselves as center-left, the group historically in favor of a negotiated peace. Nationalism trumps a great deal in the current campaign, as candidates across the political spectrum point out.

“There is a dispute between [Israel] and the world,” Lieberman said at last week’s official launch of the joint campaign of Netanyahu’s Likud party and his own Yisrael Beiteinu party, which present their candidates for parliament on a single list. “The dispute is over construction in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs. We therefore need a united and strong government that knows how to withstand pressure.”

(MORE: Why Palestine Won Big at the U.N.)

The campaign is being fought on the turf of the right wing that has been ascendant in Israeli politics for years. Polls indicate the Likud-Beiteinu joint list has been slipping in the polls not because of Lieberman’s legal troubles — under investigation for more than a decade, the Soviet-era immigrant stepped down recently as Foreign Minister after being indicted for fraud but can still run for the Knesset — but because a more conservative party has surged in public opinion surveys. Jewish Home is led by Naftali Bennett, a former commando, high-tech entrepreneur, campaign manager and Chief of Staff to Netanyahu and, most recently, operational head of the main settler lobby. On a summons to Jewish pride and a platform that calls for annexing much of the West Bank as part of Israel, Bennett’s party has surged to third place in several polls, chiefly at the expense of Netanyahu’s base.

“I think the right is more attractive because it’s more radical now,” Yair Lapid, head of the new centrist Yesh Atid party, tells TIME. A former anchorman and columnist, Lapid favors negotiating with the Palestinians, but in a gesture that betrays the place settlers now enjoy in Israeli politics, he announced his platform in Ariel, a massive settlement built deep inside Palestinian territory.

Bennett, meanwhile, is moving the debate steadily to the right. The charismatic newcomer says he favors returning Netanyahu as Prime Minister — an outcome analysts call quite likely, given Netanyahu’s alliance with Lieberman’s party — but says a vote for his own right-wing Jewish Home will force Netanyahu to govern as conservatively as he campaigns. The flurry of announcements about settlement construction, on the eve of an election, provided the insurgent with a case in point. One of the reasons Netanyahu summoned the West Bank mayors, analysts say, was widespread skepticism that he would go forward with all the construction being announced.

“Israel’s problem isn’t construction but the talk about construction,” Bennett told reporters. “On the one hand, the government voices its support for a Palestinian state, and on the other, punishes the world and the Palestinians when they turn to the U.N. to receive state status. The solution is to speak in a clear voice, to withdraw our consent to a Palestinian state that everyone realizes isn’t going to be established. There needs to be more doing and less talking.”

MORE: U.N. Recognition of Palestine: What Does It Mean for the Peace Process?